Size / / /

This talk was a keynote speech at the conference "A Fantastic Legacy: Diana Wynne Jones," hosted by Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children's Books, and Newcastle University on 6th September 2014.


  1. Reading as Enchantment
  2. A Taxonomy of Place
  3. Intertopicality
  4. Endnotes
  5. Works Discussed

Reading as Enchantment [contents]

Readers have always been fascinated by the relationship between writers and the places that are important to them. Whether we consider place as a point of origin, as a source of inspiration, or as subject matter; whether we think of it as inanimate or invest it with sentience; whether we wax lyrical, mystical, or geological, many of us will acknowledge that places play a significant role in shaping our imaginative experience of books, as well as influencing the writers who produce them.

The potency of place has been central to my own critical writings, and to none more so than my 2006 book Four British Fantasists, a study of four children's fantasy writers, including Diana Wynne Jones. This book (as indicated in its subtitle) put a specific emphasis on the roles of place and culture in its subjects' work, exploring place in terms of landscape history, archaeology, folklore, and human community. Given the preoccupations of my chosen authors, this seemed a natural approach to adopt.

All the same, it took a number of years to gain the critical confidence to give place this central position. When I was at university in the early 1980s, an old guard of New Critics was locked in combat with a formidable phalanx of structuralists and poststructuralists marching under the banner of Theory. Antagonistic as these movements were to each other, they were united in their hostility to criticism that looked beyond engagement with the text as a means of understanding or interpreting literary works. Caught between the New Critics' "intentional fallacy" and Roland Barthes' "death of the Author," anything that smacked of biographical criticism found itself marginalized, and with it any critical approach that put the personal experience of either author or reader in a central position. To incorporate into academic critical discourse an interest in the places that had inspired writers or informed one's own reading was to be slightly vulgar. It was to make a category error. Above all it was to miss the point. Of course you didn't need to walk from London to Canterbury to understand Chaucer! Didn't I know that Shakespeare never set foot in Verona?

Still, wondering what kinds of minds—what kinds of people—created the books I read, and why, and what was going on in those minds when they were writing, seemed like an integral part of the experience of reading literature, not a tacked-on extra that could be dispensed with or filed under the separate category of "biography." Such wondering was part of the fascination of reading, part of what piqued and tantalized me. As for places, I've always loved to visit the scenes of my favourite stories, and relish the paradox of standing in the actual spot where such-and-such a fictional event "really happened." When I wrote Four British Fantasists one of my great pleasures—indulgences, perhaps—was the excuse to seek out such locations. Clearly some of the writers I was discussing, such as Alan Garner, who put maps in the front of his books, anticipated and tacitly encouraged such expeditions. My primary purpose in making them was to establish the ways in which significant places might be said to have had an effect—a publically discussable, academically respectable effect—on my subjects' novels. But I was also quietly interested in what drew me, and in the ways I took that experience and fed it back into my reading.

I knew that I was not alone. Thousands travel to Dorset and West Yorkshire in search of the landscapes that inspired Hardy and the Brontës. At King's Cross Station in London thousands more pay their respects at a shrine to Harry Potter in the form of a luggage trolley half sunk into the wall, its handle burnished by the touch of many hands. Admirers of Lucy M. Boston's Green Knowe books who visit her home in Hemmingford Grey may, if they are lucky, be allowed to venerate the originals of the toys that feature in her fiction, just as previous generations did the relics of saints. It seemed to me that Chaucer understood people better than my teachers when he wrote in the opening lines of The Canterbury Tales about people's longing to go on pilgrimage. What, after all, is a pilgrimage? For the religious, a shrine like that of Thomas Becket is a place where two worlds meet: the world of the everyday, the bustling city of Canterbury filled with reeves and pardoners and goodwives; and the world of the divine, where a saint was sanctified in martyrdom. God might be everywhere, but such places could give you a better view of God's interactions with the world. Becket's shrine, being a site where those two worlds touched, was a kind of incarnation—a mystery made flesh.

One need not be religious to find fascination in the ways that books too may contrive to be incarnations, yoking together being and meaning, investing mere phenomena with significance. In doing this work they are engaged in what the philosopher Jane Bennett refers to as the "enchantment" of modern life, the fight against and emergence from a reductive sense that all human experience is rationally calculable, which she sees as having achieved cultural dominance since the days when it was given classic expression by social theorists such as Max Weber. According to Bennett's polemic:

the contemporary world retains the power to enchant humans and [ . . . ] humans can cultivate themselves so as to experience more of that effect. Enchantment is something that we encounter, that hits us, but it is also a comportment that can be fostered through deliberate strategies. One of those strategies might be to give greater expression to the sense of play, another to hone sensory receptivity to the marvelous specificity of things. [1]

