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Power plays: paradigms of power in The Pinhoe Egg and The Merlin Conspiracy.

AS CHARLES BUTLER HAS NOTED, DIANA WYNNE JONES'S WORK "HAS ALWAYS been characterized by an interest in power and its abuse" (267). Jones addresses issues of power in a variety of ways, but one particular paradigm, power over others as exercised through established frameworks of relationships, occurs throughout her body of work. This power, or control, over others can occur in personal, one-on-one relationships, such as among family members, friends, or marriage partners, or as power vested in and wielded by government or other authority structures or institutions. In either case, Jones is concerned with how that control is exerted and the effect that misusing such power has on the individual or individuals being controlled. Though an analysis of these power paradigms could be undertaken with any Jones novel, in this article I will briefly consider some of the ways they are worked into two particular novels, The Merlin Conspiracy (2003) and The Pinhoe Egg (2006), because of the similarities in which these two seemingly disparate books critique power relationships both between individuals and between a system of government and those it governs. An examination of how Jones constructs these paradigms and resolves conflicts resulting from them reveals a surprisingly complex presentation of the appropriate and inappropriate uses of power over others.

At a basic level, "power" can be defined as the ability to control something; when directed at others, "power" is the ability to influence others or to make them take action of some sort. In social constructs, power is granted by an individual or group of individuals, either consciously or unconsciously, based on a number of factors. One of the classic descriptions of power relationships in society is that provided in 1960 by sociologists John French and Bertram Raven, who classified the bases of power into five types: positional power, reward power, coercive power, referent power, and expert power (613). Positional power is formally delegated authority, such as a country's government or the leader of an organization or institution; French and Raven call this "legitimate" power, or power derived from the perception that an individual has a right, based on "some sort of code or standard," to assert authority over another (616). Coercive power is power exerted through the ability to withhold desired rewards of some type, and its opposite, reward power, depends on the ability to provide those desired rewards (613-15). Expert power is wielded through an individual's skills or knowledge and the need for them on the part of a group or another individual (620-21). Referent power is the personal charisma of an individual and his or her ability to influence others through that charisma (618); it can also be power that resides in ideological concepts, such as nationalism or patriotism, that influence a person or a group's actions. Similarly, German social critic Max Weber identified three kinds of socio-political power: legal authority, which is executed by and through a system of rules or laws; traditional authority, which is power accumulated via repeated practice or an ideological sanctioning; and charismatic power, which, as in French and Raven, is power accumulated through personal attractiveness (328). Jones employs all of these power dynamics in her novels in a multitude of ways, providing models through which her readers can vicariously interrogate power systems and their own particular roles within them. The two novels presently under consideration primarily examine the dynamics of positional power (governmental structures), traditional or referent power (the force of belief in a system, particularly in a person or persons who represent that system), and coercive power, or manipulation through emotional or magical means, often both.

The plot of The Pinhoe Egg centers on the machinations of the local witch tribes around Chrestomanci Castle outside of Helm St. Mary as they seek to remain hidden from the watchful eye of Chrestomanci while simultaneously carrying out a witch war against each other for perceived wrongs and failures of duty. The story is set soon after the events of the much earlier novel The Magicians of Caprona (1980), (1) with Christopher Chant as Chrestomanci, his wife Millie, children Roger and Julia, and his wards, Eric (Cat) Chant from Charmed Life (1977) and Cat's adopted sister, Janet, returning from the Continent just in time for summer vacation. The plot moves back and forth between the witch families, primarily the Pinhoes who live in ulvercote, and daily life at the Castle. Cat Chant and a young girl named Marianne Pinhoe are the main child protagonists and are at the center of the conflicts and their resolutions in the novel.

The Pinhoe Egg presents an interesting network of power paradigms on both personal and governmental levels. Interpersonal power dynamics are at the forefront of the narrative: much of the description in the novel details the attempts at emotional as well as magical coercion or manipulation by various members of the Pinhoe family, as well as other characters on occasion, including Cat's new horse, Syracuse, who must be bribed with peppermints to obey commands most of the time. (2) The most dominant emotional manipulator is the matriarch of the Pinhoe family and official head of the village of ulvercote, Gammer Pinhoe, who, like Aunt Maria in the earlier Black Maria (1991; published in the US as Aunt Maria), gets her way through a combination of applied guilt and applied magic. Gammer's power strikes the opening note of the book: as Marianne thinks to herself at the beginning of the novel, "You did not disobey Gammer's commands" (1), and the reader quickly learns that Gammer's power is both positional, by virtue of her role as matriarch, and coercive, by virtue of her strong magical ability. Though most of the villagers obey Gammer because of her authoritative power, she uses her magic to ensure their obedience and to avoid responsibility for actions she takes; for example, she places misdirecting spells on everyone in the Pinhoe family to make sure that they do not (correctly) blame her for contributing to the witch war that erupts in the beginning of the novel. Her granddaughter eventually realizes that Gammer has been using this technique for years: "Marianne's eyes went wide as she realized that Gammer might have been setting this spell all of Marianne's own life. No one ever blamed Gammer" (304; italics in original). The first few pages of the book describe her coercion of her grandchildren Marianne and Joe into spending their summer vacation doing her bidding rather than pursuing their own summer plans, threatening to bespell them to do so if they do not agree willingly. She actually carries out this threat on her grandson when he protests, forcing him to spend his summer working at Chrestomanci Castle in order to serve as a spy for the Pinhoes.

