Fire and Hemlock books –

Pre 1985 Dianna Wynne Jones is my absolute favorite writer of all time Since I ve gotten this far with cataloguing much of my reading history, I had to make sure this fact is recorded here somewhere I actually haven t read this one my favorite in years, mostly because I m terrified I ll discover it can no longer do for me anything like what it did when I was a kid.I really wish I could read anything now that would give me the kind of experience I had as a child reading Ms Jones s books Somewhere she has an essay or an interview where she talks about the difference between writing for kids and writing for adults What she says is that you don t have to explain every little thing to kids the way you do to grownups, because they just intuitively understand the unwritten logic of the world you re describing, which I really think is true It s because she exploits this that her books are so amazing they hook into some kind of childhood mental processes and content, so that much of the story doesn t need to be written, and is actually being told in collaboration with the wee, developing mind on a much vivid and intensely personal level than would be possible just from reading a regular book, if that makes any sense I guess as you get older, all that fluid, multicolored, unlimited swirly stuff in the immature brain dries up, and whatever s left gets dammed and filtered into these confining narrow, crusty little channels I can t engage with fiction at all the way I did when I was a kid, which is the chief reason why I don t read much any, now that I m grown Now I sit there and think, Here I am, reading this book, or This book is well written, or that doesn t seem plausible How deeply unsatisfying is that Dianna Wynne Jones s best books follow one brilliant pattern, which I m not really going to get into here except to say that the endings are always the same huge, chaotic, messy implosions in which the characters, time, space, and a thousand different worlds all reach some frenetic pitch and then collapse in on themselves with a hugely satisfying crash Hooray When I was younger, my dream was to travel to England in an effort to meet Dianna Wynne Jones I sort of let go of that dream, though, when I realized I couldn t think of anything to say Maybe now I could tell her Oh, screw Harry Potter And then I could thank her.Thank you, Ms Jones This book is wonderful It s a cool remix of two old fairy stories in an 80s setting It s also a coming of age story about a girl Polly who gets pulled into some magical drama because of a dude she meets when she accidentally crashes a funeral If it s magic at all There s a great tension around whether anything is really going on It s also a story about families Great characters with depth that change over time as the main character gets older.My one real negative is that one thing that didn t feel right was the romance I like a good romance In this one, there s an age difference that never feels quite right I m not sure how it landed at the time, but it felt pretty creepy to me in the here and now Like plot wise it made enough sense but other than that, hm Maybe if Polly had started the book much older It definitely would feel very creepy in a book today It isn t written to sound creepy Yeah I dunno about all that.Anyways Some of the scenes with Polly and her family will really stick with me.It s one of those books that after reading it I was suddenly aware of some of its rippling influence especially The Bone Clocks.Looking forward to reading a LOT by Diana Wynn Jones. I had a lot of fun reading Fire and Hemlock, and if you like DWJ, don t miss it I won t review it, but I d like to make a reading guide that will allow me to remember how things work The mechanics are not simple, but the book doesn t need the exposure of its guts to be enjoyed Except perhaps for the ending That bit is confusing.For DWJ s thoughts on her book, read her essay on heroics in Fire Hemlock I rehash lots of what she says there.Let s start with the underlying myths 1 Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, 2 Hero and Leander, and 3 Cupid and Psyche Those three myths give how the plot should be read on the emotional level It is a story of a female Hero in a personal relationship Tam Lin gives the basic plot a previous attachment to the Queen of the Fairies, solved by holding on to true love Cupid and Psyche suggest that the Hero will commit a fault Like in the myth, it s spying as it signifies holding on too much, it is a departure from Tam Lin , and must afterwards seek her beloved it introduces the theme of the seeker Tom has Cupid s attributes think the bow from the cello and his deficient eyesight and shows Laurel as Venus, the powerful source of his gifts It s also important to understand that, like Cupid s allegory of profane and divine love, Polly s journey is that of locating in herself the heroic bits and living up to their standard That s essentially why she can never withdraw what she says at the end, despite a priori being free from Laurel s influence It would mean the failure of her heroic journey The story of Hero and Leander gives the rhythm of Tom and Polly s relationship they meet time and time again but are each time separated, and it suggests that he must