RogerBW's Blog

Wilkins' Tooth, Diana Wynne Jones 12 June 2022

1973 children's fantasy. It's the summer holidays; Frank and Jess need money after a chair got broken, and set up Own Back Limited, a revenge-for-hire service. But things get far too complicated far too quickly. US vt Witch's Business.

The standard problem for stories in which children make a difference is "how do we get the parents out of the way": they happen Elsewhere, or the parents are killed off, or whatever. Much simpler here: they simply don't believe in the magic that's clearly being wielded. After all, children do catch diseases and get swollen faces; mothers do go away; and the old woman who lives in a shack down by the river must surely be regarded as unfortunate more than wicked, even if she is called Biddy Iremonger (a splendid name).

There are eventually six children in the group of heroes, and I was particularly struck by the way the descriptions of some of them changed: someone is obviously scary at first meeting, someone else is obviously above himself, until the protagonists get a chance to talk with them and find out that they have their own problems.

Frank and Jess are perhaps a bit lacking in personality at times, but the other characters make up for them: Vernon from the family of West Indians who are working at the Lodge (and yes, there are racial slurs here, but they're very definitely in the mouths of the bad guys), Frankie and Jenny Adams with "great big famine eyes", and Biddy herself, who's clearly something rather more complex than a generic wicked witch transplanted into the present day. Even the bully Buster Knell has more to him than first appears.

It's not quite the full and unique Diana Wynne Jones style that would come along later – I gather that the editors wanted it much more in the mould of standard children's books of the time, and the disparate elements fight in places. I kept being surprised by people talking about sums of five and ten pence, when the story shape is clearly from before decimalisation. But it's still a great deal of fun and well worth reading as an adult.

(A year or two after this as a child I had a lot of Puffin books; I wonder why this one was never among them.)

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2022 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1