Monday, 28 March 2011

Diana Wynne Jones - In Memoriam

I never met her.  But many of you will know exactly what I mean when I say that in a way, I feel as if I had known her for years.  That mysterious connection between reader and author, between the storyteller and those who love to listen, worked its inextricable magic and linked us forever.  And this feeling is particularly strong when the author concerned is one whose work we first met and loved as children.  I was in my early teens when ‘Wilkins Tooth’ came out in 1973, and I’ve never stopped reading her books from that day to this.

And such wonderful books!  Diana Wynne Jones is – for as Jane Yolen has said, her writing will continue to shine for us – a writer whose warmth of personality fills her work.  Her range was extraordinary.  Sane, witty, exuberant, compassionate, yet also eldritch, eerie, poetic, tragic.  There’s the wild fantasy of the Dalemark Quartet, a world in which the gods come and go in a way that raises the hair on the back of your neck, yet – typically for Diana, a grounded writer if ever there was one – a world full of complex politics, flawed heroes and difficult moral choices.  She understood anger.  She understood grief.  She knew that bad things happen to good people, and good people can do bad things.

Many of her heroes are underdogs, people who feel insignificant and disadvantaged - until under pressure they discover hidden talents, hidden strength.  On the other hand, she also wrote about the responsibilities of power.  In ‘The Lives of Christopher Chant’, she shows us why young Christopher uses his power to help his uncle exploit other people in other worlds – unloved and naïve, he falls for his uncle’s flattery – but his innocence is not really an excuse.  We see that Christopher hasn’t used his intelligence.  When he finally does put two and two together, it is too late for the mermaids.  Christopher feels guilty and he deserves to.  As Chrestomanci, it will be his duty to police the world of magic, to ensure that power is harnessed, not abused.

I don’t know which of her books is my favourite.  There seems to be one for every mood.  It could be ‘The Time of the Ghost’ – a tour de force of such intricate construction that even though I’ve read it countless times I still sometimes can’t remember the identity of the narrator, the poor speechless ghost who goes whirling through the tragi-comic chaos of her past life.  Or it could be ‘The Homeward Bounders’, that wonderful take on the legends of Prometheus, the Flying Dutchman, the Wandering Jew – and on war-gaming – in which displaced Jamie wanders forever between the worlds, trying to get back Home.   Or it could be ‘Dogsbody’, or ‘Eight Days of Luke’, or ‘Drowned Ammet’, or ‘Fire and Hemlock.’

And she was so funny.  Think of the hilarious Sci-fi and Fantasy convention in ‘Deep Secret’ (clearly drawn from life!) and the indispensable ‘Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ which will unerringly lead the would-be author – safe, but goggling – past every one of the innumerable potholes and mantraps on the road to writing a fantasy.

I fancy that Fantasyland has fallen very quiet today.  And that every pennon of every castle, from the Tower of Sorcery to the Dark Citadel, has been lowered to honour the passing of the queen of fantasy.  Diana Wynne Jones, a great lady and a great writer.

6 comments:

Jo Treggiari said...

Such a wonderful blog, Kath! I will miss her very much, and you're right there are some writers we feel we come to know on a deeply personal level, and she was one of them. I am only sorry that there will no more books penned by her but she has certainly left a legacy.

Candy Gourlay said...

Thanks for this post, what a lady!

catdownunder said...

My father, who is not fond of fantasy, called her books "marvellous stuff". She has left a superb legacy for both readers and writers.

Ellen Renner said...

A lovely tribute, Kath. I think many of us felt that deep and personal connection, despite never having met her. Her books were life changing; life enhancing; deeply intelligent and humane. I miss her greatly but her characters still live.

Kate Coombs said...

Well said. It feels "eldritch, eerie, poetic, tragic" to me that she's gone. On top of her wit, there's her humor--just thinking of Archer's Goon makes me smile. And now I think I'll go reread Time of the Ghost.

Katherine Langrish said...

Thankyou for your comment, Kate - and yes, me too!