Wild magics

Still from Studio Ghibli film Howl’s Moving Castle

The first March Magics event (then called DWJ March) was inaugurated by Kristen of We Be Reading in March 2012 to celebrate the worlds of Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011). This year’s March Magics has as its featured DWJ book Howl’s Moving Castle, perhaps her most famous title and the subject of a delightful Studio Ghibli animation.

For any followers of this blog unfamiliar with DWJ’s work (and a few days before I post my second review of this fantasy, on the anniversary of her death, the 26th March) you may find the following links, to my reviews of other titles, helpful in deciding which of her fictions might appeal to you.

Let’s start with the series loosely associated with that peregrinating edifice.

Howl’s Moving Castle (1986) wasn’t originally intended to have sequels, especially as DWJ wasn’t keen on simply recycling themes or plots, but various circumstances encouraged her to revisit the land of Ingary and its neighbours for Castle in the Air (1990) and then, many years later, House of Many Ways (2008). In these, as in so many of her other fantasies, DWJ played with the speculative concept of the Multiverse or, as she usually called it, Related Worlds, some characters being able to use magic portals of various kinds to access parallel planets and existences.

The author also has a loyal fan base with the series of novels and short stories (1977-2006) that feature the enchanter known as Chrestomanci, a character much given to absent-mindedness and silk dressing gowns, but no less powerful for being a dandy. As with the Wizard Howl, Chrestomanci proves to have a special attraction for certain admirers of this, our world, too.

Slightly less angled towards children or young adults (even if not by much) was A Sudden Wild Magic (1992) and Deep Secret (1997) which, though unrelated, evinced a similarity of tone. The Merlin Conspiracy (2003) was less adult in feel but in fact shared a couple of characters with Deep Secret, earning the duology the sobriquet of The Magids.

Diana tended to shift ground in successive works, moving from children’s to young adult, pure fantasy to SFF, from humour to titles more serious in their approach. Wilkins’ Tooth (1973; Witch’s Business in the US), The Ogre Downstairs (1974) and Dogsbody (1975), for example, are hard to pin down in any one category, dodging as they do from bullying to mythology via family dynamics and fairytale.

Fire and Hemlock (1985) is a more complex coming of age story in which we might see some semi-autobiographical elements, while The Game (2007) returns to a mythological theme, and Enchanted Glass (2010) includes elements of Shakespeare.

DWJ could also do fantasy saga, marginally less epic than Tolkien or C S Lewis but definitely sui generis. Her Dalemark Quartet began with Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet (1975 and 1977, respectively), then jumped to the prequel The Spellcoats (1979)—very different in feel, almost Earthsea, in fact—before the more contemporary setting of the final volume The Crown of Dalemark (1993).

While the Dalemark novels are deadly serious Diana could also see the humour in conventional epic fantasy, as is evident in her mischievous ‘non-fiction’ Baedeker of 1996, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (review of another edition here). She enjoyed the conceit so much that she set Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) and
Year of the Griffin (2000) in the same universe, clearly having absolute fun with this genre.

Titles for younger readers aside, there are seven or eight books I’ve read but have yet to review, for example her short story collection Unexpected Magic (which I mentioned here). Just now though, in conclusion, I’d just like to note two posthumous publications that came out after March 2011. The first is The Isles of Chaldea (2014) which her younger sister Ursula completed from Diana’s drafts; the second is Reflections: On the Magic of Writing (2012), a collection of her non-fiction writings and some reminiscences which was in preparation before her untimely death.

If you’ve read any of her work you won’t need me to remind you what a singular voice and vision she had; if you haven’t yet made her acquaintance possibly this selection of reviews may help persuade and then guide you to sample her varied titles. Hopefully you will (if you don’t already) appreciate the ‘sudden wild magic’ that is the trademark of her writing.

Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011)

16 thoughts on “Wild magics

  1. piotrek

    Fantasy Land is just great, and I just need to finally get Howl’s Moving Castle and read it with my nieces… DWJ is one of the authors I want to explore more, and will, in due time 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. earthbalm

    We’ve had a conversation about ‘Fire and Hemlock’ elsewhere Chris – a compelling, puzzling narrative. I’ve read and enjoyed several other DWJ novels but never ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Another book to add to my list!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ola! Depends what you’re after, but I’ll offer these recommendations.

      Something celebrating childhood books and fantasy? Fire and Hemlock. Humour with a conscience? Dark Lord of Derkholm. Fairytale origins? Wilkin’s Tooth. Try the links for my reviews if that helps more!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Enjoyed reading about her work. I am yet to read her books and Howl’s Moving Castle sounds a good place to start. I’ve seen several of the Studio Ghibli films but not this one so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Wild magics — Calmgrove – Earth Balm Creative

  5. Kristen M.

    The strangest thing this month was that I was unable to include any Pratchett or DWJ photos in any of my posts because when I would go searching for them, I always ended up in tears. This hasn’t happened in previous years so I’m wondering if it’s just that I’m more emotionally-taxed by the world this time or something. We sure could have used their wit and wisdom right about now too!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I absolutely understand, Kristen, I’m sure all right-thinking people are utterly appalled and distressed by what’s going on in the world when avoidable calamity is being actively sought by ruthless politicians and their irresponsible supporters. TP would have produced a biting, incandescent novel and DWJ a satirical fantasy like Derkholm — if they weren’t too upset and despondent as most of us feel.


  6. All hail the Queen of Fantasy! I’m so glad she did return to the Howl-verse of Ingary. I’ve never laughed so hard as I did when reading Castle in the Air the first time. All the insults-not-insults were just absolutely hilarious. xxxxxxxxx Beautiful post, my friend, and such a fine sharing of her highlights! I forget–was Black Maria named something else in the UK?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, a Black Maria was a police vehicle used for conveying those who’d been resisting arrest to a police station. While I understand the term has been in use in the States, it has lingered in the UK, even though they are more likely to be white than black these days.

      The etymology is uncertain: the term more often met is “paddy wagon”, perhaps from police patrol wagon though probably the implication is that drunk Irishmen were more likely to be occupants.

      Why ‘Black Maria’ has lingered more in the UK I don’t know, but perhaps the term is seen as pejorative in the US, meaning that DWJ’s title was changed to Aunt Maria in North America. The Aunt Maria (pronounced ‘Mar-aye-ah’) is wicked through and through, which is why the punny title was chosen.

      Sorry, this has turned out a mini-lecture! Glad you liked the post, I must get back to rereads and those missing reviews. Soon. 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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