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Literature / The Dalemark Quartet

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Larger than the world, or small as in a nut.

A series of four books by British young adult fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones, best known for Howl's Moving Castle and Chrestomanci. The Dalemark Quartet is about a country called Dalemark with a troubled history. It differs from Jones's usual fare, in that it is a quite serious fantasy epic, whereas many of her works, such as The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, are satirical.

There are four books in the series. In order of publication, they are...

  1. Cart and Cwidder
  2. Drowned Ammet
  3. The Spellcoats
  4. The Crown of Dalemark

Chronologically, The Spellcoats takes place first, during Dalemark's prehistorical period. Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet overlap somewhat, but Cart and Cwidder generally comes first, as its events are over before the action really starts in Drowned Ammet. The Crown of Dalemark takes place last.


Each book has a different protagonist, although all of the characters appear in the final volume, The Crown of Dalemark.

Provides Examples Of:

  • All Myths Are True: It's the "official" history of Dalemark that's in question.
  • All There in the Manual: The second volume (last two books) is followed by "A Guide to Dalemark", a sort of glossary of terms and characters. It includes supplementary information not defined in the text, as well as juicy tidbits about certain characters' futures.
  • Almost Dead Guy: In Cart and Cwidder, Moril, without even realizing he's doing it, manages to use the magic of the cwidder to keep his father alive as he's dying.
  • Alpha Bitch: Hildrida "Hildy" Navissdaughter.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: Big Bad Evil Sorcerer Kankredin.
  • Anachronic Order: The third book is chronologically the first.
  • Anarchy Is Chaos: No king means every earl can do whatever the hell he wants in his domain. The North manages fairly well, but in the South...
  • And This Is for...: Moril, near the end of Cart and Cwidder, finally loses his temper and attacks the enemy with his Magic Music. He strikes chords for his friend's hanged brother, for his murdered father, for his imprisoned brother and the coming war — and at the end of it all he's closed up the pass the enemy was coming through, with them inside. Later, though, he acknowledges that he really did it because his beloved horse had just been killed.
  • Ancient Tomb: King Amil the Great's tomb in The Crown of Dalemark.
  • Ancestral Weapon: The Adon's sword.
  • Arranged Marriage: Hildy is arranged to marry Luthian, Lord of the Holy Isles; Robin is forced into a spur-of-the-moment engagement to the king of the Riverlands.
  • Automaton Horses: Lampshaded and subverted in The Crown of Dalemark where Maewen, who grew up at a riding stable, remarks on her horse's manageability and lack of personality. It's actually an evil wizard, the Big Bad, disguised as a horse.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Mitt completely unintentionally argues his way into getting the crown.
  • Awesome Music: In-universe, Moril + Cwidder = This.
  • Badass Bookworm: Navis, who was constantly belittled by his father and brothers but shows off his true badassery after leaving Holand.
  • Badass Crew: Maewen's traveling party (minus Maewen) in The Crown of Dalemark.
  • Badass Family: Closti's sons and daughters.
  • Badass Normal: Mitt can call on supernatural powers, Moril has a magical cwidder, but Navis... is just extremely competent.
  • Barbarian Tribe: Played with in The Spellcoats: both warring peoples consider the other group "Heathens", but they're both equally civilized. Lampshaded when they meet and start calling each other Heathens.
  • Battle in the Rain: The climax of Cart and Cwidder.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: South Dalemark is not nearly as free as the North.
  • Blood Brothers: In The Spellcoats, Kars Adon and Hern form this kind of bond... which conveniently makes Hern Kars Adon's heir when Kars is murdered.
  • Break the Cutie: Poor Moril.
  • Break the Haughty: Earl Keril of Hannart gets put through this. His treatment of Mitt particularly comes back to bite him after Mitt becomes King.
  • The Brigadier: Navis post-The Crown of Dalemark.
  • Broken Pedestal: When Mitt meets his father, he finds that he's a truly vile human being.
