Better than Harry Potter! The late great Diana Wynne Jones...

(72 Posts)
hardtostayfocused Fri 16-Aug-13 20:07:34

I'm still palpitating at the number of DWJ novels which appeared in the fantastic AIBU fictional parents thread. (For those not yet in the know she was one of the best children's fantasy novelists of the last 40 years...)

The first one I read was 8 Days of Luke (showing my age...) and I loved Charmed Life and The Ogre Downstairs as a child, and was thrilled by The Time of the Ghost and Fire and Hemlock as a teen.

Then, in my 20s, realised to my delight that she was still turning out a fine book a year, so collected all those too!

I know there are a few other obsessive fans out there... please come and share. Which is your favourite?

<Sits in corner, shaking slightly, chanting "Chrestomanci!">

Woodhead Thu 05-Sep-13 20:47:48

Virgil it's really subjective.

I'd be tempted to say one of the Chrestomanci ones. Either Charmed Life, or The Lives of Christopher Chant. Charmed life is typically read first, Lives of Christopher Chant is a prequel, but it would still work as a first read. (Both have parallel worlds, magic etc)

Or, possibly Archer's Goon (which is set in normal UK), and has a particularly well written family, with siblings Howard and Awful (his sister), which might be quite appealing to an 8yr old.

Archer's goon is more "normal" reality with some other beings and space travel thrown in (and some signature DWJ playing with time), the Chrestomanci ones are more obvious fantasy and magic.

AnyoneButLulu Thu 05-Sep-13 19:07:42

I do like her books, but I think the plotting in many of them is all over the shop, which is why she never sold like Rowling, whose plotting is excellent (Dan Brown sold millions despite being barely able to string a sentence together on the basis of pure plot power).

My tenuous connection to DWJ is that a FOAF's laundry backlog has a supporting role in House of Many Ways.

I would definitely second Frances Hardinge, who can both write and plot superlatively.

virgil Thu 05-Sep-13 18:52:53

so glad I stumbled across this thread. DS1 has come home from school with an I structure that he is to read a Diana Wynne Jones book. The only one I know is The Time of the Ghost, my absolute favourite book as a teenager but way too old for him (he is eight and in year 4). What would you all recommend as the best one for him to start with? He is a very strong reader.

Woodhead Thu 29-Aug-13 11:48:00

TheOriginalSteamingNit Nan's diary about real and imitation girls, etc is one of the most spot on bits of writing I've ever read about school dynamics. I loved the invisible line between the girls and boys and everyone being allowed to cross it to torment Brian Wentworth.
Nice that she gives them all a happy ending also, I liked the positive epilogue (although I find that more of a fantasy than the magic).

I generally like the magic/fantasy elements though, particularly in something like Fire and Hemlock were it is just an urn twist away from normal reality. I haven't re-read The Ogre Downstairs as an adult as I thought there was a bit to much reality in that one regarding learning to cope with blended families.

Spikeinhiscoat I haven't read the Derkholm series, seems to have mixed opinions on this thread. Must try those ones. I'm quite delighted to realise there are so many I haven't come across yet. Serves me right for just getting them from Charity shops.

UniS Wed 21-Aug-13 23:05:06

My copy of "the game" arrived today - I've nearly finished it already.

SoupDragon Tue 20-Aug-13 18:47:10

Dangerous : I think they are mostly available on Kindle!

SoupDragon Tue 20-Aug-13 18:37:59

I tried to read the Dalemark set recently and found them dull. I had enjoyed them as a child so I don't know what's gone wrong!

SoupDragon Tue 20-Aug-13 18:26:34

Oh, I loved Charmed Life and the Chrestmoanci series [sigh]

Spiritedwolf Tue 20-Aug-13 18:21:42

The one I'm thinking about for Frances Hardinge is "Fly by Night" I think there are sequels now too, and Verdigris Deep. Yes, I'm sure I've read the Switchers. Maybe the incomprehensible bits of New Policeman made me think of DWJ too ;)

P.B. Kerr is quite different but fun - twins who are Djinn - the series begins with Children of the Lamp: The Akhenaten Adventure. In this house we're also fans of Eoin Colfer, Jenny Nimmo and Garth Nix (though we like different series of his best).

