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Jones, Diana Wynne

Entry updated 15 April 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1934-2011) UK author whose name is sometimes incorrectly rendered as Diana Wynne-Jones, although not on her books; probably the premier UK writer of children's Fantasy in the late twentieth century, she received a British Fantasy special award in 1992, and a World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement in 2007. She began her writing career as a playwright, with three plays produced in London 1967-1970, then published her first novel (for adults and not sf), the humorous Changeover (1970). Her second, Wilkins' Tooth (1973; vt Witch's Business 1974), was for children (as opposed to Young Adult readers), as were her next half-dozen or so. She hit her stride with her third novel, The Ogre Downstairs (1974), which is very funny indeed about the results of children playing with a magic alchemy set (whose effects include flight, Identity Exchange, Invisibility and Transmutation) while at the same time dealing honestly and movingly with some quite difficult human problems. Jones went on to write stories which, no matter how indirect or devious their plots, always maintain an extraordinarily clear-sighted directness about sometimes painful human relationships.

All her work for children is fantastic, and most is shot through with Humour; some is fantasy with sf elements (Precognition, Parallel Worlds); some is borderline sf; some is sf proper. Dogsbody (1975), borderline sf, has as its protagonist the incarnation of the Star Sirius, exiled for an alleged murder, into the body of a terrestrial Dog. The Homeward Bounders (1981) features a child trapped in a seemingly endless series of Parallel Worlds which prove to be literal Game-Worlds – settings for WarGames and other contests with their inhabitants as the unknowing pieces (see Godgame). Perhaps Jones's best sf/fantasy novel is Archer's Goon (1984), a splendidly convoluted mystery involving Time Loops, Time Paradoxes, Paranoia, writer's block, a cheerful thug, a young protagonist whose obsession with Spaceships is of greater significance than even he knows, and a conspiracy of quasi-wizards who are Secret Masters of the UK town setting and hope to become the secret masters of the world; it was dramatized by the BBC as a six-part television serial, Archer's Goon (1992). A Tale of Time City (1987), her most overtly science-fictional story, concerns a City outside Time having trouble with the deteriorating fabric of reality as it sends its patrollers (see Changewar; Time Loop; Time Police) up and down the time-stream.

Fine fantasies from the 1970s include: Eight Days of Luke (1975), in which Norse gods amusingly manifest themselves on Earth; and Power of Three (1976), which regards humans from an alien (or fairy) perspective, as giants (see Great and Small). The Dalemark sequence – beginning with Cart and Cwidder (1975) and ending with The Crown of Dalemark (1993) – consists of fantasy tales set in the eponymous secondary-world country, lightly told but with dark undertones.

Through the 1980s Jones's target audience seemed, mostly, to become older. The Howl sequence – which includes the intricate Howl's Moving Castle (1986), Castle in the Air: The Sequel to Howl's Moving Castle (1990) and House of Many Ways (2008) – contains moments of complex savagery. Its first volume was filmed as Hauru no Ugoku Shiro (2004 Japan; vt Howl's Moving Castle) directed by Hayao Miyazaki (see also Kaze no Tani no Nausicaä [1984]). Her best-known series is the Chrestomanci sequence comprising Charmed Life (1977), The Magicians of Caprona (1980), Witch Week (1982), The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988), Mixed Magics (coll 2000), Conrad's Fate (2005) and The Pinhoe Egg (2006) [see Checklist below for omnis]. Chrestomanci himself is an enchanter-cum-civil servant who polices Magic and its misuse across the Parallel Worlds. The underlying concern with the just governance of complexly conceived universes leads Jones to conceive of these worlds, and their intricately interacting casts' local habitations, in terms evocative of Michael Moorcock's Multiverse, and with a similar tendency (in Jones's case the effect can be both pixillated and lucid) to mix together sf and fantasy narrative conventions (see Equipoise). In some of her later Science Fantasy tales – including A Sudden Wild Magic (1992), in which a Parallel World planet has been using Earth as a testing ground, thus generating much of the strife and tragedy of Earth's history; Hexwood (1993) and the short Magids sequence comprising Deep Secret (1997) and The Merlin Conspiracy (2003) – these concerns and patterns achieve considerable intensity. The semi-comic Arthurian fantasy sequences of Hexwood, set in an English wood which is a Pocket Universe larger inside than out and subject to Time Out of Sequence reiterations, are a kind of Godgame run by an AI to select optimum leadership for a commercial Galactic Empire which has long been in the hands of usurpers. Deep Secret moves between Earth and Parallel Worlds of varying balance between Technology and magic (see Science and Sorcery); it includes entertaining Recursive SF scenes at a UK Convention. A later series – the Wizards' University sequence comprising Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) and Year of the Griffin (2000) – implicitly (especially in its second volume) laid down Jones's claim to territory taken over by the Harry Potter books by J K Rowling (1965-    ), and tended to the jocose. A fondness for multiple disguises and deceptive manifestations, already seen in several previous novels, recurred in The Game (2007): here every member of a large human-seeming family proves to be a denizen of the mythic-astronomical "mythosphere", and the girl protagonist discovers that her many aunts are Stars (specifically, the Pleiades) while she herself is the personification of Halley's Comet. Jones's final full-length standalone fantasy, The Islands of Chaldea (2014) – set in an alternate-world Britain fragmented into literal Islands with, respectively, a Scots, Irish, Welsh and English flavour – was unfinished when she died and completed by her sister Ursula Jones, herself an established author of fiction and plays for children.

It may be that Jones's two finest single novels, basically fantasy, date from the 1980s: The Time of the Ghost (1981), perhaps her darkest and most personal work; and Fire and Hemlock (1984), which contains a complex, moving reworking of the old ballad "Tam Lin". In the end, her most singular achievements were weighted toward the fantastic. [PN/JC/DRL]

see also: Children's SF; Gods and Demons; History in SF; Leonardo da Vinci; Living Worlds; Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference; Mythology; Shakespeare; Sun; Wandering Jew.

Diana Wynne Jones

born London: 16 August 1934

died Bristol, England: 26 March 2011







Wizards' University

individual titles



works as editor

about the author


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