DWJ ReRead · Fantasy

The Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones

Gerald looked at Halla with deep contempt. Gair could see Gerald had formed a very low opinion of her mental powers. He thought that Gerald was right. Judging by the unreflecting way she spoke, he suspected she was simply repeating what other, older Dorig said.
“You know what you sound like?” Gerald said to her. “You sound just like newspaper propaganda. Next thing, you’ll be saying you invaded Otmound and Garholt for defence, or peace, or something.”


I never did grow up on stories of fairy mounds, or really, most of the myths I’m familiar with now. As a child I knew city streets and fields and forests, with bunian and djinns and guardian spirits, but I knew nothing of moors. When I read The Power of Three for the first time I found it hard to imagine Otmound – the closest image I had for reference was the underground apartment from the Doraemon comics, so that’s what I imagined. I’ve reread this many times since, and I guess it amuses me now, thinking about how I read it then.

The story starts with a girl named Adara and her brother Oban, children of Otmound’s chief. I didn’t like Oban from the get-go; he’s filled with this feeling of self-importance, and repeats things told to him without thinking, which I understand is something kids do, but still. Adara adores her brother, though, and in this chapter he does something reprehensible even for a child, leaving her utterly disillusioned – not just about Oban, but also about the rest of her people.

For in Otmound there are three types of people – Lymen, the ones that live in the mounds, the Dorigs that seem to live underwater, and the Giants with their strange magic and loud fighting. The Dorigs and Lymen hate each other, while the Giants never seem to notice the others. The Otmounders have a saying that Oban likes to repeat – “the only good Dorig is a dead Dorig”, and it’s this belief that causes him to act in a way that ends up bringing down a curse on him, a curse so strong that it would go on to affect all of the Moor. Adara would go on to marry Gest, a man who is nothing like Oban, and have three children named Gair, Ayna and Ceri. Gair is the middle child and believes that he’s ordinary, and not at all like his siblings, who are both Gifted. Gair spends the beginning of the book restless and unhappy, thinking of the ways he doesn’t quite measure up, and may be a disappointment to Gest.

I like the way the Gest and Gair are both so different, and the misunderstandings that occur because of their differences – it reminds me that we don’t always know what another person is thinking, no matter what they show on the surface. I guess this, to me, is a good balance to all the awful adults and neglectful parents in Diana’s books so far. Gest isn’t a bad person, but he has made mistakes and have done things that aren’t good, because he isn’t perfect. I love how Gair’s initial disillusionment when he finds out the truth about his father gives way to him adjusting his perception of what being a hero is, and learning that there are different kinds of bravery.

At some point during my reread project – I think when I was reading Cart and Cwidder – I started thinking about how Diana’s books always have something new for me to discover, no matter how many times I’ve read them before. Sometimes because I’ve forgotten something, other times because I wasn’t reading as carefully as I could be the previous times, and mostly because I’m reading from a different perspective. And that means I also start thinking about the things from these books that I ended up carrying with me as an adult. The Power of Three, being one of the ones I reread the most, have probably made a bigger impression on me. There’s the way that this book talks about racism in a way that’s easier to understand and to relate to, humanising all the characters involved without dismissing their cultural differences. The Dorigs and Lymen and Giants are all People, but they’re not the same, exactly.

I liked that the characters had to go through the transformation from distrust and lies to learning to understand, accept and perhaps even celebrate those differences. I also like that it shows how talking, more than anything, helps to solve problems and conflicts. Other things this book had taught me: while everyone makes mistakes, it’s the how and why and what happens after that makes the difference. Adults aren’t always right. Just because something has been a certain way for a long time, it doesn’t mean that things shouldn’t change. And through Adara and Gair, it taught me that wisdom may be the most important gift of all.And then there’s the other stuff that Diana does so well, that I love in her books. Like how she writes families and siblings and how complex the relationships are.

I love the setting, which (due to my unfamiliarity with misty moors or mounds) seemed at first to be high fantasy, and then she just flips it around and you’re really in someone’s backyard sort of, which is just amazing. So when I encountered something that just went over my head – or I had forgotten about – in previous reads, I was a bit uncomfortable. Brenda, one of the Giants, was described as fat. Which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but the POV implies that her fatness makes her unappealing, and even though all the Giants are big and heavy to the Lymen and Dorigs, only Brenda “huffs” and “stomps” around spaces. It doesn’t help that she’s called “fatso” at certain parts of the book (while being fat isn’t a bad thing, in this case her fatness is definitely used as an insult), and that she’s told that she will become “thin and pretty” as she grows up. I would rather that she learns to like herself more, than only liking herself once she’s thin and pretty.

I found this book really hard to write about, even though I’ve read it so many times. The next book I’ll be doing for the reread, Drowned Ammet, will probably be even harder. (But I’m looking forward to reading Charmed Life after that!) Also, I found this cover of the Japanese version of The Power of Three, and I’m so tempted to get it, it’s so pretty.

“Some people find it more difficult to be easy with other people, and perhaps, if they seem proud, it’s the best they can do. Such people usually have a lot going on inside their heads.” – Adara
– cross-posted from Weebly

DWJ RE-READ no.07 | this book was first published in 1976
previous book: Dogsbody
next book: Drowned Ammet


4 thoughts on “The Power of Three by Diana Wynne Jones

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