Diana Wynne Jones

Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 – 26 March 2011)[1] was a British novelist, poet, academic, literary critic, and short story writer. She principally wrote fantasy and speculative fiction novels for children and young adults.

Diana Wynne Jones
Born(1934-08-16)16 August 1934
London, England, UK
Died26 March 2011(2011-03-26) (aged 76)
Bristol, England, UK
GenreScience Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Children's, fantasy, comic fantasy
SubjectFantasy fiction, Science fiction, Surrealism
Literary movementPostmodernism
Notable works
Notable awardsGuardian Prize
Mythopoeic Award
1996, 1999
British Fantasy Award
Karl Edward Wagner Award
World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement
Locus Award
Years active1968–2011

Some of her better-known works are the Chrestomanci series, the Dalemark series; the novels Howl's Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm; and The Tough Guide To Fantasyland.

She has been cited as an inspiration and muse for several fantasy and science fiction authors: including Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Penelope Lively, Robin McKinley, Megan Whalen Turner, J.K. Rowling and Dina Rabinovitch.

Her work has been nominated for several awards, among them twice as a finalist for the Hugo Award, fourteen times for the Locus Award, seven times for the Mythopoeic Award (which she would win twice out of those seven nominations), twice for a British Fantasy Award (won in 1999), and twice for a World Fantasy Award, which she would also end up winning in 2007.

Jones' work often explores themes of time travel, parallel and/or multiple universes. Her work is usually described as fantasy, though some also incorporate science fiction themes and elements of realism.

Early life and marriage

Diana was born in London, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were teachers.[2] When war was announced, shortly after her fifth birthday, she was evacuated to Wales, and thereafter moved several times, including periods in the Lake District, in York, and back in London. In 1943 her family finally settled in Thaxted, Essex, where her parents worked running an educational conference centre.[2] There, Jones and her two younger sisters Isobel (later Professor Isobel Armstrong, the literary critic) and Ursula (later an actress and a children's writer) spent a childhood left chiefly to their own devices. After attending the Friends School Saffron Walden, she studied English at St Anne's College in Oxford, where she attended lectures by both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien before graduating in 1956.[3] In the same year she married John Burrow, a scholar of medieval literature, with whom she had three sons, Richard, Michael and Colin. After a brief period in London, in 1957 the couple returned to Oxford, where they stayed until moving to Bristol in 1976.[2]

According to her autobiography, Jones decided she was an atheist when she was a child.[4]


Jones started writing during the mid-1960s "mostly to keep my sanity", when the youngest of her three children was about two years old and the family lived in a house owned by an Oxford college. Beside the children, she felt harried by the crises of adults in the household: a sick husband, a mother-in-law, a sister, and a friend with daughter.[5] Her first book was a novel for adults published by Macmillan in 1970, entitled Changeover. It originated as the British Empire was divesting colonies; she recalled in 2004 that it had "seemed like every month, we would hear that yet another small island or tiny country had been granted independence."[5] Changeover is set in a fictional African colony during transition, and begins as a memo about the problem of how to "mark changeover" ceremonially is misunderstood to be about the threat of a terrorist named Mark Changeover. It is a farce with a large cast of characters, featuring government, police, and army bureaucracies; sex, politics, and news. In 1965, when Rhodesia declared independence unilaterally (one of the last colonies and not tiny), "I felt as if the book were coming true as I wrote it."[5]

Jones' books range from amusing slapstick situations to sharp social observation (Changeover is both), to witty parody of literary forms. Foremost amongst the latter are The Tough Guide To Fantasyland, and its fictional companion-pieces Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) and Year of the Griffin (2000), which provide a merciless (though not unaffectionate) critique of formulaic sword-and-sorcery epics.

