Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Homeward Bounders - Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones’ The Homeward Bounders reminded me a little of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, but whereas Will and Lyra can choose when, where and how to move between the multiverses, Jones’ Jamie has no such power over his movements. 12 year old Jamie is cast out of his world to wander the Bounds by Them, a mysterious, shadowy group of beings who play games with the lives of humanity, not just on Jamie’s world, but on hundreds of worlds. Jamie is told: "You are now a discard. We have no further use for you in play. You are free to walk the Bounds, but it will be against the rules for you to enter play in any world. If you succeed in returning Home, then you may enter play again in the normal manner."

He finds himself forced to survive, often in extremely hostile environments, with little help from anyone, until the day he encounters Helen. Helen has only recently been made a Homeward Bounder and she is extremely angry at just about everyone. It seems that she, too, caught a glimpse of Them who operated on her world, so instead of becoming a mighty prophet for Uquar, as was expected, she is condemned to wander the Bounds. Unlike Jamie, Helen has been taught about many of the worlds and about Homeward Bounders; she also has a rare gift: she can turn her arm into a snake, or a wooden post, or an elephant’s trunk, for she has the Hand of Uquar. She reluctantly teams up with Jamie to travel the Bounds together. Later they are joined by Joris, an enslaved demon hunter, who talks incessantly about his demon hunting master, Konstam. Both Helen and Joris are knowledge about the other worlds, but they do not have Jamie’s experience of travelling them; this does not stop them from taking the mickey out of Jamie, until they encounter a group of boys of their age who object to Joris’ and Jamie’s attempts to steal some of their clothes in an attempt to make themselves less conspicuous. The boys take Jamie, Joris and Helen down an alley, intending to strip Jamie and Joris, and get their revenge. However, Adam and his friends do not know about Homeward Bounders, and are unaware that Jamie and Joris are protected by Rule Two, which makes them impossible to kill and quite difficult to injure. Jamie gets injured by Joris’ demon knife (which would have killed him had he not been a Homeward Bounder), and Adam takes the three of them back to his house where they administer first aid. They also tell Adam about themselves, potentially making Adam a Homeward Bounder too; then Konstam arrives to “rescue” Joris and take him back to their own world. However, Joris explains what has happened to him, and the group decides, instead, to take on Them, in an attempt to stop Their meddling with humanity through games.

This is a fascinating book that keeps the reader’s attention as you wonder whether Jamie and the others will succeed in their plan, and manage to return to their respective homes. It is also interesting that Jones’ includes yet another variation on the myth of Prometheus (who is never named, but whom Jamie encounters twice). He’s turned up in several books which I’ve read during the past year, including Chris Abouzeid’s Anatopsis, Terry Deary’s The Fire Thief (second item) and Jasper Fforde’s The Big Over Easy (second item).


natalie_eve said...

I love DWJ, but I haven't read Homeward Bounders. Now I want to.

Michele said...

I hope you enjoy it.