Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones
“Polly sighed and laid her book face down on her bed. She rather thought she had read it after all, some time ago. Before she swung her feet across to get on with her packing, she looked up at the picture above the bed. She sighed again. There had been a time some years back when she had gazed at that picture and thought it marvelous. Dark figures had seemed to materialize out of its dark center – strong running dark figures- always at least four of them, racing to beat out the flames in the foreground. There had been a time when you could see the figures quite clearly. Other times there had even been a horse in it sometimes. Not now.
Here, now, she could see it was simply a large color photograph, 3 feet by 2 feet, taken at dusk of some hay bales burning in a field. The fire must have been spreading since there was smoke in the air, and more smoke enveloping the high hemlock plant in the front, but there were no people in it . The shapes she used to take for people were only to clearly clumps of hedge behind the blaze. The only person in the field had been the photographer. Polly had to admit that he had been both clever and lucky. It was a haunting picture. It was called Fire and Hemlock. She sighed again and she swung her feet to the floor. The penalty of being grown up was that you saw things like this photograph as they really were.”
Polly sits dazed, her mind split by time, wondering, wondering, into my head, into my life, into my teenagehood… like her I didn’t want to grow up, like her I wanted to be a hero instead… this is my favorite work of fiction of all time-not the best work, mind you, just my favorite. (I think the best work of style was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and the best in terms of plot was The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones).
that feeling of loss
quietness, and personal-ness ~ not confiding, facing dragons and monsters in the form of fears and angers not wanting to grow up ever, but be a Hero.
Running always, running,
my life and the story I read was intertwined in a sad desperate despairing way- a quiet wistful longing way…longing to be free…
I read this before I turned 13 and I had a lot in common with Polly. Nerdy and going off my rocker at 13 made me intertwine her reality with mine. I would always run, scarf flying and curly hair poking out from underneath..
Fire and Hemlock is a divisive book- the few people I’ve met who have actually read it usually love it or find it disturbing in several layers. Maybe it was a little disturbing. I always thought that that depended on how you looked at it in your head.
Diana Wynne Jones is very unappreciated in terms of popular culture- all her fans would tell you that. For example, (this is important to me), very few people know that she is the author of Howl’s Moving Castle, and that the book is actually much more amazing than the Hayao Miyazaki animation, which was good and brilliant as an animation, but an entirely different interpretation of the story, and honestly, missed some of the most important parts of the original story.
I always feel this indignation when it comes to my favorite authors- the ones that really influenced my life- and a LOT of my feelings are a bit unreasonable. Stories are for everyone! And I’m being a MAJOR hypocrite- cuz obviously there are better fans out there 😛 haha! Like “I read her way before the animation even came out!”, “HOWL was one of my favorite books, long before most people now heard of it”, “I read all the titles available in Malaysia starting from long ago” ,”I started when I was ten- She is MY favorite fantasy author…” ahahaha i bet a lot of people feel like that about their favorite authors.
I grew up with Harry Potter too- and I feel the same indignation- unreasonably- you know “I started in 2000, when i was 9/10”, “I spent a considerable amount of time in school trying to get others to read Harry Potter”, “Please acknowledge some FAN SENIORSHIP, thank you very much!” LOL
But let me tell you this very strongly. Jones is a better author in all things-plot, ideas-story, fantasy, enchantment, even her interpretation of magic, than J.K. Rowling- Rowling is only a little better in writing style at times, e.g. descriptiveness of feelings and intensity of feelings and places. Harry Potter will always stay with me, but I will continue to read Jones for my entire life. Jones managed to transcend the barriers of age and time. Whenever I read her, its like I’m coming home 🙂
However, thankfully enough people in the right places were impressed enough for Jones to be present in ALL major bookstores all over KL, and possibly Malaysia, for me to fulfill all my Diana wants growing up. Honestly I do strongly believe she is the stuff of classics- for example Jane Austen, too was under appreciated for several decades- forget about all the history- Jane really deserves her position now 🙂 ( I am trying to judge books on my own opinion, and not anyone else’s- not even decades of academics ahaha, who doesn’t?- Austen is def better at style than Charles Dickens, altho content and plot, not so much better)
Of course there’s a huge paradox of my whole situation, a failing- I read a lot of English books from Britain and America, and sometimes Australia- but not enough of books from Malaysia or Asia in general. That’s something I really MUST work on. I can’t wait to be able to put Jones and say, Humayun Ahmed (a brilliant Bangladeshi author) together all mixed and mashed up into inseparable knots of wood haha 🙂
All right, enough of going on and on about Jones, haha. I am a big fan of her work and I will always go on and on haha. Thanks for reading so far, if you have 🙂