Hayley and the Mythosphere

Halley's Comet, 1910

Diana Wynne Jones The Game Puffin Books 2007

virgoThe concept of the mythosphere is a wonderful thing, typical of Diana Wynne Jones and full of creative potential. It is the place we go to in dreams, the realm of the Collective Unconscious, the landscape where mythical archetypes roam and Jungian symbols are to be encountered, collected and treasured.

Young Hayley gets drawn into the mythosphere when she is sent by her grandparents to stay with relatives in Ireland, who have invented a pastime called The Game where they have to fetch back mythical objects against the clock. However, there are repercussions which not only put her in danger but also reveal who she really is and the nature of her large extended family. A clue comes from her name which, as in many of Jones’ books, has a significance beyond it being a girl’s name chosen at random: it is a closet reference to Edmond Halley who identified the periodicity of the comet that bears his name and whose surname is popularly pronounced as in the girl’s forename. Hayley, like the comet, has the capacity to blaze away in the heavens…

Wonderful as this concept is, and much as it saddens me to say it, this is not the most successful of Jones’ novellas. There is a haunting quality to many of the characters but I never quite lose the feeling that they are mere personifications of abstract notions. The once novel but now ancient idea espoused by the 4th-century Euhemerus that the gods were merely deified human beings has been turned on its head here (not for the first time in her books), as spelt out by a final note. Just as, say, in 16th- and 17th-century masques Greek and Roman gods and goddesses were portrayed as fickle humans acting pretty much arbitrarily, so do Jones’ characters behave contrary to their presumed elevated and cosmic statuses, acting out personal whims and displaying petty feelings about each other.

As with many of the author’s other novels humour and wit and insight and intricate plotting are all present in abundance, but here the final outcome is rather a let-down in terms of drama and consequence. In particular, the transference of Mediterranean deities to two Atlantic isles, thereby transforming them into petite bourgeoisie, overly diminishes them for no apparent reason. I found her earlier novel, Eight Days of Luke (1975) — which also dealt with deities, Norse gods this time — much more convincing, especially as the Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon pantheons have more than a firm foothold on this land, language and culture.

This is not to say that this is a poor book: Jones seems never able not to draw you into her storytelling by combining familiar everyday situations with fairytale motifs, mixing the new with the old. However, with The Game she has fallen a little short of her usual high standards and our voracious expectations, to my disappointment.

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