|Author||Diana Wynne Jones|
|Genre||Children's fantasy novel|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||210 pp (first edition)|
|Preceded by||The Magicians of Caprona|
|Followed by||The Lives of Christopher Chant|
Witch Week is a children's fantasy novel and school story written by British author Diana Wynne Jones and published by Macmillan Children's Books in 1982. It was the third published of seven Chrestomanci books.
It is set during the last four days of October 1981 at Larwood House, a boarding school in southern England, in a world parallel and close to ours. Many people have magical powers ("witches", male or female) but their use is a capital crime; public burnings at the stake were replaced only a few years ago by private burning in jails. The featured schoolchildren are about twelve years old, an age when it is common to develop or discover one's magic. Witchery may be both a joking matter and a matter of life and death, and the story begins with a teacher's discovery of an ambiguous note and dilemma whether to take it as a joke. "The note said: SOMEONE IN THIS CLASS IS A WITCH."
The Chrestomanci books are collectively named for a powerful enchanter and British government official in a world parallel to ours, who supervises the use of magic —or the Chrestomanci, a British government office that requires a powerful enchanter and is responsible for supervising. Witch Week is set in our time, during the tenure of Christopher Chant, who is Chrestomanci in five of the seven books and is often called Chrestomanci as a personal name.
The Chrestomanci is unique to what it calls "World 12A", the primary setting for the series and entire setting for some stories. There are other worlds with British governments, perhaps all of series 12 or even more. Our world is 12B, a next-door neighbor in some sense, and Witch Week is set entirely in one that is even closer to ours. The Chrestomanci has representatives in some worlds but does not know this one.
This book is set in an alternate modern-day England (World Twelve C), identical to our world except for the presence of witchcraft. Despite witches being common, witchcraft is illegal and punishable by death, policed by a modern-day Inquisition.
At Larwood House, an underfunded boarding school that many of the adolescent children of executed witches are sent to, a note claiming "Someone in this class is a witch" is found Mr.Crossely. This launches an internal investigation of several of the more unpopular students at the school, some of whom are gradually coming to terms with the fact that they can do magic. In the traditional manner of children, magic and mischief, mayhem gradually ensues as magic is used to make birds appear in the classroom, to rain shoes, to curse a classmate into having his words always be true, and to do the traditional flying on a broomstick. When the magic gets totally out of control, one of the students runs away, blaming the witch for controlling him. This launches an investigation and the Inquisition is called to locate any witches and have them burned.
Four of the students escape the school, two of them turning for help to an old part of an underground railroad system for witches to send them to another world where they'll be safe. While the old woman who lives there tells them the system broke down long ago, she does give them a spell to say at the Oak Grove that will summon help in an emergency. The four students and Brian, the runaway, gather at the Grove and say "Chrestomanci" three times, which summons the nine-lives enchanter from The Lives of Christopher Chant to help them. With his help, and the help of their classmates, most of which are witches themselves, the kids outwit the Inquisitor and ultimately revise their world's history by putting their world back in its proper place in the Series. When the note is found in this world, everyone exclaims they are the witch, and it is seen as normal.
One of the major themes in the story is overcoming prejudice. Like much of Diana Wynne Jones' work, Witch Week encourages readers to think for themselves and seek to make a positive change in the world.
Allusions to other works
It is interesting to note that, in almost every version of the book published, the class the story focuses on has a different name, according to the age group the publishers were aiming the book at the time. For instance:
- The current UK edition calls the class 3Y (which suggests they are in the third year of secondary school and therefore around thirteen).
- Another UK edition of the book, published by Collins in 2000, calls it 2Y (which suggests that they are in the second year of secondary school and therefore around twelve).
- The current U.S. edition calls it 6B (which implies the children are in the sixth grade and therefore about eleven).
Though often compared to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of books, mainly because both are in the children's fantasy genre and set in a boarding school, there are many distinct differences. For example, while in the Harry Potter series many of the pupils have a strong attachment to Hogwarts (the boarding school the series is set in) and enjoy their time there, both the students and teachers of Larwood House detest the school and their time spent there. One also gets the impression Larwood House is a poor school, due to the descriptions of drafty corridors, peeling wallpaper, horrible food, et cetera, most unlike the sumptuous setting of Harry Potter. Also, since witchcraft is illegal in the world in which Larwood House is located, the students only dare do any magic in the utmost secrecy, a sharp contrast to the Hogwarts of Harry Potter, where magic lessons are the whole point of being there. In the Harry Potter series, the main protagonists are good friends and help one another out of difficult situations, whereas the characters focused upon in Witch Week dislike each other immensely (until toward the end, at least) and, instead of assisting the other main characters out of trouble, are often content to let the suspicion rest on one of the other suspected witches, in order to divert it from themselves.
Reception and Reviews
Thus it is that underneath what seems to be rather low comedy—brooms that demand to be taken riding by witches (and hoes and rakes and mops that can be ridden, but behave more like mules and pigs than noble steeds); prankster spells at about the level of magic spitwads—there is a continuous foundation of truth. Children need powerful adult intervention to help them get control of their powers and keep their powers from taking control of them. Instead of using them for immediate self-gratification, the children instead have to create and respect certain limits in order to avoid destroying themselves and others. Not that anyone ever says such a thing outright. Rather the stories are that lesson, learned over and over again, yet with such humor and extravagant imagination and devastating satire that few readers will imagine that they are being civilized as they read.
- The infobox provides data from ISFDB for the first UK edition (from "Publisher" to "ISBN"). Witch Week (first edition) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-04-28.
("OCLC Number" for 2001 US paperback.)
- "Diana Wynne Jones: UK 1st Edition Cover Art". maulu book zone. Katherine Ferguson. Compiled by the DWJ mailing list from August 1999. Retrieved 2012-04-29.
- Chrestomanci series at ISFDB.
- Card, Orson Scott (February 1992), "Books to Look For", The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, retrieved 10/1/2008
Chrestomanci series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-04-28.
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