  • Busman's Vocabulary: Hilariously played with Hildy's use of lawschool slang.
    This grittling the boys on fayside were at trase with peelers, would you believe! They had sein right too, so it was all kappin and no barlay. We only had mucks. But Biffa was our surnam and you should have seen the hurrel. Now highside is doggers and we have herison from scap to lengday, and everyone looks up to us although we are to be stapled for it. In haste to trethers. Hildrida.
  • Call on Me: Old Ammet and Libby Beer.
  • Call to Agriculture: This is what Mitt wants to do. The Call doesn't care what Mitt wants.
  • Changing of the Guard: Each book has a different main character, although The Spellcoats is actually set much farther in the past than the rest of the series.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Tanaqui's talented weaving turns out to be more than just a handy domestic skill.
  • Child Mage: Duck, Moril to an extent.
  • The Chosen One: He came North on wind's road, with a great one to guide him behind and before. It's Mitt.
  • City of Spies: Just about any city in the South.
  • Clingy MacGuffin: The Adon's ring, which adjusts its size to fit any finger of the rightful heir to the crown of Dalemark.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Moril is a mild example.
  • Contemptible Cover: A lot of the covers are bad, but one particular Cart and Cwidder cover takes the cake.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Navis in Drowned Ammet.
  • Dark-Skinned Blond: The people of the North. In The Spellcoats, the Heathens. The people of the Holy Islands also fit.
  • Dawn of an Era: In two separate books: The Spellcoats marks the beginning of Dalemark history, with the crowning of the legendary King Hern, the first king of Dalemark; in The Crown of Dalemark, Dalemark's centuries of interregnum end with the ascension of King Amil the Great.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Navis, so much.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: Maewen, upon arriving in the past, is forced to impersonate Noreth Onesdaughter. Only later is it revealed that Noreth was murdered shortly before she was due to leave Adenmouth.
  • Didn't See That Coming: Keril was definitely not expecting to see one claimant to the throne crown the other.
  • Direct Line to the Author: A note at the end of The Spellcoats indicates that it's supposed to be a translation of the titular Spellcoats by historians in Hannart.
  • Dirty Business: The Crown of Dalemark opens with Earl Keril and the Countess of Aberath ordering Mitt to assassinate a claimant to the throne.
  • Divided States of America: Or: Divided Earldoms of Dalemark.
  • Doorstopper: The omnibus editions.
  • Downer Ending: The Crown of Dalemark may or may not have one of these depending on whether Maewen is Undying or not.
  • The Dreaded: Harchad, Earl Hadd's second son. Mitt brushes Harchad's reputation off right up until he sees him... and then everything he's heard catches up with him and he practically wets himself in terror.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The novella The True State Of Affairs, written in the 1960s but not published until the 1990s, takes place in a land called Dalemark, but it isn't quite the same place. Some place names and historical events coincide, one character is tentatively identifiable as a prototype version of Kialan, and another writes poetry that closely resembles one of Osfameron's songs. But it's written for adults not children, the Undying aren't mentioned, and there's a version of Norse religion that is never seen in the main series. Most strikingly, the main character seems to have come from our world or a similar one. In the main series, the concepts of alternate worlds and travel between them never come up.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Good god, poor Mitt.
  • End of an Age: Although it's not quite so obvious, Amil's ascension to the throne marks the beginning of an age of reason. Before then, belief in the Undying was pretty much a given, but in Maewen's time, they're mostly considered a superstition. That Amil the Great himself is Undying makes this rather ironic.
  • Enemy to All Living Things: Kankredin.
  • The Engineer: Alk builds steam engines in his shed.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Countess of Aberath, whose real name is never even mentioned by her husband.
  • Everyone Is Related: All of the protagonists are in some way distantly related to each other. Moril is a descendant of Osfameron/Duck/Wend, grandson of the Undying. Mitt, being a direct descendant of the Adon, is descended from Wend's brother King Hern. Tanaqui is Wend's sister. Maewen is a distant descendant of both Mitt and Moril.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Kankredin in The Spellcoats.
