Magic needing specific persons as regards age or sex

Ika blake at
Tue Mar 9 09:43:54 EST 2004

Me, then Minnow responding:

>>ObDWJ: um... there's an odd mixture in her books of gender
>>division/complementarity on the magical level - I'm thinking of the
>> 'male'
>>and 'female' magics in Black Maria and The Merlin Conspiracy - with a
>>total disregard for traditional gender characteristics on the level of
>> the
>>characters (lots of femmey boys and tomboy girls. I suppose Witch Week
>> has
>>the biggest division between boys and girls, maybe because of the
>>boarding-school milieu).
> Which are the femmey boys?  And how does that get
> defined/shown?

<g> I should probably admit upfront to having an uncontrollable habit of
classifying everyone in the world into butches (Yang types) and femmes
(Yin types), so my definitions of butchness and femmeness is probably a
bit oblique to most people's - Cat Chant and Gair are my butch role
models, f'rinstance, though they're not exactly manly.

But dragging myself firmly back onto femmey boys as more usually
understood: well, the peacocky boys, mostly, I suppose: Howl, to an
extent; Torquil; and of course their presiding deity, Chrestomanci (vague,
elegant, drawly, splendidly begowned).

> Ditto
> tomboy girls?

Polly. I kind of want to claim Helen from Homeward Bounders, too, but her
brand of resistance isn't actually anything to do with gender, so I

> I have always thought of DWJ's people as just people,
> rather
> than worrying too much about which of the eight sexes they are, so I
> simply
> haven't noticed.

<g> Whereas I think I drew my entire gender system from DWJ: at least I
always find myself trying to write "DWJ boy in manner of Gair" on forms
when they ask me to fill in "male or female", as that seems to be much
more accurate and relevant to anything the form-reader might need to know
about me.

But that 'eight sexes' phrase gets rather elegantly at what I was trying
to formulate: in some of the fictional worlds, there are (at least) eight
sexes on the social/character level, and yet on the magical level there
are only two. It's very rare for an *instutitional* or general distinction
to be drawn between girls and boys on the non-magical level, but by
contrast in, for example, the Merlin Conspiracy, the magical distinction
does exist on the institutional level (there has to be both a Merlin and a
female office-holder whose title I'm blanking on). Where there *is* an
strong social/cultural division between males and females, it tends to be
because something is going wrong on the magical level, as you pointed out.
And I think even at the end of Witch Week, after the world is put back in
its right place, the social division between boys and girls breaks down to
some extent, but I may be misremembering.

> If you're the author, you can, as I think DWJ does on occasion, suggest
> that the characters may benefit by looking away from their culture's
> traditional magic (within the book) and trying to work out new ways to do
> things, or correct ways in which the traditional magic has been in some
> manner subverted or perverted or otherwise messed up (Thornladies of
> various sorts and Hereditary Covens get shaken up here and there), but
> unless you have a framework around which and outside which the characters
> are learning to work, they'd have no reason to be looking for New things
> to
> experiment with.

Oh, yes, and DWJ tends to do it very interestingly, as in the examples you
gave that I've snipped (Merlin Conspiracy, Sudden Wild Magic and Black
Maria in particular), and as Deborah also pointed out. But this shifting
relationship between a binary model of sex on the magical level and the
multiplicity of possible sex-gender positions on the social/cultural level
is really interesting to me.

> Minnow (who's been doing a lot of thinking about magic this week for
> several reasons...)

(all of which was very interesting and almost all of which I've snipped,
as I know very little about magic and have nothing worthwhile to add:
thanks for this post, though, Minnow, I've been digesting it very
enjoyably since I got back from a weekend away, and will go on thinking
about it.)

Love, Ika

"I had no choice but to recognise that the world was suddenly making
itself available for improvement, and it was all Morrissey's fault"
- Andrew O'Hagan
To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list