Diana Wynne Jones Has Died
March 26, 2011 2:35 PM   Subscribe

Dianna Wynne Jones, author of many many excellent books, especially her YA Fantasy has passed away at 77.

She had been sick for some time. She has two books, a YA novel and a collection of essays forthcoming, so there's that.
posted by GenjiandProust (83 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sad as it was to know this was coming, the end is sadder still.

Farewell DWJ. The world is less rich in imaginings without you.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:40 PM on March 26, 2011

This is heartbreaking news. Howl is one of the great weirdos of children's literature, up there with Willy Wonka and the Cat in the Hat.

posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:41 PM on March 26, 2011

I recently rediscovered her Chrestomanci books, which I had loved as a child. I've been collecting her more recent stuff, and continuing to love it.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:43 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

RIP. Loved her work, just as much as CS Lewis, Susan Cooper and 'em.. I intend to re-read the books and discover the ones I hadn't checked out as a kid in the future
posted by the mad poster! at 3:00 PM on March 26, 2011


I am ashamed to say that I've never read her, though I have a copy of the first Chrestomanci book that I've never gotten around to. Perhaps it's time.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:01 PM on March 26, 2011

Howl's Moving Castle was the first hardback I ever owned. I took that book with me to high school and college...sad news.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:04 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]

So sad, I read Howl's Moving Castle so, so many times and absolutely loved Dogsbody.

posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:10 PM on March 26, 2011

I really like her YA, but I am also deeply fond of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, a rather acerbic but loving tribute to the cliches of the fantasy genre.

I read an interview years ago (could it have been in SF Eye? -- no, something UK, like maybe Interzone) where she said she preferred to write for younger readers because they were used to making an effort and didn't always demand to have everything spelled out. As a reader, I try to take that advice to heart.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:16 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

I have decided to imagine that one of the carvings on her tombstone will secretly mean YOU CAN TELL THEM YOU'RE A HOMEWARD BOUNDER.
posted by adipocere at 3:18 PM on March 26, 2011 [6 favorites]

Thank you for Dogsbody. I'd be a different person without it.
posted by Brody's chum at 3:25 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by Rallon at 3:29 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by aielen at 3:29 PM on March 26, 2011

Deep Secret is one of the best fantasies of the last couple of decades in my opinion.

My respect for J. K. Rowling-- already great-- would be much increased if she were to make a point of acknowledging her debt to Jones at this time regardless of anything her lawyers might be telling her.
posted by jamjam at 3:34 PM on March 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

posted by mustard seeds at 3:35 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by Fizz at 3:45 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by byanyothername at 3:48 PM on March 26, 2011

Neil Gaiman commented on twitter the other day how he visited a friend in hospice. I know he's a big fan. I wonder if there's a connection?
posted by aclevername at 3:48 PM on March 26, 2011

Neil Gaiman commented on twitter the other day how he visited a friend in hospice. I know he's a big fan. I wonder if there's a connection?

Yes, I believe so. His feed from this morning was where I first heard the news and he mentioned being glad he got to see her one last time.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 3:58 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by Iridic at 3:59 PM on March 26, 2011

Oh, wait. She wrote Dogsbody. I loved that book. Poop. :(
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:01 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by teferi at 4:01 PM on March 26, 2011


Never read her fiction, but was a big fan of the Tough Guide. I didn't know she wrote Archer's Goon, which has been recommended to me many times. I'll have to check her fiction out.
posted by immlass at 4:03 PM on March 26, 2011

Very sad news. Dammit, Chrestomanci, CHRESTOMANCI!! haven't you got an extra life to spare?

I read and loved DWJ's books as a child, but it was only on returning to them as an adult that I realised how dark they are. In Charmed Life the protagonist is betrayed by his own sister, and nearly gets killed as a result (he only escapes by banishing her to another world, thereby stealing her other-world twin away from her own parents). In Time of the Ghost the four sisters are shockingly neglected by their parents, and the family tensions are left unresolved at the end of the novel, which ends with the death of another character in a car crash and only the sketchiest gesture towards a happy ending. So many of her books (all the best of them, in fact, from The Ogre Downstairs to Cart and Cwidder to Archer's Goon) have dysfunctional families at the centre of them, which doesn't prevent them from being extremely funny as well as extremely dark.

