DWJ ReRead · Fantasy · Short Story

“The Plague of Peacocks” by Diana Wynne Jones

unexpectedmagic“The Plague of Peacocks”, like “The Fluffy Pink Toadstool” was first published in Puffin Post, and has the same child vs. Annoying Grown-Up(s) theme. Comparatively, though, I found “The Plague of Peacocks” a lot more satisfying. It’s set in a neighbourhood called Chipping Hanbury, where the Platts just moved in. The Platts were “fixers” – after making their house all white and perfect (by taking everything apart and rebuilding it) they begin fixing things in the neighbourhood.

First, there’s the newsletter that Mr. Platt distributes to all of the residents, taking care to address everyone by name. The newsletter takes issue with all the things that need fixing about town, and what the residents should do about them. The Platts also takes care of the residents’ animals that might have wandered away from their homes – by taking them to the vet and putting them down. The neighbours all agree that something has to be done about the Platts, and they all agree that a boy named Daniel Emanuel is the one to do it.

Daniel Emanuel is the town mischief maker, who likes taking care of animals in his own way. He’s also an adventurous soul, reminding me somewhat of the younger Mitt in Drowned Ammet – after hearing about Daniel in the lion’s den he wanders off to another neighbourhood in search of lions, and he tries to crucify himself when he hears about Jesus just to find out if it hurts. When he first meet the Platts, Mrs. Platt is convinced that he’s from a “problem family”, which becomes the issue of the next newsletter. As time goes on – and Daniel Emanuel is caught doing other “wicked” things – the boy decides that he doesn’t like the Platts. By this time the neighbourhood are getting impatient and are pressuring Daniel’s sister, who assures them that Daniel will do something once he figures out what it is that needs doing.

This finally happens when Daniel Emanuel is watching TV documentary on peacocks, and decides that they’re just like the Platts. So he goes to the Platts’ and conjures up a plague of peacocks on them, making a terrible mess of their white, clean, perfect house. They hole up in their house for about a month before giving up, finally driving away from Chipping Hanbury with peacocks trailing after them.

Like most of DWJ’s works for younger children, the “villain” is the sort of highly unpleasant person one might encounter on an everyday basis (Angus Flint, Aunt Bea, and now the Platts) that even other adults dislike and want to avoid, but do not dare to say or do anything about because it wouldn’t be polite. Instead, the adults leave that responsibility to the children – the not-so-nice or plain “wicked” (in other words, perfectly normal) children, in particular. So – if these stories show the sort of people/qualities DWJ disliked as the villains, I wonder if they’re also a commentary on how we sometimes slither out of things using children as excuses, or making them do the dirty work, as well as showing a kind of disdain for politeness or cowardice as a form of keeping up appearances, when the time calls for truth or standing up for oneself. Or am I just reading too much into this? Either way, this is one of the ones that are simply fun, light reads.

* “The Plague of Peacocks” was first published in Puffin Post 14 no.4, and reprinted in Everard’s Ride (which is out of print) in 1995, and in Unexpected Magic (currently still in print) in 2004.

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