Who is Chrestomanci?
Who is Chrestomanci? The question should really be What is Chrestomanci? For starters, Chrestomanci is actually the title of a job, not a person’s name. The Chrestomanci is employed by the British Government to monitor and control the use of magic throughout the Related Worlds.
This is not the most popular of jobs, especially with the less-than-scrupulous characters who tend to be tempted by any opportunity to misuse power, and particularly if it can earn them lots of money or an exciting life. But using magic is always dangerous, and it always has consequences, so even the best-intentioned witch or warlock needs help and guidance from time to time. Not only that, but there are plenty of ordinary people in the worlds without even a whiff of magical ability, and they need someone to make sure the magic users don’t get their way all of the time—which is where Chrestomanci comes in.
As well as looking after people, Chrestomanci also has to protect the worlds they live in. Many spells need certain ingredients to work properly, like recipes—which is fine if they are items like six drops of dew from a yew tree at dawn, or a handful of grass from inside a stone circle, or even dried mouse droppings. But some spells call for substances such as dragon’s blood or mermaid scales. These are illegal products, because of the potential harm caused by both the collection and careless use of such dark materials. But this also means there is a thriving black market in ‘exotic supplies,’ so Chrestomanci and his team have to be constantly on the alert for smugglers and underhand dealers.
Of course, not everyone is qualified to take on the post of Chrestomanci—it’s not a job you can simply apply for. Only the strength and special skills of an enchanter can possibly attempt to tackle the task. But Chrestomanci is no ordinary enchanter—he (or she) has to be a nine-lifed enchanter. Most people, whatever their magical status, just have one life each—but they also have counterparts, or doubles, in other worlds. People with nine lives (and they are exceedingly rare) exist only in their own world, with no counterparts anywhere else, which means that all the talents and energies and abilities that would have been spread out across the others are all concentrated in one person. This makes Chrestomanci a very powerful enchanter, indeed.
One of the most challenging tasks a Chrestomanci has to undertake is finding his (or her) successor—the next Chrestomanci. This is never easy, not only because of the fact that nine-lifed enchanters are exceedingly rare, but they might not even be living in the same world! They are also usually completely unaware that they have more than the usual number of lives and often demonstrate a distinct lack of magical ability in childhood. They are often discovered for the first time when they begin to lose their lives. For example, if on Monday somebody falls from an extremely high tower, or is consumed by fire, or fried by lightning, and yet on Tuesday is happily walking around with no noticeable ill-effects, chances are he (or she) has nine lives. This means that he is worth testing to find out what’s stopping him from doing magic.
All nine-lifed enchanters have a weakness, and it is usually that weakness which prevents them from being aware of their magic when they are young. Of course, they do not all share the same weakness, so it can take some time to track down exactly what the problem is. Once the weakness is identified and avoided, they can work magic like anything! In fact, because enchanter’s magic is particularly potent and immediate, they have to spend many years in training, learning how to control their power and its full extent—while trying very hard not to dislocate the universe or blow off too many rooftops.
Once they are aware of their nine lives, it’s up to them to make sure they take care of the ones they have left—especially the last one. The best way to do this is to detach it from the body and keep it in a secret, protected location where it cannot be attacked or enchanted. Removing a life is a delicate operation; Gabriel de Witt who is Talara’s third predecessor as Chrestomanci, pioneered the process.
The one thing Chrestomanci does not have is a nine-to-five job. He has to be ready to thwart evil, apprehend villains, and solve magical conundrums at the drop of a hat, no matter in what time, place, or dimension they happen to occur. People in dire need can also summon him (or her) by calling his name (“Chrestomanci”) aloud three times. Consequently, his (or her) staff is used to finding half-drunk cups of tea and abandoned plates, as dire need is no respecter of mealtimes.
Being Chrestomanci is the most powerful job in the Related Worlds, and the Government are always on the lookout for the next one. If you ever find yourself returning to dream worlds you visited before, waking up with grubby feet and gravel in your bed, being told off for being “on a different planet,” or raising small whirlwinds in the garden—you never know, it could be you!