The reader soon sees that emotional coercion is a part of life for both Joe and Marianne. Joe has learned to resist through adopting a sulky attitude and actively working at being "a disappointment" to the Pinhoe adults; he would rather use his abilities to combine magic and machinery than in working at the family's traditional crafts. Marianne, on the other hand, is prone to letting the adults in her life dictate her actions; as she tells Cat Chant, "It's hard to--to trust yourself when everyone's always telling you you're too young and to do what you're told" (183). Destined to be the next "Gammer" simply because she is the only girl of her generation in her immediate family, Marianne is an enchantress, not merely a witch, and she eventually must learn to negotiate her own future and to follow her grandfather's advice to "find who you really are" (495). Much of what happens to Marianne in the novel is a process of her gaining agency in her life and learning to resist being told what to do by the dismissive adults around her. (3)

The Merlin Conspiracy has its share of coercive interpersonal power paradigms, too, though they are not as dominant a theme as are issues of positional power. One is between the two main child characters from Blest, Ambrose Temple (Grundo) and Arianrhod Hyde (Roddy): Grundo exerts coercive power over Roddy by emotional and magical manipulation in order to keep her as a protective older friend. Another is exercised by Roddy's young witch cousins (twins whom Grundo christens "the Izzys" because of their names, Ilsabil and Isadora), who habitually cast a glamour over others, including their own mother and grandmother, in order to continue to act as outrageously as they please without adult repression and reprimand. The novel also touches on power dynamics within marriage and family: most of Roddy's relatives have failed marriages, (4) as do Grundo's parents, Romanov and Sybil. The latter is an especially dysfunctional relationship that has disastrous consequences, since Sybil's feeling of being ignored by Romanov leads her to seek control over all of Blest and thus sets the major crisis in the novel into play simply to make him notice her. (5) There is also the sexual attraction that Nick feels for Roddy that she keeps resisting, which she thinks of in terms of his mentally "pushing" at her.

The power struggles between individuals in these novels present models that prompt the reader to consider how basic emotions and moral codes such as compassion and respect for others can be exploited by manipulative individuals. One of the strongest examples is Roddy's protectiveness towards Grundo, which for most of the book is a major element in their relationship. Roddy began looking out for Grundo when he was a small, neglected, and abused child out of compassion for him, and she continues to think that compassion is her motivation. When Romanov finally forces Grundo to admit to her that "I put a glamour on you to make you--you love me and--and look after me above everyone else" (397), Roddy is devastated: "I've always thought of myself as a nice, loving, kind person. But now it turns out that Grundo was making me care for him, this means I'm not like that at all. [...] I could be as vile and selfish as everyone else at Court for all I know!" (399). Grundo's long-term self-defensive manipulation of Roddy possibly hampered her ability to develop a sense of responsibility for others on her own terms, and certainly warped her sense of self. Though on a much smaller scale and for a more innocuous purpose, Grundo's misuse of magic echoes that of his mother, who also uses magic to achieve her selfish desires at the cost of others. In The Pinhoe Egg, the natural respect that the Pinhoe family would have for Gammer as matriarch is corrupted by her manipulation of everyone around her; the family is influenced, through her subtly coercive spells, to find excuses for her actions rather than face the reality that she is a mean-spirited old woman who has little concern for the welfare of others.

These are just two examples out of many in these books which serve to interrogate social interactions between individuals and within communities. For Jones, the coercive magic practiced by Gammer and Grundo is a metaphor for emotional manipulation, one that prompts the reader to examine real-life power dynamics: how much of what we do or think is truly the result of decisions made freely, without emotional coercion by others in our lives? Such motifs seem to indicate that in Jones's view, freedom to make personal decisions is vitally important, and control by others that impinges on that freedom is a misuse of power, even when the reasons for doing so are understandable. The lesson to the reader is clear: do not let others in your life control your decisions. Surprisingly, though, this lesson coexists with a very different treatment of another paradigm in these two novels, that of an established government, what French and Raven term positional power. Whereas Jones clearly values personal freedom of choice, and in fact consistently presents her readers with the message of thinking for oneself even when those in authority say otherwise, her approach to the exercise of governmental power is more complex, and often even contradictory to this subversive message.

The Pinhoe Egg presents two different governmental systems. The first is the tribal governing system of Gaffers and Gammers for each witch village, a centuries-old system that became warped over time because of narrow-minded religious influences and a loss of traditional knowledge (466-70), and a system that is operating under the radar, so to speak, of the second one. As Chrestomanci informs his audience at the end of the novel, the Gaffer for each tribe "was chosen from among the old chiefs family, and he was always chosen for having the most dwimmer [the witches' peculiar brand of magic in this novel]" (467). The Gaffer chose the Gammer, who was the woman in the tribe with the most dwimmer, and not necessarily his wife; this system seems to have been intended to be a system of checks and balances of sorts, though it still included power inherited through family ties. That Ulvercote is currently dominated by Gammer only--her oldest son is Gaffer in her husband's absence, but he clearly has no official role in the village--is an early indication that this particular village is unbalanced. The Farleighs are little better off: though that village has both a Gaffer and a Gammer, both individuals are narrow-minded, vindictive bigots; in addition, Gaffer Farleigh has lived more than his normal life span and thus has acquired more power than he should have. The Gaffer and Gammer system of checks and balances on power seems to have been abrogated by these two tribes. The implication here is that hoarded power is easily misused.

