The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

I agree with JennyThe Lives of Christopher Chant is waaayyy more fun than Charmed Life. It has tons more plot, and the almost constant presence of a kick-ass goddess (who seems to be Indian from the sounds of it!) forms a nice counterweight to the boy magician. Plus, the world building is much bigger in scope. Literally. As gets revealed in this book, there are 12 series of worlds in the Chrestomanci series. The way to reach these worlds is through the appropriately named The Place Between, also known as The World Edge which is “like a leftover piece of world.”

So, I’m trying to figure out why I enjoy reading Diana Wynne Jones so much. Part of it is that reading her stories feels like I’m watching a play—so vivid are her characters, and the world she conjures that I’m plunged into her universe straightaway.

the-lives-of-christopher-chantShe also seems to get kids really right. Christopher’s anxieties ring true, as does his fascination with cricket, or the way he wants to please his uncle—the one adult who takes an interest in him, or the way his conscience pricks him about not fulfilling his bargain with the goddess.

Speaking of Christopher’s anxieties, I have to share this bit that seems to me such a good example of Wynne Jones’s perspicacity:

He understood that Mama cared very urgently about his future. He knew he was going to have to enter Society with the best people. But the only Society he had heard of was the Aid the Heathen Society that he had to give a penny to every Sunday in church, and he thought Mama meant that.

Christopher made careful inquiries from the nursery maid with big feet. She told him Heathens were savages who ate people. Missionaries were the best people, and they were the ones Heathens ate. Christopher saw that he was going to be a missionary when he grew up. He found Mama’s talk increasingly alarming. He wished she had chosen another career for him.

This mash-up of stray strands of thoughts into a worrisome whole is decidedly hilarious (and rings painfully true!). The book is filled with such episodes of situation comedy.

Here’s another bit that tickled me, and struck me as wholly British in its wryness.

“No, Christopher,” Papa panted sternly, looking strange and most undignified, with his coat flapping and his hair blowing in all directions. “A gentleman never works magic against a woman, particularly his own mama.”

Gentlemen, it seemed to Christopher, made things unreasonably difficult for themesleves in that case.

And then there’s the details that Jones fills her stories up with (something that I mentioned in my review about Charmed Life as well). There’s an “ordinariness” about these details—these descriptions—that makes them just so delightful to read about. And so plausible! As if, (for example), it would be the most natural thing in the world for a couch to scoot over if it’s feeling a little moody. The day-to-day-ness of her magic is charming in a way that I don’t think I’ve experienced before. Compared to Diana Wynne Jones, Harry Potter’s world feels a bit fanciful!

I’ll end with this nice piece of description of how Christopher dashes about (well figuratively speaking that is) to ready a room for a girl:

Christopher summoned fire for [the room], almost in too much of a hurry to notice he had got it right for once. He remembered a saucepan and an old kettle by the stables and fetched those. A bucket of water he brought from the pump by the kitchen door. What else? Milk for the kitten. . . . Teapot, tea—he had no idea where those came from, and did [she] drink tea? . . . What then? Oh cup, saucer, plates. He fetched the ones out of the grand cabinet in the dining room. They were quite pretty. She would like those. Then spoon, knife, fork. . . . Christopher fetched what must have been the whole kitchen cutlery drawer with a crash, sorted hastily through it and sent it back.

6 thoughts on “The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. I do love the fact that reading each Chrestomanci book is like opening a window into that World, but that each view is of a different room so that we never quite see the whole. And the atmosphere of each is quite varied too. Diana Wynne Jones rarely slips into lazy or predictable writing, so none of the books in the series seems formulaic, and ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’ proves to be no exception to this rule.

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    • Each of her four books that I’ve read so far couldn’t be more different in terms of the atmosphere they evoke–you’re absolutely right on that count. They’re all extremely fun to read and have a vividness which is very Wynne-Jones-ian but are so completely different from each other.

      And I see what you mean about Wynne-Jones shining light on a new corner of the same room with each of her stories in the Chrestomanci series (can certainly sense that in the two books that I’ve read so far)!

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  2. YAY I love being right! The Lives of Christopher Chant is marvelous, oh, and now, have you not yet read the other Chrestomanci books? They are also very good! Conrad’s Fate! WITCH WEEK!

    You’re so right that DWJ’s kids come off as kids. In particular, I love the way her kid characters will hear a piece of information, misinterpret it, and base a LOT of what they do going forward on that one thing. I remember that happening when I was a kid, and how humiliated and miserable I always felt when I discovered I’d been wrong. When Christopher’s tutor starts yelling at him for being a jerk, and Christopher’s so shocked and hurt — aw. Poor kid. Just not understanding any part of what’s been going on up to then.

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    • Oh, I love how you put it–yes, indeedy! I think it’s partly because they’re such enthusiastic little buggers that they just want to rush headlong into the next step (or that’s the story I tell about myself, at any rate! :P)

      and yes ma’am! I’m only two books in so far in the Chrestomanci series, and very looking forward to making my way through the rest of the series (probably when I’m in the need for some comfort books!)

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  3. I’m especially fond of Charmed Life as it was the first DWJ book I read. But it was an early book and I can see that it might be found to pale a bit in comparison to some of the others when her writing had really taken off. Enjoy the others! I do envy you having many more in front of you to discover for the first time…

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