The Crown Of Dalemark by Diana Wynne Jones in the Dalemark Quartet. Oxford University Press, 2003 (1993).
Finale volume where past and present meet and, maybe, all’s resolved.
Young Mitt is from South Dalemark, but when he escapes its politics and intrigues he finds that the North is equally dangerous because he is manoeuvred into an assassination attempt on a pretender to the crown of Dalemark.
This novel’s plot also turns on a present-day girl, Maewen, who gets propelled into Dalemark’s past to play a role not of her own choosing, in a narrative that’s reminiscent of the premise in Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper or Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda.
And the Crown (which is more of a circlet than a fancy coronet)? That turns out to be not just a metaphor for gaining a throne but also part of a theme that mingles together motifs from modern Tarot imagery, the medieval quest for the Grail, and the curse of immortality.
Coraline and Other Stories by Neil Gaiman. Bloomsbury Publishing 2009.
This is a collection of eleven Gaiman short stories (and one poem) repackaged for the young reader market. The novella Coraline is added to Bloomsbury’s earlier Gaiman collection M for Magic, while M for Magic was itself a throwing together of disparate tales, some from the adult collection Smoke and Mirrors, some from other publications, all deemed suitable to send a chill down pre-teen, teen and, of course, adult readers.
So the moral is, if you already have these titles in your library you may want to pass on this ‘new’ title.
As I promised in a previous post I shall be examining the taint of alleged racism that C S Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy has acquired, and ascertaining if it’s justified. I also promised to look at the planetary aspect by which this novel is ruled, according to Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, namely Mercury, which seems to go towards determining Lewis’s overall schema for the Narniad.
But I shall start by also briefly (?) mentioning novels that reveal a glancing relationship with some of this novel’s characteristics.
Note that there’ll be spoilers. Also that most links here will take you to one of my reviews or threads.And now, farther up and farther in!
Drowned Ammet (1977) by Diana Wynne Jones, in The Dalemark Quartet, Vol 1. Greenwillow / Eos 2005.
People may wonder how Mitt came to join in the Holand Sea Festival, carrying a bomb, and what he thought he was doing. Mitt wondered himself by the end.
With this dramatic opening paragraph Diana Wynne Jones began the second book of what became known as the Dalemark Quartet – even though the last book wasn’t published till 1993 and, appearing fourteen years after The Spellcoats, evidently an afterthought. As with many of her series – Chrestomanci, Howl, or Fantasyland for example – she steadfastly avoided repeating herself, studiously refusing to conform to expectations that a sequel would merely be more of the same.
Here the events of the first Dalemark novel, Cart and Cwidder, are merely distant rumours, with none of those protagonists referred to by name even though the action is more or less contemporaneous in both. This means that Drowned Ammet can be treated on its own merits even though set in the same world – and that’s how I propose to deal with it now, almost as if it’s a standalone novel.
Forget Her Maj – gawd bless ‘er – celebrating her platinum jubilee: if I’m seemingly incommunicado this weekend it’s because the better half and I will be marking our golden wedding anniversary with some of our extended family, and will thus be otherwise engaged … but I shall be back in due course!
Lewis mines material from his own huge learning, drawing on theology, Renaissance geography, myth, folktales, medieval writings, and even earlier children’s books…
Diana Wynne Jones (2012:48)
Where fans of Narnia are concerned The Horse and His Boy(1954) doesn’t rate as highly among their favourites as others in the series (though usually, it must be admitted, higher than The Last Battle). For many this instalment has issues surrounding racial and/or cultural stereotypes, intermixed with disappointment for some that the expected protagonists take a back seat in the narrative and the action.
However, in common with the previously published titles The Horse and His Boy is rich in themes and motifs which C S Lewis borrowed freely from literature, mythology and folklore.
In this, perhaps overlong, post I want to consider some of these influences, leaving discussion of the issues and of Lewis’s overarching schema to another time. Is it needful to say then that there will be plenty of spoilers ahead?
The Twelve Dancers by William Mayne, illustrated by Lynton Lamb. Hamish Hamilton 1962.
In the upper reaches of the Severn a Welsh valley bordering England retains a centuries-old tradition. A folk dance enacted annually by the village schoolchildren precedes a ritual whereby the locals use a battering-ram to force the local lord at the castle to accept their rent and to drink their mutual healths from a cup.
