Diana Wynne Jones Marcus Crouch - Essay

Marcus Crouch

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Diana Wynne Jones has already written twice about the country of Dalemark. In this new, and remarkable, book [The Spellcoats] she explores some of its prehistory, the archaeological evidence for which consists of two woven coats into which a narrative had been worked. The Spellcoats is the story of that weaving and of the weaver.

Stories of imagined worlds are acceptable only so far as they present inhabitants with whom we can feel some bond of sympathy. Miss Wynne Jones captures our interest and concern from the first page. Here is a united and reasonably happy family, father and three boys, two girls, living in a small and mainly hostile community, the village of Shelling. This stands on the bank of [a] river, and the river dominates their lives and puts a bound to their experience. War comes to the country, and father and the eldest son go off to fight for the King. (pp. 221-22)

In the adventures which follow, supernatural forces and dark magic are skilfully balanced against the everyday quarrels, affections and fun of family life. These are seen through the eyes of Tanaqui, the weaver, a girl of character whose role is to be the intermediary between the living and the dead. She, for all her impatience and quick temper, has the gift of seeing both sides of the story, and through her the fortunes of natives and Heathen are united against a common enemy.

There are some spine-chilling moments and a fine climax, and a conclusion which is not too tidy, leaving the imagination many loose ends to work upon. In fact this is one of those books which goes on in the mind long after the last page has been scanned. If such are to your taste, you have to thank Miss Wynne Jones' philosophy as much as her knowledge of character and her skill in narrative. It is a big book, long and continuously demanding of attention and a degree of surrender. (p. 222)

Marcus Crouch, in his review of "The Spellcoats," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 43, No. 4, August, 1979, pp. 221-22.