go to hell at the end, and that she ll follow him there One is reminded of the myth of Orpheus, another musician, who must seek his beloved in Hades, and loses her due to lack of patience But the timing is off he s the musician, but she s the seeker, and the fault is earlier in the plot and thus was already committed when the lovers are in hell It s completely different to go to hell for your sins than to stay there, being previously innocent Here, her betrayal frees him Orpheus doesn t give plot points, but we recognize the common theme.The structure and tone are from 1 The Odyssey, 2 TS Eliot s Four Quartets, 3 1001 Nights The Odyssey gives its structure as heroic travel told in flashbacks It also goes back to the hell theme Odysseus must go to Hades after leaving Circe, the witch goddess who murdered her husband Of course, Laurel is a witch goddess who murders husbands TS Eliot is the underlying music that is either turned up or down when DWJ needs it It gives the garden, the pond, the string quartet, and the final wordplay It also gives the literal key to the resolution and the general obsession with the passage of time I would argue that, of the multiple references, Four Quartets is the first and most important driving force of the narrative, because it gives the tone Lastly, 1001 nights introduces the idea of storytelling as lifesaving mean, the blur between reality and imagination of which Eliot says human kind Cannot bear much reality , and the idea that the female character is fated to save the male character That appears also in Tam Lin It s so problematic that you better throw in the weight of as many myths as possible to make it palatable By now it should be obvious that Fire Hemlock strongly relies on trinities First, the trinity of the setting, based on the permutations of here and now from the vases The here now , where Tom is an adult cellist and Polly is a child who reads books and has friends The nowhere , where Lauren rules and where the train leads It s clearly reminiscent of hell, including the persephonic episode where Polly refuses to eat and drink The where now , inhabited by Hero, Tan Could, Tan Audel, Tan Hanivar and Tan Thare, the giant, the ironmonger, and everything they imagine together.Each setting is build in with the others like interlocked spirals You can imagine the DNA with three lines, but I would prefer to see it as a rotating jigsaw puzzle Each of the three rotations shows a different pattern.There are also triunvirates of characters The one of the here now is deceptively important Fire and Hemlock is, unlike many fantasies, a book of personal relationships, and the characterizations of Polly s friends is given much attention We have Nina the dumb one , Polly, and Fiona the clever one We also have the trinity of ages Granny wisdom , Ivy the couch dweller and Polly still the seeker Ivy could be replaced by Laurel They are similar in Laurel s mistrust of human imagination Tom is punished with having what he imagines become true and come back to bite him That s how he becomes True Thomas unlike Thomas the Rhymer, who was true without threats Laurel confuses facts and fiction at will It s also what Ivy does Again, the blur between reality and imagination is a major theme found in 4 Quartets, 1001 nights We could lump together Ivy and Laurel, have Polly still in the middle, and on the other end her father and his partner, who have outed imagination from their life The triad Laurel Ivy Polly has the interest of not only evoking the old idea of maiden mature woman crone, but of being very close to a particular celebrated triple goddess, that composed of Persephone, Demeter and Hekate The parallels are obvious Persephone travels between worlds, Demeter is perpetually abandoned, Hekate is the goddess of witchcraft Despite her rigged gifts, Laurel does keep her bargains, and that s why Polly starts opportunely to remember her where now life Her pact with Laurel was to forget, but she was to be left alone, and Laurel can t keep her part because of Seb and Leroy Returning to the problem of identity Laurel is the queen of the fairies, Venus, Circe, Calypso, Hades, Hekate, all of whom similar archetypes But who are Polly and Tom The truth is that Diana filled her book with so much subtext that the main characters must constantly switch roles each has a the mythic personification corresponding to each one of these references, but they re not fixed in a particular archetype And hence the name Polly, many She is the crucible for all of DWJ s intertextual plays Tom Cupid, Tam Lin, but he s mainly Thomas the Rhymer, as the name says It seems relevant to note that the queen of the fairies in the ballad shows him the way to three lands heaven, hell and home , the theme of eating in hell is revisited, as is the ability to return home from fairyland, and Truth is essential to be able to walk one of those roads Thomas was a prophet and that s one reason why Tom always seems to know so much than Polly And boom One way to understand the ending is right there 1 Thomas must be true to walk the way back home, and that implies giving up the cello Thomas the Rhymer is given the choice between prophecy and becoming a harper , giving up imagination the horse , and also giving up Polly he must be true