Unexpected Magic

Unexpected Magic 


By Diana Wynne Jones 
Reviewed by Kenny Brechner

    Most of us have some conduit for giving people we dislike their just deserts in our imaginations. Voodoo dolls, dart boards, rereading The Count of Monte Cristo, take your pick. For Diana Wynne Jones, the celebrated fantasy author, her conduit of choice is clearly the writing of a short story. Wynne Jones, the author of more than forty superb books, has penned fifteen short stories at various times over her long career. These stories have now been collected together in an anthology entitled Unexpected Magic.
   
 Though these stories were written over a long period of time, and vary greatly in terms of setting, context, tone, and style, they are bound together by a central chord. The same cathartic impulse, providing just revenge upon an object of antipathy, gave them birth. Much as we sometimes play a certain song over the years to respond to a very particular, sporadically recurrent, emotional state, Wynne Jones’ stories bear the mark of being a reaction to a singular state of mind.
   
 Wynne Jones’ is renowned as fantasist who, despite her great appeal to adults, is accessible and compelling for young readers. Unsurprisingly, Unexpected Magic is being marketed to Wynne Jones’ usual primary audience of young fantasy readers. Nonetheless, in reading these stories one is immediately struck by the adult sensibilities and complexities of many of these stories. This reflects the sense that Wynne Jones wrote these stories primarily to get something out of her system, and that she did not employ her usual concern for providing accessability to a younger audience.
   
 I tested this theory by having a group of precocious ten year olds review Unexpected Magic. Hannah Acheson-Field summed up the sentiments of her peers in stating that "I thought some of the stories were confusing but others were better." One story in particular, Nad and Dan Adn Quaffy was cited by these reviewers. Seth Wegner noted that he "didn’t like Nad and Dan Adn Quaffy because it was choppy, and I didn’t know what was going on." Reid Brechner added that "Nad and Dan Adn Quaffy had some potential but was really unrealistic."
   
 All the reviewers liked one story in particular, The Fluffy Pink Toadstool, of which one reviewer wrote that "My favorite story in the book was The Fluffy Pink Toadstool. I think I could identify with the kids because my mother goes on "crazes" too. For example, she said we weren’t going to be able to watch TV all summer and that she plans on throwing it out the window. I am going to be looking for a little brown man with a loud laugh to help come and teach her a lesson." Wynne Jones really struck a chord with Alex Allen, however, who concluded that "Overall, I thought this book was GREAT! It was funny, interesting, magical, and sad."
   
 Anyone who wishes to obtain a clear view of the various sorts of persons whom Wynne Jones doesn’t like, will find them all conveniently gathered together in Unexpected Magic. That their comeuppance takes many artful and humorous forms, and that the distastefulness of the characters is sketched in a myriad of deft and striking shades, is a testament to Wynne Jones’ imaginative power. Indeed, so long as she agrees with Wynne Jones’ taste in people, and is an adult, the reader will remain entertained throughout. Nonetheless, the cathartic origins of these stories gives them considerably less depth than is usual for Wynne Jones. The stories were written sporadically, and as a certain mood hit their author, and that is precisely how they should be read by Wynne Jones’ audience, one at a time and when the mood strikes us.