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The Magical Diana Wynne Jones

by Peter Glassman

Diana Wynne Jones = Magic. To me, that is as basic as 1+1=2. There are few authors who can as easily transport me to worlds of wonder and mystery as Diana Wynne Jones.

Dogsbody GreenwillowIt was in 1978 that a friend who worked at The Science Fiction Shop in New York City (now, alas, long gone) handed me a paperback copy of Dogsbody and said I had to read this author. He was so right! As I read, I found myself transported to a world at once both familiar and totally new. I felt like young Oliver Twist when I reached the book’s end, for all I could think was, “Please, Sir, I want some more.”

Luckily, there was so much more! I next read Charmed Life and discovered Diana’s incredible ability to combine breath-taking excitement with laugh-out-loud humor. And in Power of Three, I discovered Diana’s amazing knack for tricking you into identifying so well with a fantasy character that you began to think of them and their people as “us”— only to discover, when she introduces a human character, that they aren’t “us” at all!

Books of Wonder Greenwillow

By this time I had opened Books of Wonder and was easily able to obtain not only her books that had been published in the US, but also books that were then only available in the UK. I can’t remember exactly what I read next, but it matters little. Each new book was a treasure to be savored, explored, and loved. And, best of all, shared with other readers! From the haunting, mythologically rich Homeward Bounders to the hilarious Witch Week, from the enchanting tales of Dalemark—Cart and Cwidder, Drowned Ammet, and The Spellcoats—to the delightful contemporary fantasy tales of The Ogre Downstairs and Eight Days of Luke, each book was a delicious experience I delighted in.

Diana Wynne Jones 1980s Greenwillow

Diana circa the 1980s.

Then, in 1983, I truly came under Diana Wynne Jones’s spell—for that’s when I had the amazing pleasure of meeting Diana herself. They say it is dangerous to meet your heroes, for they are likely to disappoint you. Nothing could be further from the truth when it came to meeting Diana. She was as magical and delightful as her books! It didn’t take me long to see that the humor, enchantment, and joyous sense of wonder that made her books so irresistible were equally irresistible in her!

The following year, Diana agreed to do a science fiction convention in Pennsylvania, after which she was to come to New York City and do another appearance at Books of Wonder. A few days before she was due in NYC, I received a call from a mutual friend—also a children’s book author—who wanted to know if Diana could stay with my partner James and me for a few days, as she desperately needed to escape the convention. It seems that an overzealous fan had latched on to poor Diana and wouldn’t give her a moment’s peace!

Of course, we said yes. It was very much our pleasure! And what a treat it was to have Diana stay with us. Over those few days we became close friends and shared so many wonderful stories and memories. And she and our dog, Basil, became fast friends as well.

Over the next decade I had the pleasure of Diana’s company many times when she came to New York. As I started to attend the annual antique book fairs in London each June, Diana would try to come up to London from her home in Bristol so we could spend an afternoon or evening together. I particularly remember enjoying a splendid tea with her in the elegant lobby of a Mayfair hotel. Eventually, I took Diana up on her invitation to visit her in Bristol. I journeyed there by rail, enjoying the British countryside, and I was not only met at the station by Diana and her husband, John, but they also treated me to a splendid tour of Bristol’s wonderful and historic sites, each punctuated with a delightful anecdote. I also discovered that Diana is quite the wizard in the kitchen, too. The dinner she made was wonderful and put a lie to all the negative things I’d ever heard about English cooking!

Howl's Moving Castle GreenwillowOf course, Diana has continued to write and create more and more incredible tales. What never ceases to amaze me is how she could go from writing something as hilarious and outrageous as Archer’s Goon (1984) to the enchanting and haunting Fire and Hemlock (1985), only to once again have me laughing aloud again with Howl’s Moving Castle (1986).

Writing about magic, however, may not be the safest of occupations. And I’m not referring to carpal tunnel syndrome or anything like that. It seems that Diana has to be a bit careful about what she writes, for as she told me and later wrote in an autobiographical article, “My books have developed an uncanny way of coming true. The most startling example of this was when I was writing the end of A Tale of Time City. At the very moment when I was writing about all the buildings in Time City falling down, the roof of my study fell in, leaving most of it open to the sky.” Now that’s what I call a cautionary tale!

