The DWJ Project: Stopping for a Spell

I decided to spread the short-fiction collections out between novels, and tackled this one first.

All three of the stories contained in it were originally published independently; Fantastic Fiction lists Chair Person and Four Grannies as novels, and Who Got Rid of Angus Flint? as a picture book. All three come with illustrations in this collection, though, and they’re all about the same length, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the first two were picture books, too.

I know I’ve read some, maybe all, of her shorter work before, but I can’t say any of it ever really made an impression on me. Coming at it now, I have to say the impression made by these three stories isn’t very good. The magic in all three is thoroughly arbitrary, working for no particular reason and then stopping when it’s no longer needed. “Chair Person” and “Who Got Rid of Angus Flint?” also share a structure I don’t like very much, namely: “Horrible person moves in and is thoroughly abusive to a family; parents are too polite to get rid of him no matter how bad his actions are; the kids eventually solve the problem with magic.” It’s like the Goon from Archer’s Goon, but without a broader story to dilute the nastiness, and both the Chair Person and Angus Flint are far, far more unpleasant than he is. And I can’t say I was terribly fond of Erg in “Four Grannies,” either, for all that he was nominally the protagonist.

So yeah, not the best. I’ll be interested to see how the rest of her short fiction compares; some people just have a knack for one length over another, and I suspect that may be the case here. So if you’re looking for Diana Wynne Jones books to try out, this is not a good place to start. Aside from the occasional bit of clever description — one of her trademarks, after all — these stories really don’t showcase her strengths.

0 Responses to “The DWJ Project: Stopping for a Spell”

  1. akashiver

    Agreed. I was never a big fan of her short fiction.

  2. rachelmanija

    My best reaction to any of her short stories is “mildly amusing.”

    • Marie Brennan

      Yeah, none of them have ever really stuck with me. I vaguely recall most of them being more pleasant than these three, though.

  3. fjm

    Carol Oneir’s Hundredth Dream is good, but that’s because it is part of the Chrestomanci series. I also like The Sage of Threar (I think I have the title right) but it’s more of a novellete. The short story was not really her form.

  4. fjm

    Oh, and The True State of Affairs, which is a masterpiece. You’ll find it in the NESFA press collection.

  5. fjm

    The Sage of Threare is about the coming of the Sage of Dissolution to a very orderly world. It’s almost classic Jones in terms of its structure.

    I don’t know if The True State of Affairs is anywhere else.

  6. landofnowhere

    It’s in /Minor Arcana/, which was only published in the UK, but there seem to be used copies available on Amazon.

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