The second system is that of the British government on World 12A, which Chrestomanci is an employee of, charged with overseeing the use of magic on that world and, on occasion, other worlds in the multiverse as well. These two systems are at odds: the local witch tribes reject being ruled by "The Big Man" (Chrestomanci), from whom they have been hiding for over two hundred years in order to practice their "craft" as they please, yet the term the witches use for him, (6) as well as the secretiveness of their actions, emphasizes the governmental authority of his position. In resolving this conflict, Jones affirms the power and right of an established government to control the lives of individuals in ways that override their personal free will, as well as its ability to overrule local authority structures when those structures take action at odds with governmental value systems--a surprisingly conservative message, given the subversive one Jones presents elsewhere regarding personal freedom. In the end, because of the witch war instigated by Gammer Pinhoe and Gaffer Farleigh, the rebel witches around Helm St. Mary are forced out into the open and will be under the watchful eye of Chrestomanci Castle from now on. In other words, they are brought under the overt control of the established legitimate power structure, the British government of World 12A. Such a denouement is seemingly justified in the novel because the tribal leaders have become corrupted and acted against the good of their people--and worse, since they conspired to cripple and wrongfully imprison the old Gaffer of the Pinhoes--and also because, as Chrestomanci reveals near the end, their positions of authority have become warped over time. Yet such a denouement prompts a colonial reading of the power dynamics at work in this novel in terms of governmental, or positional power. (7) Furthermore, Chrestomanci, acting in his capacity as a representative of the British government, institutes some significant changes in their way of life: not only does he invite Marianne and Joe (8) to transfer their education to the Castle and away from their provincial village life, but he and Millie actively encourage an open exchange of knowledge between the witch tribes and the Castle so that each group can learn from the other. He oversees the passing on of the role of Gammer to Irene Pinhoe, at the suggestion of Elijah, as well, another act that can be read in colonial terms, especially in light of the fact that Irene, though a Pinhoe by birth, is married to someone on the Castle staff, Jason Yeldham.

In addition, in his capacity as a government enforcer charged with protecting the public's welfare, Chrestomanci punishes the Farleighs by stripping them all of their magic because they crossed the line from pettiness into malicious endangerment of people in general. The nature or function of positional power requires its representatives to take punitive action when the codes that underlie it are challenged; as Chrestomanci says, "I not only have the right, [...] but as a government employee it's my duty to do this. People who use their magic to give a whole village a dangerous disease like smallpox are not to be trusted with it" (476). Yet Chrestomanci's broadly applied judgment on the entire Farleigh tribe but not the Pinhoe tribe strikes some readers as biased and unfair, since both families engaged in the witch war. (9)

In another act of superseding tribal authority, Chrestomanci, with the help of Cat and Marianne, sets free the wild magic creatures that the witches have imprisoned behind an invisible magical barrier out of the misguided belief, grounded in religious zeal for some, that they are wicked and dangerous, a belief the tribes have held for generations. (10) This tenacious clinging to tradition is yet another power structure, what Weber terms "traditional" power, and it is deeply ingrained in these villagers. It is also a misguided power structure in this novel: the action culminates in Chrestomanci, Millie, and various Castle staff members presenting a researched history of the witch tribes and their traditions to the gathered Pinhoes and Farleighs, in hopes that the truth will show that the witches have misconstrued their age-old relationship with the wild magical beings. (11) Yet most of the families reject the truth in favor of the old ways. Harry Pinhoe, Marianne and Joe's father, is the most bitterly opposed to the new ideas, constantly complaining that "the good old ways are not good enough for you" to Marianne (482).

This devotion to traditional ways of thinking is so powerful that any challenge to it is resented, even dispensed with: not only do the Pinhoe and Farleigh leaders imprison the wild magic, they also imprison the old Gaffer of Ulvercote, Elijah Pinhoe, who favored decontrolling the wild magic, believing in freedom for all creatures. A threat to the status quo for the witch tribes, Elijah has been treated like the magic creatures he wants to free. Crippled by his own family, confined behind a magical barrier for the past eight years, and publicly declared dead, Elijah serves as the moral compass for the witch community in much the same way that Antony Green in Black Maria is the "buried part of the whole community," as Jones herself notes in the essay "Heroes." The witches' intense resistance to his ideas reflects the power of ingrained beliefs, of doing things "the way we've always done them," as Harry Pinhoe states repeatedly, versus letting reasoned morality dictate one's actions. Elijah's family would rather separate themselves and their community from his authority as their Gaffer than accept what he says, since what he says poses a threat to their fundamental ideas of right and wrong. That his own sons, wife, and brothers-in-law are willing to go to such lengths both to silence him and to neutralize his personal autonomy and his authority over them as Gaffer is one of Jones's strongest statements on traditional power dynamics and their ability to override personal morality. It also is an indication that the leadership of the tribes--including the Farleighs, since Gaffer Farleigh knew about it (458)--is corrupt. Marianne's dramatic renunciation of her family when she finally sees what they have done to Gaffer reflects Jones's message to her young readers not to let traditional ways of thinking obscure their sense of right and wrong.

