Diana Wynne Jones
August 16, 1934 – March 26, 2011
Anyone who has ever talked to me about books knows that my favorite author ever is Diana Wynne Jones.
I discovered DWJ’s books when I was in junior high–Witch’s Business was the first one. It’s about a brother and sister who lose their allowance for four months and decide to start a business to make some money–Own Back, Ltd. For a slight fee, they’ll make sure their clients get revenge for any perceived wrongs. The only problem is that their customers have much bigger problems than Frank or Jess ever imagined…and there’s already a witch in town who is in the revenge business. It was such a wonderful set up! Here were two real world kids, with real world problems, who suddenly find themselves all muddled up with magic and revenge and treasure hunting.
I promptly went back to the library and took out the only other book they had–The Ogre Downstairs. That one might have been even better–Caspar, Johnny and Gwinny’s mother (a perfectly reasonable woman) has just married Malcolm and Douglas’s father (who Johnny immediately dubs “the Ogre”)…and the two sets of kids are not getting along. The Ogre buys Malcolm and Caspar chemistry sets in order to make peace…only these chemistry sets have some very strange chemicals that even teenage Douglas has never heard of. Soon, the kids are flying around town, bringing toffee bars to sluggish life and even switching bodies. Will the chemistry sets help their family, or cause an irreversible rift? More real kids, a touch of humor, a bit of bumbling and magic. (It’s also a great read-aloud with fourth and fifth graders.)
There were several other books listed on the back cover of that first book I read by Diana Wynne Jones, but my poor little cash-strapped rural library didn’t have them. I promptly went to the bookstore and spent some hard-earned babysitting money on Power of Three and Dogsbody. (I couldn’t find the others; it took me several years and a new college library with ILL to track them down.) Both of these stories were larger in scope, more high fantasy, pulling in Celtic and Roman mythology, but still featuring humor, adventure, likable kids in troubled situations and a bit of accidental magic. When her next book, Charmed Life was released, the library ordered it and I was first on the list. I read it twice, and promptly decided then and there that Diana Wynne Jones was my favorite author. Ever. It’s been more than thirty years, and that has never changed.
Since 1977, I’ve eagerly awaited every new release, at first through booksellers in every town I’ve lived in, eventually having friends in England buy them over there (where they were often released earlier than in the U.S.) and sending them, and then ordering them online. I would always read each book through in one or two sittings, to see what happened, and then go back and read it slowly, to savor the intricacies of the plot, the clever characters and the way it all fit together.
There has been an outpouring of memories from fans and authors all over the world. Neil Gaiman, Emma Bull, and Diane Duane to name just a few. Diana Wynne Jones studied in Cambridge, taking classes from J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Her books were never a well known as, say, J.K. Rowling, but she has a loyal fan base around the world, who have been reading almost forty years worth of output religiously. She’s inspired and helped younger writers, but her voice was always unique. In 2007 she received a Life Achievement Award at the World Fantasy Association. She also won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award (twice), the Boston Globe Horn Book Award and the British Guardian Award. Her books have been translated into more than 20 languages and have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. There are some wonderful, heartfelt tributes online, just google her name and dozens of entries will come up.
My favorite books of hers to recommend to new readers are Howl’s Moving Castle (which is probably her best known book, but it has to have one of the worst original covers ever! I wish we could get the cover displayed here!) Charmed Life, and The Lives of Christopher Chant. (Chrestomanci and Howl have to be two of the best characters ever created in children’s literature.) My personal favorites (although I love all of them) are probably Fire and Hemlock, The Homeward Bounders and The Dark Lord of Derkholm, because I always find something new, every time I re-read.
When you read one of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, prepare to be enchanted. Then, if you’re the type of person who likes to re-read, prepare to read it all over again for all the “obvious” things you missed along the way.
Since high school, through college and graduate school, and then into adulthood, a new Diana Wynne Jones every year (well, almost every year) has been part of my life. It’s hard to accept the fact that there will never be another new one after this spring. I feel like I’ve lost a friend. Still, DWJ will always be my very favorite author. And her legacy will be kept going strong by all the readers (and writers!) she’s inspired.
Thank you, Diana, for your wonderful stories.