Enchantment is a question not just of intellectual assent but of bodily practice and awareness, of re-mooring the mind in the world of physical experience. It is easy to see how poetry, in its attention to specificity, and novels, in their attempts to capture and integrate as broad a range of human experience as possible, might be recruited to this project; but perhaps it is in fantasy literature that it comes closest to being a defining principle. It is conveniently exemplified in a passage from Diana Wynne Jones's novel Deep Secret (1997). Here, one of the book's narrators, Maree Mallory, describes the distorting glass in the windows of her uncle and aunt's Bristol house:

When you look out at the front—particularly in the evenings—you get a sort of cliff of trees and buildings out there, with warm lighted squares of windows, which all sort of slide about and ripple as if they are just going to transform into something else. From some angles, the houses bend and stretch into weird shapes, and you really might believe they were sliding into a set of different dimensions. [ . . . ] With everything rippling and stretching, you almost think you're seeing your way through to a potent strange place behind the city. [2]

Maree's uncle explains the effect prosaically: the glass dates from the Second World War, when the house was caught in the blast from the Luftwaffe's bombing of Bristol docks and the windows had to be hastily replaced. He adds that the rarity of the glass now adds to the house's value—just the kind of conversion of mystery into Weberian calculability against which Bennett writes and that is liable (in Maree's words) to "destroy all the strangeness" [3]. However, Maree's cousin Nick maintains that the windows "give you glimpses of a great alternate universe called Bristolia" [4]. Later, Nick has Maree drive him around the city, now seen through the double lens of mundanity and enchantment as both Bristol and Bristolia:

Nick unfolded a large, carefully coloured map. "I think we'll start with Cliffores of the Monsters and the Castle of the Warden of the Green Wastes," he said seriously.

So I drove him to the Zoo and then past the big Gothic school there. Then we went round Durdham Down and on to Westbury-on-Trym and back to Redland. After that, I don't remember where we went. Nick had different names for everywhere and colourful histories to go with every place. He told me exactly how many miles of Bristolia we'd covered for each mile of town. [5]

Their travels eventually take them from "Biflumenia—I mean Bedminster" to "Yonder Bristolia where most of the magic users live" [6], on the far side of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Although Nick's version of Bristolia is a game that he has invented (just as Deep Secret is a novel Diana Wynne Jones has invented), it becomes a way of re-enchanting the physical city, one that readers may experience on subsequent journeys through its streets. In this respect it bears comparison with the immersive fiction, These Pages Fall Like Ash, created in 2013 as a collaboration between Bristol academic Tom Abba and Duncan Speakman, with input from the fantasy novelists Neil Gaiman and Nick Harkaway [7]. These Pages Fall Like Ash is both a physical book and an extended "event" spread over several weeks in the spring of that year, in which readers were invited to explore locations in the city, where they would be able to unlock sections of a counterpoint narrative using a mobile device. By piecing together the book with the electronic texts and imagery, the story emerges of a parallel Bristol, called Portus Abonae [8], which occupies the same physical space but a different reality. The experience of "reading" These Pages Fall Like Ash was described by Sarah Ditum in The New Statesman:

You see the river and the ghost signs, the ancient pubs and the not-so-ancient university buildings more sharply as you make the effort to see something else entirely in their place. Early on, it becomes clear that the fiction involves two cities sharing the same location, with lesions between them that allow some kind of exchange between the characters; and then you realise that you and every other participant in Pages Fall is helping to shape the outcome of the story. [9]

These Pages Fall Like Ash

These Pages Fall Like Ash (photograph by the author)

Looking-Glass City

Looking-glass city—seeking Portus Abonae in and through Bristol (photograph by the author)

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes," wrote Marcel Proust in a line quoted in These Pages Fall Like Ash [10]. The approach is very much in the tradition of Diana Wynne Jones's own work, and it is probably no coincidence that both Abba and Gaiman were admirers and close friends of hers. (Indeed, the character of Nick in Deep Secret is partly based on Gaiman.)

In the rest of this talk I wish to consider not so much what place meant to Diana Wynne Jones as a writer (a subject I covered at length in Four British Fantasists), as what her use of place has meant to me as one of her readers. For reasons of economy and regional partis pris I will concentrate on places in Bristol and the surrounding area, where she lived from the mid-1970s until the end of her life, and where I have been based since 1990. In doing so, I shall attempt a rough and preliminary taxonomy of the ways in which readers in general may encounter place in fiction. Because readers are individuals, the utility of this exercise might appear to be very limited. How can it be more than an impressionistic and idiosyncratic account of one person's experience? And how far can that experience be translated into the kind of generalized language that would give it purchase on the more abstract concerns of academic discourse? Such questions certainly need to be addressed; but given that responses to place are an important component of reading, that books invite such responses from their readers, and that authors take them into account when writing, the potential gains make the experiment worthwhile.

