Diana Wynne Jones passed away last night, March 25, 2011. I never had the opportunity to meet her, which makes me deeply sad. She was one of my greatest inspirations, and I have never read a book of hers which didn't delight me. And so, since I cannot tell her how I feel, I will tell you!
I discovered Dogsbody when I was about twelve years old at the Madison County Library. The cover had a background of stars, with a white dog with red ears and glowing green eyes sprawled across it. It was intriguing, and the description on the inside flap was a bit weird, but just tantalizing enough to make me check it out.
Joy. Delight. Wonder.
The story of the Dogstar, Sirius, being sentenced to live as a mortal dog to pay for his celestial crimes was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was a murder mystery. It was social commentary. It was fantasy AND science fiction. And, at its root, it was a beautiful, beautiful love story. I checked it out many times, and when I was an adult and had my own money, I wanted to buy a copy.
Sorrow. Frustration. Despair.
In the mid- to late-nineties, many of Diana's earlier books were out of print in this country. For Valentine's Day one year, my dear husband bought me three of her books, importing them from England at what was probably insane shipping expense. Dogsbody, Archer's Goon, and A Tale of Time City. These last two were the ones I had discovered right after Dogsbody, and the ones whose out-of-print status I most bemoaned. (You can see why I keep my husband around.) I cherish those copies, with their fun, very Britishy covers.
But you, you lucky reader who has yet to discover them, don't have to get your DWJ fix the same way I did! The Harry Potter Phenomenon was in full swing, and only a few months later (to the husband's disgust), all of Diana's books were rereleased in the US in shiny new covers, and put on display in bookstores under signs that read, "If your kids love Harry Potter, try these next!" I worked at Borders at the time, and I remember showing a mother to one of these displays and having her pick up Witch Week. She read the back and then rolled her eyes. "They're all copying J. K. Rowling," she said. "Rowling should sue!"
Imagine her shock when I then proceeded to "educate" her, informing her that Diana Wynne Jones' books had come out decades before Harry Potter, had delighted me since I was a child, and were, if anything, Rowling's inspiration. She looked like she was going to slink off, but her son was holding A Tale of Time City with a big grin on his face. I convinced them to take Archer's Goon as well.
And I know that he loved them.
I know that he loved them because there was something her books for everyone: dog lovers, cat lovers, fantasy, science fiction, Greek, Celtic, and Norse mythology, historical fiction, romance, mysteries, and satire.
Read a lot of fantasy books? Try The Dark Lord of Derkholm, about an entire world being exploited by a tour company from our world, in order to give Lord of the Rings fans their fix.
Ever attended a sci fi or fantasy convention? Deep Secret is for you! It seems that sci fi cons are really just cover ups for the meetings of interdimensional guardians. This explains the centaur in the bathroom . . .
World War II buff? A Tale of Time City is about those who live outside of time, whose job is to keep the unstable eras like world wars safe. But what happens when a young London evacuee is taken from her train, and moved out of time? Could the war start a year early, and what would happen to the world?
Just love a good story, with magic and plenty of humor? Try any of her Chrestomanci books. They're all fun, but I think the last two, Conrad's Fate and The Pinhoe Egg, are my favorites.
I can't tell you enough how much I love these books. I can't tell you enough how much they have influenced my life, and my writing. But I'm trying to tell you, because I no longer have the opportunity to tell her.