The Harry Potter books are frequently compared to the works of Diana Wynne Jones. Many of her earlier children's books were out of print in recent years, but have now been re-issued for the young audience whose interest in fantasy and reading was spurred by Harry Potter.[6][7]

Jones' works are also compared to those of Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman. She was friends with both McKinley[8] and Gaiman, and Jones and Gaiman are fans of each other's work; she dedicated her 1993 novel Hexwood to him after something he said in conversation inspired a key part of the plot.[9] Gaiman had already dedicated his 1991 four-part comic book mini-series The Books of Magic to "four witches", of whom Jones was one.[10]

For Charmed Life, the first Chrestomanci novel, Jones won the 1978 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a once-in-a-lifetime award by The Guardian newspaper that is judged by a panel of children's writers.[11] Three times she was a commended runner-up[lower-alpha 1] for the Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book: for Dogsbody (1975), Charmed Life (1977), and the fourth Chrestomanci book The Lives of Christopher Chant (1988).[12] She won the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award, children's section, in 1996 for The Crown of Dalemark (concluding that series) and in 1999 for Dark Lord of Derkholm; in four other years she was a finalist for that annual literary award by the Mythopoeic Society.[13][lower-alpha 2]

The 1986 novel Howl's Moving Castle was inspired by a boy at a school she was visiting, who asked her to write a book called The Moving Castle.[14] It was published first by Greenwillow in the U.S., where it was a runner-up for the annual Boston Globe–Horn Book Award in children's fiction.[15] In 2004, Hayao Miyazaki made the Japanese-language animated movie Howl's Moving Castle, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.[16] A version dubbed in English was released in the UK and US in 2005, with the voice of Howl performed by Christian Bale.[17] Next year Jones and the novel won the annual Phoenix Award from the Children's Literature Association, recognising the best children's book published twenty years earlier that did not win a major award (named for mythical bird phoenix to suggest the book's rise from obscurity).[18]

Fire and Hemlock had been the 2005 Phoenix runner-up.[18] It is a novel based on Scottish ballads, and was a Mythopoeic Fantasy finalist in its own time.[lower-alpha 2]

Archer's Goon (1984) was a runner-up for that year's Horn Book Award.[15] It was adapted for television in 1992.[19] One Jones fansite believes it to be "the only tv adaptation (so far) of one of Diana's books".[20]

Jones' book on clichés in fantasy fiction, The Tough Guide To Fantasyland (nonfiction), has a cult following among writers and critics, despite being difficult to find due to an erratic printing history. It was recently reissued in the UK, and has been reissued in the United States in 2006 by Firebird Books. The Firebird edition has additional material and a completely new design, including a new map.

The British Fantasy Society recognized her significant impact on fantasy with its Karl Edward Wagner Award in 1999.[21] She received an honorary D.Litt from the University of Bristol in July 2006[22] and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2007.[13]

In August 2014, Google commemorated Jones with a Google Doodle created by Google artist Sophie Diao.

Illness and death

Jones was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early summer of 2009.[23] She underwent surgery in July and reported to friends that the procedure had been successful.[24] However, in June 2010 she announced that she would be discontinuing chemotherapy because it only made her feel ill. In mid-2010 she was halfway through a new book with plans for another to follow.[25] She died on 26 March 2011 from the disease.[1] She was surrounded by her husband, three sons, and five grandchildren as she was cremated at Canford Cemetery. She was loved by many for her passion for writing.

The story in progress when she became too ill to write, The Islands of Chaldea, was completed by her sister Ursula Jones in 2014.[26] Interviewed by The Guardian in June 2013 after she finished the Chaldea story, Ursula Jones said that "other things were coming to light ... She left behind a mass of stuff."[26]



  1. Today there are usually eight books on the Carnegie shortlist. According to CCSU, some runners-up through 2002 were Commended (from 1955) or Highly Commended (from 1966); the latter distinction became approximately annual in 1979. There were about 160 commendations of both kinds in 48 years including two for 1975, three for 1977, and six for 1988.
  2. Fire and Hemlock was one of six finalists for the Mythopoeic Award in 1986, when there was a single Fantasy award, and Jones was five times one of four or five finalists in the Children's category after dual fiction awards were introduced in 1992.
    "Mythopoeic Awards – Fantasy". The Mythopoeic Society. Retrieved 2012-04-27.


