Neil Gaiman Tweeted about his friend's death early on Saturday, saying, "Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest, writer and the finest friend" and adding simply, "I miss you."
In honour of the writer whose book -Enchanted Glass - was nominated for the 2011 Carnegie Medal, I wrote a review of my favourite Diana Wynne-Jones' novel. This is the wonderful Howl's Moving Castle.
Diana Wynne-Jones humour was blended through novels thick with the woven strands of carefully crafted plots. The first book I remember reading was Howl’s Moving Castle. (Sophie in her boots made a big impression.) Jones identified the fantasy tropes but gave each a unique and creative twist including slipping the narrative from her fantasy setting to the present day so we could see ourselves from the characters’ point of view.
Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three daughters, which means she is the one who should try first, and fail most spectacularly; isn’t it always the youngest who come out on top? Sensible Sophie insults a customer in the hat shop. Unfortunately, for her, this woman is the Witch of the Wastes. Seeking revenge, as only witches can, she ages Sophie into a 90 year old crone. No longer able to live in her shy and retiring way, an unfortunate case of mistaken identify, Sophie journeys to the castle of the evil wizard, Howl. He has a reputation for stealing the souls of young girls; in her current condition, Sophie has no fears on this score.
Arriving at the castle, she encounters Howl's apprentice: a contracted fire demon, Calcifer, who is desperate to be freed. In her new role of cleaning lady, Sophie unsettles Howl and drives Calcifer to distraction. She searches for the discarded hearts of the girls, but that isn’t what she finds.
In Howl’s Moving Castle, there are witches, wizards, demons, seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility, but not as you know them. Timid and dull, Sophie isn't much of a heroine. As a crone, way outside her comfort zone, she becomes interesting and pushy. The evil wizard, Howl, has tantrums over important stuff like hair dye and his attraction to passing females is as effective as a Cullen’s. Jones’ creative genius is seen when she combines a less than evil wizard, his harried apprentice, and a wrinkled heroine.
The average nine year old may get lost in the convoluted, and cleverly contrived, plot lines but older readers would find it a change from the predictable norm.
As well as Enchanted Glass, I am desperate to read a Tale of Time City.
Diana Wynne Jones died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer. Her death is a loss to readers everywhere. She wrote right up to the end - a work-in-progress and another in planning - she had an indomitable spirit.