There are so many wonderful touches of wit, like the Latin names of the chemicals in The Ogre Downstairs, and the way the soldiers suddenly start speaking Greek (only it isn't Greek) .. the Norse mythology in Eight Days of Luke .. the words of the Angel of Caprona that translate so elegantly into Latin .. the hidden joke in The Lives of Christopher Chant about the upper-class pronunciation of 'Ralph' .. and the dialogue is always so sharp and so beautifully done. Some of the later novels are weaker, and the magic, instead of arising naturally from the dynamic between the characters, tends to take the form of a 'hidden problem' which has to be solved in order to resolve the plot, but even second-rate DWJ is better than practically any other fantasy writer I know. It amused but also irritated me when the Harry Potter books started coming out, and reviewers started talking breathlessly about the 'rediscovery of fantasy' in children's literature. What rediscovery? DWJ had been there all along.
posted by verstegan at 4:07 PM on March 26, 2011 [13 favorites]


My kids prefer Chrestomanci to Harry Potter. I don't mind a bit.
posted by jlkr at 4:11 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've read a ton of her work, and enjoyed it all thoroughly. The world is a bleaker place today.
posted by ursus_comiter at 4:16 PM on March 26, 2011

great point verstegan. I don't remember much at all but the ugly difficulty of the sister dynamic in Charmed Life did come to mind. As a kid it's a bit easier to say "so he has a sister who ..." but in retrospect as an adult, it's like wow, he has a sister who ___!"
posted by the mad poster! at 4:17 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by mygothlaundry at 4:25 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by egypturnash at 4:25 PM on March 26, 2011

Loved Charmed Life, love Howl's Moving Castle, loved Archer's Goon and A Tale of Time City. She never talked down to her readers, and she wasn't afraid to have complex plots that didn't resolve until the last chapter.

posted by running order squabble fest at 4:26 PM on March 26, 2011

This is devastating news. The list of her books that I LOVE is so, so long. The Homeward Bounders, Fire and Hemlock, the Chrestomanci books.

I never got on with Harry Potter. DWJ is a big reason why... she was just so much BETTER.
posted by OolooKitty at 4:29 PM on March 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

I lost a great amount of time to the Chrestomanci series, and later had my introduction to many of the fantasy archetypes through Tough Guide. Charmed Life and Cart and Cwidder remain two of my favourite YA books, and by now I've attempted to get all of the younger members of my family to read them, with varying degrees of success. Like I said, reading her works took up many hours of my like, and not a second of that time was wasted.

posted by Inner Universe at 4:33 PM on March 26, 2011

Damn. The Homeward Bounders is one of my all time favorite books from the first time I read it about 20-25 years ago (exactly when is lost in the mists of time).

posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 4:37 PM on March 26, 2011

i bought The Chrestomanci Quartet from a library book sale and consider it the best deal on any book I have ever bought, or ever will buy in the future. i am sad now.
posted by daisystomper at 4:46 PM on March 26, 2011

So saddened. I didn't read her books as a child but got into them as an adult because of my YA fiction addiction. Such a talented, funny and compassionate novelist.

RIP Ms. Wynne Jones.
posted by nikitabot at 4:47 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by steambadger at 5:02 PM on March 26, 2011

The Chrestomanci books got me through my university finals. Perfect to escape into for an hour's break.

posted by Tapioca at 5:05 PM on March 26, 2011

It's funny. In the past I've mentally made fun of people who not only mourn but get really broken up about the death of people the don't know. Yet here I sit, blinking away tears, for a writer who was introduced to me in college by the girl I was dating at the time. We ended up reading almost all her work to each other and said ex had a habit of sending me the newest DWJ book every time it was published.

I didn't even know she was sick. I figured like all children's writers still alive she had signed the standard immortality contract that said they couldn't pass away while I was around.

Everyone is listing a favorite work of hers, but my mind keeps jumping from series to series and realizing that there'll never be another in that one. No more Chrestomanci, no more Howl, no more Magids, no more beautiful one off books that made me scramble to learn about all her references.

The world is a colder and small place with her gone.


(And now I'm debating texting the ex (now a dear friend) to let her know and possibly spoil her evening, waiting until tomorrow, or not doing anything because I'm pretty sure she reads Neil Gaiman's twitter feed.)
posted by Hactar at 5:11 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 5:14 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by Lebannen at 5:29 PM on March 26, 2011

When I heard the news this morning I picked up Dogsbody because it is one of hers I'd never read before (Fire and Hemlock was my first and favourite, but I adore a huge amount of her work).

I just finished it, and I cried at the end. Thank you Diana Wynne Jones.

posted by annathea at 5:45 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the great novelists of the 20th century has passed on. More than merely a fantasist, her keen grasp of human nature and the dysfunctions that can happen in addition to, not in spite of love, elevated her work far above normal fantasy novels. She also taught that one can survive such dysfunctions, even as she showed that resolutions could be ambiguous as far as happyness goes.

