“Introduction: A Special Issue for a More Than Special Writer”
It must have been about 1982. A children’s librarian who shared my taste for fantasy asked if I had read a book she recently added to the local collection. The author was Diana Wynne Jones. I remembered reading a couple of Jones’s earlier fantasies and noting her as someone to watch, but then I had gotten caught up in graduate studies and trying to start a sputtering career, and had forgotten to do the watching.
The book the librarian handed me was called Dogsbody (1975), and it was like nothing I had ever read: funny, touching, political, poetic, wildly inventive. The point of view character was impossible—not just a dog, but a dog who had once been a star—but Jones carried it off brilliantly. I immediately tracked down every book I had missed (not easy in those days before online searches) and have never missed a Jones title since. I’ve read them all more than once, passed most of them along to others, written about their intricate structures and narrative daring, and turned a few favorites into places I can retreat to in difficult times. The range of her work is astonishing; its charm is inimitable. And her parody guidebook, The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, is both a devastatingly accurate critique of formulaic fantasy and a sympathetic poetics of the genre as a whole.
I could not make it to the 2009 conference devoted to Diana Wynne Jones and her work, but I’m delighted that some of those who were there were willing to turn the event into a more lasting symposium in the form of this special issue of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts. My great thanks to the contributors, to the conference organizers Farah Mendlesohn, Charlie Butler, and Chris Bell, and especially to the guest editors Charlie Butler, Hallie O’Donovan, and Maureen Kincaid Speller.
Guest Editor’s Introduction
On 3 July 2009, some eighty people from fourteen different countries converged on the University of the West of England in Bristol, for a weekend conference devoted to the work of Diana Wynne Jones. Since Bristol has been Jones’s home since the mid-1970s, the choice of venue was an appropriate one, although ill-health prevented her from attending. The current issue of the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts comprises edited and expanded versions of ten of the thirty-two papers delivered over that weekend, beginning with Nicholas Tucker’s keynote address, in which he assesses Jones’s life and achievement in the context of a friendship spanning some seventy years, from a time when he and Jones were young children in the Lake District during the Second World War.
Children’s literature studies may have come of age in the last generation, but it is still rare for an entire conference to be devoted to a single children’s author, especially one who has not been associated with a wider cultural “phenomenon” such as that surrounding the Harry Potter or Twilight series. The work of Diana Wynne Jones has never occupied that kind of position. She has received considerable academic attention over the past decade, most notably in the essay collection An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom (2002), Farah Mendlesohn’s monograph Diana Wynne Jones: Children’s Literature and the Fantastic Tradition (2005), and my own study Four British Fantasists (2006); but for much of her long career as a children’s writer, Jones has been seen as an underappreciated writer. Since her first children’s book (Wilkins’ Tooth/Witch’s Business) appeared in 1973, she has been published steadily, now having over forty novels to her name, but until recently her books were inclined to slip in and out of print. Many of those who developed a taste for her work as children became long-term admirers and have continued their appreciation and advocacy into adulthood, but they have never been numerous enough to make her a household name. She has won important honors within the fantasy world, but not the Carnegie Medal or Whitbread Award, the major UK prizes for children’s books. For many years, in fact, Jones was an author whose work was discussed most consistently and intensively by fans and within fandom rather than in academia—for example in Deborah Kaplan’s Chrestomanci Castle mailing list (1999–present) and through innumerable one-to-one conversations and recommendations.
Given that background, one of the most gratifying features of the conference was the fruitful interaction that took place between academia and fandom. This distinction was not embodied in a simple division of attendees, nor did the conference divide, as might have happened had it been larger, into academic and fan streams. Rather, there was a general and widely articulated sense that different kinds of expertise were here being brought to bear on each other in a productive and unusual way. Those who gave papers included—as well as academics working in fantasy, science fiction, and children’s literature— speakers with backgrounds in the hard sciences, computing, the history of technology, publishing, and numerous other fields. This diversity frequently allowed for a cross-fertilization of approaches, a process informed on all sides by a detailed and profound knowledge of the Jones corpus. This juxtaposition of cultures combined with the flattering consensus that, if her books appealed to a minority of readers, it was in part because they were written for “smart” people; and a collective enjoyment at being in a company where it was possible to use such phrases as “Hathaway, send a bus!” or to compare UWE’s puzzlingly signposted campus to the hotel in Deep Secret, knowing that one would not be required to explain oneself further.
