Howl’s Moving Dalek

Howls Moving Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is another Diana Wynne Jones Dalek! This time it is for the very splendid Howl’s Moving Castle, because a remote-controlled Dalek is the sort of thing Howl (book-Howl, not movie-Howl) would bring home, and this is how Sophie would react if not given time to adjust. 

Please note the distinction between book-Howl and movie-Howl. I adore the Studio Ghibli movie. It is gorgeous, rich, odd, unexpected, breathtaking, enchanting, hysterical – all the things the book is, but in very different ways. Characters change sides, ages and  genders, old ones disappear, new ones appear, the Castle grows legs and the fire demon becomes adorable (I’m okay with that).

The movie amps up the war themes and advances the technology but loses the John Donne riddles. It catches Sophie’s strength but not her power. And it perfectly renders the troubled, vain, flamboyant Howl, but leaves out the drunk, soccer-playing, fast-driving, computer-savvy side of his character.

I love this book very much, and it is almost time to watch a course of Welsh movies and find someone to read it to again.

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!

Dalek and Cwidder

Dalek and Cwidder

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Diana Wynne Jones’ Cart and Cwidder, the first book of the Dalemark Quartet (you almost got The Spellcoats the other week).

One of the most memorable aspects of Dalemark is the range of technologies in a fantasy setting. Cart and Cwidder seemed (at first reading) the most traditional of Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasies – the family of travelling musicians in a semi-medieval setting – until the moment when someone is almost shot by a bullet, and then I realised that it was simply a situation of countries with different levels of industrialisation. The series moves between epic past and highly developed futures, between green ways and pipers and magic on the one hand and trains and planes and schools at the other, without ever leaving its own world (unlike Dark Lord of Derkholm, which is a direct intrusion by our world, and The Power of Three which, well, just read that one). Now that I think about this, C. S. Lewis touched on this in Narnia, with the institution of schools and factories and so forth in Prince Caspian and (it is intimated) The Last Battle, but industrialisation in Narnia is just as much a sign of decay as in The Lord of the Rings whereas in Jones it is a natural progression, as real and morally neutral as spells woven into the fabric of coats.

In other news, I am writing this in the middle of a group of friends designing tea labels, writing haiku and looking up Romeo and Juliet (and the Disney Robin Hood) on YouTube which is a very agreeable way to spend the evening, although it has been raining and the waters are rising again.


 

 

Dalek Knits

Dalek Knits

I originally intended this instalment of the Dalek Game to be for Diana Wynne Jones’ beautiful Dalemark novel The Spellcoats. Then I remembered a book I thought I had hallucinated, but which truly exists: Vampire Knits. I have not read it – you may recall that I am capable of knitting but am a conscientious objector. If I were to get too close to a physical copy of this book I would probably fall into a fit of hysterical giggling (I have this condition…) but it is rather wonderful: “Whether you are wandering the Carpathian Mountains or the bayous of Louisiana, these smoldering projects—for knitters of all levels—will keep you well protected, no matter what you attract.”

In other news: There is a Diana Wynne Jones Dalek in the offing.

 

 

Illustration Friday: Scary

Illustration Friday: Scary

Pen and ink. The shading is added digitally, but next time I would do it with watercolour – I enjoy the fluidity of it for single-colour work.

I enjoy stories where someone (character or audience) is shrunk to doll-size – whether Diana Wynne Jones’ Magicians of Caprona or Doctor Who’s “Night Terrors”, E. Nesbit’s “The Town in the Library in the Town in the Library”, the opening scenes of Babe or any number of others. They are usually intended to be scary, but I don’t find them so. I enjoy the fantasy – a fascination with small details, the coffee cans full of beads and the plaster ham in Beatrix Potter’s A Tale of Two Bad Mice, the giant Oreo in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. However, the best of them capture that dollshouse disproportion, where the scale of everything is always slightly off. Although it doesn’t scare me I find it beautifully unsettling.

After recently reading some M.R.James and watching Paranormal Activity 3, I am realising it is that gradual discomfort, the perpetual off-kilter sensation that I like best about horror. Sustained eeriness, rather than fright. The eternal unspoken whispering, the phenomenon which hints at but never fully grants an explanation. The serious scary stories which I like best are those which gradually and casually build to some subtle fright, and then never resolve it fully: I like the stories of the characters to be finished, for good or ill, but I do not want all questions to be answered – one reason that I don’t care for strong occult overtones in books I read in order to make myself scared of the sound of the wind. If all ghosts are identified, diagnosed and laid to rest, then that is as bad as ending a fantasy with “it was all a dream”. No, a little wonder and thrilling fear should stay in the world.

