Thu
Jun 3 2010 4:59pm

Send Diana Wynne Jones well-wishes

According to Ansible, Diana Wynne Jones has chosen to stop chemotherapy treatment for cancer; her doctors fear that she has only months left to live. A semi-official fansite says that e-mails to meredithxyz at googlemail dot com will be printed and sent to Ms. Jones regularly. If her books have been important to you, now would be a good time to tell her so.

I sent her a short note telling her that Deep Secret, one of her adult fantasy novels, is one of my favorite books in the world. It’s got complex and sympathetic characterization, it’s funny [*], it has some great magic, and it pulls off a remarkable transition from farcical to mythic that shouldn’t work but does. Also a lot of it is set at a SFF convention, which leads to things like people thinking a centaur is someone with a really good hall costume.

[*] I have heard that the scene with Nick at breakfast is a lovingly-observed portrait of Neil Gaiman in the morning, but cannot confirm this out of personal knowledge. Anyone who could, it’s in chapter 11.

My other favorite of her books is The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is an affectionate parody of what rec.arts.sf. called Extruded Fantasy Product, generically-medievaloid epic fantasy that is full of clichés and unexamined worldbuilding tropes. It’s done as an A-Z guide for readers who are about to tour Fantasyland. I’m not sure how well it would hold up now, as it was written in 1996 and I don’t read much epic fantasy these days, but every time I open up a new fantasy book and see a map, I am automatically reminded of the Guide:

Map. See Introduction for description. We must emphasize again here that no Tour is complete without a Map. Further, you must not expect to be let off from visiting every damn place shown on it.

Jones is a prolific writer with a long career, and I’ve only scratched the surface of her work. She is also well-known for Howl’s Moving Castle (from which a movie was recently made by Hayao Miyazaki), the Chrestomanci series, and the Tam Lin novel Fire and Hemlock. Her most recent book is Enchanted Glass. She is extremely influential in the YA fantasy genre and in a whole generation of fantasy writers. If you’ve read and liked her books, do consider dropping her a line saying so. (If you haven’t, now would be a lovely time to start! Or consider sending a note to your favorite living author telling them what their books have meant to you. I’m reliably told that no author dislikes hearing “I really love your books,” even when there’s no external reason for saying so at that time.)


Kate Nepveu was born in South Korea and grew up in New England. She now lives in upstate New York where she is practicing law, raising a family, and (in her copious free time) writing at her LiveJournal and booklog.

23 comments
Liza .
1. aedifica
Thank you for letting us know! I'm off to write an email now.
Nick Eden
2. NickPheas
I've already sent the email.

If you've not, where would I suggest you start then?

Most of Diana's work is Young Adult Fantasy, mainly written before YA was a recognised genre. Charmed Life is a good starting place, the first of one of her major series, featuring the splendidly smug Edwardian magician Chrestomanci.

Cart and Cwider is the start of a more mainstream fantasy series which I never really got as a kid and enjoyed later.

Fire and Hemlock is just plain brilliant.

Archer's Goon is great fun and I've always thought the inspiration for Neil Gaiman's Sandman characters.

While I'm at it Eight Days of Luke is pretty much the YA version of American Gods only written thirty years earlier.

All great books, and there are plenty more when you've read them. God bless you Diana, you will be missed.
adangeus
3. adangeus
This makes me sad..I have enjoyed her books immensely and now, I will send her a mail. Thanks for the info.
Alex Brown
4. AlexBrown
This woman totally changed my life. I'll def be writing her a note. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is up there as one of my favorite of hers, but Howl's Moving Castle is still my top. One of my all time favorite books, in fact. And how can you not love the Chrestomanci series?

I wouldn't be surprised if that bit about Nick is about Neil Gaiman. He has called her his Fourth Witch. I actually discovered her through him.

And, if you haven't read it already, Enchanted Glass is on bookshelves right now and is an excellent read.
adangeus
5. Girl Detective
Thanks for the notice, and I'll be writing her shortly. An English friend introduced me to her books, and they've had a coveted spot on my shelves ever since. I didn't get the end of Fire and Hemlock AT ALL, and particularly enjoyed Deep Secret because it seemed like she was trying to do similar things, and pulled them off in a way that made enjoyable sense to me. I love the first two Chrestomanci's, Charmed Life and the Lives of Christopher Chant. I really enjoyed The Tough Guide, esp. reading it before Dark Lord of Derkholm, which plays with it. And the new companion on Dr. Who, Amy Pond, is Wynne's definition of "Talented Girl":

"This young lady has almost constant employment as Tour COMPANION. The reason is that she not only has enormous potential as a MAGIC USER, which is something she has to learn about in the course of the tour, but is good-looking with it, if you don't mind girls who are tall and skinny or else unusually short. She will have either red or fair hair and blue or green eyes. (see COLOUR CODING) and a highly spirited and resourceful personality to go with these..."
adangeus
6. Andrea K Host
I am so upset - she is my favourite author and the future is ever poorer for not having a new Diana Wynne Jones novel to look forward to.

