I Ate'nt Dead -- or That Which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger

Dorian E. Gray israfel at eircom.net
Mon Sep 16 16:08:56 EDT 2002

Ven said...

> I'm sure this has come up at some point but the
> other day I started thinking about the number of
> times the motif of resurrection/rebirth crops up
> in Dwj's books.


> In using the terms resurrection and rebirth I'm
> including the symbolic as well as the literal
> meaning. I have some vague categories, they are
> of course common to a great deal of western and
> probably world literature:

This is very interesting stuff, and I wish I'd thought of it!  To a large
extent, I think your Nietzsche quote sums up where these motifs are going -
in DWJ at least.  But there also seems to be more to it.  (I'm tired, and
I've a wrenched finger, so bear with me if I ramble a bit.)  Part of it also
seems to be that you have to go through some kind of hell to get where you
want to be.  And part of it seems to be an extension of the idea that only
you can save yourself (cf my interpretation of the end of "Fire and
Hemlock"); the corollary being that saving yourself cannot be easy, and may
require "dying".

> The reuniting of sundered parts of a personality
> or a person. This is common in Dwj, is it a
> personal motif?

It reminded me of what she's said about the different gardens she knew when
she was growing up, and how she and her sisters played different games/did
different things in the different gardens.  Perhaps especially the walled
garden with the homicidal bees, that she was only rarely allowed into.
There seems to me to be a definite feeling of compartmentalisation there,
which might extend into a personality as well as its actions.  (She's also
said that she uses different parts of the one character in different books,
which may be connected.)


> Here's an annotated list of the novels in order
> of publishing. I'm trying to avoid obvious
> SPOILERS, and I've indicated where there are
> spoilers for the endings of books,  but you have
> been warned.

I'm going to hang some more ramblings on some of these...
> Spoiler warning space
> The Ogre Downstairs -- Apart from the dragon's
> teeth I couldn't find it in this one.

Hm.  You could say that the "death" is what actually looks superficially
like a "resurrection"; the new beginning of the combining of two families,
which happens before the book starts.  In which case the book is about the
struggle for resurrection, which happens at the end when the families
finally manage to coalesce.  This, I think, ties in to my idea that you have
to go through hell to get where you're going, as well as the "only you can
save yourself" theme; although the weird old man sells them the chemistry
sets that provide the catalyst for the resurrection, the family members
themselves have to work to use the chemistry sets and create their
> Power of Three -- The lifing of the curse is a
> kind of resurrection for all the peoples of the
> Moor. Hafny's "mogery" provides another. Gerald
> and Gair go underground to the Dorig Halls and
> nearly get themselves sacrificed.

Sacrifice is a very important part of the end of this book, and I think it
does tie in with the death-and-resurrection idea; in order to have a
resurrection, you must have a death, and in this case we're looking at
willingly accepting death in order to provide a resurrection, not
necessarily for yourself, but for others.  A very Christian idea, though the
book is not at all overtly Christian.  (And, of course, the notion of
willing self-sacrifice is by no means confined to Christianity.)

So the sacrifices here are important; Gair willingly agreeing to give up his
life for the resurrection of all three peoples involved, and then Hathil
willingly agreeing to pay whatever penalty may be involved when he refuses
to accept Gair's life, thus granting Gair resurrection.
[re "Drowned Ammet"]
> I'm having a bit of trouble remembering the
> ending well enough  to see how it fits, I'm sure
> somebody will remedy this deficiency (and all the
> rest).

Glancing at the ending of this one, the thing that struck me was that Mitt
seems to be - or be becoming - Undying right there, when he tells Jenro to
look after Lithar "until I come back", and Jenro accepts this bargain.  This
seems to tie in to both the death/resurrection and the sacrifice themes;
Mitt the mortal dies here, to be instantly resurrected as Mitt the Undying.
And also, Mitt sacrifices (albeit at this point, unknowingly) his mortality,
in order (as we find out in "Crown of Dalemark") to achieve resurrection for
Dalemark by rooting out Kankredin.
> Charmed Life -- It does keep happening to Cat
> doesn't it? He suffers sudden transformations in
> his life also, once when his parents died and
> again when Chrestomanci finds him. Janet too,
> when Gwendolen drags her away from her entire
> world.

