The Lives of Christopher Chant

The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci, #4) - Diana Wynne Jones

DWJ Book Toast, #2

Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favorite fantasy authors, growing up and now, and I was saddened by the news of her death. I can't say I'm overcome with emotion - as personal as some of her work is to me, its not like I knew her after all - but I wish I could put into words how I feel about her no longer being out there, writing new adventures and laughing at all of us serious fans thinking so hard about her words when we should simply get on with the business of enjoying them.

And that's...what I'm going to do. She's left behind a huge body of work, a large amount of which I haven't read yet, so I'm going to reread all my old favorites (and hopefully some new).*

Sometimes linear just doesn't cut it. 'The Lives of Christopher Chant' is the fourth book written for the Chrestomanci series and, chronologically, the first, set some 25 years before 'Charmed Life'. Why is it then named second? Diana Wynne Jones suggested it, and her having been a very smart lady I think it wise to agree with her.

This book is the story of how the Chrestomanci of 'Charmed Life' came into his powers, met his future wife Milly, and decided a number of things about how Chrestomanci Castle would be run when he was in charge. So why not read it first? I think its because, even if this book is a superior one to 'Charmed Life', it explains so much that it would undermine that books best points.

Think about the 'Chronicles of Narnia', The trend has been (and I'm afraid will stay) to present the books in order of their internal chronology, that is, have 'The Magician's Nephew' come first. Doesn't that spoil it a little? When Lucy pushes through the fur coats and finds herself in the middle of a snow-covered forest staring at a solitary lamppost, instead of a sense of wonder, one goes "Oh yeah, from the piece of iron accidentally planted when Aslan was making Narnia." No mystery there. The same goes for when Edmund stumbles into the path of the Ice Queen's sleigh, one goes "Oh, it's just that bitch Jadis from Charn."

It's better to see Christopher Chant and Milly young only after their adult identities have been established, the joke of the nicely plain Milly having once been the living incarnation of an exotic goddess, or Christopher fuming at the formal, distant Chrestomanci, and other things, are much better that way.

Jones is in her element here, the story zooms along and the magic is as real as it is unexplained (little is so tedious as an author trying to explain how magic works). There is danger and horrible moments as well, the realization of what happened to the silly ladies chief among them for me, that Jones uses to keep the story interesting and reminds us of the importance of personal responsibility. Great, great book.

'Conrad's Fate', one of the last Chrestomanci books written, is listed on Jones' official website as her preferred 3rd book, but I don't have that on hand so 'Witch Week' it is.

*I think I'm going to head all my Jones reviews with this for now.




Next: 'Witch Week'


Previous: 'Charmed Life'