The public library has put up a RIP Diana Wynne Jones sign and a display of her books. I saw it yesterday and felt sad about her death all over again.
She’s up there with Jane Austen and P G Wodehouse as an author whose books I must always have with me, even when I’m living in five different Vancouver apartments in the space of a year, or emigrating to Costa Rica. I spent years haunting remainder tables and those book sales that take place in drafty warehouses and random empty stores and sell a totally haphazard assortment of books that look to have fallen off the back of a truck somewhere, looking for titles I hadn’t read and managed to build up a fairly complete collection of her pre-2000 work.
Then J K Rowling came along and changed everything. Diana Wynne Jones’s publishers scrambled her back catalogue into print to take advantage of the sudden enthusiasm for kids’ fantasy. I don’t know why her books were out of print in the first place. She’s not perhaps the most widely-known author, but she’s much admired and her readers are a devoted bunch. She’s certainly a better writer than Rowling – more inventive, more clever, and she wrote beautifully (no stumbling over infelicitous sentences in her books) – but she’s a harder writer to read as well. Her books have dizzyingly complex plots, a sense of life’s difficulty, and real thematic heft. I once gave Archer’s Goon to a friend who didn’t like it because she couldn’t tell who was good and who was bad. She was looking for black and white morality and Wynne Jones gave her shadows. And I’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle many times, but have only once finished it feeling that I’d really gotten down into its deepest depths. This is a good thing – I don’t like thin one-dimensional books – I want some weight to them.
I’m so much looking forward to sharing the books with Petra. I hope she loves them as much as I have. And I envy her the chance to encounter them when she’s still a child.