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Monica Edinger

Monica Edinger

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Diana Wynne Jones: An Appreciation

Posted: 03/28/11 11:04 AM ET

One of the great, great, great writers of fantasy is no longer with us. For so many of us who love this genre, there was no one more esteemed than Diana Wynne Jones. Not only did she explore a wide range of the genre, but she did so happily, wittily, intelligently, and most uniquely. There was and will be no one like her. I haven't read all that she wrote, but those stories of hers that I know and love tend to involve bumblings and mix-ups, domestic complications, cranky yet endearing magicians, and a completely original and wonderful view of the world. In her stories, the fate of the universe may be at stake, but humanity still blunders about. It is this endless imagination, creativity, wit, and warmth that make her one of the greats in my pantheon of writers of any genre.

I'm sure there will be many more articulate appreciations to come, but for those unfamiliar with the brilliant work of this woman, here are a few of my favorites.

For whatever reason one of my go-to comfort books is Howl's Moving Castle. There is that marvelous floating castle filled with the sort of magical domesticity that Jones excels at. There is a heroine I completely identified with --- capable Sophie who spends most of the story transformed into an old woman. There is the wonderful Calcifer, a fire demon, and of course the remarkable wizard, Howl, one of the great romantic heroes of fantasy literature. Smart, irritable, and ultimately capable too, Howl is a brilliant and utterly Jones hero. The plot is also typical Jones, complicated and intriguing and difficult to summarize so I won't bother. Instead I urge you to read the book for yourself. The great Japanese filmmaker, Hayao Miyazaki, made a film version which is gorgeous, but very much its own thing, distinct from Jones' book in numerous ways. There are also two subsequent books with many of the same characters, Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways.

I'm just a tad too old to have encountered Jones as a child so it was as a young teacher that I first did, by way of her divine Chrestomanci books. While there is a chronology to the stories (the first being Charmed Life), I read them out of order and it mattered not a whit. They are based around Chrestomanci, a powerful enchanter, and often set in his castle where a sort of school for enchanters exists (long, mind you, before Hogwarts existed). Also set in a magical educational environment are The Dark Lord of Derkholm and The Year of the Griffin, both of which show Jones at her most playful when it comes to fantasy land tourists. And since tourists need guidebooks, Jones saw to it that there was one -- the hilarious and spot-on The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.

I love reading aloud to my class "Chair Person" and "The Four Grannies" from Stopping for a Spell and loved, for their similar domesticity The Ogre Downstairs, Archer's Goon, and Eight Days of Luke. Hexwood, more science-fiction-y than many of her works, is terrific too. And I love knowing that there are still many I have not read. It is reassuring that this extraordinary writer will stay alive for readers through her most wonderful and wondrous works.

Also at educating alice

 

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