Diana Wynne Jones
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner
In The Chronicles of Chrestomanci there are twelve known major worlds the portals to which are linked as they were cavern entrances opening out of the center hall of a cave. Each major world, except world eleven, is in actuality a series of closely related worlds. The set of worlds are therefore referred to as series 12 or series 3, and the individual minor worlds as series 6c or 6d. The hall of the cave is called The Place Between.
The aisles of libraries and bookstores are much like the passageways of The Place Between, the names of authors as the entrances to the major worlds, and authors’ books as the series of related worlds. To know of an author by name only is to know of a world and never have entered it.
Those who know the name Diane Wynne Jones, the prolific British fantasy author, but have never entered her body of work, face the very great likelihood of being startled by the exceptional quality of her work. How, one wonders, could such great books been lurking behind such an uncelebrated name. This is not to say that Wynne Jones does not have a devoted following, she does, but the powerful imagination, robust conceptual underpinnings, and quietly compelling characters, the broadness of interest and appeal to be found in her work seem to beg the question, how can I not have known to enter here.
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci is composed of four novels and is set in World 12a, the "world next door to us," Wynne Jones notes in an introductory note, "the difference here is that magic is as common as music is with us. It is full of people working magic...from the lowest certified witch right up to the most powerful enchanters...Now if someone did not control all these busy magic users, ordinary people would have a horrible time-and probably end up as slaves. So the government appoints the very strongest enchanter there is to make sure no one misuses magic. This enchanter has nine lives and is known as ‘the Chrestomanci’."
Readers of the Harry Potter books who undertake The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, noting as they will both that the first Chrestomanci book was published in 1977, and that the similarities between Chrestomanci’s world and Harry’s are too numerous and too precise to be a case of coincidence, will reflect that Wynne-Jones had a profound influence on, or rather, provided a vast unsecured imaginative loan to, J.K. Rowlings.
What makes it odd, though, is not that someone borrowed from, and was heavily influenced by a fantasy of such consistency and depth as is found in Chrestomanci’s universe, but that Wynne Jones’ works have remained so relatively obscure. One feels, having had the very great pleasure of reading Wynne Jones’ works, a moral obligation to make sure that no fantasy reader within earshot has any excuse not to discover Wynne Jones for themselves. I mean to say!
Though Wynne Jones has many other books besides her Chronicles of Chrestomanci that are noteworthy, special mention must be made of her very unusual, A Tale of Time City. The story starts out in 1939 London. It follows an evacuee sent out of the city on a train full of children into the relative safety of the countryside. This girl, Vivian Smith, is captured and taken away to Time City by two boys who mistake her for someone they believe has been deliberately sabotaging the polarities of Time City.
The story is marvelously complex and yet easy to grasp. Young readers, for whom it has a special appeal, will leave its pages eager to read more, a desire which, as we have observed above, is both easily and happily accomplished.