Monday, March 28, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones is dead

This is a strange experience, for I have never mourned the death of any celebrity or other "person of renown" before. However, it is with a feeling of genuine sadness that I note the death of Diana Wynne Jones, one of the finest writers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy—actually, of any genre—in the English language.
Jones's fiction is relevant, subversive, witty and highly enjoyable, while also having a distinctly dark streak and a constant awareness of how unreliable the real world can seem. Disguises and deceptions abound. Though avoiding criminally dysfunctional families or unwanted pregnancies, her cleverly plotted and amusing adventures deal frankly with emotional clumsiness, parental neglect, jealousy between siblings and a general sense of being an outcast. Rather than a deliberately cruel stepmother, a Jones protagonist might have a real mother far more wrapped up in her own career than in the discoveries and feelings of her child. The child protagonist would realise this, but get on with the adventure anyway.

Her career began as a playwright, with three plays produced in London between 1967 and 1970; her first novel, Change- over (1970), was adult humour; since then her work has been written for younger readers. Besides the two series already mentioned, she wrote the Howl books, beginning with Howl's Moving Castle (1986; filmed in 2004 by Hayao Miyazaki), and two sequels, and the Dalemark sequence (1975-2003), dark-tinged fantasies set in that eponymous country.

Some of her best and most enjoyable books are stand-alones, in particular The Ogre Downstairs (1974), The Time of the Ghost (1981) and Fire and Hemlock (1985), each a remarkable blend of pathos and genuinely funny writing. Archer's Goon (1984), extravagantly mixing fantasy with science fiction, was serialised for television by the BBC in 1992. Her most recent novel, the light-hearted Enchanted Glass, appeared last year.

Diana Wynne Jones was a fantastic writer, genuinely witty and fiercely original—I cannot recommend her work enough. For those who are interested, my personal favourites are:
  • Hexwood—mind-bendingly complicated conceptually but a compelling romp with a bitter edge.

  • Fire and Hemlock—probably my all-time favourite of her books, this brooding mystery is heavily entwined with the myth of Tam Lin.

  • The Homeward Bounders—one of the recurring themes in Jones's books is that of parallel worlds, and this one takes you to a whole host of them.

  • Archer's Goon—a tale of how an immensely alien family "farm" a town, this is full of memorable characters and fast-paced storyline.

  • Time of the Ghost—a genuinely scary book in which a ghost tries to work out which of four sisters she is... And how to stop the dark force that hangs over their family from claiming a life.

  • Power Of Three—set in a version of our world in which "people", Dorig and Giants are in constant conflict: a conflict which is driven by a curse made long ago...

Although these are a few of my favourites, Diana Wynne Jones wrote a huge number of novels and stories, all of which are worth reading—I genuinely have not found a book of hers that I did not enjoy.

Oddly, I was reading about Diana only the other day on Neil Gaiman's site—and today Neil's own obituary for Diana Wynne Jones has appeared.
As an author she was astonishing. The most astonishing thing was the ease with which she'd do things (which may be the kind of thing that impresses other writers more than it does the public, who take it for granted that all writer are magicians.But those of us who write for a living know how hard it is to do what she did). The honest, often prickly characters, the inspired, often unlikely plots, the jaw-dropping resolutions.

(She's a wonderful author to read aloud, by the way, as I discovered when reading her books to my kids. Not only does she read aloud beautifully, but denouments which seemed baffling read alone are obvious and elegantly set up and constructed when read aloud. "Children are much more careful readers than adults," she'd say. "You don't have to repeat everything for children. You do with adults, because they aren't paying full attention.")

Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest writer & the finest friend. I miss you.

I do miss her, very much. I have some wonderful friends. I have people in my life who are brilliant, and people who are colourful, and people who are absolutely wonderful, and who make the world better for their being in it. But there was only one Diana Wynne Jones, and the world was a finer one for having her in it.

Diana Wynne Jones lived her life to the full, enjoying herself immensely—and enriching the lives of thousands of readers, young and old.

Truly, a sad day for British literature.

RIP Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 - 26 March 2011).

UPDATE: FlipC delivers his own eloquent eulogy...
When I first moved to Stourport, and thus gained easier access to the public library, my first forays into the fantasy genre was DWJ; If memory serves—Archer's Goon. I've never looked back since.

Here was an author who didn't write down to me, didn't condescend. Her plots were complicated and forced you to pay attention to what you were reading; and her characters were believable; acting and reacting in ways you could understand. She didn't ram home the differences in her worlds she simply worked them into the story in such a way that you would happily accept this situation as just that which was normal.

She took you by the hand and led you into a strange world and let you do the pointing, gaping and staring.

There's few authors who can do that, and now there's one less.



Gronk said...

That is very sad news. Time to reread Wilkins' Tooth ...

FlipC said...

The next book on my to re-read list was the Dark Lord of Derkholm and in the past I've loaned out Chrestomanci and Archer's Goon to my young cousin who enjoyed both and got him reading more of her work.

I've got to agree with you DK; I'm not one to mourn celebrity either, but this is a real loss.

witchibus said...

Only just spotted this. Sad news indeed, a spectacular author. I've lost count of how many people I've recommended her to, following your recommendation to me a few years ago.

jacqui said...

I just read Neils wonderful words, thanks for the link. Time to re-read. I always loved her and through words written here will now
truly remember her.
a million condolences to family and friends and fellow readers