“When I was a student at Oxford, both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were lecturing there, Lewis magnificently and Tolkien badly and inaudibly, and the climate of opinion was such that people explained Lewis’s children’s books by saying ‘It’s his Christianity, you know,’ as if the books were the symptom of some disease, while of Tolkien they said he was wasting his time on hobbits when he should have been writing learned articles…
“I imagine I caused Tolkien much grief by turning up to hear him lecture week after week, while he was trying to wrap his lectures up after a fortnight and get on with The Lord of the Rings (you could do that in those days, if you lacked an audience, and still get paid). I sat there obdurately despite all his mumbling and talking with his face pressed up to the blackboard, forcing him to go on expounding every week how you could start with a simple quest-narrative and, by gradually twitching elements as it went along, arrive at the complex and entirely different story of Chaucer’s Pardoner’s Tale – a story that still contains the excitement of the quest-narrative that seeded it. What little I heard of all this was wholly fascinating.”
I love this quote, because I can just imagine Tolkien being that rambling, mumbling university lecturer that makes you want to pull your hair out. I love his books, but they are long in spots. This quote also made me realize how many of the fantasy authors that I enjoy lived through the Second World War, around the same time period. Strange, that.
Who is Diana Wynne Jones?
Diana Wynne Jones is a fantasy author who wrote for both children and adults. Her plots are always unique and unpredictable, and yet incredibly satisfying. As you can tell from above, her writing is influenced by the genre-defining works of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, but she is far from a slavish imitator.
Books I recommend by Diana Wynne Jones:
- Howl’s Moving Castle – she has a lot of fun with fairytale tropes, without directly imitating the plot of any one fairytale. It’s not another retelling of Cinderella!
- Archer’s Goon – here she shows off how humorous she can be. Magical elements intrude into the real world.
- The Dalemark Quartet – this is her most “fantasy” series of books, set in another world and involving magical objects and so on. And yet it is far from a standard “save the world” quest.
- Hexwood – I absolutely loved this one as a child. Sort of Star Wars mashed with King Arthur, but told with through a non-linear narrative that wrecked my brain the first time I read it
Books I recommend by C.S. Lewis:
- If you loved Narnia and haven’t read Till We Have Faces or the Space Trilogy, I highly recommend them. More adult and more challenging, but they have that clear C.S. Lewis touch.
Books I recommend by J.R.R. Tolkien:
- Everyone should read Lord of the Rings in their life. I don’t know how a somehow straightforward fantasy story can have such human and touching moments sprinkled throughout. I actually set out to read as much of his works as I could when I was younger, but I recognize that not all of his writings (eg: The History of Middle Earth) will appeal to everyone!
Once you’ve read a selection of these authors, feel free to come back and comment below on how you think they’ve influenced each other!