It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite out of all of Diana’s wonderful books, but if you’re looking to introduce Diana’s work to someone who has never read her before, then there are three titles I always choose. For those who love magic stories with a strong sense of otherworldliness intruding on the here-and-now, Dogsbody is a must. There are passages that still leave me wide-eyed with wonder, while others touch my heart with a gentle ache that only a special few writers can evoke for me. On the other hand, if you know a young Harry Potter fan, you can’t miss with Charmed Life. Chrestomanci is every bit as powerful and magical as Dumbledore, and twice as funny and eccentric! And, I might add, Diana wrote about him twenty-one years before anyone ever heard of Hogwarts. Finally, if you’re thinking of someone who loves the kind of outrageous humor that Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams create, then Archer’s Goon will delight them. Only Diana could come up with seven megalomaniacal wizards vying for control of an English village, all being controlled, blackmailed, or influenced by a wizard who doesn’t even know he’s a wizard!

For more than thirty-five years, Diana Wynne Jones has continued to create tales that stretch, tickle, and challenge our imaginations. She has taken me and thousands upon thousands of other readers on the most extraordinary, magical, unpredictable adventures one could ever hope to discover. If you haven’t read one of her books, then you must, or you’ll never know what I mean. But once you do, you’ll be back for more, and before long you’ll totally understand me when I say that Diana Wynne Jones = Magic. It’s just a fact.

© 2010 by Peter Glassman

Enchanted Glass GreenwillowPeter Glassman used to improve the shelving arrangements at his local bookstore. They took notice and hired him at the age of fifteen. He opened his first bookstore when he was twenty and founded the legendary New York City children’s bookseller Books of Wonder in 1980. Enchanted Glass was published this April. It is Diana Wynne Jones’s first stand-alone novel in seven years.

17 Comments

  1. mwt says:

    W00T!

    All Hail, Diana!

  2. Virginia says:

    Peter,

    Thank you for this terrific post. Hooray for Diana!

  3. Leah Cypess says:

    Yay! I could not agree more. I love all her books, but Dogsbody in particular may be the most perfect book ever written.

  4. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Martha Mihalick. Martha Mihalick said: Did you see today's GWB blog post about the magical Diana Wynne Jones? http://bit.ly/azMIBh [...]

  5. [...] the complete article: The Magical Diana Wynne Jones « Under the Green Willow Bookmark [...]

  6. Elise says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful tribute with us. Ever since I read Charmed Life in 1978 @ age 7, I’ve been DWJ’s devoted fan, seeking her books high and low across the years and miles (until the internet and her ever growing well-deserved fame made it easy). You are so fortunate to have met and become friends with her! Loved your reminiscences of her books, all so different, yet so much her voice, and all so wondrous. Viva Diana! We are so fortunate to be her readers.

  7. Fuse #8 says:

    Now I want to know the name of that “overzealous fan”. My vote? Neil Gaiman. We know he was a puppy dog following her around for a while, and the timing almost perfectly works out. Other guesses?

  8. [...] Case in point, the recent post by Peter Glassman (the Books of Wonder proprietor, doncha know) about Diana Wynne Jones.  Take particular care when he mentions how Diana was being pursued by an “overzealous [...]

  9. Deva Fagan says:

    What a lovely tribute to a fantastic author. Thank you for sharing this!

    DOGSBODY was my first DWJ book too, and I still consider it one of my all-time favorites.

  10. Amy Harlib says:

    Diana Wynne Jones is one of my favorite writers ever. I think I have collected just about everything she has ever written. What an excellent article.

  11. Penina says:

    What a great article! Diana has been my favorite author for practically as long as I can remember. I’m putting together a zine in tribute to her, and if you’d be willing to submit something to it or spread the word, I would be incredibly grateful. The information is here: http://penina.net/dwj/

  12. [...] Fantasy. The Greenwillow blog (Greenwillow is Jones’s US publisher) has some very lovely things to say about her too; and, from 1992 but still ever so true, Orson Scott Card goes on at some [...]

  13. [...] for this imprint to publish Diana Wynne Jones in the United States for more than thirty-five years. Diana Wynne Jones is considered by many to be one of the greatest writers of fantasy for children ever. We will miss [...]

  14. [...] For those of you who have not yet read Diana Wynne Jones, you are in for a treat. My favorite is HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE. Or DOGSBODY. Or any of the Chrestomanci books. In his tribute to Diana Wynne Jones on the Greenwillow blog last year, bookseller Peter Glassman offered an excellent introduction to Diana’s work. You can find that here: http://greenwillowblog.com/?p=1873 [...]

  15. Timothy says:

    Thanks for this! ♥

  16. deborah says:

    beautiful article.
    i’m reading “dogsbody” again. never got over it the first time i read it.

  17. more says:

    more…

    The Magical Diana Wynne Jones « Under the Green Willow…

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