If you read the post at the time, here's a change to enjoy it again. If not, I'm very happy to introduce you to Trapunto's warm, intelligent and insightful voice, and of course, also to the wonder that is Diana Wynne Jones. One of the many things that I love about her work is that she's great at writing both male and female characters - her heroines are smart, resourceful and independent, and her heroes often have a touch of the mysterious about them, but never in the creepy or stalkerish way that has lately resurfaced in some fiction.
Also, I love that Wynne Jones is so often interested in relationships other than romantic ones - but I'll shut up and just let you read what Trapunto has to say about all this instead of paraphrasing it.
Does anyone else remember that place in Daddy Long-legs when Jerusha Abbot has just read Wuthering Heights for the first time, and she cries from the heart: “How can there be a man like Heathcliff?”
I didn’t care for Heathcliff. In fact, when I first read Wuthering Heights at age fifteen or so, I remember asking pretty much the same question in disgust. Whatever floats your boat. It’s just one of those things. Wuthering Heights, or Jane Eyre. Heathcliff, or Rochester. A jar of Miracle Whip that has been left out in the sun for five hours, or fresh-whipped French egg mayonnaise made with real lemons.
Now that I’ve alienated half of you, I would like to bring up the delicate subject of CUTE SHY GUYS or perhaps, SULKY SMART GUYS WHO ARE SO COOL, or even NAKED WIZARDS IN THE BATHTUB in the fiction of Diana Wynne Jones. I didn’t want to be the first, but . . .
I’m just going to assume that none of you (now that all the Wuthering Heights lovers have left the room; and at this point the straight men can go too, and anyone else so inclined) are so silly as to think I want to leave my my husband for 12-year-old enchanter in training. What I’m talking about isn’t a fantasy roll in the hay, but personal magnetism. Diana Wynne Jones does male mystique like no one else!
You will find very little overt romance or love in a typical Diana Wynne Jones novel. Characters learn about each other, become friends, admire one another, understand one other (sometimes) and have adventures. Then, rather abruptly from the reader’s perspective, they occasionally announce their engagement–or in the next book they happen to be married. You could just say Jones doesn’t do lust and standard romantic conflict because her books are written for children who would say ick to those things. I don’t think that’s the case. I think she is simply inclined to hang her characters’ relationships on a more equivocal framework than “love story” because she finds that more interesting.
Writing about young people (and others whose lives are ruled by forces greater than themselves, like magic-users) gives Jones’ a lot of scope for this preference. Some writers forget that not only are teenagers They of the Raging Hormones, but also They of the Raging Ideas, They of the Raging Anxiety As To How They Can Possibly Find A Place In The Adult World, Raging Creativity, Raging Independence, and the Raging Need Not To Turn Into Their Parents. Most real teenagers aren’t looking around for a Prince or Princess Charming and a happy ending; they are too busy negotiating the relationships in front of them, doing battle with evil, and generally surviving. These are the ones Jones writes about.
Teenagers! All that raw energy going off in all directions! A lot like magic. As readers of fantasy know, unharnessed magic can be very dangerous. It comes on you without warning. You must learn to harness it. You must learn how to live with it. Remind you of anything else? Despite the lack of overt romance and desire in her fiction, Jones’ books are not asexual. Drama (good drama, not melodrama) is sexy. The raw energy of adolescent self-definition is pure aphrodisiac. Magic is hot. Why? Because like the best sex, each of these things creates a raised pitch of emotion, a sense of revelation, and a feeling of commonality. A metaphor made in heaven.
I will not harp on the mallet-over-the-head trend to capitalize directly on this connection in certain popular fiction. Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy characters are a different breed. They are real people first and foremost; they weren’t created as vehicles for magical sexiness, and they never do the same song and dance twice. Jones can write a novel that appeals to a third grader for its sly humor and inventive plot. An adult can read the very same book and find deep wells of motivation, multi-faceted characters, scenes full of teasing undercurrents. That is Jones’ virtuosity.
In her essay (from a 1992 lecture) on heroes, she remarks, “I do find, myself, that the Hero, the protagonist, is the story. This is not to say that the other people in it are of no importance. Before I can write about anyone, I have to consider them as my close personal friends, even the Baddies.”
