|Author||Diana Wynne Jones|
|Cover artist||Pamela Goodchild|
|Series||The Dalemark Quartet|
|Genre||Children's, Fantasy novel|
|12 April 1979|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Preceded by||Drowned Ammet|
|Followed by||The Crown of Dalemark|
The Spellcoats (1979) is the third published novel in Diana Wynne Jones's series Dalemark Quartet, but chronologically the first. The story takes place several thousand years before Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet. The time period is referred to as "prehistoric Dalemark" because by the time of the other books, only legends remain from this time. The people of prehistoric Dalemark do not have a written language, but some know how to write by weaving in a language of runes using yarn of many colors and textures.
Tanaqui, the narrator, is a young woman living in a small town called Shelling, which lies beside the Great River. She and her four siblings look different from the rest of the townsfolk, and instead of worshiping the River, their family has three idols—the so-called Undying. When the country is invaded by the Heathens (who are modeled after Europeans and are the ancestors of the people of Dalemark in the other three novels) who look like them, Tanaqui and her siblings flee to avoid being killed by the people of their own village.
Tanaqui's narration in The Spellcoats is not her diary, nor is it being "told" as many stories are. Rather, Tanaqui is weaving the story into a pair of "spellcoats" that she is making.
The first spellcoat tells of how the five siblings (Gull, Robin, Hern, Tanaqui and Duck) traveled downriver on their boat. First, they encounter the mysterious magician Tanamil, then the Heathen king Kars Adon, and finally, at the sea, the evil mage Kankredin, whose aim is to take over the power of the river by taking over the five children's souls. In the middle of this Gull was bound like the One, Tanamil (Younger Amil or the young one) and the Lady.
The second spellcoat tells how, after their escape from Kankredin, the five siblings are captured by their own King, "the king of the natives" (who are modeled after Native Americans and Hawaiians and are the ancestors of the Holy Islanders in Drowned Ammet) who has lost his kingdom and is drifting with the remains of his army trying to avoid the Heathens. The King keeps the children in his company because he needs one of the children's idols—the powerful One—to assist him in his pursuits. As Tanaqui continues to weave during her travel upriver with the King, she realizes that the spellcoats that Kankredin and his mages wore gave them the powers that were woven into their spellcoats. She becomes convinced that the words woven into her spellcoats will have the power to defeat Kankredin.
Realizing that Tanaqui is the only one able to stop Kankredin and his mages with her weaving, her elder brother Hern convinces the combined forces of their own people and the Heathens to make a stand at the headwaters of the Great River, and hold off Kankredin while Tanaqui completes her second spellcoat. Tanaqui weaves frantically to catch up to her "present," and finally she completes her spellcoat with a waking vision she experiences. In this vision, their eldest family idol called The One rises up, crushes Kankredin, and shakes the land into a new shape. We do not find out from Tanaqui's narration if she succeeds or fails, because she must finish the spellcoat and put it on the idol before the spellcoat's woven spell can take effect.
In an epilogue written by Elthorar Ansdaughter, Keeper of Antiquities, we learn that the spellcoats were discovered hundreds of years later, during the approximate time period of Drowned Ammet and Cart and Cwidder, in the mountains of North Dalemark near Hannart. Elthorar notes the close correspondence between various figures in the stories and their apparent counterparts in the legends and folktales of the people of Dalemark. She also tries and fails to determine the places described, leading the reader to conclude that Tanaqui's vision came to pass, Kankredin was defeated, and The One reshaped the land.
Like the other three novels of the Dalemark Quartet, The Spellcoats is a story about a physical journey, during which revelations occur. As in the other three books, the presence of magic is not readily apparent at its beginning, but slowly creeps into the story.
The five sons and daughters of Closti the Clam, born and raised in the village of Shelling across the River. Although their father never left Shelling, his children look like the heathens with their blond hair.
- Gull - The second eldest of Closti the Clam's five children. He goes off to war with his father, but is the only one to return. When he comes home from war, his mind has deteriorated and his siblings must look after him. In actuality, he isn't crazy, but caught in a spell by the mage Kankredin, who wants to use Gull's soul to reach the One.
- Robin – Tanaqui's sister, eldest of the five. She falls in love with Tanamil, but is married against her will to the King. This puts her younger brother Hern in a straight line of succession to the King.
- Hern – Tanaqui's older brother, Hern is extremely "reasonable" and resists admitting that magic exists. He becomes great friends with Kars Adon, who names Hern his heir, and he inherits the crowns of both the heathens and the native people when their two kings are killed simultaneously in an act of treachery. He thus becomes King Hern, the first recorded king of Dalemark who is mentioned repeatedly in other volumes of the Dalemark Quartet.
- Tanaqui – The narrator, whose name means "rushes" if woven as one word and "younger sister" if woven as two (tan and aqui). She is the weaver and eventually one of the Undying, the witch Cennoreth who appears in The Crown of Dalemark.
- Mallard – Called by his nickname "Duck", the youngest of the five siblings. Coached by Tanamil, he becomes a mage. Like Tanaqui, he is Undying and appears in The Crown of Dalemark.
Blonde, bushy-haired, dark-skinned foreigners invading Dalemark.
- Kars Adon - The crippled young king of the heathens. He and Hern strike up a friendship built upon deep, mutual respect. Upon his death, Kars Adon bequeaths his kingdom to Tanaqui's elder brother Hern.
- Kankredin – A powerful evil mage, intent on conquering prehistoric Dalemark; reappears and ultimately destroyed in The Crown of Dalemark.
Natives of prehistoric Dalemark.
- Closti the Clam - Father of Gull, Robin, Hern, Tanaqui, and Mallard by Anoreth the Undying.
- King of the Riverlands – Aside from the nickname of "Old Smiler" given to him by Duck, the King's name is not mentioned, although he plays a major role in the second spellcoat. The King turns the peacemaking parley initiated by Kars Adon into an act of treachery, in which both Kars and the King are killed.
Strange, immortal beings with mysterious powers. Humans see them as gods, but they claim they are not.
- Tanamil – A strange mage whom the family meets on their way downriver and who takes an active part in subsequent the events that lead to the defeat of Kankredin at the source of the River. His name means "younger brother," and he embodies the Red River.
- Anoreth - Daughter of the One and the embodiment of the River itself. The One was against Anoreth's marriage with Closti, and in his anger he forbids her from seeing her family. Her name means "unbound."
- The One, whose three secret names (Adon, Amil, and Oreth) are not to be spoken, is the greatest of the three Undying in Tanaqui's family. Many years ago he was tricked by the Cenblith, who took him as her lover and bound him to the will of mortals. Tanaqui's spellcoats free him to defeat Kankredin at the source of the River. He is the embodiment of Dalemark itself.
- Travel - Travel is a major theme in many Diana Wynne Jones books. Transformation through travel is particularly notable in her Dalemark books.
- As in Drowned Ammet and Crown of Dalemark (books 2 and 4 of Dalemark Quartet), the Undying, powerful god-like immortal beings, are active in shaping the fate of Dalemark.
- Siblings - Diana Wynne Jones books, in a reflection of her own youth, often have siblings who, despite personality differences, work together in order to overcome their problems (see Power of Three, Cart and Cwidder, Black Maria, Dark Lord of Derkholm, The Time of the Ghost and The Ogre Downstairs).
- Diana refers to this time period in a lecture from 1992 on Heroes
- The digging for spellcoats near Hannart is also mentioned in Crown of Dalemark, Oxford University Press, 2003, p. 266, ISBN 978-0-19-275277-2
- The Spellcoats on Google Books (limited preview)