March Magics: The True State of Affairs

It’s the magical month of March — time to celebrate two favorite fantasy authors, Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett, thanks to Kristen of We Be Reading who hosts March Magics each year. It’s a free-form event this time — read and post whatever and whenever you like, but be sure to visit Kristen’s blog to see what she’s up to, and connect with other fans.

This year, the selected theme is “Nothing but the shorts,” focusing on the dozens of short stories penned between the two authors. Because of my current book acquisition ban, I’m limited to the books I have on hand — and I have no stories by Terry Pratchett, and only a few by Diana Wynne Jones. So I decided to reread my copy of Everard’s Ride, a book I cherish not so much because it’s a rather valuable signed limited edition, as because it’s proof that an underrated master was finally getting some well-deserved recognition with this special production (done for the 1995 Boskone conference at which she was guest of honor).

But I also cherish it because it has one story that for some reason was never republished anywhere else, in the many confusingly overlapping compilations and anthologies of DWJ stories. And within this story is a poem I love, one of the few poems I’ve seen by her — though surely she must have written some for her own pleasure, if nothing else. At almost 100 pages, “The True State of Affairs” is more of a novella than a story, perhaps a discarded early draft for a novel. It feels unfinished, at any rate, frustratingly fragmentary — no explanation is given for the protagonist apparently being transported from modern England to a place bearing some resemblance to the universe of the Dalemark series — and tantalizingly lacking in closure.

I love it, though, because it’s a story about the risky business of expressing and defining and discovering ourselves through language. It’s written by a prisoner on scraps begged from her jailer, a prisoner who doesn’t understand the circumstances of her imprisonment, but who has to try to comprehend her predicament, remember who she is, and keep herself from going mad. In other words, it’s about life. What is the true state of affairs, for any of us?

Truth is the fire that fetches thunder
Kindled of itself, and only mine
In the heart that had its fashioning.

Looking out from her confinement, she sees another captive, and weaves stories about him that may or may not be true. From this she enters into a clandestine correspondence that leads her into further danger, emotional as well as physical. Who can say what really lives inside another person? What is truth — in our perceptions, in our ideas?

In this strange, ambiguous tale, with its uncharacteristically bleak ending, Diana Wynne Jones captures something of the mystery of self and other, without reaching any easy or comfortable conclusions. As with all of her work, she reminds me that each one of us human beings is a story in the process of being told, and makes me want to listen.

What do you plan to read this month? What are your favorite stories by these authors?

17 thoughts on “March Magics: The True State of Affairs

  1. ‘Everard’s Ride’ I’ve always intended to reread when I came across it in Unexpected Magic (copy from Seattle, where I pounced on it). It always felt misplaced in that collection — too long and tonally different — so I’m glad you’ve got a standalone copy!

    Forgotten about March Magics, can’t think why, so must have a think what to choose. I’ll pop along to Kristen’s blog now for some more inspiration!


    1. In this case, the collection “Everard’s Ride” includes the title story/novella, plus “The True State of Affairs,” and sandwiched in between are a few random stories, mostly from Warlock at the Wheel. No reasoning is given for the selection, alas. It’s also a very mixed bag.

      Looking forward to whatever you come up with this month!


  2. I will be devoting myself to mysteries in March! Maybe next year I can do March Magics. Tho, I am currently reading The Mists of Avalon (since January in fact), so I guess that counts…it has some magic in it! But honestly, it is really (to my chagrin) really more of a romance novel.

    I have never read any DWJ and I wonder if that ship has sailed. There are some books and authors that for me personally I am glad I read when younger.

    I do have three Terry Pratchett novels on my shelf. I actually picked up The Truth a few weeks ago, since it is supposed to be a Discworld novel that can stand alone. I liked the first chapter but got distracted by other things!


    1. I would say DWJ is an author for all ages. I only started reading her in my late teens, around the time of Fire and Hemlock (her masterpiece IMHO), and enjoyed every new (and old) book until her death in 2011. And I know I’m not the only adult reader.

      The Truth is the first Discworld novel I read! I even wrote a post about it: I’d say you could consider it sort of a mystery…


  3. I’m going to have to do some work to find a copy of The True State of Affairs. For now, it will be in the very tiny collection of DWJ’s work that I haven’t read! Your description is reminding me of part of V for Vendetta though and now I want to read this and watch that and compare!


    1. I guess it’s only in this special edition, which is pricey — I don’t see any copies for less than $83. I’m glad I got it when I had a chance.


      1. I know I have read The True State of Affairs, at least twice. And yet it doesn’t seem to be in any of the collections. What the hey. I haven’t dug up my copy of Unexpected Magic yet, but if it was in there somebody would know, right? This may drive me mad until I figure it out.


          1. Oops, I guess my opening statement is wrong then. I need to get some of these other books to complete my collection but I’m annoyed about the overlapping. I just want a Complete Stories, darn it!


            1. I made up a spreadsheet at the start that listed the stories in each collection and then I matched them up to see how I could get them all. This story was the only missing one and yes, only shows up in these two collections. Also, I now have a very pretty spreadsheet where each story has its own color. 🙂


  4. I have always wanted to participate in this, but not having ever read anything by either one of these authors, I have always felt intimidated.

    So this year, instead of angsting over it, I put myself at the mercy of the library and let it choose for me! It had three titles and I brought home two. Not sure which I’ll read or maybe both? We’ll see 🙂

    The Time of the Ghost


    1. I think those are two great choices! Time of the Ghost can be harrowing at times because it’s based on Diana’s own childhood. 😀 Dogsbody is a wonderful story for somewhat younger readers (my son just read it at age 10) but well worth it for adults too. I might suggest trying that one to start with and moving on to Time of the Ghost if you get hooked.


  5. Aww, this sounds like so much fun! You and Kristen make me want to read DWJ’s short stories so bad now. Sadly, I’ve had no luck so far getting my hands on any of her short stories, and the Library is not an option for me – I live in Québec, so I’d be lucky if I landed ANY of DWJ’s books. I’ve actually been bugging my boss to buy some copies of Howl’s Moving Castle for our Library, but she won’t buy books written in English and French translations are all out of print.

    I do own Pratchett’s “A Blink of the Screen”, though – a very generous gift from a fellow Pratchett-lover collegue of mine, who had to move away and gave me his whole 40+ Pratchett book collection. I’ve barely gotten as far as reading a third of the Discworld series so far, but I’ll definitely make sure ‘A Blink of the Screen’ is the next one I read 🙂

    I’d like to comment on Kristen’s blog as well, but I’m sort of too lazy to create an account? Lame, I know, but sadly true. Know that I will be joining you as well with my Pratchett book.


    1. That’s a shame about not being able to get DWJ in your library. Reading A Blink of the Screen sounds good though. And lucky you to have a whole Discworld collection handed down to you! Enjoy the month and feel free to join in on one or another of our blogs (other regular participants are in the comments above).


    2. Luckily I can come comment anywhere! So glad you are going to join in with Pratchett. I think I will get to A Blink of the Screen in about a week or so after I finish reading his other youth collection. I’m jealous that you inherited that nice big collection. Right now I’m slowly building mine and getting a lot of books from the library.
      And I’m pretty sure we’re going to have to start a quest to find a publisher to re-release French translations of DWJ!


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