Categories of adults in Diana Wynne Jones’ books

I started writing this post last year (or possibly 2013), and I’m not entirely sure how to finish it. So I decided to just go ahead and post it instead of letting it sit around in my drafts folder for the next decade.

It is an unfinished, unrefined, thinking-about-things post regarding the different types of adults Diana Wynne Jones has in her books. I remember promising Iris to post about it way back when: sorry it took me so long, dear!


I have read a LOT of Diana Wynne Jones books (nearly all of them, at this point), and I’ve noticed that she tends to have three kinds of adults in her books:

1. good adults. They are helpful in adventures, protective of the protagonists, and they actively try to do good things (or at least get out of the way when there’s nothing to help with).
2. bad adults. They are inattentive, dangerous, threatening, abusive, and more often than not the villains.
3. misguided/inscrutable adults. They not entirely good or bad; usually they start out bad and then turn good later (or the protagonist realizes they were never bad to begin with). They do tend to ignore bad things that happen and they can be selfish, but generally they’re not threatening.
pinhoe egg 3
Any adult character can be any kind of adult. Just because a character is a parent, or a priest, for instance, doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be good. In fact, it’s usually the opposite!

Figuring out which character is which kind of adult is trickier. DWJ’s books are (mostly) from the POV of children; children tend to misinterpret certain acts and take a lot of things personally, so at first glance there’s a ton of bad adults running around. However, usually by the end of the book the child’s grown enough as a person to recognize that the adult character a) actually isn’t bad, they just acted a big naughty, b) they’re actually good and just seem bad because of plot reasons, or c) they’re actually a villain and must be defeated.

Depending on what kind of adults show up, the protagonist ends up dealing with them in different ways. Good adults are helpful and so they get to join in the adventure. Bad adults must be defeated (sometimes with help from the good adults). Misguided adults usually show their true (friendly) colors and they and the protagonist come to an understanding (which is very sweet and more true to life, I suppose). time of the ghost

Examples of the different kinds of adults! I’m not counting the main villains, because all them are bad adults and so I’d end up listing every single book. Instead, I just listed books with important adult characters.

GOOD:
Archer’s Goon (helpful parents)
The Dark Lord of Derkholm (helpful parents)
Charmed Life (Chrestomanci and co., though Cat thinks they’re more the inscrutable kind for a good long while)
A Tale of Time City (helpful parents, plus the Time City rulers are pretty good I guess)
Hexwood (the protagonists are adults, which is unusual. They are good! Mostly.)

BAD:
The Pinhoe Egg (a whole rotten family tbh)
The Merlin Conspiracy (neglectful parents)
Dogsbody (abusive parents)
Time of the Ghost (neglectful/abusive parents)

MISGUIDED/INSCRUTABLE:
The Lives of Christopher Chant (CC’s parents, Gabriel de Witt)
Cart and Cwidder (Moril’s mother)
The Ogre Downstairs (the Ogre. Actually, this was the book that inspired me to write this post)
Eight Days of Luke (David’s aunt)
The Power of Three (various parents)

Sidenote: despite what I said above about how any adult could be any type of character, that actually isn’t entirely true. Almost all kings and queens are good adults (when they aren’t literal monsters), as are people who rule a country or are the guardians of something (the Time City rulers, Chrestomanci).

Which makes me think that, although parents are not a sacred subject, Kings and such are. DWJ was British, after all– maybe it has something to do with that? Or maybe it’s just nice to have a set of adults who can always be counted on to be good.


And that’s all I’ve got! So: the end. (For now. I’ll probably end up coming back to this subject again later.)

4 thoughts on “Categories of adults in Diana Wynne Jones’ books”

  1. I’m going to need to think more about the good adults category. Because even the good adults are preeeeetty irresponsible. Derk and Mara let their kids get into all kinds of mess, and those kids are all under the age of seventeen (except maybe Shona? I forget). Ditto Quentin and Catriona — they are just never paying enough attention to stop Howard and Awful from getting kidnapped or beaten up.

    1. This is true! Though I think that being irresponsible doesn’t necessarily mean BAD. They’re not abusive, they’re just kinda cloud cookulanders.

      That said, give ’em one twist of the personality wheel and they’d totally be in the bad adults category. It’s very easy to slip from “permissible” to “negligent” (at least in DWJ’s books).

  2. I’m surprised with DWJ’s childhood that all parents are not in the bad category … or for that matter, that they’re not all in the good category because hers were so awful.

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