Thursday, February 18, 2016

Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones (1975)

What makes Diana Wynne Jones so great?   She doesn't have to tell the reader every last thing. She uses clues, often what characters are thinking or saying or feeling, that allows the reader to infer important aspects of the plot, or the setting, or the character's motivations.  To be completely blunt, and rather snobbish, she's not a writer for dumb readers.  Take for example the concept of "The Adon"  or "Adon" in Cart and Cwidder.  In chapter one, dreamy Moril was pondering what it meant to be a northerner in the dangerous south, and how his favorite hero from legend was Adon, a former earl from the north. Later, his father Clennen, a singer and entertainer, tells his family that there have been two great singers in lands:  Osfameron, who could move mountains, and Adon; again, legendary characters from the past.  Jones is leading the reader to believe that these are Merlin / King Arthur type of characters, using a bit of explanation and the adoration of a young boy to fit these heroes into the narrative in one way; they represent all that was good about the past, and all that is wrong with the present, particular in the south, where author active lords rule with no king and an iron fist.  The days were better when Adon and Osfameron were there; we eventually come to find out that Clennen and his family are descended from Osfameron; Moril is actually named for the famous singer (Osfameron Tanamoril) and the Adon was the last king of the entire lands before dying and the chaos of the lords each ruling his own part of the land with brutality in the south.  Building the story of the Adon and Osfameron slowly into the narrative, as if they are merely legends from the better past, but also connecting them to present.  These are puzzle pieces; hidden Easter eggs almost, that the reader should be tucking away for future use.  The reader thinks that the excitement on the road - the death of Clennen, Lenina leaving them, trying to survive as musicians, the flight from Tholian is the main narrative and plot, and that' strut; but hidden within this is the puzzle of the Adon - it's a puzzle Moril has to work out, but the reader has to work it out with him too.  When Kialan is revealed as the present day Adon (after the death of his brother), then the brilliance of Jones shines through; she's tied these old stories - the completely made-up legends that came from her head but feel so real - she's tied them into the present story, but not neatly.  You, like Moril, has to figure out the significance.  "Yet Kialan was the Adon - or an Adon - all the time" Moril realizes, and you, like him, have to infer the significance of this.  What does that mean?  Does Kialan possess powers?  What are they?  Will be become king over all the lands again, is this where the plot is heading?  It's tantalizing - and also completely inferred.  Jones has not once said what or who an Adon is, other than telling some legends sprinkled throughout. She didn't let the reader know that Kialan was an Adon or the Adon until almost the end of the book.  In fact, in good Diana Wynne Jones style, she made him enigmatic and not very likable - a real character.  It's the other thing she does so very, very well; her characters have hidden parts to them that the reader often has to figure out; they seem very, very real; they motivations aren't always pure, even, especially the protagonists.  They are likable though.  Very very likable.  You want to cheer them on.

There are some themes that tend to connect all the worlds of Jones.  Youth work in concert with one another, sometimes at odds with, sometimes together with, adults.  All great children's literature has these components.  I couldn't quite figure out Moril's actual age - somewhere between 10-12 perhaps, on the cusp of manhood.  But Jones gives enough clues about his teenager-hood  to know that he doesn't like the music of his elders; he wants to make his own music.  That's definitely a modus operandi of teenagers since they were born as a group in the early part of the 20th century; musical taste always sets them apart.  But this is also that idea that teenagers are growing and want to march to the tune of their own drummers; yearn to explore and be free from the past and branch out into their own future. "I don't see why old things should be sacred" says Moril, and he's right. 

Cart and Cwidder (The Dalemark Quartet, #1)Cart and Cwidder by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What makes Diana Wynne Jones so great? She doesn't have to spell out every last thing. She plants clue and connections throughout her plots, or often what characters are thinking or saying or feeling, that allows the reader to infer important aspects of the plot, or the setting, or the character's motivations. To be completely blunt, and rather snobbish, she's not a writer for dumb readers. That makes her book that most wonderful and glorious of things, immanently re-readable. Every time you re-read a Jones book, you get something new (and perhaps strange) out of it. And the feeling that you are very smart, although never quite as smart as Diana Wynne Jones.



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1 comment:

  1. Hi Shawn,
    Nice review of Cart And Cwidder. I do love the way Jones would take the mythical and/or legendary and make it alive and current. Especially loved it when she would place such scenarios in the ordinary, modern world (or something close to it, anyway).

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