Diana Wynne Jones (1934-2011)

March 30, 2011 at 2:53 pm 3 comments

This past weekend, noted British fantasist Diana Wynne Jones lost her battle with lung cancer, and died at the age of 76 in a hospital in Bristol surrounded by family and close friends. Jones is known as a prolific author of children’s and young adult fantasy literature: Howl’s Moving Castle, The Dark Lord of Derkholm, the Chrestomanci series, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, etc.

photo courtesy of Guardian News and Media Ltd

Locus Magazine, the trade journal of the science fiction and fantasy field, posted the following as part of its capsule obituary:

Jones was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, and after more than a year of treatment, she announced that she was discontinuing chemotherapy, which was only making her feel ill in her final months. She is survived by her husband, Chaucerian scholar John A. Burrow, whom she married in 1956, and their three sons and five grandchildren.

The Guardian (UK) also posted an obituary by fellow writer Christopher Priest:

Like many good writers, Diana Wynne Jones, who has died aged 76 of cancer, worked for long years in relative obscurity, in her case sustained as a children’s fantasy author by a modestly sized but devoted young readership. That obscurity provided the freedom to develop her own voice without the distractions of having to build on perceived success. By the time real success found her, in Jones’s case almost by chance, she was a mature writer with a solid and varied body of work that was ready to be appreciated by a much bigger new audience.

Her intelligent and beautifully written fantasies are of seminal importance for their bridging of the gap between “traditional” children’s fantasy, as written by CS Lewis or E Nesbit, and the more politically and socially aware children’s literature of the modern period, where authors such as Jacqueline Wilson or Melvyn Burgess explicitly confront problems of divorce, drugs and delinquency.

as well as a wonderful tribute by Alison Flood:

Looking back, I can see the influence Wynne Jones’s books, burned deep into my memories when I was little, have had on my reading tastes. Discovering Christopher Chant and Chrestomanci for the first time made me realise just how good fiction could be, and I think she sowed the seeds for my future love of fantasy. I adore the work of a lot of children’s authors, and I tend to bang on about it a fair bit. But Diana Wynne Jones stands out from the crowd, for her humour, her originality and her touching, clever, rollickingly good stories.

Tributes were also shared by close friend Neil Gaiman on his blog:

She adopted me when I was a 24-year-old writer for magazines of dubious respectability, and spent the next 25 years being proud of me as I made art that she liked (and, sometimes, I didn’t. She’d tell me what she thought, and her opinions and criticism were brilliant and precise and honest, and if she said “Yee-ees. I thought you made a bit of a mess of that one,” then I probably had, so when she really liked something it meant the world to me).

As an author she was astonishing. The most astonishing thing was the ease with which she’d do things (which may be the kind of thing that impresses other writers more than it does the public, who take it for granted that all writer are magicians. But those of us who write for a living know how hard it is to do what she did). The honest, often prickly characters, the inspired, often unlikely plots, the jaw-dropping resolutions.

and Emma Bull at Tor.com:

She was passionate about what children want and deserve from their literature. Adults would approach her at signings, wanting to know why she wrote such difficult books. In one case, when a woman protested, the woman’s young son spoke up and assured Diana, “Don’t worry. I understood it.” She believed in the flexiblility of her readers’ minds, their willingness to puzzle things out, and to wait for clues to anything they couldn’t yet puzzle. She gave her readers books like Fire and HemlockTime of the GhostArcher’s GoonBlack Maria, and Dogsbody, and knew they’d chase the themes and meanings and resonances until they caught them.

Jones’ influential novel Howl’s Moving Castle was reviewed in July 2010 by the current Library Club Chairman, Keith Low Sheng Hng (4H113).

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jason Erik Lundberg  |  April 1, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Other tributes and write-ups have appeared this week, but one of note is by critic and editor Farah Mendlesohn at Tor.com: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2011/03/diana-wynne-jones

    Reply
  • 2. Tan Yan Shen  |  April 21, 2011 at 9:14 pm

    From what the other authors wrote about her, I can conclude that she was very popular as an author, and trusted the reader very much to understand what she wrote. The book that is written by her that interests me the most after reading its sypnopsis would be the “Tough Guide to Fantasyland”. It was written in the context of aa tourist guide, which is what not many books have done. Furhurmore, it was written about a topic that attracts many teenagers, and contains acute observations that answers our burning questions.
    I feel sad, not mainly because of her death, but the loss of a person that writes such interesting books. I do hope that I would have the chance to read her books, as it seems appealing and interesting.

    Reply
    • 3. Jason Erik Lundberg  |  April 22, 2011 at 11:10 am

      Thankfully, we have some of her books at the school library, and your local NLB branch will likely have some of her titles as well.

      Reply

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