Some of Diana Wynne Jones’s books (but nothing like all of them)

Because I care about y’all and I do not want you to leap into one of Diana Wynne Jones’s books not knowing what to expect, I have hereby decided to construct a list of her books that says what world they are set in and what they are about. And, since I love Diana Wynne Jones, and I find it difficult not to compliment her extravagantly every time I say her name, I shall also say one thing about each of her books that charms me and pleases my heart.

My Most Favorite One
Fire and Hemlock

(the pretty cover)

The world it is set in: Modern England. Mostly. More or less.
The premise: Fire and Hemlock is a (one might say the) retelling of the ballad “Tam Lin”. As Polly is packing her things to go to Oxford, she finds a book of short stories and is bewildered to find that she remembers the stories being quite different to what they are. The more she thinks about it, the more she finds that she seems to have two sets of memories: one quite ordinary, and one – not quite. In one set of memories, she had a longtime friend called Tom Lynn, with whom she used to make up stories about alternate, heroic versions of themselves that fight giants – and these stories had a disconcerting habit of coming true.
Something that pleases me: Tom sends Polly packages of books in the post. Massive packages of brilliant, necessary books.

The One that Uses a Number of Myths Including the Flying Dutchman
The Homeward Bounders

The world it is set in: Oodles of different ones.
The premise: Jamie discovers that a group of scary and powerful creatures he just calls Them are playing a vast and complicated board game with his entire world. He is made a Homeward Bounder, constantly compelled to travel from world to world trying to get back to his Home world. The rule is that if he gets back Home, he can stay. Along the way he picks up a girl called Helen, who has a right arm that can turn into anything, and a boy called Joris, who was a slave and a demon-fighter on his Home world. They are excellent characters, particularly Joris, who might in fact be my favorite Diana Wynne Jones character of all. He has pockets full of useful things.
Something that pleases me: The world with lollipops and circuses where everyone is a bit drunk all the time.

The One that Is Slow to Start but Eventually Becomes My Other Favorite
Deep Secret

The world it is set in: Modern England – again, more or less, in the fictional town of Wantchester
The premise: Rupert Venables is a Magid, responsible for caring for Earth and nudging it in directions that will help it to accept magic, and when his mentor dies, he has to find a student to become the junior Magid for Earth. He does this by arranging for all his possibilities to attend a fantasy convention. There are centaurs, and panel discussions where everybody screams at everybody else, and a quite cool use of the nursery rhyme about going to Babylon.
Something that pleases me: Janine’s ugly jumpers (sweaters). Also, the anxious Scandinavian receptionist who pushes buttons and doesn’t necessarily understand English.

My First One
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland

The world it is set in: A generic sort of epic fantasy world
The premise: It’s a travel guide to doing a tour in the generic sort of epic fantasy world. There are entries for things like Nunneries (“any Nunnery you approach…will prove to have been recently sacked”), Dreams (“They will be telling you something you need to know for the next phase of your Tour, but they will not be doing so very clearly”), and High Priest (“Sometimes he is fat, thick-lipped, and corrupt, sometimes tall, thin, shaggy-browed, and corrupt”). Thirteen-year-old me read a lot of Mercedes Lackey, and was charmed by the whole thing.
Something that pleases me: Look, everything. But if I had to choose just one thing, this book taught me the word numinous.

The One You’ve Heard Of
Howl’s Moving Castle

The world it is set in: A fairy-tale sort of world
The premise: As the eldest of three, Sophie Hatter does not expect much out of her life; and when her younger sisters go off to seek their fortune, Sophie stays home and minds the hat shop. But when a curse from the Witch of the Waste turns her into an old lady, she gives up minding about what she is supposed to do, and becomes housekeeper for the Wizard Howl, who is rumored to eat the hearts of young girls in the village. But she has made a deal with his fire demon that could end the curse on herself.
Something that pleases me: As in many of Diana Wynne Jones’s books, our own world makes an appearance. Diana Wynne Jones is brilliant at showing us our own world, with its technology and weather and strangeness, through the eyes of characters who come from very different places.

The One That Is Dedicated to Neil Gaiman and Is Confusing as Hell

The world it is set in: An English village. Also, another planet. Also, a strange area that doesn’t seem to obey normal space/time laws.
The premise: I hardly know. There is a young girl called Ann who is recovering from an illness and beholds some strange things when she looks out her window. She wanders into Hexwood, which is a bewildering time-shifting place controlled by something called the Bannus. She is perpetually running into a boy called Hume, who is never the same age when she sees him, and his guardian, Mordion, who looks like a death-mask. Arthurian legends are involved somehow, and so are virtual reality machines. Make of that what you will. I am only mentioning it because if you have not read Diana Wynne Jones before, I do not recommend that you start with this one. It is complex and tricky, and I am never sure if I’ve understood what happened. Also, it took me at least six tries before I even remotely liked it.
Something that pleases me: The scene of Hume reinventing the wheel

