R.I.P. Diana Wynne Jones

Jones, one of my favorite authors, died of cancer last week.
If you read my Books I’ve Read posts, you know I’ve been working through her novels in order. It’s a shame the number will no longer grow.
I first stumbled across her work when Charmed Life, her seventh fantasy novel (her first was a satiric political story, Changeover) popped up in paperback in the U.S. (she’s English) in the early eighties. I loved it.
The story of how Cat and his sister Gwendolyn are taken from their quiet English village to study magic with the toplofty enchanter Chrestomanci is a treat. Chrestomanci himself is a great character, a mix of a British headmaster’s sternness with the Fourth Doctor’s unflappable confidence in the face of peril. The other characters, even the mean-spirited Gwen, are quite well, ordinary, but they fit with the magic perfectly.
That mix of magic and everydayness is Jones’ greatest strength; it’s what makes Archer’s Goon such a great read, for instance, or the magic-in-school story Witch Week. Or Sophie, who’s down-to-Earth personality helps anchor Howl’s Moving Castle amidst all the supernatural elements and the Wizard Howl’s fondness for playing drama queen (as DWJ herself once put it).
Her handling of family dynamics is also exceptional. A recurring story element is that your relative’s unpleasant or irrational behavior actually makes sense once you hear their side of it (the flip side of that is a relative such as Gwen or Aunt Maria who turns out to be far nastier than their kin realize).
One delightful side effect of Harry Potter’s phenomenal success is that the rising tide lifted DWJ’s boat too: Her work has become much more visible in the US since J.K. Rowling started, presumably because Potter fans were looking for something similar, or publisher suddenly realized “Hey, this sort of thing sells!” It made it easy to round out my collection (only her most recent and her one unpublished fantasy remain) and I imagine it didn’t hurt her bank account.
She’s brought me a lot of joy, and I’m looking forward to rereading everything else she’s written.

1 Comment

Filed under Personal, Reading

One response to “R.I.P. Diana Wynne Jones

  1. Pingback: Diana Wynne Jones | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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