Saturday, March 26, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones, 1932-2011

Diana Wynne Jones 1932-2011

Diana Wynne Jones, British YA fantasy author, has just died. I don’t have any details yet, though I’m sure they will begin popping up over the next couple of days.

I began collecting and reading her books back in the early 1980’s and have virtually all of them. Aside from all the fantasy sets and stand-alones, there’s the “Tough Guide to Fantasyland”, an excellent primer for fledgling fantasy authors (and readers) on many of the pitfalls in genre-spinning, set up as a kind of fantasy adventure. People may know her best for “Howl’s Moving Castle” because it was turned into a film a few years ago.

The World Fantasy Con gave her a Lifetime Achievement Award a few years ago, but that did nothing to slow down her literary output! J She won the Mythopoeic Award for the Dalemark books. Alas, I’ve never finished reading these—somewhere in the midst of Diana’s lengthy career I just plain ran out of time to read--that includes reading my favorite authors. (This is exacerbated by the fact that I am an incredibly slow reader, so once I got behind I’ve lost all hope of catching up.) BTW, she was also nominated for the Mythopoeic on several other occasions.

I was introduced to Diana Wynne Jones via her Chrestomanci series, which is/was still ongoing at the time of her death. These are set in a universe where magicians perform real magic, generally divorced from the forces of good or evil. However, when someone steps over the edge, there’s the head of the magicians to set things straight—and provide yet another exciting and often humorous adventure. I particularly enjoyed "The Magicians of Caprona", which reminded me a bit of a comic light opera. Actually, I recommended this to a part-time opera singer with whom I used to work and she said she enjoyed it.

Probably my favorite books are not as well known today. There’s “Archer’s Goon”, in which amongst other things a large kind of half human, half-troll takes up residence in a household, without really explaining why. Chaos erupts in the house and spills over into the street and through the town, until the hysterical reason for all the disruption becomes clear toward the end of the story.

My other favorite is “The Ogre Downstairs” which sounds like the same book, doesn’t it? Far from! A blended family courtesy of a marriage between a widow with children and a widower who also has children is the driving force here. The woman’s children refer to their new step-father as “the ogre”. (Hint: he neither looks nor acts like one.) In the course of the story the children come into possession of a very special and perhaps mischievous chemistry set. Thanks to the property of the materials and the experiments suggested in the box, hysterical, dangerous and just plain loony situations and adventures erupt. One of my favorite parts involves dust bunnies coming to life and being hunted and eaten by toffee candies which are rather like panthers. The toffee panthers, liking warmth like most cats, tend to want to take naps on the heat radiators and sometimes melt themselves to death, making for messes that are fairly difficult to explain to a grown up.

I had the pleasure of meeting Diana Wynne Jones at an early-mid 1980’s convention. Sadly, I’m not sure which one it was but it would have been either a Darkover when they were still held in Wilmington DE, or else a PhilCon in Philadelphia. Ms. Jones told us many fascinating stories and read from her works. She talked about her sons and I remember her saying that while she had trouble with technology including machines like cars, he was very good when it came to fixing them—which worked out fairly well for her.

Well, she wasn’t kidding about the peculiar tech problems she had. Picture this—honestly just as it happened. As at most conventions, the authors, editors, agents and publishers would sit usually in groups of 5 at a raised table at one end of the room for panel discussions. In most cases, as in this case, there would be two microphones on the table which the guests would shift around so that the current speaker could be heard. The microphones worked quite well for everyone except Diana. Whenever she so much as touched one, out of the speakers in the room would come very loud Christmas Carols. (It was late November and this is what the host hotel was playing in the hallways and restaurants.) It didn’t matter which microphone she touched. It just kept happening. No carols came forth for any of the other speakers. All we could do was go “Whoa!”, and all Diana could do was not touch a mike and speak very loudly.

C. S. Lewis said once that in Heaven all is silence or music. (Hell is all noise.) I sincerely hope that Heaven’s music flows around its denizens without the benefit of tech.

R.I.P. Diana.


From another site:
Diana Wynne Jones was born in London in 1934 and studied at Oxford with both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. In 2007, she received the World Fantasy Award for Lifetime Achievement.


My Partial Bibliograpy:

A Sudden Wild Magic

Archer’s Goon

Aunt Maria

Black Horses for the King

Castle in the Air


Chrestomanci cycle (includes Conrad’s Fate, Mixed Magics, Charmed Life,

The Magicians of Caprona)

Witch Week UK US

The Lives of Christopher Chant

Dalemark Quartet (includes Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, The Spellcoats, The Crown of Dalemark)


Enchanted Glass

Fire and Hemlock

Eight Days of Luke


House of Many Ways

Howl’s Moving Castle / Howl Tales

Power of Three

Puss in Boots

Stopping for a Spell

Time of the Ghost

The Four Grannies

The Game

The Homeward Bounders

The Merlin Conspiracy

The Ogre Downstairs

The Year of the Griffin / Dark Lord of Derkholm

Tough Guide to Fantasyland

Unexpected Magic (sh stories)

Who Got Rid of Angus Flint?

Wild Robert

Wilkin’s Tooth

Witch’s Business

Other sites with information


J Scalzi’s blog:

SF Site:

Official Websites:

Many Worlds of DWJ:



  1. Thanks so much for posting about this, Sherry! DWJ was one of my favorite authors - so much so, that when I was in the UK in pre-internet days I kept checking every bookstore for her books (since so many of them weren't available in the US). I'll miss looking for a new book from her every year. She had a unique way of looking at the world and depicting it in her books.

  2. Thanks for posting, Kathy. A lot of us are going to miss her and pine for new books.
    (I hope it's true that her son is a writer.)