* * *
Dear Diana,This is the letter I’ve been meaning to write to you for--years now, I guess. But mostly since this August, when I heard that you were going off of chemo. I thought then that I’d write you a letter, and maybe, if it was you I was writing to, I’d finally be able to explain to someone just how important you’ve been to me. But I waited until it was too late. I know it’s a cliché, but I even remember saying to someone that I felt like by putting off that letter, I could stretch out your life, because you couldn’t die before I sent it to you. For the past eight months I kept thinking about how sad I’d be when it finally happened. But I think that I didn’t really believe that it would. I definitely didn’t realize how sad I’d really be.
When you’re a kid, it’s not like you don’t think about death. But you’re running on insufficient knowledge, and it’s puzzling and kids don’t tend to dwell on things that confuse them. Up until a certain age, I just kind of assumed all the writers I was reading were dead. Weird, since I live with an author--one who is perhaps more alive than most people. Like you were, Diana. That’s why when I read Howl’s Moving Castle for the first time, I wanted to remember your name. I guess that was the age when I started thinking about writers, their lives and writing processes. That’s when I started wanting to write seriously. I think I wrote my first real short story in third grade, the same year I read Howl’s Moving Castle. I remember something vague about a child in a big house, something about being caged. A cliff by the sea, and a boy who turns into a bird.
So I remembered your name, and I talked to my mom (who gave me the book) about you, and she brought me more books. Charmed Life and the rest of the Chrestomanci quartet (because it was just a quartet back then), the Dalemark sequence, Dogsbody, Eight Days of Luke. I still think that The Homeward Bounders is one of the most devastatingly sad books I’ve ever read, and the characters all seem so ancient and real. But there’s one book that I always go back to--of course, it’s Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve read it so often. I don’t own a copy, I always check out the same old one from the library next to my house. The first time I read it, I was so tense and excited that my fingers tore little arch-shaped holes in the bottom edges of the pages. I like to read it again and look at the holes I made in the library copy so long ago--more than ten years ago--and wonder if anyone else read the book and touched the holes and wondered who made them.
From then on my childhood was a romance with the weird and wonderful, and I couldn’t get enough of your stories. Diana, you had this incredible way of saying so much with so little, so that as I read I had these little “oh” moments that were unlike anything I found anywhere else, and still are. You trust the reader in a way so few writers can: cleverly, yet modestly, with an unaffected enthusiasm that sweeps us away.I don’t know if you’d remember this, but I sent you a letter once. More of a card, really--it was a piece of paper all folded up, with a picture of Tony from Magicians of Caprona dressed like Punch, with a big red nose. I’m not sure how old I was, but I’m thinking the drawing wasn’t too great. I don’t remember what was inside. I think I was too shy to write very much. It must have been when I was about eleven or twelve, a little before I first heard that Howl would be made into a film--a Miyazaki film, no less, of whom I was already a fan. (I was ecstatic, to say the least; at first I thought it couldn’t be real.) I think it was then because my mom was sending letters to you, and that’s when The Curse of the Raven Mocker was being written. I remember you read it, and you said you loved it, you loved how different it was next to the majority of the children’s fantasy genre. I remember that letter. I remember you saying that my picture was on your trophy shelf. I wonder how long it stayed there, and I wonder how crowded your shelf was then compared to later, when you must have gotten letters in floods. I was so happy though.
Diana, when people asked me who my favorite author was, I always hesitated, even though your name was the first one to come to mind. The truth is that you were more than a favorite author to me--you were not even in the same realm as other authors any more. You had a shrine in my heart where I placed the memory of the first moment that I opened one of your books, frozen, inviolate, forever. Your stories became a part of me in a way no other stories ever did. They spoke to me about loss and loneliness and helplessness and frustration, but they also made me laugh and sigh with happiness. You told me that childhood and life are hard, but things aren’t always what they seem and you find reasons to keep on going. Your books were a whisper of darkness and a dream of adventure. When I was happy or sad or sick of life I wanted to read Diana. Each time a new book came out, I had to have it. I brought five of your books to college with me, because I couldn’t stand not to have your words with me--a place without Diana doesn’t feel like home. You taught me a certain special kind of writing philosophy, the kind that said that children’s books don’t have to be dumbed down, that the best books are loved by adults and children alike, and by other authors. But most importantly, your books said loud and clear that you only ever wrote what you wanted to write. Remembering that freedom in thought that you had, the cheerful way you trampled expectations, makes me sadder than anything else. You weren’t merely a childhood favorite author; you were unique in all the world.
When I heard you had died, I didn’t just shed tears. I cried like a baby, helplessly and with abandon. I cried for about an hour, hiccuping until I couldn’t breathe. I was shocked at how I cried; I still can’t really fathom it, but in a DWJ sort of way I understand perfectly how I could have been touched and changed so much by a woman 57 years my senior, in a country I have never visited, who I never met.
Authors have a special kind of relationship with their readers. As creators, they have a tiny sort of godhood: a reader of stories usually never sees the writer’s face, or speaks with him or her, except maybe through letters. Likewise the author’s fate is led by a faceless mass of unknown number, sometimes buoying their spirits with letters and pictures. There is love between these two halves of the equation, a kind of devotion or loyalty that I feel doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the world. And I think it’s because of the nature of writing. When you read a book, you’ve got a direct line into someone else’s head; you’re literally reading their thoughts, even if they were refined and crystallized into this form.
Diana, thank you so much for giving me your thoughts, for teaching me so much, for helping me, for lending me your dreams and nurturing my hopes. Whenever I felt disgusted with the world, frustrated at life, or simply helpless, your words comforted me. This is the bitterest goodbye I’ve yet had to make, because at times I’ve thought that you were a sort of guardian angel to me.I think you must view the afterlife in a funny way, so I won’t say too much--but hopefully, someone nice is paying attention and will make sure that you see this. If nothing else, Diana, just know that you made a little girl smile. Love,
Diana Wynne Jones, 12 August 1934 - 26 March 2011
Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
Illustration: The cover to Howl's Moving Castle shown here is the same as the library copy Rebecca mentions.