So, obviously, Diana Wynne Jones wrote a lot of books. Let me count. Looks like about forty, which is honestly not as many as I thought. But still, that’s a lot of books, and lots of them are strikingly good. I particularly love the first couple Chrestomanci books, which probably means I’m another sheep following the herd, as I think those must be among her most popular.
Some time ago, as you may recall, I listed out the books I currently have on my TBR shelves, and there on those shelves was one of DWJ’s books, Wilkin’s Tooth. That’s one of the few of hers I hadn’t read, so once I reminded myself it was there, I went ahead and read it. This kicked off a … a sort of slow-motion DWJ reading binge, as I started rereading various of her other books that I had read before, but didn’t remember all that well. I mean, the ones I read when I was a kid, I have re-read over and over. But a good handful, I picked up much later and have only read once. Some of those, I didn’t remember very well. These are what I mean when I say The Other Books.
So I’m re-reading them now. But slowly, because all this time I have been doing final tweaking and proofing for various books and also working on SILVER CIRCLE and ALSO working on this and that, PLUS reading a few contemporary rom-com novels.
Thus, as I say, a (very) slow-motion reading binge. But I’ve read a few! So, a few brief comments, here we go –
I liked it! I mean, I think it’s a minor work, but I still liked it.
Why is it minor? Well, the plot is simple, without a lot of surprises. We have the kids who start the Own Back company, which predictably does not go as expected, and the witch who isn’t pleased to have kids shoving into her revenge business. She looks unpleasant the first time we meet her and yep, she’s unpleasant. The way her backstory ties into the backstory of various other characters is … not entirely believable, I guess. This is the kind of MG story where the adults have to be particularly ineffectual in order for the kids to be put in the position of having to solve the problem.
Also, the solution to defeating the witch is simplistic to the point of being silly. I guess I don’t want to criticize it too specifically because that would require important spoilers, but I will just note that if the villain has to be ultra stupid to be defeated, the victory lacks a certain oomph. However, it’s still a charming story and I did like it. It made me want to revisit other DWJ novels, so I went on to read –
This story is also surprisingly straightforward for one of DWJ’s novels, because wow, this is not always the case at all. But this time it is. I mean, there’s Oberon, and a lot of the magic kind of connects to that one truth – that Oberon is right there, an enemy; and that Andrew needs to oppose him, but doesn’t know enough about magic.
Basic lesson here: if you’re passing on powerful magic plus an important responsibility plus dangerous enemies to your grandson, be sure to explain everything well in advance. And possibly leave written notes. Not hidden. Right out where your heir will be certain to find them.
This story is longer, so there’s more room to develop the protagonists. This is largely the reason I liked it better than Wilkin’s Tooth. Plus the were-dog was charming. It’s still MG, so DWJ didn’t need to actually explain various important aspects of the worldbuilding – those doppelgangers, for example. Those are not exactly customary in fairy tales, so that’s an element that DWJ just threw in herself, and it did seem a little inexplicable.
The defeat of Oberon felt sort of like an afterthought, but since I wasn’t especially interested in Oberon, I didn’t care. I liked how everybody wound up in position to live happily ever after.
This is a Chrestomanci story, so yay! because as I said, I love the Chrestomanci stories. My favorites are the early ones, but I did like this one. Once again, the adults, in this case the entire Pinhoe clan, had to be rendered ineffectual in order for Marianne Pinhoe and Cat Chant to take center stage. However, this time the explanation for why the adults were ineffectual was more believable. Except for Chrestomani himself, who should really not have needed help to solve various problems.
This story seems less aimed at young MG readers because the story is a bit more complex and also the villains are a lot less one-dimensional and unrealistic. They are bad people in a much more petty, stupid, realistic way, which I do not necessarily prefer. Poor Marianne! It’s not that she doesn’t wind up okay, but I’m sorry her father was not a better person.
I liked Syracuse, of course, and the griffin.
None of these are going to wind up as my favorite DWJ stories, but I did like them all and I certainly have been reminded of how great a writer DWJ was. I brought another few of hers upstairs and put them on the coffee table, so I will read them soon-ish.