by Diana Wynne Jones
Over at We Be Reading, Kristin is hosting some DWJ love, celebrating the author’s work throughout the month of March with readalongs, group Twitter viewings of Howl’s Moving Castle, guest posts, and giveaways. I welcomed the reminder to seek out some new-to-me DWJ, for although she is one of my favorite authors, I still have a lot of her back catalog to work through. When she died in 2011 I was glad that I had so many of her worlds left to explore, since her ability to create new ones had come to an end – at least, as far as we know! I don’t doubt that if she can, she will find a way to tell her stories from beyond the grave – and at the very least we who love her will go on sharing her stories.
Actually when I heard about DWJ March my first thought was to reread Howl’s Moving Castle, a book that has been on my Top 5 list since I finished reading the first chapter many years ago. I have owned a copy of it at various times, but it is a book that I give away the moment I discover someone hasn’t ever read it. My last copy went on its merry way late last December. Therefore I had to trip over to my local library, and even though they had the 1986 hardback which features my favorite cover art, I managed to talk myself into reading something new-to-me (as I said, I needed the reminder!)
Believing is Seeing features 7 stories written by DWJ between 1982 and 1996. Her introduction to the collection is fun, giving some background for how the stories came about, which is always of interest to me. I was tickled to find out that more than one of them started out as dreams. I used to write stories based on my dreams all the time. (I should probably start doing that again…!)
All of the stories are wonderfully inventive, with a light tone, but hitting some more thoughtful notes as well. In “The Sage of Theare” the gods try to outmaneuver Fate, and young Thasper dogs the steps of the mysterious Sage of Dissolution, who questions If rules make a framework for the mind to climb about in, why should the mind not climb right out?
“The Master” is a really strange, especially dream-like story of a young female vet’s encounter with a strange Fool in a house watched by wolves. “Enna Hittims” spells out the consequences of letting your imagination get the best of you (watch out for Magic Markers!) “The Girl Who Loved the Sun” is a rather haunting tale of a girl who can’t accept that she is lovely and lovable as she is, and insists on turning into a tree in order to win the Sun’s affection.
It’s hard to really pick a favorite from among the 7, but the last 3 seemed especially gripping. In “Dragon Reserve, Home Eight” 14 year old Siglin has awakened into some powerful skills which are considered dangerous to posses – those who are discovered to be ‘heg’ are often killed by the Dragonate. On her way to be officially tried, Slavers attack and Siglin’s skills prove to be rather useful. The story is good, but what really struck me was DWJ’s ability to bring an entire world, military system, and a whole slew of characters into sharp and vibrant focus in just a few quick jots of her pen.
And then in “What the Cat Told Me” DWJ succeeds in instantly perfecting the voice of a cat, who while lazing about on a convenient lap and being stroked to her exacting commands, tells the tale of her years of enspelled servitude to wicked Old Man, and how she and Boy escaped their imprisonment.
Finally, in the utterly delightful “nad and Dan adn Quaffy” I was treated to a glimpse into what felt like a bit of DWJ’s life as a writer, complete with her most frequent typo problems. Sci-fi writer F. C. Stone experiences a bewildering afternoon when a voice coming out of her word processor appears to be that of a character from one of her books, and she is suddenly caught up in a story not quite of her own making.
Short stories aren’t always exactly how I like my tea, but this collection left me grinning (and a bit thoughtful) and also yearning to dip my own pen in some ink and get scribbling. I think that’s a reaction that would please DWJ. And I hope she really is still writing, somewhere beyond the grave, firing up the imaginations of whole other worlds.
We miss you here on Earth, DWJ, but we sure hope you’re having a blast wherever it is you’ve wound up!