  • Faking the Dead: The reveal that Mitt is of the Undying makes it a certainty that he did this.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: Played with in The Crown of Dalemark. Mitt goes to Aberath to steal the Adon's ring, which is reputed to fit anyone of royal blood. Alk gives him the ring and also a copy, which has no such magical properties. Mitt gives the real ring to Maewen (who is pretending to be the heir to the throne, but really isn't) and keeps the copy, which fits him. Later it turns out that Alk switched the two rings, because he correctly suspected that Mitt has royal ancestry. Mitt ends up wearing the crown.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Guns exist in Dalemark, but primarily in the wealthy South, where the earls (who have all the money) can afford to finance gunsmiths and arm their soldiers with guns. In the North guns are much rarer, restricted to a handful of moderately wealthy earls, and smuggled from the South. The North's and South's armor reflects this: soldiers in the South wear metal breastplates with exaggerated curves to deflect bullets.
  • Fantasy World Map: Left Justified Fantasy World Map
  • Fighting a Shadow: Kankredin split himself up, leaving bits of himself that his enemies have to track down and destroy.
  • Final Battle: Averted. The Battle of Kernsburgh that we see in the fourth book is only the first battle of Dalemark's unification war.
  • Fire-Forged Friends: Moril and Kialan, Mitt and Moril.
  • Fish out of Temporal Water: Maewen, in The Crown of Dalemark.
  • Five-Man Band: In the third and fourth books.
  • Forbidden Zone: The old mill across the River in The Spellcoats.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Dagner, Brid, Moril, and Kialan.
  • Framing Device: The Spellcoats is framed as a story being woven on the titular coats. This leads to the book having an unusual form of No Ending: the coats become integral to the plot, and thus Tanaqui cannot weave the end of the story.
  • Geometric Magic: Tanaqui's weaving, which uses a form of writing.
  • Ghibli Hills: North Dalemark.
  • Girl Meets Boy: Maewen meets Mitt.
  • The Girl Who Fits This Slipper: The Adon's ring is said to fit any finger on either hand of the true heir, no matter how big or small.
  • God in Human Form: The Undying when bound. They still have supernatural powers, but they're extremely diminished.
  • God's Hands Are Tied: The bound Undying, especially the One.
  • Good Is Not Nice: A number of Northern earls, especially Earl Keril. Also Navis Haddsson, who is on the lighter side of good but noted by history to have been absolutely ruthless.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Tanaqui and her siblings: human dad, Undying mom.
  • Hazardous Water: Mitt, Moril and Maewen encounter this when Moril uses the old cwidder to bring up a memory of the prehistoric River.
  • Heir Club for Men: Dagner becomes Earl of the South Dales because the former Earl and all the other male heirs were killed when Moril closed the pass.
  • Hellish Horse: Maewen's horse turns out to be the sorceror Kankredin in disguise.
  • Herald: Wend for Maewen.
  • Heroic Lineage: Left, right, and center.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Quite likely Mitt and Moril. Fandom loves portraying them like this.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Moril logically breaks down how the cwidder works, but realizes in the end that he's too young and has too little life experience to use it at all times.
  • Huge Schoolgirl: Biffa, Hildy's best friend at the Lawschool.
  • Human Popsicle: Tanamil turns Gull into one to save his life.
  • I Have Many Names: The Undying tend to rack up a number over time, with each name having a great deal of significance. Duck is the most prominent example, because of how active he is in Dalemark's history.
  • I Know Your True Name: Old Ammet's true names count. Saying the lesser name causes an island to come up out of the sea and break your enemy's ship in half. "What happens if you say his big name?" It causes a tsunami... even if you're miles from the sea. Unsurprisingly, he's known by his nickname, the Earth Shaker. His wife's names also have dramatic effects.
  • Immortality: The One has Complete Immortality, while the rest of the Undying seem to be either The Ageless or have a Healing Factor. Kankredin, meanwhile, is physically gone, but his soul continues to poison Dalemark by taking root in the land and feeding off of the chaos it causes.