A Taxonomy of Place [contents]

Diana Wynne Jones's association with Bristol and the southwest did not begin until her early forties. Having led a peripatetic wartime childhood she grew up in the village of Thaxted in Essex before studying English Literature at Oxford, where she married a don and largely spent the following twenty years. Most of her published books however were written after they moved to Bristol in 1976.

What possible significance does this have for her readers? Much speculative fiction is set in other worlds, either on other planets or perhaps in other universes altogether. This is true of many of Jones's books, but in others the setting appears to be the world as we know it. Even where that is not the case the mundane and fantasy worlds may still bleed into each other, opening up the possibility of pilgrimage. In one of her own critical essays, Jones pointed out the extent to which J. R. R. Tolkien was indebted for the landscape of Middle-earth to the geographical and archaeological features around Oxford and the upper Thames valley:

Here there are stuffy willow-choked flats, Wychwood, rivers like the Windrush and the Evenlode, the Rollright Stones, the longbarrow called Wayland's Smithy, ploughland and orchards round Didcot, the Seven Barrows, Thames water meadows, and the austere landscape of the chalk downs. And he used them all: there is even a real place called Buckland. [11

Jones goes on to argue that the road from the Shire to Rivendell, followed first by Bilbo in The Hobbit and later by Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, carries echoes of "the old prehistoric road called the Ridgeway, which is probably the oldest road in Britain, leading from east to west [ . . . ] sometimes as a cart-track, sometimes as broad as a motorway, and at other times vanishing in a valley" [12]. What is true of Tolkien is true also of Jones's own fantasy settings. Her geographical inspirations range across Britain, but understandably they cluster in the places that she knew best. A long-term resident of Oxford, she drew as Tolkien had on the geography of that area—on Oxford itself in A Tale of Time City (1987) and on Otmoor in Power of Three (1976), as well as on the landscape around Wayland's Smithy and the Uffington White Horse for The Merlin Conspiracy (2003). It is not surprising that Bristol and the surrounding area also feature heavily in the topography of her books, although they appear in a variety of guises, partly reflecting the range of genres in which she worked.

In some ways the most straightforward category in our taxonomy is the explicit use of named locations. Bristol features in propria persona in a number of Jones's books, notably Deep Secret and her young adult novel Fire and Hemlock (1985), both of which include important scenes at the Clifton Suspension Bridge. In Fire and Hemlock the teenaged heroine Polly, rejected by both her jealous mother and her weak father, seriously considers throwing herself from the bridge, which she knows to be a popular suicide spot. In a passage partly inspired by the opening of T. S. Eliot's "The Dry Salvages" [13] Jones writes:

The bridge was a flat double strip under the cables, hung high, high up between two cliffs. Polly walked out to the middle and stopped. The wind took her hair there and hurled it about. She leaned both arms on the chubby metal fence at the edge and looked down, dizzyingly far, to the sinewy brown water of the Bristol Avon racing between the thick mud banks below. The wind hurled seagulls about in the air like wastepaper. [14]

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge, looking towards Yonder Bristolia (Photograph by the author)

Here is a very precise description of a very precise place. Anyone visiting Bristol would be able to follow Polly to this spot and look down at the same sinewy brown water, even if these days they will not (like Polly) have to pay a 2p pedestrian toll to do so.

A different presentation of place can be found in A Tale of Time City (1987). In this novel, the eponymous Time City is a place that sits outside time, from which it is possible to visit any era. Time City's architecture and interminable round of ceremonies were inspired by Oxford [15], but the novel includes an episode in which the child protagonists visit an unnamed West Country town at the time of the Second World War. This town has a tor, where one of the Caskets of Time City's Guardians is hidden, and the children wish to retrieve it:

They went up over the bulge in a floundering run, into sudden wide blue sky at the top of the hill. The space was quite small and flat. The tower was only some yards away and it was indeed a church tower without a church. There were two open church-like archways in it at the bottom. Vivian could see sky right through it for a second, before Jonathan blocked her view by springing upright and sprinting for the tower. [16]

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Tor, with a view of St Michael's Chapel (Copyright (c) 2007 FoekeNoppert, published under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2.)

In this case, in contrast to Fire and Hemlock, the precise location is never named. However, for anyone familiar with the area, the description is exact and unmistakable: the children are on Glastonbury Tor. The realisation of this provides an experience distinct from the passive recognition of a named location, as in the case of the Suspension Bridge, but is of course available only to those readers who have the experience necessary to make the discovery.

