March Magics: The Lives of Christopher Chant

Did I ever tell you that The Lives of Christopher Chant was the first Diana Wynne Jones novel I ever loved? And did I ever tell you that when the seventh Harry Potter came out and I was feeling disappointed in Dumbledore, I went back and read The Lives of Christopher Chant and Charmed Life and Witch Week and Conrad’s Fate to experience a non-disappointing omniscient wizard man?

March Magics is upon us, hosted by the wonderful Kristen at We Be Reading, and I am celebrating this week with a reread of the book that made me certain (at age, like, twelve) that Diana Wynne Jones was going to become one of my favorite authors.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is not the book you’re supposed to read first in the Chrestomanci series, but it’s possibly the one I would recommend you to read first. It’s this or Witch Week, for sure. Our hero, Christopher, who will one day grow up to be the Chrestomanci of maddening vagueness and extravagant dressing gowns, is a little kid who walks through the multiverse in his dreams. When his Uncle Ralph discovers this, he enlists Christopher to do some experiments for him, and Christopher — who worships Uncle Ralph — agrees.

The Lives of Christopher Chant

The Lives of Christopher Chant does this narrative trick to which Diana Wynne Jones is very prone, where the child protagonist fundamentally misunderstands important things about himself, the world around him, and the choices he’s making. Some of these things are clear to the reader: If it weren’t immediately obvious that Uncle Ralph is a bad person who is taking advantage of Christopher’s unique skills, we could figure it out from Tacroy, who guides Christopher on his journeys through the dream world / multiverse. But other revelations were as much of a surprise to my young self as they were to Christopher, and a reminder — Diana Wynne Jones excels at these — that the world we see isn’t the only world there is.

Also, if you are the sort of person who cares about this, The Lives of Christopher Chant features probably my favorite of the Diana Wynne Jones cat. His name is Throgmorton.

  • Lisa

    I read Charmed Life first, I wish I could remember on whose recommendation. That definitely got me hooked on Chrestomanci. I have one of the paperback editions now that has Charmed Life and the Lives of Christopher chant in one volume. So I usually end up reading those two together, because I can never stop with just one Chrestomanci book.

  • Jeanne

    It sounds like I would have liked this character better if I’d read this book first, but I found them at the library and read them in a different order. There was a scene with Chrestomanci spanking a bratty kid he barely knew (there were reasons for the brattiness) that turned me off the character.

    • =Tamar

      Chrestomanci didn’t spank her, Michael did, and by the end of the book, you find out what Chrestomanci already knew about her.

  • I usually favor reading books in the order in which they were written (except for Discworld in which I’m all over the place) but I agree this is not a bad one to start with. As you know I also love Witch Week but some readers find it too dark and not enough Chrestomanci. However, as with Lisa I hope most people will find that one book is not enough, even if the first is not their fave.

  • JeanPing

    I agree about reading either this or WW first; they’re both great ways to enter the Chrestomanci multiverse. For me it was Witch Week, though the very first DWJ book I read at all was Witch’s Business (Wilkin’s Tooth), with a newly-published Howl’s Moving Castle after that.

    Christopher and Eric both go through this thing where they have to learn to recognize people, and themselves. I always like how Christopher, once he gets going, goes all bumptious and assertive. Eric has a double barrier there and it’s harder for him.

    Throgmorton is the single greatest cat DWJ ever wrote. There are at least 3 Chrestomanci cats and I wish there were more!

  • Akilah

    Witch Week is πŸ’―.

    Diana Wynne Jones is one of the few authors who ALWAYS surprise me. Like, her books are not predictable AT ALL. How did she do it? HOW?

  • Aarti

    I have not read any of the Chrestomanci books! I have only read a few DWJ books. I have A Certain Wild Magic on my shelf but have not read it. I shall ABSOLUTELY read this series, though. It’s nice to have so many great books STILL TO READ πŸ™‚

  • etudesque

    I haven’t read any of these books – but your first paragraph won the deal for me here. I was disappointed (unfair, I know) that Dumbledore was human and that he had his own agenda (gasp!) – as a kid, that disillusionment was a punch to the gut. I’ll have to check this series out to redeem my review of elderly wizarding types.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Throgmorton, now that’s a name for what sounds like a very substantial cat!

  • Laila@BigReadingLife

    You know how you have weird reading gaps in your reading life, and somehow miss the entirety of an author’s work? That’s me and Diana Wynne Jones. I don’t know how I missed them. The only thing I can think is that as a child, I wasn’t really drawn to fantasy at all, and instead read lots of “realistic” juvenile fiction and mysteries. I think when I feel in the mood for middle-grade fiction I’m gonna try her out.

  • I think it’s quite possible that I never read this one (or I read it in such a hurry that nothing “stuck,” so to speak). My first DWJ was THE MERLIN CONSPIRACY, which I found in a bookshop in Sevilla while I was busy being very miserable (getting over my first serious heartbreak while studying abroad, as one does). I do remember reading at least 5 of these Chant books in very quick succession, but it’s clear I must go back to them…

  • Jeane Nevarez

    I have still only read one book in the series- which is sad because I really enjoyed it! Glad you have reminded me to get back to DWJ, sooner rather than later.

  • Oh, yes, a good dose of Chrestomanci would go down well right now! You know, I think I might get the whole lot of them (there are 7β€”I don’t think I knew that) for my Kindle. It would be reassuring to have a selection of DWJ on my phone in case of emergencies.

  • Kristen M.

    After reading Charmed Life and this back to back yet again, I definitely agree that this is the better entry into the series. Charmed Life is just so dark and angsty. I mean, the things Gwendolen is willing to do to her own brother are HORRID, especially the final plan in the moving garden. This one has peril but isn’t so dark. It’s a much easier story to love, especially with Tacroy and Millie versus Julia and Roger.

  • “The Lives of Christopher Chant does this narrative trick to which Diana Wynne Jones is very prone, where the child protagonist fundamentally misunderstands important things about himself, the world around him, and the choices he’s making. ”

    THIS. It’s one of my favourite DWJ things, besides the awful caretakers/parents thing.

  • Deborah O’Carroll

    “Christopher, who will one day grow up to be the Chrestomanci of maddening vagueness and extravagant dressing gowns” <– that right there, one of my favorite descriptions ever. XD Excellent.

    I read this one second (after Charmed Life) and I remember enjoying it but not as much as some of the others in the series… on my first read. I just reread the whole series and this one I loved phenomenally more than the first time! Funny how DWJ can do that sometimes. But I love all her books I've read, they just get even better the second time. πŸ˜€

  • I don’t know whether this is one I’ve read… it’s been so long since I read these books that they’ve kind of merged together in my head! I might have… I don’t know. I’ve definitely read Witch Week and Charmed Life… even though I can’t remember which one of those includes the match book with the boy and his sister… it’s one of them, I’m sure!