  • Incest Is Relative: Pretty much every major character is related, albeit some (much) more distantly than others.
  • It's for a Book: Maewen's father takes her sudden and intense interest in the reign of Amil the Great to mean that she's writing a historical novel. He's just glad she's doing the research.
  • Jade-Colored Glasses: Earl Keril.
  • Jumped at the Call: Mitt, who decides that becoming a revolutionary at the age of ten is a grand idea.
  • Kick the Dog: Tholian displays what an utter scumbag he is when he strings Kialan up in a very painful way, just so Tholian can watch him suffer.
  • Large and in Charge: Alk, husband of the Countess of Aberath, is large in both height and girth.
  • Last Girl Wins: Mitt winds up marrying... Biffa! Mind you, he outlived her. By quite a lot.
  • Legacy Immortality:
    • When he takes the throne, Mitt takes the name Amil, one of the names of The One. This binds him to The One's duty to root out Kankredin from the land, even after the end of his reign. He passes this name on to his son, as well.
    • Also, two of Clennen the Singer's children, Brid and Moril, are named after legendary historical figures, Manaliabrid and Osfameron. Their companion Kialan is the Adon, the title given to the heir to the earldom of Hannart. The similarities between some of their experiences (particularly Moril's) and their predecessors' are referenced a lot in Cart and Cwidder.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: It turns out that most of the adults and authority figures Mitt knew after he left Holand (Navis, Alk, Earl Keril, and probably the Countess of Aberath) knew at the very least that he resembled the Adon, and were aware that, due to Mitt's arrival in the North fitting "every prophecy ever made", the common people of the North were acclaiming him as the next king. Furthermore, Navis and Alk both suspected he had a strong claim to the throne and were making plans in that direction. Mitt only finds out about any of this after he's already become King.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Mitt's father turns out to be Al, which is short for Alhammitt.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Averted. Although people in the present no longer believe in the Undying, that doesn't stop them from hanging around and being as active as they've always been.
  • Magic Music: Moril's cwidder is a magic cwidder. Also, Mage Mallard, Tanamil's pipes, etc.
  • The Magnificent: King Amil the Great, Hobin the Bloody.
  • The Magocracy: The Heathens of Haligland in The Spellcoats aren't actually ruled by wizards, but Kankredin has pretty much all of Haligland under the control of him and his college of sorcerers.
  • Mayfly–December Romance: Pick an Undying, any Undying. Then pick their lover (or one of them). Old Ammet and Libby Beer are notable exceptions, both being Undying themselves.
  • Meaningful Name: Osfameron Tanamoril, Cennoreth Manaliabrid, Alhammitt, Wind's Road, Ynen, Tannoreth...
  • Meaningful Rename: In The Crown of Dalemark, Mitt changes his name to Amil when he becomes king. Amil is one of the names of the Undying spirit of the land who is mostly called The One, so this represents the king taking on the burdens of The One specifically rooting out the renegade mage and descendent of The One, Kankredin.
  • The Mole: Hestefan the Singer was secretly working for Earl Henda of Andmark, and murdered Noreth on his orders.
  • Music for Courage: "We are the men of the North, the North, / And I'll tell you how much we're worth, we're worth—"
  • Mythopoeia
  • Never Accepted in His Hometown: Tanaqui and her siblings.
  • Never Got to Say Goodbye: Almost played straight in The Crown of Dalemark, then subverted.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Navis does this fairly early on and keeps it up. Notable because he's one of Hadd's sons, who are not, as a rule, known to be nice to anybody.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Clennen did this to hide that he was the infamous Northern spy all the earls were looking for.
  • Odd Name Out: Tanaqui, whose name means both "younger sister" and "scented rushes", is the only one of her siblings not named after a bird.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: Navis.
  • Older Than They Look: The Undying, who often look quite young, though they shift between this and looking old.