to Laurel too in order to fulfill his contract with the queen.And so we have come to the ending There s one interpreation above, but don t worry, there s many This is also how it can be understood 2 As the literal illustration of Eliot To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not, You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy In order to arrive at what you do not know You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance In order to possess what you do not possess You must go by the way of dispossession And where you are is where you are not She s in nowhere she must apply the poem and do the opposite of what she should do, that s to say, as per the Ballad of Tam Lin, holding on But that, in the novel, is based on the knowledge of the internal logic of another work the Quartets and is too unsatisfying an ending for a story with emotional resonance I understand that bit of the Quarters as a meditation on change and how it integrates in time it s as surprised as any mathematician by our ability to go from 0 to 1 and to be in 0 until we are in 1 Although great poetry, I don t think that subtext can really be applied to Fire and Hemlock, because it goes in any case from 1 to 0 and because we are at the climax of the novel, where a reflection on change a theme that is present, of course, in the measure that it is a YA novel, but not really dominant would blend very badly with the heroic background Myths never change Ulysses, Cupid, even Psyche, learn but don t change So I do think that DWJ took the chance to use the poem as a literal guide, but only as an in joke.Let s look at it a bit , using now a narrative key and not a litterary one 3 We see just what we already knew that Laurel rigs her games The same way that she inverted her gift to Thomas, she builds a duel based on weakness The less you have, the you win Thomas doesn t understand it in time though Ann does and Polly must strip him of what he has That works within the walls of the novel, but is less interesting in itself Unless maybe we think that he does gather his inner strength once he has abandoned the props, and, as the epigraph to Eliot says, The way upward and the way downward are the same That is a moral way to understand the ending Weakness and strength are two faces of the same coin, etc etc Do I think it s the one we should chose Honesetly, no I don t think DWJ is as big on fables as she is on myths I think we should seek the key to our ending in a way that it resolves the problem between blurring reality and imagination and Polly s heroic journey, both of which stand at the heart of the novel Change and inner strenght do not And I don t find in the book any true clue to Tom gathering his inner strenght once Polly betrays him he just goes and wins 4 Or we can stick to following the lines of the narration, but blame the fact that he sinks not on the duel itself but on his original gift from Laurel, that always turns what he summons against him Read that way, Tom s lucky not to have brought Polly on his behalf, because Leroy might have called on Laurel herself But I m not sure how to interpret the rules of the duel in that light Why say it at all It seems redundant to me 5 Another way to see it would be with the pond as an allegory of imagination the cello, Laurel s gift personified in the horse and Polly bring Tom closer to it, but if he disappears in there he can never come back to the here now artist s descent into madness, thin veil between reality and imagination, etc I find I like this interpretation because I think it correlates nicely with real life Tom s struggles and strength must be focused on his job music , his relationship Polly , and his hobbies storytelling , but if he s goes in them to deep he loses his foothold on reality That s a real problem directly deriving from his strenghts hence the rules of the duel His gift goes against him because it is a gift from a goddess, never one to make the person that receives it less special or less genius y The ways I find to understand the ending are not entirely integrable Almost, but not quite And it could be interesting to seek a different way of understanding the ending for every set of rules the ones of the where now, the nowhere and the here now, but that s a job for another day And do Tom and Polly end up together, despite the fact that she has to keep meaning what she said Sure It just means that she has to keep loving Tom enough to let him go, or she ll lose him It s the same curse under which any sane relationship operates.You see, I like the ballad of Tam Lin Janet is awesome But it is the story of a woman pregnant by a married man unhappily married to the Queen of the Fairies, but still holding on to him despite him being horrible to her he turns into monsters Uuuh That accounts for the fact that the Queen gets the ominous last words in the Ballad there is no, there can t be, a happy ending in store for Janet and Tam Lin on those premises That s also why Tam Lin is such a handy ballad to invert DWJ knows that, and she introduces a prop the Fairy King In other words, the Queen cheated too Leroy is the way out for Tom because he hurt him, both textually in the duel and in the context of the ballad If he hadn t, Tom couldn t be a moral hero and Polly