Not to mention the fact that since he has 9 lives, Cat dies more than once,
but keeps going!
> The Time of the Ghost -- The heroine, the ghost
> is hovering between life and death throughout the
> book, in the end she and her sisters and all
> those involved with whatsername (with one,
> important, exception)  are freed of the
> consequences of their gifts and she gets her life
> back.

I rather see this book as our heroine being, in a sense, dead for most of
it.  From the time she swears herself to Monigan, she's dead - and
interestingly, this is one instance where someone *doesn't* save herself;
it's her sister's trick that grants her resurrection.
> Witch Week -- Aside from various household
> objects that come to life, nothing comes to mind

Back to the macro scale and the sacrifice idea (can you tell I'm fond of
sacrifice themes?!).  At the end, Charles causes everyone (or Simon, using
the gift Charles gave him) to kill the world, in order to gain resurrection
as part of a different world.  Or, if you will, the world is sacrificed to
enrich another, related world.
> Fire and Hemlock -- The Leroys are definitely in
> the resurrection business.

Yes, though it tends to involve one person's death boosting another person,
for the most part.  Laurel, however, does seem to gain power/resurrection
from her own death.  Or supposed death.

> Tom, being entangled
> in their coils, entangles Polly in them as well
> (though it has already come down to her from her
> grandfather).

It could be said that the old Tom dies when Laurel casts him out, and he's
resurrected with a dangerous gift.

> Polly overcomes the adjustments to
> her memories and is able to fight for Tom's life.

Polly could also be said to die - or kill herself accidentally! - when she
performs her magical spying and then lets Laurel enchant her.  She manages
to resurrect herself 4 years later when she fights back to her memories, and
is then able to help Tom toward his own resurrection.

> Unfortunately in view of the difficulties in the
> interpretation of the ending I'm loath to stick
> my neck out ............ however it is clear that
> something must be relinquished in order to win.

My take on it would be along the lines of Tom's killing his old,
lean-on-others self in order to be resurrected as a new, more independent
person.  But that may be a bit simplistic.
> Howl's Moving Castle
> Howl's Moving Castle -- Not the major theme but:

Hm.  In a way I'd say it *could* be the major theme; Sophie connives at her
own death by allowing herself to become old in spirit (the Witch merely puts
the physical semblance onto what she's let her personality become).  So then
the book is suddenly all about Sophie resurrecting herself - to this end,
she finds death (old age) very liberating, and is able to regain her youth
(in a spiritual sense); because she's effectively dead already, it doesn't
matter what she does, and so she can find her way back to life.
> A Tale of Time City -- Can I leave this one for
> those who love this book? I'm sure I couldn't do
> it justice.

It's not one of my favourites, but a few things spring to mind:  the Time
Lady "sleeping the sleep of death" until the appropriate time.  Faber John
effectively killing himself by splitting up into the Guardians, and then
resurrecting when they come back together.  The City itself having to "die"
(buildings falling down, etc.) in order to renew itself.
> Castle in the Air -- Flower of the Night is
> stolen from one prison and put in another, using
> her wits to get herself out.

And Abdullah is imprisoned by his own day-dreams, but works through them to
win free.
> The Crown of Dalemark -- Maewen replaces the
> murdered Noreth -- and quite what this has to do
> with the matter in hand is eluding me....

I think the theme here manifests more in terms of Mitt overtly becoming
Undying (see my remarks about "Drowned Ammet").
> The ritual and the subsequent trip to Babylon
> draw from a number of sources -- the nursery
> rhyme, How many Miles to Babylon, which might be
> about sleep or death, This Aye Night, provide a
> classic heros journey into the land of the dead.
> And, like in most of the classic journeys,
> success means literal new life for Marie and
> Andrew, a reinvention for the quacks and
> something of the sort for Nick and Rob too.

We could also add the destruction of the Empire, preparatory to Koryfos'
return.  Also, Maree's break-up could be her death, so that about half of
the book becomes her struggle towards resurrection.  And Rupert's
self-imposed isolation could also be a death, so that much of the book is
also *his* struggle towards resurrection.  At which point, Rupert and
Maree's saving themselves also becomes them saving each other (shades of
"The Lady's not for Burning", though I don't know the play well enough to
expand this).

Okay, I think I've rambled enough.  I hope some of it makes sense...

Until the sky falls on our heads...

Dorian E. Gray
israfel at eircom.net
"What dreadful hot weather we have!  It keeps me in a continual state of
-Jane Austen

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