Unexpected Magic: Celebrating the final edition of March Magics with All Good Things

When Kristen of We Be Reading announced she’d be hosting March Magics (a celebration of favorite fantasy authors Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett) for one final time, I wanted to do something special. It was hard to choose what to read, from among both authors’ voluminous and wonderful works. All good things, indeed!

Somewhat at random I started reading Unexpected Magic, which claims to be the “Collected Stories” of Diana Wynne Jones — though it isn’t really, because a good number are missing — and found that each story made me think of one or another of her novels. I thought it would be fun to do an “if you liked this, read this” post, just in case someone might be reading the collection as an entry point to DWJ. I actually heartily recommend reading everything by her, in whatever order you like, but just in case you want some guidance, here’s my attempt. Conversely, you may also note which stories are most likely to appeal to you, if you already know the longer fiction.

  • “The Girl Jones” – An anecdote of Jones’s own years growing up with two young sisters in tow, and the incident that had the happy result of her never being asked to provide child care again. >>> If you liked this story, read: The Time of the Ghost, the novel most closely based on Jones’s childhood experiences, both harrowing and hilarious.
  • “Nad and Dan adn Quaffy” – A writer buys a word processor and launches a new series of spaceship adventures, but gets something more than she bargained for when her computer starts talking back to her. >>> If you liked this story, read: A Sudden Wild Magic, which takes off on a wild spaceship ride and also has a similar “battle of the sexes” theme.
  • “The Plague of Peacocks” – An unpleasant, overbearing couple makes a neighborhood miserable until the formidable young Daniel Emanuel can be persuaded to do something about them. >>> If you liked this story, read: Wilkins Tooth / Witch’s Business, in which a neighborhood of kids have to get rid of a very unpleasant witch.
  • “The Master” – The narrator, a vet, is called for help to a mysterious project in the middle of a dark forest, where its bizarre inhabitants bring her intrigue and danger. >>> If you liked this story, read: Hexwood, in which a twisty, puzzling plot takes you into the heart of a dark wood and its strange distortions of time and space.
  • “Enna Hittims” – A girl, sick in bed with mumps and bored silly, invents stories of heroes that begin to come true. >>> If you liked this story, read: Fire and Hemlock, in which stories of heroes also start to become uncomfortably real.
  • “The Girl Who Loved the Sun” – A girl who is in love with the sun turns herself into a tree, in a desperate bid for his attention. >>> If you liked this story, read: Power of Three, whose People of the Moor have a mythic quality to them that reminds me of this story, along with magical Gifts that could well include turning oneself into a tree.
  • “The Fluffy Pink Toadstool” – Unpleasant relatives are a recurring theme in Jones’s stories. In this one, a mother with a craze for “nature” gets her comeuppance through a magical fungus. >>> If you liked this story, read: Dogsbody, in which an uncaring caregiver is also preoccupied with ugly arts and crafts,
  • “Auntie Bea’s Day Out” – Auntie Bea is unpleasant in a different way, as she drags her nieces and nephews along on a trip to the beach that takes them in unexpected directions. >>> If you liked this story, read| Aunt Maria, in which another Aunt makes everyone miserable and has to be stopped.
  • “Carruthers” – A walking stick reveals hidden layers to a girl who desperately needs a friend to help her cope with her abusive father. >>> If you liked this story, read: The Ogre Downstairs, in which inanimate objects also come magically to life, and an ogreish father is transformed.
  • “What the Cat Told Me” – A very old cat narrates a tale of battling wizards and lovers finding one another through magical obstacles. >>> If you liked this story, read: Howl’s Moving Castle, in which wizards and witches battle through to finding their true love.
  • “The Green Stone” – A Cleric accompanying his first Quest for the Green Stone of Katta Rhyne finds himself going on a different kind of adventure. >>> If you liked this story, read: Dark Lord of Derkholm, which similarly plays with the tropes of high fantasy.
  • “The Fat Wizard” -A young apprentice witch can’t stop the annoying wizard who is controlling her town, until a memorable Church Fete that turns the tables. >>> If you liked this story, read: Charmed Life, in which unscrupulous magic-users are kept under control by the powerful Chrestomanci, with the help of a young apprentice.
  • “No One” – A brand-new but imperfectly programmed robot goes to extreme lengths to protect the boy in his charge. >>> If you liked this story, read: A Tale of Time City, which also has fun with futuristic technology.
  • “Dragon Reserve, Home Eight” – A girl is pursued by sinister forces seeking to destroy people with paranormal powers, but a shocking event changes everything. >>> If you liked this story, read: Witch Week, in which children with magical powers are also hunted down for extermination, until the folly of that pursuit is revealed.
  • “Little Dot” – Another cat-narrated story, where a motley band of felines have to combat an evil opponent. >>> If you liked this story, read: The Magicians of Caprona, in which cats play an important role in casting out a magical enemy.
  • “Everard’s Ride” – Two Victorian children slip through time and find themselves in the midst of a political intrigue that threatens their lives, as well as this alternate world’s existence. >>> If you liked this story, read: The Dalemark Quartet, another story of political intrigue in an alternate Europe.

