Thursday, June 20, 2024

Dark Lord of Derkholm Describes Chesney’s Tourism

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For some people, May and June are the season to watch Game of Thrones. However, for others, May and June are the season of both graduation and of planning summer vacation. Diana Wynne Jones is known primarily for being a fantastic writer of fantasy fiction, especially for Howl’s Moving Castle. However, she wrote a two book series set in a fantasy world where she ably critiques both tourism and academia. The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin, despite being published in 1998 and 2000 respectively, both still have trenchant critiques. Unfortunately, despite it being May and graduation time, the first book deals with the tourism, rather than the academia. But let us begin anyway with Mr. Chesney’s impact on the world.

Spoilers for The Dark Lord of Derkholm.

So, What Happened?

The Dark Lord of Derkholm begins with Querida, the Chancellor of the Wizard University, hosting a meeting. She plans to overthrow Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties. She consults the oracles. They tell her to install is Dark Lord the first person she sees and as Wizard Guide the second person she sees. That’s Derk, a wizard interested in genetics and his teenaged son Blake. Derk, his wife Mara, their human children Shona and Blake, and their griffin children, Kit, Calette, Lydda, Don, and Elda, rise to the occasion.

Derk runs around organizing battles, and trying to raise a demon (he fails). However, a dragon comes to their home to swear fealty to the Dark Lord and burns Derk. The healer sends Derk into a coma, leaving Blade, Shona, Kit and the other griffins to handle all the remaining preparations. Lydda flies over the entire continent. Elda helps her mother with the role of the Glamorous Enchantress. Kit, Blade, and Shona organize the Dark Lord’s army, full of convicts from Mr. Chesney’s world. The soldiers run, and Barnabas puts the camps in the wrong place.

Blade goes and runs his own Pilgrim Party. Shona goes with him. Shona falls in love with Geoffry, an expendable. They go to Mara’s house, where she gives lessons on the impact of the tours. Eventually Blade gets them lost. Blade finds a mine run by escaped soldiers and Barnabas. He captures Blade and sends him to die in the coliseum. Derk blocks the pilgrims from returning to their world. Kit and the dragon rescue him and bring him home. Everything converges on Derkholm, and Mr. Chesney forces his way through. Reville steals the paperweight where he kept the demon that gave him power. The gods manifest and entrust the world to Querida and Derk’s children.

The Way Mr. Chesney Devours the World

Dragons, Dwarves, Elves, and Demons, Oh My!

One of the common themes of Mr. Chesney’s exploitation of the world is the way he treats the magical creatures. From the very beginning Jones seeds this. “ ‘These are the protests of the elves and the dragons. … Both put it rather obscurely,’ Querida confessed. ‘I think the Elvenking is talking about blackmail and the dragons seem to be bewailing the shrinking of their hoards of treasure, but both of them seem to be talking about their birthrate too,” (6). We later find out that this is true. Chesney lured away a prince of the elves, and then kept him by force, so that all the Elves needed to obey him.

Eldreth (the captured elf) was forced to do an analysis of how much gold that dragons needed. But he could only make a guess, leading to their slow starvation, because dragons feed by sleeping on gold. To ensure dragons only got the gold he gave them (one cup every five years), he began to tithe the dwarves. While driving the soldiers, they encountered a pack of dwarves, bringing tithes to Chesney. He simultaneously starves the dragons, gains wealth for himself, and convinces the dwarves they should tithe.

Most egregious is his treatment of demons. The mine that Barnabas runs for Chesney mines just earth. But even the earth in this world is magic, and demons eat magic. Like the dragons, Chesney starves them. And like the elves, he took captive one of their own. The demon that pops up throughout the novel, says at the end. “I can’t eat this one, the demon told her. The demon in his pocket prevents me. It is my mate, and he keeps it half starved.” (506). He kidnapped a demon, starves it, and uses it to gain power over this world.

The Exploitation of People Through Music, Magic, and Sensuality

At the beginning of the novel, Shona is about to leave for bardic college, but when the news about Derk being chosen arrives, she stays home. She doesn’t learn that the bards withdrew their support for the Pilgrim Parties. The reason that they gave is that the tours regard bards as expendable, and don’t want to lose more musicians.

Beyond that utter disregard for life, the treatment of wizards by the tours is awful. Although there are a few exceptions, most wizards wind up working for the tours, and only for the tours. They recover during the off-season, maybe teach a class on how to guide a tour at the University, but their life revolves around them. Chesney requires that all wizards wear beards and robes and carry staffs. He dictates all their lives, down to the things they can wear.

