Fire and Hemlock (was Fantasy starter pack)

Dorian E. Gray israfel at
Fri May 14 15:16:21 EDT 2004

Ika said...

(BTW, how do you pronounce your name?  I'm thinking EE-ka; is that right?)

> I was really
> surprised to see Fire & Hemlock (and Deep Secret) so high on the list of
> favourites, as they're probably two of my three least favourite DWJs.*

That's interesting, as they're my two top favourites.  What do you dislike
about them, or why are they down in your "least favourites" category?  (Not
saying they shouldn't be, but very curious.)

> I'd be very interested to hear what
> people see in Fire & Hemlock in particular.

Oh dear.  Where to start?

Okay, Reasons I Like F&H, in no particular order:

It's a Tam Lin story.  I LOVE the Tam Lin (and Thomas the Rhymer) tales and
adore books based on them.

The characters.  Characterisation is one of DWJ's (many) strong points.
It's not solely that the characters in F&H are believable; that more or less
goes without saying.  But the way I can see how Polly-the-child-and-teenager
becomes Polly-the-student, the way the other characters are first presented
as being however Polly sees them, but you begin to see them as individuals
who are not just what Polly (initially) thinks they are, the way they all
have silly complicated half-understood *real* motives for their behaviour...

The magic.  Who wouldn't like to have the things they make up become true?
And DWJ handles that and its consequences and its twists so beautifully.

The structure.  The story is effectively told as a set of long flashbacks,
interspersed with short bits of "now".  That kind of structure can fall flat
on its face, but DWJ knows just what she's doing and makes it work.  (ISTR
that she has described this book as being "diamond-shaped", and I can see
what she means; it is!)

The many brilliant lines/scenes/bits that just stick in your head.
Like...the graph-paper office blocks, the Suspension Bridge (when I went to
Bristol, I insisted on walking over the Suspension Bridge, and was very
disappointed that I didn't have to pay to do so!), the rehearsal, when Tom
squashes Polly's face into his old anorak, the painting of Polly's old room,
Granny doing battle with officialdom, Polly at the funeral, the whole "now
here/nowhere" thing, Nina galumphing down the road with Leslie, the
portcullis incident, finding the heroes...I could go on and on and on, but I

The weird and difficult and wonderful ending, which *still* makes me think.

The way I always find new things in it every time I reread it.

The fact that Tom is a cellist (it's one of my favourite instruments, and I
played it myself for a little while).

There are probably more reasons, but those are the ones I can think of right
now.Until the sky falls on our heads...

Dorian E. Gray
israfel at

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
-Wm. Shakespeare, "Macbeth".

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