01 November 2006

Summary Thoughts on The Pinhoe Egg

I realized I should get around to some remarks on Diana Wynne Jones's The Pinhoe Egg, or else people might think I'd never finished it.

This is the first true sequel in Jones's Chrestomanci series of novels--the first to pick up shortly after a previous volume (Charmed Life), and to reuse a young protagonist from that volume (Cat). The Lives of Christopher Chant was a prequel, Witch Week and The Magicians of Caprona are set far from Chrestomanci Castle (in so many ways), and Conrad's Fate fits in the middle but doesn't immediately follow or precede any title, not to mention having a very different narrative style. Only some of the short stories in Mixed Magics are closely tied to the same time and place as Charmed Life and The Pinhoe Egg.

And The Pinhoe Egg makes me think more strongly that we have to consider series novels considered differently from standalone novels. In this book Jones assumes that her readers will know about Chrestomanci's job; about Cat's difficult family history and peculiar sort of sinister magic, so much stronger than his classmates'; and about Lady Chrestomanci's immense powers and mothering skills. She wastes no space reintroducing them.

Furthermore, The Pinhoe Egg offers the pleasure of the familiar more than the pleasure of the new discovery. Chrestomanci appears not as an intimidating stranger or a last-ditch rescuer but as an eccentric father and guardian. We learn nothing new about him or his wife--but that's all right. In this sort of sequel, the pleasure arises in the reassurance that they're the same.

In this context, annoying behaviors can become beloved quirks. Of course Roger would think that because he had the idea to patent Cat's mirror game that he can claim to have invented it, and of course Cat keeps quiet. Similarly, in the Oz books Button-Bright is endearingly dim. We don't need these characters to grow and change. We don't want them to change!

Similarly, the plot echoes the basic structure of past Chrestomanci novels: Young person is oppressed by family/society, turns out to be immensely powerful magician, gets to learn even more magic in Chrestomanci Castle. In a like way, most of the Oz books finish with a party in the Emerald City. Who could complain?

Well, that castle classroom is getting awfully crowded, isn't it? Cat, Roger, Julia, Janet (despite having no magic), Marianne, Joe, and a griffin who can be expected to grow to dinosaur size. Of course, the only danger in that pattern is that there might not be room for another sequel.

[Past postings--
18 May 2006: whispers of a new Chrestomanci book.
10 Oct 2006: first impressions.
12 Oct 2006: enter the horse.
14 Oct 2006: Joe bears watching.
16 Oct 2006: Cat escapes a cliché.
19 Oct 2006: enter the griffin.
31 Oct 2006: a Gump in the works?]

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