Diana Wynne Jones Elaine Moss - Essay

Elaine Moss

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Diana Wynne Jones is a prolific novelist of enormous range who can raise hairs on the back of the neck one minute, belly laughs the next. A certain untidyness and self-indulgent prolixty have characterized many of her novels to date, especially the group set in an imaginary medieval period. But she also writes about modern children, witty, abrasive, articulate, often neglected, always resilient: they need to be resilient if they are to cope with the emanations of the paranormal that threaten their lives.

Diana Wynne Jones's new novel, The Time of the Ghost, is one of her modern stories. The title is instantly forgettable one may think as one picks up this book but as, three hours later and in a state of bewildered admiration one lays it down again, realization dawns: the title pinpoints the theme exactly. Mrs. Wynne Jones is skilfully exploring time—and the ghost.

In the conventional literary ghost story it is the ghost of past happenings that rises, walks, haunts the present demanding retribution. Diana Wynne Jones defies this convention; for here it is from the present that a ghost returns to a period seven years past, desperate to avert a catastrophe in its own "now"….

Not since K. M. Briggs, that great folklorist and author of Kate Crackernuts, has the supernatural been so firmly and convincingly handled. But here the horror of dealing with evil spirits, the blood rites, the elemental disturbances lie cheek-by-jowl with a richly humorous story in which three school-girls, determined to catch the attention of their over-busy parents for once, send off the fourth sister to see whether "Himself" and Phyllis will notice Sally is missing. The Time of the Ghost is a great feat of imaginative writing. It will be a thousand pities if, like the ghost of Sally, it fails to float over the artificial barriers of the adolescents' world to attract the attention of adults.

Elaine Moss, "Ghostly Forms," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1981; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4103, November 20, 1981, p. 1354.∗