(1934-2011) UK writer who began publishing with Changeover (1970), and whose early fantasy tales – like Wilkins' Tooth (1973; vt Witch's Business 1974 US), The Ogre Downstairs (1974) and Eight Days of Luke (1975), Luke proving to be Loki – were decreasingly tentative efforts at finding her own voice. The Dalemark sequence – Cart and Cwidder (1975), Drowned Ammet (1977), The Spellcoats (1979) and The Crown of Dalemark (1993) – has elements of traditional fantasy, with Quest plots; the tales are rousing. The Chrestomanci sequence – Charmed Life (1977), The Magicians of Caprona (1980), Witch Week (1982) and The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988 US) – is set in a series of Alternate Worlds in which Magic works, administrated by Chrestomanci, who combines guardianship and Magus status; he tends to intervene in the series as a kind but tetchy deus ex machina. The first and fourth tales are set in a Gaslight-Romance England; the second is set in Italy; and the third is another alternate-world tale – one where Witches exist and are persecuted – this time set in an English high school.
Her third series comprises the Howl tales. In Howl's Moving Castle (1986) a young woman is locked into the Bondage of an old woman's body, and must cope with Wizard Howl, who may or not be cursed himself. The sequel is Castle in the Air (1990), which begins as a humorous Oriental Fantasy.
Singletons of interest include The Time of the Ghost (1981), a Ghost Story written from the point of view of the Ghost, and Archer's Goon (1984 US), perhaps her most successful novel, which mixes elements of fantasy and sf in a Secret-Masters tale. Hexwood (1993) again mixes sf and fantasy with deceptive ease: Time paradoxes abound, as a small English wood – which embodies the animate spirit of the ancient British Forest – brings down a galactic empire. Each book contains a protagonist who is, unwittingly, an Amnesia-ridden member of the opposition, and eventually its nemesis.
The protagonist of Fire and Hemlock (1984 US) must work her way through a painful Night Journey before she comes to a Recognition that she must recreate the travails of the heroine of the Tam Lin ballad. Also a Contemporary Fantasy, Black Maria (1991; vt Aunt Maria 1991 US) is set in a small seaside town controlled, through magic, by women, and interrogates issues of Feminism. In A Sudden Wild Magic (1992 US), the secret masters of Earth, a High Council of male and female witches, must defend the world from an alternate world called Arth whose male witches have been fomenting disasters here – the 20th century is described as an assemblage of these disasters – in order to steal our solutions, thus avoiding the costs of progress back home; this complexly intriguing idea is executed with some awkwardness.
At her best, DWJ has a suppleness, wit and storytelling ability that make her the equal of any living fantasy writer. [NG/JC]
other works (selective): Dogsbody (1975); The Power of Three (1976); The Homeward Bounders (1981); Warlock at the Wheel and Other Stories (coll 1984); A Tale of Time City (1987), sf; Everard's Ride (coll 1995); The Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996), a pseudo-encyclopedia parodying Genre Fantasy; «Wild Robert».
other works (edited): Hidden Turnings (anth 1989); Fantasy Stories (anth 1994).
Diana Wynne Jones