Thursday, April 12, 2012

Childhood discoveries too late | Chrestomanci

In the space of a few short months, I've gone from having read nothing by Diana Wynne Jones to wanting to read everything she's written. The fault lies squarely with DWJ's Chrestomanci series, which is an undoubtedly entertaining and amusing series. And, to a certain degree, with the character of Chrestomanci himself, but I'll get to that in a moment.

Best of the bunch
The wonderful thing about the Chrestomanci series is how perfectly it occupies a personal, treasured niche in my reading history while remaining entirely new and fresh. I purchased the combined edition of Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant half by accident - it was available for only a couple of dollars at the Border's going-out-of-business sale, and as the only title by DWJ available, I figured it would have to do as my introduction to her writing (despite having previously concluded that it was perhaps better to start with something a bit more mature). I read it almost out of necessity - I was craving a kids fantasy, and Charmed Life fit that bill perfectly. It also happens to be a delightful book and is immediately followed by The Lives of Christopher Chant, which is an even better book (and still one of the best books I've read in recent months).

The only problem I can find with the Chrestomanci books is that I came to them too late. These are silly, witty fantasies involving young children engaging in silly and often even downright weird activities and experiencing magic in different and strange ways. It's a good deal of fun, and all I can think about is how I would have enjoyed these books as a young bookworm. The writing is unabashedly childish and fun, indeed charming. These are books to be read and enjoyed, books that remain as entertaining today as they must have been twenty-thirty-plus years ago when they were first published.

And then there's Chrestomanci himself. That is, Christopher Chant, who features as Chrestomanci in three of the four books that I've read in the series, and in the fourth is outright the main child character. Chrestomanci is one of the best characters of kids fantasy literature, period. His affinity for good clothing, his seemingly ambivalent outward demeanor, his unique sense of humor, his childhood passions and quirks, and a myriad of other original traits make him a strong character in The Lives of Christopher Chant (and the reason that that novel is the best of the bunch, by a long shot), and a delightful guest star (or even featured guest star) in the other books. Witch Week, which features perhaps the broadest cast of characters, shines brightest once Chrestomanci enters the picture and ties the story (and characters) together. The Magicians of Caprona, meanwhile, falls in part because of Chrestomanci's minimal involvement (though is rescued by an absolutely thrilling second half).

Whether or not the next DWJ book I read will be a Chrestomanci book, I cannot say. But I am certain by this point that there will be a next DWJ book, and that I will eventually want to finish reading all the Chrestomanci stories. And even more certainly, I know that when I recommend good fantasies for kids, the Chrestomanci books will be high on my list.


  1. I went through the same thing as you but about four years ago. I mourned not reading any DWJ earlier. She would have been a guaranteed childhood favorite! But now, here I am, hosting a Diana Wynne Jones month because I truly feel that even her childrens' books have much to offer for all ages.

    My first read was Howl's Moving Castle and I fell immediately in love with Howl -- right up until the moment I met Chrestomanci and then I changed my allegiance. :) He's so incredibly awesome!

  2. YAY. Diana Wynne Jones is THE BEST. EVER. I love her so much, and I'm glad you're enjoying the Chrestomanci books. The Lives of Christopher Chant was the first of her novels I flat-out loved the first time I read it, and I've reread it a dozen times since then. Little Christopher is such a good character! Have you read Conrad's Fate yet? It features, but is not primarily about, Christopher when he is in between between little Christopher and grown-up Chrestomanci. And he's exactly like little Christopher and exactly like Chrestomanci -- you can see exactly how he grew up to become the person he became.

  3. I love it when you read something that's so good you just want to devour everything by that author!:-)

  4. I, too, came to DWJ as an adult, and I can't read her books without thinking, "Where WERE you when I was younger??" I'm a big fan of this series, too. Your post kinda makes me want to reread them :)


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