My personal favorite stories are “The Master,” “Carruthers,” “No One,” and “Dragon Reserve, Home Eight.” These four stories demonstrate Jones’s genius for magical inventiveness, along with her narrative gift that works in a variety of modes: creepy atmosphere and tense situations, as well as slapstick and dry humor. In general, though, I think Jones’s strengths of plotting and characterization show to much better advantage in longer form fiction. When her stories are good, I just want them to be longer — “The Master” and “Dragon Reserve, Home Eight” in particular leave me desperate to know what happened next! Everard’s Ride is long, but it’s a bit dull, and not very magical — an early tale that does not fully unfold its storyteller’s promise.

This collection leaves out four stories of Chrestomanci that were published as Mixed Magics, as well as another intriguing early novella, The True State of Affairs, and three longer stories published as Stopping for a Spell. Plus, according to Wikipedia, there are some additional stories that were never collected. However, it’s unnecessary to seek all of those out unless you become a true fanatic — the novels remain where Jones’s genius best shows itself.

I really enjoyed this retrospective look at her fiction, and I hope you did too. What are your favorite books or stories by Diana Wynne Jones? Have you read anything for March Magics?

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14 thoughts on “Unexpected Magic: Celebrating the final edition of March Magics with All Good Things

  1. What a fantastic overview, Lory, and I found myself mentally nodding at each of your further recommendations as I went through your list. I’m unsure whether I’m going to get to ‘Everard’s Ride’ for the third time (let alone review it for the first ever time) but at least I’ve reread and re-reviewed Dogsbody, and have Pratchett’s Going Postal ready to read in a few days. (I’ve only just read about the significance of the phrase and its origins, a horrendous phase in recent US history I don’t seem to have come across before.)

    I shall sorely miss Kristen’s involvement in March Magics but it won’t stop me visiting or revisiting either author again around this time of year.

    1. I’m so glad you could agree with my pairings. I surely had a great time making them! I believe that all of us will forever associate this month with March Magics and of course we’ll continue to share our enjoyment of these authors, at whatever time of year.

  2. Oh lovely! I’ve not read any of her short stories so may have to seek them out. Fire and Hemlock was always my favourite, but I think I’m going to run out of time to re-read it this month… 🙁

    1. As I couldn’t decide on a longer book to read this month, the stories were a fun alternative.

  3. Oh, what a lovely idea, to pair the short stories with novels that are similar! I quite agree on so many of these! I do tend to like her novels a lot better, but many of these are definitely quite intriguing. I just read No One again and it’s a blast. XD Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Her imagination of what trouble “smart machines” might cause was quite hilarious, and prescient!

  4. Love your pairings. I have not read any of DWJ’s short stories or, indeed, any Terry Pratchett. I think I have a few DWJs I have never read but need the right opportunity.


    1. I’m glad you enjoyed the pairings. As I mentioned, I don’t think her short stories are the best, but those few favorites of mine were standouts (the Chrestomanci stories are quite good too).

  5. What a great post! I absolutely agree with all of these and now I want to reread everything. I’m currently in the middle of my final new-to-me DWJ, The Crown of Dalemark, and it is both wonderful to have a new adventure unfolding but sad that this is it for me. Luckily there is always more to discover on reread!

    1. Might be best to wait — her best work is for middle grade and up. I read a story for younger readers, “Earwig and the Witch,” for last year’s March Magics, and it was delightful but rather slight.

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