  • One Degree of Separation: Moril is directly descended from Osfameron, who is, in turn, a direct grandson of The One. Mitt is directly descended from the last king of Dalemark, who was in turn also directly descended from another of The One's grandsons. Maewen is also of The One's bloodline, with an uncanny resemblance to Noreth Onesdaughter. Then there are all the earls and the earls' children and grandchildren.
    • Maewen is actually descended from both of them. Her father is descended from a line of singers, one of whom was "probably named Clennen", and her mother's line is related to Mitt's.
  • One Steve Limit: The reason Mitt takes on the name Amil.
  • Our Founder: Not a statue (although there are probably several), but a painting. The mural on the ceiling of one of the rooms in the royal palace hilariously depicts King Amil wearing an absurd pair of violet breeches.
  • Overly Long Name: Clennen Mendakersson in Cart and Cwidder is self-admittedly fond of long names, and thinks his own and his wife's are too short. So he made up for it with his children and his horse: Dastgandlen Handagner Clennensson, Cennoreth Manaliabrid Clennensdaughter, Osfameron Tanamoril Clennensson, and Barangarolob. Dagner, Brid, Moril, and Olob for short.
  • Pals with Jesus: Mitt, who receives regular visits from Old Ammet and Libby Beer.
  • Parental Abandonment: Most of the main cast, to some degree.
  • Planet of Steves: The city of Holand, where half the men are named Alhammitt. It's a common name across South Dalemark, but especially popular in Holand.
  • Plucky Girl: Brid, Tanaqui.
  • Point of View: The Spellcoats is written in the first person, from Tanaqui's perspective.
  • Power Trio: Brid (Id), Moril (Ego), Kialan (Superego).
  • A Protagonist Shall Lead Them: Hern in The Spellcoats, Mitt in The Crown of Dalemark.
  • The Quest: The basic plot of the fourth book. The protagonists are looking for the legendary gifts Manaliabrid gave to the Adon, which will point out the rightful ruler.
  • The Quiet One: Moril and Ynen are shades of this.
  • Rags to Royalty: Mitt, Hern.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Kialan in the first book, Navis in the second, Kars Adon in the third, Alk in the fourth.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: The goal of The Quest is to collect four of these: cup, ring, sword, and crown.
  • La Résistance: There are numerous freedom fighting organizations in the South, although they're all pretty much ineffective.
    • Subverted by Hobin, whose role in the series proper is sympathetic and fatherly. He's biding his time until a proper revolution begins, but the series glossary at the end details what happens to him. After living under the thumb of vindictive Southern earls for his whole life, he refuses to bow to a king, even when that king is his own stepson. He's credited with leading a violent bloodbath in Holand a la The French Revolution, and it's very strongly implied that he murdered his own wife and daughters, who couldn't have been more than five at the time. His epithet is Hobin the Bloody.
  • Rewriting Reality: Cennoreth the Weaver, one of the Undying, can do this by unpicking and resetting her weaving. She's done it twice. Osfameron's cwidder can also do this, to an extent, by making an idea into the truth.
  • Rich Bitch: While Hildy's attitude is almost redeemable in Drowned Ammet, who didn't seriously want to slap her for how she treats Mitt in the fourth book?
  • Rightful King Returns: Once Mitt is crowned king to his considerable surprise, that is.
  • Robe and Wizard Hat: Kankredin's sorcerers wear robes that say things like "I sent the hidden death..." and "I tortured the beast..." The claims woven in these robes function as the sorcerers' names.
  • Rousing Speech: Hern's quite good at these in The Spellcoats.
    • Lampshaded in The Crown of Dalemark by Maewen, who's terrified of having to give these while she's impersonating Noreth.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: King Amil the Great, who united and modernized Dalemark, following the tradition of his ancestor, King Hern.
  • Samus Is a Girl: On the road to Adenmouth, Mitt encounters another hearthman named Rith… who turns out to be the girl Mitt has just been ordered to kill.
