Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

COVER dark lord of derkholm by diana wynne jonesRating: 8 out of 10

Imagine a vacation through a fantasy world, where you and your fellow tourists are led through a magical land by a Wizard Guide, one who can actually do magic and has a great long beard, as all wizards are supposed to. On the way, you get to meet bloodthirsty pirates, listen to wisdom from great Dragons, fight an Epic Battle, get attacked by Winged Minions, encounter a Glamorous Enchantress, and finally meet and defeat the terrible Dark Lord! At the end of your tour, you can travel through a portal back to your own universe of cars, technology, and jobs.  Sounds fun, right?

Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties bring people from our own world into an alternate universe where they can experience the traditional trappings of Fantasy. However, it’s all just a great act.

Derk is a wizard–but he’s not a very good one by your traditional definitions. Not great at conjuring illusions are doing normal wizardly stuff–but he’s good at magical genetic engineering, and he has 7 children with his wife, a witch named Mara. Two are human, and five of them are griffins. Unfortunately for Derk, this year he has been chosen to play the part of the Dark Lord, and according to the rules set by Mr. Chesney, he must raise a devestating Army of Evil (who are actually bespelled criminals donated by the country of England), turn his cozy house into a Dark Citadel, and summon an evil demon, all for the entertainment of the tourists. His human son, Blade, has been chosen to be a Wizard Guide, and his wife to be the Glamorous Enchantress. Everyone must play their parts, or risk the wrath of Mr. Chesney.

The Pilgrim Party tours are devestating to Derk’s world–farmland is trampled, villages are destroyed, and for some odd reason all of the magic in his universe is steadily draining away. Everybody hates Mr. Chesney, but no one can do anything about it because he is backed by a great and powerful demon.

Derk and his family must try to complete their tasks and at the same time find a way out of this horrible mess. Unfortunately Derk is laid out in a coma after a nasty encounter with a fire-breathing dragon, and his kids must shoulder the burden of the Dark Lord’s job.

I thought this was when it got most interesting. I highly enjoyed it when Jones began writing about Derk’s human and griffin children, running around trying to plan an Epic Battle against the Forces of Good (who are outnumbered, but still required to win according to the Mr. Chesney’s rules). There was a lot of understated humor and each of the chidlren has their own distinct personality. Shona, the eldest, is incredibly bossy and wants to become a Bard and play music for the rest of her life. Kit is a black griffin, arrogant, aggressive, and really enjoys planning the Epic Battle. Blade, Derk’s human son, runs around trying to keep everything together–he’s in his mid-teens I guess, and has to grow a beard for his job as Wizard Guide. Good thing he has magic to accomplish this for him. Callette is creative and techy, Lydda loves to cook , and Elda is the baby.

The Dark Lord of Derkholm is a re-read for me, part of my DWJ binge, and has a pseudo-sequel, Year of the Griffin, which focuses mostly on Elda 8 years after the events of Derkholm. I also plan on re-reading that soon, I faintly remember that I liked it more than Derkhom, which is saying a lot because I quite enjoyed this one. It’s hard to explain why I like Diana Wynne Jones’ writing so much–its just the way everything happens, and then comes together in the end. It’s funny and original and you don’t read anything like it anywhere else.

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

COVER howl's moving castle by diana wynne jonesRating: 8 out of 10

I first read Howl’s Moving Castle in the 3rd or 4th grade, can’t really remember, and after reading House of Many Ways, reviewed in the previous post, I wanted to read it again! In reality this is probably the third or fourth time I’ve re-read it…

Sophie Hatter is doomed to a normal and boring life. As the eldest of three girls, she knows that her future will not include a charming prince, fabulous riches, or any magical ability–as everyone knows from the old fairytales, adventures are always left to the youngest of 3 siblings. Even worse, her family is actually quite prosperous, not poor and hungry like all the stories say one must be in order to go on a quest and having a happy ending. Her stepmother Fanny, really isn’t the least bit evil, and treats Sophie as if she were her own natural daughter.

Things change when Sophie’s father dies and leaves some debt to his family; in order to keep everything running, Fanny sends the two younger girls out to apprenticeships–Lettie (the 2nd oldest sister) to a bakery, and Martha (the youngest, and the one with the most chance of making her fortune) to a witch named Mrs. Fairfax in order to learn magic. Sophie stays on  at the family’s hat shop, where she makes hats all day and generally lives a dull existence. She starts talking to her hats in order to pass the time, and her hats eventually become extremely popular. Popular enough to attract the attention of the Witch of the Waste, who sweeps in and places a curse on Sophie, turning her in to an old lady!