A third category is exemplified by The Merlin Conspiracy. The majority of this novel is set not in our world but in a magical analogue for Britain called Blest, which has much the same geography and includes versions of London, Salisbury, and Stonehenge. At one point the protagonist, Roddy Hyde, visits an ancient, unnamed village, where in the stones of a ruined hut she encounters the spirit of a former inhabitant, a witch with a broken hip and an abundance of botanical lore, who proceeds to download her knowledge into Roddy's mind. This incident was inspired by a visit to the ancient Romano-British settlement of Chysauster in west Cornwall, where Jones had a very similar encounter, to the extent that she felt the pain in her own hip and was unable to walk for some minutes. Roddy describes the village in these terms:

It was like an accidental garden strewn with heaps of regularly piled stones. Small rowans and hawthorns had grown up among the stones, along with heather and gorse, big bushes of broom and small shrubs of bilberry. [ . . . ] We sat down on the nearest sunny tumble of wall, just beside what looked like the ruins of a front door with very civilised steps leading up to it, where we ate an improbable quantity of sandwiches in peace and contentment filled with insect sounds. [17]

Romano-British walls

Romano-British walls at Chysauster ancient village (photograph by the author)

The description certainly corresponds to the reality of Chysauster as I saw it on a visit (or pilgrimage) in 2007. However, one difference between this example and that of Glastonbury Tor is that the Tor's unique features make it instantly recognizable, whereas there are numerous sites in the United Kingdom that resemble Roddy's description to some degree. The presence of Chysauster within The Merlin Conspiracy thus remains shadowy. In fact, I am aware of the Chysauster connection only because Jones told me about her experience there in conversation, a source of information unavailable to most readers. That knowledge has inevitably come to colour my sense both of the scene in The Merlin Conspiracy and of Chysauster, but to what extent is it reasonable to say in general terms that Chysauster is a feature of the book?

When I interviewed Jones in March 2001, I asked her about the role of locations (and Bristol in particular) in inspiring her work. At the time, Hayao Miyazaki was planning the animated version of her 1986 book Howl's Moving Castle, and her answer reflects this:

Recently I was invaded by a Japanese film team, and they tried to make me identify the landscapes from Howl's Moving Castle (1986). (It was difficult because they had two interpreters, each interpreting differently all the time.) Eventually, after scratching my head and forcing my brain in wrong directions (as it seemed to me) I managed to work out that Exmoor played quite a part in it, and so did Lyme Regis and the coast around there, which is of course within reach of Bristol. But it wasn't there directly: I had to dig for it. I don't as a rule say: "I will set this book in Bristol city centre." [18]


Exmoor (photograph by Michael Clarke; published under Creative Commons Licence)

Lyme Regis and the Cobb

Looking down on Lyme Regis and the Cobb (photograph by Mike Hancock; published under Creative Commons Licence)

Howl's Moving Castle is set not in Dorset or Somerset but in the fantasy realm of Ingary, a place where "seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist" [19]. Nevertheless, armed with this hint it is of course possible to go back to the novel and read its hilly hinterland through the prism of Exmoor, and its seaside town of Porthaven through the prism of Lyme Regis. For example, in the following passage the protagonist Sophie is running to Porthaven harbour in order to watch Wizard Howl take part in a magical battle:

Sophie and Michael joined the rush of braver people down the long sloping lanes to the dockside. There everyone seemed to think the best view was to be had along the curve of the harbour wall. Sophie hobbled to get out along it too, but there was no need to go beyond the shelter of the harbour master's hut. [20]

How useful is it, if at all, to read this passage in the light of the suggestion that Porthaven is inspired by Lyme? That it is Lyme-like? That it has a squeeze of Lyme? Lyme Regis does indeed boast "long sloping lanes" running down to the dockside, and the "curve of the harbour wall" in Porthaven may evoke Lyme's famous Cobb, which certainly curves—though no more so than dozens of similar walls in ports throughout the southwest. On the other hand, Jones's sense that retrieving the information involved forcing her "brain in wrong directions" should give us pause, even if our priorities as readers do not entirely correspond to hers as a writer. It may even be that foregrounding the Lyme connection will be detrimental to our sense of the integrity of Ingary as a fictional world. If we remember Lyme when we read of Porthaven, might we not find Jones's world being drowned out by interference from the Dorset town, or even from Lyme's previous fictional appearances in books such as Persuasion and The French Lieutenant's Woman?

