Monday, April 4, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones

One of my favorite authors, Diana Wynne Jones, has died. DWJ is generally regarded as a 'children's book' author, but you'd have to search long, hard and far to find a better example of 'if it's not good enough to be read by adults, it's certainly not good enough for children.' I forget who said that, and I para-phrase, but it's pretty close to fundamentalist religion to this author and parent. She was clever, funny, warm and sometimes tragic in her writing (Dogsbody made me weep. It doesn't stop me reading and re-reading it). The other thing that shines through her characters is just how real and 'ordinary' and accessible her fantasy characters are. She stands out because wrote amazingly fallible characters... that you still liked. There was a certain warmth and indomidability of spirit about them -- she knew these people and in many cases, was them. I've just been reading her autobiography and it is obvious, fairly soon, as you recognise places and people, that DWJ's writing was shaped by a razor sharp memory (and a razor sharp mind) and curiously, an ability to cruel - both to herself and the illusions we humans like to cling to about our parents and background. The distances and sometimes weakness of parents come through strongly - in Archer's Goon for instance, where, to be honest Venturus's step- parents made me long to give them a clip around the ear-hole. It took me a while to realise that it was this that made DWJ stand out in the 'urban fantasy' sense - in an era where families were portrayed as either perfect or detestable - hers were neither. They were fallable, and often likable despite it. In Fire and Hemlock, in which DWJ mercilessly details the breakdown of Polly's family, you keep reading, because 1)there's Polly - and it is hard not to care about her, and 2)in both her parents - Reg and Ivy (but particularly the weak father) there are moments, when as an adult anyway, I found myself in sympathy with him. Grannies, we note, do tend to get a soft billet :-). Reading the autobiography - and knowing the books - it is fascinating to see how the places and people of her youth keep coming into the books.

The other aspect that shines through DWJ's fantasy is the feeling that many of her fantasy worlds convey - of a complex, vast, and very 'alien' but real universe. Part of this is her sheer magic - from whence it came, besides inside her, who knows. It was just... special. Part of it is of course that she had a vast background in mythology (which, if you know the myths, make the books even more like opening one of those layered gifts). Books such as The Spellcoats, the Power of Three or Black Maria fill you with a feeling strangeness - as if you've been lucky enough to catch of fleeting glimpse of something truly magical, on the edge of the dream.

And yet... she makes me laugh. And the books send me out stronger. Read her books and learn. Buy them for your kids, buy them for yourself. Treasure was never so cheap.

Respect. One of the great has passed beyond.
A glass for the living and glass for the dead.

7 comments:

Ellyll said...

I was stricken to hear of her death. I discovered her books as an adult, and loved every one I ever read. They're among the few that I can read over and over again.

I join you in raising a glass. It's a great loss to us all.

MataPam said...

Yes. Thank you, Dave.

Brendan said...

I just started re-reading her Dalemark series in her honour. Great stories, from a great storyteller.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Well said, Dave.

Dave Freer said...

Salute, to a great brave heart, and a fine writer. May her books endure.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, thanks for this. Sarah introduced me to Diana Wynne Jones' books several years ago and I've loved every one I've read. You said it all when you said we'd lost one of the great.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

I LOVED Deep Secret. It grew on me. She did an incredibly difficult thing there that other authors have tried and failed at -- she did the same story from two different perspectives, WITHOUT making it boring. She also gave a great depiction of the hotel where Lunacon is held.
DWJ's death had an impact on this household only Ginny Heinlein's death had, before hers. It devasted not only me, but the other family members.
And yet, she's gone, but her stories live on. May it be so with all of us.