I have a peculiar relationship with the novels of Diana Wynne Jones. I read a fair amount of them as a child, and I remember they had me hooked straight away and kept me engaged from cover to cover; they were magical, with fascinating storylines like no other, and there were a lot of surprises and twists near the end. But if you asked me, I wouldn't be able to tell you what a single one was about.
Why? I honestly have no idea (I like to think I have a pretty good book memory). So I've dug my old books out of storage and made a promise to read them all and love them again. And to remember why. I've already made a start; I've read Hexwood and wanted to share a rather beautiful sentiment from the very end of the novel.
The book doesn't sit comfortably in either the fantasy or sci-fi genre, as there is wood magic and mythical creatures as much as travel through space and time. But as the story draws to a close and the ends are tied together, the predominant setting, the woods, will not let the characters out until it has been granted a gift for all that it has been through:
'You told me the Wood can form its own theta-space and become the great Forest,' Mordion said to him. 'Does the Wood only do this when a human being enters it?'
'I had not thought of this,' said Yam. 'Yes, I believe that when not reinforced by my field, the Wood requires human assistance to change.'
'And not all humans will help,' Mordion said. 'I think what the Wood is trying to tell me is that it requires its own theta-space permanently, so that it can be the great Forest all the time, without having to rely on humans.'
I'm sure we've all experienced something like this, when we walk through the woods and it feels like it goes on forever, like it's the most magical place in the world and can't possibly be just a 20 minute drive from home. Diana Wynne Jones' Woods feel the same thing, and want to experience this vastness and greatness without needing a person inside to believe it into existence.
I can imagine the same would be true of books. When we finish reading a great story we carry the world it created inside of us, whether it's the bygone England of Austen or the dystopian England of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now, Middle Earth or Narnia, or the anyplace and anytime of fairy tales. How huge, how magnificent, and how in the world can all that be in something small enough to carry in a handbag?!
We don't need to be inside the book, physically turning the pages to bring its world to life. There is a special relationship between book and reader that creates an everlasting world after a single union, which doesn't exist until the book has been read, and afterwards exists in both.
As I continue to re-explore my collection of Diana Wynne Jones novels, I fully intend to make sure her worlds continue to exist in me as well as the book. Let's make this magic happen!