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Literature / The Homeward Bounders

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The Homeward Bounders is a novel by Diana Wynne Jones.

"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."

When Jamie unwittingly discovers the sinister, dark-cloaked Them playing games with humans' lives, he is cast out to the boundaries of the worlds. Clinging to Their promise that if he can get Home he is free, he becomes an unwilling Random Factor in Their deadly, eternal game.


Jamie travels alone until he teams up with Helen and Joris, determined to beat Them at Their own game. But Their rules don't allow Homeward Bounders to work together.

Tropes include:

  • The Ace: Konstam. Before he actually shows up, Joris tells endless tales of Konstam's intelligence, wealth, heroism and daring that make Helen and Jamie roll their eyes. They're shocked when they finally meet him and realize that Konstam does indeed live up to his reputation.
  • Adult Fear: Your child goes out on an errand one day and never comes home.
  • The Alleged Car: Vanessa's "unpoetic" car. Jamie, despite not being familiar with modern vehicles, identifies it as one of these on sight.
  • All Myths Are True: Throughout his travels, Jamie meets religious and mythological figures such as the Wandering Jew, the Flying Dutchman and Prometheus, whom he ends up rescuing from his chains and torture.
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  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Adam to Vanessa. He crosses a bit of a Moral Event Horizon when he makes a serious attempt to sell her into slavery just to be free of her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: They are defeated, but Jamie has to keep wandering from one world to another, watching his friends age and die around him, in order to keep 'the real place' everywhere.
  • Blessed with Suck: Helen's "gift" is quite useful (particularly at the end of the story) but her father shunned her for it, and it played a large part in her getting exiled to the Bounds.
  • Captured by Cannibals: This happens to Jamie and Helen on the first world they travel to together. Because Jamie had never had to learn the Bounder sign that warned against cannibals before, he leads them straight into their trap, and thereafter Helen takes a pretty dim view of his "expertise" as a Homeward Bounder.
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  • Cassandra Truth: One of the ways that They manipulate things is to make it so that nobody is able to believe a Homeward Bounder if they try to explain about who and what they are. This is broken when Helen shows Adam her "gift", which is too fantastic for him to explain away as nonsense.
  • The Chosen One: Helen's gift makes her uniquely qualified for destroying Them and helping to end their rule. Jamie might count as well, but he's really more of a Spanner in the Works.
  • Contrived Coincidence: After arriving back in his Home, not that he knows it at the time, Jamie and the others take a train and get off at a random stop. They just happen to run into and become allies with Jamie's great-great-nephew.
  • Cool Big Sis: Whatever Adam might think, Vanessa becomes this to the other main characters in about half an hour. She is friendly and calming, makes them feel better about themselves and is happy to listen to their problems and sob stories.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Helen refuses to wear anything but black clothing and regularly adorns herself with live snakes and spiders, but she is definitely one of the good guys.
  • Demon Slaying: Konstam comes from a long family line of professional demon slayers, and trains Joris up as his apprentice.
  • Determinator: Regardless of everything that he goes through, Jamie just keeps on going, refusing to give up hope of getting Home again. It turns out that his losing this hope is the key to defeating Them for good.
  • Drama Queen: Joris will burst into tears at any given opportunity, and complain about the misery of his situation loud enough for crowds of people to turn and stare. Jamie is frequently embarrassed by his antics.
  • Expecting Someone Taller: Literally, in Konstam's case. To his credit, he lives up to Joris' extravagant tales about him pretty well, but there is a little sniggering among the cast when they realize that this grown man is roughly the same height as Jamie, a 12-year-old.
  • The Faceless: Thanks to her Blinding Bangs, it's some time before Jamie is sure that Helen even has a face, as she mostly seems to be a nose sticking out of a wall of hair.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Adam, from our world, identifies Joris as American by his accent, which confuses Joris as he comes from a place called Kathayack. He also guesses that Helen is Pakistani, which goes over as well as anything does with Helen.
    "The House of Uquar," Helen said scathingly, "is in Spithicar."
  • Fattening the Victim: Jamie and Helen are given vast quantities of food by the Cannibal Tribe they find themselves in the middle of. Helen figures out what's going on after she makes a flippant comment about Jamie eating like "a pig to the slaughter" and realizing that all the food they are given is fruits and vegetables because the only meat around is them.
  • Flying Dutchman: All the main characters; additionally, the actual Flying Dutchman and Wandering Jew are minor characters.
  • Friend to Bugs: Insects flock to Helen when she is bored or even just sitting still, and after an argument Jamie regularly brings her things like earwigs to win back her favour. She is also able to command them, though oddly she insists that this has nothing to do with her magic.
  • Game Tropes: This book contains many examples, most notably War Gaming and chance games.
  • Genre Savvy: Adam, thanks to his years of playing war games as well as many others, gets quite a good grip on the plot and the way that They operate before he even meets Them.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Joris is Type I of this - although he hated the concept of being a slave, Konstam treated him very well, and Joris liked working for him. Turns out Joris' owners hated slavery and were planning to free him as soon as they could.