Having raised some doubts about the usefulness of reading in the light of real-world places, let us proceed to exacerbate them by considering one further example, Jones's 1984 novel, Archer's Goon. This book is set in an unnamed city or largish town in what appears to be contemporary England. Unknown to most of its citizens the town is in fact run from behind the scenes by seven megalomaniac siblings with superhuman powers, each of whom has been allotted one aspect of the town's activities to run, or as they say, "farm." So, Archer farms electricity, Hathaway farms transport, Torquil education, Dillian the police, and so on. Archer's Goon is, amongst many other things, a social satire that uses Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (the date of its publication is not coincidental) to produce a comic dystopia in which local government is the chosen method of oppression [21].

When I first read Archer's Goon I found that several features of the town's geography reminded me of central Bristol. Many of the street names and buildings were familiar, if rather inexactly placed. The family of the protagonist, Howard Sykes, lives on Upper Park St, and important scenes are played out at the Museum, the Town Hall, and near the Cathedral, which in Bristol are all located on Park St. Not only that, but in the book the local Polytechnic is sited nearby, and when Jones wrote Archer's Goon there was indeed a campus of Bristol Polytechnic in Unity St, a side road running off Park St. Other streets mentioned in the novel, such as Corn St and Union St, are five minutes' walk away, as is (most tellingly) Zed Alley, down which Howard and his sister Awful are chased by Ginger Hind's gang:

So Awful turned aside and streaked off down Zed Alley, running in long, pounding strides, with her head down and her arms working. Howard waited while her feet went splashing and stamping down the first zig of the alley. As he heard them go faint when she turned into the zag, he turned around, scowling against the rain, to face the boys. [22]

Bristol's Zed Alley, like its namesake in Archer's Goon, is shaped like the letter Z, and it appears to be a street name unique to the city.

Zed Alley sign

Zed Alley sign (photograph by the author)

The first zig

"The first zig of the alley" (photograph by the author)

There were other Bristol connections, too. Jones had reported that one incident in the book, in which the road outside Howard's house is repeatedly dug up by workmen as a form of municipal harassment, was inspired by an occasion when her own terrace in Bristol (fairly inaccessible at the best of times) was entirely surrounded by a trench dug by one of the utility companies, and it was necessary to ask the workmen to lay a plank across the resulting moat in order to leave the house [23]. Howard's father, a polytechnic lecturer called Quentin Sykes, was strongly rumoured to be based on Nick Otty, a lecturer at Bristol Polytechnic. Quentin's exasperated cry to a student—"I don't want to know what the Structuralists think! I want to know what you think!" [24]—may have been a nod to the fact that Otty contributed a hostile structuralist reading of The Lord of the Rings to the same volume of essays in which Jones discussed Tolkien's use of Oxfordshire geography, a volume that had appeared just a year before the publication of Archer's Goon.

Despite Jones's warning that "I don't as a rule say: 'I will set this book in Bristol city centre'" I was happy with this private association of Archer's Goon with Bristol, and found that it enhanced my enjoyment of both book and city. However, on 5 July 2009, in the wake of a discussion at the Diana Wynne Jones conference held at the University of the West of England in Bristol that weekend [25], Helen Harvey posted an alternative proposition to the Diana Wynne Jones LiveJournal community, Homeworld8. Harvey suggested that the city of Archer's Goon was actually Oxford, citing numerous circumstantial parallels to justify her opinion. For example:

  • The Sykes family live in "Upper Park Street" (16), which, we later find out, has a corresponding "Parks Street" (143), paralleling Parks Road/South Parks Road in Oxford.
  • "Corn Street" is Cornmarket Street. At one point, some characters go "up Corn Street and along High Street" which matches exactly the geography of Oxford's Cornmarket in relation to the High Street.
  • The poly is of course Oxford Brookes (a polytechnic at the time). [26]

Harvey's list of such points is lengthy, and while none is individually conclusive her argument is cumulatively quite persuasive. Harvey added that she had written a fan letter to Jones, laying out her theory, and that Jones had replied as follows:

I found, soon after my marriage, that I had to go back and live in Oxford. We were there for the next 20 years. This is undoubtedly why, when I want to write about an anonymous mid-England town, I tend to base it on Oxford (minus colleges). You are actually the only person to recognise the place. [27]

Later, I told Jones about Harvey's Oxford post, and my own rival Bristol theory. The author replied diplomatically (but no doubt also truthfully) that both had contributed a part to Archer's Goon. After all, why not draw on both? It is possible that one reason Jones habitually refrained from naming places in her books is that it allowed her the flexibility to reconfigure and combine them in ways that were useful to her as a writer, and meaningful to as large a pool of readers as possible. Even so, this example should caution us against relying on such associations too heavily or interpreting them too mechanically.

