Diana Wynne Jones, RIP

The author of Howl’s Moving Castle , and the finest children’s author of our generation, has died at the age of 76

She is perhaps best known to the uninitiated as the author of Howl’s Moving Castle , adapted very liberally into an anime movie by Hayao Miyazaki. There was also a TV adaptation of her book Archer’s Goon in 1992. But there’s so much more to discover about this wonderful, mercurial author and it’s a shame more of her work wasn’t adapted to bring her to the attention of a wider audience. Those who did read her work instantly fell under its magical spell, and though it took her a long while to find a fan base, she put those years to good use, honing her craft and polishing her prose.

The results were series such as the Chrestomanci, Derkholm, the Dalemark Quartet, the Castle series and the Magids. Standalone titles included Dogsbody (which if you read nothing else by her, read this – it’s about an alien trapped in the body of a dog), A Sudden Wild Magic , Power Of Three and Fire And Hemlock . And literally tons more. She was prolific, but never, ever a hack. Every book sparkled like the gem it was. Awards and critical plaudits gravitated in her direction.

Her main contribution to the genre was the way she would often combine the traditional tropes of children’s fantasy you’d find in the books of E Nesbitt, CS Lewis and Lewis Carroll with the more socially aware children’s fiction that is in vogue today (such as Jacqueline Wilson’s work). She wasn’t afraid to set her magical elements in the real world, with characters dealing with their own recognisable issue as well as supernatural of sci-fi ones. She also had the ability to create lyrical images – and if that sounds like an oxymoron you need to read her descriptions of falling stars or sentient suns to understand her skill.

She was diagnosed with lung cancer last year, and though it briefly went into remission, finally it claimed her life on Saturday. Neil Gaiman, another author who knows a thing or two about falling stars, was one of the first to post his condolences: “Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest, writer and the finest friend.”

Gaiman also told us this in 2008: “A hero and an inspiration. I picked up Charmed Life when I was 17 or 18, a bit too old for it. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this woman is the real thing.’ In 1985, I think, I was at a convention in Birmingham and Diana was guest of honour. I went over and said, ‘I have to tell you, I am an enormous fan of yours!’ And we started talking. It was probably 15 years after that that she said, ‘You were the first adult who wasn’t a children’s librarian, a publisher or a teacher to tell me they actually liked my books!’

We’ll miss her.

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