When I heard year that Diana Wynne Jones had died, I grieved as deeply as if I had known her. Part of my sorrow came from the thought that there would be no more Diana Wynne Jones books … no more funny, wise, magical stories that never fail to enchant and surprise.
I was 11 years old when I read ‘Charmed Life’, which has remained my favourite book of hers ever since. It was published in 1977, and was commended for a Carnegie Award and won both the Guardian Award and the Preis der Leserattenin Germany.
The hero of ‘Charmed Life’ is a boy called Cat Chant. Her and his sister Gwendolen are sent to stay at Chrestomanci Castle after their parents are drowned in a steamboat accident. The castle is the home of the Chrestomanci, a powerful enchanter with nine lives whose job is to manage and control the use of magic in all the many worlds.
Cat thinks he is a very ordinary sort of boy, but his sister Gwendolen is a talented witch. However, as the story progresses we learn that Cat is indeed a very special boy, with strong magical powers of his own which his sister has been using for her own gain.
Diana Wynne Jones has gone on to write a number of other books about Cat, the Chrestomanci and the castle, all of them with her own particular brand of warmth, charm, wit and unpredictability.
Diana Wynne Jones wrote: ‘Why do I write for children? There is one good reason. I would hope to encourage some part of one generation at least to use their minds as minds are supposed to be used. A book for children, like the myths and folktales that tend to slide into it, is really a blueprint for dealing with life. For that reason, it might have a happy ending, because nobody ever solved a problem while believing it was hopeless. It might put the aims and the solution unrealistically high – in the same way that folktales tend to be about kings and queens – but this is because it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs. The blueprint should, I think, be an experience in all the meanings of that word, and the better to make it so, I would want it to draw on the deeper resonances we all ought to have in the other side of our minds.’
Kate Forsyth’s latest book is ‘Bitter Greens’ (Random House Australia). For more about Kate, visit her website.