The First Chrestomanci Book, Which You May Also Have Heard Of
Charmed Life

The world it is set in: An alternate version of Edwardian England. There are pleasure steamers and petticoats and a courteous, frightening enchanter called Chrestomanci.
The premise: Cat and Gwendolen are orphans. Gwendolen, who is becoming a powerful witch and plans to rule the world someday, arranges for them to be adopted by Chrestomanci, an enchanter responsible for regulating magic on their world and any movement between worlds. This doesn’t go quite according to plan, as Chrestomanci forbids Gwendolen to use magic and then takes no notice of her, which she (as future ruler of the world, in her own mind) does not appreciate. Hilary ensues.
Something that pleases me: The game that the children invent of levitating a mirror and hanging onto it to fly across the room. I WOULD PLAY THAT GAME IF MAGIC WERE REAL.

Okay, that is enough for now. It is nine in the evening and still in the mid-eighties, and I have not screamed curses at the gods and stuck my head in a cold shower for nearly an hour. Will need to promptly rectify that situation, and then curl up with The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which I made myself want to read again by finding excerpts of it to make you want to read it.

49 thoughts on “Some of Diana Wynne Jones’s books (but nothing like all of them)

  1. Yay, list!

    This very morning, I sat down with my calendar and my reading list and figured out that I must read nine more books before my chosen DWJ title(s) if I am to post during your celebratory week and keep on posting my reviews in reading order. So I’ve got a plan.

    I’m also going to pick A TALE OF TIME CITY up at the library today. I figured I’d reread it, because I remember loving it when I was small and impressionable. (I still want to go to an automat). If that works out, I may binge on some of her other stuff.

    • You have a reading list that goes with a calendar? And you are able to count how many books you should read in order to read DWJ’s books at a particular time? I…do not have that. Now I feel disorganized.

      But I hope you like Tale of Time City on the reread. If you don’t, be aware that it may not be the best of all her books; and also that all of her books are completely dissimilar to each other in setting and (generally) genre. I mean they are all fantasy, but they are all different kinds of fantasy.

      • Actually, my reading list and calendar did not, um, work. They made me count wrong. (Really! They did! It wasn’t even slightly my fault). I messed up my count, and then I decided I was going to read my next planned book anyways so that I could post on the Tuesday of DWJ Week. Then an audiobook distracted me, and I decided to finish it, and now I’ll be posting on a Wednesday. Provided I can actually start and finish A TALE OF TIME CITY before I start and finish anything else–and let’s face it, my track record kind of sucks so far.

        (Random: the library copy has perhaps the worst cover in the history of covers. It is terrible. Absolutely terrible. I don’t understand how anyone, anywhere was ever moved to read this book, if this was the original cover).

      • I want to see it! I hope when you review it you will post a picture. I love terrible covers as long as they are not covering books I own. :p


    I actually spent a whole morning after I finished that book trying to invent a real-world alternative, and it’s probably a good thing KC had moved by then, because we would likely have seriously bashed ourselves up trying.

    any chance youbrought the homeward bounders with you? I don’t seem to have brought my copy up yet and now I want to read it

    • I am not surprised. It sounds like just the kind of game you would try to recreate in the real world. Have you considered getting three helium balloons? You are very tiny and three would probably suffice.

      No, sorry. The library doesn’t have it?

    • I hope you’re able to read some of her work – if not for Diana Wynne Jones week, then at some point in the future. She’s wonderful, and her books are wonderful. They are all so different!

  3. I’m joining your DWJ week though I don’t know if I signed up the first time you posted πŸ˜› But gee, the only thing I haven’t read from among the books you mentioned is The Homeward Bounders (well, considering that the other one, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, is merely that, a guide and eh not a story as far as I know).

    Deep Secret rarely gets a mention in book blogs. Thanks for putting it out there.

    • You’re welcome! I’m always glad to mention Deep Secret. πŸ™‚

      And don’t worry that you’ve read all of these – Homeward Bounders is, by the way, extremely good. I’m going to be posting another list probably on Thursday, with some of her less well-known books. So maybe you can choose from among those.

  4. The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is on sale at Amazon! I must buy a copy immediately! And I think I have 7 DWJs checked out or on hold at the library. I read Aunt Maria in one sitting yesterday. I may OD if I’m not careful.

    • I don’t think you can OD on Diana Wynne Jones – at least I have never been able to! Sometimes the mood comes on me and I read seven of her books in a row, and I have yet to find myself tired of her. I do always wish there were more new books for me to read, which is a churlish thing to wish from an author who’s written dozens of books already. :p

  5. I’m loving Deep Secret. I started reading it before Fire and Hemlock because it was in the adult section at my library, while Fire and Hemlock was in YA.