But that’s just the male wizards. They can be wizard guides and the Dark Lord. But not female wizards. The only role for them is the Glamorous Enchantress. She’s a magical femme fatale, and Querida conspires that Mara be picked. It’s all glamor and misdirection and ‘seduction’. But the fact that women are only good for sex and sensuality shows Chesney’s lack of belief that women wizards, that women, amount to anything.

The root of all these problems comes from Chesney’s lack of belief and constriction of people’s agency. The bards have no agency on the tours, so they can die. The wizards become restricted, male and female. Chesney says it at the end of the book. “He’s not real life. None of these people are. … If they didn’t happen to be under contract to me, they’d be nothing—just rough types” (506). They might as well be automotons in his view.

The Price of the Tours

Each individual Pilgrim Party kills “an average of two hundred of our citizens each” (62). For 125 parties, that comes to 2,000 dead every year. But the horror doesn’t stop there. One of the recurring secondary characters is the Horselady, who breeds horses and supplies the parties.

She is furious about the tours. “So many of my horses got killed last year that I had trouble meeting my quota for this year. I’ve had to send out some of the breeding stock. And that means fewer foals next year” (292). The death toll expands to animals, where multiple parties worth of horses die in the first weeks. It wrecks both the ecosystem and the horse economy. Add to that Chesney’s bountiful hand with fines for not complying and it becomes ruinous.

Good farmland gets destroyed as well, with Pilgrims trampling over farms. The battles only make things worse, to the point where Derk moves a battle to protect a particularly fertile cropland. Damage like this (if not checked) could lead to famine. Inn keepers even mention that there isn’t enough grain to brew beer in their complaints to Querida.

Blade spends a sleepless night trying to figure out how much Chesney makes from the tours. People have to sell their houses to pay for the tickets. On top of that comes insurance, and the bribes paid to make people ‘expendable’, or set to be killed during the tour. Then comes the gold that the dwarves pay in tithes. It “came out with so many naughts on the end that Blade thought he must have multiplied it all by 1,000 by mistake.” (364). That doesn’t even account for the illegal mines and Chesney’s fines. He makes a killing on the tours, with no benefits coming to the world he exploits.

How People Responded to Chesney’s World

The Devaluation of Women Wizards

We’ve alluded to Chesney’s sexism previously, but the Glamorous Enchantress and the lack of work for women wizards only scratches the surface. He calls Shona a slave girl when he appears at Derkholm for the initial tour meeting. Other women work as actual slaves in the area that parallels the Middle East – harem slaves. Who wear wispy clothing, and are subservient to men. This can probably be put down to Mr. Chesney’s prejudices.

But, when those prejudices belong to the most powerful man in the world, who’s run it for thirty years? Then those prejudices trickle down. We see that in how the male wizards treat the female ones. “Normally during tourtime the place [university] would be abuzz with female wizards, who usually took this opportunity to use the equipment” (261). The implications are that female wizards don’t have the opportunity to use the equipment while men are there. This boils down to sexism, pure and simple, not just caused by Chesney, because he’s not a presence during not-tourtime, but because his beliefs filtered down, just like coffee and cotton filtered into this world.

Querida even does this in some manner, in her treatment of Mara. Mara agreed to work with her on stopping the tours. But Querida took that opportunity to separate her from Derk, who she felt unworthy of Mara, because of her past relationship with Mara’s father. “And I’m afraid I put a spell on Mara, to make her decide to leave you.” (487). Admittedly she reverses it when she sees Derk’s grief for Kit and Blade. But she still removed Mara’s agency in choosing her own partner, showing her absorption of Chesney’s sexism, even as one who would unseat him.

Costamaret and the Coliseum

People become what the people in power say they are. Nothing shows this better than the Coliseum in Costamaret. Originally imported for the tours, to make Costamaret an exotic place, the scene where Kit and Blade are trapped there is one of the most horrifying in the series.

“This is Costamaret here, where we love to watch a proper fight. And we love the Pilgrim Parties for bringing us the idea. Of course we’ve improved on it. Got contests you’d never dream of.” (466).

They promise people will be free if they kill a certain number of opponents. But they keep raising the number, bathing people in blood until they are killed. The tours started it, but they continued it, turned it into a black market event. Barnabas sent Blade here to die, and they captured Kit after he was injured in one of the battles and assumed dead.

But the tours brought many evils to this world, not just the coliseums and gladiator fights. This, or things like this has to happen somewhere else in the world. Everyone can’t hate Mr. Chesney. Some people love him and laud him, like Costamaret does. It shows how Chesney continues to shape this world beyond the damage of the tours.

