One of the things I always find fascinating about reading short story collections by authors who’ve had a very long career is to see the growth and change of their style over time. Unexpected Magic by Diana Wynne Jones is no exception. The collection has stories published from throughout her career, from as early as the 1960s to the early 2000s.
Not in any particular order, the stories range from speculative tales of authors so lost in their work it becomes real to cats telling their owners about their lives to a sentient walking stick. With her usual whimsy, Jones spins short tales that are accessible for children and adults.
The most interesting thing I took away from this collection is the societal change in what we, as readers, demand from our short stories today, that perhaps was not expected in Jones early writing career. While today, we want short stories to focus on the inner psychology or objective correlative of some metaphorical point, the majority of Jones’ short stories are literally just that: stories that are short. They have characters and plot and a beginning, middle, end. They’re often fun or disturbing or cute or silly, but there’s nothing hidden beneath them. They are stories for story’s sake, and I had to catch myself from judging their simplicity.
While some of her later stories, like “Dragon Reserve, Home 8,” published in the late 90s, has a much more ‘post-modern’ short story feel than her earlier works like “The Fat Wizard” or “Green Stone,” it was almost refreshing to read a few stories that were just fun. And as much as there were some dated themes in the novella “Everard’s Ride,” there was also something incredibly nostalgic and beautiful about it that made me sad when I finished it.