Intertopicality [contents]

Our rough-and-ready taxonomy has so far yielded a sliding scale of specificity, ranging from locations that are mentioned by name, like the Clifton Suspension Bridge, through ones that are strongly indicated, like Glastonbury Tor, to more nebulous presences such as those of Chysauster, Exmoor and Lyme Regis. We could easily multiply these examples, and no doubt identify other positions on this spectrum in doing so, but we have established at any rate that this is a more complicated question than one of asserting in a binary manner that a given place is, or is not, "in" the book. We have also seen that, whatever Jones's intentions, the "game" of perceiving real places in fantasy landscapes (and vice versa) can be a significant part of the pleasure of reading her work, as it has been not only for me but also for Helen Harvey, and no doubt many others besides.

Nevertheless, these places are likely to be experienced in very different ways. The named locations may or may not be familiar to individual readers. Those readers may or may not have the resources or desire to visit them. They may or may not realise that a real place is being alluded to at all. Several of my own clues come from a fannish obsessiveness, or private conversations with the author, or the fact of having lived in Bristol for over two decades, all of which are atypical. While knowledge of this sort significantly informs some people's reading experience it is necessarily so variable between individuals that it may seem difficult to say something of general use and validity about it. There is also the danger that too tight a focus on the "treasure hunt" aspect of locating texts within their landscape may prove reductive, obscuring other possible insights. Jones had one additional motive for vagueness—or flexibility, if you prefer; namely, the fact that she did not wish her writing to exclude her readers. In interview, she explained:

It always seemed to me when I was a child reading books that people were much too prone to talk about little pieces of London that they knew, or obscure parts of Kent or Canterbury [ . . . ] and I felt terribly left out by this. It seemed to me a bad thing to do to children, to express a deep knowledge of a place they haven't a chance of going to see. [28]

In her novels Jones is a consistent champion of outsiders. Her protagonists are frequently neglected or despised individuals who must learn to outgrow the restrictive templates of understanding and behaviour ordained by those in authority. She is keenly interested in the subtler mechanisms of oppression, as they operate within families and beyond, and is sensitive to the ways in which words and knowledge may be used as shibboleths to divide people into insiders and outsiders. It is not surprising that she wished to avoid such strategies in her own writing. Might familiarity with the places mentioned in fiction serve this kind of exclusive role, however inadvertently? It is notable, for example, that in Jones's first draft of Deep Secret the passage in which Nick gives Maree a tour of Bristolia is far longer and includes many more named Bristol streets and landmarks. The process of revision was largely one of introducing a degree of strategic geographical imprecision. [29]

I have given a number of reasons for caution in conferring a central role in our accounts of literary texts on readers' experience of physical locations. Visiting such places is not an option open to all; knowledge of them has the potential to be used as a tool of exclusion; and, of course, such extra-textual encounters have traditionally been regarded as difficult to integrate with the insights generated by traditional, text-focused forms of criticism. Here, however, I would like to draw an analogy with intertextuality. Many novels and poems allude to other texts that their readers may or may not have read, and these allusions inevitably inform the readings of those with the requisite literary experience, while being opaque to those who lack it. To take an example from Jones's own work, Fire and Hemlock (as mentioned before) alludes to Eliot's Four Quartets, as well as to many other texts, myths, and ballads [30]. Jones did not however see this as a strategy likely to exclude those readers unfamiliar with Eliot's work. On the contrary, she suggested that reading Fire and Hemlock might establish for such people a mental framework through which Eliot's poem could be better understood at some point in the future:

when they come to read Four Quartets later, if any of them do, it will chime somewhere. I think it's quite important to give children as many pegs to hang things on as is possible. This is the way you learn. [31]

Intertextuality is the never-ending conversation that literature has with itself, and this preparation of the minds of readers for later literary experience is one of the many functions that children's literature in particular has traditionally fulfilled. It sinks textual roots into other soils, offering a complex hybridization of experience, both now and in readings to come. Intertextuality also has a social function, and while this may be negative in effect—intertextual references may be used for the purposes of literary intimidation or one-upmanship—in its more benign aspect intertextuality offers readers the pleasure of recognition, and membership of a community with shared touchstones and experiences.

As with literary texts, so with the larger text of the world. In addition to intertextuality we might speak of “intertopicality" to describe the ways in which physical places, along with their history and associations, are bound to texts and to their readers' understanding of texts. It is of course possible to enjoy and understand Archer's Goon, Fire and Hemlock, or Deep Secret without having visited Bristol, but if one is familiar with the city then one's experience of both it and the texts that use it will be enhanced—indeed, enchanted; and if one visits later, "it will chime somewhere." Intertextuality and intertopicality have in common the shock, and pleasure, of perceiving a phrase or place within two conflicting frames of reference simultaneously, of attempting to reconcile their differences, and of enjoying one's inability to do so. But intertopicality inevitably foregrounds the physical aspects of the encounter, the sights and sounds, the weather, the feeling of being out of breath from a long climb. These aspects of experience embed themselves differently in memory and in one's body, but are no less part of a reading life. Indeed, they remind us that reading is always a physical activity as well an intellectual one.

