On Saturday, March 26, the world of fantasy lost a masterful storyteller-Diana Wynne Jones. She was the author of numerous works for children and young adults and received a number of awards, including the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Her novel Fire and Hemlock was on the 2005 PPYA Gateway to Faerie list and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland was on the 2007 PPYA list What’s So Funny?
I first read her books as an adult. I hadn’t thought of myself as much of a fantasy reader (oh except for fairies, time travel, and light magic), so had never thought to try one of her books. Then I read the Dark Lord of Derkholm.
So funny! So clever! And, despite the cover with the looming horned creature, not scary! The premise-that tourist groups visited a magical world just to have the experience, while those who lived in the magic world all had to constantly act as stock fantasy characters-was at once both funny and adventuresome. It felt like reading a wonderful fantasy while having the author give you a great big wink that she was in on what makes a good fantasy and poking a little bit of fun at it. I worried not enough people knew about this great book and booktalked it every chance I got. And then, of course, I started reading her other books. The Chronicles of Chrestomanci includes several different books set in an alternate world filled with magic. Most appealing of all of them, to me, was Witch Week. Students at a school and they have witchcraft abilities? Count me in. Like many other librarians, this was a go to book to recommend during the height of Harry Potter popularity. I always wanted to point out to the kids that this book actually came first!
But I knew that within the covers was bound to be a funny magical world, and it did not disappoint. The cranky wizard Howl is a wonderful character-grumpy, flustered, but actually good hearted. His castle does actually move around, which is an extremely bizarre thing to imagine. In 2004 Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki created an animated film based on the book. When I read the book it was so very British in my imagination(all tea kettles and hearths and fairy tales) that it was hard to imagine how it would be as Japanese animation. In a word-wonderful! In fact, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Nominated Feature.
Jones’s unique voice and wicked sense of humor in the world of fantasy will certainly be missed.
Sarah Debraski, currently reading Started Early, Took My Dog
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