I must get back re-reading some DWJ though, might start with the Merlin Conspiracy or the Howl's Moving Castle books, I loved those, then diversify into some of the ones that confused me the last time I read them.

I'll look out for Julia Golding though, I've certainly seen her books in the library.

hardtostayfocused Tue 20-Aug-13 17:58:38

I like Harry Potter too Spiritedwolf, just think it's a shame that so many younger readers don't get to diversify to DWJ (and other great children's fantasy novelists like Susan Cooper and Joan Lingard) who must have influenced JRK.

I read the first of Kate Thompson's New Policeman books a while back - now that I found incomprehensible but perhaps should give it another go. She wrote another trilogy which I found very enjoyable indeed - The Switchers - and strongly recommend to DWJ fans.

Agree with you about Jonathan Stroud. Haven't come across Frances Hardinge or PB Kerr but will check out.

Another contemporary writer I think DWJ fans would enjoy is Julia Golding - she must surely have been a DWJ fan herself. Dragonfly and The Glass Swallow are quite evocative of the Dalemark books. (She's also written a series of historical romps - Cat Royal series - which I love but they're not fantasy.)

Spiritedwolf Tue 20-Aug-13 14:04:42

Oh, I think Black Maria and Ogre Downstairs were good too... so many!

Spiritedwolf Tue 20-Aug-13 14:03:43

Love DWJ but not the thread title as Harry Potter is my favourite series ever. I grew up with the Potter series though and didn't discover DWJ till I was in my late teens/early twenties - despite spending a lot of time in the library!

I remember loving "The Merlin Conspiracy" and I came to DWJ via "Howl's Moving Castle". The Chrestomanci books are good too and The Dark Lord of Derkholm is fabulous.

I did read "Fire and Hemlock" but didn't get the ending. Maybe I need to re-read if others love this one?

I'm currently reading the Pickwick Papers (for the first time after getting the complete works of Dickens on kindle) and his choice of names is fantastic too, maybe a tradition that DWJ and JKR followed in?

I love DWJ's handling of the dynamics of families and friends. I was really disappointed when I heard she'd died (quite a bit after the fact), I was a bit surprised I hadn't heard as I'd seen a report of Eva Ibbotson's death when she died and I'm sure DWJ was better known.

In terms of new(er) writers with a flair for fantasy, try Kate Thompson (The New Policeman trilogy - there is also another author with the same name so don't get too confused!). I also love Cornelia Funke, Frances Hardinge, Jonathan Stroud, P.B. Kerr.... and more.

Colyngbourne Mon 19-Aug-13 19:07:32

If pushed, I would choose Fire & Hemlock above the others, but I couldn't do without Chrestomanci either - I love all the main Chrestomanci books (I'm not counting The Pinhoe Egg but am including Conrad's Fate because Christopher failing to use an iron was hysterical). There's a DWJ book for everyone and every season - The Ogre Downstairs is very very funny and accessible, The Homeward Bounders is heart-breaking (one of my children dressed as Joris the Demon-Hunter for World Book Day once), Black Maria deeply relevant to anyone who has had a relative like Aunt Maria, Cart & Cwidder is my favourite of the Dalemarks, Hexwood is sometimes a little too complex for its own good, Howl is superb too.... Eight Days of Luke was my first so I love that, and then Dogsbody.... probably the ones I like least are the Griffin ones, A Tale of Time City and Power of Three. I think her last few books were weaker, sadly.

Asheth Mon 19-Aug-13 18:30:30

I'm a big fan as you can tell by my name! I love all the Chrestomanci books especially but enjoy everything of hers that i've read.

DeWe Mon 19-Aug-13 15:58:08

No one's mentioned The Pinhoe Egg that I've seen. That's my favourite DWJ.
Ogre downstairs I would think was one of the best for starting with. Very funny in places.