Thank you for letting us know, so that I had a chance to send a note.
Kate Nepveu
7. katenepveu
Glad to be of help, everyone. I know that when my dad made the same decision it was a comfort to know that people had had a chance to say the things they wanted to.
adangeus
8. wandering-dreamer
I'll make sure to send an email out in the morning, heard about this earlier and it's crushing to think that such an amazing author doesn't have much longer.
And the Tough Guide to Fantasyland was reprinted a few years back and I was thrilled to get a copy of it. Think I convinced my friends to read it after they saw the six page entry on swords.
Justin Levitt
9. TyranAmiros
Thank you for posting this. Charmed Life and the Lives of Christopher Chant were two of the books that got me started on fantasy. I think Tale of Time City is my favorite work. Another butter pie, please!

I remember getting the Tough Guide and I didn't even make it to the MAP before cracking up. The "Acknowledgements" section is still my favorite part. I wrote her several years ago about my discovery that the map of Fantasyland was really just Europe turned upside down and lots of the placenames were European cities and rivers anagrammed. She wrote back saying, "Of course!" and described how much fun it was to fill in the map. The other thing I love about it is that sometimes I'll read a particular work and go, "Oh! That's what DWJ meant in that entry!!"
Maiane Bakroeva
10. Isilel
I really love her books. The Tough Guide should be a classic, IMHO.
How sad :(.
Kate Nepveu
11. katenepveu
TyranAmiros, I did not know that about the map! How lovely of her to correspond with you.
adangeus
12. jmd
Thank you Kate, note sent off.

And BTW, you are in my neck of the woods! I am about 45 min north of you!
Linden Wolfe
13. Lilith
This is very sad. First we lose Kage Baker, now we are losing Diana.
My thoughts are also with her family and friends as they go through this final journey with her.
adangeus
14. DensityDuck
I think that "Howl's Moving Castle" was the first fantasy novel I read that wasn't one of the Chronicles Of Narnia.

"Tough Guide To Fantasyland": I remember that a couple of years ago, my mom bought me a copy of "Eragon" because, she said, that she figured I liked that stuff with dragons in it. (I'm in my thirties).

I read halfway through the first chapter, and suddenly I realized that I was reading the book that the Tough Guide To Fantasyland WAS ABOUT. Right down to the map at the front with the little town in the middle where the action starts and there's an apostrophe in its name.
adangeus
15. Pascal Pragnell
I'm going to miss the lack of new books. I absolutely loved Howls's Moving Castle. All the characters had their awful faults, but together made for a great story. You don't see that talent in as many recent books. Well, at least I have quite a lot of her other books to read. Its going to be sad, knowing that there will eventually be an end :(.
adangeus
16. sdn
Thanks for this, Kate.
adangeus
17. Helen Lowe
Ah, what sad news, but thank you for letting us know. I have been reading Diana Wynne Jones for many years now and have never read a book of hers that I didn't like. And yes, The Tough Guide To Fantasyland is definitely a "must-read" for all lovers of the genre.
adangeus
18. Mary Frances
Thank you, Kate. Message sent.

I think my favorite Diana Wynny Jones novel is The Magicians of Caprona; I love the portrait of life in a large family in that one.
Arvik Unknown
19. Arvik
Oh no! Her books formed the backbone of my childhood. She is absolutely brilliant, and made me want to be a writer. I'll definitely have to email her.

Of the Chrestomanci books, I particularly liked "Witch Week." It's a vivid depiction of boarding school life, with magic and cool world-building thrown in.

Of all her books, my favourite is probably "Black Maria," which I've also seen published as "Aunt Maria." Such a hypnotic, entrancing milieu, and a truly frightening villain. I still get shivers thinking about it...
adangeus
20. Anne Zanoni
DWJ has written so many of my favorites: Fire & Hemlock, Howl's Moving Castle, Archer's Goon, Deep Secrets... and Chrestomanci...

And yes, House of Many Ways is another marvelous novel. So is Enchanted Glass.

Thanks, Kate, for providing the email address! I'd been looking for it earlier when I read the news.

May DWJ surprise the doctors for a good while yet.

Best,
ASZ
Ellie Angel
21. Ellie_Angel
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is my only exposure to her work and it is ruthless, exacting and funny.

I saw Howl in movie form. I suspect the book had more to it.

I am saddened by this news.
adangeus
22. Angela Livingstone
ever since I read Dogsbody as a teen I have loved everything she has written
very saddened
adangeus
23. Elizabeth Lumley
Very sad to know that my new thirst will not be slaked ongoing, but will continue to re-read my past favourites - like many of you, struggling to pick just one.
Good luck to her and her family in this time - my thoughts and prayers are with them.
May she pass with dignity.

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