There are days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and almost nothing can make the rest of the day right. Today, was not one of those days, but the first bit of news that came my way threw me off the path of what would have otherwise been a very pleasant Tuesday.

Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 – 26 March 2011), British writer (courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

Diana Wynne Jones passed away just last Saturday at the age of 76. For those who don’t know her, Ms. Jones was one of the greatest children’s fantasy authors who ever lived. She is one of my favorite authors, and the news really saddened me a great deal. Of course, it isn’t the same sort of sadness you experience losing someone you know and love like a family member, a good friend, or even a much-loved pet. In a way though, I feel as if I did know her for I loved all her books; her words have accompanied me from childhood to adulthood, almost as if she actually observed me grow from a nerdy and awkward teenager to a nerdy and awkward adult. (Okay. That was a vain attempt at being funny.) Her stories have brought tears to my eyes, elicited chuckles (and cackles) from my lips, and a brought about in me a real sense of wonder that somebody could actually possess that kind of boundless imagination and gift for words, which Ms. Jones judiciously employed to create such unforgettable characters and fantastical realms–all this while living in our mundane one.

I was ecstatic when another creative giant named Hayao Miyazaki adapted Ms. Jones’s book, turning it into one of the greatest animated film features Howl’s Moving Castle, which is pretty faithful to the original story. Everything about this film is stunning, and it does justice to the book.    

A close-up photo of famous Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. (Courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

I have always been partial to the heroines of Ms. Jones’s books as they possess a combination of qualities that makes them so endearing. For instance, Sophie Hatter of Howl’s Moving Castle possesses none of the frivolity and superficiality that is becoming quite common in the characters who populate today’s books for young adults. She is intelligent, a bit clumsy, a neat freak, stubborn and willful, and manages to keep her charm despite being turned into an old woman by the spiteful Witch of the Waste, or even when she’s standing up to two very powerful djinns (this latter bit is from the book Castle in the Air). Calcifer, the wise-cracking fire demon, is another one of my favorite characters (Billy Crystal did a bang-up job as his voice in the English version of the film! They couldn’t have picked a better actor to give voice to cranky but lovable Calcifer)!

I guess what I’m trying to say is that none of Ms. Jones’s characters are perfect. They inhabit magical realms so far from real life you could get lost in them for days (I have to admit I spent a few Summer vacations doing just that–my nose buried in her books for days at a time), but the characters are very real, so real that an ordinary girl like myself can relate. Oh the sheer genius of her characterization!      

Ms. Jones was also adept at writing short stories. A favorite compilation of mine is a book entitled, Unexpected Magic. It was through this novel that I discovered that Ms. Jones was also gifted at writing sci-fi (Some will argue that fantasy and sci-fi go hand-in-hand, but that goes entirely beyond the point of this blog entry).

Sophie and Calcifer in Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)

Diana Wynne Jones is also known for her Chrestomanci series, which is comprised of six novels: The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988), Conrad’s Fate (2005), Charmed Life (1977), The Magicians of Caprona (1980), two short stories published in her novel Mixed Magics: “Stealer of Souls” and “Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream,” The Pinhoe Egg (2006), among others. The series basically revolves around powerful enchanters called the Chrestomancis. These enchanters have nine lives and are responsible for safeguarding the well-being of a couple of “parallel universes.”

Ms. Jones’s books are must-reads for fans of wizardry, magic, dry humor, and the power of true love, which is not at all sappy as far as Ms. Jones’s books go. Fans of Harry Potter will lover her books. In fact, you could say she is one of J.K. Rowling’s predecessors. Diana was also an Englishwoman. She started writing about magic and wizardry earlier than J.K. Rowling–the late 1970s, to be specific.

It was a good friend of mine who brought me to my senses earlier. We were chatting on YM, and I was telling him Diana Wynne Jones passed away from a long battle with cancer. He commiserated being somewhat of a fan himself. He sympathized and told me that I shouldn’t feel so bad as she’s gone to the beautiful world beyond. Refusing to be comforted I answered that its a pity she’s no longer alive to write about her experience. He answered: “What are you babbling about!? She already has!”

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2 Comments

  1. @Cher: I'm so glad to hear that! She was really wonderful. I just bought “The Game” and will start reading it tonight

  2. I happen to love the Chrestomanci series too and this is really sad news. But reading your last paragraph made me realize that she's lived a full life and we're lucky that we have her books to remember her with.

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