Diana Wynne Jones, Charmed Life

The first thing that I love about a Diana Wynne Jones story is this feeling of being immediately sucked into another world as soon as I start reading. She plunges one directly into a scene with characters (metaphorically) flailing their arms around, and talking to each other, and going somewhere, and this sense of motion and activity immediately drops me into another world. She dispenses with descriptions for outright action. Or at least that’s what I felt as Charmed Life opens.

Charmed Life is about a boy who’s forlorn and clings to his sister, Gwendolen, even though it’s obvious that his sister could not care two hoots about him. One could tell right from the beginning the way this would all turn out though I do so wish that Gwendolen hadn’t turned out to be such a witch! And I’m not using witch in a magical sense here! Why couldn’t DWJ have endowed Gwendolen with any redeeming characteristics? Or rather why was Gwendolen’s naked ambition portrayed as being all witchly? And again I don’t mean that in a magical way!

Charmed_Life Diana Wynne JonesOk, I understand that what she was doing was BAD but I’d sure have liked to understand more of where she was coming from, you know? (though Janet does make up for some of it. Oh, and also the fact that Gwendolen seems to have gotten the happy ending that she would have wished for).

But anyway even though one could sense the direction in which the wind was blowing it was still SO MUCH FUN TO READ IT ALL!

And that brings me to what I’m beginning to think is a Diana Wynne Jones specialty. She has this way of EXCELING at the details that make up the bulk of a thing. They’re just so INTERESTING to read about! For instance, in Charmed Life Gwendolen makes all the surrounding trees uproot themselves from their regular spots and come squash themselves right next to the house. And well the way DWJ goes about describing it is just so vivid and fun:

Feeling tired and Mondayish, Cat dragged himself out of bed and found he could not see out of the windows. Each window was a dark crisscross of branches and leaves—green leaves, bluish cedar sprays, pine needles, and leaves just turning yellow and brown. One window had a rose pressed against it. And there were bunches of grapes squashed on both of the others. And behind them, it looked as if there was a mile-thick forest. “Good Lord!” he said.

“You may well look!” said Mary. “That sister of yours has fetched every tree in the grounds and stood them as close as they can get to the Castle.”

I think FUN is the word I would associate the most with Diana Wynne Jones. It was palpable in Howl’s Moving Castle and Castles in the Air too (the two other DWJ books that I’ve read).

I’m already thinking of her as a comfort read, and for sure, for sure, for sure, my children are going to have DWJ thrust into their hands at some point or the other! I’m very much looking forward to making my way through all of her books.

With Charmed Life there were ample of instances where I wanted to shake Cat (isn’t that an awesome name for a boy?) and tell him to wake up to the reality of what was going on but I guess a boy’s got to do what a boy’s got to do and follow his own meandering path, and take his own roundabout way, till he reaches the point where he decides that enough is enough.

Here’s another bit that I enjoyed:

He just hoped she would not reward him by making gingerbread men. As a rule, gingerbread men were fun. They leaped up off the plate when you tried to eat them, so that when you finally caught them you felt quite justified in eating them. It was a fair fight, and some got away. But Mrs. Sharp’s gingerbread men never did that. They simply lay, feebly waving their arms, and Cat never had the heart to eat them.

7 thoughts on “Diana Wynne Jones, Charmed Life

  1. I loved Howl’s Moving Castle – it seemed to encapsulate all those childhood books I inhaled when I was young – that sort of Blyton-esque Folk of the Far-Away Tree-ness that naturally incorporates magic and fairytales into life without a blink or pause.

    And as I am writing this, I am wondering why, when I LOVED a book so much, do I not further explore the author’s backlist? It’s nuts. I spend so much time reading unreadable books by unmentionable authors when I could just be enjoying excellent books by authors I already like.
    I am going to the library to find Charmed Life immediately!

    And I love the quote re gingerbread men….never going to think about them in quite the same way again….

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    • P.S. I LOVE that you mentioned Blyton! I LIVED on those books as a kid. My favorite series though was the Five Find Outers, and all the boarding school series! oh and the ones where kids had adventures on idyllic islands replete with everything a kid would need for survival!

      I don’t think I was ever able to get my hands on the Far-Away Tree or the other magic books. My introduction to fantasy was through Harry Potter!

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      • Me too! I loved the Secret Seven and Malory Towers and St Clares – and the island ones (they always seemed to have EXCELLENT picnic lunches, complete with salt wrapped up in paper screws….
        BUT my introduction to Enid Blyton was via Magic Far-Away Tree. I so intensely loved the idea of having multiple worlds existing at the top of a tree I spent a large part of my childhood climbing (and falling out of) trees to see if it was a real-life thing too. They are why I so loved Harry Potter I think – that idea of another magical world – so addicting!

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  2. Hahahahaha, those feebly-waving gingerbread man arms haunt my dreams. What an adorable yet tragic detail!

    Charmed Life is good but I think it’s maybe my least favorite of the Chrestomanci books. The Lives of Christopher Chant is much more my speed — I like when he gets to go traveling, and obviously I love seeing young Chrestomanci and young Millie.

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  3. Pingback: The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones | Nooks & Crannies - ’cus they're perfect for a book lover

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