In other news: Delia Sherman’s Freedom Maze is loose on the world, and I did the cover and it has Delia’s words inside and Gregory Maguire’s words on top of it, and I am possibly a little excited.

Diana Wynne Jones

Archer's Gone

On Saturday, Diana Wynne Jones died.

I only knew her books, and they are extraordinary. Desperately homely worlds that rolled out into infinite branching wonders. Unassuming characters in ramshackle households who learned to be heroes within, and in spite of, and because of their families. Enormously silly chaotic denouements which make absolute sense in the world of the book, and luminous strange endings which are inexplicable and yet must be – surely are! – happy. Books that make me want to go outside and look at the sky, and do things. And now, I want to stay inside and read them all again.

Some years ago, the DWJ mailing list was discussing lines from her novels which had found their way into their lives, among which, from Archer’s Goon, was the cry, “Hathaway! Send a bus!”, professed to be useful in situations of transport-deficiency.

Illustration Friday: Repair

Repair

After the sketchcrawl and the moleskine exchange, a quick and simple scratchboard illustration this week!

Sophy Hatter, putting Howl’s blue-and-silver suit back together again, after she cut it into little triangles to make a patchwork skirt, after it was stained but before it grew out of control. I was tracking down extracts of the book online (I’ve no idea who has my copy) and I’d forgotten how that suit is all through the book, right from Howl’s first appearance. And I remembered how much I liked it and how much I need to Read It Again Right Now (the movie is wonderful, but only really bears a resemblance to the plot of the book for the first half hour).

Seen in person, this is a very small illustration: 5.5cmx5.5cm (just over two inches square). The colour version (below) is about life-size, but you can see that larger on Flickr if you click on it.

I’m not sure about the black circle background yet. It is an effect I generally like (especially in chapter headers) but am still experimenting with. I think it might work better with an ink drawing or with at least a cleaner background. I’d like to do a more frenetic version of this picture as well – this is rather calm.

Repair (colour)

April Short Book Reviews

The Mean Seasons: Fables Vol. 5 – Willingham et. al. I am enjoying this graphic novel series so much. I spent an evening sitting in a cafe composing a post on the awesomeness of one of the main characters. The series is not unproblematic, but it’s better than a lot and it is fairytales not retold but… matured? continued? and thrown into a difficult situation they have to deal with or perish. Snow continues to be amazing, Bigby to be difficult, everyone has their own agendas and jealousies, and they are beginning to be under threat not only from the old world but from elements of the new and from their own rules. Will the triumph of democracy be a deathblow for Fabletown? Will investigative journalists expose the secret at the heart of 21st century New York? Will true love triumph? And will anyone ever cut Snow a break? I wish comics weren’t so expensive. I’m trying to not buy more than one volume of this a month, but I bought vol. 6 a week after this one.

Batman – A Death in the Family . My first actual Batman encounter other than the movies and The Daily Batman, so while I enjoyed reading it (and found the idea of readers “voting Robin off”) I don’t really have any framework within which to review it. But seeing the Joker so much gave me a jawache.

Assorted short comics acquired at Supanova – these were out of context for me, both in terms of the continuing stories and the sort of comics they are, so I won’t review them. Also, I was disconcerted by the artwork being so much weaker than what I am used to seeing and so much better than mine.

Labyrinths – Borges. Finally. And yes, he is gorgeous. He reminds me of Umberto Eco, but perhaps took himself a little more seriously. His short stories, essays and poems tread between fantasy (sometimes reminding me of Lovecraft) and philosophy, theology, impossible hypotheticals, all short enough that they leave you room to go off on thoughts of your own. I would sit on the bus pondering the relationship between his examination of ‘The Argentine Writer and Tradition’ and the cultural cringe and the landscape in Australian speculative fiction until I began to suspect the reason I was having trouble concentrating at work that week was because I was thinking too much outside it. The final poem in the collection was ‘Elegy’ which contained the very lovely line: “to have grown old in so many mirrors” which reminded me of Elliot but is both more beautiful and just as tragic.