couldn t operate the crucial change from holding on to letting go And Tom is a moral hero that s the meaning of him saying I did my best at the end, and the interest of the character of Leslie, who has no morals and serves as a counterpoint.And how exactly does Polly rejects Tom She tells him the exact truth and that s important, because their relationship previously had been based on fusing reality and imagination DWJ has already said with Ivy and Laurel that that won t work At the end of the book, they leave the nowhere and the here now and start to live in reality They won t be swallowed up by imagination That s why book reading fades away from the narration when Polly grows into adulthood And thus Diana says storytime is over, we have to go back to real life hey meta if you want to be in love, keep your facts straight, and go beyond holding on to not clinging But she never goes so far as to write that down she hardly ever writes anything important explicitly That frequently makes it seem like she abuses of deux ex machina, even when she doesn t, but it helps understanding her stories on a intuitive level I do think that Fire Hemlock is satisfactorily ended.A last note I m amazed that she made the whole groom knows and raises his future bride since her childhood work for me because god do I hate that trope. When I tried to think of a way to describe this book I kept having a GIF go through my head One that I d seen recently and felt summed up this novel perfectly image error One of the best and most incomprehensible books I ve ever laid my eyes on It makes my heart ache, physically, literally, it s so good it hurts My long long LONG time favourite, Howl s Moving Castle, became a runner up after I finished with Fire and Hemlock It just really messes with my insides I want to be this book.Right after finishing the book I was just really frustrated the ending made my face screw and I just had to throw the book god knows where I m sorry, Tom, the poor book was probably in great agony for the whole night and curse myself to sleep I went through such a load of feelings and emotions throughout the book, and in the end I felt like the tension was never truly released Which makes this book, in my eyes, both unbearable and genius In a way it reminds me of Laird Koenig s The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane in that it makes you absolutely fall in love with the characters and you wish them all the best yet you can never be certain whether they got their happy ending because there s an eternal cliffhanger don t we have a law against those Only this was a great, enormous load better.I was trembling by the time I got to part four Like literally shaking all over and desperate.Now, despite the fact I ve loved DWJ for years I ve only read the Castle series and the Chrestomanci series before because I only recently got my hands on some other books of hers But I m kind of glad I only read it now It s quite clear Fire and Hemlock is mature compared to her kiddie ish novels Much longer, much complex and detailed, and much relationship driven I m not saying kids couldn t enjoy it I certainly would have, had I read it when I was younger but personally, I think I benefitted from the perspective my age gave me over Polly s growth and character development.I loved Tom Lynn, and his relationship to Polly I loved how incomplete and selfish Tom s feelings and motives towards Polly turned out to be And how in the end perfectly and devotedly Polly still loved him I loved the way Polly grew to him and good god The frustration I mean, I m okay with age differences and lolita ish material in literature because, you know, fictional characters, no harm done but this was so different from anything else I d read It wasn t just a few years, which would have made it into sweet little puppy love, which is cute It wasn t exactly a perverse, unhealthy, unbalanced pedoesque relationship , which would have made it interesting in a dark, sad way No, it was too gentle, too okay, and too realistic for me to bear It just felt like they were meant to go through all those stages and all those feelings It was clear from the beginning there was going to be a romance between those two, but there was never anything wrong about it Tom was always reasonable about it except for the SILKEN BACK SMUT oh my god the scolding he gave her The lady doth protest too much and Polly had the right to be a little unreasonable because, well, she was young and in a way very na ve And I can t seem to go on about this subject, because my heart feels like it s about to break Yes, I was utterly touched by their relationship and uh oh yeah alright Wow I just really don t get it why so many people saw it somehow creepy or gross, because there was never anything truly inappropriate going on, at least from Tom s side It was just beautiful and so true and so desperately touching I almost lost it.Overall, I think Fire and Hemlock was one of the most rereadable books I ve read, even compared to Diana s other novels which I ve always loved rereading because I ve felt like there s always something I didn t catch last time This book was like Diana multiplied by ten And after I felt like I really understood the ending, it became even better It s just what I call absolute