Tag Archives: diana wynne jones

Book Review: The Lives of Christopher Chant Stars a Child’s Perspective

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Spoilers.

I’ve read the first volume of Diana Wynne Jones’ The Chronicles of Chrestomanci several times since I was first introduced to it, near when I was introduced to Harry Potter. Somehow, Jones’ books rarely make much impression upon me. I always enjoy them as I’m reading them, and remember enjoying them, but the plots seem to fall from my head with some speed. I picked up The Lives of Christopher Chant again because I was searching my shelves for instances of magical instruction, asked my mother what she recalled of Chris’, and the details that she mentioned were not ones that I remembered—that and I was having fun making a list of fictional cats, dreaming up names for future cats of my own, and Jones’ books have several, none of whom I could remember.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is relatively quick-paced, and the language relatively simple, easily settling into the reading level of middle and late elementary students. In this tale Jones does a particularly good job capturing the child’s perspective. Chris would rather play cricket, go to school with his mates, and have adventures in the alternate worlds that he can only reach in his sleep than be thrust into society, be pawn in his parents’ war, or study at Chrestomanci Castle with promises that he will one day have to assume the responsibilities of Chrestomanci, a sort of law enforcement and high-ranking government official for the interconnected worlds within Chris’ universe.

Chris fails to see the adult perspective. He doesn’t realize—or refuses to realize any nefariousness within his uncle’s “experiments.” He does not connect his experiments with the crimes that the staff at Chrestomanci Castle are ignoring Chris to focus on stopping. Somehow that’s not irritating though. It’s refreshing. Chris is innocent where Harry Potter—the Chosen One of another more famous magical school story—is suspicious and wary. (I also use Harry as a foil because the cover of the books boasts “Mad about Harry? Try Diana.” I assume that U.S. News & World Report meant Potter given the book’s release date (2001 would have been months after the book release of The Goblet of Fire and during the lead-up to the release of the first Harry Potter film).)

Though the plot here is an interesting one—Chris’ education; assumption of the responsibilities of Chrestomani; rescue of the current Chrestomanci, Gabriel de Witt; and Chris’ takedown of his uncle’s criminal organization—it seems to intend to share its stardom with the universe.

Jones has built the interconnected worlds of Chrestomanci for me over six novels and many years, so I can’t honestly judge how well this singular book constructs the universe, but this more than any of the others perhaps really explains the ways in which the Related Worlds are connected, if the impression that it gives is vague. The physics here are difficult. There are twelve series of worlds and Series Twelve at least has an A and B, but there are hints that any series could include infinite worlds, a new world created when one world reaches a junction—perhaps something like the opposite of the Doctor’s fixed point in time—where a great event might have more than one possible outcome.

This is the only book to visit Series Eleven, and there Jones has created an eerie world of persons kept in submission to a dictatorial leader—the Dright—worthy of L’Engle’s IT, a dark, densely forest world where the Dright keeps even the laws of physics in submission to himself.

Chris as a nine-lived enchanter is able to travel to each of the Related Worlds. He does so, uniquely, through a form of spirit travel that allows him to be physically present in two worlds at once by leaving one life behind while the rest travel. Chris doesn’t really understand this spirit travel, and for a long time thinks only that he dreams himself to the Place Between whence he can enter the other worlds. Having no conversation with anyone other than nurses and governesses for most his childhood, he has had no one to tell him that these dreams of his are unusual until a governess chosen by his uncle discovers Christopher in possession of otherworldly artifacts and demands an explanation and then a confession to his Uncle Ralph.

Chris’ scattered instruction in magic was not particularly helpful for my own WIP. Chris has several instructors, and the only one that makes any real impression upon me is Dr. Pawson, who believes in practical lessons, the mechanics of which Jones doesn’t describe in detail—though that did give me some idea of how little it might be important for a reader to understand magic.

****

Jones, Diana Wynne.  The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: The Lives of Christopher Chant.  New York: Greenwillow-HarperTrophy-HarperCollins, 2001.  Story first published 1988.

This review is not endorsed by Diana Wynne Jones, her estate, Greenwillow Book, HarperTrophy, or HarperCollins Publishers Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

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Book Reviews: Demigods in the Garden: The Game and The Titan’s Curse

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Spoilers abound for The Game and Percy Jackson and the Olympians.  I will not mark them; they are too many.

I bought The Game, a novella by Diana Wynne Jones, after hearing a paper (mentioned here) on the book as a character-based “prophecy arc” at the 2011 Children’s Literature Association Conference.  The premise of the book as presented sounded right up my alley, and, what’s more, I had already read all and enjoyed most of Jones’ The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, though I feel that the most recent installments of that particular series fall more flat than did earlier stories.

The Game lost a battle with Rick Riordan’s third book in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians quintet, The Titan’s Curse.  My sister left Percy’s book lying in the open, and I stopped reading The Game mid-chase to finish The Titan’s Curse for who knows what time through.  But I think that reading these books simultaneously actually enhanced The Game rather than hurting it.

Published the same year, ironically, the books bare remarkable similarities.  They each feature a demigod who must journey to and enter the Garden of the Hesperides on a quest, then face the wrath of Zeus (or Jupiter in The Game), who unjustly hates the hero, thinking that he or she should never have been born and worrying that he or she might dethrone him because of a prophecy.  Both books prominently feature the tensions between demigod and god and Titan.  Both prominently feature the Hesperides.  Both low fantasies suggest that mythological figures are alive still and that they can be found in our own world, and both suggest too that the figures of the constellations existed.

As such, I had all of the parallel mythology of Percy Jackson tumbling through my mind as I finished The Game and the true lives of the mythological figures with whom she interacts are revealed to Haley, heroine of The Game.

The two stories differ in their quest, their villains, and the heroes, though, however similar the elements of the stories.

The two mythologies take a very different view of the gods and the Titans, the Titans being the primary threat in Percy Jackson and the gods the primary threat in The Game.

Unlike Percy, Haley’s quest is not for the benefit of civilization, order, or love, but a very personal quest for freedom, family, friendship, and fun.  Though the prophecy in which she features similarly threatens the gods and though her actions actually shake Olympus more so than Percy’s ultimately do, Haley is never weighted by her choices; in fact, it could be argued that her only choice is whom to trust rather than what to do (she defeats her enemy by doing as her friends tell her to), probably because Haley isn’t really given time to ponder the prophecy, nor, I would argue, does she ever accept it in the same way that Percy does.  Her fight seems less epic for that and because we have mostly others’ opinions to bolster our dislike of Jupiter in The Game, while five books build up our dislike of the Titans in Percy Jackson.  I wish I could claim outright that the differences in their battles have nothing to do with the gender of hero and heroine, but particularly Haley’s quest seems to me to take a very stereotypically gendered view of what is important and how to act.

***                         *****

Jones, Diana Wynne.  The Game.  New York: Firebird-Penguin, 2007.

Riordan, Rick.  Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book Three: The Titan’s Curse.  New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2007.

These reviews are not endorsed by Diana Wynne Jones, Rick Riordan, Firebird, Hyperion, Penguin Group, or Disney.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.