It’s Diana Wynne Jones month over at We Be Reading. When Diana passed away two years ago, I considered writing something about what her books meant to me, but I was too despondent, and in the end, just read the many amazing tributes to her by other people (such as Neil Gaiman). But I do need to express what I owe to her, hence this post.
I became a fan of Studio Ghibli and Hayao Miyazaki when I was in high school, after Spirited Away came out. When I heard about his next movie, Howl’s Moving Castle, and that it was based on a book, I figured I had better check the book out first. The next time I was at my local Barnes and Noble, I found the book, by someone I’d never heard of before (I know, scandalous) and opened it at random.
“As the million soft echoes died, Howl and the scarecrow were left thoughtfully facing one another across a pile of bones.”
I knew immediately I had to find out how the story got to that point.
Howl’s Moving Castle became one of my favorite books and is still one of my “comfort reads.” I devoured the Chrestomanci series next, as well as the sequel to Howl, Castle in the Air. I couldn’t understand how every single book was comprised of such utter perfection. I read Fire and Hemlock, which I didn’t completely understand at the time, and Hexwood, which was so convoluted, confusing and complicated that of course I adored it (it also has one of my favorite anti-heroes of all time). I read Eight Days of Luke and was inspired by the creative reimagining of old Norse myths. I read Power of Three and was amazed at what a writer can do with point-of-view limitations to tell an old story in a completely new way. I read Dogsbody and The Homeward Bounders and cried over them. I read many of Diana’s short stories and, even when I didn’t love them, exactly, was amazed at the way she tells stories as if they’re standing on their head. I read Dark Lord of Derkholm, and have never looked at epic fantasy the same way again. (I could probably write pages on how that novel is a far better critique of epic fantasy than A Game of Thrones, in pretty much every way and on every level, but I will refrain.)
Every single one of her stories that I’ve read have affected the way I read, the way I write, and the way I look at the world. I don’t care if that’s trite or clichéd because it is completely true. The way she twists stories, looks at them from a different angle or gives you something unexpected, made me look at all other stories differently, too. It’s like an exercise in looking at everything upside down and contrariwise. Because of that, Diana Wynne Jones expanded my reading repertoire in many directions, as well. Fire and Hemlock made me interested in fairy tales, Hexwood in Arthur tales, Eight Days of Luke in Norse tales, and Howl’s Moving Castle made me interested in John Donne and English poets. Because of authors like her (Tolkien is another), I developed a relationship with words and stories and communication that will last my lifetime.
But that’s not all her books have done for me personally. No matter how sad or dark they can be in parts, her stories always emphasize the incredible power and importance of kindness. Her books make me laugh much more often than they make me cry, and there is always a kind moment even when a situation is grim or a character is feeling discouraged or helpless. There are unkind or evil characters in her books (they reflect reality) but they don’t stop with the “Life is Dark so Deal With It.” The characters in them always persist and endure and find other people who are kind and compassionate (as well as goofy or strange or flawed).
In conclusion: I’m in love with Diana Wynne Jones’ work and I don’t care who knows it. Thank you for everything, Diana.