Review: Witch Week, Diana Wynne Jones

I am selectively craving Diana Wynne Jones right now.  Diana Wynne Jones is so great that I’ve devoted nearly half of the spinning bookshelf my father made me to her books alone.  (The spinning bookshelf denotes great favoritism and also contains Martin Millar, J.K. Rowling, and Rumer Godden.)  (Er, just so we’re clear, it doesn’t spin perpetually, like those spinny restaurants.  It’s more like spinning earring racks at gift shops, except bigger and wooden and it has books on it rather than accessories.)

Does anyone else take great notice of words whose letters are all standards, which is to say, letters that neither stretch tall (like t) nor drop low (like g)?  All-standard words include scarecrows, savannas, and renascence; if you are willing to fudge a bit and include the letter i (like I am), you can have reconnaissance and accessories, which is what brought this to mind in the first place.  What’s also fun (if you are a total dork already) is to find words that are all standards and can be typed with only one hand, like scare and raze and verses.  Continuing on the assumption that you are a total dork, it might please you to know that the bottom row of your keyboard has six standards, the middle two, and the top six again; that the bottom row has the fewest non-standards (only one); and that the top row has a pleasing and palindromic (if you count i as standard) pattern of non-standard, standard standard standard, non-standard non-standard, standard standard standard, non-standard.

But, Witch Week.  It’s set in an alternate world quite like ours, except there is magic there, and the magic is illegal.  If a witch is caught, she or he is burned straightaway.  Mr. Crossley, the English teacher of Class 6B at the Larwood House boarding school, is dismayed, therefore, to find an anonymous note amongst his textbooks accusing someone in 6B of being a witch.  Is it plump, unpopular Nan Pilgrim, descended from the famous Archwitch Dulcinea Wilkes?  Is it perpetual victim Brian Wentworth, the deputy headmaster’s son?  Charles Morgan with the evil stare and the encoded journal?

(Not telling.)

I’ve said I like Diana Wynne Jones because her characters tend to move from selfishness to self-awareness; I also like her because her nicest characters have flaws (which they learn to work around), and her nastiest ones have virtues (which sometimes get lost in their pursuit of – well, whatever it is).  Her books do not look kindly on small-mindedness or selfishness, in the villains or the heroes.  The day gets saved when people overcome their fear and selfishness and act like their best selves.  Not in a moralizing way.  Just in a, sort of, look how good humans can be sort of way.

Spoilers in this paragraph only!  And if you have read Witch Week already, please tell me what you think about this.  I ordinarily come away from a Diana Wynne Jones book feeling absolutely satisfied with the ending, even if it’s a quite sad ending (Homeward Bounders breaks my heart every time); with Witch Week I never feel this way.  Their whole world disappears at the end!  It is less than ideal!  And sure, they end up with a nicer version, but they don’t get to be witches anymore!  Plus, how come the unpleasant boys – Dan Smith & Simon Silverson – get to stay at Larwood, and even be friends with the sympathetic characters, while the unpleasant girls – Theresa and her lot – all get shipped off to the other school?  Hmph.

It took me several tries to like Witch Week, which is typical of my relationship with Diana Wynne Jones’s writing, but now it’s one of my favorites.  Whereas my little sister, to whom I read many DWJ books aloud in our youth, has never warmed to it.  If you are thinking of reading it, I’d suggest reading Charmed Life first, just because – well, mainly because I like Chrestomanci, and I feel you will appreciate him more as a character in Witch Week if you are already familiar with him and his awesomeness.

(awesomeness – all standards.)

I have not said enough about Diana Wynne Jones on this blog.  The extent of my love for her is not adequately reflected here.  But all that’s going to change, my friends.  I love Diana Wynne Jones and I am totally in the mood to reread all the Chrestomanci books, and the Dalemark Quartet, and the books with the Magids, and the books with Howl; and I suspect I am in the mood to give those of her books that I haven’t been mad about in the past another chance.  I am counting 23 of her books that I could totally go for right now.

Other reviews:

the stacks my destination
Puss Reboots
Rhinoa’s Ramblings

Let me know if I missed yours!