Diana Wynne Jones – An Appreciation

תרגום לעברית של הרשומה הנ"ל אפשר לקרוא בבלוג של הוצאת גרף, כאן.


Nowadays authors have websites, blogs and twitter accounts. One need only type in their name on Google to get a full list of their books and short (if skewed) biography of them on Wikipedia, photo included. If you have the means in your pocket, it’s a hop, a skip and a jump to order all their books off Amazon, or if they’re out of print, from AbeBooks or Ebay. All this was not the case when I was a little girl first discovering the world of reading. Authors were creatures of mystery, unseen and unattainable and often dead. What could not be gleaned about their lives and works from dust jackets and library card catalogs was quite simply unknown. And so, when someone* told me he had actually met Diana Wynne Jones in person, and eaten strawberries in cream with her at her house in Bristol, my jaw nearly dropped to the floor.

I think what flabbergasted me was not so much that this particular person had met Diana Wynne Jones, but the very thought that it was possible to meet her. This person went even further and scribbled her postal address for me on a bit of lined paper ripped out of little notebook – I pinned it to a cork board over my bed, and held onto it literally for years (in fact it is probably still tucked away amongst my old papers somewhere). I’m a bit embarrassed to remember that my first letter to Diana was as fannish and squeeful as can be. I sent her a copy of the first book I ever translated into Hebrew**, for which I’m sure she had no use, and a set of bookdarts, for which I hope she did.  (She was absolutely wonderful, and responded with a postcard and a signed copy of POWER OF THREE.)
But perhaps I’d best start at the beginning. Having learned to read during a one-year stay in America when I was five, I returned to Israel a fully-fledged bookworm (yay mixed metaphors!) and soon found myself smuggling books to school and reading them under the table during class. In effect I was reading fluently in English while still learning to read in Hebrew – to this day English is my preferred language for reading. The small stock of books we had brought from America soon ran out***, as did the English-language books my mother had preserved from her own childhood****, and so a subscription was arranged for me to the British Council library in Jerusalem, which in those days was housed in the historic Terra Sancta building, a ten-minute walk from my house. I would check out two books at a time, and finish them within days. In such a fashion I read the entire Dr. Doolittle series, the Mary Poppins books, and other books by British authors such as E. Nesbit, Ursula Moray Williams, Shirley Hughes, Philipa Pearce, Penelope Farmer, Alan Garner etc. I seldom noted the names of the authors or even the titles, a crying shame because there are several I wish I could track down today and all I remember are vague plot elements.

In such a fashion, at the age of seven, I first read CHARMED LIFE by Diana Wynne Jones. I know I also read WILKIN’S TOOTH, THE POWER OF THREE and DROWNED AMMET in the same years, but I’m not sure I connected them all to the same author. However the memory of those books stuck in my mind and I had a yearning to reread them. I think I was nine when I rediscovered Diana Wynne Jones in the public library in Eugene, Oregon, and finally noted her name for future reference. From that moment on I would hunt for her books in every bookstore and every library I entered, anywhere in the world I happened to be. I have flashbulb memories of first finding specific books in specific locations: FIRE AND HEMLOCK in a shop in Aspen, Colorado; HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE in a library in Woodshole, Connecticut – etc. etc.

And of course I found many of the books in London, in the bookstores near my aunt’s house in Wimbledon. I fully credit Diana Wynne Jones for my REdiscovering my love of reading after having it all but squashed out of me during highschool. I would raid bookstores in the mornings and come back to my aunt’s house in the afternoon all laden with books, snuggle up on my comfy guest bed and read read read read. If on these occasions I read anything other than books by Diana Wynne Jones, it was only because I had already read all the Diana Wynne Jones on hand.

Enough about HOW I read the books, which for me is nostalgia but for you is probably getting a bit boring. Here’s WHY I read them: they kept surprising me. There were two things I knew I could always count on in a new book by Diana: 1. that it would make me laugh, and 2. that it would keep me mystified. Whereas with other authors it usually took no more than one or two books to “crack” the formulas, recognize the recurring themes and understand the inner workings of the plot, as it were, with Diana every book I read was a completely new world with new rules and new trappings. This is particularly true of her early books, but even when Diana is writing a “series” the sequels often have quite a different flavor and a completely new perspective. She likes “slotting sequels in sideways” to paraphrase something I’m sure she once wrote about what she learned from C.S.Lewis (under whom Diana studied, IN PERSON, at Oxford. Wonderouser and wonderouser). Another thing Diana rather consistently does is to break rules and defy genre expectations, in such a clever way that often I was not even aware I HAD certain expectations before Diana thwarted them. Diana reinvents genre time after time, turning things topsy turvy and pushing the envelope without ever being so avant garde as to be unpalatable.

