Chrestomanci, sometimes branded The Worlds of Chrestomanci, is a heptalogy of children's fantasy books written by British author Diana Wynne Jones, published from 1977 to 2006. In the context of the parallel universe setting of the books, Chrestomanci also refers to the British government office that is responsible for supervising the use of magic and Chrestomanci Castle in southern England, which is both residence and headquarters.
|Author||Diana Wynne Jones|
Greenwillow Books (US)
|No. of books||7|
The word "Chrestomanci" may be derived from the Greek khrestos, meaning "useful", and -mancy, "divination". In turn -mancy is derived from Ancient Greek manteía, "prophecy or divination". Jones gives the pronunciation "KREST–OH–MAN–SEE" herself and one of her characters writes the same instruction for using the word as a spell.
The label "The Worlds of Chrestomanci" on some late 20th century editions alludes to their general setting, a multiverse called the "Related Worlds". The worlds have branched from common ancestors at important events in history such as English and French victories in the Battle of Agincourt, or the success or failure of the Gunpowder plot. Some people can move between worlds, at least in spirit, and twelve Series of similar worlds have been labelled in the English of the stories. It is common for people to have parallel selves in other worlds. The principal setting for the series is World 12A.
World 12A is reminiscent of Britain during the Edwardian Era. There are known to be other worlds with British governments, probably all of series 12 and some others; even more worlds have an England in or near Europe. The Chrestomanci has representatives in some other worlds but does not know all other worlds. Indeed, Witch Week is set in a world even closer to ours, yet its existence is a surprise to Chrestomanci Christopher Chant and he cannot easily identify it.
In World 12A, "magic is as common as music is with us", Jones explains. That may be the norm. On the other hand, a world where almost everyone has detectable magic is rare or unique to the world of Witch Week.
As a class, enchanters have the most magic and are rare. They may have as many as nine lives; those with nine lives have the most magic and are few in number. Nine-lived enchanters known to the Chrestomanci are unique across all the Related Worlds: i.e., they have no alternate selves.
One crucial sort of magic is the capability to travel between worlds, at least in spirit—at least, to travel with some knowledge and control. Whether spirit-travel in the Related Worlds explains some experiences of ordinary people is not directly addressed.
There are seven Chrestomanci books: six novels and a collection of four stories subtitled Four Tales of Chrestomanci.
The main setting for the series is Chrestomanci Castle in southern England, in an unspecified time, in a parallel world close to ours where "magic is as common as music is with us". Two of the novels are set during the childhood and during the adolescence of Christopher Chant.
Christopher is mainly about 12 years old in the first, which was later issued with subtitle The Childhood of Chrestomanci. He is 15 years old in the second. The other four novels and all four tales are set during his tenure as Chrestomanci, and least 25 years pass between The Lives and Charmed Life.
- Charmed Life (1977)
- "Warlock at the Wheel" (1984 short story)
- The Magicians of Caprona (1980)
- "Stealer of Souls" (2000 novella)
- "Carol Oneir's Hundredth Dream" (1986 novelette)
- The Pinhoe Egg (2006)
One novel and one tale cannot be placed in sequence. They are set in other worlds without overlapping characters except visits by Christopher Chant as Chrestomanci and evidently in the prime of life.
- "The Sage of Theare" (1982 novelette)
- Witch Week (1982 novel)
Eric Chant appears briefly in "The Sage of Theare" as a boy or young adult from the household of Chrestomanci Christopher Chant.
All four short fictions named here are collected in Mixed Magics.
US Chronicles of Chrestomanci, three vols.
The recent editions of the books have been illustrated by Tim Stevens, who also illustrated Jones' Howl's Moving Castle series. Illustrations are usually at the start of one of the books' chapters.
- Charmed Life —
- The novel won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize in 1978 and was a Commended runner-up for the 1977 Carnegie Medal. It also won the German Preis der Leseratten.
- Witch Week —
- Witch Week was named a School Library Journal Book of the Year.
- The Lives of Christopher Chant—
- The Lives was a Commended runner-up for the 1988 Carnegie Medal.
