Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones

August 3, 2010

Greenwillow, 2010

Finished July 23, 2010

Genre: children’s fantasy with magic in the real world

I liked the cover design for this book with the magic spilling from the skylight as rainbow streamers, especially the way the designer took a blown-up portion of the illustration and wrapped it around the back cover and the flaps.  While I had the book open to read it, rainbows peeped out at me all around the pages.  (A further note on the cover–it looks to me like something is spilling from Aidan’s nose.  I know it is only magic sparkles coming from the glasses he is holding in front of his face.  Still, every time I glanced at it…)

This is worth mentioning, because streaming rainbows and chirping bluebirds of happiness is what it feels like to hold a NEW Diana Wynne Jones novel in my sweaty little hands.  Enchanted Glass doesn’t offer the complex plotting of some of her works that are geared for older readers (though in part that’s moot; all Diana Wynne Jones’ books have something for everyone), and there are a few loose ends, but I enjoyed the homey setting.  Books about people who inherit old, magical country houses full of old, magical stuff in English villages always make me jealous.  There should be more rich old magicians in the world, naming obscure distant relatives as heirs.

Andrew inherits Melstone House from the grandfather with whom he spent summers as a boy.  This means he can retire from his university teaching job and finally write the history that’s been on his back burner.  The book Andrew means to write is one of those loose ends I was talking about; because really, though Andrew is slow to realize it, Melstone isn’t just an inherited house, it’s an inherited post.

I had a couple of different favorite things about Enchanted Glass, and one of them was how the magic comes slowly on Andrew.  Diana Wynne Jones perfectly conveys the way you can forget things from childhood without really forgetting them; the feeling of things you remember without exactly remembering.  Sorry that is vague, but if you want to know what I’m talking about you should read the book!

Andrew is both admirably businesslike (no stagey skepticism, which I hate) and sweetly surprised as he rediscovers the magic around Melstone House.  A sense of wonder for grownups, in a book for kids that is also about about a grownup growing up–don’t you just love that?  And what other writer could pull it off so well?

I suppose his age is why I find Andrew more interesting than Aidan, the orphaned boy who shows up on Melstone House’s doorstep with magical peril on his heels.  The simple fact that I am no longer 12 (or 16, or 20, or even 30) means I can sympathize with a middle-aged professor more than a kid.  Aidan is nice, and it’s easy to get into his head, but he is definitely more of a children’s-literature-style protagonist than a young adult one.  He’s reflective, but not complicated.  His problems are pretty straightforward.

Which brings me to my other favorite thing about this book.  Melstone is what’s referred to as a “field-of-care.”  When Aidan and Andrew go out to walk the boundary (borders and boundaries are a theme in lots of Jone’s work, if anyone wants to jump in and discuss), we get Aiden’s kid-like take on it:

When there were no cars coming either way, Andrew led the way down the bank, to cross the road just beside the dip where the ghost had been.  Going as slowly as he dared, in case someone was speeding, he wove up and down the slight rise in the road, until he had fixed in his mind what the boundary felt like.  The side where the field-of-care was felt like what he now thought of as normal: deep and slightly exciting.  The other side–

“Oh!” Aidan exclaimed.  “It’s all boring and dangerous on this side!  Like standing on a runway in the path of an airplane.  Flat, but you’re lucky you’re not dead.”

This passage, and others, had me in raptures.  In giving us the magician’s perspective on the magical vs. the non-magical, Jones is also giving us a perfect metaphor for literature vs. real life.  Entering the world of a fantasy novel as fine as Diana Wynne Jones’, whether writing it or reading it, is much like entering a field-of-care where everything is “deep and slightly exciting.”  Take it that way, and he dry humor in “flat, but you’re lucky your not dead,” as an assessment of real life: priceless.  And Jones all over!

If all this sounds good to you so far, and you can get behind the idea of cauliflower casserole as a tool of revenge, a giant zucchini as a deadly weapon, giant vegetables (and giants in general), I’m sure you will enjoy this book.

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16 Responses to “Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones”

  1. zibilee said

    You sold me with the giant vegetables used for revenge. Actually, this does sound like a really interesting book, and since I have only read one book by this author, I think I might want to give it a try. I know that she has a pretty extensive body of work, and that there is a little something for everybody in her books, so I am sort of excited to try something and start my own love affair with Jones! Thanks for the great review!

  2. Aarti said

    Oh, dear, I completely forgot about DWJ week! Do I hae time to read A Sudden Wild Magic before the end of the celebration?! I don’t know. I shall try and see what I can do! Of course, now I have no desire to read that book and would far rather read something else instead. Sigh.

    I absolutely agree about the nose thing. It DOES look… not like magic, that’s for sure.

    I also like the shared quote 🙂

    • trapunto said

      Still time. Even now. They’re short! Or maybe we should just call it “Diana Wynne Jones Year” so everybody gets a chance.

  3. Jenny said

    You are funny dude. I prefer the UK cover for Enchanted Glass and am biding my time until I can order it for myself. I loved the cauliflower!, and was unsettled by the giant. So, you know, fairly par for the course with DWJ.

    • trapunto said

      You know those those rocks and stumps in the woods that look like a person or a dog or a cat when you catch them with the corner of your eye? I’ll never look at them the same way again.

      I saw the UK cover. It conveys the look of the glass better, but I’m kind of attached to my rainbow streamers and sparkle-snot.

  4. […] of Villa Negativa read Enchanted Glass and then cracked me up with a description of what it is like to have a new Diana Wynne Jones book. […]

  5. Jeanne said

    At noon today the person who was giving me my share of the produce from her farm picked up a zucchini and wielded it, I thought, like a club, which I mentioned to her. She thought I was weird. Maybe you wouldn’t.

    • trapunto said

      People always look at me funny when I talk about the potentially lethal purpose of household objects. Wonder why.

  6. Charlotte said

    I love the quote you included! And I enjoyed the vegetables, in all their incarnations, very much too!

    • trapunto said

      I wish I had a gardener right now. Even a stubborn one who grew inedible produce. And a giant to eat all my gone-to-seed-before-they-were-grown greens, while I’m at it! Thanks for visiting my blog.

  7. Kristen M. said

    This was one of my favorites because of it’s innocence and freshness. And I hope to never have cauliflower cheese!

    • trapunto said

      My guilty secret: I actually like cauliflower cheese. But not every night, served with malice!

      That innocent and freshness made me so happy. I had no idea what I was going to get when I took this one home from the library. It felt like a return to some of her older books, like Wild Robert.

  8. Nymeth said

    Oh, your second to last paragraph is just perfect! I am so looking forward to this book.

    PS: A cauliflower cheese fan here too 😛

  9. Erin said

    I loved vegetables as instruments of revenge. That made me giggle constantly.

    I loved this book until the last two pages, where I went O_o and didn’t quite know what to make of it any longer. That was one hell of a curveball, and I don’t think I approve.

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