Governmental power, with its potential for misuse and the consequences of that misuse, is overtly the focus of The Merlin Conspiracy, a novel that includes a dense and diverse array of power paradigms. The Merlin Conspiracy takes place primarily in and around one of the versions of Earth in the Jones multiverse, a world called Blest, and primarily in one part of that world, the Islands of Blest. The core conflict is that both the government and the innate magic of Blest are being co-opted by persons intent on using the power of each for their own selfish goals, and so magic is now out of balance in Blest. This is not a good thing for either Blest or the multiverse, since because of its deep roots in magic that have developed over time, Blest "keeps the balance of the magics in half the multiverse" (24): what happens in Blest will affect hundreds of other worlds, and control of the magic in Blest can lead to control of the magic in those worlds as well.

The main protagonists in this novel are three adolescents: Roddy, her friend Grundo, and a young man from another world named Nick Mallory, who first appears in an earlier novel, Deep Secret (1997). These three must find a way to stop the takeover of the government of Blest as well as stop the process of corruption that has begun in the magic of Blest. Roddy is told by one of the Little People that the way to do so is to do the "booming big thing" of "raising the land" (145-46), a suggestion that alarms nearly every adult magic user to whom Roddy mentions it, since such a process involves setting all the magic of Blest free from the authoritative structures that keep it in place; the result could be chaos both for Blest and for the worlds connected to it. As one of the characters, Mrs. Candace, tells Roddy,
   The magic of Blest is most intricately interlaced with
   itself--the hugely old, the old, and the newer and most
   recent--so that each part supports all the others. What
   you're suggesting is pulling up the very foundations. This
   would make it all come loose or perhaps even blow it apart.
   And we can't have that because Blest magic keeps the magics
   of several hundred surrounding worlds
   in their right places. (300)

Most of the plot centers around Roddy and Grundo's search for an adult able to help them and willing to listen, and Roddy's search for what "raising the land" means and how to do it.

This term and what happens when Roddy actually does accomplish it indicates the close connection between magic and landscape in this novel. The Merlin Conspiracy is one of a handful of fantasy novels in which land and magic are so closely intertwined that controlling one means controlling the other. (12) Magic is an intrinsic--and living--element of the land of Blest: the cities have spirits that take individualized human form, for example, and the land itself takes part in the restoration of order at the end, when the White Dragon, which is part of the chalk hills of Ridgeway Downs, and the Bedrock, which takes the form of a woman, rise up out of their places in the landscape. There are also certain especially magical places in Blest from which a magic user can draw to accentuate his or her own magic. One of these is the well at Castle Belmont that two of the plotters, Sybil and Sir James, use to enchant the king's court and to enslave one of the Great Powers, Gwyn ap Nud, the Lord of the Dead. Another is Stonehenge, where the apocalyptic climax of the novel takes place. Sybil and Sir James skew the power paradigms that are connected to the magic in Blest by appropriating the magic of these places, as well as by replacing the Merlin with an imposter and imprisoning the other magic users that are part of the government: many of the king's court, the Lady of Governance, and Roddy's grandfather Hyde, as well as others. They must take these actions not only because they need the extra magical power that these places can provide them, but also because the government of Blest is tied to controlling the magic in Blest.

Blest is a thinly disguised Great Britain, though there are some key differences between it and its real-life counterpart beyond the fact that Blest is literally steeped in magic. One of these is the governmental structure, or legitimate power paradigm, that Jones provides for this alternative Britain. There is a Parliament in Blest, though it is "not very important," as Toby tells Nick (312). Instead, the government is a true monarchy, run by a king who, though not himself a magic user, is aided in this process by various court functionaries who have magical ability. The most important of these officials is "the Merlin," which is a court position, not a person, and is held until death by a wizard chosen for his prophetic ability and consequent supposed wisdom to serve the government by advising the king in times of need. These court officials make up a continually moving King's Progress, since the tradition in Blest is that the king must constantly move about, visiting all parts of his country in order to keep the magic flowing smoothly.

The king and his court are the overt form of government in Blest, the one that is always shown on "the media" and that the common population watches and trusts to rule, even in the face of apparent contradiction: no one believes that the Merlin could be corrupt, and no one questions the king's actions when odd things eventually begin happening. Thus, in this novel too there is a connection between positional power and traditional power: complacent belief in the system and those that represent the system, simply because that system has always worked, ultimately weakens it and provides opportunities for its destruction. The fault lies both with those being governed, for not asking questions when things were obviously out of whack, and those doing the governing, for failing to be responsible trustees of the public good.

The reader eventually learns that this perception of how government, through the king and his continually moving court, keeps Blest and its magic running smoothly is only partly the truth: in reality, it is the Merlin who makes sure that the magic of the Islands of Blest stays in balance, not the king or his Progress, and he works in partnership with someone from outside of the court altogether, the Lady of Governance. While the Merlin is "for state magics," the Lady of Governance is in charge of the domestic sphere (291), overseeing certain areas of magic such as the hereditary witches who work with the natural magic of the land; the Lady of Governance seems to have a working relationship with the spirit of the City of Salisbury as well. (13) Roddy also finds out that no one in the king's court--the official, sanctioned authority charged with ruling the land--truly understands the deep magical nature of their realm, just the superficial workings of it. It is this lack of deep understanding that leads to much of the conflict and near-catastrophe in the novel, and serves as Jones's comment on the consequences of ignorance and the unwillingness to ask questions on the part of governmental authority figures. Like The Pinhoe Egg, The Merlin Conspiracy asks the reader to consider how authority figures fulfill their responsibilities, and the potential for disaster or the consequences of failing to do so adequately. Jones does this in The Merlin Conspiracy by focusing attention on the political government of Blest and illustrating how it can be exploited if those in charge of it become complacent.