The essays collected in this issue of JFA represent something of the conference’s diversity, but also reflect the fact that certain themes surfaced repeatedly, even if they were approached from a variety of critical angles and applied to many different texts. Jones’s use of intertexts and metafiction, for example, is a concern of several of the articles here, from Gabriela Steinke’s essay on the device of the mythosphere in the novella The Game (2007), through Kyra Jucovy’s comparative analysis of Jones’s 1984 novel Archer’s Goon with its Orwellian urtext, to René Fleischbein’s study of the relationship between narrative, metafiction, and identity in Fire and Hemlock (1985). Identity, and particularly the concept of identity as performance, is also a central concern in Caroline Webb’s essay on the Chrestomanci novel Conrad’s Fate (2005); while Debbie Gascoyne and David Rudd both explore the power of language to create and transform reality, one drawing on J. L. Austin’s ideas about speech acts and performative language and the other on the insights of deconstruction. Power—whether political, magical, or linguistic—was another common theme, one addressed most explicitly here in Martha Hixon’s article on The Merlin Conspiracy (2003) and The Pinhoe Egg (2006). Hixon’s essay provides not only a discussion of the forms of power at work in those two texts but a challenging analysis of the political positions they imply. Helgard Fischer addresses the educational system in Year of the Griffin (2000), using Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts in order to elucidate the process of transition from one system of magical education to another, and the wider changes that necessarily result from such profound revisions in understanding. Deborah Kaplan discusses the ways in which Jones’s books (notably Hexwood  and A Sudden Wild Magic ) play on expectations about age and growth, considering the implications not only for readers’ own genre assumptions but also for that most enduring and controversial power relationship within children’s literary criticism, the one between adult and child.
I and my fellow editors, Hallie O’Donovan and Maureen Kincaid Speller, would like to pay tribute not only to those whose papers appear here, but to all those whose contributions made that weekend in July 2009. In particular, we would like to thank Farah Mendlesohn, whose idea the conference originally was, and the staff of JFA for providing us with the opportunity to present some of the results to a wider audience.
Butler, Charles. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Lanham: Scarecrow, 2006. Print.
Kaplan, Deborah. “Diana Wynne Jones Mailing List.” 1999–present. Chrestomanci Castle: The Diana Wynne Jones Homepage or Travels in the Land of Ingary. Web. 28 Aug. 2010.
Mendlesohn, Farah. Diana Wynne Jones: Children’s Literature and the Fantastic Tradition. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print. Children’s Lit. and Culture 36.
Rosenberg, Teya, Martha P. Hixon, Sharon M. Scapple, and Donna R. White, eds. Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Print. Studies in Children’s Lit. 1.
“Keynote Address: Diana Wynne Jones”
“Power Plays: Paradigms of Power in The Pinhoe Egg and The Merlin Conspiracy”
Martha P. Hixon
“The Games People Play”
“Disrupted Expectations: Young/old Protagonists in Diana Wynne Jones’s Novels”
“‘Why don’t you be a tiger?’: The Performative, Transformative, and Creative Power of the Word in the Universes of Diana Wynne Jones”
“‘False Pretences’ and the ‘Real Show’: Identity, Performance, and the Nature of Fiction in Conrad’s Fate”
“New Hero: Metafictive Female Heroism in Fire and Hemlock”
“The Structure of Magical Revolutions”
“Building Castles in the Air: (De)Construction in Howl’s Moving Castle”
“Little Sister Is Watching You: Archer’s Goon and 1984”
Peter Cochran’s The Gothic Byron
Rev. by Lisa Andres
Helen Farley’s A Cultural History of Tarot from Entertainment to Esotericism
Rev. by Emily E. Auger
Farah Mendlesohn’s The Intergalactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children’s and Teens’ Science Fiction
Rev. by Jen Gunnels
M. Keith Booker and Anne-Marie Thomas’s The Science Fiction Handbook
Rev. by Rob Latham
Sophie Beaulé’s Jean-Louis Trudel
Rev. by Amy Ransom
Suzanne Magnanini’s Fairy-Tale Science: Monstrous Generation in the Tales of Straparola and Basile
Rev. by Tina-Louise Reid
Rachel Falconer’s The Crossover Novel: Contemporary Children’s Fiction and Its Adult Readership
Rev. by Faye Ringel
John Wyndham’s Plan for Chaos: The Prequel to The Day of the Triffids
Rev. by Roger C. Schlobin
Susan Schneider’s Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence
Rev. by Janani Subramanian
Farah Mendlesohn’s On Joanna Russ
Rev. by Christopher M. Sutch