When my husband and I got married in 1996, we had the chance to take a trip to England. On the day that we visited Oxford, I made sure to go into Blackwell's to check out their famous children's section, and I got to add to my collection with Time of the Ghost and my very own copies of a couple others. Ever since then, I've bought every title as it has come out, and now we have everything but Changeover (DWJ's very first novel, not written for children, and not at all easy to get). That might be a long and boring way of saying that I'm one of the people lucky enough to have grown up reading DWJ, and she has had a big influence on me. Her words live in my head.
DWJ is great in a lot of ways, as we all know. Her stories are original and never derivative, while at the same time she mines legend and literature to bring in layers of meaning, theme, and allusion. I love what she said about how her mind worked:
...what I wanted to do was to write fantasy that might resonate on all levels, from the deep hidden ones, to the most mundane and everyday....get in touch with all the hidden, mythical, archetypal things that were lurking down there. Over the years I’ve grown to trust this primordial sludge at the bottom of my mind.DWJ stories are tricky; you start off thinking this is going to be a children's fantasy story, not even a very difficult one, and then wham--it goes all complicated and she hits you with ideas about how the universe works and what people are like. She manages to pack a lot of ideas and insights into stories meant to be read by 11-year-olds, and she does it with simple language and without making a big song and dance about it at all; instead she's just wryly humorous about it. AND she does this with an intelligence that most of us don't have; she didn't show it off, but she was sharp. Sometimes you hardly even notice what she's doing until the 3rd time around, because she never hangs a big flashy sign on it to say "Look what I'm pulling off here! See how smart I am?" I always enjoy how she makes you work, though. DWJ doesn't lay the whole story out for you to read and then forget about; she leaves things confusing or unsaid. Half of her endings are incomprehensible until you've read the book several times--and maybe not even then.
Her characters are people, too. They are all definite personalities; indeed many of them have uncomfortable amounts of personality and would take up a lot of psychic space if you were in the same room with them. They jump off the page. There is never any trouble about telling characters apart in a DWJ book.
I have two daughters now and the oldest one is 12. She loves DWJ too and now we get to share in-jokes, which is super-awesome, because we can just quote a line or reference a character and each knows what the other means. She hasn't read all of them yet--I keep advising her to savor them one at a time, because there are a limited number of them--but she is well on her way. My younger daughter is not quite 10 and picky about her reading; if she is not completely convinced that she will love a book--and it is not easy to convince her--she won't read it. She has read Earwig and the Witch, and she loves the Howl's Moving Castle MOVIE, but otherwise she has not yet chosen to read much. We're getting there.
I have never managed to properly say what DWJ books have been in my life. I always wanted to write her a fan letter, but I could never think of the words. When she was very ill indeed, Meredith who runs the website asked for letters, and I tried, but "it went small and boring and didn't lead anywhere." I sent it off anyway of course, but I'm not a writer and what DWJ's books have meant to me will have to stay mostly in my head.
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Jean is a classically homeschooling mom of two girls and a reference librarian at a CC (very part-time). She lives in rural Northern CA and went to Berkeley and San Jose State. She sews and embroiders and loves Bollywood movies. She blogs at Howling Frog Books.