One reread project I didn’t get to in 2013 was Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series. I’ve read them all but out of order and at widely-spaced intervals so (not unlike The Great Khan Adventure) I decided I’d like to put them all together in chronological order. I got started with the earliest, The Lives of Christopher Chant.
Christopher’s life could be rather bleak, with his wealthy, absentee parents and string of unfriendly governesses. But Christopher has a secret—when he goes to bed, he can step out of his body, go around a corner, and enter The Place Between. From there he visits the Almost Anywheres, a series of worlds very unlike his own, and each other. When Christopher’s Uncle Ralph learns about his traveling, and especially his ability to bring solid objects back with him, Uncle Ralph gets Christopher involved in a series of experiments–with, naturally, disastrous consequences. Eventually we learn that Christopher is a nine-lived enchanter, which proves very fortunate, as his adventures in other worlds keep losing him lives.
I think this book helps satisfy an itch I’ve had ever since reading The Magician’s Nephew, with its wonderful and utterly under-utilized Wood Between the Worlds. The Place Between is very different in tone but very similar in function, and Christopher (and the reader) gets to visit far more worlds than Diggory and Polly did. I’d still like more of that, but it was delightful anyway.
Christopher is a compelling boy hero who’s likeable but flawed as well. He learns and grows as the book goes on, in the best way of complex characters, coming to realizations about how he treats people and where his strengths lie.
Among the supporting characters, the stars are the Goddess and Throgmorten. The Goddess, otherwise known as the Living Asheth, is a girl Christopher meets in another world. She and Christopher are on a nice parallel journey of finding out what they want in life, and how to make it happen for themselves, instead of being pushed around by circumstances. Throgmorten is an Asheth Temple cat, fantastically valuable and fantastically bad-tempered in a highly entertaining way.
The book abounds with other magicians, good and bad and often incredibly strange. Diana Wynne Jones has a wonderful ability for whimsy and humor in her magical stories, which is on full display here. All that whimsy and humor is woven around a clever and complex magical system and universe structure. Much is explored and, equally, it feels clear there’s much more still left…which is nice, when there’s several more books in the series!
This book functions as a kind of prequel, with most of the later books featuring an adult Christopher. I read the books so spread out before that I’m sure there are lots of connecting lines I haven’t drawn, which I look forward to as I continue through the books…
Author’s Site: http://www.dianawynnejones.com/
Buy it here: The Lives of Christopher Chant