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

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

2018/24: The Spellcoats -- Diana Wynne Jones

I need understanding. When I have woven my understanding, then Kankredin will have cause to fear. This is what I must understand. Why is Gull’s soul of such special value? Why is Robin so ill? And what is the One? These questions are all bound to lesser ones, such as what have Hern, Duck and I sworn to the Undying that we will do? [p. 186]

Reread whilst ill: it's been a long time, and as usual with deliberate rereads I remembered some aspects very vividly and others not at all.
The Spellcoats is the first-person narrative of Tanaqui, a girl living in what's effectively the prehistory of the other Dalemark books. She is weaving her narrative into the eponymous spellcoats -- and she understands much more about what she is doing by the end of the novel than she does at the beginning, when events are set in motion by the King's recruitment of Tanaqui's father, and her elder brother Gull, to fight the Heathens.

Tanaqui and her siblings (their mother is dead) are ostracised by the villagers (they look nothing like their neighbours, and they worship different gods) and are eventually forced to flee downriver. They meet a young man, Tanamil, who teaches each of them something important; they reach the river's mouth and encounter a great evil; most importantly, they find out something of their own origins.

This is a novel which demanded immediate rereading way back when I first read it, because the revelations of the latter half shed a different light on earlier chapters. I'm pleased to see that the slow build still works for me. And now, of course, I see that it is also a story about xenophobia, about being driven from one's home, about trying to tell the story of your life when you don't have a firm foundation on which to stand and look back on the events that shaped (and are still shaping) you.

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