I woke this morning to many people having Twittered in the night that Diana Wynne Jones had lost her battle with cancer. I really can’t tell you how sad I am without resorting to familiar phrases like I-didn’t-kn0w-her-but-her-work-touched-my-life and so-influential and it always seems a little gauche to mourn someone you never met … but DWJ was brilliant and I loved her work. Mostly for young adults, it is not as well-known as it ought to be. It ranges from the hilariously snide (The Tough Guide to Fantasyland) to the devastatingly beautiful (Fire and Hemlock) to the extraordinarily unusual epic (the Dalemark quartet) to the series she was increasingly best-known for, a clever but not difficult series that the Harry Potter generation glommed onto pretty quickly, Chrestomanci.
Her work is so diverse and so good that I’m not sure I can say anything careful and reasoned about it. All I have is a big jumble of memories: The moment when Christopher realises what the strange, fishy packages were. The moment when he faces Tacroy and watches Tacroy lie for him. Strong, subtle, serious moments in a book that does not come across as subtle or serious. Maree and Nick doing the witchy dance on the bridge. Maree and the Thornlady, the hard thing inside her that tells her she isn’t worth it. I so strongly identify with Maree that I probably oughtn’t be able to talk about it in public. What Grundo was doing to Roddy. What Gwendolyn was doing to Cat. What Gammer made her sons do. The flower woman in the hut. Someone in this class is a witch. Sophie and the active voice, what Diane Duane calls the enactive rescension, when saying things makes them so. Howl and his sulks. The bossy princesses. Here Now. Olga’s jinx. Curses made out of orange peel and looking out for Felim. The moment when Elda is carrying Corkoran and realises he is afraid of her. If you took university and plunked it down in the middle of epic fantasy and sent off an impoverished prince and a wealthy but mysterious young woman and a manumitted dwarf and a mixed-race princess with a travelling jinx and another prince being chased by assassins AND A GRIFFIN and then you tried to teach them all how to do magic. Jamie, wandering. What happens when an extremely large man sits down at your kitchen table and refuses to move. What has your family got to do with who you are. What if you were meant to be somebody else. Nice is not good. Kit, falling into the lake. Wandering in a forest forgetting who you are. Mitt, waiting. Watching your father die and nobody seem to care. When you and your siblings don’t look like the people around you and what happens when your village gets a little too close to a warzone and your parents don’t come home. Watching the people you love getting older and older while you stay the same. What happens when the adults around you don’t care about you. Playing with matches. But you wouldn’t believe how lonely you get.
People much smarter than me will be making much more organised, thoughtful, and probably interesting posts. I’ll try to link to them as they come up, so maybe if you haven’t read her before those posts will be more of interest to you. Here’s a start:
John Scalzi on Dogsbody.
The Rejectionist, quoting DWJ herself.
Diane Duane on The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
Debbie Gascoyne on The Ogre Downstairs (and others).
Pandarus on her childhood experiences reading DWJ.
At the end of the day though, I’m just so sad about this. But the loss is much greater for those who know her: for I will be able to revisit her work in the days and years to come. I’m very grateful.