Rereading the Dalemark Quartet

by , under books

Diana Wynne Jones, The Dalemark Quartet
Cart & Cwidder cover   Drowned Ammet cover   The Spellcoats cover  The Crown of Dalemark cover

At least there are some real sites describing and discussing the books! Perhaps because Diana Wynne Jones has a substantial fan following. I was about to say “a large fan following” but as I don’t know other authors’ fanbases I have no way to estimate whether or not it’s large.

The Spellcoats and Cart and Cwidder, in no particular order, may have been the first Diana Wynne Jones I read. I bought them for one guilder each in the remainders shop when I was in my late preteens or early teens, not an age when I thought “wow, I need to read more by this author”, it was rather “I need to read more like this book”. I did get Eight Days of Luke from the library around that time but I don’t know whether I even realised it was by the same person. All of these were in Dutch translation, and I later found out that the Dutch translation of The Spellcoats –and perhaps some of the others; I hesitate to borrow the ones Secunda has– is excruciatingly bad, even leaving out whole parts that the translator apparently couldn’t make sense of. Also, the translator thought she had to render names into something her audience would understand, making ‘Kialan’ into ‘Kilian’ –pointless but harmless– and ‘Moril’ into ‘Merijn’ –severing the connection with Tanamoril, so with the mythology. (Post about localising fiction put into mental processing machine. Will come out when ready.)

When I got all the books in the Mandarin (Macmillan) edition I thought for a long time that The Spellcoats and Cart and Cwidder were “the real Dalemark books” and the other ones “political stuff I should also read for completeness’ sake”. On this rereading, however, I found that Drowned Ammet has awesome gods in it! and nice secondary characters! and convincing nasty villains! and well-rounded morally ambiguous people! In fact all the things I appreciate a book for. Also, it’s got much more plot than I remembered; all I really remembered was the beginning with Mitt as a child, and an endless boring sea voyage with Hildy and Ynen. (Well, there is quite a long sea voyage, but it’s not all in one piece, nor is it endless or boring.) Similarly, The Crown of Dalemark wasn’t “obligatory pulling-it-all-together with gratuitous modern-day infringement” but a good story in itself with a neat resolution, that makes me shout “More! MORE!” — I’d happily read more about modern Dalemark, with all the myth and history running through it the way it does through the modern-day parts of The Crown.

Those are the very best books: that make you want more.

  1. Melissa Proffitt

    Yay, you blogged about them when I didn’t! Funny thing, I read Spellcoats and Cart and Cwidder long before the other two–I didn’t even know Drowned Ammet existed until Crown of Dalemark came out–so it really did feel like “pure fantasy” versus “political fantasy” to me. Now Drowned Ammet is my favorite. I’m impressed at how solid the whole series is, how much potential for more stories (as you say) and would wish that there had been more of them…except what other DWJ books would I sacrifice to get them?

  2. Farah Mendlesohn

    I think “The True State of Affairs” is also a Dalemark story.

    • Irina

      I never noticed! I must say that I never got into anything in Minor Arcana much, it sits almost pristine between the worn and spine-cracked other books, but perhaps it’s a question of maturity (mine) too. *adds to virtual reread pile*

    • Irina

      Hmm, reading the first few pages (I couldn’t resist reading all the rest of Minor Arcana first) makes me think it’s a Dalemark-like story all right, but seeing that Emily was brought up in Kent and at least knows about Latin I tend to think that it’s either a sort-of-this-world story, or a crossover story. I tend not to like the latter, but if DWJ wrote it it’s probably okay. Also, I really don’t remember much of it, probably got the book when I was very sick (check: 1998, when my thyroid was trying to kill me) and never read it properly. Being remedied now.

    • Irina

      Yes, it is a Dalemark story, but not really the Dalemark I know. Your (Farah’s) article (http://www.farahsf.com/denying.htm) helped me a lot, confirming my suspicion that it was a much earlier Dalemark than that of Drowned Ammet et al., but what are the Norse gods doing there? Threw me right out of the story when reading it with the expectation of Dalemark. I suppose, as it was written long before the books, the actual mythology of the world hadn’t crystallised out yet in DWJ’s mind (and unfortunately we can’t ask her any more), but it was still jarring.

  3. Katarina

    I guess we are very imprinted by which books we start with – I read the Dalemark books very late, and on my original read my judgement was “okay”, “boring, then good”, “boring, boring, then really good,” and “boring, boring, boring, EXCELLENT.” I recently re-read them, and this time around, I thought The Crown of Dalemark was the best one all the way through, with Drowned Ammet a close second, and The Spellcoats a not so close third, while Cart & Cwidder still remained only okay. (Okay is fine; okay is more than most authors ever reach, but I do expect more from DWJ.) I think maybe it all has to do with expectations – my expectations are different now than they were when I’d read fewer DWJ books, and of course both times around it’s different from your experience.

  4. Sonia

    Hi there, I have just finished reading the Dalemark Quartet and am itching to ask tonnes of questions, but there are practically no forums for this! Could I ask a few questions here? Thank you “:)

    • Irina

      This is hardly a “forum”, it’s my personal blog, so I doubt you’ll get much of a response except from me (and I don’t think I know answers to actual questions).

      But you can try the Diana Wynne Jones mailing list, subscribe here, full of people who love to talk about her books.