literary perfection The essay at the end of the newest edition was also perfect I felt like I was going to faint whilst reading it because of all the little details Diana included to sculpt it into absolute flawlessness.This book is mint I want to give it way than five stars. Fire and Hemlock is one of Diana Wynne Jones haunting books, with characters, situations and references that linger long after a first reading It s well known that the plot outline is taken from Northern ballads recounting the stories of Young Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, especially as she heads each chapter with quotes from the ballads and refers explicitly to the tales in her text The tales of a young man lured to the Otherworld by a fairy, and in the case of Tam Lin then rescued by a young woman, are purloined and brought into the 20th century, along with a heady mix of The Golden Bough and a whole host of other plots and characters Thomas Lynn is the young man, Laurel his fairy queen and young Polly whom we follow from just before she starts secondary education to when she is in her first year at Oxford is Tom s apparent saviour We also get to meet Polly s dysfunctional family, her grandmother and her school friends, along with Tom s associates, both human and otherworldly The novel succeeds on a human level, largely because it seems to have a autobiographical flavour to it Polly, like Jones, is drawn to books even though her parents largely disapprove, and like Jones, is able to create other realities through the power of story Jones book references, quite apart from their relevance to the plot as when Tom insists that Polly reads the book on fairy tales he has sent her , must be a good indicator of Diana s own childhood and adult reading matter Joan Aiken s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of the first mentioned published in 1962, not too long before Jones embarked on her own writing career and which may have been an inspiration then there s some E Nesbit stories, Treasure Island, The Three Musketeers of course, and tales of King Arthur a running theme in many of Diana s books, most obviously in The Merlin Conspiracy and Hexwood Another long recognised influence on Fire and Hemlock is T S Eliot s Four Quartets, principally the images and structure, though many of Jones potential young adult readership would remain less aware of this as I was, until it was pointed out to me.There are so many avenues to explore in this tantalising novel, but I will begin by thinking about the significance of names I ll start with the fairy who seduces the Tom Lin character, Laurel or, to give her the names she has in the Will reading which takes place early in the novel, Eudora Mabel Lorelei Perry Lynn Leroy Eudora good, excellent gift was one of the Greek sea nymphs, but perhaps the name is used rather ironically here, as is Mabel from French aimable, loveable Lorelei of course is the siren of the Rhine, a literary creation apparently, a river nymph who ensnared passing males Perry, probably originally of Welsh origin ap Hari, son of Harry , here is probably a reference to peri, an exotic alternative name for a fairy Lynn of course was her married name, while Leroy is the surname of her new husband, Morton Leroy is from French le roi, the king, referring to Seb s father as an Oberon type of Fairy King The other father figure in Polly s life is her own weak willed dad Reg, whose name also harks back to Latin rex, regis king It s all rather Golden Bough, isn t it Jones of course dwells on this at length later the the book Lorelei naturally got anglicised as Laurel The bay laurel is used in cooking, but it is advisable not to eat the whole leaves as they can damage internal organs, so I suppose this is appropriate for Polly s adversary Another bane of Polly s life is her mother Ivy, poison perhaps by name and certainly poison by nature, though this being Britain where there is no poison ivy the smothering nature of the parasitic ivy is what is being alluded to Another little etymological puzzle, the enigmatic Mary Fields what s her role She is of course a natural rival for Tom s affections with Polly Whittacker white acre.The novel has three locations, London, Oxford and Bristol, all three of which are places where DWJ lived and which reflect on the part autobiographical nature of Fire and Hemlock Somewhere in the middle of this triangle must be Middleton hence its name, perhaps Nearby Stow on the Water is a mash up of two real places in the Cotswolds, Bourton on the Water a largish village, characterised by lots of pedestrian bridges over the river and presumably liable to flooding and Stow on the Wold which exactly matches up with the description of the fictional Stow except the market cross is recent than the Saxon period In Jones fictional England topography and atmosphere are similar to but not the same as the real England of the mid 80s, and are her attempt to transfer the world of the Scottish Border ballads to the southern Britain that she knew well.Oxford gets a relatively short space in the novel while Jones went to St Anne s College, Polly in the novel goes to St Margaret s St Margaret s is the novel s version of the real life Lady Margaret Hall another college founded for women students , and