Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Late, and Always Great, Diana Wynne Jones

I discovered Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011) in her twilight years. I think I bough Howl’s Moving Castle within the last ten years. But that started a flurry of reading and book buying to bring me up to speed.

Diana Wynne Jones was an English writer who wrote many novels for kids. Howl’s Moving Castle, the Chrestomanci series, and Dark Lord of Darkholm are just a few of the popular titles by this author.

Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) was written at the suggestion of a young fan who wanted a story about a moving castle. Sophie, the main character, must find the secret to breaking the curse on her which is hidden in a castle that is always on the move. Meanwhile, Howl, the wizard of the castle, is busy trying to break his own curse by finding a girl to fall in love with him. The sequels to this book are House of Many Ways (2009) and Castle in the Air (2012). Howl’s Moving Castle was made into an animated film in 2004 and nominated for the Academy Award.

The Crestomanci novels (1977-1988) include Charmed Life, The Magicians of Caprona, Witches Week, Conrad’s Fate, Pinhoe Egg, The Lives of Christopher Chant. These are tales that take place in the multiple parallel universes of Twelve Related Worlds. Witches, karma, enchanters, magice run amok – it’s all here.

Her Dalemark quartet consists of Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, The Spellcoats, and The Crown of Dalemark. It begins with traveling musicians meeting a mysterious stranger, take us through the collapse of a tyrranical government, and ends with the question of true freedom. The fourth book, published in 1995, won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award selection for children.

One of my favorites though is Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998). This book, along with its sequel, Year of the Griffin (2000), and its companion book, Tough Guide to Fantasyland: The Essential Guide to Fantasy Travel (2006) pokes fun at the formulaic fantasy-sword-and-sorcery type epic. Derkholm has been reduced to taking tour groups through its lands as a means to sustain itself, with inhabitants playing their roles. Each tour group gets to slay a dark lord and this year’s dark lord can’t seem to keep his evil forces on track.

Ms. Jones was recognized for her impact on the fantasy genre when she won the Karl Edward Wagner Award in 1999 through the British Fantasy Society. She also received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2007.

Ms. Jones wrote many other stand-alone novels like Hexwood, Dogsbody, and Fire and Hemlock. Her works are often compared to Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman. If you start one, you will want to read them all.

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