Diana Wynne Jones' Magic Words

Photo of Diana Wynne Jones
Category: Reading

My last blog contained both a spoiler and exclusivity warning – if you hadn’t come across Game of Thrones before you were unlikely to find the blog either interesting or amusing. I’m afraid I’m coming to realise that my blog readership must be a niche market, as the following will probably only appeal to those as fanatical about the children’s fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones as I am.

I quite recently acquired a Kindle, and if I am a typical Kindle user, they must be doing wonders for book sales. Previously, if I spotted a book I coveted priced at over £10 I would put it on my Christmas list. Now I buy it immediately with one-click ordering.  Reflections by Diana Wynne Jones was one of my recent purchases.  It’s a poignant book, as it was put together by Jones and her agent in the knowledge that Diana didn’t have long to live, and was published after her death.  Some of the essays are reminiscent of reading Diana’s books in that, although you are enjoying the process immensely, you can only just grasp the meaning, in a sideways kind of way, if you think incredibly hard about it. I definitely felt this reading her essay on narrative in The Lord of the Rings. Her writing style is very simple, but her analysis is so sharply intelligent you need time to take in the weight of insight contained on each page.

I have puzzled for years about the meaning of Fire and Hemlock, which I think is one of her best books. And in this collection she explains that it contains elements of Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer, The Odyssey, T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets ... no wonder my then-12-year-old brain felt taxed! But this didn’t take away from the sheer pleasure I experienced reading this book, and this is one of the recurring arguments throughout Reflections. Children don’t need things simplified. They don’t mind being made to think. And, as my own mother always claimed, the best children’s books are for adults as well.

One of the anecdotes which appears intermittently in this last collection of essays, is that Diana Wynne Jones laughed so hard writing some of her books that she fell off her chair. I have to confess to a similar moment reading this book, when she likens Andre Agassi to her hero in Howl’s Moving Castle.  This may be hilarious (you will probably only find it so if you have read Howl’s Moving Castle) but the message, as with any of her writing, is profound. A hero doesn’t just inhabit myths – he/she is alive today. A contemporary hero can be a tennis player. There is such truth in that! After all, I felt the same type of euphoria when Andy Murray won the US open as I do when I finish a Diana Wynne Jones book (no matter how many times I’ve read it before). This is where I think Diana Wynne Jones’ true talent lies. Her books are about people who come to understand themselves and their capabilities better, and therefore the world and the people around them. In short, she helps us appreciate the magic of the everyday – the magic of life. And what more inspiring message can you expect from a book?

Anna Gibbons

Anna Gibbons is Scottish Book Trust's Early Years Programme Manager.