Thursday, October 19, 2017

Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones; read by Gerard Doyle (1982)

I last read Witch Week in September 2010 - almost exactly seven years ago.  That seems to be too long to have gone without reading one of my favorite books of all time, by one of my favorite authors of all time.  There are few writers out there who engage my attention and sense of wonder than Diana Wynne Jones.  Neil Gaiman does occasionally; the Roman mysteries of Steven Saylor have in a different way.  The Sorcery and Cecilia by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. WredeConnie Willis.  Michener.  Rowling.  Of course, Tolkien and Lewis.  (I don't like and haven't read every single Tolkien or every single Lewis; the same actually holds true for Diana Wynne Jones).

I discovered Diana Wynne Jones later in life - but what is really funny is I can't remember the first time I read Witch Week.  I know I didn't read anything else by her for years after that even.

Jones nominally writes for children, but I know I certainly enjoy her books.

I listened to Witch Week, and plan on listening to the rest of the Chrestomanci series.  They are all on YouTube - boot-legged, I'm sure.  The YouTube audiobook experience isn't ideal; but I will put up with those small difficulties to listen.  Gerard Doyle is a top notch narrator; not as good as Jim Dale, but pretty close.

I wonder if Nan Pilgrim a stand-in for Jones herself?  She is romantic, tells stories, and seems to be headed for the author's life in the end.

Interestingly, the bullying girls at the end - Teresa Mullet and her crew - all have sad, drab lives at the end.  But the bully boys all become friends with the boys they were bullying.  I am going to hazard a guess that Jones got even with some girls she knew as a child in this book.

She perfectly captures what it's like to be an eleven year old, and that eleven year old world - at leas the world I remember, the world of Judy Blume's Blubber, the shifting alliances, the cliques, and the entire section on "real boys" and "real girls."  I wonder if this is still true for eleven year olds?

I realized that the kids in this book were the same age as me when the book was published.

Being a witch in a society than not only shuns you but kills you can stand in for many things - being a Jew under the Nazis comes to mind.  But as a gay male, this especially rang true.  Not wanting to be gay, trying to hide, realizing it at puberty and knowing you were different, that first crush seemed to magical, so dangerous, so empowering, and then the dread of the inquisitors rushing in to crush everything, wanting to run away, being teased for being different.

Larwood House - I read it was a take on Jane Eyre's Lowood House (I've never read Jane Eyre, so I can't vouch for this).  I was reminded more of Scrubb and Pole's school in Lewis's The Silver Chair.

Witch WeekWitch Week by Diana Wynne Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Witch Week is probably one of my favorite books of all time - I think it's perfectly written. The characters are really, really well drawn and fleshed out. And there is many of them, so that makes DWJ's writing skills even more amazing. She doesn't ever mince words; adults are always bumblers or fools (except for the good ones, and even they are often oblivious). Which, maybe, is how children really see adults to some extent. Characters have layers, even the evil ones (although their layers aren't usually as thick). The mean girls and bully boys in Witch Week seem so real. Theresa and Simon and the rest are all pulled right out of Blubber, but in a much more funny, less frightening way. Simon and Theresa are as evil as those awful mean girls in Blubber, but for some reason they seem less threatening. It probably helps that Charles and Nan had both their own magical powers and Chrestomanci to help them; poor old Blubber had no one (similarly, with the exception of Chrestomanci, who essentially made them solve the problem on their own, both books are full of bullies and the oblivious teachers who don't seem to notice or do notice but don't care).

10/19/17 I haven't re-read Witch Week in almost exactly seven years, far too long to have gone without reading it. I listened to Gerard Doyle's excellently narrated audio version; his voice was perfect (I particularly liked his elegant, deep-voiced Chrestomanci). I haven't changed my mind about Witch Week or DWJ. I wondered if Nan Pilgrim was a stand-in for DWJ herself?


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