The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

In the middle of packing to return to college, Polly suddenly becomes aware that she seems to have forgotten several years of her life, or rather that she seems to have two parallel sets of memories, one featuring a man called Thomas Lynn. In trying to figure out this puzzle, she is obliged to work back through her adolescence, recalling events.

Readers see Polly at the age of twelve. She has been sent to her grandmother’s home because her parents are quarrelling. There, with her friend Nina, she undertakes a madcap set of adventures that lead her to the mysterious Hunsdon House, where she inadvertently steps into a funeral and attends the reading of the will. She is rescued by a young man called Thomas Lynn, with whom she strikes up a friendship. They quickly discover that they share a love of heroic tales and begin to invent one concerning Tan Coul, who is Lynn, with Polly as his assistant.

The friendship and the storytelling continue by letter. Thomas gives Polly many books suitable for assistant heroes. Polly becomes aware, however, of her grandmothers disapproval, and also of an unhealthy interest from the occupants of Hunsdon House, who seem to punish her and Thomas for any contact.

This friendship against the odds is counterpointed by Polly’s miserable daily life. Her parents separate and eventually divorce, and Polly comes to realize that neither of them really wants her. Her mother moves from one partner to another,...

(The entire section is 508 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Jones sets her story in modern-day England, but she combines her realistic depictions of contemporary life with elements of the fantastic....

(The entire section is 246 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Much of Fire and Hemlock is told in flashback, as Polly attempts to recover her lost memories of Tom Lynn and their times together....

(The entire section is 400 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

In Fire and Hemlock, Jones deals with issues of independence, courage, love, and family life. Polly must develop her independence, and...

(The entire section is 180 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Describe Hunsdon House. How does it contribute to setting and mood? How does the house reflect the personality of its owner, Laurel Perry...

(The entire section is 276 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Polly finds the ballads "Thomas the Rhymer" and "Tarn Lin" in The Oxford Book of Ballads. Read those two ballads. What elements...

(The entire section is 216 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Mingling fantasy and reality is a frequent characteristic of Jones's writing for children, as exemplified by her novel Eight Days of...

(The entire section is 124 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Alderdice, Kit. "PW Interviews: Diana Wynne Jones." Publisher's Weekly 238: (February 22, 1991): 201-202. In this interview, Jones...

(The entire section is 202 words.)