But Emrys ‘Plow’ Jones wants the Commons Wood for himself. If he can find the long-lost Cup he might be able to curtail the ritual and thus justifiably claim rights over the land.
Newcomer Marlene Price and her schoolmates involved in the dance think they are in a position to alter the outcome of events and save the Commons Wood, but will the tightly-knit valley community be able to sort things out amicably before matters turn sour?
Amongst burgeoning green and accents of blue – from pale forget-me-not, Germander Speedwell and Spanish bluebells for instance – spring (for me at any rate) primarily displays a riot of rich buttery gold. There are the now fading daffodils “that come before the swallow dares,” as Shakespeare wrote, and his “cuckoo-buds of yellow hue” which might well be buttercups; also showy insect-friendly dandelions with their lion’s teeth leaves, cowslips multiplying in a local graveyard, stellar celandines carpeting footpath verges … and, especially on the banks of the local canal, cheery kingcups bursting out in bunches by the water’s margins.
The kingcups particularly take me back a half century to when I used to be part of an amateur Arthurian group based in the West Country. Back then, in an editorial from its magazine Pendragon in November 1971, the Pendragon Society’s Honorary Secretary wrote the following:
“Can anyone, please, help us to trace this quotation to its source? ‘Where in the likeness of a marigold Meridianes [sic] sitteth in a maze.’ The only clue we have is that the elderly lady who quotes it to us, and who is now cut off from her former library, has always been a great reader of medieval books.”
Pendragon Vol 5 No 3
The source of this reference was never traced, and even that great virtual library in the sky, namely Google, has come up with absolutely zilch five decades later. But of course all that hasn’t stopped me speculating what these lines might possibly mean; which has then led me on an exploration of Meridianus, marigolds, and mazes.
In Darkling Wood by Emma Carroll. Faber and Faber, 2015.
Can history repeat itself and, if so, does it repeat exactly? This is one of the questions underlying this children’s fantasy, one which on the surface seems to be about whether fairies are real but which has profound undertones of loss and fear.
There are two timelines running in parallel – one in November 1918, the other in the same month in the present day – but there is also a ghost timeline which only becomes more solid as the story unfolds. We read letters written by a young girl to her brother, a soldier in the Great War as it comes to an end, yet it takes a while for us to see what links this correspondence with Alice whose poorly brother Theo is waiting for a heart transport.
What is clear is that whatever inhabits Darkling Wood feels threatened by the woodland’s immanent felling and that this fear will have an impact on Alice, her family and the local community. Three threads then with sibling lives at risk: will the outcomes for each be the same?
Today is May Day – Beltane in Ireland and Scotland and Calan Haf (“the first day of summer”) in Wales – and a joyful celebration of new life and hope for the future. Consequently Brona of BronasBooks.com is running a reading and blogging event called Understanding Ukraine: I Stand for Peace focused on Ukraine, an excellent way in which we can to a small degree show solidarity with that poor country.
Needless to say I shall be joining in, and hope you may consider it too. I’m currently doing a slow read of a brief collection of Nikolai Gogol’s short stories: he was a famous son of what was then called Little Russia and which now is once again officially Ukraine.
Then I shall look out for other titles with a Ukrainian connection: as luck would have it I already have a collection of children’s stories (based on a character called Dunno) by Ukrainian-born Nikolai Nosov which my father gave me in the early 60s, so I may well go for those next, and then see what follows.
Narniathon21 continues to wend its way with a discussion of the sixth chronicle, The Magician’s Nephew, scheduled for Friday 27th May. Though I’ve already reviewed this relatively recently, with some related discussion posts, I’m looking forward to a third read in the context of its position in the Narniad publishing order as well as posting discussion of The Horse and His Boy.
After this April past, when I seem to have already read a lot of fantasy – principally Tolkien and C S Lewis – for me the merry month of May also looks to be focused on this genre with the fifth annual Wyrd & Wonder read hosted by a cohort of avid readers.
As well as the usual Narnia business I have a few other works in mind for this annual event – though what I actually read and comment on will be as much a surprise to me as to you! But it will include some ruminations on Volume 3 of The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King, and whatever fantasy titles fall off the shelves at me. I suspect there’ll mostly be children’s fantasy – some classic, others more contemporary – landing in my lap…
Thanks to Imyril and others listed on Twitter under the handle WyrdandWonder for hosting this event, even if I shall be following my own nose for what I read instead of consciously taking part in their prompts.