The young adult genre helped, not hindered her work; it allowed her a format for crisp dialogue and complex personalities, free of the fluff and padding adult novels require. She was absolutely brilliant at conveying exactly the amount of information the reader needed. Many writers (besides Rowling) owe a debt to her; I know that on rereading many of her novels as an part of my brain was marveling at and analyzing her perfect, unpretentious style.

Diana Wynne Jones deeply influenced my life and my writing. My future wife and I grew closer as I recommended DWJ books to her. Today my wife was crying as she told me the news- which itself was like an ice-cold dagger through my chest. I wish I could have met her and thanked her in person, but at least I have her books.
posted by happyroach at 5:46 PM on March 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by pompomtom at 7:01 PM on March 26, 2011

She was a fabulous writer. The world is a poorer place without her even though we have her books. I discovered her books through my kids and have loved them for years.

posted by leslies at 7:54 PM on March 26, 2011

Missed her work, for some reason. This thread has inspired me to seek it out.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 7:56 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by cerebus19 at 7:59 PM on March 26, 2011

One of my favorite authors...I don't know why I kept assuming she would keep living for awhile yet, but I did. This comes as a shock.
posted by wending my way at 8:01 PM on March 26, 2011

I read Castle in the Air on a Czech train after checking it out from a German library after flying into Germany from America. It was one of the few books in English at the library, and I devoured it. I like to think she'd approve of her novel's adventurous trek.

I read, I laughed, I cried.

posted by ElectricBlue at 8:40 PM on March 26, 2011

My sister bought me The Lives of Christopher Chant when I was nine, with the inscription "Am book is a present you can open again and again". It was more than true in that case, as through the passing years I subsequently read that book more than a dozen times, comfortably. I even named my cat Throgmorten.

When I wrote to Diana Wynne Jones as an eleven year old, she was not only polite enough to write a charming letter back on watermarked paper (my first experience with that thick, vellum-like and entirely magical substance), but also included several stickers with her signature - in answer to my enthusiastic request for her "autograph".

I struggle to pick a favourite book of DJW. Fire and Hemlock with its sad understanding of how love can drive us to hurt, the deft characterisation of Howl's Moving Castle and its antihero incapable of love, the uncloaked fear adults can engender in The Ogre Downstairs and how that can hide ignorance or simply fear, the almost existential pain of Homeward Bounders - perhaps her masterwork.

The deliriously joyful magic of the Chrestomanci books. Her consistently brilliant female characters as typified in A Tale of Time City. The anarchic fun of Dark Lord of Derkholm.

Diana Wynne Jones has meant so much to be, as both an adult and child. I certainly wouldn't be the person I am today - or the writer I am - without her magical, compassionate, creative, astounding books in my life.

posted by smoke at 8:58 PM on March 26, 2011

Oh no. Howl's Moving Castle, Archer's Goon and A Tale of Time City are books that I treasure. I'm sorry that I won't have more like them to look forward to.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:22 PM on March 26, 2011


Thank you DWJ for the magic. In all senses of the word.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 9:48 PM on March 26, 2011

Whoa. The other day I was trying to remember the name of this wonderful fantasy book I read when I was around 10, one that more or less set the mark for the types of books I've ended up seeking out in the years since, and it was The Dark Lord of Derkholm!

I had no idea the same author was responsible for Howl's Moving Castle, which is probably my favorite Miyazaki film.

And looking at her wikipedia, I see she wrote the Chrestomanci stories, which I loved the hell out of when I read them last year.

This lady was apparently one of my favorite authors and I never even realized it. I'm sorry it took her passing away for me to figure it out.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 10:53 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by freshwater at 11:06 PM on March 26, 2011


This was such a sad day. I'm glad I sent her some fan mail last year, although I have no idea if she ever read it.
posted by clearlydemon at 11:19 PM on March 26, 2011

There are a million things I'd like to say about her, the good books and happy memories. I think I feel too sad just yet. I'm going to go reread Howl's Moving Castle.

posted by stoneegg21 at 11:36 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by Lynsey at 11:54 PM on March 26, 2011

posted by TheophileEscargot at 12:18 AM on March 27, 2011

Reading the book and title names here is like having forgotten childhood friends suddenly back: they sit comfortably in the mind, in the worn leather library chairs that have always been theirs. Newly met, but utterly familiar.

posted by titus-g at 12:53 AM on March 27, 2011

One of my favorite authors as a child and still one of my favorite authors.

