Three books by Diana Wynne Jones

 I started March off right, with Power of Three, as I planned.  I love this story, which is probably familiar to most DWJ fans.  

At first, it seems like a fairy tale set in a different place.  Adara and her people live in mounds, have swords, and use magic words, and they have two enemies: Dorig (who live in water) and Giants.  Only gradually do we realize that this story is in our own world, and we are the Giants; there are three races of people.  There are also three siblings at the center of the story, and it's up to them and their new friends to try to make peace between the three races, who at the moment can only see each other as aliens and enemies, even though the consequences of that enmity will be terrible for all of them.

Two of the human races can work "green gold" and wear it as collars -- what we call torcs.  The gold has to be worn and exposed to sunlight, or it turns back into crumbly black ore.

DWJ's unfortunate dislike (ingrained fear?) of being overweight really comes through here in the character of Brenda, who is lavishly described as vast and constantly puffing -- and also seems at first to be an enemy.  The reason I note it here, though, is that this is one of the few times that a pudgy character turns out to be on the side of good.  As a corollary, however, her size is not permanent; Adara assures her at the end that she will become a thinner adult.  This is just like Time of the Ghost, in which the oldest sister, Cart, is overweight and something of a bully, and both slims down and becomes entirely good later on.


Not a good cover.  Nobody is a lizard.

I followed that up with The Ogre Downstairs, which I haven't read for a long time.  It's only her second children's novel, the follow-up to Witch's Business, and published in 1974.  You can really tell, because at first, the only way she could get a fantasy story published was to disguise it as a "problem novel," which is what was in vogue for children at the time (and again now!).  Ideally, a book should be realistic and about children dealing with a common life problem, such as bullying, divorce, racism, and so on.  The Ogre Downstairs is a comic fantasy book about the difficulties of blending two families and dealing with step-parents and -siblings.

The Ogre, the kids' new stepfather, comes by his nickname honestly.  He is completely unprepared to deal with noisy teenagers, because his own two boys have been at boarding school, and now there are four teen boys and Gwinny, who is maybe 9 or 10.  He shouts for quiet a lot, and is willing to hit the boys if he's angry enough.  With the gift of magic chemistry sets to each set of siblings, everything gets more and more chaotic -- as the experiments get progressively harder to hide or control -- until even the Ogre has to notice that there are problems he needs to deal with.  The most wonderful thing about this story is that DWJ makes everything relatable and sympathetic -- and howlingly funny, all at the same time.

After that, I felt the need to read Enchanted Glass, which is such a fun read, and complex as well.  Aidan finds that he needs to run away from his foster family, because some creatures are after him -- but luckily they can't get his name right, and he's able to get away.  He runs to his grandmother's friend, an elderly wizard, but finds instead Andrew, a young history professor who has just inherited the house and the field-of-care -- but he doesn't remember anything much about what he's supposed to do, and the environs of Melstone are being quietly, sneakily taken over by a mysterious Mr. Brown.  Together with the many inhabitants of Melstone, as cranky and disagreeable as some of them are, Andrew and Aidan need to figure out what's going on and how to stop it before Mr. Brown gets his hands on Aidan.


That's me so far for Diana Wynne Jones in March.  I'm also reading Guards, Guards! and planning to watch Earwig and the Witch.  I'm just a bit behind!


Comments

  1. Boy, you are not wrong about the comments around fatness. It's seriously grim in so many children's books. I am fond of The Power of Three though -- she does such a great job of writing all these minor misunderstandings between the middle kid and the dad (I am blanking on their names, argh!).

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  2. The correlation of being fat with being bad in the DWJ books is why I don't enjoy reading her more.

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  3. Gair is the middle kid, and Gest is his dad! (Note that 'gest' means 'deed'!)

    I definitely do not love the weight comments. For the most part, though, I try to be compassionate(if that's the word?) about it. DWJ had her issues, and this was a bad blind spot for her. I suppose I have a blind spot or so myself.

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  4. The fat blind spot is bad! There is an incident in almost every book that makes me wince now. I didn't notice them the first time around, whatever that says about me.

    I love Power of Three anyway and The Ogre Downstairs too. Enchanted Glass did not do much for me. I suppose I should reread it to figure out why.

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  5. I love Enchanted Glass but it's one of the ones I've read most recently so I skipped it this year. It had been a while since I read Power of Three so that was fun to revisit but yes, also cringeworthy for the fat stuff. 1976 was a long time ago though and fat really was a pretty generic insult at the time. Diana seems to have something extra going on with it since it pops up so often in her books but hardly anyone at the time would have blinked an eye while reading those parts. I'm glad we're finally starting to move on from that. I think I have only read The Ogre Downstairs once so maybe that will have to make it onto my list for next year!

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  6. I have no idea if Diana had read Orbach's Fat is a Feminist Issue from 1970 (and I have to admit I haven't, though I know of the issues raised in it) but I do know that she was gradually able to wean young male readers away from the notion that a book with a girl protagonist was really the sort of thing they would enjoy). Maybe in time she would have addressed the issue of being overweight, and I wonder if smoking was her mistaken attempt to keep her own weight under control. But I may be talking through my hat here, sorry.

    What I really meant to say before I read the comments was that I'm impressed with your dedication to the meme -- she really is a joy to revisit with all those ideas and plots and, above all, characters fizzing away in the pages.
    ---Chris

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  7. Chris, I've wondered that myself about the smoking! Though since an awful lot of people smoked in her day, that might be stretching.

    I love her so. You'll never find a DWJ event without me participating!

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