TabbyM Mon 19-Aug-13 15:40:13

Good to see lots of fellow DWJ fans! Nobody I know in RL likes her except my brother*. The first I remember was The Ogre Downstairs from my local library then had a gap until I discovered Minor Arcana and A Sudden Wild Magic and one of my favourites ever Deep Secret. I reread mine at regular intervals, just finishing The Spellcoats right now. For some reason I only found Dalemark in the last 10 years but I love the last one. Howl is great, I love the griffins too and really Hexwood is the one I like least other than Wilkins Tooth (though I think I haven't read Angus Flint).
* Actually I lent Black Maria to someone at uni who never returned it.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Sat 17-Aug-13 22:45:07

I love DWJ, but much more so the less 'magic' she is. I thought nan's diary about 'real girls' in witch week, for example, and polly's changing friendship with Nina in F&H, were much more compelling than all the magicky stuff.

'there is such a thing as going too far' and 'have I gone it?' are catchphrases in our house.

nooka Sat 17-Aug-13 22:12:50

My copy of Homeward Bounders is an old hardback with no cover. I think it's one for slightly older readers as it has some quite deep themes. I hope you enjoy it!

Very cool to have letters from DWJ grin

UniS Sat 17-Aug-13 21:58:33

make that - off to amazon to buy a used copy.

UniS Sat 17-Aug-13 21:52:17

Thank you Pat - now off to amazon to add that to my wish list.

hardtostayfocused Sat 17-Aug-13 21:11:05

I've just reread Power of Three today and really enjoyed it. It's not one of the ones I read countless times as a child, but I can appreciate it now. It is quite tight and extremely well-plotted (JustBecauseICan if you're still there, you might like this one); I think her later books tended to be a bit more sprawling and were probably 100 pages longer (just like all books seem to be longer these days!)

My next treat will be The Homeward Bounders; never owned this one and only read it once as a child and didn't like it so much, but found it in the library today.

This has reminded me that my mum and I both wrote DWJ fan letters in the early 80s (erk - I am becoming my mother!), and we had a very nice reply back. DM had obviously critiqued the naff Homeward Bounders cover art as DWJ replied that unfortunately she didn't usually get much say in it!!

Pachacuti Sat 17-Aug-13 20:51:12

UniS, that.s Deep Secret.

sleepyhead Sat 17-Aug-13 19:24:19

Witch Week was my favourite Chrestomanci one.

I was working in a bookshop when Harry Potter mania started. I took great delight in piling the reissued DWJ books high, and recommending them to anyone who asked about HP. Sold a decent number that way too.

nooka Sat 17-Aug-13 19:03:33

Total DWJ fan here, and like Spike found it really irritating when everyone fawned over JKR as being 'so imaginative' when DWJ had written so many much better books for such a long time before JKR came on the scene. Still before the success of Harry Potter most of the DWJ books were out of print and then along with a lot of other good fantasy got rediscovered.

However I do think that DWJ's later books weren't nearly as good as her earlier ones. Just slightly missing the magic really.

I think I'd say that Howl's Moving Castle is my favourite because it's the one I turn to when I need a pick me up, but Homewood Bounders and Fire and Hemlock are particularly good, in fact all the stand alone ones are great (although I've never really 'got' a Tale of Time City). I spent years trying to find a copy of Cart and Cwidder (loved Moril but my sister had all the 70's books and took them with her when she left home).

The Dalemarks are really good, and the fourth one really works to bring them together, but I don't really like the sequals to Howl or the later ones in the Chrestomanci world - they feel a bit like potboilers to me.

However having just rewatched the last Harry Potter with dd I can happily say that any DWJ is better than the last HP!

sleepyhead Sat 17-Aug-13 19:02:40

I think my favourites are Fire & Hemlock and The Spellcoats, but I enjoyed all of them really.

Like the op, I first came across her as a child (The Ogre Downstairs was my first - I remember buying it with a Christmas book token) - and then when I was about 25 I realised she was still writing. Oh the bliss at catching up on all the ones I'd missed!

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