Diana Wynne Jones Margery Fisher - Essay

Margery Fisher

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The ogre downstairs will be wasted if it is not accorded the widest possible readership—not that young readers won't ap-preciate it but their elders should not miss it either. Like E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones uses magical events as a way of revealing character; by the way people react to extraordinary happenings you see what they are like and how they change. Here are two families faced with the need to unite and fiercely resenting it. When Mrs. Brent married Jack Macintyre, her children—Caspar, Gwinny and Johnny—found his sons Douglas and Malcolm unutterably stiff and stuck up, while the Macintyre boys thought the Brents noisy and uncivilised. Something had to be done, but the dour martinet whom his stepchildren thought entirely worthy of the title of Ogre was as bewildered as their mother, who had been used to treating her children in a relaxed way. Magic saved the day—a layer of ingredients at the bottom of the two apparently harmless chemistry sets which the Ogre, as a gesture of good will, gave to Malcolm and Johnny. Labels like Misc.pulv., Petr.Philos. and Dens drac. meant nothing to the children until experiments revealed their peculiar properties; and with each surprising chemical reaction the hostile offspring drew a little nearer to understanding one another. To carry off this idea without being either silly or didactic would have been beyond many writers but Diana Wynne Jones, with the brilliantly successful Wilkin's Tooth behind her, is quite equal to making us believe her new fantasy. (p. 2399)

Margery Fisher, "Enterprise," in her Growing Point, Vol. 13, No. 1, May, 1974, pp. 2396-99.∗