_Power of Three_ (with spoilers)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Sep 14 01:37:13 EDT 2000

I am posting a lot of very long things tonight because I don't know when
I'll get the chance again.  I said I'd gotten caught up in _Power of Three_
while reading about Halla and, since this is after all a DWJ list, I thought
I'd share.  This will contain a lot of detail about the plot, so if you
haven't read this book yet, stop now and go get one of those new editions
with the ugly cover.  (Why do so many of her reissues have weird covers?  Do
they not want her books to sell?)

What struck me was how much this book had to say about truth and
appearances.  All DWJ's books have this element to some extent, as it arises
from the use of the naive narrator (which she does a lot) and is just the
kind of story she seems to like best.  But _Power of Three_ is almost
exclusively about the difference between what you see and what is really

I should have figured this out right away, because she gives the big clue
right at the beginning of the book.  The headers to chapters one and two
identify both as folklore: "This is the story of the children of Adara";
"This is how Gest became famous."  That they're written in the same style as
the rest of the book throws you off; the events are true, and they're coming
from the mouths of the people who lived them, but what is said is missing
some crucial details.  Gair, Ayna and Ceri grow up on the story of how their
father performed the three tasks to win their mother, which is the
adaptation of what Miri their nursemaid remembers, which is itself not the
whole truth.  It's the missing details (revealed as the story progresses)
that make it possible for Adara (for example) to think that Dorig have
scales and be perfectly accurate in her perceptions, and at the same time be
totally wrong.

I really love how scenes from the beginning of the book are revisited later.
Gair and Ceri are spooked by a menacing Dorig warrior, mysteriously silent,
and it turns out that it was just Hafny--a child their own age--and that he
was silent because he'd stretched his shifting ability to its limit and
couldn't speak in that state.  Dorig are silvery, but it's a suit, not their
skin, and they live under the water but not in it.  Gest won Adara by
cheating.  That sort of thing.

Even better is how it turns out that Giants are really just human beings,
not really much bigger than Lymen or Dorig.  That's another aspect of this
theme: sometimes you see what you expect to see, not what's there.  It took
me a very long time to grasp that "Giants" weren't so giant; even after I
realized that they were humans, I still thought that meant that the Lymen
were very small.  _Power of Three_ can't be taken at face value; you have to
be ready to chuck all your assumptions when new facts come to life.

The part I was actually reading (and now I'm going to read it from the
beginning again, something I probably should have done before writing all
this, but like I said, it might be a while before I get around to it) is
where all these different perceptions run up against each other, when Halla
and Hafny are captured by Gair and Gerald and the others.  Suddenly
everyone--Giant and Lyman and Dorig--is promoting his own point of view.
And I was suddenly thinking, how would this scene look if Gerald were the
POV character?  Or Hafny?  And realizing that it would be just as
interesting and complex no matter how it was told.  

Although this can be read as an allegory of race relations ("And it did not
matter that Brenda's face was wider and pinker than Ayna's, or that Halla's
eyes were yellow where Ayna's were blue.  They were all faces.") it's so
much deeper than that, because DWJ is getting to the heart of how
individuals see each other.  Because she spends most of the book setting up
a situation in which each race genuinely believes the others are not human,
that revelation rings true rather than sounding like some cheap "can't we
all just get along?" platitude.  I still can't believe this is one of her
earliest books.

I've reached the end of my burst of mental strength, so I hope that made
sense.  Any comments that *do* make sense are welcome.

I am so much looking forward to _Year of the Griffin_.

Melissa Proffitt
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