Nobody wrote prickles like Diana Wynne Jones.
I’m reading her Dalemark Quartet for the first time, and it strikes me again how prickly her characters are. From The Spellcoats (Book Three):
Robin wrung her hands. … It annoys me when she does.
“We can go away down the River and find somewhere better to live,” I said. It was the most exciting thing I had ever said. I had always wanted to see the River. …
“But the Heathens!” Robin said, wringing away. I could have hit her.
The narrator Tanaqui is not nice. She isn’t patient or kind. She sulks when she doesn’t get her way, she teases her brother and snaps at her sister, and she turns out to be a hero in the end. Even then, she’s still not nice.
In Jones’s most popular novel, Howl’s Moving Castle, Howl is vain, lazy, and not very brave, but it’s Sophie who we root for as she becomes less nice. Disguised as an old woman, she discovers her inner curmudgeon — commandeering and no-nonsense, where once she was timid and compliant. She gains an edge. This is character growth in the world of Diana Wynne Jones, and that’s why I love it.
Middle-grade characters are often so nice. They do the right thing. They even feel the right thing. They have flaws, but their flaws are the kind of answers they could give to a potential employer who asked them their biggest weakness in a job interview.
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