August 16th in (Feminist) History

diana-wynne-jones_bwOn this day in 1934, Diana Wynne Jones was born in London. She was a writer whose most popular works included Howl’s Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series. When she was just five, Diana’s family evacuated her to Wales at the start of the war. She moved several times before her family settled in Thaxted, Essex. With her parents running an educational conference centre, Diana and her younger sisters were often left on their own. She attended the Friends School Saffron Walden and then went on to study English at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, where she attended lectures by both J. R. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis. That same year she married John Burrow, with whom she would eventually have three sons.

Diana began writing in the mid-1960s when her youngest child was two years old. The family was going through some rough times with her husband sick and numerous adults living with them, and writing was a way for her to “keep her sanity”. Her first book was a novel for adults entitled Changeover, which was inspired by the British Empire’s divesting of numerous colonies at the time. She’s best known for her young adult fantasy books, but has also published non-fiction like The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, which is about cliches in fantasy fiction. Her books range from sharp social commentary to amusing situations, oftentimes including both. She has also inspired comparisons to Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, both of whom she is friends with. (She dedicated her novel Hexwood to him and he dedicated his mini-series The Books of Magic to “four witches”, one of which was Diana. 

Diana spoke occasionally about her troubles in creating feminine characters and her worries that the community would not receive them as “universal”. Over time she began to work harder to include feminine heroes, which functioned as a release for her own worries over being a woman writer in a genre often seen as unsuitable for women. She has won numerous awards both for specific books and for her impact on the genre, including the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for Charmed Life (the first in the Chrestomanci series), and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement. She died in 2011 after a battle with lung cancer. One of her last stories, The Islands of Chaldea, was finished by her sister, Ursula Jones, and published in 2014. 

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