Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Diana Wynne Jones

It seems my main blog site might be about to give up the ghost, as the site is down more than up these days. I'll be transferring lots of posts over to my other blogs from that one. This is one of those.

Finally. I am finally back on the site here, and I hope the connection will last long enough for me to finally introduce one more friend before I move on to other things.

I was first introduced to Diana Wynne Jones when I was doing my masters' thesis. The topic for that paper was reader response theory, using the Harry Potter series as a sort of case study. I did a large amount of reading about the specifics of reader response theory, and also about the genre of fantasy literature, especially that written for teens and preteens. It was then that one of my professors introduced me to Diana Wynne Jones.

Jones studied under C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and has since become a prolific writer of fantasy books. I have about 35 of her books on my shelf (not exaggerating; I counted), including one collection of fantasy short stories that she edited. I've also got a book of critical essays about Jones's work. I think a read through the write ups at Amazon about that particular text provides a helpful insight into Jones's work and her perceived place in the world of fantasy and speculative fiction, at least as viewed by some critics. I think, at the very least, that Jones's work will be recognized by anyone who encounters it as a body of literature that has had a clear impact on subsequent series, particularly the Harry Potter books. At the same time, the influence of Lewis and Tolkien on Jones is plain enough to see, and I love what she has done in the way of taking that tradition and making it pretty much her own.

Jones has a real knack for creating parallel universes (um, or should I say multiverses, as she likes to say?), and the worlds of possibilty about which she speculates are truly magical. I don't suppose I have met another writer who so easily appeals simultaneously to my "silly" side, the sense of wonder and all, and also to the scholarly side who has an appreciation of "the greats" in serious literature. Whether creating a story structured around a John Donne poem, or whether putting together a tale of Romeo and Juliet in Fantasyland, with all of the conventions of the genre that implies, Jones weaves the two worlds together beautifully. And her play with words (such as the multiverse mentioned above, or one of her title characters called "Chrestomanci," which invokes so many possibilities for word play) is a clear precursor to J. K. Rowling's fun with the language in her series (things like the Mirror of Erised or the pensieve). Jones, in many ways, strikes me as more subtle than Rowling with her wit, but equally witty, all the same.

It is hard to choose a favourite of Jones's novels. Each has their charm. I love the Chrestomanci series, and, it being the most obvious link to the Harry Potter series (it is a wizarding school for teens... and this series was begun in the 1970s), this was the first of Jones's works I encountered. I found many other very fun works over time. I immediately fell in love with A Tale of Time City and Dogsbody (where she used the "Sirius" connection for her dog story long before Black appeared in the Potter series). It was later that I read Homeward Bounders, which probably has ended up winning my heart over as my favourite of her books. It is a tale of hope, and the anchor that hope provides for us. It is a rich, tightly woven story, and I love all the allusions in it to other rich and deeply meaningful myths and stories. It is one of the most profound books of it's genre that I've ever read. I have given copies to the children of some of my overseas friends here, those who are growing up in a culture not their own, because I think this book is one that has much to say to teens who find themselves in that situation.

One additional thing that I found out when I began reading Jones's work extensively is that we are co-fans of another of my favourite writers, Geraldine Harris. A friend introduced me to Harris about the same time my professor introduced me to Jones. I was thrilled that I could introduce her, in turn, to Jones. It was almost like joining this ever-widening community of readers and writers who all had an appreciation for the same sort of things in life and literature. In fact, it just so happens that my copy of Harris's series has a blurb written by Jones on the back cover. And I later learned that Jones has elsewhere expressed admiration for Harris's work, and vice versa. I believe that one has a short story in an anthology that the other edited, but I forget which is which, and I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy of the anthology.

At any rate, I probably could not have found an author who suits my tastes any better than Jones does, and especially not one who is so prolific. She can write across a fairly wide range, and write very well. It is always a pleasure to read her work. She doesn't have a single novel that's been a miss for me yet, and with 35 of them on my shelf, that is saying something.

Jones has the quick wit of J. K. Rowling, the wry humour of Jasper Fforde, the ability to weave together a convincing fantastic tale that Geraldine Harris has, and a rich immersion in all that is high-brow and literary that can match Edwin Morgan. At the same time, she can make all of it her own, remaking it into something new by viewing it through her own unique lenses, much as Heiner Müller does.

How can I not love her work?

The entire entry in The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales on Diana Wynne Jones can be read here

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