this college s coat of arms is instructive First of all it features a portcullis the gate features in the incident in a Ghost Castle at the fair , and secondly the motto is Souvent me souviens I often remember , highly appropriate for one of the overarching themes of the novel Possibly coincidentally there is an early years school in Headington, Oxford called Hunsdon House, which may have inspired Laurel s supernatural mansion did Diana s children attend this school when she lived there Like many others I ve had to reread the ending quite a few times and, yes, it is very obscure what has actually happened, and how Polly realises that the only way she can save Tom from dying is to lose him, but somehow she and Tom are together in the final chapter I can only surmise that we have to add together the two insights that Polly gives us 1 Tom has been using her to try to save himself from his fate and 2 Polly says she doesn t want to see him again In a way nearly everybody is using somebody else even Polly s Granny, who has been trying to find out what happened to her own loved one in the past , and also in a way, we all use others, strangers as well as friends the point being that we put others first before ourselves if we truly love them When Polly declares she doesn t want to see Tom again, presumably she means the selfish Tom who tried to save himself, whom we contrast with Polly who is prepared to give up her happiness to save Tom Jones lovely wordplays on Now and Here and Nowhere, which we first meet on stone vases in the grounds of Hundon House, are clearly a facet of Jones favourite themes of parallel worlds and existences, related in this case to the different paths referenced in the ballads This may be easier to fathom than the book s title Commentaries have pointed out the significances of these two story elements fire standing for life, in particular creative energy, hemlock standing for death, the two representing the quick the living and the dead In the finale hemlock plants are described as growing next to the pool, the portal to death Jones spent some of her childhood years in Wales, so she would have been familiar with the Welsh word t n, which means fire Hence the hero names of the members of the quartet which of themselves seem otherwise quite arbitrary So some of the underlying symbolism the flooding in Stow, the depressing rainy British weather, the ripples of the Hunsdon House pool can be seen as reflecting the antithesis of the literary and creative sparks that Polly and her friends exhibit Perhaps the Tam Lin of the ballads reminded Jones of Welsh t n fire and Welsh llyn lake and from these she took her cues.The use of musical terms in the novel might help in interpreting the ending Fire and Hemlock really is about the power of words to change reality, and Jones, like many another fantasy writer, also uses words to subvert what passes for reality So, though Eliot s Four Quartets poems are implicitly referred to, and Tom is part of a string quartet in Fire and Hemlock, the addition of a fifth player, Polly, is what changes the dynamics of everything That is reflected in the divisions of the book four parts like the movements of a string quartet composition but with the addition of a tail piece, the Coda, an envoi to the work This coda is Polly herself, and it marks the real division in her life, from being the tomboy I use the word deliberately that Tom has used for his own purposes to the young woman who has shouldered the responsibilities of being an adult.The choice of words for tempi in the different parts is very deliberate Allegro vivace both words mean lively , with allegro also implying brisk quick this is Fire as Life Andante cantabile at a walking pace not slow, really but also sung there s a lot here about the books Tom sends Polly, including The Oxford Book of Ballads Allegro con fuoco with fire how explicit can Jones be The third movement, traditionally a rather sedate minuet, morphed into a faster playful scherzo by the 19th century, but here it has morphed even Presto molto agitato final movements were invariably very fast, and so this part of the book urgently rushes like a headstrong horse to its climactic scene at Hunsdon House.A coda is something tagged on, and in music it is usually the final section of a movement In this novel it stands outside the formal scheme, a fifth not movement Marked scherzando, its musical meaning playful refers also to Jones intention for this section it is a play on words, a pun, a joke this is what scherzo literally translates as in Italian She is trying to say that at the last Polly s words are a verbal sleight of hand, a word magician s way of misdirecting Laurel as to her real intentions And like any good magician Jones doesn t quite reveal how she has done the trick. Polly Has Two Sets Of MemoriesOne Is Normal School, Home, Friends The Other, Stranger Memories Begin Nine Years Ago, When She Was Ten And Gate Crashed An Odd Funeral In The Mansion Near Her Grandmother S House Polly S Just Beginning To Recall The Sometimes Marvelous, Sometimes Frightening Adventures She Embarked On With Tom Lynn After That And Then She Did Something Terrible, And Everything ChangedBut What Did She Do Why Can T She Remember Polly Must Uncover The Secret, Or Her