glitzfrau: (sophie)
[personal profile] glitzfrau
Diana Wynne Jones has died. I find it very hard to say quite how much her work meant to me. When I first met and fell in love with [ profile] erisian, he gave me books by Robert Anton Wilson and Hunter S. Thompson to read, grown-up bad-boy books; I gave him The Time of the Ghost, the pinnacle of teenage girl gothness, pitched somewhere magical between Jane Eyre, Flowers in the Attic and Five Children and It. I'm not sure he ever read it or got it; perhaps you had to be a teenage girl to understand. Certainly, although I've giggled at her more recent books, they don't create a core at the heart of me the way that Charmed Life, Powers of Three and Howl's Moving Castle do, the ones I read when I was ten and thirteen.

I loved her books for so many reasons; the beautiful writing, the bone-dry and perfectly timed humour, the truculent, clever characters, the utterly convincing depictions of other magical worlds silly and sublime, the light-hearted references to a range of myths and literature, the rich variety of tone in her books from frothy and fun (The Magicians of Caprona) to unbearably bleak (The Homeward Bounders). Part of me was simply overjoyed that such rich magical writing was being produced in my era, long after the golden days of E. Nesbit and even Alan Garner, a wonderful survival in what seemed to me a children's literature drought of the 1980s.

What I loved most about her books, though, was the truth about families they contained, how utterly wretched and destructive and dysfunctional they can be. In so much children's writing, parents are rendered conveniently absent but saintly (Harry Potter, Narnia), or possibly distant but benevolent (The Treasure Seekers). Diana Wynne Jones's parents and families are spectacularly toxic: the furious and neglectful parents in The Time of the Ghost, the cold and uncaring mother in The Lives of Christopher Chant, the outrageously selfish and uncaring parents in Fire and Hemlock, of the murderous sister in Charmed Life. Even her happy families, in Archer's Goon, or Powers of Three, feature parents who are frequently silly, irresponsible, selfish or slightly crap. It seems an odd thing to praise a children's writer for, but for a teenager who didn't feel particularly at home at home and who often wrestled with an psychologically complex family life that she rarely saw reflected in books, Diana Wynne Jones told a truth that few would acknowledge, while refusing to regress to the tedious gritty realism fashionable in so much other children's literature. You could come from a crap family, be a stroppy self-involved child who makes selfish and arrogant decisions, have genuinely bad things happen to you and still have meaningful, magical, fun adventures that ended in the formation of rich relationships. Wonderful.

And then, possibly the most touching tribute: a dear friend telling me that Witch Week gave him more courage than any other book as a teenager, as the most knowing and powerful allegory for being a gay teenager in a homophobic world. I never even read it that way, I just thought it captured the grinding general misery of school in a dank October perfectly. That's perfect children's writing right there, that can speak to two people very differently, contain a coded but powerful political message, while at the same time reducing them to tears of laughter (that's you, Nirupam Singh on the hoe). I will miss you so much, Diana. Thank you for knowing.


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