Diana Wynne Jones

Hi Diana,

I have a confession to make: I’ve never read Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve never even seen the Miyazaki film.

I’ve had both the book and film recommended to me countless times by friends, family, acquaintances, and posts on the Internet where I’ve recognized a reference without the benefit of knowing the full context, but somehow I’ve never gotten around to it. So, while many people I know have always first and foremost associated you with Howl, I still don’t know much about him or Sophie (her name is Sophie, right?), apart from his being a wizard with a tiny fire demon (is the fire demon in the book?), and a strong association with crows (or is it ravens?).

Cat Chant is a different story. My copy of Charmed Life is worn from years of reading and rereading. For a long time it was the only piece of your work I’d ever read, and I went back to it whenever I wanted to reenter that world, or rather those worlds, the richness of which you only get a small peek during Cat and Gwendolen’s story. Charmed Life sat on my shelf among a mishmash of other novels, fantasy or not, and I well remember several times walking up to that bookshelf having finished a new book, looking for the familiarity of an old friend, and pulling that slim purple volume out from between The Gammage Cup and one or another teen angst novel.

I don’t know why it took me so long to branch out — maybe it’s because I am very much a rereader at my core — but it wasn’t until I was probably 16 or 17 that I realized you’d written other books, and that I could obtain those other books, and read them. I found the collected volumes of the Chrestomanci series in a bookstore and snatched up the first two, devouring The Lives of Christopher ChantThe Magicians of Caprona, and Witch Week immediately. And while I loved all of them, I kept going back to Charmed Life.

Every time I pick up that tired paperback, Julia spreads far too much marmalade on her toast. Every time, I re-encounter the word “widdershins,” and remember again what it means. Every time, I am reminded of the cat who was a fiddle and the dragon who is, well, dead and not-dead. And every time, all these things are comforting and comfortingly strange. I hope I go back to The Lives, because I love Christopher dearly, and I hope I meet Howl sometime in the future, but I have a feeling I’ll be rereading Cat’s story for a very long time.

Thank you for everything,
Louisa

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Jonathan Stroud

Mr. Stroud,1

I was 12, I believe, when I first picked up The Amulet of Samarkand on a whim2 during a school book fair. I didn’t know anything about it save what little it told me on its back cover — curiously enough I noticed something a little different about that description.3 I’d seen footnotes before, sure, but never in so…snarky a fashion,4 and certainly not in fiction. I was curious; I was intrigued. I was also pretty much sold the moment I saw “A London run by magicians” on the back cover.5

And, sure, your book absolutely gave me a London run by magicians6 and an Amulet of Samarkand,7 but it and the rest of the series was so much more than that.8

Through the absurdly delightful and absolutely brilliant Bartimaeus,9 you introduced an almost-teenager to probably the first antihero that made me laugh,10 while also making me think long and hard about enslavement and the role of government and power.11 Combining Bartimaeus’ spirituous wit with Nathaniel’s stubborn ambition gave me a dynamic antihero duo who were equal parts understandable, relatable, and at times even hateable.12 But, come the conclusion of the trilogy…I was left speechless.13

Totally bittersweet, with characters oftentimes teamed up for reasons of convenience as opposed to genuine feeling for each other.14 The multiple sacrifices made by every character at the end of the final novel rang out incredibly true, even moreso now, I think, as I listen to yet more vitriolic rhetoric in this world. The beautifully flawed characters of your trilogy were perfect for me when growing up, and perfect for me even now as a “grown up.”15

Thank you for writing these characters who, in their very imperfections, are damn near perfect.16 My adolescence, my teenage years, and my so-called adult life are all the better for it.

Sincerely,
Madeleine


Footnotes

  1. I don’t think we’re on a first name basis yet, given we’ve never met, but this does sound terribly formal.
  2. Can you blame me? The cover was blue and had a shiny piece of jewelry as its centrepiece.
  3. I’m sure you can guess…hint: I’m poorly imitating it right now.
  4. Bartimaeus is now my posterchild for prime “snarkentary” in novels.
  5. What can I say? I’ve got a type.
  6. Eyyy, Natty boy.
  7. Shiny!
  8. Augh, this is where I get a little sappy. Feel free to shield your eyes.
  9. Bartimaeus of Uruk, Sakhr al-Jinni, N’gorso the Mighty and the Serpent of Silver Plumes who rebuilt the walls of Uruk, Karnak and Prague; who spoke with Solomon and ran with the buffalo fathers of the plains; who watched over Old Zimbabwe till the stones fell and the jackals fed on its people. Yes, that Bartimaeus.
  10. He gets all the good one-liners.
  11. Don’t get me wrong: obviously slavery is wrong and I knew this. But it made me reconsider it on a fantastical level — the idea that the spirits were slaves and that they experienced physical consequences from their time on Earth. That they might be friends or enemies outside of their masters’ biddings. That was a new one for me. And, of course, with the events of 2016, thinking about the role of government and power is more pertinent and important than ever.
  12. Oh, Nathaniel. You really needed to learn that both humans and spirits had bad things about them.
  13. Okay, that’s a small fib: I was actually sobbing, but let’s pretend that indignity didn’t happen.
  14. Although I like to think that maybe Nathaniel earned a few points in Bartimaeus’ book for his actions in Ptolemy’s Gate, it was both entertaining and illuminating to see these two band together because it was necessary…even while they actively disliked each other.
  15. I’m still fairly certain being a “grown up” is a myth.
  16. I have a feeling Bartimaeus would be objecting to me even considering he has “imperfections.”

TBT 04: Religion in YA Literature

Happy Holidays! Members of Backroom Whispering got together just before Christmas to discuss how religion is discussed and used in YA literature, including but not limited to His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia. We had a lot of different thoughts, so we hope you enjoy! Continue the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter pages!

In this episode you heard from:
Moderator: Dorothy | @bwp_dorothy
Akhi | @akhipill
Madeleine | @madnbooks | youtube.com/madnbooks
Rebecca | @rumy91989
Louisa | @otterbewriting
Sara (read by Dorothy) | @fantasticpiggy

The Book Table is a podcast from Backroom Whispering Productions. Our theme music is by Mark Wayne.

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Twitter | @BackroomWhisper
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Email | BackroomWhispering@gmail.com