  • Say My Name: An interesting variation, wherein saying one of the true names of two of the Undying causes hurricanes to spring up out of nowhere and islands to grow out of the ocean.
  • Sealed Good in a Can: The Undying can only be bound to godhead if their likeness is taken (portrait, photo, statue, &c.). The One's power was limited this way. This is the reason why there are no portraits of Amil the Great from when he ruled.
  • Secret Other Family: Al, Mitt's father, mentions that he has another family in Waywold that he cares about more. It's implied he may have started this family before he outright abandoned Mitt and Milda.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: Earl Keril, whose experiences as a revolutionary in his youth have made him believe that change is pointless.
  • Simultaneous Arcs: The first book takes place during the first five chapters of the second.
  • Single Line of Descent: Although there are a number of characters related by virtue of centuries passing during the course of Dalemark's history, Mitt is the only claimant to the throne who is a direct descendent of the Adon.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: In the first two books, South Dalemark is horrible and oppressed and North Dalemark is made out to be lovely and free. Then we actually get North in the last book.
  • Sour Supporter: Earl Keril, Hildy. Possibly other earls and lords of Dalemark were this, since their options during Dalemark's unification were: 1) support it, 2) take a permanent vacation abroad, or 3) dance for the hangman.
  • Special Person, Normal Name: Mitt's full name is Alhammitt Alhammittson, the most common man's name in South Dalemark. He is the rightful king of Dalemark and one of the Undying.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": In-universe example: spelling and dialect vary between the North and the South, such as with Kialan, whose Southern names are Collen and Halain.
  • Spoiled Brat: Hildy.
  • Stable Time Loop: Maewen's trip to the past causes two of these.
    • Mitt takes the regnal name Amil because Maewen told him that was the name of the first king after the interregnum.
    • The royal palace in Kernsburgh is called Tannoreth Palace, meaning "the younger Noreth", which Maewen's father points out seems to have no particular meaning. Mitt named it after her.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Subverted by Mitt and Maewen, but played straight if she's not one of the Undying.
  • Stay on the Path: Maewen's party sticks to the green roads, since they're guarded by the Undying.
  • A Storm Is Coming: Mitt, Ynen, and Hildy get hit by a massive autumn storm on their way north. Sure enough, next day, they accidentally rescue the man who shot the earl of Holand.
  • The Strength of Ten Men: In Cart and Cwidder, Moril's Music for Courage has a part that goes something like "our strength is the strength of a hundred men / because each of us marches as ten".
  • Succession Crisis: In Dalemark's past, this led to the current situation of the country being divided into its Earldoms.
  • Summon Magic: Mitt can do something like this by calling out Old Ammet's or Libby Beer's true names. The effect differs according to which name he calls.
  • Time Travel: Wend sends Maewen into the past early in The Crown of Dalemark.
  • Time-Travel Romance: In The Crown of Dalemark, Maewen is transported into the past, where she falls in love with Mitt.
  • Trilogy Creep: Kind of. The fourth book was published almost fourteen years after the third after Diana's publishers had been begging her for years, but it nicely ties together all three previous books and is quite good. Also, she never would have written it just because her publishers wanted her to if she didn't have an excellent idea of what to write.
  • Unexpected Successor: Dagner becomes Earl of the South Dales when all of the other heirs were killed when Moril closed the pass with his magic. He'd rather be a Singer.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The glossary, of all things. Some of it is straightforward history — meaning it was penned by someone who completely discounts Dalemark's myths.
  • Verbal Tic: The ultimate evil has one. Kankredin ends a lot of sentences with "eh?"
  • Where It All Began: Maewen returns to the present just in time to... fight Kankredin!
  • The Wise Prince: Kars Adon.
  • Wizards Live Longer: Nearly all the Undying seem to have magical abilities of some sort.
  • Worldbuilding
  • Xanatos Gambit: One way or another, Navis planned to get Mitt on the throne.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Mitt becoming King.

Alternative Title(s): Cart And Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, The Spellcoats, The Crown Of Dalemark


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