The Game – Diana Wynne Jones. As lively and convoluted (plot and story and characters all) as any of her stories, but in other ways just as reserved. The story of the paths of the mythosphere, the interconnectedness of families and stories and myths and legends (the Sysiphus strand which reaches out to the legend of Sysiphus at one end, but closer to home is office workers dealing with never-empty in-trays), the whirling wheeling stars (which reminded me of P. L. Travers at her best) are so rich and ripe and vivid and yet DWJ holds back so much, telling only the barest part of the story and leaving the reader wanting so very much more. Not that the story is untold, but she has shown and hinted at wonders and worlds just over the edge of it and then pared back to only the core of her tale. It is incredibly frustrating. I wrote to the DWJ list that “DWJ is very good at giving the impression that there are stories spilling over the edge of the one you are reading, that there are worlds and events and tales that you can’t quite turn the page to read although you *want* to, and that she probably won’t tell you ever because they aren’t necessary to the (quite wonderful) story at hand. Lately, however, she seems to be developing this to a very fine pitch – as if she has worked out the bare minimum she needs to actually tell to convey the story she wants to tell you, while hinting at an even more voluminous universe. The story she is telling works and is very very good, but as a reader I am convinced that there is *so much more out there* that it becomes a kind of exquisite torture.” The worst part is that I know from experience that even if she does write a sequel, it will probably be about an extremely peripheral character and is unlikely to take place in the same universe.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks. If you ever saw Awakenings with Robin Williams, Williams played Sacks. This is a series of case studies of patients with various neurological anomalies – twin savants, a ‘disembodied’ woman, a musician who ceases to recognise faces (not just the faces of certain individuals but human faces at all), people whose lives are held together with music or who can only walk upright by means of a spirit level attached to their spectacles, who recognise expression but not words or words but not expression. It is fascinating and alarming but most interesting because he treats his patients less as fascinating cases than as interesting, complicated people, whose ‘problems’ may not be problems at all, or part of a continuum of human experience. I was glad I read this after Borges, for Sacks referred to him (and particularly his story ‘The Mnemonist’) several times.

March Short Book Reviews

The Fourth Bear – Jasper Fforde. Alright. I laughed at some of the puns (the Oddly Familiar Deja Vu Club) but it wasn’t as sparkling as the Thursday Next books. The threats weren’t threatening, the comedy sometimes felt forced. I really like fairytale retellings, but I think Fforde handled retellings of literature better. I liked Jack Spratt – I have a soft spot for hard-bitten, even noirish, policemen with complicated pasts – but he was a bit too affected by his past and I didn’t like the way his ex-wife was portrayed.

The Pinhoe Egg – Diana Wynne Jones. Another “meh”, but within the context of the rest of DWJ’s books, so that’s a pretty good “meh” : ) Although Magicians of Caprona was one of my earliest favourites, I don’t rank the Chrestomanci books as a whole among my favourites of her books. I like the characters and the world but they often leave me feeling as if there is something more behind the background, some part of the story I can’t quite get at or which is still waiting to be told. But it has a cat who walk through walls.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon. It was an odd experience reading this, because the subject matter and milieu belong to genres I am used to (comics, graphic novels, magic realism, slight surrealism) but the book itself is a Novel, which does things differently, and is a genre which seems obliged to have more gritty sexuality in it and less satisfying endings than the genres I’m used to (although, as Novels go, the ending of this one wasn’t bad). A similar thing happened with Year of Wonders which I would have liked as an Historical, Fantasy or Alternate History novel but really took against as a Novel. I liked Chabon’s style, I really liked that he anchored the characters in history and made their fictional fictional creations (The Escapist, et al) seem so real I wanted to be able to pick up one of the comics and look at Joe’s drawing, or look for references to the characters and their creations in the anti-comic literature of the time. Usually this would bother me – I often feel cheated by reading historical fiction, but this fictionalised history paralleling the real rise of the comic book hero was excellent, interesting, entertaining, helpful and gratifying. I liked the faint elements of the fantastic and can’t decide if I wanted them explained or not. I’d have a hard time lending it for reasons of certain scenes.

Also, Song of Songs, and if you want to scar your children, read this aloud as a family with parts assigned appropriately.