These considerations apply to all fiction, but are perhaps particularly germane in the case of fantasy, because of fantasy's more explicit consideration of enchantment's relationship with the physical world. C. S. Lewis once wrote that a child "does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted" [32]. He proved his point by writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, since the publication of which wardrobes have ceased to be utilitarian pieces of bedroom furniture and have been invested with magical potential, as many thousands of Narnia-seeking children can attest. If wardrobes can be viewed as supernatural portals, it should not be impossible to find Bristolia within Bristol.

Folk long to go on pilgrimage. For some of the Canterbury pilgrims, perhaps, the primary attraction of pilgrimage was a few weeks' holiday from pardoning, reeving, or wiving it wealthily in Bath. Others I think saw their journey as a flight not from reality but towards it. Similarly with fantasy fiction: it looks superficially like an escapist form and is frequently dismissed as such, but that is a mistake. One of the values of this kind of reading is that it takes advantage of the fact that stories can never be entirely contained. It offers a channel along which enchantment can wash back into the mundane, overwhelming the dry sea walls of deadened habit. The woods are all enchanted.

Endnotes [contents]

  1. Bennet, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings and Ethics (Princeton and Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 4. [return]
  2. Diana Wynne Jones, Deep Secret (New York: Tor, 2000), p. 76. [return]
  3. Ibid. [return]
  4. Ibid., pp. 76-7. [return]
  5. Ibid., p. 80. [return]
  6. Ibid., p. 81. [return]
  7. Tom Abba and Duncan Speakman, These Pages Fall Like Ash. A Volume of Circumstance (2013). Accessed October 2014. [return]
  8. Portus Abonae was also the name of the Roman settlement at what is now Sea Mills. [return]
  9. Sarah Dittum, "Urban novelties: How Bristol itself became a short story." New Statesman, 8 May 2013. Accessed October 2014. [return]
  10. Abba and Speakman, These Pages Fall Like Ash (np). [return]
  11. Diana Wynne Jones, "The Shape of the Narrative in The Lord of the Rings," in J. R. R. Tolkien: This Far Land, edited by Robert Giddings (London: Vision, 1983), p. 89. [return]
  12. Jones, "The Shape of the Narrative," p. 89. [return]
  13. Eliot's Four Quartets is one of several structuring intertexts in this complex novel. For more on these, see Diana Wynne Jones, "The Heroic Ideal—A Personal Odyssey," The Lion and the Unicorn 1989; 13(1):123-40. The lines of particular interest here read:

    I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
    Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
    Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
    Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyer of commerce;
    Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
    The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
    By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable,
    Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder,
    Of what men choose to forget. ("The Dry Salvages," II 1-9)


  14. Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 225. [return]
  15. See Judith Ridge, "Diana Wynne Jones 1992 Interview." Accessed October 2014. [return]
  16. Diana Wynne Jones, A Tale of Time City (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 117. [return]
  17. Diana Wynne Jones, The Merlin Conspiracy (New York: Greenwillow, 2013), p. 123. [return]
  18. Butler, Charles, "Interview with Diana Wynne Jones," in Teya Rosenberg et al., eds. Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), pp. 163-72 (p. 163).[return]
  19. Diana Wynne Jones, Howl's Moving Castle (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 9. [return]
  20. Ibid., p. 215. [return]
  21. For a detailed discussion of the relationship between Jones's novel and Orwell's, see Kyra Jucovy, "Little Sister Is Watching You: Archer's Goon and 1984." Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 2010; 21(2):271-89. [return]
  22. Diana Wynne Jones, Archer's Goon (London: HarperCollins, 2000), p. 85. [return]
  23. Diana Wynne Jones, letter to Suzanne Rahn (14 May 1991), quoted in Suzanne Rahn, Rediscoveries in Children's Literature (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1995), p. 171. [return]
  24. Jones, Archer's Goon, p. 10. [return]
  25. Alison Flood, "A Fantastic Weekend with Diana Wynne Jones," The Guardian books blog, 9 July 2009. Accessed October 2014. [return]
  26. Helen Harvey, "Archer's Goon and the Oxford Theory," Homeworld8, 5 July 2009. Accessed October 2014. [return]
  27. Ibid. [return]
  28. Butler, "Interview with Diana Wynne Jones," pp. 163-4. [return]
  29. See the draft held at the Seven Stories collection in Newcastle, DWJ/02/05/01. [return]
  30. For Jone's own discussion of the intertexts she used in writing Fire and Hemlock, see Diana Wynne Jones, "The Heroic Ideal&mdashA Personal Odyssey," The Lion and the Unicorn 1989; 31(1):129-40. [return]
  31. Butler, "Interview with Diana Wynne Jones," p. 172. [return]
  32. C. S. Lewis, "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952), in Egoff, Sheila, G. T. Stubbs and L. F. Ashley, eds. Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature (Toronto, New York and Oxford: OUP, 1969), pp. 207-22 (p. 215). [return]

Works Discussed [contents]

Abba, Tom and Duncan Speakman, These Pages Fall Like Ash. A Volume of Circumstance (2013). Accessed October 2014.

