The children’s book field is both large and small. It contains multitudes, but is as supportive, close-knit, and passionate a group of people as I’ve ever encountered. That’s why, when we lose one of our own, it feels like a hard kick in the stomach, a loss that goes beyond the professional to touch us personally.
I never had the pleasure or privilege of meeting Diana Wynne Jones (August 16, 1934 – March 26, 2011), but her books (Howl’s Moving Castle, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Dark Lord of Derkholm, Castle in the Air, and many more) lit a fire under me. She was funny, brilliant, sparklingly and endlessly inventive — and she made it look easy! She was not only adept at world-building, but at creating absolutely unique characters you wanted to know, felt you DID know. Her plots barreled forward without drag, her dialogue crackled, and underpinning every story was substance and philosophy and literary allusion. She was a quintuple threat, and I already miss the joy of anticipating a new Diana Wynne Jones to gobble up and share with other readers. (Her website does mention an upcoming younger middle-grade novel to be published posthumously, Earwig and the Witch, as well as a collection of her articles, speeches, and other writings.) Her books have such an immortal quality that one wanted their author to share that
To me, and to her legions of fans, she was a giant in the fantasy realm; her influence can be seen in the works of so many authors who have come after her. I’m not sure why she has never quite attained the mainstream, household-name status in the U.S. that some of her contemporaries have enjoyed—though she’s certainly been successful by any measure!—but I can report that every bookseller I know does his or best to make that happen.
Is this an appropriate time to lobby for the reprinting of Archer’s Goon and Hexwood, two of my all-time favorites? And to ask Harper to consider re-jacketing the delightful Castle in the Air? It’s a bit of a tough handsell with that art, as beautifully drawn as it is.
May those of us whose lives have been enriched by Diana Wynne Jones honor her memory by sharing one of her books with someone new today. Once a reader has read one, they’ll have to read more, and want to share the wealth with others, continuing her legacy. She was, to borrow from E.B. White, some writer.
What are your favorite Diana Wynne Jones books, and what kind of reader would you recommend them to?