In The Merlin Conspiracy, the magic of Blest is tied to its history and myth--which are, not coincidentally, drawn from the history and myth of Great Britain. It is no accident that Jones chose to draw from the ideal British king-myth of Arthur and his magical advisor, Merlin, to create her alternative British government. She herself has said, "I do know really where I'm getting it [my allusions] from and it [my intertextuality] is intentional" ("Inventing the Middle Ages"). Thus, there is a reason for giving Blest, which is so important in her fictional multiverse that it holds the magics of several hundred worlds together, the governmental structure that she did: through focusing on a dissimilar yet familiar paradigm of British government, Jones asks the reader to consider the makeup of British government, both fictional and actual, and how well such a structure allows that government to discharge its duties.

If, as fantasy critic Brian Attebery argues, fantasy that rewrites an accepted historical narrative is intended to force the reader to re-examine the narrative that is being rewritten (62), the same can be argued when an author presents an alternative version of a known, factual place, for example by giving it a fictional political system, geographical changes, or other cultural changes as Jones does in The Merlin Conspiracy. Such alterations are intended to put those elements under a microscope as the reader compares what is being presented to him or her as "fact" within the context of the novel with what he or she knows to be actually true about the real place. The dissonance between what is familiar and what is different focuses attention on these differences and suggests further examination of the underlying reasons for what exists. This is part of what makes The Merlin Conspiracy more than just a fantasy novel with the environmental message of "treat the earth with respect," and also part of what makes it more than a nostalgic look back at the glory days of England. Jones does indeed hearken back to Britain's mythic past in ways that may seem to imply that that past and that mythology are special in some way, but more than that, her alternative Britain elicits a reconsideration of the makeup of British government by asking the question, what if the roles of King Arthur and Merlin (the ideal king-advisor relationship in British lore) were institutionalized and continuous? That the government of Blest barely survives the challenge hatched by Sybil, James, and Japheth seems to indicate that such a government has its weaknesses. It takes individuals from outside the system, such as Romanov and the child protagonists, willing to believe that that government is not infallible, to act to avoid the results of those weaknesses. Such a resolution of the plot seems to support a reading of Jones as a subversive author, yet as she does in The Pinhoe Egg, Jones preserves the institutionalized governmental system that has been challenged. At the conclusion of the novel, only the villains have lost their positions (and their lives), and the nearly collapsed government remains intact and will continue on.

Yet things are not exactly the same. In the end, "raising the land" means just that: stripping off all the layers of magic that make up the Islands of Blest until bedrock is reached, and as it literally rises up, Roddy realizes that the land is actually alive: "Then it stirred, stretched, and sat up" (453). Once freed, it, or she, says, "now I can put things back as I want them" (453), and begins reapplying the layers of loose magic around herself, putting them back in an order of her choosing. Another part of the landscape then finishes the job: the White Dragon of England, which rises out of the chalk hills of Ridgeway Downs where it has been sleeping for eons. The Dragon takes the end of the whirling vortex of magic that Roddy has unloosed and then anchors it again, fixing it "ninety degrees different." The result is that "magic was different, all over everywhere" (460). "Raising the land" is an extreme countermeasure for power corrupted and gone awry, one that entails even more chaos than that already caused by Sybil and her cohorts. In other words, a change in power dynamics on the fundamental level is necessary to restore order and balance to the government and the ecological system of Blest. Yet the system that remains in place at the end of the novel is only slightly different from the one before: the chaotic swirling vortex that Roddy unleashes does no real damage other than rid the world of the schemers. Magic continues to be part of the landscape, and the status quo of the governmental paradigms that have been examined throughout the course of the novel has been preserved.

The Pinhoe Egg and The Merlin Conspiracy are conservative in that challenges to the legitimate or positional power systems are aborted, and the established systems of government in each remain in place at the end of the novel, though with some slight modifications. By the end of The Pinhoe Egg, Gammer Pinhoe is replaced with someone who can better fulfill the intent of her position, and Gaffer Farleigh is turned to a stone statue, because they both misuse their power and authority in ways that are warped and dangerous. In The Merlin Conspiracy, the established governmental figures--the king, those court members not taken by Gwyn Ap Nud and the Count of Blest for their crimes, the true Merlin, the Lady of Governance, and other authority figures--remain or are reinstated in their positions at the end of the novel, the king with only the rather mild rebuke by Blest's version of King Arthur that "Others have done almost as badly [as he in overseeing the kingdom]" (458). The king's possibly traitorous son, who was willing for his father to abdicate so that he could take his place and for Nick to be sacrificially killed as part of the process, apparently is not punished at all.

