Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

For those who haven’t heard, Diana Wynne Jones passed away early yesterday morning, in hospice after a resurgence of illness.

I joined the DWJ mailing list last year, after thinking of writing to her and hearing that she was ill. In August she had stopped chemotherapy and radiation, so it seemed only a matter of time — but through the fall she rallied, seeming to go into remission, and we could subsist in the fantasy that maybe something magical would happen and we wouldn’t lose her at all. But when the message headed just ‘DWJ’ came in yesterday morning, I knew what it was before opening it, and like the day Marion Zimmer Bradley left us years ago, it was as if the world became a little more quiet, a little less bright.

Diana was one of those authors whose work and life loomed so large that it’s difficult to know what could possibly be said about her, other than that if you haven’t read Howl’s Moving Castle or the Chronicles of Chrestomanci you should go out and read them right now. (Those of you who follow “books about gryphons” should absolutely go read all of the Derkholm books right away.) Her work was boundlessly imaginative but warm as a hearth at the same time, and you knew going into one of her stories that even if everything wasn’t quite going to be all right in the end, it would be true.

Howl’s is probably her most well known work, and not just because of Hayao Miyazaki’s transformation of it (which I like more as time goes by, though when it first came out was struck by how very different it was from the Howl I knew). In a way it was like a crystallization of her many stories, intricate and puzzling but wild and beautiful at the same time. And Howl himself is a character for the ages. In him, and in Diana’s other stories, you can see how she is perhaps the only author who could look at J. K. Rowling’s work and say “I think she may have picked up a few things from me”, and make you think — you know, she’s probably right.

Also well known is the Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a classic romp that no fantasy writer or reader should be without. In it you can see her thorough dedication to the cause and craft of fantasy itself. One of the things I have always admired about her was how involved she was in the culture of fantasy, how interactive, how thoughtful. And, as a writer, how she never stopped growing. The Pinhoe Egg came out just a couple of years ago, and it was as bright and heartfelt as anything she wrote two and three decades earlier.

She was one of the great masters, and her magic was a special one. I will miss her.

PS – The Guardian has a thoughtful and excellent obit here:
PPS – And this is beautiful, from Neil:

4 thoughts on “Remembering Diana Wynne Jones”

  1. I saw the anime adaptation of Howl’s Moving Castle and it really moved me, the themes and archetypes really spoke to who I was at the time. I should go read the book I guess!

    Really sorry to hear about her death, but when great people die (the deaths of Robert Anton Wilson and George Carlin were notable events for me) I always reflect that this is how it should be done, and there’s no loss in going out having won the game of your own soul.

    1. Thanks, Patrick, you are completely right. Right now we are grieving, but her life was a triumph and a gift.

      Like I said I’m coming around on Miyazaki’s Howl — I really loved it the last time I watched it. You’re absolutely right about the intricate theme and archetype, which only then started to come through to me. And I have always appreciated that he transformed it, because it would have been less honest of him, in a way, to adhere to her story purely for the sake of doing so. I even knew at the time I first saw it that I could not look clearly at the movie because I loved the book too much. In this, and in her death, I feel like Legolas losing Gandalf — for me the grief is still too near.

  2. Hi Erin:
    It’s always hard when people we admire pass away. It seems that the world has lost out when that happens. You were obviously someone she touched, and that makes you part of her legacy.

    My best wishes.

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