Saucers of Mud

March 23, 2008

The Crown of Dalemark: A Question

Filed under: Uncategorized — matt w @ 10:20 am

Several people warned me not to read The Crown of Dalemark, the last book in Diana Wynne Jones’s Dalemark Quartet [spoilers]. And here DWJ mentions that many of her fans were unhappy with the ending. And my question, in case anyone has an opinion, is Why? It may not have had the sociopolitical insight of the earlier books, but I couldn’t tell what was supposed to be wrong with it. It certainly can’t compare to crapstones* like The Last Battle and The Amber Spyglass.

*Crapstone = a word I invented, which is the point of this post. It means “the last volume of a multi-volume work, which sucks.” Extra points for retrospectively ruining the earlier volumes.

[UPDATE: And apparently also a village in Devon, which I trust is pronounced “Crun.”]



  1. “Crapstone” is a beautiful word that encapsulates an artistic tendency that needed to be named. You might relate it to my theory of retrospective anxiety of influence (or whatever I called it last time), in which an artist or author’s later work influences the previous work. (My friend Brian invented retro-criticism in the inter-artist form, in which Jack Nicholson is influenced by Christian Slater, and so on.)

    It’s sort of an weedy offshoot of reader response theory. That is, “Bull Durham” is nominally a pretty good and funny movie. But the fact that Kevin Costner subsequently made three or four more baseball movies of exponentially increasing shlock and craptitude (not even counting “Waterworld,” which is sort of a baseball movie with the Road Warrior as one team) makes one suspect that, somewhere inside “Bull Durham,” there beats a heart of rubbish. It’s now hard to watch an early good Jack Nicholson movie without seeing in the characters “Jack Nicholson” the ossified Personality, and my contention is that it’s not just that we now know the Personality too well, but that the Personality was always there to begin with.

    Another type of crapstone is the director’s cut that makes a movie worse. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas added special effects scenes into reissues of
    Close Encounters and Star Wars (Original Flavor) that added nothing but shlock. It takes a rare director to make a director’s cut worse.

    Comment by Ben — March 31, 2008 @ 1:21 am

  2. “Crapstone” is a beautiful word that encapsulates an artistic tendency that needed to be named.

    If I may so myself, absolutely.

    I really like your retrospective anxiety of influence theory too (feel the brotherly love, people!) But the Crapstone of Retrospective Ruination goes beyond that, or at least can — Bull Durham can be viewed in isolation from Costner’s subsequent baseball movies (and in fact, I haven’t seen any of the rest), but with a crapstone that’s what the good stuff is supposed to build to. So The Last Battle reveals (so I’m told, I remember it very dimly) that Narnia was heavy-handed Christian polemic all along, though perhaps there wasn’t much doubt. And with The Amber Spyglass the earlier books set up all these mysteries and plots, and at the end you find that Pullman really doesn’t intend to resolve them in any satisfying way. — So at least is my reading.

    Not all crapstones ruin the earlier books retrospectively, btw — I understand that the last three books of A Dance to the Music of Time are supposed to be pretty bad but I think you can just stop reading.

    It takes a rare director to make a director’s cut worse.

    Like Free Willy:

    Oh, no. Willy didn’t make it. And he crushed our boy!”
    “Ew. What a mess.”
    Homer: Ohh, I don’t like this new director’s cut.

    Comment by matt w — April 5, 2008 @ 9:08 pm

  3. Awww, I just finished The Subtle Knife and I am disappointed to hear that about The Amber Spyglass.

    “Crapstone” is a thing of beauty. I suggest it also applies to the seventh Harry Potter book.

    Comment by Cala — April 10, 2008 @ 8:06 am

  4. I suggest it also applies to the seventh Harry Potter book.

    What? No wai!

    (Maybe you should give Amber Spyglass a shot, esp. if you liked Subtle Knife, which I thought already started downhill. One annoyance: He goes to great pains to make clear that the worlds include every possibility, when that’s totally incompatible with anything else that happens in the book. And it also involves some clanky exposition.)

    Comment by matt w — April 10, 2008 @ 8:12 am


    Subtle Knife wasn’t as good as Golden Compass, which I really liked, because, dude, armored polar bears and Lyra insisting that next time she’ll know better, because she’ll ask lots of questions and think. Yay junior philosopher! Subtle Knife took too long to get anywhere and then it ended before it did.

    As to Harry Potter, after the sixth book, there was a flurry of Internet excitement over how Rowling would possibly resolve this new plot twist. Is Snape good or evil? Will there be a redemption arc? Will Harry break free of the shadow of his old mentor and become his own man? Fan fiction and speculation!…

    … which lead to.. No, Dumbledore is always right, bad people stay bad, and Snape’s heroism was the result of a seventeen-year-old hardon. Plus, two hundred pages in a tent in the woods.

    Comment by Cala — April 10, 2008 @ 4:15 pm


    Well, I wasn’t reading Harry Potter in real time, so I don’t know about the internet excitement — but I thought the resolution was fine. I mean, yes, it turns out that Dumbledore was right all along, but OTOH he did have good evidence for it, and the seventeen-year hardon actually gives Snape some motivation for his actions which is more than can always be said for some major fantasy characters. Plus it turns out that he never did like Harry, again for understandable reasons. And I liked the two hundred pages in the woods. Thought it gave a good on-the-run sense. Though I could’ve wished that the locket’s warping of Harry’s personality was a little bit less ripped off from the One Ring. But still, I think it was OK for her to not to send things off in a totally new direction, except insofar as the whole “they spend the year in flight/on a quest instead of in school” thing is a new direction.