The official government of Blest is only one part of the complex web of established power structures that govern the characters and their communities in The Merlin Conspiracy. The coalition of Magids, an idea developed in the earlier novel Deep Secret, is another. Magids are a group of powerful wizards who oversee magic in the multiverse (14) and who are controlled by a shadowy supervisory board called the Upper Room. They operate outside of the particular government structures of their own worlds and can travel between worlds. Roddy's Grandfather Hyde is a Magid, as well as a powerful authority figure in Blest, and Nick wants to be one until he meets Romanov, who is a very powerful wizard and a "free operator," apparently not under the direct control of the Upper Room or anyone else, though he seemingly is not averse to positional authority figures such as the Magids. Romanov works for hire, but he is also someone who makes his own decisions based on a strong personal moral code. In contrast are the anti-Magid figures in the novel, various minor magic users on Blest such as Toby's father and at least one coven of witches, all of whom resent being controlled by any governing authority figures and who resort to treason to escape rules imposed by others (an idea reminiscent of the rebel witch tribes in The Pinhoe Egg). Another anti-Magid group, and another representative of authoritative power dynamics, is the religious fundamentalist Prayermaster and his disciples Joel and Japheth, who are from another world, Loggia City, where the ruling classes of which they are a part suppress and exploit the working classes that form the backbone of their economy. The Prayermasters resent any magic that they do not control, and their zeal in stamping out such magic leads Japheth to work with Sybil and Sir James to co-opt the magic of Blest for his own ends. All of these power systems ask the reader to consider how control over a society can be repressive or beneficial.

One power paradigm that is not directly connected to governmental structures but which is echoed in The Pinhoe Egg is the control exercised over the wild magic creatures (15) by Roddy's relatives the Dimbers, hereditary witches who have imprisoned the creatures in their Regalia, magical objects used in their rituals. The wild creatures tell Roddy that they want to be paid for their work, not enslaved, though when Roddy tries to explain this to her grandmother and aunt, they refuse to understand. Counterpoint to the Dimbers is Mrs. Candace, the Lady of Governance, who tells Roddy that though she herself also uses them as servants, she does so with their consent, and she pays them with thanks for their service. The difference is that the Dimber women cannot see the creatures and therefore do not understand that they are sentient beings, thinking of them only as magical forces to be used for the witches' own means. The Lady of Governance can see them, as can Roddy and Grundo, all of whom respect the creatures' right to exercise free will, much as Elijah Pinhoe argues in the later novel about the wild creatures of his world, who also cannot be seen by everyone. For Jones, perhaps, being able to see a being can lead to recognizing that being's right to autonomy, and thus recognizing that there are moral limits to the control exercised by people with power over others. Just as Sybil and Sir James enslave the spirits of various places of power in Blest in order to seize control of the magic of Blest, so do the Dimbers appropriate the wild magic beings for their own purposes, though those purposes are certainly not sinister and malicious as are those of the conspirators. As with the parallel between Grundo and his mother, the parallel between the Dimbers and the conspirators reinforces Jones's point that misuse of power can be for a variety of purposes and on scales both large and small. (16)

Still another power structure is one that appears in nearly every Jones book: the adult-child power paradigm. None of the adults that Roddy turns to believes her, in large part because she and Grundo are mere children. Their dismissal of Roddy's concerns stems also from naivete: they trust the system itself to stay balanced, the adults in control to take care of any imbalance, and the assumption that the Merlin cannot possibly be corrupt. Like Marianne Pinhoe, who is rebuffed in her efforts to warn her family about Gammer's participation in the witch war because the adults prefer to believe the adage that the Pinhoes and the Farleighs work together, Roddy must take things into her own hands. Such an action is counter to Roddy's desire to let the adults continue to be in charge, and she spends several fruitless days traveling the countryside searching for an adult able and willing to take over the situation. Things keep getting worse in Blest until it is almost too late: the king is on the verge of abdicating and all the adult magic users in Blest who could stand against the conspirators have been captured and immobilized. Roddy is finally forced into taking action--and responsibility--by freeing the innate magic of Blest and allowing it to resettle itself in new ways.

Both The Pinhoe Egg and The Merlin Conspiracy explore power paradigms on a multitude of levels, from personal relationships to governmental structures that affect communities, worlds, and even multiverses. In these two books, and in Jones's body of work as a whole, individuals are the key to maintaining balances of power. Through their individual actions, Marianne Pinhoe, who tries to be "brave and truthful [... and] do the right thing" (Pinhoe 327-28) and Roddy Hyde, who alone out of all the inhabitants of Blest has the knowledge and power to "raise the land," set events in motion that eventually prevent anarchic chaos and lead to more enlightened order in their respective worlds. That the children in both novels are open to new ways of thinking and doing, and that those children are going to be the next leaders in the social systems that are in place in both novels, implies that a hopeful future and a continued positive balance of power rest on individual morality and open-mindedness. Such a message emphasizes personal autonomy and thinking for oneself, and in this respect Jones can be considered a subversive author for children. Yet in other ways, though always entertaining and even challenging, she is very much a conservative, if not conventional, author.

Works Cited

Attebery, Brian. "Godmaking in the Heartland." The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference of the Fantastic of the Arts. Ed. Donald E. Morse et al. Westport: Greenwood, 1992. 61-69. Print.

Butler, Charles. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2006. Print.

French, John, and Bertram Raven. "The Bases of Social Power." Group Dynamics: Research and Theory. 2nd ed. Ed. Dorwin Cartwright and Alvin Zander. Evanston: Row, Petersen, 1960. 607-23. Print.

Jones, Diana Wynne. Aunt Maria. New York: Greenwillow, 1991. Print.

--. "Carol Oneir's Hundredth Dream." Dragons and Dreams. Ed. Jane Yolen, Martin H. Greenberg, and Charles G. Waugh. New York: Harper, 1986. 108-35. Print.

