In an ongoing discussion on Goodreads which began a few years ago one reader noted that one of Diana Wynne Jones’ novels — Fire and Hemlock — “mentions a number of books that DWJ probably liked herself.” This noted children’s author, as many authors do, had included quite a few semi-autobiographical details in her fiction; and in Fire and Hemlock one character, Tom, lends or recommends a number of titles to the young Polly. They’re all intended to obliquely reference traditional ballads like Tam Lin, which is about a human rescued from the Queen of the Fairies by his own true love.
In a review of Fire and Hemlock which I posted both here and on Goodreads I agreed: “Jones’ book references — quite apart from their relevance to the plot (as when Tom insists that Polly reads the book on fairy tales he has sent her) — must be a good indicator of Diana’s own childhood and student reading matter …
“Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of the first mentioned (published in 1962, not too long before Jones embarked on her own writing career and which may have been an inspiration); then there’s some E Nesbit stories, Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers of course, and tales of King Arthur (a running theme in many of Diana’s books, most obviously in The Merlin Conspiracy and Hexwood). Another long-recognised influence on Fire and Hemlock is T S Eliot’s Four Quartets, principally the images and structure, though many of Jones’ potential young adult readership would remain less aware of this (as I was, until it was pointed out to me).”
More recently Goodreads reader Ellie usefully listed some of the books referenced, directly or indirectly, in Diana Wynne Jones’ superb YA novel: “Throughout Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, Tom sends Polly various books, many of which are intended to inform her indirectly of his pact with Laurel [his fairy bride],” she writes. “This list also includes other titles that were mentioned in passing, and some that inspired and/or influenced Fire and Hemlock.” What’s interesting is that the titles in effect form a useful reading list for young readers, particularly teens, introducing them to a range of books that ranges from folklore to classic literature, from fantasy to crime fiction, from Shakespeare to modern poetry and from children’s classics to scholarly studies.
For your possible interest I reproduce the list below, slightly edited and regrouped under different categories. I can honestly say I’ve only read about half this list, though I’ve dipped into a few of the others. What’s your experience of reading these? How many would you rate as essential reading for a youngish audience? Which ones would you query? I ask out of curiosity — we’ve all been young once, haven’t we, and I hope we are all still avid readers — but I’d guess while there’ll be some overlap many would raise an eyebrow at one or two of Jones’ selections.
E Nesbit: Five Children and It and The Story of the Treasure Seekers
L Frank Baum: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
T H White: The Sword in the Stone
John Masefield: The Box of Delights
C S Lewis The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
Philippa Pearce: Tom’s Midnight Garden
Elizabeth Goudge: Henrietta’s House
Joan Aiken: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
Harriet Beecher Stowe: Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Anna Sewell: Black Beauty
Dodie Smith The Hundred and One Dalmatians
J R R Tolkien: Lord of the Rings
A Conan Doyle: A Study in Scarlet
William Shakespeare: Twelfth Night
Alexandre Dumas: The Three Musketeers
G K Chesterton: The Man Who Was Thursday and The Napoleon of Notting Hill
Miguel de Cervantes: Don Quixote
H G Wells: The War of the Worlds
Rudyard Kipling: Kim
C S Lewis: Perelandra
Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe: East o’ the Sun and West o’ the Moon
Non-fiction and poetry
Sir James Frazer: The Golden Bough
T S Eliot: Four Quartets
Arthur Quiller Couch: The Oxford Book of Ballads
Diana’s novel was first published in 1984 and would refer back to some of her own early reading experience as well as to her studies at Oxford University. As she was born in 1934 we’re talking about the immediate post-war years and the fifties, with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) marking a kind of cut-off point.