- An ALA Notable Book [back cover of Beech Tree Books, 1998] [10 UP / RL 4.9] [also quoting ALA Booklist and The Horn Book, two starred reviews]
- Conrad's Fate —
- The Pinhoe Egg —
- The Pinhoe Egg was one of four runners up for Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, children's section, the sixth time Jones was a finalist for that annual literary award by the Mythopoeic Society. Locus subscribers voted it number six for the 2007 Locus Award for best young adult book. In 2009 it was a finalist for the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader's Choice Awards in the intermediate division.
The office of Chrestomanci
All Chrestomancis must have, or have had, nine lives. Merely calling out "Chrestomanci" will cause the current Chrestomanci to appear, whether he wants to or not, anywhere on his own world. It is implied in Witch Week that saying his name three times will summon him on any world. Once called, a Chrestomanci will attempt to solve any urgent magical dilemma, either out of obligation or natural inclination.
As enchanters, Chrestomancis are among the strongest magic-users in their world. The two featured Chrestomanci in the series have serious magical weaknesses; whether this is a result of their magical strength or a coincidence is unknown. In Christopher Chant's case, this weakness is silver: he cannot work magic while silver is on his person or while being touched by silver; he is also unable to work magic directly on silver. Eric "Cat" Chant's weakness is that he must work magic through his left hand; his right hand cannot work magic.
The seat of office is Chrestomanci Castle, a fortress of magic staffed by civil servants and occupied by the current enchanter and his family. This castle can be used as both a government office and a private dwelling, as well as a school for Chrestomanci's children and wards. Most people find the atmosphere of the castle disconcerting, but Chrestomanci does not seem to notice.
Benjamin Allworthy is the earliest named Chrestomanci, followed by Gabriel de Witt and his successor, Christopher Chant.
Christopher Chant appears in all of the books in the Chrestomanci series. He is the current occupant of the post. He takes great pains with his clothes, and is often found in either his impeccable dove-gray suit or one of many elaborately embroidered dressing gowns. He is often described as dreamy or vague, but these are also the times when he is most perceptive. He currently has two lives remaining, one of which is in the gold wedding ring worn by his wife, Millie.
Eric "Cat" Chant appears in Charmed Life, Mixed Magics, and The Pinhoe Egg. He is in training to become the next Chrestomanci. He is a seemingly ordinary boy, with interests similar to most boys his age. Cat currently has three lives remaining, one of which is in a cat named Fiddle that his sister Gwendolen transformed from his violin early in their childhoods. Gwendolen also imprisoned Cat's lives into a matchbook, killing one of his lives in the process, and it is revealed near the end of Charmed Life that she was somehow using Cat's magic, and destroying three of his lost lives, to do her nefarious works. Cat's two other lives were lost when he nearly died in childbirth, and when he drowned during the Saucy Nancy Disaster – the sinking of a leisure boat at the beginning of Charmed Life that killed Cat and Gwendolen's parents.
- Beginning with a matching set (Collins, May 2000) comprising the first edition of Mixed Magics and reissue of the four extant novels.
- Chrestomanci series at ISFDB.
- Mixed Magics (Greenwillow Books, 2001), preface. "You pronounce it KREST-OH-MAN-SEE."
- Witch Week, chapter 11. "The old lady had written just one strange word three times at the top of the paper. Under that, as she had told them, she had written, in shaky capitals, how to say this word: KREST-OH-MAN-SEE."
- WW ch. 12 to opening pages of ch. 15. Especially: "I think there has been some kind of accident. You shouldn't get a civilized world where witches are burned. As I said, it ought not to exist. ... I urgently need a short history of witchcraft, in order to discover what kind of accident happened here. Was Elizabeth I a witch?" (ch. 13)
- DWJ, untitled preface to Mixed Magics (Greenwillow Books, 2001; first US hardcover edition, opposite title page).
- Paul Slater at ISFDB.
- Greg Newbold at ISFDB.
- Publication: The Chrestomanci Quartet at ISFDB
- Publication: The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: Volume II at ISFDB
- Ionicus at ISFDB.
- "Diana Wynne Jones" Archived 2012-05-20 at the Wayback Machine The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index to Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2012-04-27.
- "The Locus Index to SF Awards: 2007 Locus Awards". Archived from the original on 2010-02-09. Retrieved 2017-03-28.
- "Mythopoeic Awards – Fantasy" Archived 2011-10-06 at the Wayback Machine The Mythopoeic Society. Retrieved 2012-04-27.