--. Charmed Life. London: Macmillan, 1977. Print.

--. Deep Secret. New York: Tor, 1997. Print.

--. "Heroes." 1992. The Diana Wynne Jones Fansite. Web. 30 Dec. 2009. <>.

--. "Inventing the Middle Ages." The Diana Wynne Jones Fansite. Web. 30 Dec. 2009. <>.

--. The Magicians of Caprona. 1980. New York: Greenwillow, 2001. Print.

--. The Merlin Conspiracy. New York: Greenwillow, 2003. Print.

--. The Pinhoe Egg. New York: Greenwillow, 2006. Print.

MacArdle, Meredith. "Review of The Pinhoe Egg." The Diana Wynne Jones Fansite. Web. 30 Dec. 2009. <>.

Mahy, Margaret. The Magician of Hoad. New York: McElderry, 2009. Print.

McKillip, Patricia A. Solstice Wood. New York: Ace, 2006. Print.

McKinley, Robin. Chalice. New York: Putnam's, 2008. Print.

Weber, Max. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Trans. A. M. Hendersen and Talcott Parsons. New York: Oxford UP, 1947. Print.


(1.) This assumption is based on internal clues provided by Jones in this novel and elsewhere. One clue is the fact that the Chrestomanci family is returning "from the south of France" (Pinhoe 75) as their part of this story opens, and Millie notes that Chrestomanci is tired, since "he had to take a travel-sick Italian boy all the way back to Italy before we came home" (Pinhoe 77). The latter reference surely is not a random comment, and most likely is to Tonino Montana, one of the main characters from The Magicians of Caprona, whom Chrestomanci invited at the end of that novel to come to England with him for a few weeks for testing (268), since his unusual magical abilities were key in averting political chaos in that novel. A further clue is in the short story "Carol Oneir's Hundredth Dream," in which Carol and her parents meet up with Chrestomanci and his family (including Janet and Cat, as well as Roger, Julia, and Millie) at the French Riviera, and this same Tonino Montana is with them. It seems likely, then, that the "travel-sick Italian boy" mentioned at the beginning of The Pinhoe Egg is Tonino and that The Pinhoe Egg picks up after Chrestomanci has conducted him home to Italy and while the family is on the last leg of their journey home. Meredith MacArdle seems to agree with this reasoning in her review of The Pinhoe Egg, in observing that the book is "set directly after the short story 'Carol O'Neir's [sic] Hundredth Dream,'" a comment which precipitated the above line of thought for this writer.

(2.) Another example is Julia and Janet's attempt early in the novel to convince Chrestomanci that they need a horse: Julia insists that Janet be the one to do the asking, since her father is "always worried about the way he had to take you away from your own world [...]. He doesn't want you to be unhappy. Besides, you have blue eyes and golden hair--" (76). Julia clearly knows how to manipulate her father to get what she wants, and how to use others to do so when necessary, as does Joe Pinhoe, evidenced by Marianne's observation that "she was very used to Joe buttering her up and then asking a favor" (23). Yet another example is Marianne's Great-Uncle Edgar, a real estate agent, whom Cat notices using a domination spell to try to sell Irene and Jason a house (173).

(3.) There are many parallels between the power dynamics in The Pinhoe Egg and Jones's earlier novel Black Maria. One is between Marianne Pinhoe, who is the designated successor to Gammer Pinhoe, and Mig, whom Aunt Maria has chosen to be her successor as the leader of the witches in Cranbury-on-Sea. Both young girls must learn to resist the emotional and magical manipulation of these older women who lack respect for the younger girls' own individual lives and choices. Marianne, however, must also learn to ignore a whole family of adults who show little concern for her as an individual. Other similarities include the parallels between Aunt Maria and Gammer Pinhoe, both self-centered older women who use their magic to control the lives of those around them, are deeply wedded to traditional ways of doing things, are the local authority figures of their respective villages (and will do almost anything to hold onto that position), and are seemingly without a moral conscience.

(4.) Power dynamics in marriage are outside the scope of this present discussion. However, failed marriages are a recurrent theme in Jones's books. In The Merlin Conspiracy, not only are Grundo's parents divorced, but also Roddy's paternal grandparents, Heppy Dimber and Maxwell Hyde, apparently as the result of a clash of personalities between two very strong magic users. Roddy's aunt Judith is also divorced, and either Roddy's maternal grandparents are separated or her grandmother is dead. In fact, family dysfunction in this novel isn't restricted to marriage: Roddy's mother has never gotten along with her own father, also because of personality conflicts, and Grundo's sister is as mean to him as his mother Sybil is. Roddy's cousin Toby also has a dysfunctional relationship with his mother and his father. Some married couples do seem to be happy--Roddy's own parents, for example--but they are in the minority here.

(5.) Such an interpretation of Sybil's actions is clearly supported by details in the novel itself. First is the second phone call that Sybil makes to Romanov that Nick answers while at Romanov's island during the time Romanov is deathly ill, in which Sybil, thinking she is talking to her ex-husband, declares, "Romanov, will you answer me! If you don't, you can be sure I shall do exactly what I said. I can manipulate magic too, you know. [...] I shall lay my hands on all the power I can get, and I shall make you sorry. It may take me years, but I shall do it ..." (209; italics in original). The reader is told more than once that Romanov's island is located ten years in the past (225, 245), and so events that take place on the island, such as the previously mentioned phone call, take place ten years prior to the events that precipitate the novel's action, including the plot to take over the inherent magical power of Blest that is hatched by Sybil and her cohorts. Furthermore, Nick himself says that he is responsible: "I can't get over the way such small things led to such incredibly large, violent events. [... ] I answered the phone to Sybil, and that seems to have set her on to grab power and make her conspiracy. And I laughed at Japheth. That's all I did" (466). Certainly Sybil is a despicable villain, as is Japheth, and both are ultimately responsible for their own decisions; Jones's point here is that nothing happens in a vacuum, and that we all have power over, or influence over, others and their actions to some extent, even when we do not intentionally exert it.

