Diana Wynne Jones was a British writer of fantasy novels and short stories. Most of her works are for children, but some of her later works are more suitable for adults. Wynne Jones wrote wonderful books for years, but never achieved the fame of other authors such as that of JK Rowling. There have never been more than a few of her books in print at any one time. Now in the wake of Rowling's success, the publishing companies (at the time of writing) are biting the bullet and reprinting many of Wynne Jones's works.
Diana Wynne Jones was born in London, England. She grew up during the Second World War. In these strange times, Diana and her sisters had a disturbed upbringing, often being looked after by grandparents, by a group of Anglican nuns and by a group of mothers, while her parents worked. Although she was an avid reader, she had very little access to books, especially children's books. She said that the reason she wrote only fantasy was that her own childhood was so peculiar that she could not write about normal life, because she had no idea what normality was.
She studied at Oxford, married and had children of her own. She lived in Bristol from 1976 until her death. Her first novel, Changeover, was published in 1970. It was a comic novel for adults. Soon after this, she started to write children's fantasy, her first being Wilkin's Tooth, in 1972. Since then she produced a steady stream of books, each one an attempt to write that perfect children's book that she always wanted but never had.
Diana Wynne Jones died on 25 March, 2011, after a long battle with cancer.
Many of Wynne Jones's books are hilarious, but there is a serious side to most of them too. They usually have a tight plot, with apparently irrelevant details being brought together to strengthen the ending.
The most popular books are probably the Chrestomanci books, set in a magical counterpart to our own world. Chrestomanci himself is a magician charged with controlling the use of magic throughout the world and preventing its misuse. Another series is the Dalemark series, set in a land of castles and wandering minstrels, where people pray to unseen gods. Many of the books, however, stand on their own and are not part of any series.
Any critical judgment of books is bound to be subjective, but there is no doubt that many of Wynne Jones's books are very good indeed. Many people would consider them to be the best children's books ever written. They have all the ingredients: magic, oppressive adults, resourceful children, humour and a touch of the macabre. Some of them may disappoint - of course not every book is up to the same standard. But every book is somebody's favourite.
In the following lists, the books are shown in the order they should be read, rather than the chronological order of the events within the book. For example Charmed Life is the first in the Chrestomanci series, even though the events in The Lives of Christopher Chant predate it.
The Chrestomanci Books
Charmed Life - Cat's sister Gwendolen is training to be a witch. Cat tags along.
The Magicians of Caprona - a feud between two families in the most magical city in Italy almost ends in disaster.
The Lives of Christopher Chant - excellent.
Witch Week - somebody in class 2Y is a witch, but they won't own up. This book shows that even in a gruesome world of witch burning and inquisitions, children will still act like children.
The Ingary Books
Howl's Moving Castle - this is probably her most popular and funniest book. For slightly older readers.
Castle in the Air - the sequel. Not as inventive as the original, but enjoyable.
The Dalemark Books
The Spellcoats - three orphan children travel down a river.
Cart and Cwidder - a young boy is part of a travelling minstrel show.
Drowned Ammett - a young boy is sent to assassinate the tyrant king.
The Crown of Dalemark - a new ruler is needed for the country.
A Tale of Time City - a 1940's girl is kidnapped and taken to a city at the end of time. Excellent.
Power of Three - a tale set in a Celtic ring fort of long ago.
Eight days of Luke - a young boy is more than he appears to be.
Wilkin's Tooth1 - the gang of bullies down the road have a witch helping them.
The Ogre Downstairs - the consequences of a wicked stepfather and an enchanted chemistry set.
Black Maria - Great Aunt Maria seems like a very refined old lady, but things are not what they seem2.
Archer's Goon - Howard gradually realises that his town is in the control of seven magical people.
Dogsbody - an important stellar eminence is punished by having to live as a dog on Earth. Excellent.
Wild Robert - a ghost story for young children.
Adult and Young Adult
Homeward Bounders - a classic gripping tale. The hero of the story must travel from world to world as a pawn in a giant war game.
Time of the Ghost - a dark story in which a woman tries to recover her memory.
Fire and Hemlock - this gripping book has a disappointing ending
Deep Secret - a good story and an excellent send up of science fiction/fantasy conventions
A Sudden Wild Magic - a joyful romp
Hexwood - this one will surprise you
Changeover - this is impossible to find. It was her first published novel. It is about an African nation on the brink of independence and an obsession with an imaginary man, Mark Changeover.
The Derkholm Books
The Dark Lord of Derkholm - a hilarious send up of the fantasy genre
Year of the Griffin - a somewhat inconsequential sequel, but enjoyable reading.
Yes Dear! - A picture book for very young children. A little girl finds a magic leaf, but no one will listen to her. Granny understands.
The Tough Guide to Fantasyland - a must for all fantasy aficionados, particularly the readers of Robert Jordan. This is a spoof dictionary of all things found in fantasy books.
The Skiver's Guide - a guide to skiving off and avoiding work for children. Particularly good is the description of the 'Stupid Face' for making the teacher avoid asking you questions.
Diana Wynne Jones wrote a number of short stories. These have been published in a confusing array of different collections. Check carefully before buying what you think is a new collection, as it might be almost identical to a previously published one.