The more I read Diana Wynne Jones, the more flattered I am by her good opinion of her readers. Whatever our age, without fail she treats us as if we were smart enough to take as much as we like from her books, be whoever we like in them, and scratch under the surface as deeply as we please–trusting us to find the way (or one of the ways) she has laid out for us. She repays our enthusiastic blundering by packing her stories with ideas and crafting them on multiple levels. Reading her comment on submerged alter egos in the essay mentioned above, I suspect she would take it for granted that it is possible both to want to be an eccentric wizard and find him hot at the same time.
Because it does not revolve around wanting a guy to ask you to the prom or turn you into a vampire, the sexiness in a Diana Wynne Jones novel not does not depend on your identifying with one character and desiring a different one. (Readers aren’t known for their compliance in this department, but still.) The sexy intensity is embedded in the story and everything that comes together to make it. When the story is the hero, and the story is sexy, that makes the hero sexy too.
I can only speak from where I’m standing, so you will notice all of the following characters are male. I don’t doubt there are readers crushing on Mig and Polly, but Jones happens to have a particularly fine hand with men and boys (for reasons that may become clearer if you read the essay I mentioned above), and she has written a lot of them.
So get comfortable and channel your inner fourteen-year-old. Without further ado I bring you an incomplete list of–
The Hotties of Diana Wynne Jones
Jamie: An intelligent urchin who gets handed the rawest of raw deals and turns out to have a backbone of steel and a heart of gold. Triumphs over the odds then gives up his winnings.
Tom Lynn: Shadowy, prickly professor who refuses to pull his intellectual punches, never condescends to youth, and still knows how to enter unabashedly into the delights of a pretend game. The man with a secret sorrow.
Nick Mallory: Here is a cocky trickster who, as a teenager, is willing to dance an impromptu witchy dance in public with his older girl cousin. Astoundingly healthy self-image, clear goals, good sense, and no illusions about his mother!
Howl: Gorgeous, mercurial, preening wizard who shelters his shrinking heart behind a multiplicity of just-barely-self-conciously humorous personae, and conceals his virtues from everyone, including himself. The most powerful sorcerer, but off-handed with it. Surprisingly good with kids.
Sirius: Dispossessed angel. Kindness perfected through suffering. The empathetic sweetheart. The otherworldly, perceptive male. And sometimes is a dog.
Chrestomanci: Ah, Chrestomanci! (If I said it a third time I’d be in trouble.) I am rendered nigh speechless. Frock coat, I blurt. Dressing gown. Tangled mess all better. Will recklessly risk his life(s) and his impeccable dignity in the pursuit of Sweet Magical Reason. The steady hand on the pull-rope of the Deus Ex Machina. The Maestro. If you find competence sexy . . . (Unfortunately also a married man.)
Conrad: Harried, responsible teenager. The underdog. The good guy. The unwilling rebel trying not to get taken for a ride. Everyman. With good hair. In footman’s togs.
Dagner: Unreliable artist. The young tragedian with the fatal flaw. If you ever went through your parents’ or older sibling’s record collection, found an old album with the face of a long-haired young man, played it, and suddenly understood that you were grown up and that the world was a sad place and poetry was its only hope . . .
Moril: Down-to-earth mystic. The worried, hardworking soul who attracts the Profoundest Magic. A boy with his own concerns who tries, but will never quite be able, to give you his whole attention. The craftsman. The humble Lancelot.
The Ghost in Aunt Maria: Harlequin. Refracted personality. A self-abnegating jester who knows all the tricks and tries to do what good he can, under the radar. The martyr.
Charles Morgan: Mastermind. Cipher. The Cold Face of Vengeance. . . and he wears glasses with the same threatening air as a shoulder-holster!
Rupert Venables: My most recent addition. I re-read Deep Secret a few months ago. This time I was struck by his capacity for accurate self-assessment. A bit of a stuffed shirt, but he knows it. Prejudiced against tiresome people, but owns up to it as prejudice, and is willing to have his mind changed. Proud of his magical ability, but justifiably so, and equally aware of his limitations. I had no idea this quality could be so endearing!
So now my big question is: Who is your top Diana Wynne Jones heartthrob? Is he on the list? Did I miss one?
And one last:
How can there be an enchanter like Chrestomanci?