Bennett, Jane, The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics (Princeton and Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2001).

Butler, Charles, "Interview with Diana Wynne Jones," in Teya Rosenberg et al., eds., Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom (New York: Peter Lang, 2002), pp. 163-72.

Butler, Charles, Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper, and Diana Wynne Jones (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press/Children's Literature Association, 2006).

Ditum, Sarah, "Urban novelties: How Bristol itself became a short story," New Statesman, 8 May 2013. Accessed October 2014.

Flood, Alison, "A fantastic weekend with Diana Wynne Jones," Guardian books blog, 9 July 2009. Accessed October 2014.

Harvey Helen, "Archer's Goon and the Oxford Theory," Homeworld8, 5 July 2009. Accessed October 2014.

Robert Giddings, ed. J. R. R. Tolkien: This Far Land (London: Vision, 1983), pp. 87-107.

Jones, Diana Wynne, Archer's Goon (1984) (London: HarperCollins, 2000).

Jones, Diana Wynne, Fire and Hemlock (1985) (London: HarperCollins, 2000).

Jones, Diana Wynne, Howl's Moving Castle (1986) (London: HarperCollins, 2000).

Jones, Diana Wynne, A Tale of Time City (1987) (London: HarperCollins, 2000).

Jones, Diana Wynne, "The Heroic Ideal—A Personal Odyssey," The Lion and the Unicorn 1989; 13(1):129-40.

Jones, Diana Wynne, Deep Secret (1997) (New York: Tor, 2000).

Jones, Diana Wynne, The Merlin Conspiracy (New York: Greenwillow, 2003).

Jucovy, Kyra, "Little Sister Is Watching You: Archer's Goon and 1984," Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 2010; 21(2):271-89.

Lewis, C. S., "On Three Ways of Writing for Children" (1952), in Sheila Egoff, G. T. Stubbs and L. F. Ashley, eds., Only Connect: Readings on Children's Literature (Toronto, New York and Oxford: OUP, 1969), pp. 207-22.

Rahn, Suzanne, Rediscoveries in Children's Literature (New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1995).

Ridge, Judith, "Diana Wynne Jones 1992 Interview." Accessed October 2014.

Catherine Butler is the author of six children's/YA novels, including The Fetch of Mardy Watt and Death of a Ghost. She is also Associate Professor of English at the University of the West of England and has written numerous critical books, including the Mythopoeic Award-winning Four British Fantasists and Reading History in Children's Books. She is the editor of Philip Pullman: A New Casebook and Twisted Winter.
Current Issue
22 Apr 2024

We’d been on holiday at the Shoon Sea only three days when the incident occurred. Dr. Gar had been staying there a few months for medical research and had urged me and my friend Shooshooey to visit.
Tu enfiles longuement la chemise des murs,/ tout comme d’autres le font avec la chemise de la mort.
The little monster was not born like a human child, yelling with cold and terror as he left his mother’s womb. He had come to life little by little, on the high, three-legged bench. When his eyes had opened, they met the eyes of the broad-shouldered sculptor, watching them tenderly.
Le petit monstre n’était pas né comme un enfant des hommes, criant de froid et de terreur au sortir du ventre maternel. Il avait pris vie peu à peu, sur la haute selle à trois pieds, et quand ses yeux s’étaient ouverts, ils avaient rencontré ceux du sculpteur aux larges épaules, qui le regardaient tendrement.
We're delighted to welcome Nat Paterson to the blog, to tell us more about his translation of Léopold Chauveau's story 'The Little Monster'/ 'Le Petit Monstre', which appears in our April 2024 issue.
For a long time now you’ve put on the shirt of the walls,/just as others might put on a shroud.
Issue 15 Apr 2024
By: Ana Hurtado
Art by: delila
Issue 8 Apr 2024
Issue 1 Apr 2024
Issue 25 Mar 2024
By: Sammy Lê
Art by: Kim Hu
Issue 18 Mar 2024
Strange Horizons
Issue 11 Mar 2024
Issue 4 Mar 2024
Issue 26 Feb 2024
Issue 19 Feb 2024
Issue 12 Feb 2024
Load More
%d bloggers like this: