Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones (1979)

What were legends like when they were little kids?  Authors have explored this territory before - T.H. White's The Sword in the Stone is an example.  But that always felt very tongue in cheek; DWJ is trying to do something richer an deeper here.  She's created a Spellcoats of her own, this fantasy country of Dalemark.  In Cart and Cwidder, she was telling an adventure story, sort of Lloyd Alexander but without all the obvious Welsh; and Drowned Ammet, she was telling a very, very unique political story, that could have shades of modern terrorism woven throughout if you wanted to dig around in those corners. Both of those stories were still about people though, particularly youth verses the world (a story that DWJ is always, always an expert at telling).  The Spellcoats though, that's something different again.  She's made up this country, she's given it a political story, a revolution of sorts, an American Revolutuion sort of rebellion, with more than a touch of folklore magic, almost magical realism, complete with gods and goddesses of sorts, certainly demigods and goddesses, like the remnants of the oldest of old European religions from times before writing that still creep about in current strange festivals and rites and crossroad shrines.  Then she takes us back to the time before the strange festivals and shrines, when the gods and goddesses were just kids, stuck in a big bad world, trying to survive, and not very nice to each other on top of that.  It's a really, really interesting and incredibly cool premise; one I enjoyed immensely the first time I read it years ago, and enjoyed as much or more now.

The Spellcoats (The Dalemark Quartet, #3)The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

DWJ has created, from whole cloth, this political world of Dalemark; in The Spellcoats she takes us back in time to its legends and mythology. One of the themes is when legends were little kids, what were they like? Some books have explored this before - The Sword in the Stone comes to mind. But DWJ's legendary children certainly act like real siblings, down to the pouting, teasing, bickering, and occasional fist fights that sisters and brothers get into. Overall, the tone of The Spellcoats is quite dark, but that adds to its mystery and charm. The Dalemark books are a strange bunch of books, and they aren't always completely successful, but The Spellcoats can stand alone as an interesting book.

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