    In a lot of these cases (all?), I read the book once, and a while ago — almost literally the only thing I remember about Narnia is that I hated the ending.

    Anyway, you should totally read Amber Spyglass so I can give you my sarcastic plot recounting. I see I’ve expressed a vaguely related wish before. I mean, some people like it.

    Comment by matt w — April 10, 2008 @ 4:34 pm


    Oh, and there is a bit of redemption — but surprise, for the Malfoys! Sort of. I mean, I don’t know, I’m not so sure why they’re seen to be considered OK at the end. Committing war crimes isn’t excused if you feel bad about it later — Ashcroft take note. But I did think that the treatment of the Malfoys was interesting (in particular the crucial role that Draco unintentionally has with the wand thingy).

    Comment by matt w — April 10, 2008 @ 4:40 pm

  8. I love Crapstone. Hearing Secret Harmonies is the crapstone of A Dance to the Music of Time; the last 3 Aubrey/Maturin books form a collective crapstone.

    Comment by chris y — April 26, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  9. […] name, I’m not sure “warts man” is the right one (unlike my other neologism “Crapstone” which, I concur with the commenters, is […]

    Pingback by Another Neologism « Saucers of Mud — April 26, 2008 @ 2:47 pm

  10. In Dance I’ve actually only got up to the beginning of Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant, which is well within the good part; I’m just going on general reputation and an informant who I think pooped out somewhere between Books Do Furnish a Room and Temporary Kings. But I guess the consensus is that the last one sucks especially.

    About Aubrey and Maturin — did O’Brian actually finish it? Though there’s extra points for almost finishing and having no one care.

    Comment by matt w — April 27, 2008 @ 10:11 am

  11. Ah, apparently he announced the end of the series and started another one anyway. Still, that qualifies for crapstonage.

    I feel a little bad tearing down people’s life’s work in this way, so let me say that one of the prerequisites for being a crapstone is that the earlier volumes have to have been good — otherwise there’s no letdown.

    Comment by matt w — April 27, 2008 @ 10:16 am

  12. In an interesting example of the retrospective anxiety of influence, Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the “dialogic” was itself influenced by retrospective anxiety-of-influence theory.

    Comment by Ben — May 19, 2008 @ 2:50 am

  13. Crystal Skull: crapstone or merely disappointing?

    Comment by Cala — June 1, 2008 @ 9:47 pm

  14. Hard to say, especially because I haven’t seen it. Well, technically I haven’t seen any of them except Temple of Doom, which everyone says sucks — all I really remember is Chilled Monkey Brains. (Warning: Orientalism in link.)

    But I think it might have to be a bad sequel rather than a crapstone, because it’s not like it was ever intended as an integral part of the series. Not supposed to be a capstone, if you see what I mean. More likely to be the Last Embarrassing Sequel Before the Franchise Gets Retired or the Ill-Advised Attempt at Adding to a Classic Many Years Later, which are also established tropes. (N.B. I haven’t seen those either, just going on reputation.)

    Comment by matt w — June 2, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  15. Wait, you haven’t seen any of them? I thought you were an all-American professor, and now it turns out you’re probably a Communist plant or something. (Seriously, I didn’t think the Indiana Jones series were a set of movies it was possible to avoid, let alone just not happen to see.)

    Comment by Cala — June 2, 2008 @ 9:15 am

  16. I saw one of them! Yeah, I didn’t go to movies that much as a kid, except sometimes I went to a bunch of things at the repertory theater (a different movie every day when I was in high school; you kids today with your VCRs probably don’t remember these things).

    Comment by matt w — June 2, 2008 @ 10:04 am

  17. I still talk about stuff I didn’t see, though.

    Comment by matt w — June 2, 2008 @ 10:04 am

  18. I didn’t go to movies much as a kid either, but all of the movies, Last Crusade in particular were part of the whole Star Wars/Spaceballs/Monty Python VCR rotation. I don’t think I could have avoided it.

    While I’m willing to believe my experience isn’t universal, I begin to suspect that in addition to not really being American, you’re really not a geek, either.

    But I think you’re right that it isn’t a crapstone because it isn’t a capstone.

    Comment by Cala — June 2, 2008 @ 10:45 am

  19. I begin to suspect that… you’re really not a geek, either.

    Of course you realize this means war. (Charge!)

    No, think of it this way, I was too geeky even to see these movies. I once heard a typology of geeks — I was a Hiker rather than a Trekkie or whatever they called Star Wars people (though I did see a reasonable amount of Star Trek, even though I didn’t watch much TV). Is liking Indiana Jones even geeky? Seems more rugged and All-American to me.

    Comment by matt w — June 2, 2008 @ 11:04 am

  20. Oh, and we didn’t have a VCR rotation. I was going to claim that we may not have had a VCR until I was out of the house, but then I remembered that I spent a lot of time taping Alive from Off Center. It had Laurie Anderson on it sometimes. Um. What I’m trying to say is, I was a really pretentious geek. (But if you ever get the chance to watch the Ann Magnuson episode, do it.)

    Comment by matt w — June 2, 2008 @ 10:20 pm

  21. In case anyone, like the person I just told to read this post, reads this post, the Ann Magnuson episode is now on YouTube (two parts).

    Comment by matt w — February 23, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: