Why is it that old newsprint, about to be discarded, makes one last burst at survival, and unfailingly provides unexpected diversion?
Here comes the Times Literary Supplement of 31 August.
Tom Shippey reviewing Diana Wynne Jones, Reflections on the Magic of Writing.
Malcolmian Wombling stopped instantly. Reading mode was engaged.
The book is:
a collection of some thirty pieces written over the years by the late Diana Wynne Jones.
The themes which run through the collection are autobiography, thoughts on how to write and how books originate … and thirdly, robust defences of the value of fantasy and the importance of writing for children.
Were Malcolm being sniffy (and he is), he would wonder why the third of those should ever need robust defences. Fantasy is an essential element in any proper upbringing:
Tell me where is fancy bred,
Or in the heart or in the head?
How begot, how nourishèd?
Is it engendered in the eyes,
With gazing fed; and Fancy dies
In the cradle where it lies.
Let us all ring Fancy’s bell:
I’ll begin it, — Ding, dong, bell.
Put that into its context, Act III, scene ii, of The Merchant of Venice, and you have something very spooky indeed. That, too, is part of fantasy.
Half-way through his review Shippey opens a Cabinet of Dr Caligari:
Wynne Jones adds herself to the list of children’s authors — E.E.Nesbit, Rudyard Kipling, Beatrix Potter — who had troubled early lives. She writes, “I think I write the kind of books I do because the world suddenly went mad when I was five years old”. Then, in August 1939, Diana and her sister were suddenly uprooted from London, driven to their grandparents’ home in Welsh-speaking Pontarddulais, and left to cope as best they could. It was not for long, for their mother came and fetched them back: not, it seems out of affection, but as a result of a blazing row with Aunt Muriel: “I see my relationship with my mother never recovered from this.” The children were soon packed off again, this time to Westmoreland, where they saw Arthur Ransome in a fury over the noise the children made — “He hated children” — and Diana’s sister Isobel was smacked by Beatrix Potter for swinging on her garden gate: “She hated children, too.”
Quite how good this book is, Malcolm cannot authenticate. The reviewer seems to like it, and is convincing in his observations. It might be something worth seeking out. from a library, or watch for a second-hand copy perhaps: at £25 it looks hardly a steal (even Amazon want £17.50).
One final thought: whenever over the decades of teaching, Malcolm has come upon a well-balanced child, there tended to be an imagination at work, an ability to cross into worlds of fantasy, even a native delight in jokes and word-play. On the other hand, there are far too many warped minds, who — for one lack of reason or another — have been denied that fantasy. Sadly, too many of these minds are the victims of cults of one evil kind or another: the strict Moslem boy who rejected any kind of fiction on principle (someone else’s principle).
There are many good causes to scorn, even despise the verbose spoutings of Ms Rowling: religious wailing about Witchcraft! should never be one of them.