About 5-7 years ago I reread a bunch of DWJ's books, many for the first time since I was a kid. They all stood up really well, and some were entirely different books from an adult perspective. Drowned Ammett, for example, when I read it as a kid, was about the dangers and costs of the city's marriage to the sea— but when I read it as an adult, it was about politics and the dangers and costs of conspiracy. I now wonder if I would find a third book between those covers if I opened it again in ten years.
posted by hattifattener at 1:05 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

posted by Iteki at 1:52 AM on March 27, 2011

Thank you for the post, GenjiandProust, and for your comments, verstegan. I've been tracking her illness through Ansible and it was fairly clear she wasn't going to recover. I don't know why it should be sadder when it actually happens, but it is.

I re-read Dark Lord of Derkholm the other day. I don't think it's one of her best, but it still has that realism about the sheer exhaustion of the characters. When I was a child she was my favourite author for a long time. I remember The Ogre Downstairs making me laugh out loud - and I can still remember some of the scenes very clearly, such as the pieces of plastic escaping everywhere, and an exchange right at the end about preferring crisps to caviar, wch made me think for years that caviar was a sort of crisp. The sadness of the end of The Homeward Bounders has remained with me. Fire and Hemlock is the best Tam Lin variant I've read - it's excruciating to read at times because the heroine is so real and embarrasses herself (eg by writing to the hero imagining his smooth back - he responds that people aren't like her fantasies, and have hairy, spotty backs). Archer's Goon also made me laugh and I've been teaching my nieces to get 'buses to arrive by chanting "Hathaway, send us a 'bus". As verstegan says, Time of the Ghost is very dark, with one of the children nearly dying through playing at hanging. I understand that DWJ had a pretty terrible childhood and some of the family stuff in this book is autobiographical. Eight Days of Luke is also good, with that DWJ trademark of characters who are likeale but not necessarily entirely ethical. Gaiman's American Gods shares some of the basic ideas, wch he acknowledged. The Cart and Cwidder series I read as an adult and wished I'd read as a child. A Tale of Time City is another good one. I enjoyed A Sudden Wild Magic (a book for adults), though her heroine is faintly Mary Sueish.

I'm grateful for DWJ for entertainment but also for her understanding of the complexity of things; her characters always have complexity and often get things wrong or are shown to have mixed motives (Howard at the end of Archer's Goon, for instance).

There's an account of a DWJ conference here. I expect there will be a Guardian obituary in a few days, so it's worth checking.
posted by paduasoy at 6:51 AM on March 27, 2011

Man, I'd forgotten about The Dark Lord of Derkholm, and Cart and Cwidder. Thinking about it, their must be... what, maybe twenty books of hers that I've read, enjoyed and in some cases reread, and will be getting in some format for my next-generation relatives when they are old enough. That's really pretty amazing.
posted by running order squabble fest at 7:22 AM on March 27, 2011


(Wonders which of the seven siblings from Archer's Goon farms mefi)
posted by unreason at 9:29 AM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

This makes me so sad. I've been reading her novels my whole life. I even went back and revisited a bunch recently. She was wonderful.
posted by doteatop at 10:16 AM on March 27, 2011

I must've read Howl's Moving Castle a hundred times when I was young, and I still pull it out at least once a year. She had such great, interesting characters, (especially women) and created fantastically detailed worlds.
posted by missix at 10:43 AM on March 27, 2011

She was a wonderful writer, and Howl's Moving Castle is one of my favourite books ever. I think I'm going to go and read it now.
posted by Jelly at 11:27 AM on March 27, 2011

posted by VelveteenBabbitt at 11:31 AM on March 27, 2011

I think I've calmed down enough to tell my Diana Wynne Jones story:

A few years ago, I randomly ended up attending the Cheltenham Literary Festival, and went to a talk by Ms Jones. She gave pithy advice, told hilarious stories about her Travel Jinx, talked about her writing process and laid out the structure of the multiverse. Then she took questions.

I was fortunate enough to get called on, and I told her how much The Tough Guide To Fantasyland had made me laugh, and asked her if there were any fantasy clichés she particularly disliked.

She said "Well, I was just recently reading something by Lloyd Alexander," [here she explained who Lloyd Alexander was; I'd grown up on him, so nodded raptly] "...and it suddenly occurred to me, I hate wise old men!"

And if you go through her books, you find it's true. Roddy's grandfather Gwyn in The Merlin Conspiracy is wise, but not terribly forthcoming, and also scary as hell. and kind of attractive. There are a goodly number of wise old women, and some wise middle-aged men, and always at least one really annoying character who ends up saving everyone through the Power Of Annoyance, but wise old men are few.

