Monday, August 08, 2011

Diana Wynne Jones


A few weeks back a friend told me he was reading Howl's Moving Castle to his children, and claimed the book was superior to the Harry Potter series. Well, I'm always willing to take up someone on such a challenge, so I got it out of the library....and had finished it by the next day.

It has only a marginal link to the Japanese animated movie of the same title - same idea initially, but the movie goes off in a different direction.

The book is great, full of unexplained mysteries that keep you guessing until the end, flights of fancy that keep your imagination on its toes, and a bundle of interesting characters who are very much their own selves . It has great language, no sloppy writing (not the Rowling is much given to sloppy writing either, in general), and an expectation that the young readers will keep up with the use of different words and novel ideas.

Incidentally, Howl is a punning synonym on more than one level, as are several of the names in the Moving Castle.

I was so taken with the book that I thought I'd give some of Diana Wynne Jones' other titles a go: I started with Black Maria and intend to track down more of the books over the next few weeks. Black Maria is an altogether darker book, in which 'management' of other people is the theme - management in the sense of controlling their lives. Consequently all the men in the village have been turned into 'zombies' (they're not dead, just dead boring); the children are 'clones' (only in the sense that they seem to think and behave in the same way) and the women are so naice on the surface, but it's that kind of niceness that makes you want to scream, and it's exceptionally manipulative. And of course there's a good deal of magic going on in the background which we only gradually become party to. The magician, when he finally turns up a long way through the book, is very similar to Howl in the Moving Castle, though he also has some of his own foibles.

It's again a great page-turning read, but I'm not sure that it's outworking is quite as effective as the one in the first book I read. Nevertheless it shares the same imaginative qualities that made the first so successful, and some of the topsy-turviness.
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