May 7th, 2012


Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

This is the tribute I wrote for Sharyn November's Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones Tumblr page.  It went up today, and you can read it here with the pretty picture of the cover of The Pinhoe Egg (and a link to SBP so you can buy The Freedom Maze, if you should be so moved).  But I thought I'd just reproduce it here, because otherwise I'll lose it, and I'm fond of it, even if I couldn't find The Pinhoe Egg on the shelf (somebody must have moved it), and was forced (!) to read The Magicians of Caprona instead.

Following in Diana’s Footsteps

I can’t remember the first Diana Wynne Jones book I read.  I suspect, from the age of the book and its well-thumbed aspect, that it was Cart and Cwidder.  But The Magicians of Caprona is almost as decrepit.  As for Fire and Hemlock, the words have been practically read off the page, but then I taught it, and that’s always hard on a book.

In any event, it was a clear case of Love At First Read.  Diana’s prose is deceptively simple, like a mill pond whose clear, brown water hides depths teeming with fish and lily-roots and water witches and things with far too many teeth.  Her characters are instantly memorable, and her invention never flags as she explores plot twists like Christopher Chant exploring parallel realities.

I wished I could write like that.

Then, some time in the mid-80’s I met her, and decided that I wanted to BE like that.  Which is to say, wry, warm, generous, and attentive to everything that was going on around her, because (properly viewed) it was Bound To Be Useful.

Both wishes, of course, are functionally impossible.  We are who we are, and cannot be otherwise.  But we can certainly choose our influences, and Diana is definitely one of mine (along with C.S. Lewis, George Eliot, Georgette Heyer, and Kenneth Grahame).  I spent many happy hours studying the underlying structure of Fire and Hemlock, the characterization of the Chrestomanci books, the complex card-tricks that are Howl’s Moving Castle and The Time of the Ghost.  No matter how many times I read one of her books, I am always, always astonished anew at her way with a sentence, her wit, and the generosity of heart that allowed her to clearly love even the most evil and limited of her characters.  Her stamp is on Changeling and The Magic Mirror of the Mermaid Queen, but is even more strongly on my current WIP, The Evil Wizard’s Apprentice which (like many of her most beloved books) is about a boy learning about magic and its responsibilities.

And now I think I’ll go re-read The Pinhoe Egg.