- Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom Volume 1 of Studies in Children's Literature
It is fitting that Diana Wynne Jones should be the first author featured in this series of studies in children's literature. Jones is one of the most innovative, prolific, and beloved writers of fantasy working today. Anyone, child or adult, who enjoys fantasy literature eventually discovers Jones. Most readers return to her works again and again. Her books are intricate, thought-provoking, full of breakneck plot turns, and teeming with interesting and believable (yet unbelievable) people. While Jones, unlike many fantasy writers, knows how to handle humor, her books don't hesitate to confront darkness and threat. To many readers, the most salient characteristic of Jones' works is their seemingly endless inventiveness. Jones has created so many different kinds of stories that she is virtually impossible to classify. Does she write adult or juvenile books? Fantasy, science fiction, or satire? Is she romantic or comedic? Read Fire and Hemlock, Charmed Life, and The Homeward Bounders, one after the other, and you'll wonder whether you've stumbled on the books of three different but equally gifted authors.
Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom is the first published collection of studies devoted solely to this author's work. Because Diana Wynne Jones' works are so full of substance in terms of characters, complex plot structure, and well-applied literary influences, they certainly merit scholarly study. Also, since Jones herself has frequently given talks and been interviewed (one interview is included in this book), it is possible to measure conclusions reached in these essays against what one can learn of Jones' own viewpoints. In effect, readers of this fine collection of essays can continue the exploration with research of their own. This possibility is encouraged in the thoughtful and thorough introduction by Teya Rosenberg. As Rosenberg observes, these essays are intended as "an opening volley of messing about that we hope leads to more dialogue" about Jones' writings (11).
Some hallmarks of Diana Wynne Jones's work include her frequent creation of multiple universes and timelines (as in Charmed Life or Archer's Goon ), her use of elements of folktale and myth to underlie her stories (for example, the Tam Lin legend in Fire and Hemlock and the Norse gods in Eight Days of Luke ), her depiction of youngsters who must free themselves from the questionable mercy of ill-meaning or capricious adults, and her ability to reshape traditional fantasy elements so that they retain their power but create new configurations. These matters [End Page 234] and others are examined in the essays, using many different approaches, from the straightforward to the esoteric.
An example of a more straightforward approach is "Good and Evil in the Works of Diana Wynne Jones and J.K. Rowling" by Sarah Fiona Winters. This essay points out that both Rowling and Jones make use of several traditional genres of juvenile literature in their stories: the detective story, the school story, and fantasy. The two authors differ, says Winters, in that Rowling revitalizes the genres in a traditional way, while Jones tends more to upend the genres. Fans of both authors' works will find satisfying insights and likely also argument points in this essay. (I confess, for instance, to disagreeing with Winters' point about how "external" Rowling makes Harry's confrontation with evil. It seems to me that both authors, not just Jones, depict their protagonists as having to face the possibility of evil within themselves. Being one of the good guys isn't an innate, pre-ordained trait in Harry Potter any more than it is in Christopher Chant.)
Examples of more esoteric analyses include a Jungian exploration of character growth in Dogsbody and a comparison of urban settings in T.S. Eliot's poems and Jones' stories. These essays are given extra weight and conviction by the fact that Jones herself...