The Weathermonger – Peter Dickinson

Title: The Weathermonger
Author: Peter Dickinson
Series : First of the three “The Changes” – but they can be read as stand alone books as well.

Rating:stars_05

In Short: Five years ago, a mysterious change took place in Britain.  Thousands fled the country, and those left behind reverted to a medieval way of life.  Machines are hated and feared.  Anyone associated with modern technology is stoned as a witch.  So far, all missions sent by the outside world, have failed to find the cause of the phenomenon.  Pilots forget how fly, or are struck by lightning.  Soldiers turn upon one another.  And  now, two children – Geoffrey and Sally -are travelling to the heart of “The Changes” on the Welsh border to discover and if possible destroy it’s cause.

storm

What I thought:
The Weathermonger is another favourite book from my childhood.  I first read it when I was about 10 years old and I found it frightening but fascinating. I still do.  Geoffrey and Sally are both very young and have been orphaned by the Changes.  They live in a world where magic is real.  Geoffrey is the village Weathermonger;  he can make it rain,  change the wind, or call up a mist.  This is a dangerous skill in a world where witches are stoned, drowned or burnt to death.

Apparently this was Peter Dickinson’s first novel. From his website :

The Weathermonger sprang from a nightmare (the first chapter is a tidied-up version.) I had lain awake retelling the dream, putting myself in charge of it, outwitting or defeating its monsters, in order to get back to sleep, but instead had spent the rest of the night finishing the story in my head.

When we first meet them, Geoffrey and Sally are  fleeing for their lives.  Geoffrey was caught hiding an ammeter and the villagers have decided that their Weathermonger is too dangerous a witch to be left alive.  Sally had some drawings of planes and trains that she could not possibly have seen.  From then on they have to rely on their wits and courage.  There are no adults to help or guide them.  The few adults who support them have their own shadowy agenda.

Here is Geoffrey trying out his skills at working the weather:

Then he put the robe on. Odd how familiar the silly garment felt, as a knight’s armour must, or a surgeon’s mask, something they’d worn as a piece of professional equipment every time they did their job. He opened the casement and leaned his hand on the sill, staring at the sky. He did not feel sure he could do it; the power in him seemed weak, like a radio signal coming from very far away. He felt for the clouds with his mind.

From above they were silver, and the sun trampled on them, ramming his gold heels uselessly into their clotting softness. But there were frail places in the fabric. Push now, sun, here, at this weakness, ram through with a gold column, warming the under air, hammering it hard, as a smith hammers silver. Turn now, air, in a slow spiral, widening, a spring of summer, warmth drawing in more air as the thermal rises to push the clouds apart, letting in more sun to warm the under-air. Now the fields steam, and in the clouds there is a turning lake of blue, a turning sea, spinning the rain away. More sun…

clouds

The children are remarkably resilient – and apart from the physical danger, they have some troubling decisions to make.  I was reminded of a post I wrote about the Exclusion Zone outside Priyat; the site of the Chernobyl disaster.  In the absence of humans the radioactive Exclusion Zone has become a place of beauty.  In The Weathermonger, Britain after the Changes is a world gone mad.  People kill strangers with unthinking cruelty.  There is an unseen force at work affecting even the animals.  But there is this;  butterflies and birds prosper in the insecticide-free fields.  The ever present stink and noise of cars is no more. Ancient oak forests have returned, with wild boar and even wolves roaming in their shadows.  Britain has regained a wild beauty that seemed to have been gone forever.  Here is a quote from Peter Dickinson, taken from his website :

It’s interesting to me that though throughout the series the good guys are those who are trying to counter the anti-machine madness, The Weathermonger, and therefore the series, ends on a highly ambivalent note, questioning whether the heroics have in fact been for the good. I’ve since done this sort of undercutting, more or less deliberately, again and again. Apparently that’s how I think.

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