Diana Wynne Jones, Chrestomancer

Elizabeth Bluemle - March 28, 2011

From Diana Wynne Jones' official website (click on photo).

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?

9 thoughts on “Diana Wynne Jones, Chrestomancer

  1. Peni Griffin

    I love them all, but I think the best books to hook people with are probably *Archer’s Goon,* for those who like their brains tied in knots, or *Howl’s Moving Castle* for romantics. Probably the most moving is *The Homeward Bounders.* If I were to teach a creative writing course I would require the class to read her “A Plague of Peacocks” (in *Warlock at the Wheel*) in company with Jerome Bixby’s horror classic “It’s a Good Life” (which many people know better through its adaptation into a *Twilight Zone* story, with Bill Mumy as Anthony), to demonstrate how two different authors can take an identical premise and create completely different stories from it.

  2. Alison

    Most if not all of my favorites are out of print (!?!) – Archer’s Goon, Dogsbody, Eight Days of Luke, Hexwood, a Tale of Time City, etc. I’m hoping for reprints!

  3. Mark

    If Miyazaki would just keep making her books into great animated films, the books would never go out of print. Thank you for a wonderful summary of Diana Wynne Jones’s impact.

  4. Ellie Miller

    What a shock to read the terribly sad news about Diana Wynne Jones this morning! We’re approximately the same age, and I’ve been her ardent fan and admirer for over forty years. I own almost all of her books (many of them in their earlier British editions before she was published over here). I once had the pleasure of meeting and telling her how MUCH I enjoyed her work. We had a lovely conversation about my own favorite, “Fire and Hemlock” and what fun she’d had as a writer in adapting “Tam Lin” to her own special ‘take’ on that old Scottish ballad. What a JOYOUS person she was! Warm…friendly…GIVING! And truly a giant in the genre. Oh…how we will all miss her!

  5. Laura

    I’ve been having this discussion with my kids, and our consensus is that “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Dark Lord of Derkholm” are our top two.
    All her books are unique, and I appreciate that about Diana Wynne Jones. Even the books that can be described as part of a “series” are outstandingly individual and never written to formula. Her books are all good for re-reading, for they are so complex, one discovers new delights each time. They are great for reading aloud to intelligent kids because there are always reasons to stop and discuss the book, and sometimes the kids pick up on things the adult had missed.
    My son fell in love with the poetry of John Donne based on its use in “Howl’s Moving Castle,” and later won a poetry-reading competition where he recited a Donne poem!

  6. Kitti

    Fantasy genre (a.k.a. “children’s literature”) is my first reading home. I was introduced to DWJ only in my late 30’s, but have enjoyed her books tremendously. I am sorry that there will not be more. She is the sort of writer you hope will push the centegenarian mark. RIP, Diane.

  7. Amanda D

    DWJ was my absolute favorite author in middle school (I’m 24 now). I loved the Dalemark quartet even though it had some pacing flaws. And now there will never be a follow-up novel!
    Dark Lord of Derkholm is one of the easiest to recommend although not one of my personal favorites. Deep Secret is one of my favorite of her books aimed at older readers, but it is really dificult to do it justice in a summary.

  8. Kenny Brechner

    The Chrestomanci Books are tops for me. Precocious younger readers are my favorite folks to hand them to. I must say though that her Tough Guide to Fantasyland is one of the funniest, most brilliant books ever written and a must have resource for any fantasy lover with a sense of humor.


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