DWJ ReRead · Fantasy

“Warlock at the Wheel” by Diana Wynne Jones

imageAt the end of Charmed Life, the villains had their magic stripped away by Chrestomanci, and had to go on living like regular people. The Willing Warlock was one of these villains, and this short story follows on what happens to him after losing his magic.

The Willing Warlock, according to the story, is a born loser. After losing his magic, and with it, his way of making a living (really Chrestomanci ought to also think about this when stripping away people’s magic!) he decides to live a life of crime. He chooses to commit grand theft auto, but his suspicious behaviour has the police on him before he even succeeds in stealing anything. He runs away and is hidden by the Accredited Witch, who also had had her magic stripped away from her. Not wanting to get into further trouble with the authorities she tells him to leave, and suggests that he find the French wizard Jean-Pierre.

Jean-Pierre “charges the earth”, according to the Accredited Witch, so the Willing Warlock robs a bank before heading to meet him. For all the money the Warlock had on him, Jean-Pierre claims that he could send the Warlock off to another world, one where Chrestomanci can’t find him, and one where he may have his magic back. And so the Warlock is sent to a different world, which resembles ours. And – luckily for him, he does get his magic back.

The first thing the Warlock does in his new world, of course, is rob a bank. Then he steals a car, doing the very thing he had planned to do in his own world. Except that he didn’t anticipate a child and a dog being in the backseat of his car, accidentally making him a kidnapper as well.

The child calls herself Jemima Jane, and tells the Warlock that the dog is Towser. Towser would bite and growl at the Warlock whenever Jemima is unhappy, making it very easy for her to bully the Warlock into doing whatever she wanted. After getting into all kinds of trouble, and wondering if coming into this new world might be a mistake, the car runs out of petrol.

“He hardly cared. He was a broken Warlock by then. When he looked up to find himself in a ring of policemen, and the small man in the pin-striped suit standing just beside him, he felt nothing but extreme relief.”

The small man turns out to be Jemima’s father, and Jemima’s name turns out to be something else entirely. The Willing Warlock learns that the man is Kathusa, Chrestomanci’s agent in that world. Even Towser the dog has a secret name, according to Kathusa, because he is really a Kathayack Demon Dog. (This is interesting because Joris from The Homeward Bounders is from a demon hunting world and was born in a place called Kathayack.)

Kathusa gives the Warlock two options – to go to prison, or work for him, caring for Towser and Prudence (Jemima Jane) and Kathusa’s cars.

The Willing Warlock would rather go to prison at this point, but Prudence insists that he is to care for her and Towser, and so his fate is sealed. This is a Chrestomanci story in which Chrestomanci only exists as a passing mention, but it’s also one of the two short stories that work as a direct sequel to the novels. It’s a very short story, too, and a very amusing one.

The first time I read this in Mixed Magics, it was the last Chrestomanci book and I was disappointed not to have more of Cat and/or Christopher in the stories, and so this wasn’t one of my favourites. By now I’ve pretty much come to terms with the fact that there wouldn’t be anymore stories (although I never expected and was very happy about Conrad’s Fate and The Pinhoe Egg!) and appreciate all these little stories about characters like the Willing Warlock.

“Warlock at the Wheel” was first published in the collection Warlock at the Wheel and Other Stories in 1984. That collection is now out of print, but this story have since been reprinted in Mixed Magics, a collection of four stories set in the worlds of Chrestomanci.


2 thoughts on ““Warlock at the Wheel” by Diana Wynne Jones

  1. I love Mixed Magics. A few of the stories, found in other fantasy short-story collections, were my very first exposure to Diana Wynne Jones, and I’ve loved her writing ever since. 😀


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