Diana Wynne Jones
It’s very rare that I come across a book about which I can truthfully say both that I enjoyed it very much as a story in its own right, and that I would eagerly give it to a twelve-year-old. Usually I feel somewhat detached, as an adult reader, from books that are obviously geared towards children. Not so with this one. I was drawn into this novella from page one, and never stopped being charmed and entranced until the last page. And the book, in both its difficulty level and content, is perfectly appropriate for the young reader. Good stuff.
Hayley lives with her grandparents, since her parents disappeared when she was little. Her grandfather is nice, but distracted; her grandmother is harsh and controlling. But when Hayley stumbles across the mythosphere — the realm of story, where all myths and legends are woven together in a tapestry of existence surrounding the globe — and encounters some mysterious figures from that realm, her grandmother gets raging mad and packs her off to Ireland to stay with some cousins for a little while. However, as Hayley soon discovers, the cousins are quite familiar with the mythosphere as well . . . in ways that Hayley herself could hardly have begun to imagine.
This novella cleverly weaves together Greek mythology with bits and pieces of Eastern and Russian tales to produce a fun, clever, exciting story which would be enjoyable reading for both young folks and adults. Jones’ writing is excellent — good enough that even when she’s writing simple fare, as here, she draws the reader in through her clever, charming writing style. The story itself is simple, and definitely mythic-fantastic — there’s no attempt at realism or much in the way of worldbuilding here, but that’s okay, because this is simply a fairy-tale. And as a fairy-tale it succeeds very well. The moral center of the book revolves around the tyrannous reign of ‘Uncle Jolyon’ (otherwise known as Zeus) and the characters’ attempts to overthrow his oppressive rule and (among other things) let all the folks he’s punishing out of Hades. Considering the fairy-tale atmosphere of the story, I didn’t consider any of this to be highly symbolic or anything, although the characters’ response to Jolyon’s eventual overthrow — ‘now we can do whatever we want!’ — did strike me as a little, to say the least, immature and foolish. But in general the feel of the book is more adventure story than morality tale, so I don’t feel that it is meant to be taken the least bit allegorically . . . though I could, of course, be wrong. In any case I think it’s pretty innocuous in the context.