True Love And Perhaps Polly Herself Will Be Lost I wish I could give this book infinite stars. Review originally posted on The Page Dreamer This is like an essay than a review, I m afraid, but it s what I could come up with I ve tried to write this review a couple times now, and I am in despair over it because Fire and Hemlock is simply too vast and well, as Eleanor Cameron said of a different book in The Green and Burning Tree On the Writing and Enjoyment of Children s Books, it is a wild, glimmering, shadowed, elusive kind of book That s the best description I can find for it, and it s not even in my own words.I really want to review this book, but have absolutely no idea how So I m going to start typing and hope something comes out of it besides an incoherent ramble the size of a London train.Fire and Hemlock is set in a modern day England in the 80s both of which are slightly alien and unfamiliar to this young ish American reader, so even though it s contemporary and set in the real world, it actually felt a bit fantastical to me Which is a good thing Occasionally I would go Oh So that s what such and such is like called in England Fascinating or Who knew that you flip records over to listen to the other side I do know about tapes, but not records Beneath the seemingly ordinary setting and life of the heroine, Polly, there runs a strong undercurrent of unusual happenings, rather frightening fantastical goings on, and some snatches of wild shadowed fae stuff and magical sorts of things The fact that the ordinary and the fantasy blend so flawlessly together in this book attests once again to Diana Wynne Jones brilliant skill as a writer.As a retelling of the old folk tale ballad about Tam Lin and also about Thomas the Rhymer, all the bits relating to both that wove into the story were fascinating, especially in said modern setting.The book left me with a rather dizzying near belief that it was something that had really happened Yes, fantasy and all It was so real that one nourishes a distinct and startlingly firm suspicion that the whole thing must have actually happened If not to the author herself, at least to someone she knew It has that strong of a feeling of being real at times painfully so And in just the sort of elusive, mad sort of way, that is always a part of the most real yet strange dreams I imagine that s how it would feel like if such things happened to you or I There s stuff about writing, too, which was great, and Polly s a sort of writer I liked her It was fascinating and realistic as well to watch her grow up along the way in the book, from about a ten year old girl to a nineteen year old young woman A lot of it s her looking back and trying to remember things about when she was growing up.Polly and Tom s friendship perhaps growing into something is the heart of the book I just loved it so much They make up stories together, which in strange and sometimes terrible ways seem to come true Their friendship is perfectly natural and beautifully written and just I can t even explain it, but I adore that entire aspect of the book, especially the blooming but unconventional romance It s all just so masterfully done.Of course, the best thing about the book is Mr Thomas Lynn himself, yet another fabulous unpigeonholeable that s a word, I swear or should be character which this author seems to excel at Tom plays cello and drives like a hero a.k.a like a madman he is a horrible driver and it s glorious the parts with his horse I mean car were hilarious highlights of the book , has an epic abrupt startling silence which people run up against when he doesn t want to talk about things, and a sort of yelping laugh which cuts off, and he has colorless hair and glasses which are like another character, and he will perfectly seriously discuss what most people would call make believe with young Polly, since of course they re in the business of being heroes, and sends her books all the time and you just sort of feel safe when he s around, even if horrible fantastical things happen, and he s part of a strange frightening mystery, entangled in it and can t get free and you just feel awful for him but you know he wouldn t want you to and that he s all right, really except that he s really not all right at all and he s mysterious and also very open in a way, somehow, and you can t really explain him at all and apparently I need to talk with people who ve read this because otherwise I ll just ramble on about him forever I m done now Almost But really, what isn t to love about a fellow who says of booksdon t do that to that book You ve got it open, lying on its face, Mr Lynn said The poor thing s in torment And about fairy storiesOnly thin, weak thinkers despise fairy stories Each one has a true, strange fact hidden in it, you know, which you can find if you lookIt s a giant of a book At 420 very large hardback pages, it s quite longer than the usual small to medium books by Diana Wynne Jones that I ve read before with a few exceptions and yet I never wanted it to end About halfway through, around when I felt like one of her other books would have been finishing, I panicked and thought, Oh no, what if it ends soon It needs to go on and on and on And then I checked and with relief and a sort of thrill of triumph, realized