Recommendation: Diana Wynne-Jones

I feel like fantasy author Diana Wynne-Jones doesn’t get as much love and attention as she deserves.

Oh, other authors often laud her, like Neil Gaiman, and Studio Ghibli has adapted two of her books into animated movies (one amazing though a loose adaptation, one mediocre). But she’s not a household name despite the charm and imaginativeness of her books, and the movies based on her books are more associated with Studio Ghibli than the original author.

She did experience something of a renaissance several years ago during the Harry Potter craze of the late nineties to late aughts – it was a time when people were hopping on the bandwagon of children’s/young-adult’s fantasy stories, hoping to strike Potter gold. Some of these would-be franchises were good (Artemis Fowl), and some were bleeding-from-the-eyes-bad (G.P. Taylor’s Christian fantasies presented as Potter alternatives).

Diana Wynne-Jones seemed like a natural choice to reprint and promote – she had already written a huge number of fantasy stories, often involving witches and wizards. She was also British, and she had a great deal of the same charm of style and setting that had been presented in Rowling’s books. And she was imaginative – arguably much more so than Rowling – with multiverses, dimensional hopping, twists and even science-fiction woven into the fantasy.

Maybe that’s why she didn’t become as famous as Rowling – her books take more effort to comprehend, and a structure and framework that take more time to comprehend. A school for magic is a little easier to understand than the Chrestomanci universe, which has many different parallel worlds. Or a story based on the ballad of Tam Lin. Or the time-bending antics of A Tale of Time City. Or the plot twists that blow your mind in Archer’s Goon, The Power of Three and Deep Secret.

But obviously, less popular doesn’t mean less good. Jones came up with some wildly clever ideas and plumbed them to their depths, sometimes with clever yet affectionate parodies of the fantasy genre (and many affectionate nods to J.R.R. Tolkien). She was also even better than Rowling at writing twisty mysteries within her fantasy stories.

The Chrestomanci stories are a wonderful series of stories about Christopher Chant, a supremely powerful magician born with nine lives who travels between worlds. He’s not always the center of the stories, because they tend to be focused on the people who become involved with him in these worlds – kids forbidden from using magic, a seemingly ordinary boy whose narcissistic sister is a gifted sorceress, a Romeo and Juliet story, a boy cursed with bad karma, and so on.

Then there are the Magid stories. Sadly, Jones only wrote two of these – Deep Secret and The Merlin Conspiracy, but they are among my favorites. The first one is a bizarre sci-fantasy story set at a scifi/fantasy convention, in which a colorful cast of characters are trying to figure out who the heir of an interstellar empire is. The second is a world-hopping love story between the best character of Deep Secret and a girl from another world, where royalty is magic and a conspiracy may take over magic throughout the multiverse.

I won’t summarize every book she’s written, only say that they involve time travel, Norse gods, a malevolent old woman with supernatural powers, a Goon, a star in a dog’s form, a ghost attempting to solve her own murder, a game diving into everyone’s favorite books, a Celtic-flavored fantasy that I can’t describe without spoiling the twist, and various other things.

So if you like stories with imagination, a dark edge and that clever, slightly quirky Britishness, than her books are a must-read.

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