DWJ: The Other Books

So, obviously, Diana Wynne Jones wrote a lot of books. Let me count. Looks like about forty, which is honestly not as many as I thought. But still, that’s a lot of books, and lots of them are strikingly good. I particularly love the first couple Chrestomanci books, which probably means I’m another sheep following the herd, as I think those must be among her most popular.

Some time ago, as you may recall, I listed out the books I currently have on my TBR shelves, and there on those shelves was one of DWJ’s books, Wilkin’s Tooth. That’s one of the few of hers I hadn’t read, so once I reminded myself it was there, I went ahead and read it. This kicked off a … a sort of slow-motion DWJ reading binge, as I started rereading various of her other books that I had read before, but didn’t remember all that well. I mean, the ones I read when I was a kid, I have re-read over and over. But a good handful, I picked up much later and have only read once. Some of those, I didn’t remember very well. These are what I mean when I say The Other Books.

So I’m re-reading them now. But slowly, because all this time I have been doing final tweaking and proofing for various books and also working on SILVER CIRCLE and ALSO working on this and that, PLUS reading a few contemporary rom-com novels.

Thus, as I say, a (very) slow-motion reading binge. But I’ve read a few! So, a few brief comments, here we go –

1. Wilkin’s Tooth

I liked it! I mean, I think it’s a minor work, but I still liked it.

Why is it minor? Well, the plot is simple, without a lot of surprises. We have the kids who start the Own Back company, which predictably does not go as expected, and the witch who isn’t pleased to have kids shoving into her revenge business. She looks unpleasant the first time we meet her and yep, she’s unpleasant. The way her backstory ties into the backstory of various other characters is … not entirely believable, I guess. This is the kind of MG story where the adults have to be particularly ineffectual in order for the kids to be put in the position of having to solve the problem.

Also, the solution to defeating the witch is simplistic to the point of being silly. I guess I don’t want to criticize it too specifically because that would require important spoilers, but I will just note that if the villain has to be ultra stupid to be defeated, the victory lacks a certain oomph. However, it’s still a charming story and I did like it. It made me want to revisit other DWJ novels, so I went on to read –

2. Enchanted Glass

This story is also surprisingly straightforward for one of DWJ’s novels, because wow, this is not always the case at all. But this time it is. I mean, there’s Oberon, and a lot of the magic kind of connects to that one truth – that Oberon is right there, an enemy; and that Andrew needs to oppose him, but doesn’t know enough about magic.

Basic lesson here: if you’re passing on powerful magic plus an important responsibility plus dangerous enemies to your grandson, be sure to explain everything well in advance. And possibly leave written notes. Not hidden. Right out where your heir will be certain to find them.

This story is longer, so there’s more room to develop the protagonists. This is largely the reason I liked it better than Wilkin’s Tooth. Plus the were-dog was charming. It’s still MG, so DWJ didn’t need to actually explain various important aspects of the worldbuilding – those doppelgangers, for example. Those are not exactly customary in fairy tales, so that’s an element that DWJ just threw in herself, and it did seem a little inexplicable.

The defeat of Oberon felt sort of like an afterthought, but since I wasn’t especially interested in Oberon, I didn’t care. I liked how everybody wound up in position to live happily ever after.

2. The Pinhoe Egg

This is a Chrestomanci story, so yay! because as I said, I love the Chrestomanci stories. My favorites are the early ones, but I did like this one. Once again, the adults, in this case the entire Pinhoe clan, had to be rendered ineffectual in order for Marianne Pinhoe and Cat Chant to take center stage. However, this time the explanation for why the adults were ineffectual was more believable. Except for Chrestomani himself, who should really not have needed help to solve various problems.

This story seems less aimed at young MG readers because the story is a bit more complex and also the villains are a lot less one-dimensional and unrealistic. They are bad people in a much more petty, stupid, realistic way, which I do not necessarily prefer. Poor Marianne! It’s not that she doesn’t wind up okay, but I’m sorry her father was not a better person.

I liked Syracuse, of course, and the griffin.

None of these are going to wind up as my favorite DWJ stories, but I did like them all and I certainly have been reminded of how great a writer DWJ was. I brought another few of hers upstairs and put them on the coffee table, so I will read them soon-ish.

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9 thoughts on “DWJ: The Other Books”

  1. Now I need to find Enchanted Glass, as I’ve not read that yet. I’ve got about 25 of her books, all that I could find to buy when I discovered her; but that means I’ve still got new ones to discover.

    I agree that Wilkin’s tooth was a minor work, not as satisfying as most of her books, not a reread for me; but I did like The Pinhoe Egg – not a great favorite, but much more satisfying.

  2. I think Wilkin’s Tooth might have been the first DWJ I ever read, and I remember feeling kind of “meh” about it, which is probably why it took me several years (from childhood to early adulthood) to try any of her books again. Enchanted Glass was that next book, and for whatever reason, that one grabbed me right away, and I immediately went from that to Howl’s Moving Castle and then couldn’t believe it had taken me so long to realize what a brilliant writer she was and how fantastic her stories are.

    I actually just picked Enchanted Glass up from the local library yesterday and casually offered it to my almost-16yo daughter (who was a fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the high school this past spring), and I’m delighted to see that she’s thoroughly enjoying it–I’m hoping this will be the gateway into DWJ’s books for her just as it was for me.

  3. Louise, it’s such a pleasure to watch someone else discover books you love, isn’t it? And DWJ is such a delight. I think I liked Wilkin’s Tooth better because I’d read almost all of her other works first, so I could appreciate the, um, the Diana-Wynne-Jones-ness of it, without being too much put off by the minor-ness of it.

  4. People generally have mixed feelings about A Sudden Wild Magic but I have a soft spot for it – definitely an oddball among her books, since it’s clearly written for adults, not kids.

  5. I read all of these for the first time recently and liked them all too. I also have a bunch of unread DWJ still on my shelves.

    I think my favorite one of hers that I read recently was Dogsbody.

  6. Despite being a SFF aficionado, I didn’t really become aware of DWJ until well into adulthood. No idea how I missed DWJ as a kid. But once I finished that first DWJ book, I quickly picked up every other DWJ book I could find. I still haven’t been able to locate a paper copy of the Guide to Fairyland, but at least that gives me something to look for when I go into used bookstores..

  7. Dogsbody is my all-time personal favorite; also my pick for an example of a story with WILDLY disparate elements that somehow pulls together and works perfectly.

  8. I do like Enchanted Glass, but I think one of my favorites is Six Days of Luke. Really, though, there are very few of Jones’s works that I don’t like. Deep Magic is a good one if you’ve ever been to any sort of convention, and is another example of wildly disparate elements that somehow pull together. Jones was past master of that, for sure.
    Gosh, and now that I’m thinking back on them all, I think I’m going to go reread some of ’em. What fun!

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