By Farah Mendlesohn
First released in 2005. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.
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Immediately we are introduced to a multiclass world, distinct from the cozy middle-class fiction of the 1950s and 1960s and from the often ostensibly class-neutral world of the children’s fantasy novel, but one that does not present poverty as tragic. 4 DIANA WYNNE JONES Frank and Jess must deal with the denial of independence and agency by their own (loving) parent: the route to independence—work—is posited as illegitimate. The structure is patently unfair and as such establishes one of the paradigms of this book: that fairness is a matter of balance, but fairness cannot be expected in the adult world.
Balance in the mimetic world—canceling the debt to Buster—is paralleled by balance in the fantastical world—assuaging the “giant” or other villain through service. And the complicity implied in the first turns out to be equally entangled with the second. Buster, the bane of Frank and Jess’s life, is the leader of the local gang. C. Thomson & Company Ltd, Dundee). It is a large group, distinguished as individuals through physical characteristics such as a squeaky voice. They are obviously working class and, despite Frank and Jess’s assumptions, loud rather than evil.
Although the children are at risk from Biddy in a purely practical sense, the novel is also structured to demonstrate their moral risk. Own Back Ltd starts as a game. It becomes something more not only as the stakes escalate but also as the nature of what they set out to do is made clearer to Frank and Jess simply by its association with Biddy. If vengeance is something that a witch takes delight in, that brings into question the moral probity of such a course of action. S. Lewis (Narnia) or Susan Cooper (The Dark Is Rising sequence) builds on this, Jones unexpectedly cuts across it.