I had still a large amount to read Though my practical side threw a fit, seeing that it was after midnight and demanding that I go to bed which I, naturally, ignored The one strange or not so strange fact about Diana Wynne Jones books is that almost all of them that I ve read, I ve devoured in a sitting Or at least in a single day Which is fine for ordinarily lengths But not so much for a 400 page fantastic monster of a book which I started late at night to begin with This was a stay up till after 3 a.m sort of book I REGRET NOTHING It is at once new and old It gave me the feeling that I might have read it before, maybe, or had always known about it, while being at the same time entirely undiscovered It reminded me of several other books that I ve read and loved or, considering the publication dates, I might better say they remind me of it , while at the same time being completely unique It s like it somehow took snatches of a ton of books I love and weaved bits of them together into something new, but being its own thing at the same time The Penderwicks series, The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt, as well as other books by Diana Wynne Jones I feel like there were several others as well Also, all of the books it mentions, which Tom sends to Polly to read, were so fun to see listed both the ones I ve read and loved, and the ones I ve not read and in some cases not even heard of which of course makes me want to read themPolly had discovered The Lord of the Rings and was reading it for the fourth time under her desk in Mathswas a particularly fabulous line in the book In the category of complaints, it had its faults all books do well, except for a small handful, including a certain other book by the same author.I will admit that I wanted much of Tom himself in the story than he actually appeared in, but that can hardly be helped when it s from the point of view of a girl who s not allowed to see him and only does so from time to time.It is also set in a modern setting, and therefore has some of the inevitable problems which are why I don t like modern books much public school, so called friends , split up families etc but I liked this one in spite of them like I said, it felt so real, so I can t exactly complain about what happened as if it s just a plot device if it happened, now can I I will say that poor Polly kind of has a dreadful life Actually, Tom does too And yet here they are, plowing along I suppose that s heroism, right there And the ending seemed to be rather sudden and, leading up to it, extremely vague to my mind so that I am still extremely confused and not entirely sure exactly what happened though that could have just been the fact that by the time I reached the ending it was past 3 a.m., so that could have been the clock and or a sleep fogged mind talking I also am of the opinion that many Diana Wynne Jones books require a second or perhaps third reading to fully understand it, especially some endings, so perhaps I ll be all right if I read it again And I don t think it s the author s fault I feel like it just went over my head or something I do relish a thing that I don t quite understand, when it means there s always to unearth in subsequent go throughs.It s a book that you have to think about, which might not please some people, but definitely pleased me.And of course, it s the sort of book one spends most of the next day or week or month occasionally dipping back through it and rereading preferably aloud, if any poor soul is near to be quoted at the fabulously hilarious bits and smiling insanely over, just because you like it, even though you can t quite understand why That s my experience, anyway I read this book on New Year s Day as I said, staying up till past 3, because it simply had to be finished , which was a marvelous way to kick off my reading for the year.And yes, it has taken me nearly an entire month to get around to writing this review I still don t feel as if I ve done it justice It s quite simply impossible to describe.I don t think it s everyone s cup of tea, but I think it may have been mine And quite good tea at that Properly and gloriously British, bitter and sweet at once, and just the thing for a long rainy day, when one is longing for an elusive tale with a dose of ordinary mixed up with a dash of fantastic, as well as one of a kind vibrant characters, a glorious love story Tom would be berating me for that sorry , and an enormous amount of classic Diana Wynne Jones humor.I ll be reading Fire and Hemlock again, I hope And if you read this entire review, I quite sincerely applaud you and offer you cupcakes Here. I was disappointed in this when I was 10, but all my friends seem to have loved it so I gave it another try It makes sense now, although it is still rather confusing, especially the end I enjoyed it this time around but it is still not among my favorite or even second tier favorites of DWJ s books There were just too many elements that didn t work for me I didn t like Polly that much as a character, even though I thought her depiction was excellent I liked the parts about reading and writing but then that sort of died away as Polly got older In the end there were too many elements not adequately explained But I m the no loose ends type.