But … please, people, don’t set up any more tempting memes / events / challenges – I’ve got enough already on my plate!
We’re really galloping through the Chronicles of Narnia in our Narniathon readalong, and have now arrived at the fifth published volume, The Horse and His Boy.
Below are the usual trio of prompt questions to get you started on a discussion … should you need them! Feel free to go off at a tangent if there are different points to raise or issues you want to discuss.
As ever I look forward to a lively response to this instalment, frequently cited as readers’ least favourite – but of course you may disagree and want to put up a spirited defence!
Now does my project gather to a head: My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time Goes upright with his carriage.
‘The Tempest’ Act V Scene I
How could you go about updating while at the same time respecting the plot of a four centuries old play? One way would be to simply set it in the present and have everyone ignore the fact that characters resemble, even share the same names as, those in the old story. Another way would be to recast it as a genre work – magic realism, say, fantasy, or science fiction – that allows for a parallel presentation of plot and characters where the original wouldn’t impinge because it mayn’t have existed.
An approach involving huge risks would be to utilise metafiction, in which original characters and plots are deliberately referenced: how then to avoid individuals consciously knowing they’re playing pre-existing roles and so deliberately sabotaging outcomes? Margaret Atwood turned these risks to her advantage by copying Shakespeare’s own trick of a play-within-a-play, as when the revenge tragedy Hamlet includes the dumb show ‘The Murder of Gonzago, or The Mousetrap’ in which to “catch the conscience of the king.” Or, indeed, when The Tempest itself includes a masque.
With Hag-Seed she cleverly refashions The Tempest as a kind of ‘revenge comedy’ that takes place within a Canadian correctional institution, with Shakespeare’s own words forming a means by which a vendetta may be enacted against unsuspecting victims. By using a light touch she is able to avoid any accusation of over-earnestness, yet she still manages to include issues ranging from the purpose of prisons through corruption in politics and on to coping with loss.
The Horse and His Boy by C S Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes. HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2009 (1954).
With its quizzical title – how exactly does an equine creature somehow own a boy? – the fifth book in the Narnia sequence proves itself a bit of a puzzle but, luckily, also offers unsought delights, unspotted during a first read. How unspotted? Probably because mild prejudice blinded me as to this instalment’s merits.
And that prejudice? Twofold, I think: as a first-time adult Narniad reader I could only see painful proselytising and xenophobic slights; now I have a more nuanced view of the text, one where I switch back and forth between young and old eyes, revealing a novel which is more deserving of my admiration than derision.
The puzzle of course comes with an opening where, unexpectedly, we don’t start with youngsters from 1940s England but are thrown straight into a story seemingly straight out of the Arabian Nights. Reader, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Narnia anymore.
The Two Towers by J R R Tolkien. The Lord of the Rings, Vol. 2. HarperCollins 2012.(1954)
First there were nine. Then two were overcome by the Enemy’s minions. Two quietly slipped off and two others were captured, followed by the remaining three going on what appeared to be a wild goose chase. The fellowship so carefully put together to combat the Enemy is in complete disarray. Is the quest doomed?
The first part of The Lord of the Rings had us following an expedition eastwards from the Shire to Rivendell, where the Fellowship of the Ring was established. By devious routes the dwindling company then headed south to the point where the irrevocable split occurred, meaning a single strand narrative is no longer feasible if we are to keep track of the various players.
Thus begins The Two Towers, the central portion of Tolkien’s massive opus, when our focus shifts, now to the east, now the west, in a dangerous game of distraction, duplicity and bluff.
In a companion post (following a review) I discussed the basic plot structure as well as some literary and mythological influences on C S Lewis’s Narnian tale The Silver Chair. I then promised I’d talk a bit about the emotions and ideals I’d detected behind this instalment of the saga.
I’ll focus on a few of the characters who are likely to elicit – or even repel – our sympathies, and consider the messages Lewis may have been overtly, as well as covertly, trying to get across. Along the way I’d also like to consider the influence of the Moon in The Silver Chair, bearing in mind that it’s been plausibly theorised that Lewis quietly set each of the chronicles under the sign of one of the seven traditional ‘planets’ in medieval cosmology, with the moon assigned to this instalment.
So let us, like Eustace and Jill, open the door in the high stone wall at the top of the shrubbery in the youngsters’ school grounds and emerge from out of our whole world into That Place.
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.