No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Sunday, May 24, 2015

2015/09: Dogsbody --Diana Wynne Jones

Glimmering, frantic, frosty, the cold hounds came pouring into the open. Everything was helter-skelter gleaming eyes, gleaming coats and the wild pattering of feet, as hundreds of white dogs raced after the dim shape. [loc.2913]

A reread, latest but not first: I think this may have been the first Diana Wynne Jones novel I ever read, back at secondary school. I loved it then and love it still.

There are two 'dogsbodies' here: Sirius, the Dog Star, who is incarnated in the body of a puppy as punishment and atonement for a crime; and Kathleen, a young girl who has been taken in by her aunt while her father is in prison, and who ends up doing almost all of the housework. Kathleen adopts Sirius, who eventually remembers that he is searching for the weapon with which the alleged crime was committed: with the help of humans and others -- including the Wild Hunt and its Master -- all is finally made right.

I am amazed at just how much is packed into this novel. Jones' trademark humour (Sirius' interactions with the household cats), Kathleen's isolation (her interactions with her two male cousins are a darker, unhappier mirror of Sirius and the cats), the beauty of Earth, the chilling Wild Hunt and its mysterious Master. He is a fascinating figure, and I suspect he's a synthesis of a number of mythic hunters and lords of the underworld:

The Master said uneasily, “Don’t look too closely. The truth has no particular shape.”
“I know that,” Kathleen sad, rather impatiently. Her eyes stayed watching the space above the Master’s head for all that. “But you’re not Arawn, are you?” she said.
The boys had seen the Master for the first time. They were both terrified. Robin’s teeth chattered and he said, “But he could be Orion or Actaeon, couldn’t he?”
“Or John Peel,” Basil said, very derisively because he was so scared.
Sirius wondered what the three humans had understood about the Master that he had not. It was clear that the Master knew they had understood it, by the way he changed the subject.

I found myself more intrigued by the Hunt, this time around, than by the galactic society (not that sort of galactic society) of luminaries and effulgents that's only lightly sketched. The Master's dual nature as hunter and hunted; the 'tender terror', 'savage sorrow', 'fierce pity' that Sirius feels towards him; most of all, perhaps, Jones' refusal to explain him, in a way that's all too rare these days in children's and YA fiction.

[just found an interesting blog post about the Master, https://onceonatyme.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/hunting-the-hunter/]

“No, darkness is not movement,” he said sombrely. “Nor is the other part of my power, which comes from things as they must be. I’m stronger than you are, luminary..." [loc.3091]

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