People love children’s and young adult fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones because her novels are funny, action-packed, full of twists and turns, clever, and skillful in their manipulation of and commentary on fantastic and mythological tropes.
Some that I only care about only a little (I don’t require lots of action, and clever or “clever” reworkings of mythology are a dime a dozen these days), but she’s still one of my favorite authors. Here is a smattering of my particular reasons.
- She works with a sense of the sublime — lightly, without religion (she was an atheist) but with real belief.
- She captures a sense of strangeness that reminds me of Kafka and Gogol, only with logic on top of it. It kills it a little to describe it too much, but I’ll see what I can do later.
- Her books are often underpinned by and shaped around ideas, without sacrificing artistic integrity to them. She writes about creativity and power and complex moral dilemmas.
- Her work is full Easter eggs — you can puzzle over it for many re-readings without catching all of her allusions, hidden plot elements, and playful correspondences.
- She is a deeply personal writer — her themes, if you’re to believe her articles, are ideas or paradoxes that she has struggled with in her own life and thought. This means she’s not the voice of sane and benevolent authority but rather speaks as a fellow learner. She gets formulaic at times, but the formulae are largely hers.
- Thus, she has an authentic writer’s voice and a personal vision.
- She can be very funny and prides herself on humor, at the same time that she and her work take themselves seriously.
- She makes a powerful case for fantasy as a genre.
I am glad that she is beginning to get the academic recognition she deserves and will surely write more on her.