|We'll always have Dalemark II: Cart and Cwidder
||[Apr. 4th, 2011|11:07 pm]
Reading Cart and Cwidder purely at the level of the story, I was glad that I had started my Dalemark reread with Drowned Ammet: I had witnessed the unlucky landfall of the Northerners in Holand, and watched what happened to them, before hearing about it at second hand; and I knew something of life in the South, so I knew that Moril's dreams of freedom in the North did have some contact with reality. This is perverse, because while the two books weren't necessarily written to be read the other way round, that's the way their first readers must have read them, as they were published. I can only conclude that despite the two year (and two book) gap between them, the two books must have developed together in the author's mind, and I wonder how far that is true of the Quartet as a whole: The Spellcoats follows after the same interval, but there is then a long gap before The Crown of Dalemark. Well, time for that sort of question when I've read those books.
Turning to Cart and Cwidder, I certainly felt that I was reading a much earlier book, one that lacks the dash and inventiveness of Drowned Ammet. I don't want to describe it as 'pedestrian', given the believability and liveliness of the characters, individually and in their interactions with each other, and how much fun it is; but that's the word that lurks at the tip of my tongue. The narrative thread of the journey homeward from enemy territory, the mysterious passenger (and initially disliked), the object of power whose use the hero must master in order to save the day - the use Diana Wynne Jones makes of these is all her own, but the structure itself holds few surprises. Necessarily so, because Moril's yearning to live the life of the heroes of legend is counterpointed with the reader's awareness that his life is the stuff our our fictions, even before he learns that Kialan is 'The Adon' to his Osfameron, and that the two of them have been reenacting the adventures of precisely his own heroes, though with more rain and reality than he had envisaged. Dagner's sheepish admission that "I'm the Earl of the South Dales." gives a humorous twist to the motif, and it serves to underline that the relation between North and South is not as black and white as it might appear, but really, I might have known.
"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," but the family at the opening of Cart and Cwidder shows every sign of being happy in its own way: is Lenina* actually unhappy with Clennen? The revelation that he used the magic of the cwidder to woo her is a disturbing one, and given the later demonstrations of what the cwidder can do, it's hard to dismiss its use as a means of persuasion that falls short of compulsion. Yet Clennen is a sympathetic character, even a heroic one (a genuine freedom fighter where Mitt's father was a fake); Moril's medidation on his father - his career as the Porter, his failure to repeat his use of the cwidder, the differences between them - is cool and objective, but affectionate. Clennen's heroism, of course, makes him an irresponsible father, since it causes him to endanger his family, and ultimately by his death to abandon them; Lenina is the responsible, adult parent, whose duty keeps her beside the father of her children until his death frees her, when she makes a decision which is entirely rational, however little the younger children like it. The man she had originally chosen to marry, Ganner, is shown to be a fair and kind man, if fussy, and it is Moril who feels detatched from her, not vice versa.
Gradually, the family group is stripped away: Clennen's death, Lenina's decision to settle in the South, Dagner's arrest, reduce the family to Moril and Brid - and Olob, who is depicted as a member of the family, one whose preferences and premonitions are to be trusted. Moril feels responsible for Brid, but responsibility to a younger sister (and one who, he coolly realises, has his fathers faults without his talents) is something he would be happier without, His friendship with Kialan is a reversal of their earlier hostility, a revelation of possibilities outside the family, and an alliance to achieve a shared aim - but it is not the legendary friendship of their forebears. It was Dagner who was Kialan's friend from the start, and Moril will strike out alone (his companion is chosen as a teacher, not a friend).
Cart and Cwidder ends with Moril setting out on his education as a singer; it's a beginning not an ending, just as Drowned Ammet ends with Mitt setting out for the North, on the verge of another story. They both feel guilty about something they have done - and they both have names of great significance, even if they don't use them every day. There's a pretty symmetry here, as well as enough loose threads to lead into more books, if an author felt so inclined - but when Diana Wynne Jones next picks up the Matter of Dalemark, she takes it somewhere else entirely.
*I have problems with this name. Is it just me?