Diana Wynne Jones Ruth Nichols - Essay

Ruth Nichols

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The vocabulary of fantasy has become familiar to the contemporary reader who will find in [Cart and Cwidder] nothing new. North and South of an imaginary kingdom are at war; the names are vaguely Nordic, the setting vaguely medieval. (p. 69)

Ms. Jones's work is highly derivative. This is particularly unfortunate with regard to her style. One of the surest marks of second-rate fantasy is the presence of formal speech-patterns ineptly handled and apparently only half-understood by the author. Ms. Jones interrupts her "high" speech with frequent modern slang, apparently without any suspicion of incongruity.

This lack of linguistic sensitivity is paralleled by what I can only call a lack of emotional authenticity. Even the hangings and murders, of which the story has quite a few, have a passionless air about them: that is, their violence is taken disturbingly for granted and arouses no convincing depth either of sympathy or of revulsion in the characters. The moral problem of violence is thus in essence avoided: violence becomes merely a counter in the plot. The fantasy kingdom is too ill-realized to make us care about its affairs, although this need not be the case even in a small-scale fantasy: witness the marvellously realized landscapes and people in Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn. Ms. Jones's characters have a mechanical, derivative quality. One cannot escape a suspicion that even the "magic" element of the ancient cwidder is included because magic is a stock ingredient in the fantasy formula. I have never read an author whose style and story were so empty of real magic.

A reviewer appears graceless when he finds nothing in a book to praise, but I must accept this unsavory responsibility. Real fantasy can nourish a child's imagination on so high a level, can awaken him to beauty, to grief, to moral passion. One searches in vain for these excellences here. Cart and Cwidder is a sort of fantasy paint-by-numbers set. (p. 70)

Ruth Nichols, in her review of "Cart and Cwidder," in The World of Children's Books (© 1978 Jon C. Stott), Vol. III, No. 1, Spring, 1978, pp. 69-70.