(6.) It also touches on yet another power paradigm, that of class roles, since it is a term commonly used by the working class to refer to upper class employers.

(7.) The position of "Chrestomanci" is a position by virtue of birth, awarded to someone who is born a nine-lifed enchanter. Chrestomanci's role in this and other books, especially since he is positioned as a "good" character, is often very colonial in tone and reflects a conservative point of view in terms of governmental actions.

(8.) He does so without asking their parents first, thus overriding yet another power paradigm, that of parents over their children's lives while those children are still minors.

(9.) Jones actually brings yet another power paradigm into play here, that of author and reader, in that she manipulates the reader into thinking, at least at first blush, that such a decision is fair: the Farleighs are painted in a negative light throughout the novel, since they are quite willing to subject the entire Pinhoe tribe to whooping cough and smallpox, endangering the life of at least one person, little Nicola Pinhoe. Other incidents that prejudice the reader against the Farleighs are the girls who gang up on Marianne, the rabid bigotry and hatefulness of Gaffer Farleigh and his wife and daughter every time they enter the picture, and the willingness of Gaffer Farleigh to shoot, presumably with intent to kill, Chrestomanci and even Cat. Yet, as one reader of this article pointed out, not all the Farleighs did these things, and punishing the entire tribe by taking away their magic seems extreme and uneven punishment for the deeds of a few of them. Whereas Chrestomanci takes action to punish the entire Farleigh tribe for sending a deadly disease to Ulvercote by taking away their magic, the Pinhoes responsible for crippling and imprisoning Elijah are punished in a different way, and not by Chrestomanci, but rather by those victimized by their crime: Gammer is removed from her position of authority by Elijah himself, who, after being freed, puts Gammer into a coma in order to save the village from being "forced to obey madness for the next ten years" (491). She dies three days later, while her brothers Edgar and Lester lose their wives and their livelihoods once their deeds become known.

(10.) The ironic contrast between the witches' desire to control the wild magical creatures and their own desire to be "wild," or not controlled by Chrestomanci, is striking.

(11.) The history that Chrestomanci uncovers reveals that generations ago, the witch tribes tried to hide the magical creatures from religious persecutions that were sweeping the country in order to protect them. This knowledge was consequently lost over the generations, becoming the subverted idea that the witches hold today. See pages 466-71 for Chrestomanci's true history.

(12.) Other novels with this same motif are McKinley's Chalice and McKillip's Solstice Wood, two books which also seem to take a conservative stance regarding governmental power over people and other elements of the land being governed. Chalice in particular contains problematic issues regarding class and ownership. Yet another is Mahy's The Magician of Hoad. Butler also discusses the interplay of magic and landscape in Four British Fantasists as he considers how the landscape and history of Britain influenced the fantasy work of Jones and three of her contemporaries. See, for example, pages 32, 45, 129-30, and 145.

(13.) This system seems to be an equal division of power, a relationship which maintains balance, and it implies a male/female division of labor, as Roddy's aunt Judith points out, since the Lady of Governance supervises the female witches who control the natural magic, while the king and his progress concentrate on "the male side of things," according to Judith (291). This division into male and female power is reminiscent of the dynamics in Black Maria but without the sinister consequences those divisions have in that book. The traditional division of leadership roles among the witch tribes in The Pinhoe Egg into Gaffers (males) and Gammers (females) also echoes this gender dynamic, albeit lightly and with no seeming consequences in that novel's action.

(14.) The idea of Magids only appears in this novel and in the earlier Deep Secret, neither of which is a Chrestomanci novel. Thus, the Magids have no seeming connection to the oversight of magic within the multiverse as it is envisioned in that series, though the parallels between their duties and those of Chrestomanci are similar in that Chrestomanci also oversees the use of magic on worlds besides 12A.

(15.) These creatures seem to be the same kind of creatures that appear in The Pinhoe Egg: sentient beings made of magic, which can be seen only by some magic users, not all, and who are outside the bounds of ordered, controlled magic. In both novels, they seem to be manifestations of the natural magic of the land itself and are fairly amoral, though not immoral, creatures.

(16.) As in The Pinhoe Egg, the power paradigm of class roles is hinted at in this novel, too, in this case in the treatment of the wild creatures. Though the text clearly implies that the issue for the wild creatures is slavery versus the freedom to choose to serve and to be treated politely, their situation as invisible beings who are domestic servants in Mrs. Candace's home does call to mind the domestic servants of the past who were all too often "invisible" to their upper class employers and who had very little freedom of choice in their lives overall. Even though Mrs. Candace is a "good" employer who treats her servants politely, and though her wild creatures are "servants," not "slaves," a class distinction between herself as Lady of the Manor and the creatures who wait on her is strongly at work here.
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Author:Hixon, Martha P.
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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