Dalek and Hemlock

Dalek and Hemlock

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Diana Wynne Jones’ Fire and Hemlock, which is… not as gothic as the cover on Amazon would make it appear.

I cannot choose a favourite Diana Wynne Jones novel. They are all luminous and familiar and unexpected, braiding science fiction, parallel worlds, fantasy, history, the awful ordinary trials of every day life (indeed, Awful from Archer’s Goon is one of my favourite secondary characters) and frequently (though not in Fire and Hemlock) the complications families bring to adventures. Fire and Hemlock, however, is one of the novels I most frequently reread.

Fire and Hemlock is part reworking, part continuation of the story in the ballad of Tam Lin and is a story of friends and language, cellists and hardware stores, idle stories coming true, forgotten friends, the varied uglinesses of the human back and the dangers of wandering into other people’s funerals. It is a light and luminous story with an almost completely impenetrable ending.

It is a good ending. I am always certain of that. I am sure it is a happy ending – I feel happy and satisfied whenever I read it. But working out how it is good, convincing my head as well as my heart, is an exercise I repeat on every reread. It is part of the power and charm of the book.

(If you’ve read the novel already, this is one of several articles which I’ve found helpful in deciphering the exact mechanics of the end: Fire and Hemlock reconsidered, but there are others out there. ETA: Here’s another: We only live, only suspire / consumed by either fire or fire – the novel isn’t “literary” but it is tremendous fun to examine from that angle).

In other news: I am planning to go to North America in November for World Fantasy and maybe also Illuxcon!

12 thoughts on “Dalek and Hemlock

  1. Er? Families don’t bring complications to the adventure in Fire and Hemlock? What about Polly’s father and Joanna, and Ivy and her lodgers, and the Leroy Perry clan?

    • Ah, you’re quite right. I forgot Polly’s father. I see this as such a Tom-and-Polly book, Polly as main character doesn’t spend the book all tangled up with her family, the way e.g. Derkholm’s family or Rupert’s brothers-and-lovers or Chrestomanci or the Archer’s Goon siblings are.

      I see the Leroy Perry clan as being the adventure, rather than getting in the way of solving it.

  2. Do you have a recommendation for the first Diana Wynne Jones novel one should read? I’m thinking about trying one of them since you like her so much.

    Those two “cons” in North America sound good, too – if I recall correctly you’ve been to Toronto, right? So you know about the charms of that city!

    • Pretty much what Aimee says below! I frequently start people on Howl’s Moving Castle, however – charming, accessible and surprising. She doesn’t recommend a particular Chrestomanci novel, but I am fond of The Magicians of Caprona.

      And no, I’ve never been to Toronto! I’ve only been to Canada once, and just long enough to see Niagara Falls from that side. I’ve heard it is “the Rockhampton of Canada”, but that is likely only meaningful to Australians.

        • Toronto is more changeable than I’d ever thought. I went there roughly every two years for a vacation trip from 1990 to 2006 (yeah, I like it that much) and it was fascinating watching it change. It is certainly much more diverse ethnically – not that it was not already so in 1990 – and I’d call it more international now.

          As I replied to Aimee I will be looking for the books “Homeward Bounders” and/or “Howl’s Moving Castle”. Hey, this blog has a pretty good literary salon!

  3. Homeward Bounders was my first, and in so far as I can hazard this opinion, one of my favourites. It would be my favourite, but I am then never sure, and have to go reread not only it but Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, Hexwood, Deep Secret and the Dalemark Quartet, just to make sure. After which I never am sure, and have to read them all again. Probably with at least a Chrestomanci novel in there, just to make very very sure. Never am. But Homeward Bounders might be a favourite, if I had one.

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