There’s a bit in Diana Wynne Jones’ YEAR OF THE GRIFFIN – which I’ve just discovered I absolutely must reread as soon as possible – in which several students at a college for magic write essays on magic. This in a world in which magic has for years been subjugated to the tourism industry, and weakened and corrupted by adhering to genre-like rules and expectations. By writing about magic, the students are reinventing it. Every single one of those essays suggests a different model for magic, and every single one of them is brilliant. There is fodder here for several entire series of fantasy novels – and it all came out of the head of one Diana Wynne Jones.

Another delightful thing about Diana’s writing is that Diana delights in chaos. Where so many novels come to their conclusion when things finally fall into their proper place, Diana’s books often conclude with everything falling spectacularly into pieces. Things get very, very messy, and it’s often quite confusing, but it’s also FUN and RIGHT and GOOD. Many of Diana’s novels are fundamentally about how adhering to rules constricts us, binding us and blinding us to our true abilities. In Diana’s books, in complete contrast to the classic comic-book model, the bad guys are all aiming towards conformity while the good guys are endlessly inventive. She disproves the old Anna Karenina aphorism that “every happy family is alike”, and shows that happiness – much like families – comes in many variations and combinations.

Which is not to say Diana’s books are all happy all the time. In fact it is the profound unhappiness of many of Diana’s characters that makes them so believable and so easy to identify with. I did not need to read Diana’s biography in order to know that she was mining from a personal core of great unhappiness: that she knows what it is like to be neglected, lonely and misunderstood. For me as an only child, constantly moving from place to place, not fitting in with my peers, left to my own devices for hours on end, Diana’s books were a source of great solace.

For years it was quite difficult to track down Diana’s books: as a teenager I remember writing letters (on real paper, with stamps and all) to Methuen, Puffin and so on asking for a complete list, and receiving in the mail the first publisher’s catalogs I had ever seen. She was not very well known and many of the shops and libraries where I sought her books had never even heard of her. Farah Mendlesohn writes of Diana Wynne Jones (and again, I paraphrase, because I am too lazy to go look up the exact quote) that she finally came to critical attention when the children who had first appreciated her books grew to adulthood – that in effect, she raised her own critics. In my case it is quite literally true that Diana Wynne Jones’ books were translated into Hebrew as soon as I became an adult and attained a position from which I could personally see to their translation. I am proud of my role in spreading the DWJ gospel, first by “infecting” my friends one by one, later by publishing Hebrew translations of her books. I am glad she is finally getting some of the recognition she so justly deserves, and glad that her books are now so much more available than they used to be.

I did finally get to meet Diana in person myself, seven years ago, at the Adam&Eve pub in Bristol where several members of the online DWJ mailing list had arranged for a “pubmeet” with the author. I flew especially to the UK for this, with my husband and 5 month old daughter. There was a football match on telly at the time, and the pub had preferred the sports fans and rather shafted us readers, sticking us in one dark stuffy corner. I remember climbing up the stairs in trepidation, expecting to enter a space in which people would be gathered and Diana would be on some sort of podium or stage – instead, I more or less bumped into Diana on the way up. She was simply there. In person. Not an arms length away from whence I stood. I found myself utterly tongue-tied. What could I say in the face of my idol? How could I express just how much I loved her books? How much she had given me over the years? How excited I was to meet her, how much I wanted to be her friend? I felt rather a dolt.

As some of you probably know by now, Diana is very ill. She has had cancer for a while and a few months ago made an informed decision to stop treatments. I wrote this now because I hope she knows, while she is still the living, breathing real person I once could not believe her to be, just how much she is loved and appreciated. GBH


* The someone was my friend David Hulan of the International Wizard of Oz Club.
** Picture book edition of “James and Giant Peach” based on the movie.
***Judy Blume, Judy Blume and Judy Blume.
****The Narnia Chronicles, some of the Moomintroll books and BALLET SHOES by Noel Streatfeild.

