27 September 2011

Diana Wynne Jones

So when I wrote that last blog entry, about my book stacks, I found out that Diana Wynne Jones is, alas, no longer with us. She passed away in March of this year at the age of 76, of lung cancer. Sad. Sad to think there won't be any more stories coming from that so-very-gifted pen of hers.

I first read one of her books in the early 80's, when it was still quite new. The German title was "Wir sind aufs Hexen ganz versessen"; it's a translation of "Charmed Life", the first book she wrote in the "Chrestomanci" series. Some fifteen years later I picked up a book called "The Lives of Christopher Chant" from a Canadian library, and in reading it kept having flashbacks to this other book I'd read as a young teen - there are nine worlds, all parallel to each other; one of them is ours, the others just like it except a bit different (one, or maybe several of them, use magic to manage their daily affairs). And I thought how interesting it was that two authors had come up with the same idea of these parallel worlds. D'uh... "Charmed Life" came out in 1977, "Christopher Chant" in '88; the last of the six Chrestomanci books, "The Pinhoe Egg", was published in 2006. I devoured them all as I could lay hands on them.

When I first read the Harry Potter books, which I picked up sometime between the publication of "The Prisoner of Azkaban" and "The Goblet of Fire" purely to find out what all the fuss was about, I was actually rather unimpressed - oh, I liked them alright, but my main thought was "What's the big deal? These are just like Diana Wynne Jones' stuff!" And I still stand by that opinion, although I've now pretty much become a die-hard fan of Rowling's world and her young wizards. Diana Wynne Jones is every bit as good as Rowling, and I'm fairly certain Harry Potter's creator would agree with me (not being of the conceited sort, from what I can tell). Jones' work is much more varied than Rowling's, and there is considerably more of it - not surprising, as Diana Wynne Jones was some thirty years older than J. K. Rowling and had that much more time to produce good fiction (I'm sure in thirty years' time we'll have lots from Rowling, too).

My favourites of Diana Wynne Jones' stories are the "Chrestomanci" and the "Castle" series - the latter known to anime fans through Miyazaki's version of "Howl's Moving Castle" - and the set "Deep Secret" and "The Merlin Conspiracy". Some of Jones' books are pretty much written for adults ("Deep Secret" is one of them; "Fire and Hemlock" another); others are classified as "easy readers" or "chapter books" by the library (for example "Wild Robert"; it's one book I didn't like, as the story feels unfinished to me). I have yet to read "Enchanted Glass" - it's left in my bedside stack of mean-to-read's - as well as the Derkholm Series and "The Tough Guide to Fantasy Land", which form a set. Her last book, "Earwig and the Witch", only just came out in July; my library hasn't even got it yet (but they will soon; I suggested it for purchase).

So I still have a few Diana Wynne Jones' left to read, and when I'm done those, I can probably start over again on the older ones. It's been a long time since I read most of them; I can enjoy them all over. And I will - they're that good.

It's sad when a good author leaves us readers, and we can no longer look forward to more gripping tales from their pen. But then, there are new writers, fresh voices, for us to discover. I'm sure that somewhere in the Mythosphere (that's the Land of Story, as you'll find out when you read "The Game") the Chrestomanci is shaking the hand of a young wizard with a lightening-shaped scar on his forehead, and, I believe, is getting ready to pass him the baton.


  1. Well, here's my alter ego, commenting on my own blog post to see if it works. Testing, testing, 123!

  2. Oh, can you believe I haven't experienced the pleasure of reading something from this author? I'm off to check what our library has to offer. I'm always on the look out for good authors, so thanks for the tip!

  3. Oh, Katherine, enjoy!! I'm reading her last one now, "Enchanted Glass". As usual, the first chapter hooked me right in...