[DWJ] Monthly Read-Along - Charmed Life

Kyla Mackay-Smith kyla at keyfitz.org
Sat Nov 3 21:13:51 EDT 2012

I myself love Charmed Life, too. I can't remember if it was the first one 
I read, but it was probably in the first three. It's so familiar and 
comfy, and there's such lovely, vivid description. One of my favorite bits 
of that is when Cat wakes up the first morning at the Castle and he 
describes the quiet as being like when it's snowed in the night, and I 
know exactly what he means, and it makes it so clear and real.

So there's one funny thing that I only this time, after reading this book 
for probably 25 years, noticed that I had been interpreting wrong. When 
the Nostrums are introduced, Mr Henry Nostrum is described as "small and 
plumpish," and then on the next page, Mr William Nostrum is "half as large 
again as Mr Henry." So for years, I had been thinking, because large is 
the opposite of small, and Henry's height was small and his width was 
plumpish, that that meant that William was half again as *tall* as Henry. 
Um, which is a rather funny image now that I think about it clearly. No, 
this really means that Henry is plumpish and William is quite rotund, yes?

And then I think this time was the first time I actually read the UK 
HarperCollins version rather than the US Greenwillow version I grew up 
reading. And in the bit when Cat goes up to his room to find things they 
can sell (p. 154 in this version, chapter 11), Janet says, "Sho' ting. I 
daren't move widdout you, bwana. But hurry up." And I don't remember what 
she says in the version I'm used to, but I'm pretty sure it was probably 
just something like "Sure thing. I daren't move without you." I think 
that's the only change I noticed, though, and I'm wondering: did the US 
publisher change it because they thought Americans would be confused? 
Because they thought it was racist/insulting/stereotyping? (I'm also a bit 
surprised that I've had this version on my shelf for years but have 
apparently never read it before.)

Bettina, I'm shocked that there was that much cut out of the German
translation! I love the church scene. And why take out the skirt snakes? 
That's just odd.

On Sat, 3 Nov 2012, Tina wrote:

> So, after finally reading the "real" CL, I like it even more. It was 
> wonderful to discover the real story in which, I find, some things just make 
> more sense. Some (also mostly new) things I found a bit odd: The references 
> that witches aren't supposed to like churches, Millie (!) calling Gwendolyn 
> "ungodly child", Will Suggins claiming Sunday's a bad time to be at 
> witchcraft -- I never had the impression that the magic in CL had any 
> "connection" to theology. However, if you look at the quoted sentences more 
> closely, the narrator doesn't confirm those notions to be true, so maybe 
> those are only referenced as superstitions.

That's a really interesting point, but I do think that it's only 
superstitions. Because pretty much the whole population of the Castle goes 
to church, yes? And plenty of them are witches, even though there are many 
stronger varieties of magic-workers.

On Sat, 3 Nov 2012, Ellen Willcox wrote:

> What has always impressed me about Charmed Life is that Gwendolyn
> really is that bad.  I've always liked reading about close sibling
> relationships - maybe because my brother and I are close - and I think
> I tend to assume more affection between siblings than is on the page.
> When Cat and Gwendolyn have just arrived at Chrestomanci Castle, and
> Cat is anxious that evening, Gwendolyn plays cards with him - she's
> even the one to suggest it, though she's a bit scornful when she does.
> So I'd been assuming that she was kind of mean, but that she loved
> her brother deep down.  So that moment where she tells her minions
> offhandedly that they'll have to kill Cat more than once both shocked
> me and gave me chills.

Isn't she utterly horrible? Completely without morals of any kind. It 
really is chilling. Because you can sort of see how all the other denizens 
of Coven Street would see Cat as just a tool, a means to an end, the ends 
justify the means, whatever, they don't really care. But his own sister? 
Yeeks. I'd much rather have Janet. I mean, duh, but.

Now I'm wondering, what kind of relationship do Cat and Janet have? I 
mean, in my head, they're not quite regular full siblings, because they 
weren't always brought up together. They seem kind of like really close 
stepsiblings, or something like that. Anyone else have that feeling?

Oh, and now science nerd questions: do Janet and Gwendolen have the same 
DNA? Probably. Do they have the same fingerprints? Probably not, because 
identical twins don't.

Q: How do you play religious roulette?
A: You stand around in a circle and blaspheme and see
who gets struck by lightning first.

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