Joan Aiken

minnow at minnow at
Fri Dec 12 21:02:15 EST 2003

The Knowledge Pika (I typed "Pike" there, and had to go away and hide in a
rusted tin at the bottom of the river for a bit to make sure it was safe,
and then to get over the palpitations) wrote:

>> On regaining consciousness: in answer to the first question, yes, I can see
>> a similarity between the Armitage stories and DWJ's work.  Am I meant now
>> to say what I think it is, or should I leave a large spoiler space, or
>> what?
>Well, if you've got a more coherent idea what it is than my vague
>impression, I'd love to hear it. I just know that I keep thinking the
>Armitage books are by DWJ or conversely that Stopping for a Spell is by
>Aiken until I stop and think about it.

I *think*, and I'm open to other opinions and to debate and all like that,
the reason I find them similar is the way they are rooted in a recognisable
"reality" -- people go to school, there are embarrassing social occasions
organised by well-meaning grown-ups who want the kiddies to have fun, the
fabric of society is familiar -- and then go off at a wild but entirely
*reasonable* tangent from our reality into somewhere else entirely.

The Armitages have magic; yes.  Mr Armitage goes to the office, though, and
the village have a fete, and there is a local Women's Institute (who knit
unrecognisable woolly objects), and the local farrier has a price-chart for
shoeing all the unexpected animals that may turn up ("quagga, reindeer ...
no, we want further on than that .. Zebra, yak, wildebeest...").  It's all
very reasonable once the magic has been taken into account.  Just
our-world-plus, really.

In *Who Got Rid Of Angus Flint?* there is a lovely moment, when the piano
is chasing Angus Flint down the road: the narrator says "I don't know what
the other people in the street thought", just as if it were sort-of normal
for a grand piano to chase someone through town... no big deal, really.
Things go on around the magic in a quite ordinary way, as it were.  The
tea-shop has to be paid for the teas.  Clothes that have been saturated in
the mud of another world have to be given an extra cycle of wash at the

Things which in this "reality" would be front-page banner headline stuff,
like the dragons'-teeth bikers' rumble in a supermarket carpark, are simply
accepted -- but it is a supermarket carpark.  Lobsters catch a train to the
seaside for a day out, wearing unsuitable hats, and it is the hat not the
lobster that is remarkable.

It's a variation on the old notion that the most terrible horror-story is
the one that happens in an ordinary street that might be where the reader
lives.  The most fabulous fantasy is the one in which Aunt Thing gets a
present for a child whose life is similar to that of the reader, and the
shop she gets it from happens to have belonged to a fairy so the present is
magical.  The right pencil can make what you draw with it turn up in your

*Carbonel* has it too, now I come to think.  Daily reality mixed in with
magic, and occasional friction between the two, or having to organise the
magic round things that are planned in an ordinary way by quite ordinary
and reasonable parents.

The backs of wardrobes in spare-rooms in old houses.... Hey, *anyone* might
be able to find Narnia!

[1] Why on earth is a launderette called a launderette?  I can understand a
laundromat, horrid word that it is, but *why* stick an "ette" onto launder
for a place you go to wash your clothes if you don't have your own
washing-machine?  Truly the ways of the advertiser sometimes baffle me.
ette.  A little laundry?


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