[DWJ] My Tribute

Deborah Meghnagi Bailey deborah at brightweavings.com
Mon Mar 28 16:34:32 EDT 2011


I don't have a blog, as I said, so I'll just add here what I just came up
with:

Tribute to DWJ

I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first read one of Diana Wynne
Jones' books. Probably around 8 or 9. I do remember it was Witch Week. I
know that I took it off the shelf in my classroom's small library, and I
also know that I didn't return it; that I kept that red hardback to read,
over and over again. I think I eventually got my mother to return it for me
when my brother, fifteen years my junior, was just about to leave that
school. By then I'd bought my own copy. I'm also fairly sure that Archer's
Goon was the next DWJ book I 'forgot to return'; this time from my secondary
school library. It's not that I thought it was the right thing to do; I just
couldn't bear to part from it. That one eventually got returned too, years
after I'd graduated. I guess I must have felt guilty, though, because while
I remember clearly being utterly haunted and mesmerized by Fire and Hemlock,
and that I found that, too, in my secondary school library, I didn't keep
it. And I'm pretty sure that I read other Chrestomanci books when I was
young, and A Tale of Time City as well. But I was a voracious reader, often
reading a book a night, and so the ones that went back to the school or
council libraries and didn't remain on my shelves faded into my general
memories of the thousands of books I read. I remembered them, sort of, for a
long time.
	My first favourite author was Enid Blyton (at age 5), quickly
supplanted by C.S. Lewis, quickly supplanted (at the age of 8) by Tolkien,
who remained my primary passion until I was 17, when I discovered Guy
Gavriel Kay. Diana remained a favourite though, enough that as I prepared to
move to Israel at the age of 22, in 1995, before the age of the internet and
amazon, I went into WH Smiths and I asked them to look up Diana Wynne Jones
on their computers and I ordered a copy of every single book of hers that
was then in print. That's how I finally got my own copy of Fire and Hemlock,
and was able to lose myself once more in that amazing book about lonely,
creative children and neglectful parents, and books and poems and courage
and how being a hero means ignoring how stupid you feel. That's also how I
discovered Hexwood, which quickly became a new favourite. I still remember
the first time I read it, the way my whole understanding of the book had to
shift right in the middle. And how Mordion joined Thomas Lynn as men to
love. 
	I don't read C.S. Lewis anymore, and I know I would cringe if I
picked up Enid Blyton. Even Tolkien, much as I love the memory of what his
books did for me, stays on my shelf unopened. I've kept some YA books on my
shelves, through many different homes, but in the past twenty years I think
I've only re-read Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence once, and I
haven't opened Prydain or Narnia. I do dip back into Madeleine L'Engle every
now and then. But Diana Wynne Jones. well, she is in a category all her own.
Over the years I have bought all her books except one, and I just ordered
Wilkin's Tooth today. And I re-read them constantly. I can't think of
another author that I have read this long, and this consistently. To enjoy a
book you first read as an eight or nine year old just as much when you are
thirty years older. that says something very special about the kind of
writer DWJ was. I emailed her once, via her website, although I never got a
reply. Told her, in that letter, that I thought Fire and Hemlock was that
perfect book she had said she kept wanting to write and not quite managing
to.
Thinking about it now, I'm realizing that she is one of the only authors I
have read consistently who has continued to publish throughout my life.
Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, died before I was born. Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper,
Madeine L'Engle  - I think of theirs as books from my past (although I was
very sad when L'Engle died a couple of years ago). Diana's books have been a
constant presence, a new one every few years, plus that great bonanza when
old ones were reissued. I never knew her personally, but I wish I had. The
spirit that shines through her books is so vital, so generous and clever. I
have been affected profoundly by many books, books that have broken my
heart, books that have inspired me.but I can't think of any other author who
ever infused their work with as much sheer joy and fun as DWJ did, while at
the same time addressing serious themes and creating real characters and
amazingly moving plots. Her books are so varied, but they all have such
soul. When I heard that DWJ was very ill, I started a reread of every book
she'd written, and I started my husband on them too. I felt like maybe it
would be talismanic; keep her with us, somehow. 
	So many people have described her books so well, I don't think I
should try myself. Just that. so much humanity, and laughter, and wit. 
When people raved about Harry Potter, I'd think-Witch Week. Now those are
real children dealing with real problems. Those, I recognized from my own
life; the Theresas and Simons, the Nans and Charleses and Nirupams. To the
nine-year-old I was when I first read that book, it was nothing short of
miraculous that the nerds were the heroes. Brave, plump Nan. How reassuring.

	I still have to stop myself from laughing aloud when I read the
brilliant dialogue, the fantastic domestic scenes in Archer's Goon. I would
quite like to be adopted by Quentin and Catriona myself, just to become part
of that verbal sparring. Deep Secret - another brave nerd heroine to love,
and the magids are just brilliant, and Scarlatti being played again and
again in an empty car, and Janine can be a truly evil woman but we can still
laugh at her jumpers. And of course, even though I've only ever been to one
convention, what a delicious depiction! And again; real people, facing real
ethical issues, making real choices for good or evil, but being so. fun.
about it. 
	So many memorable characters who have become part of me. I will
never tire of them, and I truly feel bereaved, that DWJ is no longer in this
world. It has become tangibly emptier, to me, even though I never met her. I
had one sort-of consolatory thought though, remembering her amazing
description of her childhood, and the world going mad when she turned five,
and escaping the blitz. What the world would have lost, had she not escaped!
Seventy-six was far too soon, but at least it was not tragically too soon.
She has given us so much, and from what I understand, she had a pretty great
life herself.
	My son is two and a half. I wonder when he'll be old enough that I
can start reading her books to him? I'm looking forward to that.

-----Original Message-----
From: dwj-bounces at suberic.net [mailto:dwj-bounces at suberic.net] On Behalf Of
Deborah Meghnagi Bailey
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011 10:14 PM
To: 'Diana Wynne Jones discussion'
Subject: Re: [DWJ] Tributes

While for me, it's always been Thomas Lynn *and* Mordion...although I have a
soft spot for The Goon, too!

-----Original Message-----
From: dwj-bounces at suberic.net [mailto:dwj-bounces at suberic.net] On Behalf Of
Farah Mendlesohn
Sent: Monday, March 28, 2011 10:11 PM
To: Diana Wynne Jones discussion
Subject: Re: [DWJ] Tributes

On 28 March 2011 21:07, Ellen Willcox <eawil3 at email.wm.edu> wrote:

> In another interesting dichotomy, DWJ told me when I met her that many
fans
> have crushes on either Howl or Chrestomanci (Christopher Chant, not
> Gabriel).  She said that, based on letters she got, the younger fans seem
> to
> go for Howl and the older ones for Chrestomanci.  Possibly because C.
> becomes more settled and responsible?
>
>
Ha! I always had a bit of a crush on Janet. I cannot *resist* competent
women.

Farah
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