I was truly saddened to read that Diana Wynne Jones passed away on March 26th. I came across this news via the internet; as a matter of fact, I read about it on a book blog.
I first discovered DWJ about 15 years ago when my daughter asked me to buy her a copy of Witch Week. Of course I read it myself. It was right up my alley, being both a children’s book and one having to do with magic. This was around the time that Harry Potter was catching on in a big way, and I wondered if JK Rowling had read the Chrestomanci series. Both series have a few things in common. For instance, both are set in a world where magic is an accepted part of life. Some people are born with magical ability, while others are not. And those who do have it have to be carefully trained in its proper use, so they don’t endanger themselves or anyone else.
Anyway, I went on to read everything by DWJ that I could get my hands on, and I have re-read much of it many times.
Jones has been a major figure in the sci fi / fantasy literature world for a long time, and a lot of people are in mourning right now. The most emotional reminiscence / celebration of her life that I’ve seen so far was written by Neil Gaiman http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2011/03/being-alive.html . Gaiman was a personal friend of DWJ for many years, and at various points she seemed to serve as his mentor, mother, critic and muse.
The Guardian published an obituary ( http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/mar/27/diana-wynne-jones-obituary) that did a good job of putting Jones' body of work into its proper context. The obit also pointed out that Jones’ early life experiences contributed to her rare ability to convey the feelings of a child who has been abandoned, neglected, and left to fend for himself. Not because the adults in his life are evil or cruel, but because they’re too selfish and self-absorbed to remember that he is there. Despite the fact that many of her child protagonists are without an adult to care for them in the way that every child deserves to be cared for, they're still resilient and capable of figuring things out for themselves. Jones herself discussed this aspect of her life in detail in an autobiographical sketch that was published on her official website (here it is: http://www.leemac.freeserve.co.uk/autobiog.htm ) It’s well worth a look, if you’re interested in how she came to write the kinds of characters she is famous for. She also talks about her childhood encounters with two legendary giants of the children’s literature world, Arthur Ransome and Beatrix Potter, both of whom apparently hated children!
I’m not going to review any of Jones’ books now because I’m about to go on a DWJ reading binge and I’ll probably re-read most of them, or at least my favorites. So I’ll save the reviews for later.
For right now I just want to do homage, so I'll simply list what in my opinion are her best.
And finally, here is another link, this one to an real live scholarly paper written by Deborah Kaplan and published in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. With footnotes and works cited. It's rather interesting in a geeky sort of way. http://www.suberic.net/~deborah.kaplan/JFA.21_2.kaplan.pdf
But Diana didn’t take herself that seriously; she possessed humor and modesty and she was a down-to-earth person. You can tell this much from her writing.