Transcript of page 1 of DWJ Article

Dorian E. Gray israfel at
Thu Jul 28 17:02:43 EDT 2005

Diana Wynne Jones has that rare ability to create a compelling fantasy in 
the mundane everyday world and to vest her characters with bad temper, 
laziness and other perfectly ordinary traits, whilst still weaving about 
them magic, fantasy, power, humour and the destiny for "great things".

Sally, the heroine of her latest book, "The Time of the Ghost", awakes to 
find herself a ghost loftily observing her three sisters who provide the key 
to an increasingly dramatic mystery which becomes a race against time as 
Sally lies critically injured in her hospital bed and evil Monigan demands 
the life she was promised seven years before.

Diana Wynne Jones now lives in Bristol and draws heavily on her celtic 
connections for her writing. She loves the country "I was brought up in the 
country, though we were often hard up, and I had various schemes for making 
money. My only successful venture, however was to give a Garden Fete almost 
single-handed at the age of 9. The proceeds were to go to a "charity" made 
up of myself and my sisters. To our chagrin, our parents discovered the 
scheme as soon as a queue of children began to form outside the garden gate. 
It was then too late to stop the fete, bet we were made to send our takings 
to the Red Cross - which we did with the greatest reluctance, they amounted 
to nearly #3. I have 3 sons who carry on the tradition. I met one the other 
day in a broom cupboard, sitting very still in order to supplement his 
income by catching mice to sell. This scheme too was a failure." Not all her 
schemes are a failure as children over ten years will discover from reading 
her books.

We asked Diana Wynne Jones to discuss with us that whole question of how far 
you go in fantasy for children.

>From my window I can see a steep stretch of woodland, which is really the 
garden of a big terrace of flats. I have watched it for five years now. It 
is full of children who appear to be mad. A group of girls totter down the 
slope. Each is wearing a skirt of her mother's and holding a home-made crown 
on to her head. Every so often, they all stop and shake hands. Further 
along, another group of girls wander among the bushes. Some bushes seem to 
terrify them. They clutch one another and scream. But they seem quite 
unaware of the bush beside them where three boys are crouching, armed with 
guns, and do not even look when one boy throws up both arms and dies. The 
girls in crowns seem equally unaware of four other boys struggling on their 
bellies up the gentle slope towards them. These boys seem to be in the last 
stages of exhaustion. One of the four dies as the girls pass and the others 
roll back down the slope. The rest of the wood is full of similar groups. 
They are there day after day, tirelessly and all apparently insane.

Of course we all know at once that each group is playing a different game of 
"Let's Pretend". But anyone who watches this wood, or anywhere else where 
children habitually play, will quite soon notice a number of things, all of 
which ought to have great importance for anyone who is interested in writing 
for children.
The first thing is how *often* children play these kind of games. It seems 
to be something they need to do. You can see they need to because they are 
all so happy. That second group of girls is only pretending to be 
frightened. None of the groups are quarrelling or crying - only screaming, 
dying and ignoring one another. The next most important fact is that the 
children are all in groups. In five years watching this wood I have scarcely 
ever seen a child obviously playing this kind of game alone. A solitary 
child does not act mad. He or she may be wandering in the wood imagining 
things, but it will not show. Acting out a "Let's Pretend" does seem to be a 
social act. I am sure that it is when I see how sexist the various games 
are. None of these children seem to have heard of Women's Lib. The girls say 
"Let's pretend we're all queens," and the boys "Pretend we're soldiers" - 
and though I haven't a notion why the other girls are screaming at bushes, 
they are not playing with the boys. It really does seem as if "Let's 
Pretend" games are children's ways of practising being a girl or a boy -as 
they see it - as well as learning how to behave in a group.

You can see this is true when a quarrel breaks out. All the quarrels in the 
wood happen - with someone in tears and someone else bleating "I'm not 
playing!" - when the children are trying to play a game like hide and seek, 
or building a tree house, which does not involve make-believe. The rules 
allow both sexes to combine in these games. And it is hopeless. All children 
under about thirteen are so *bad* at co-operating. I watch them in 
exasperation, each one running about as if they were the only child there, 
without the slightest notion of how to get together with the rest. They 
really do seem to need some sort of "Let's Pretend" to make them combine. 
And the thing which seems to allow them to get together is the thing which 
makes the games seem so mad to an onlooker: they at once seem to enter a 
sort of enchanted circle, where they are in control and nothing outside 
Now a book is another form of this enchanted circle. Any book, whether 
realistic or fantasy, is as self-contained world with the reader in control 
(if you do don't like the game the writer is playing, you can always stop 
reading). My feeling is that children get most from books which work along 
the same lines as they do - in other words, by "Let's

[second page will follow shortly. -Dor] 

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