Witch Week Day Two: Power of Three (Guest Post)

Diana Wynne Jones book
US Paperback, HarperCollins

For today’s post, I wanted to focus on an example from Diana Wynne Jones’s first decade of publishing. Though perhaps not as exuberantly inventive as some of her later works, these early books already display many of her narrative strengths, and Power of Three (1976) is a particular favorite of mine. One of the things I love about this book is how elements of folklore and myth (ritual words and actions, a significant dying curse, the custom of “telling the bees,” the importance of names) are subtly woven throughout, giving a richness to the world of the Moor that makes it linger in the mind. It teaches us that language is full of magic, all the more so when we realize that how we talk — and listen — to one another can heal old grievances and open up new possibilities for the future.

Kristen of We Be Reading shares my appreciation of this overlooked gem, and I’m delighted that she agreed to offer some further thoughts about it. Kristen has been blogging about books for all ages at We Be Reading for over six years and also writes about chapter books at The Estella Society. She is also the founder of Diana Wynne Jones March, a yearly celebration of the works and fandom of DWJ. She lives in the Seattle area with her husband, son and two cats.

Power of Three is one of Diana Wynne Jones’s oldest books, first released in 1976. It is less fantastical than most of her other books, even while being rooted in magic. In the land of the Dorig, the Lyman, and the Giants, each race thinks that they are the “people” and that the others are savages, both dangerous and mean. It is the simple magic of words that give each group power, be it curses, charms, or negotiation, and they frequently use those words against each other. It is only when they use their words for friendship and forgiveness instead of enmity that all will be well in their world.

iron age artifact
Iron Age gold torc (British Museum)

The three of the title is repeated in a few different ways through the story (siblings, elements) but the most important trio is that of the three races. Ayna, Gair and Ceri live in a mound in the moors with their “people” (the main ones of the story), Gerald and Brenda are Giants who live near the moor in houses, and Halla and Hafny are Dorig who live in air-filled caverns under the water. As representatives (and children) of each of their races, we get an idea of what their lives are like and also what their group’s worldview is. In typical DWJ style, as each group identifies as “the people” and labels the other groups as “other”, she convinces you that their point of view is valid and appropriate. But as the story unfolds, both the characters and the readers get the chance to change their opinions and discover some surprising facts about each other. And, magically one might say, the children learn that things that seem like huge differences turn out to be only slight variations once they start interacting.

Though this is one of DWJ’s lesser known works, it is certainly worth reading. It doesn’t have a dreamy protagonist, a Chrestomanci or Howl, or a blatantly evil villain like Aunt Maria or Laurel. It is a more subtle tale that both reveals and redefines humanity at once — and it’s also a fun read!

Thank you, Kristen! I hope that more readers will discover this lovely book through your description. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at what is perhaps Diana Wynne Jones’s best-known title, Howl’s Moving Castle. And don’t forget to check out the Witch Week giveaway, open now through November 5.

Link up your own reviews at the Witch Week Master Post 

16 thoughts on “Witch Week Day Two: Power of Three (Guest Post)

  1. It's really good as a re-read. I love this story, how Gair closes himself off, and how he grows up to understand so much about his people and the others too.


  2. I remember the lightbulb moment when I got what was going on in the story. It's definitely on my reread list, and this lovely post just confirms what a prodigiously talented writer DWJ was virtually from the word go. Thank you.


    1. Sometimes books with a "twist" just feel gratuitous and manipulative — but here again it ties in with the theme of understanding and changing one's perspective. A talent indeed!


  3. Diana won my heart with her Howl's Moving Castle book xD I am so in love with it, and her reading, surely will be reading more of her books xD Another one I will finally try asap is Pratchett's Discworld series :3


  4. This was a reread for me and I definitely enjoyed it more the second time through. It's a strange DWJ to pick up when you've read so many of her other books first because it almost feels like it doesn't fit. But when you revisit it, you see details that only she would have included. Thanks for asking me to reread this one!


  5. Although Power of Three isn't one of my most favorite DWJ books, it's one of a very few that I liked immediately. So many of them you have to read a few times before you're fully grasping what she's trying to do; but I liked Power of Three right away. I loved all the stuff with the siblings (she's great at writing siblings!) and parents, all those relationships.


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