When I was first deciding what I would write about Diana Wynne Jones for this blog tour, I thought it would be a piece about one of my favorite books such as Howl's Moving Castle or Enchanted Glass. An almost-review about how amazing it was -- how amazing all of her books were really. But the world doesn't really need another review claiming that her books are "good," that is obvious at this point. What was so special about Diana Wynne Jones was not that she wrote good books. People write and read good books all the time. Diana Wynne Jones wrote books that transform you, the reader. She wrote the books that reshape your mental landscape, that become a part of who you are, who you want to be.
Fifth grade Michelle walks into the Upper Elementary School Library and asks for more Mary Stewart. Well meaning librarian says, "Um, dear, I think you would find that in the Junior High or High School Library. What else would you like?" Long silence. Then, in an instance of either desperation or very insightful reader advisory, "Have you read Diana Wynne Jones?"
Perhaps she had recently read Diana Wynne Jones, perhaps she thought "hey, both middle aged British women," perhaps she just really loved Diana Wynne Jones herself. Whatever her motivations, she changed the way I read once again.
Diana Wynne Jones' books are complex. You get the gist from reading them that she has respect for you, the reader; for your intellect and discernment, no matter your age. Her settings are rich and beautiful. Her characters live -- they become people you know and love with intensity and longevity. Opening her books truly is like opening a door into another world. If Mary Stewart led me into genre fiction, Diana Wynne Jones lead me into fantasy. And, much like with Mary Stewart, in those pre-internet days the search for new Diana Wynne Jones to read became a quest in and of itself; the same select few were placed in bookstores and libraries, but the treasured new ones could occasionally be found in thrift stores, yard sales, and the used and out of print bookstore. Out of desperation I found my way to other authors who would later become true loves as well: Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Anne McCaffrey, Marion Zimmer Bradley, CS Lewis, Tolkien. Yes, she was my first.
Fast forward to the spring of 2011. I had been spending a lot of time at my grandparents' house. My grandfather had Parkinson's Disease, and he was getting progressively worse. I went to spend time with him, but as it always had been, much of my time there was spent in reading -- reading like I hadn't done in years. Companionable silence during the day. Or, at night, hour after hour wrapped in quiet darkness, alone in a world of someone else's creation. Then, one day, the inevitable but still unthinkable happened: my grandfather died. I spent a few days hiding from the world. On one of my first visits back into the virtual world I was looking around on bookshelves of doom came across this post: Diana Wynne Jones, 1934-2011.
I remember telling myself when the call first came out for letters, "I'll write to her. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'll write." But I didn't. Diana Wynne Jones and my grandfather got all wrapped up in each other and it was really hard to separate them. Reading and my grandparents are forever entwined; and I was just too shattered to pull a big enough piece of myself out to send to her. I wanted to thank her, to tell her how much she helped shape me, but I didn't. So, when Robin McKinley said the following about Diana Wynne Jones after her death, it reverberated through me:
Everyone leaves a themselves-shaped hole when they go, and we all feel it, whether we know or recognise the individual holes or not. No one is an island, as John Donne almost said, each human death diminishes me.
I used to think my experience with Diana Wynne Jones was incredibly personal, unique to me, something I could never publicly share. But as this blog tour has progressed it has become increasingly clear that Diana Wynne Jones transformed many lives. I have cried so many times during this blog tour, but with the sadness was also a feeling of closeness to other readers. (Some of the ones that move me most are Chasing Ray, Finding Wonderland, Charlotte's Library, and Sarah Rees Brennan. I would also recommend reading Neil Gaiman's Being Alive. Mostly about Diana.) Here we are, over a year after her death, and just sharing our love of her is transforming our lives -- or, at least mine.
In this passage of time, another thing has become more and more obvious. I like to talk in my reviews about stories that are about stories within stories; the layers upon layers and sticky, tangled-up webs of how everything and everyone is connected. Just because Diana Wynne Jones (or my grandfather) is no longer living does not mean that she is gone. Every time we share a story about or from them with a new generation, they are here. Every time my kids watch Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, or we read Charmed Life aloud, Diana Wynne Jones is here. Her story becomes a part of my story, their story, your story. She is still transforming lives. And, though I know she won't receive it, this is my letter to her.
To find more people Celebrating Diana Wynne Jones, please check out the Tumblr or follow the Blog Tour. I am also really excited that Dogsbody, A Tale of Time City, and Fire and Hemlock (which also features the essay "The Heroic Ideal") have be rereleased with new covers this month. They also have all new intros written by Neil Gaiman, Ursula K. Le Guin, and Garth Nix respectively.