Diana Wynne Jones Ralph Lavender - Essay

Ralph Lavender

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Drowned Ammet] takes place in the same land of Dalemark as the author's earlier Cart and Cwidder, where the southern earls are forever bickering while the north is united and the Holy Isles are in between. It cannot be said that this is a powerfully imagined country, like [C. S. Lewis's] Narnia or [J.R.R. Tolkien's] Mordor: it simply is, and is with utter consistency. The hero, Mitt, is a free soul who at the beginning has a mighty childhood vision of a place "just beyond somewhere", from which he learns that where he lives is not the same as home…. He enjoys a laughing childhood, but things turn grey when his father is lost through revolutionary activity. By the taste of it, the story is about late medieval; but even then, there were political revolutionaries, and so Mitt follows in his father's footsteps. He tries to blow up the earl with a bomb. Like many revolutionary acts, he bungles it. He escapes by sea, and there is a fine description of a storm; later he and his shipmates collect a castaway, and eventually they reach the Holy Isles.

About this point in the story, an extraordinary thing happens. It takes place so quietly, like a breath from [Joseph] Conrad, that you can almost miss it, and then you have to go back to the last plain-sailing point in the story to check up on what it is (which is, of course, how every reader goes about his business). And from here on, the soft light of vision steals back over the narrative, together with a new ritual form of language. Mitt has discovered his home, as well as most of the other important things about himself.

It is rare to find a book which relates to the theory of modern revolutionary politics through dealing with an imagined past, while at the same time keeping alive the great dream of Utopia—which all politicians and revolutionaries ought to have in their hearts.

Ralph Lavender, "Sea Scapes," in The Times Educational Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1977; reproduced from The Times Educational Supplement by permission), No. 3258, November 18, 1977, p. 40.∗