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.