restricted access Dogmata, Catastrophe, and the Renaissance of Fantasy in Diana Wynne Jones
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Dogmata, Catastrophe, and the Renaissance of Fantasy in Diana Wynne Jones

At one point in Diana Wynne Jones' Cart and Cwidder (1975), the refugee lordling, Kialan picks up a cwidder and sings:.

Unbounded truth is not a thingCramped to time and bound in place . . .

"Kialan," says the narrator, "did that part meticulously in the right old style. But then he gave Moril a bit of a wink and dropped into the same kind of different fingering Moril had used in Neathdale. The song seemed to come alive. . . . 'Oh, I liked that!' said Moril. 'I took a leaf out of your book,' Kialan said, rather apologetically. 'I don't like the old style either, and I don't see why old things should be sacred'" (Cart and Cwidder 114). A similar point is made by the enchanter Chrestomanci when he contends that a "thing need not be done in the same old way in order to work" (Magicians of Caprona 223). Their observations might be argued to emblematize Diana Wynne Jones's philosophy as it relates to the writing of fantasy: that the "old things" of fantasy are not sacrosanct, and no more than "unbounded truth" should fantasy be constrained, bound to particular formats, narratives, or modes of articulation. If the "song" is to "come alive"—and the "song" is of course at one level a metaphor for fantasy itself—it needs to be renewed, done differently, or, as the robot Yam says in Hexwood (1993), "Adapted. Remodelled" (Hexwood 64).

Like Yam, Diana Wynne Jones has a "revolutionary brain." Like the Sage of Theare (ref), she preaches Dissolution, but a Dissolution that is aimed at dissolving the various rules and dogmata of fantasy. As this essay argues, Jones's writing not only thematizes renewal, but enacts it, at the level of form, in her innovations with regard to narrative strategy and in the re-energizing of tired tropes from well-known sources in mythology and canonical literatures. If she is the Sage of Dissolution, Jones is, however, also Sophie in Howl's [End Page 284] Moving Castle, whose gift is to talk life into things, and Vivian Smith of The Tale of Time City—the maker (smith/faber/fabricator) who gives life or revives and endows stories with a new vividness. (We may recall Vivian's attempt at translation that converts a staid historical account into a madcap narrative in which coffins metamorphose into lively old ladies full of electricity [Time City 128-29]). I will also argue that in Diana Wynne Jones's work, renewal is associated with infinite possibility, this last meant not only rhetorically, but also substantially. Most importantly, it is also associated with the idea of freedom—freedom from personal enslavement, from narrative determinism, from fixed forms. The thematics of revolution or rebellion against the reigning powers,1 and the desire for freedom and change, energy and renewal mark Diana Wynne Jones as in many ways a latter-day Romantic; in her work, the Dionysian revels and Prometheus is unbound.2

The impulse toward renewal in the novels plays itself out in many areas, for instance in the rebirth of dying or corrupt empires, cities, or polities (e.g., the Koryfonic Empire in Deep Secret [1997], Time City, Dalemark, Caprona, the Reigner organization in Hexwood [1993], and Blest in The Merlin Conspiracy [2003]). Magic itself may require restoration, as Old Niccolo points out in The Magicians of Caprona (1980), when he remarks that "the old virtue is fading" (Magicians of Caprona 51). And in Year of the Griffin (2000), the thinning of magic goes hand-in-hand with educational dumbing-down—a form of decline fairly frequent in the "real world." The rejuvenation of that which is old and exhausted can also be found in works such as Fire and Hemlock (1985), Howl's Moving Castle (1986), or "Stealer of Souls" (2000), though here, the focus switches to the way the impulse can take on a corrupted form as the desire for revitalization results in a vampiric preying of the old upon the young.

It could be argued, however, that these, at some level, are manifestations of the same larger meta-concern, which...