Saturday, March 26, 2011

RIP Diana Wynne Jones.

If you hadn't already heard, Diana Wynne Jones passed away last night at the age of 76.

I've been spending the day moping around, dredging up all my old fanart and spamming tumblr with it, and trying not to cry whenever I think about the fact that one of my greatest heroes is gone.

I'd like to make some attempt to put into words what this woman has meant to my life, and how her stories have inspired me, so I hope you'll bear with me.

I don't remember which of her books I read first - I think it might have been Year of the Griffin in 7th or 8th grade. I do recall that my love for her writing didn't arrive all at once, but I liked whatever book it was enough to check out another of hers, and then another and another as I discovered that every single one was just as brilliant as the next, and there were dozens of them. I'd say Witch Week (weirdly, the first of the Chrestomanci books that I read- I went all out of order) was really the one that cemented my fervent admiration, and it's still tied with The Lives of Christopher Chant and A Tale of Time City for my very very favorite. It contained so many of my favorite things - secret powers, parallel universes, British accents - but somehow it was completely different from anything I'd read before. For one thing, it was so smart. Like so many DWJ books, I had to read it a few times before I really comprehended the whole plot, and every time I reread it, it surprises me.

And the characters - oh, the characters! I've doodled Charles, Nan, Estelle, Theresa, Nirupam, Simon, all of them, so many times - they just beg to be visualized, because they are absolutely alive. They are not vague suggestions of schoolchildren, with gratuitous flaws tacked on to their interchangeable personalities to make them "interesting." DWJ's heroes (all of them) are so wonderful because she let them be nasty, selfish, sulky, awkward real people. What I mean is, she gave her characters flaws not in a way that's supposed to make them endearing, like, oh I don't know, if somebody wrote about a completely bland character who is somehow supposed to be likeable and relatable because we are told in every. single. paragraph. about how clumsy this theoretical character is.

On the contrary, Charles Morgan is quite a repellant little bugger. But by the end of the book, we are surprised to discover that we love him in spite of it. Aren't our little siblings such repellant little buggers too? And if we do end up loving Charles' sociopathic tendencies, or Chrestomanci's vanity, or Nan's insecurity, anyway, it isn't because their faults somehow make those characters cute, but because they make them who they are.

Going deeper, I've only recently begun to understand the way that DWJ always let her characters understand each other's faults, in ways that most children's and young adult literature glosses over. Conrad and Millie rag on Christopher behind his back, but haven't we all done that? And don't we all understand that it doesn't mean we love our best friends any less? Think about Moril and his siblings, in Cart and Cwidder, coming to realize that their mother never really loved their father the way they always thought. It's extremely upsetting, of course, but it's not the center of the story. It's only the beginning of a much wider tale, and somehow, I find that reassuring. The illusions we hold in regards to the people we love get torn down, and though it may seem devastating at first, it doesn't have to destroy our love for them.

Well, I'm getting into paper-writing mode, and I haven't even gotten to the most important part: the magic.

I don't even know if I can put this point into words with precise little examples. It's just this: Diana Wynne Jones has kept me believing in magic until age 24, and that feeling is refreshed every time I reread one of my favorites. (Of course she's had some help from C.S. Lewis and Patricia McKillip and J.K. Rowling along the way.) Maybe it's more accurate to say that she has showed me glimpses of real magic, allowed me to believe that it can exist in the real world, and inspired me to capture a little bit of that magic through writing and drawing, so I can make it real for myself.

There's just something about the silly, petty everydayness of her worlds, which, when mixed up with the soaring, unexpected fantasticality of what happens in them, creates a sense of magic and wonder more wonderful than any self-serious sword-and-sorcery epic.

Which is just my opinion, of course. But I just wanted to try and explain the shape of one woman's tremendous influence in my life, and I wanted to honor her memory, and simply say - you will be very, very missed by this particular rabid fangirl. Rest in peace.

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