  6. Can you believe I’ve only read two of these? But I totally got a stack of DWJs from the library the other day. I’ll finally read Fire and Hemlock! I also got The Merlin Conspiracy and Witch’s Business. I love that there are so many still for me to read. And yet, I still think I want to do some Chrestomanci reading this summer!

    • Oh, you made me long for the days when there were still stacks of Diana Wynne Jones’s books I hadn’t read yet! I hope you enjoy yours – you know that The Merlin Conspiracy is sort of a sequel to Deep Secret, right? I don’t think you desperately need to have read Deep Secret first, but The Merlin Conspiracy would probably spoil some aspects of DS. (I don’t care about that, but I know some people do.)

      • Thanks for the warning. I care sometimes so maybe I will grab Deep Secret too.

        Heading to library website …

        There, done. I’m not reading them for a week or two anyway so I’m safe!

  7. What a cool service you just provided to a bunch of people! I am also looking forward to this event, and a little adult conversation about the children’s masterworks. A timelessness about these for kids as I see at work.

    • I’m looking forward to it so much too! I was a little nervous about hosting it, as I was afraid nobody would participate – but the response has been wonderful! I can’t wait. πŸ˜€

  8. Ooh, I’m getting excited! I think I’ll start with Howl’s Moving Castle and The Homeward Bounders, or whatever I can find at my library, really.

  9. Very good list, but I have to disagree about Deep Secret being slow to start. It jumps right in with an execution – not exactly a retiring beginning.

    Deep Secret is my favorite of all her books, one of my sure-fire comfort books which I’ve read at least 50 times, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention its very good sequel, The Merlin Conspiracy. I love Nick Mallory! And I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve always wished for another DS sequel.

    I laughed over your review of Hexwood – it is horribly confusing, but I think I like it more than you. Before I read Deep Secret, it and Howl’s Moving Castle were my favorite DWJ books.

    I am so distressed by Ms. Jones’ health problems – I hope she’ll overcome them and write many, many more of her wonderful stories.

    • It’s not a slow beginning in terms of events, but it took me a little while to engage with it. There were too many new terms being tossed around right at the beginning. But I still love it!

      I need to reread Hexwood, as well as Time of the Ghost – they’re two books that I didn’t love as much as I wanted to love them.

  10. D’oh can ya believe that I never realized Howl was a BOOK? Obviously, FIRST a book and THEN a movie? w0wsers.

    I don’t know if Ill be able to enjoy any of these in the celebratory week, but I’ve definitely bookmarked this list for future book buying spree.

    • There are so many films that took me ages and ages to realize they were books first – don’t feel bad! I hope you do get to read it sometime soon!

    • Oh mercy, I just finished rereading it the other day, and it was so great! It made my very overheated weekend slightly better. πŸ™‚

  11. Now I’m going to have to read Fire and Hemlock! That one wasn’t on my radar at all so I’m glad you posted about it. Off to see if the library has a copy…

  12. @christina Yup, Howl’s Moving Castle is a book–very different from the movie. I liked both, but I’d say the movie is “inspired by” the book, not a retelling of it.

    It’s one of my favorite books.

    @Jenny You’re making me wish I’d done more than list favorites!

    The Glass in Enchanted Glass is in Deep Secret? Oooh, now I have to reread both. Mind, DS wasn’t one of my favorites–DWJ said somewhere that she thought adults were less intelligent readers than children & teens, an I thought DS showed this.

    Still, I may be surprised on rereading it; that has been know to happen, especially with DWJ. And I did like Nick in the Merlin Conspiracy.

    • It’s not in it in it, like it’s set in the same world. But the glass in Maree’s Uncle Ted’s windows sounds very similar (really exactly the same) to the glass in Enchanted Glass. Try rereading Deep Secret – it took me a while to love it as much as I do.

  13. Ok, this post is just excellent! I have been looking for a few good books for my teenagers for the summer (ones I might like to snatch when they are done with them) and here is a perfect place to start! I loved the little summaries that you posted with them all. It makes it a lot easier to know what I want that way. A lot of these sound wonderful, and since the only book I have read from this author is Howl’s Moving Castle, it’s a list that’s really useful to me! Thanks so much for posting this!

  14. Pingback: A New Challenge of Sorts– Diana Wynne Jones Week « Just Book Reading

  15. I am so surprised that I have never heard of Dianna Wynne Jones. I love the covers of these books, and am really going to do a serious search to see if I can find these books here.

    • I hope you can! She’s wonderful! Let me warn you that I’ve posted the prettiest versions of all of these covers. Some of the covers of her books are, to say the least, less beautiful.

  16. Oh fantastic! I’ve never really know where to start with her (but I’ve read Howl’s Moving Castle) I think I might have to look out for Fire and Hemlock and few others, thanks for this!!

  17. Pingback: Diana Wynne Jones Week begins « Jenny's Books

  18. Pingback: In Which I Celebrate Diana Wynne Jones Week a Week Late « The Alcove

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s