  1. Priest, Christopher (27 March 2011). "Diana Wynne Jones obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
  2. Butler, Charlie (31 March 2011). "Diana Wynne Jones: Doyenne of fantasy writers whose books for children paved the way for JK Rowling". The Independent. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  3. Parsons, Caron (27 March 2003). "Wrestling with an angel". Going Out in Bristol. BBC. Retrieved 3 June 2013.
  4. Jones, D. W. "Diana Wynne Jones". Something about the Author Autobiography Series. Volume 7. Gale. 1989. ISBN 0810344564.
      Reprint with photos and bibliography to 1989 at Chrestomanci Castle retrieved 2014-12-18.
      Reprint text only Archived 22 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine at The Diana Wynne Jones Fansite retrieved 2014-12-18.
  5. Jones, D. W. (2004). "Introduction: The Origins of Changeover". Changeover [1970]. London: Moondust Books. ISBN 0-9547498-0-4.
  6. Rabinovitch, Dina (23 April 2003). "Wynne-ing ways: Author of the month Diana Wynne Jones". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  7. de Lint, Charles (January 2000). "Books To Look For". Fantasy & Science Fiction. January 2000.
      Reprint at SFsite.com retrieved 2014-12-18.
  8. McKinley, Robin (23 September 2010). "fame. sort of". Robin McKinley: Days in the Life* *with footnotes. Robinmckinleysblog.com. Archived from the original on 16 November 2017. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  9. Gaiman, Neil [date unknown]. [Title unknown]. The Magian Line 2.2. Refrain: "But I've got a copy of Hexwood, dedicated to me by Diana Wynne Jones". Hexwood was published in 1993.
      Reprint as "Neil's Thankyou pome" at Chrestomanci Castle retrieved 2014-12-18.
  10. Gaiman, Neil (13 March 2003). "(no title)". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Neil Gaiman (journal.neilgaiman.com). Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  11. "Guardian children's fiction prize relaunched: Entry details and list of past winners". guardian.co.uk. 12 March 2001. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  12. "Carnegie Medal Award". 2007(?). Curriculum Lab. Elihu Burritt Library. Central Connecticut State University (CCSU). Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  13. "Diana Wynne Jones". Science Fiction Awards Database (sfadb.com). Mark R. Kelly and the Locus Science Fiction Foundation. Retrieved 2014-12-18.
  14. Jones, Diana Wynne (1986). Howl's Moving Castle. New York : Greenwillow Books. ISBN 9780784824849.
  15. "Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards Winners and Honor Books 1967 to present". The Horn Book. Archived from the original on 19 October 2011. Retrieved 2012-12-23.
  16. "Howl's Moving Castle Awards". IMDb. IMDb.com, Inc. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  17. "Howl's Moving Castle (2004): Full Cast & Crew". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2014-12-10.
  18. "Phoenix Award" Archived 23 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine. Children's Literature Association. Retrieved 2014-12-18.
  19. "Archer's Goon (TV series 1992– )". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  20. Home page Archived 19 June 2005 at the Wayback Machine, "More Stuff" in the right margin. The Diana Wynne Jones Fansite. Retrieved 2014-12-18.
  21. "Diana Wynne Jones Books & Biography". HarperCollins. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  22. "Honorary graduates" (1995–present). Public and Ceremonial Events Office. University of Bristol (bristol.ac.uk). Retrieved 2014-12-18.
  23. Russell, Imogen (9 July 2009). "A fantastic weekend with Diana Wynne Jones". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  24. Gaiman, Neil (23 July 2009). "Eleven Days or Thereabouts". Neil Gaiman's Journal. Neil Gaiman (journal.neilgaiman.com). Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  25. "Ansible 275". News.ansible.co.uk. 11 June 2010. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  26. Flood, Alison (24 June 2013). "Diana Wynne Jones's final book completed by sister". The Guardian. Retrieved 2014-03-15. The headline which says 'final book' is a poor match for the content which closes: 'Jones said there were also "other things were coming to light" [sic] among her sister's papers. "She left behind a mass of stuff", she said.'

Further reading

  • Rosenberg (ed.), Teya; et al. (2002). Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom. Peter Lang. ISBN 0-8204-5687-X.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Mendlesohn, Farah (2005). Diana Wynne Jones: Children's Literature and the Fantastic Tradition. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-97023-7.
  • Butler, Charles (2006). Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Scarecrow Press. ISBN 0-8108-5242-X.
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