YA fantasy author Diana Wynne Jones died of lung cancer this weekend. It was until fairly recently – in the last four or five years – that I discovered the magic of her books and to be quite honest, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what she’s written. But, I love what of her work that I have read and am genuinely sorry for the gap she’s leaving in the YA book world. It still feels like a shock to realize that when authors die, their works still live, but we’ll never to experience the anticipation and joy of waiting for the next delicious book. This is the second children’s author I’ve known (‘known’ in the book sense) who has died in the last two months (the first being Brian Jacques of Redwall fame) and it hurts my book-loving heart.
Of course, after the initial shock and lump in my throat, I had to re-read my favorite (and possibly her most well-known work) book by Diana Wynne Jones: Howl’s Moving Castle. Thankfully, it’s one of the few books that I’ve yet to pack away for the upcoming move. Such a fun, witty read.
Eighteen year old Sophie is a hat-maker’s daughter, plain as the day and stuck in a dull routine of hat-making for, what will probably be forever, as she’s the oldest daughter. Then one day, the Witch of the Waste, mistaking her for her rival and the love interest of Wizard Howl, turns her into an ugly old crone. Unable to bear the idea of remaining with her family in this state, Sophie leaves the hat shop and eventually gets a job as cleaning lady for…who else but the formidable Wizard Howl, who is well-known in the area for bewitching local young beauties and eating their hearts.
But…as Sophie learns, there is more to Howl than meets the eye. And before she knows it, she’s caught up in all sorts of magical adventures involving a missing prince, fire demons and a castle that moves. It’s a magical, rollicking story and earned a permanent place on my shelf after the very first read.
I love Howl’s character. He reminds me of so many other literary heroes, with his foolish and foppish façade. A bit of Sir Percy Blakeney, Lord Peter Wimsey and a hearty dash of Eugenides from Megan Whalen Turner’s ‘The Thief’ series. He’s witty, full of himself and an absolute charmer. Howl is flawed, but hilarious; cowardly and lazy, but brave and determined at the same time.
Sophie, too, is flawed, but a heroine in her own right, nonetheless. She is blind to her own talents and good qualities, but learns to grow into them as the story progresses. I see a lot of myself in Sophie – doubting my own capabilities, seeing myself as plain and not pretty, etc… – so I have a soft spot for her.
Goodbye, Diana. We’ll miss you.