The Children's Books Of Diana Wynne Jones - The Time Of The Ghost Book Review
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Much More Than Muggles: Who is Diana Wynne Jones?
If you really don’t know, then let be the first to tell you that you’re missing out. Wynne Jones is one of the foremost writers of fantastical children’s (and adults’) fiction. If you ask me (and you should), then she is one of the foremost such writers that the world has ever known! (And certainly vast quantities superior to the likes of J.K. Rowling).
Children's Books and Writers
Just because she is primarily a writer of children’s fiction is no reason you should turn your nose up, either. (Not that most us would in any case, since the advent of the all-conquering Harry Potter.) Her children’s books are sufficiently complex and subtle that none of us grown-ups need be embarrassed to be caught reading one of them on public transport.
Beyond Harry Potter: Diana Wynne Jones
So what’s the very best Diana Wynne Jones book? I think that The Time Of The Ghost is right up there: if not the best, then one of the best of her long and proud production line of excellent quality children's books. Wynne Jones has been writing for decades now: I first became a fan as a child, and I'm saying no more than that it was several decades ago!
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The Time of the Ghost
The Time Of The Ghost is set in a boarding school: but this isn't your average jolly hockey sticks Enid-Blyton style romp, complete with midnight feasts and end-of-term netball tournaments. The principal characters are girls – a bevy of sisters - but this is a boys' boarding school. The girls are the daughters of the headmaster and his wife, a harried and overworked couple who simply don't have time to pay overmuch attention to their errant, anarchic offspring. Thus the girls are allowed licence to run riot all over and around the school, which they do, especially during holiday times.
But where does this lead? Neglected children are apt to develop their own tribal structures and their own myths. The hierarchy and role allocation amongst the girls – the pretty one, the motherly one, the talented one etc. - becomes well established. So does their prime myth and bonding ritual, centred around a battered old rag doll called Monigan. Who is Monigan? Is she just an old doll, a creation of cloth and stitching? Or is she a primal pagan goddess, using that old doll as a token and symbol of its existence, enabling its worship by this hippy-dippy raggle-taggle crew of sisters? Is she dangerous?
The book takes place in two time schemes: one is the past, where the sisters as children run riot through the school and worship Monigan at will. The other is the present: but a strange present, where one of them, now a ghost, returns to the past and tries – while suffering a loss of memory – to identify which sister she is. She knows at least, that the adult relationships of the tribe have become difficult, and men have caused dissent and anger between them – possibly men who were once boys boarding at the school. But there is a looming sense of doom, also: is a dark event threatening the sisters, and does Monigan have something to do with it?
Honestly, this is one of the spookiest, most unfathomable, most emotionally intense children's books – or, more accurately, just books – that I've ever read. If you haven't read it, then you're impoverished culturally. Go and get a copy now!