  • Highly Conspicuous Uniform: Joris' bright white demon hunter's uniform with an occult symbol on the front causes many problems for the gang. He draws a dangerous amount of attention on a battlefield, and sticks out terribly in modern-day Earth. Jamie notes that he, in his blood-red ensemble and Helen, dressed head-to-toe in black with no visible face, don't exactly blend in either.
  • In the Hood: They are described as vague, grey, hooded figures with their faces in shadow.
  • It's Always Mardi Gras in New Orleans: Jamie and Helen spend some time in a world they dub "Creema di Leema" which is essentially one non-stop Mardi Gras where everyone is perpetually tipsy and partying.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Helen doesn't have a nice word for anybody and is really quite unfair to Jamie at certain points, but she still jumps at the chance to help him get Home when he thinks they might be getting close to it and vows to exterminate Them for what they've done to him.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Helen has this opinion of Jamie because, despite all his knowledge of the Bounds, he does accidentally get them into a few scrapes. She brings Joris on board with her for a while, which frustrates Jamie to no end.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: As part of Their rules, anybody making an attempt to interfere with a Bounder's ability to leave that world or survive in it will be swiftly "removed from play". At one point, Jamie is robbed by a young boy, who is almost instantly hit and crushed by a passing cart, with the only visible part of him being his outstretched hand, holding Jamie's money. Jamie is too horrified to take it back.
  • Made a Slave: Joris was sold to Konstam at a young age.
  • May–December Romance: Konstam's exact age is not made clear, but he is old enough to have essentially raised Joris since he was a young boy, and he falls in love with Vanessa, who is only 19.
  • Mood Whiplash: Jamie notes it as absolutely typical of Them and the Bounds that he and Helen can be desperately trying to escape from a Cannibal Tribe one second and then find themselves smack dab in the middle of a worldwide carnival the next.
  • The Multiverse: Homeward Bounders are cast out of their home universe by Them and sent to wander the multiverse until they can get Home again. Some worlds share a lot of similarities to each other, and occasionally the same faces will pop up in multiple worlds. It's because of this that it takes Jamie so long to realize he's made it back Home after all.
  • Newspaper Dating: Jamie asks Adam's father to tell him the date of the current paper, which is July 13th, 1980. He realizes he is back in his Home, which he'd left in 1879.
  • Nightmare Face: Jamie only gets one decent look at one of Their faces, and he refuses to go into detail on the grounds that it's too horrible to describe.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Helen enjoys transforming her arm into gross things like an elephant trunk to scare people, is a Friend to Bugs to the extent that she lets them weave webs in her hair, takes great delight in a human skeleton in Adam's home and when she is upset Jamie is only able to appease her by presenting her with a giant black rat.
  • No Social Skills: Helen is a natural loner and was brought up in a severe religious culture to boot, so interacting with other people is not her strong suit and she tends to make mistakes when she tries, such as celebrating her and Jamie's new outfits by summoning a snake in the same colours and presenting it to him while they are stuck in two halves of a Pantomime Animal costume. He reacts about as well as you'd expect.
  • Our Titans Are Different: Of the "human but larger" variety. Oddly, Uquar tells Jamie that he originates from his own universe, rather than one of the worlds where magic is commonplace.
  • Purpose-Driven Immortality: The purpose of the Homeward Bounders is to keep on wandering until they find their way back to their own worlds, and they cannot die until they do so. This does not stop them being hurt by things that would otherwise kill them, and Jamie occasionally finds himself in situations where death would be preferable, such as being trapped underneath a slag heap for several days.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Ahasuerus, the Flying Dutchman and Uquar have been wandering or trapped for thousands of years. Jamie had no idea that his travels made him this. By the time he gets back to his home, 100 years have passed and he is still a child.
  • Shapeshifter Weapon: Helen's right arm can transform into anything that she wants, from a normal arm (which is not its default state) to an elephant's trunk, and a variety of weapons. Towards the end, Konstam shows her how to transform it into something called a "living blade", which resembles a bar of light that is deadly to Them and other demon-kind.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Vanessa and Adam are at each other's throats to a degree that Jamie finds genuinely shocking. Adam goes so far as to try and sell Vanessa to Konstam as a slave.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: The cruelest trick that They play is allowing Jamie to get home and stay there... 100 years after he left.
  • Strangled by the Red String: It takes Konstam and Vanessa less than a full day to fall in love, and they declare at the end that they're going to get married. Though some time has passed by that point, it doesn't seem likely that They would have allowed the two of them to have been together all that time, making it even stranger.
  • The Trope Without a Title: The antagonists are just called Them.
  • Tsundere: Helen, all the way. When introducing her in his narration Jamie calls her his "friendly neighbourhood enemy", which is about as accurate as it gets.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Though they're promised that finding their way Home breaks the curse to wander. Jamie can, but gets there 100 years too late and no longer fits in, making this also Stranger in a Familiar Land.
  • Walking the Earth: Walking the multiverse.
  • World War III: After passing through a set of related worlds either in the midst of or recovering from devastating nuclear war, the gang arrives in our world, and Jamie fears that it might be next on Their list to go to war. This is averted before the end of the book.


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