My personal favourite of her books has always been Deep Secret, which is basically a love letter to geekery. I adore it so.
posted by Pallas Athena at 1:36 PM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

unreason - I think it would be Archer, who farms technology, and says "I always think it's lucky for the citizens here that I'm not particularly cruel".
posted by paduasoy at 1:36 PM on March 27, 2011

Pallas Athena - I think I was at the same talk. What I remember is her saying that the travel jinx that she gives a character (forget wch) was hers too.

I meant to say also how she messes with structures and genres - particularly in Hexwood.
posted by paduasoy at 1:38 PM on March 27, 2011

There's the wise old man in A Tale of Time City, Father Time himself, but he has messed up fairly comprehensively, and his wife has to come to the rescue.
posted by paduasoy at 1:39 PM on March 27, 2011

Emma Bull has posted a note about DWJ.
posted by paduasoy at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2011


She has been a major source of inspiration in my life and her books helped me get through a very tough cross country move as a child.

I often had to hide the books from my mom because she didn't approve of reading about magic, etc. I intend to encourage and make them readily available for my kids.
posted by HMSSM at 1:47 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Guardian obituary here, by Christopher Priest, author of The Prestige. (It would be interesting to list all the fantasy writers who have been influenced by DWJ. Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood has a character named Wynne-Jones, which must surely be a deliberate homage.) The obituary has some interesting details about DWJ's own less-than-happy childhood.
posted by verstegan at 3:29 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm so sad to hear about her passing. Time to haul out _Dark Lord of Derkholm_ and get reading, I think...
posted by willhopkins at 4:46 PM on March 27, 2011

I discovered Charmed Life at my violin teacher's house in middle school. I carpooled to lessons with another girl and Mrs. Davenport gave me the book to read while Lindsay had her lesson. I loved the book. Some time along the way I found The Lives Of Christopher Chant, prequel to Charmed Life, which may be even better than the original.

Years later, I read Howl's Moving Castle and had my mind slightly blown to realize it was the same author as my beloved Chrestomanci books. I never enjoyed the sequels to it as much as those in the Chrestomanci books (Conrad's Fate is particularly great, as are the stories in Mixed Magics). Deep Secret which is for adults is FANTASTIC. (I think of climbing between worlds every time I go up my apartment stairs in the dark.) I will have to go out and find Archer's Goon and Dogsbody now..

Thank you, Diana. You've given me hours and years of fantasy and imagination. I think you are my favorite author. God bless you in your final journey into the worlds. (Don't go in to series 1.)
posted by maryr at 9:26 PM on March 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

When I read the _Tough Guide to Fantasyland_, it amused me so much I tracked down 4 used copies (it was OOP in the US) from the UK to give to friends.
posted by QIbHom at 5:46 AM on March 28, 2011

Oh, man. I knew she was ill, so it wasn't that much of a surprise, but... man. She's been my favorite author since forever. I absolutely adore her books. If anyone deserves an afterlife in the next universe Ayewards, it's her.
posted by BungaDunga at 12:42 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was lucky enough to be one of her editors, and one of her friends, and I loved her with all of my heart. One of my very deep pleasures was being able work with her on the Firebird reissue of The Tough Guide -- new material, a new layout, and a new map.

That edition is here.

Those are all of the words I have for now.
posted by sdn at 6:39 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I still remember the first time I read Homeward Bounders, which was my first of her books and is still my favorite. There are ways that book ruined me. It was so good, but also so slightly off, in a way that made it so perfectly on. Other fantasy misses that essential weirdness so often that it just ends up disappointing me. I've enjoyed other of her books, but none has affected me like HB, although, in fairness, that's probably because that was the only one I read as a kid.

I've been reading this autobiographical essay by Wynne Jones this morning.
posted by OmieWise at 8:23 AM on March 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

OmieWise, that autobiography is so powerfully disturbing, and explains so much about her work.
posted by Pallas Athena at 5:31 PM on March 30, 2011

Can't believe I didn't hear of her passing. Have been trying to ignore the fact that I never got around to writing her a letter by dredging up links ...

On the Last Word, we learn about her penchant for disaster - a mounted stag head nearly fell on her while someone was interviewing her.

Here's a 2005 interview she gave about Conrad's Fate.

Also, no DWJ link-roundup would be complete without the legendary "So who do you think you are anyway?" character quiz, fiendishly nuanced as only something made by DWJ fans could be.
posted by Devika at 8:19 PM on April 12, 2011

Correction - apparently DWJ wrote the quiz herself.
posted by Devika at 8:21 PM on April 12, 2011

So who do you think you are anyway?

Biffa from The Crown of Dalemark, apparently. I haven't read that one yet.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:46 AM on April 13, 2011

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