Diana Wynne Jones (16 August 1934 – 26 March 2011) was a British writer, principally of fantasy novels for children and adults, as well as a small amount of non-fiction. Some of her better-known works include the Chrestomanci series and the novels Howl's Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm.
Jones was born in London, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were educators. When war was announced, shortly after her fifth birthday, she was evacuated to Wales, and thereafter moved several times, including periods in Coniston Water, York, and back in London. In 1943 her family finally settled in Thaxted, Essex, where her parents worked running an educational conference centre. There, Jones and her two younger sisters Isobel (later Professor Isobel Armstrong, the literary critic) and Ursula spent a neglected childhood in which they were left chiefly to their own devices. After attending the Friends School Saffron Walden, she studied English at St Anne's College in Oxford, where she attended lectures by both C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien before graduating in 1956. In the same year she married John Burrow, a scholar of medieval literature, with whom she had three sons, Richard, Michael and Colin. After a brief period in London, in 1957 the couple returned to Oxford, where they stayed until moving to Bristol in 1976.
According to her autobiography, Jones was an atheist from the age of ten.
Jones' books range from amusing slapstick situations to sharp social observation, to witty parody of literary forms. Foremost amongst the latter are her Tough Guide to Fantasyland, and its fictional companion-pieces Dark Lord of Derkholm (1998) and Year of the Griffin (2000), which provide a merciless (though not unaffectionate) critique of formulaic sword-and-sorcery epics.
The Harry Potter books are frequently compared to the works of Diana Wynne Jones. Many of her earlier children's books were out of print in recent years, but have now been re-issued for the young audience whose interest in fantasy and reading was spurred by Harry Potter.
Jones' works are also compared to those of Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman. She was friends with both McKinley and Gaiman, and Jones and Gaiman are both fans of each others' work; she dedicated her novel Hexwood to him after something he said in a conversation that inspired a key part of the plot. Gaiman had already dedicated his 1991 four-part comic book mini-series The Books of Magic to "four witches", of whom Jones was one.
Charmed Life, the first book in the Chrestomanci series, won the 1977 Guardian Award for Children’s Books. Jones was runner-up for the Children’s Book Award in 1981, and was twice runner-up for the Carnegie Medal. In 1999, she won two major fantasy awards: the children’s section of the Mythopoeic Awards in the USA, and the Karl Edward Wagner Award in the UK, which is awarded by the British Fantasy Society to individuals or organisations who have made a significant impact on fantasy.
Her book Howl's Moving Castle was adapted as a Japanese animated movie in 2004, by filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. A version dubbed into English was released in the United Kingdom and USA in 2005, with the voice of Howl performed by Christian Bale. Archer's Goon was adapted for television in 1992.
Her non-fiction work on clichés in fantasy fiction, The Tough Guide To Fantasyland, has a cult following among writers and critics, despite being difficult to find due to an erratic printing history. It was recently reissued in the UK, and has been reissued in the USA in 2006 by Firebird Books. The Firebird edition has additional material and a completely new design, including a new map.
In July 2006 she was awarded an honorary D.Litt from the University of Bristol. She received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2007.
Jones was diagnosed with lung cancer in the early summer of 2009. She underwent surgery in July and reported to friends that the procedure had been successful. However in June 2010 she announced that she would be discontinuing chemotherapy, "which is serving only to make her feel very ill indeed." She stated at one point that she had regained her sense of taste and smell. Mid-2010, she was halfway through a new book, with plans for another to follow. She died on 26 March 2011 from the disease.