English fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones passed away March 26 after a long bout of cancer. I feel fortunate to have read her work, which I owe to my dear friend Thalia. I met English Thalia in Philadelphia in the mid-90s, and in the back and forth of new friends who are also book geeks, she lent me The Lives of Christopher Chant, and told me about how she’d read that instead of studying for one of her critical final exams. I devoured that, then quickly sought out Jones’ other work, which was easy to do. DWJ was a prolific writer over several decades, and so popular in England that most of her books were not only still in print, but also available in American editions. Neil Gaiman has said her books were an influence, and J.K.Rowling’s Harry Potter series has many similarities to it.
Her intelligent and beautifully written fantasies are of seminal importance for their bridging of the gap between “traditional” children’s fantasy, as written by CS Lewis or E Nesbit, and the more politically and socially aware children’s literature of the modern period,
Reading her obituary in the Guardian, I am amazed at authors whose lives she crossed: Arthur Ransome, Beatrix Potter, C.S. Lewis, and Tolkien. And her work now stands deservedly alongside theirs on bookshelves in homes, libraries and bookstores across the world.
If you haven’t yet read Diana Wynne Jones, you are missing wonderful things. I particularly recommend Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant (in that order), Howl’s Moving Castle, and Deep Secret.