The Lives of Christopher Chant
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|Author||Diana Wynne Jones|
|Genre||Children's fantasy novel|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
|Pages||240 pp (first edition)|
|Preceded by||Witch Week|
|Followed by||Mixed Magics|
The Lives of Christopher Chant is a children's fantasy novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones published by Methuen Children's Books in 1988. It was the fourth published of the seven Chrestomanci books (1977 to 2006). When the first four books were reissued in the UK to accompany the fifth as a matching set (2000), this one was subtitled The Childhood of Chrestomanci and cover illustrations by Paul Slater branded them all The Worlds of Chrestomanci.
The "Chrestomanci" books are collectively named after a powerful enchanter and British government official in a world parallel to ours, who supervises the use of magic —or the Chrestomanci, an office that requires a powerful enchanter and is responsible for supervising. The Lives is set perhaps three decades ago in a world quite different from ours, during the adolescence of Christopher Chant who is Chrestomanci in five of the books.
"The Worlds of Chrestomanci" brand of some late twentieth century editions alludes to their setting, a multiverse often called the Related Worlds, which young Christopher calls "Anywheres" in this volume. Worlds have branched from common ancestors at important events in history, such as English and French victories in the Battle of Agincourt. Some people can move between worlds and twelve series of similar worlds have been labelled by the English people of the stories. World 12A is the primary specific setting of this volume, and of the series, where Chrestomanci resides in England. Our world is 12B.
The novel tells the story of Christopher Chant's childhood. Although both of his parents are powerful practitioners of magic, the two are constantly at loggerheads; his father (an enchanter, the strongest type of magic-user) is entirely devoted to his work, to such a degree that the young Christopher is afraid that he would not recognise him should the two meet in public. On the other hand, his mother (a sorceress, the second-strongest type of magic-user) is a social climber, and is apparently only married to his father for his social connections.
The only escape that Christopher has is through his dreams, in which he is able to escape to other worlds. While he is not the only person with this ability, seemingly no one is able to do it so easily as he. The fact that he can bring things back from these "spirit trips" makes him immensely valuable to his Uncle Ralph, a scheming silver-tongued businessman. He is soon caught up in a series of "experiments," supposedly to test his talents. In reality, they are to fetch a series of highly illegal goods (from mermaid meat to dragon's blood), for sale at the highest prices on a magical black market. He is accompanied on these trips by Tacroy, a guide arranged by his uncle.
While all this is going on, his father and mother part ways, his father having lost a goodly part of his fortune on the stock market, and Christopher is sent to a boarding school, where he does dismally at magic lessons, and develops an ambition to become a famous cricketer. However, his father has other ideas, and plucks him from the boarding school halfway through the school year, taking him to an irritable and elderly magic expert named Dr. Pawson. He soon unlocks the reason for Christopher's poor grades in magic: silver, specifically the silver coin his uncle gives him which he carries at all times. When Christopher touches silver, he loses his ability to use magic. When not touching silver, his magic surpasses almost every other enchanter in the world. Upon this discovery, he is sent to Chrestomanci Castle to be groomed for the role of the next Chrestomanci.
Christopher is the protagonist of the book. He is nice and well-mannered, coming from a wealthy family. However, he tends to sulk and can be quite rude to people.
Christopher is discovered to be the next Chrestomanci when his best friend hits him in the head with a cricket bat by accident, killing him. The doctor had pronounced him dead, but then he woke up in the morgue, confused. His father recognised Christopher as having more than one life, and got hold of Dr. Pawson, a magic expert. Christopher is furious, seeing as he had to quit school for magic lessons. He discovers that he has an exceptional talent for magic, as long as he has no silver on him. After many lessons, he is spirited away to Chrestomanci Castle, where he is unhappy and has no friends but a cat he brings from Asheth Temple, Throgmorten, and the spirit travelling guide Uncle Ralph sends along, called Tacroy.
The Living Asheth / Millie
The Living Asheth (also called "The Goddess") is the physical embodiment of a goddess worshipped in a world in Series 10. She is a girl about Christopher's age and is also an enchantress (although she at first thinks her magic comes from Asheth). Christopher first encounters her when he is sent by his Uncle Ralph to retrieve a living animal from his inter-world travels. The Goddess trades him a particularly nasty cat called Throgmorten in exchange for books from his world—the goddess is not allowed to touch anything from her world that isn't holy. Christopher brings her books set in a boarding school, revolving around a girl named "Millie" (the series is reminiscent of Enid Blyton's boarding school series).
The Goddess finds out that she is to die when she grows older and the Temple gets a new Living Asheth, so she runs away to Christopher's world after he tells her how he travelled from Series to Series. She adopts the name "Millie" from the books Christopher brought her. She winds up living in Christopher's world, going to school like an ordinary, wealthy girl with the funds the chief priestess gives her from the Temple. Later in the series, The Goddess becomes Christopher's wife, and is seen as such from Charmed Life onwards.
Tacroy / Mordecai Roberts
Tacroy is the spirit traveller Uncle Ralph had hired to help Christopher along with the raids. He is an easygoing man, and is a legendary cricket player at the Castle. He has a soft side for Miss Rosalie, a worker at the Castle. Tacroy belongs in Series Eleven, where their morals are different. He works as a spy, first told to work for a good man (Chrestomanci), and then a criminal (Uncle Ralph).
Tacroy always went with Christopher. While his body lay in stasis back in Christopher's world, his spirit travelled with Christopher, loading carts and chatting. Tacroy was Christopher's source of joy while in the Castle, having grown to hate it there. But he is caught by the workers in the Castle smuggling goods for the Wraith. He is thrown in prison, but Christopher gets him out as soon as he could, after the current Chrestomanci's lives are scattered all over the Series by Uncle Ralph after he shot him with a special gun from Series One. He is eventually freed by Christopher, and given a pardon by the Chrestomanci. In the short story Stealer of Souls it is implied that Tacroy and Miss Rosalie marry and look after Gabriel de Witt once he has retired from the post of Chrestomanci.
Uncle Ralph is Christopher's beloved uncle, who is also a villain. Uncle Ralph also happens to be the leader of the Wraith, an underground criminal organisation that smuggles magical goods and sells them through the black market. When Christopher was born, his father learned that silver would be dangerous or fatal to Christopher, and so was wary of Uncle Ralph, whose last name is Argent, which means silver.
Uncle Ralph is the main antagonist of the book. He is Christopher's mother's brother, and pretended to help out his sister when his brother-in-law had lost their money. Christopher grew to love him, but shied away from him when he discovered Uncle Ralph's true identity. Throgmorten has an extreme dislike of him, as Uncle Ralph was going to cut him up and sell his parts. Uncle Ralph is merciless and was a millionaire by the time Christopher found out who he was.
- Contrary to other Chrestomanci books, ISFDB shows this one published earlier in the U.S. (June 1988) than in the U.K. (August). Nevertheless the infobox provides data from ISFDB for the first UK edition (from "Publisher" to "OCLC number"). The Lives of Christopher Chant (first UK edition) publication contents at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
- Chrestomanci series at ISFDB.
Chrestomanci series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2012-04-28.
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