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9 תגובות על Diana Wynne Jones – An Appreciation

  1. תמר הגיב:

    מרגש ונפלא.

    היכולת להעביר הלאה את חווית הקריאה שלך, על ידי הבאת הספרים לתרגום לעברית, היא בטח אחת המספקות. אני קראתי את הטירה הנעה ונהנתי כהוגן, וזה בזכותך.

    שלא לדבר על המפגש. כמה אנשים השפיעו עלי בתקופות שונות, ולא רק סופרים – גם אנשי קולנוע, מוזיקאים וספורטאים. לפגוש אחד מהם יהיה באמת אירוע מיוחד.

    • רותם ברוכין הגיב:

      מה שתמר אמרה. כתבת נפלא, הייתי מדוייקת ומרתקת בניתוח שלך את מה שמקסים כל כך בספרים של דיאנה, ואין לי מילים להודות לך על שהבאת את הספרים שלה אלינו. אני כמעט לא קוראת באנגלית (הקריאה שלי איטית מאוד גם ככה, ובאנגלית עוד יותר, ככה שזו פשוט פונקציה של זמן), ובלעדייך לא הייתי נחשפת לסופרת הנפלאה הזו. לקרוא את "הטירה הנעה" היה כמו לחזור לילדות, וכמובן שאחר כך בלשתי וקראתי כל דבר אחר שלה שתורגם לעברית. אני מקווה שהמגמה תמשיך, גם אם האישה המופלאה לא תוכל לייצר לנו עוד ספרים.

  2. Lilac הגיב:

    I was deeply touched by this. It made me think about how much I would like to meet my favourite authors and brought back so many memories of being a child, with no friends, feeling like the only ones who can understand me are the characters in those books I was reading so meeting them would probably feel like meeting a reflection of those paper friends I used to have.
    I am sorry to say I don't really know DWJ but after reading this I feel like reading some of her work. Is it possible to get her books in Israeli book stores (in English)?

  3. gilibug הגיב:

    Thanks for your responses. Lilac, you can probably find some of her more recent books in shops here, though I think you're better off starting with earlier books like "Howl's Moving Castle" or "Charmed Life". Steimatzky has a central warehouse you can call and they'll tell you what's in stock. But why not order online?

    Also, I'm happy to report this little update from the Ansible newsletter:
    Diana Wynne Jones on the mysterious consequences of giving up chemotherapy: 'I am at present confounding medics by apparently getting better. Two of my most prominent growths have vanished away, much to the astonishment of doctors, who had so confidently expected me to be dead by now that they came and stuck enigmatic messages on my front door (like Passover in reverse) telling the morgue folk where the notes on me were. I'm wondering whether to peel the things off. Or is this Too Good to Last? Personally, I put this down to Red Wine. [In short …] I am currently having a slow motion miracle. This strikes me as peculiar – but welcome.' (email, 15 September)


  4. Jenny Schwartzberg הגיב:

    This is a wonderful appreciation of DWJ. I'm so envious of you for getting to meet her in person! I wanted to suggest that if you still want to track down books from your childhood, where you only remember plot elements, you could try Loganberry Books' Stump the Bookseller website at: http://www.loganberrybooks.com/stump.html It is really great for finding books you thought you never could find.

  5. Blue Yeti הגיב:

    Thank you, Gili, for writing this. I am guilty of never telling DWJ how much she means to me, even by means of the internet. I try to spread her awesome through people in the real world, but it seems inadequate to quietly love books which have changed my life and understanding of myself so much.
    I shall be correcting this oversight soon.
    Liz (I met you at the DWJ conference)

  6. marly youmans הגיב:

    Lovely recollections and appreciation of the ever-fascinating Diana. She is a passion at my house as well.

  7. Ellen Kushner הגיב:

    Thank you, Gili. I am devastated by news of her death, even though I know it was coming. I met her when I was a young editor (the first to put CHARMED LIFE in paperback) and kept up a correspondanc e over the years, meeting & speaking occasionally. Reading your wonderful piece also makes me realize that I must write my recollections all down, as a way to use my own craft to construct my own small monument to an artist I loved, and to comfort myself among the mourners today.

  8. פינגבאק: In Memoriam: Diana Wynne Jones | VoVatia

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