Sophie leaves town, afriad her family will see her in this state, and catches a ride on the mysterious flying castle of the Wizard Howl, who is known to be extremely evil and partial to eating the hearts and souls of beautiful young girls. She  meets Michael, Howl’s apprentice, and Calcier, the fire demon who keeps the castle running. Sophie learns that the castle isn’t really a castle at all, but it has a magic door with a special colored knob–each color, when turned, lets the door open onto different locations.

The Wizard Howl himself is a dilemma; he’s vain, self-centered, and seems to completely ignore Sophie for the first few days she stays on in the castle, claiming to be an old cleaning lady. He spends all his time chasing girls, and dropping them the minute they start returning his interest. But at the same time he is kind to poor townspeople needing magical spells, and has a connection to a strange mysterious place called Wales, England…

Sophie soon finds out that other things are going wrong in the world–the King’s brother and Royal Wizard have gone missing, and the Witch of the Waste is making trouble for everyone. Then there’s her own old-lady curse that needs figuring out.

I’m on a Diana-Wynne-Jones binge right now, after reading House of Many Ways. I finished Howl’s Moving Castle in a few hours, and am currently reading The Dark Lord of Derkholm.

I really enjoyed Howl’s Moving Castle, I do everytime I read it, and it’s a good mix of humor, adventure, and all the crazy original ideas that Jones comes up with. She also has a way of pulling everything together really well in the end. Minor characters you briefly hear about in the beginning turn out to have connections to the larger plot and end up being more important than you realized.

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Hayao Miyazaki, remarkable Japanese animator, made a film based on Jones’ book, also titled Howl’s Moving Castle. When I first heard that Miyazaki, film-genius, and Jones, writing-genius, were basically making a joint creation, I thought it was the best thing ever. I enjoyed the movie too, even though it didn’t completely follow Jones’ original plot. This was the first time I’d re-read it since seeing the movie, and a lot of the movie images and voices turned up while I was reading.

Howl’s Moving Castle also has a pseudo-sequel, called Castle in the Air. Also good, and involves some of the characters from the first book.

House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones

COVER house of many ways by diana wynne jonesRating: 7 out of 10

Charmain Baker has been brought up to be a “respectable” young woman by her mother, which means she has no experience with housework, real life, or that most vulgar and low-class of things: magic. Her great-uncle William, however, just so happens to be the Royal Wizard of High Norland, and after falling ill, calls in Charmain to look after his tiny cottage and his even tinier dog, Waif, while he is off with the elves, being treated for his mysterious sickness.

Charmain soon realizes that Great-Uncle William’s tiny little cottage is more magical than it originally seemed–for instance, in in order to get to the bathroom from the living room, one must open the door between the living room and kitchen, and immediately take a sharp left into the doorframe. Other hidden parts of the house are connected to the past, and one hallway leads directly to the Royal Mansion where the King and Princess live. A magical house with doors that lead mysterious places might sound a little familiar to fans of Diana Wynne Jones’ writing, with good reason, as the characters of Howl’s Moving Castle (Sophie, Calcifer, and Howl himself as well as a new addition to their family) make a decent cameo and are heavily involved in the plot.

The plot reveals itself as Charmain slowly finds out that not all is well in her country of High Norland–a disgusting and extremely dangerous creature called the Lubbock prowls the meadows outside town, and for some reason the gold in the Royal Treasury keeps disappearing. The King has become so poor that he must sell of many of the royal portraits and pictures that used to line the hallways of the Royal Mansion. Sophie, a famous witch, has been called in to help solve the problem, and she brings with her Calcifer the fire demon, her son Morgan, and a small, beautifully angelic, golden-haired boy who calls himself “Twinkle” and claims that “Thophie ith my auntie.”

I have really liked Diana Wynne Jones’ writing every since I first picked up her books in elementary school, and House of Many Ways was a great example of her storytelling. There was adventure, mystery, magic, and a good amount of humor when Sophie and her family showed up. I really identified with Charmain as her favorite activities are reading and eating–me too. But in the beginning I actually didn’t like her all that much, which I think the author may have done on purpose…? She is a little spoiled, a little lazy–but I believe most of it comes from having such a sheltered lifestyle.

Great, fun read.