Diana Wynne Jones Penelope Farmer - Essay

Penelope Farmer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Diana Wynne Jones has a remarkable ability to grasp the basic elements of myth or fairytale, twist them sharply, then fit them without undue strain into patterns of her own making. In Power of Three, her most ambitious book yet, she has marched onto that dangerous, old, but not very straight Celtic track along which so many others have strayed recently. Still, if she has not quite avoided all the pitfalls her version is highly distinctive, funny, exciting and with one marvellous twist. It is about the peoples who mythologically and historically have displaced each other within the British Isles. Her heroes—and so for this book, the norm—are three children of the Mound People (the little folk to us) who help to bring their own people together with their traditional enemies…. The surprise comes when we realize that what appears to have been an imaginary country is in fact our own; and that the Giants with their mysterious magics and even more mysterious habits are actually our human selves.

This book tackles large themes, from ecology to international and racial understanding, taking in the individual's struggle to understand and use his particular gifts on the way. Some of it is brilliant; but ultimately it is perhaps too neatly resolved to be wholly satisfactory or even believable. Still, if in her refusal to leave her audience enough uncertainties Mrs Wynne Jones is the victim of her own intelligence let us be grateful for it. In this kind of book such observation and such wit are rare.

Penelope Farmer, "Self-Examination," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1976; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3864, April 2, 1976, p. 383.