March Magics: Bad cover art


For a final March Magics post, I couldn’t resist Kristen’s invitation to share some of my favorite (for lack of a better word) bad cover art from the works of Terry Pratchett and Diana Wynne Jones. One sometimes wonders whether the art department is actively trying to lower sales with their wildly horrific concoctions.



For example, here’s the American cover for Jones’s first published children’s book, Witch’s Business. It’s hardly surprising that she took a while to catch on here, and that this book wasn’t reprinted for over thirty years.



And here’s a psychedelic cover for Pratchett’s first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic. Um….just, what???


PowerThree     Warlock   HomewardBounders

From there, things tended to get worse. Creepy, sick-looking covers for one of the funniest and most inventive fantasy authors around. What did she do to deserve this?



Mort   TruthBad

And for Pratchett, we got either bizarrely overloaded images or boring clip art with eye-crossing color combos.



Here is what I think is the absolute ugliest cover on a book I actually own. You have to be a really dedicated DWJ fan to buy this one. Oh, and this one too:



Yuck! To take the bad taste away, here are some of the GOOD covers that are out there as well. Thank goodness for these!



GOODCastleAir    WyrdCollectors







And thank you, Kristen, for all the wonderful events this month. I enjoyed it so very much and will look forward to next year.

March Magics: Two with witches

Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters (1988)
Diana Wynne Jones, Witch’s Business (1974)

WyrdSistersThis month, I’ve been happy to join in the fun of March Magics, reading and rereading several books by two of my favorite fantasy authors. Both of them excel at playing with tropes from tradition and folklore, in very different but equally inventive and thought-provoking ways. Here, for example, are two books featuring witches and witchcraft that put some spin on those old-fashioned pointy hats and broomsticks.

In Wyrd Sisters Granny Weatherwax, the formidable elder witch we first met in Equal Rites, is joined by the boisterously fecund matriarch Nanny Ogg and young witch-in-training Magrat Garlick. Maiden, mother and crone form a tiny coven in the kingdom of Lancre — the kind of coven where the question “When shall we three meet again?” is answered by “Well, I’m babysitting on Tuesday, but I could manage Friday,” and Magrat is in charge of bringing the snacks (bat-shaped scones with currant eyes). It soon becomes clear that this trio, while humorously riffing on Halloween-costume stereotypes with their messy hair, black clothing, and cauldrons, are “wise women” rather than evil practitioners of the dark arts. Though they like to keep their moral options flexible — “We’re bound to be truthful,” says Granny, “But there’s no call to be honest” — and are not averse to keeping the general populace wary of their powers, they’re on the side of good, of helping rather than hurting. That’s unless there’s someone who truly deserves to be hurt, of course.

The real evil in Lancre, it soon becomes evident, lies in the hearts of the usurping Duke and Duchess, who loudly insist that they had nothing to do with the former king falling downstairs and landing on his own knife. The witches happen to be on the scene when the heir to the throne is being spirited away, and do some spiriting of their own. The wicked nobles become suspicious of the weird sisters and try to frame them through the medium of some traveling players…while the Duke slowly goes mad…and a storm is brewing in the mountains…

If this sounds like a fractured version of several Shakespeare plays, it is, and there’s some clever use of both pseudo- and real Shakespearean dialogue that will amuse anyone with some degree of familiarity therefrom. (Prithee.) There are also multitudinous puns and wordplay, slapstick comedy, twisted twin-based plots, and a Fool who is not as foolish as he seems. In short, it’s a worthy homage to the Bard, but with a sublime silliness of its own. If you haven’t yet experienced Pratchett’s Discworld, this is not a bad place to start; even though it’s not the first one chronologically, I think it provides a fine introduction to many elements of the Disc, and is one of my personal favorites of the series so far.

WitchsBusWitch’s Business, meanwhile, starts in our own world rather than an alternate reality, and at first seems to have nothing to do with magic at all. The opening situation is a familiar one: two children short of pocket money attempt to start a “business” to earn some change. But their field of choice (OWN BACK LTD) soon brings them into conflict with Biddy Iremonger, who turns out to be something more than the slightly mad old lady they’ve always considered her.

