So what makes a good fantasy novel? What elements must be present in order for the reader to suspend disbelief totally and to enter into a world unlike "the real one" where, say, castles on wheels roam the highways and byways, the henchman of a wizard sits broodingly drinking tea in a middle-class kitchen, or an ancient legend can be re-enacted in broad daylight on a London street?
For one thing, the concrete details count. Rolling castles are easier to believe in if they spout smoke described so well you can almost smell it. A wizard's henchman is easier to believe in if you can see him trying to wrap his long legs around a chair, sheepishly submitting to the demands of a harried working mother. Doomed heroes have more reality if they occasionally lose their temper and seem a bit confused.
Diana Wynne Jones is a fine hand with the details. Her fantasy novels have a sense of reality about them in the depiction not just of the magical or fantastical, but also of the everyday, like drainage ditches, an uncooperative car, or the creaking bones of a newly old woman. Before I was even aware of her as a "presence" in modern fantasy novels for youth (and everyone else) I had been charmed by Charmed Life, having developed a mad crush on the debonair and dashing Chrestomanci, whom I imagined as a cross between Cary Grant, a happy Heathcliff, and a young Lawrence Olivier. (Can you imagine? Be still my heart . . . )
Her ability to play with time, her thorough evocation of a physical place, and her fully realized, sympathetic (if not always admirable) characters are only a few of the ways in which she draws the reader into the worlds she creates. Here are my five favorite books-but don't stop with these. Read them all. Even when Jones isn't positively brilliant (which is hardly ever) she's still magically good.
--Janice M. Del Negro, Editor
Bibliography of Favorite Titles