The Addictiveness of Battles Between Good and Evil

This problem composes Kit’s entire character arc. One of the climactic parts of Mr. Chesney’s Pilgrim Parties is the battle between the forces of Good and the forces of Evil. From the very beginning, Kit takes charge of organizing the battles, of scheduling attacks and retreats. During Blade’s first battle, he thinks. “Another funny thing, he thought as he whisked [translocated away]. I’m hating this battle as much as I’m enjoying it.” (327). Immediately afterwards, he finds that the so-called-fanatics behaving as if they are actually fanatical. It troubles him, and he tries to avoid subsequent battles.

Kit doesn’t avoid them. Later, when half the battles are over, Derk thinks. “Their own side was smaller too, but this was because people had been killed. Kit called this natural wastage. Derk wished he wouldn’t.”  (416). In that same battle, the soldiers shoot down Kit, and he appears to die. He reappears in the coliseum with Blade, as the opponent he’s meant to fight. He explains how he was saved from his ‘death’ and was told. “I really had to learn that killing people wasn’t a game.” (477). Kit dealt with the battles by viewing it as a game. He played the role he was given so deeply he couldn’t see outside of it.

The Aftermath

Geoffrey, Sukie, and Querida, the Good of Tourism, and Fixing the Effects

Geoffrey and Sukie reveal their connection to Mr. Chesney in the climax. Geoffrey is Chesney’s stepson, who he wanted dead to avoid splitting Sukie’s (Chesney’s daughter’s) inheritance. Chesney sent him on the tour to get him killed, and listed him as expendable. While they are related to the greatest villain of the piece, their reactions to this world show the good in tourism.

From the very beginning, Geoffrey treats Shona as a sentient human being, and falls in love with her on that basis. He also manages the world he’s in capably and with aplomb. He accepts their norms and customs. Sukie learns this, eventually. Initially she annoys Blade with her constant flirting and insensitive comments. “Oh, Wizard, is it true that a special magic happens when a wizard kisses you?” (371). For a pre-pubescent boy, even disguised as an adult, that would be irksome. But by the end of the story she falls in love with Reville, a thief, and makes some valuable contributions. But she still had to learn it.

However, Querida’s task shows the damage that appropriative tourism does. At the end, the gods show up to stop Chesney. Anscher says to Querida.

“We give the wizard Querida the task of making this world into its own place. … At least another forty years,’ said Anscher. Querida, assured by this of a very long life, sat up straight and seemed much less frail. ‘And, as the Oracles warned you,’ Anscher said, ‘it will not be east. Slaves have to learn freedom. But we give you the children of Wizards Derk and Mara to help you in this” (512).

Jones balances the good that can come from tourism with that damage that it does. The forty years Querida needs to fix this world make that point clearly.

Parallels to Real-Life Tourism in Disney, Hawai’i, and Iceland

Barring the magic, everything that happens in The Dark Lord of Derkholm can be paralleled in the real world. Disney first. Like Chesney’s worldwide theme park, Disney is expensive for the visitors, almost ruinously so. In the inverse of the expendables, Disney never lets anyone die on their property, paying doctors to declare time of death only once off the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’. Akin to Kit’s peril, the role that the employees play is more important than the employee themselves as people. The financial and communicative inequality also shows in last year’s union battle.

This article does a fantastic job of describing the damage exploitative tourism did and does to Hawai’i. Of particular note, is the exoticism and eroticism of the Hula Girl. We see shades of this in how Chesney treats women, and in Sukie’s attraction to the wizardly Blade. The idea of this world as exotic also probably inspires a good deal of the interest. It makes the Hawai’ian people into commodities.

With Iceland, tourism is now the largest part of their GDP. In much the same way, most of the world works for the Pilgrim Parties because of Chesney’s demon. The problems it causes people are also similar. The rise of tourism priced people out of being able to buy homes and food, and the potential for starvation if enough farmland is harmed parallels that. Damage to the landscape with the delicate mosses and graffiti also shows in the forty years required for Querida to fix the world.

In Conclusion

Despite writing over twenty years ago, Diana Wynne Jones managed to tell a story of the lasting damages of tourism. Especially tourism that exploits the people either working or living in the land where you journey. It’s sobering. But Jones manages to tell an engaging story of people working together to reclaim their agency from the corporation that had it. Chesney loses in the end, and that’s a good message to carry away from this book. It’s a message we should carry on our travels both this upcoming summer and in the future. Wonder what damage tourism does to the land and the people. Then see what you can do to mitigate that.


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