Indeed, Biddy is not outwardly-sinister-yet-inwardly-benign like Pratchett’s witches. She injects a rather chilling touch of evil into the otherwise mundane plot of children making new friends, hunting for treasure, and getting into trouble. In this, her first published children’s novel, Jones is already a master at mixing fantastical and realistic elements, making it believable that malevolent forces can lurk just on the other side of what we’re willing to perceive. But what I really appreciate about her is that she also makes it clear without the least bit of preachiness that these forces are not just an outer threat, but live within each one of us. The battle to overcome them is one that we all must fight, and stories are the primary way we’ve always been instructed in how to do that. Both Pratchett and Jones give us new stories that address age-old human concerns and conflicts, in such a light and entertaining way that we may never realize we’re learning something. That’s why their books are so marvelous for any age.

Compared to some of Jones’s later books, this is a comparatively slight, uncomplicated story, but there is much going on beneath the surface. I’ll point you to Chris’s fascinating review to learn about some of the nuances, and appreciate just how brilliant Diana Wynne Jones really is. Thanks again to Kristen for this month of celebration; it’s always a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for these authors with others.



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March Magics: Share Your Books


March Magics is here! This annual event, hosted by We Be Reading, was formerly known as Diana Wynne Jones March, a celebration of the late, great fantasy author. This year the focus has been expanded to include Terry Pratchett, another giant of the fantasy world who is greatly missed. I think that pairing these two writers is a terrific idea, and will give us double the fun as we share what we love about their works.


The suggested topic for today is “Share your books” — either showing off our book collection or what we intend to read this month, or both. I don’t actually own any books by Terry Pratchett (yet), but I’m delighted to share some pictures from my DWJ shelves. Since I discovered her more than 30 years ago, I’ve known I wanted to read and own everything she wrote, and I’m getting pretty close to completion. First off, here’s where it all started:


As I mentioned in this post, I first found Diana Wynne Jones through another favorite author, Robin McKinley. When in my local bookstore I found a paperback that had actually been blurbed by her, I had to have it — and so the obsession began.

2016-02-25 07.38.43

I snapped up the Greenwillow hardcovers that were available — Witch Week, Archer’s Goon, Fire and Hemlock, Howl’s Moving Castle, A Tale of Time City — but some of the earlier works were hard to find in those pre-internet days. I still remember exactly where I was standing, along with how thrilled I was, when I found a copy of Witch’s Business (aka Wilkins’ Tooth) in the University branch of the Seattle Public Library. Later I did track down my own copy, or rather copies:


Yes, my obsession was such that I often ended up with multiple copies of the same book, in both hardcover and paperback, or UK and American editions. I scored quite a few UK paperbacks on a trip to England, but unfortunately I lost several of these in a book-lending accident when the recipient didn’t understand they were a loan and passed them on to someone else. I still have a few, like a spectacularly ugly edition of The Homeward Bounders:


In England I also bought the UK hardcover of Deep Secret, which turned out to be a good thing because for many years the only US edition available was a bowdlerized “YA” version. Thankfully, Tor finally fixed that with a reprint a couple of years ago.


When internet book buying kicked in things became much easier, and I was able to fill in most of the holes in my collection, like the Dalemark sequence (I much prefer the beautiful covers of these original Atheneum editions to the later ones made when the fourth book was published by Greenwillow):


It was still fun to hunt for treasure in real life, though. I found this copy of Power of Three in excellent condition at a library sale, and picked it up for a song:


On the other end of the cost spectrum is the limited edition of Everard’s Ride published by NESFA when DWJ was the guest of honor at their annual convention. Only 185 of these were signed, and I have one of them! I think it’s worth quite a bit now, but I’m not selling.


However they look on the outside, what I really treasure is what’s between the covers, the inimitably funny and vivid and inventive stories that have given me so many hours of reading delight. I’m looking forward to passing my collection on to my son, who’s the perfect age to start exploring the wonderful world of Diana Wynne Jones. I’d love to see your favorites — please share!