The Chronicles of Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones involve parallel universes, magic, and cats. Is it any wonder that I promptly read the first four books one after the other, many years ago? Diana often wrote about parallel universes, a subject I often like in fiction, be it in novels, in films, or on TV. (Can you imagine seeing her books in the home Walter and Peter Bishop of the TV show Fringe? How cool would that be?)
When I first read The Dalemark Quartet, I was curled up in a chair at my mom's workplace, patiently waiting for her shift to end. (This was a common occurrence, my reading and waiting.) The Dalemark Quartet transported me into a world of music and spies.
I recently asked other bloggers and authors what their favorite Diana Wynne Jones books were, and here's what they said:
My favorite Diana Wynne Jones book is] FIRE & HEMLOCK - I'll be posting about it (here) but mostly the message of finding your way & being brave.
- Colleen Mondor, author of The Map of My Dead Pilots
I don't even know where to begin! Here's the very long post I wrote when she died. And here's probably the most question-answering quote (okay, two paragraphs) out of it: "But reading DWJ's writing is different than reading other brilliant writers, too. Other brilliant writers, I read and think, "What an amazing book, I will never be able to write anything that good, I should just give up now." With Jones, I read and ... don't think anything about how my abilities compare to anyone else's at all. Instead, the floodgates of my imagination open, and I am suddenly seeing stories in everything again, hearing characters come to life in my head, THINKING LIKE A WRITER instead of like a wannabe-writer. I connect to her odd outlook on the world. It makes me feel like I have something worth writing about after all.
See, here's the difference between her and most people. See, most people will sit around a living room and maybe notice a unique piece of artwork, the brand name of the TV, whatever. An observant person might look at a pile of cushions on a chair and say, "Hey, that chair looks like it has a face." An IMAGINATIVE person (I dare put myself in this category) might say, "and it looks EXCEEDINGLY bad-tempered and grouchy for a chair." But DIANA WYNNE JONES would look at that chair and say "I AM SO WRITING A STORY ABOUT HOW THAT BAD-TEMPERED CHAIR PERSON COMES TO LIFE AND WREAKS HAVOC!" and we end up with the first story in her Stopping for a Spell collection. NOBODY ELSE WOULD HAVE WRITTEN THAT STORY. BUT SHE DID BECAUSE SHE'S AWESOME."
Technically, I discovered her three times. Apparently I read The Lives of Christopher Chant as a child but then forgot about it entirely until I picked it up again as an adult and realized I'd read it before. Then, as an adult, I read The Tough Guide to Fantasyland and loved it. But I remember looking at the name "Diana Wynne Jones" and feeling that it was one of the most famous names in the world of fantasy lit, so therefore I assumed I must have read SOMETHING by her in my life, but I couldn't remember what. Then, when House of Many Ways came out, I kept reading all these glowing reviews that kept referring to the ever-well-loved Howl and I said "Who IS this Howl and why have I not read anything about him before?" so I checked out Howl's Moving Castle and fell immediately deeply in love. With Sophie, actually. Halfway through Castle In the Air (which I naturally picked up next) I already decided I'd found a new Favorite Author Ever (for my list of Favorite Authors Ever).
Speaking of which, Howl's Moving Castle is one of my examples of a book adaptation which did NOT work for me as a fan of the book, completely on the grounds that Howl's character was so completely different between the two versions. I had no problem with the rest of the movie. I loved the castle. I thought the plot changes and conglomerations of secondary characters made sense. But you CAN'T take one of the most unique and interesting characters in literature and MAKE HIM BORING like that. I just couldn't get past that to enjoy the movie as a separate entity!
I could chat forever on this subject!
- Amy M. Weir aka rockinlibrarian
I'll be writing about this in a little more detail for our post at Finding Wonderland, but I'll always remember when I was first introduced to DWJ's books by my best friend in the 6th grade, who was also a voracious reader. It started with A Tale of Time City and Witch Week, followed by the other Chrestomanci books and Howl's Moving Castle. I dropped off a bit after that, but I have had so much joy and excitement over the past ten years or so in catching up on the ones I never got a chance to read. It started even before I got hooked on writing YA, when a couple of surplus copies of Charmed Life and Lives of Christopher Chant fell fortuitously into my hands, and happily, the catching up continues even now. When I'm done....then, of course, I'll joyfully re-read them!
I actually have mixed feelings about her books. I was in my late teens when I first picked up Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and then Dark Lord of Derkholm. What I liked about Tough Guide was that when I finished I felt as though I had completed a fantasy novel. I read Chronicles of Chrestomanci but disliked it after a while - I thought the stories became repetitively similar and just too weird with the world hopping. My favorite is Castle in the Air. I love the elaborate compliments, the Middle Eastern flair, and the complex, wild finale without having to deal with whiny, cocky Howl, which can be frustrating to read if it goes on too long.
- Elaine Ziman
I don't remember when I first read Diana Wynne Jones but I have been a huge fan for decades - probably 3 or 4. My favorite of her books is The Lives of Christopher Chant. I have read it multiple times. I lost count after 18.
My first experience with DWJ was discovering Witch Week. Soon after that, I read Homeward Bounders and just this past week, I dashed through Earwig and the Witch.
There may be a DWJ book out there that I haven't read. I WILL find it and read it. I just wish there could be more. We lost a huge talent when Diana died last year.
What's your favorite Diana Wynne Jones book? Leave a comment below!
Follow the Diana Wynne Jones blog tour Tumblr. Click here for the complete tour listings.
Also check out Wikipedia's bibliography of Diana Wynne Jones, and Judith Ridge's essay, How Diana Wynne Jones changed my life. (In Memoriam)
Firebird has reissued three DWJ staples: DOGSBODY, FIRE AND HEMLOCK, and A TALE OF TIME CITY. To quote the publisher, "[E]ach is the definitive edition, and each has an intro by a star - DOGSBODY/Neil Gaiman, A TALE OF TIME CITY/Ursula Le Guin, FIRE AND HEMLOCK/Garth Nix. FIRE AND HEMLOCK also features the essay 'The Heroic Ideal,' which DWJ wrote about the writing of F&H; it has never before appeared alongside the book), or THE TOUGH GUIDE TO FANTASYLAND (the Firebird edition is also definitive, entirely redesigned, with new art and material), the novella THE GAME, or her final book, EARWIG AND THE WITCH."