book review Musings reading

Another Attempted Return

I miss this blog. I have, as you have seen, found it hard to keep up my momentum, because I’m usually working on so many projects at once: ever-shifting pieces of writing and art, of course, and also a newcomer pursuit: coding. Yes, I’ve taught myself to program using mostly free resources and I am now working full-time as a software engineer. (This comes, naturally, with new ideas about Evernost’s form! More on that later.) A lot has happened since my last post.

I’m not ready to give up, though. I have a new list of topics I hope to discuss, and will try (try!) to post at least weekly for a while. What to expect: book reviews, musings, project updates, maybe a bit of exciting self-publishing news, and a series of posts on some poems by Diana Wynne Jones I had originally meant as a scholarly article — that is to say, more or less the usual. I’ll start today by introducing the Diana Wynne Jones posts:

I love Diana Wynne Jones so much I sometimes fear my admiration of her is mostly partiality, that the depth and originality I see in her are a mirage, or else nothing special. Fortunately, I can easily remind myself otherwise, by rereading her, or by rereading the essay I’m adapting here. I wrote it a few years ago about some poems of hers. She’s not only a playful, “fun,” poignant writer of fantasy, mostly for children — she is, perhaps strangely, or perhaps not (I find speculative fiction brings the mind closer to philosophy and abstract thought than realistic fiction), a formidable thinker.

The death of the author — the idea that author intention has no authority in determining the correct interpretation of a book — is one of many postmodern theoretical concepts that I regard with unease. No, there is no reason an author’s interpretation of their work should be the only valid one — indeed, the world would be much poorer without misreading of all kinds (hi, Harold Bloom) — but, on the other hand, most authors spend much longer with their work than most readers do. Their readings of their own work may not hold special authority, but they are (I think) likelier to be interesting and illuminating than random critics’, and it is rarely worthwhile to disregard them altogether.

Jones is much more postmodern than I am, so it’s something of an irony that Jones’s oeuvre is one of the first examples that comes to mind when I want to defend my doubt about the author’s demise. This is because Jones’s work richly rewards readings with a strong focus on author intention, in the form of attention to Jones’s essays as well as careful reading of her work. Jones’s work is full of “deeper meanings” intended by her and waiting to be discovered. These meanings range from cute and rewarding Easter eggs (mythological references, for instance) to transformative secondary readings.

For an example of the latter, Jones revolutionized “Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream” for me by observing in “Some Truths about Writing” that “Carol does not lie” when making media pronouncements about how the magically shareable dreams she creates are “‘like a voyage of discovery’” and how they “‘come when they will, you know, and there is no stopping or putting them off’”—even though, in that story, the powerful enchanter Chrestomanci pressures her into admitting something much less romantic. Incredulously, he says, “‘your dreams come unbidden—but you have one for half an hour every day—and […] you never know where you’ll go in them or what will happen—but you can control your dreams perfectly.’” I carelessly read this, and the story as a whole, as simple and somewhat affectionate mockery of Carol, but Jones explains (with some relevance to my current topic) that

Everything she claims is true, whether of dreaming or writing, and the things Chrestomanci declares cannot all be true at once, are in fact, indeed, all true at once. The human brain can lay one contradiction upon another and make the two things match without any trouble at all, and be aware of strict logic at the same time. This is what I find so fascinating.

Diana Wynne Jones, Reflections: On the Magic of Writing

In the following posts, I’ll unpack the riches a focus on Jones’s intentions yields when applied to a specific, small fragment of her writing: Asgrim the Adon’s four poems about truth found in Jones’s Dalemark books and the ways in which the ideas of those poems are embodied and expanded in Jones’s novella “The True State of Affairs” and her children’s novel Cart and Cwidder.

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