Diana Wynne Jones

by Diane Duane

For those of us who work with wizards, the world is a little shadowier today.

I can’t say that I knew Diana well — except in the way that any Constant Reader of a favorite Constant Writer may, when after much reading you begin to suspect that you know some of what’s going on “behind” the written word. (And you may still be pretty wrong about this: an occupational hazard).  As a migrant to this side of the Bitter Water who started attending British conventions in the late 80’s, naturally I knew Diana to sit down and have a drink with in the convention bar. Mostly I knew her through her connection to Peter: he had known her far longer than I (and he’s blogged about that here).

When we first met I was far too junior in the field to do much except Sit in Awe of her. (No one in a British convention bar does much Standing in Awe unless there are just no seats to be had in the place.) She was always funny and kind, in a very particularly dry-Diana kind of way, and a lot more interested in the business — and joy — of writing than in having anyone be in awe of her.

Everybody is going to be talking, for the next while, about the Chrestomanci books and Howl’s Moving Castle and all the rest of it. And with good reason. Diana was, and will remain, one of the definitive voices in YA fantasy — a craftswoman who was doing what she bloody well wanted to do long before YA fantasy became Cool. (And she remains one of the great proofs of the axiom: Don’t follow the market: do what you love to do. If you do it well enough, and long enough, the market will start following you.)

But I want to head off in a slightly different direction. From the time I met her until now, the most perfect encapsulization for me of that “tone of mind” of hers was and is in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, possibly the most excellent early-cliche-warning and trope-squashing device that the young working fantasy writer could desire. It is a pitch-perfect freeform deconstruction of the Elf Opera in particular, and of all the ways that epic fantasy can go wrong (mostly through laziness or inattention to what’s been done before) in general. Diana had seen it all in her time — the pioneers, the amateurs (in the original correct sense of the word) and those who took up fantasy writing to make a fast quid or buck.  As a serious and thoughtful practitioner of the art, she was in a perfect position to comment, at length and in trenchant mode, on how to screw up fantasy… while (in her comments) being hilarious at the same time.

Our copy lives up in the bathroom off Peter’s office. (I think he commandeered it because she clearly nods at him in its pages.) I can see that over the days to come I am going to be spending break time up there, snickering: the kind of tribute I’m sure Diana would prefer. Over entries like this:

Turncoats are people who change to the side of the DARK LORD in mid-Tour. This can happen to anyone except CHILDREN, Gods and the TALENTED GIRL. Turncoats are particularly dangerous because they have no REEK OF WRONGNESS. You will have got to know them as a friendly COMPANION, GOOD KING, TOUR MENTOR, etc., and you will trust them with your life / QUEST OBJECT / SECRET without suspecting that they now operate on behalf of EVIL. Such people will have been taken aside during the Tour and been blackmailed, threatened, put to the TORTURE, fed POISON, hypnotized, enchanted by a MAGIC OBJECT or simply been made an offer they couldn’t refuse. After this they will be working very seriously for your downfall. But take heart. The Rule is that only one person becomes a Turncoat at a time. The Management does not allow everyone in Fantasyland to turn against you at once.

Note that the term Turncoat is never used to describe a person who leaves the cause of the Dark Lord to join yours. This is reasonable. Your side is in the right. People who join you are merely becoming converted.



Godspeed, Diana. You’ll be missed.

(And one word to the rest of you still breathing: LAY OFF THE SMOKING. First Dave Gemmell, and Auntie Gytha, and now Diana too? How many more writers and other valuable human beings and friends of ours is this pestilent weed going to kill? ALL OF YOU CUT IT OUT RIGHT NOW.)

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