Read Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones Online


A photograph called "Fire and Hemlock" that has been on the wall since her childhood. A story in a book of supernatural stories — had Polly read it before under a different title? Polly, packing to return to college, is distracted by picture and story, clues from the past stirring memories. But why should she suddenly have memories that do not seem to correspond to the facA photograph called "Fire and Hemlock" that has been on the wall since her childhood. A story in a book of supernatural stories — had Polly read it before under a different title? Polly, packing to return to college, is distracted by picture and story, clues from the past stirring memories. But why should she suddenly have memories that do not seem to correspond to the facts?Fire and Hemlock is an intricate, romantic fantasy filled with sorcery and intrigue, magic and mystery, all background to a most unusual and thoroughly satisfying love story....

Title : Fire and Hemlock
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9785550233658
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 404 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Fire and Hemlock Reviews

  • Jessica
    2019-02-02 13:39

    (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 more 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 anymore, 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!

  • Elena
    2019-02-17 15:33

    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 with 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 more 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 more 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 more. 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 more, 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 more 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 more 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.

  • Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
    2019-01-30 11:33

    I'm really torn about this one. It's a Tam Lin-flavored fantasy, but it just didn't particularly grab me: Thomas Lane was kind of bland and rather old for our heroine, Polly spent too much of the book as a pre-teen and young teen (ages 10-15, with a sudden leap to 19 at the very end), and the ending was abrupt and kind of confusing. I thought it was a solid 3-star read, no question.But then I read some Goodreads reviews from people who love this novel (though don't get me wrong; there are plenty who felt like me). And then I found Diana Wynn Jones' essay explaining all of the different ideas and mythologies woven into the plot -- seriously, the list includes T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets - and it's clear this novel is a lot more layered and complex than I initially gave it credit for. And I love layered and complex. So I'm going to reread the last part of this book and reevaluate my feelings and my initial rating. Stay tuned!ETA: Reread ending. Still dithering. Maybe 3.5 stars. I'm still having trouble feeling the love for this book. Will explain why in more detail, soonish.P.S. The vastly ugly painting of the main characters on the cover of my paperback isn't helping, at all. These are supposed to be attractive people! And Tom, who is supposed to be in his early 20's, looks like he's in his 60's. Because of that I had put Tom firmly in the father figure category, and ultimately that's not where he's supposed to be, but my imaginary view of Tom is proving quite difficult to shift.

  • Kat Kennedy
    2019-01-22 14:45

    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]This novel is just so... damn uncomfortable. It's hard to pinpoint why it reminds me of two androgenous ballet dancers having a suspended representational sex/dance off while a Japanese man humps his way to oblivion, some things are just beyond the realm of human expression.The easy answer would be to yell, "Pervert!" and run screaming into the distance, qwoping all the way. But it's not entirely that because Tom (a divorcee) and Polly (a ten year old girl who grows up as the story progresses) don't actually have a romance. At least, it's entirely one-sided for most the vast majority of the novel.Still, their friendship is uncomfortably coloured by the constant reminder that, yes, these two are going to be a couple. It's Wynne Jones, so naturally the writing is nothing to cry poor about. There is this rich, disjointed, mythical feel to the writing, even though it's set in a modernish time-setting. The characters were great but none of them were ever truly lovable. Even the ones who were meant to be lovable. In fact, the likable characters were some of the least fleshed-out characters in this book.Over all, it's a good book. I can't say that I'd ever read it again or remember it as fondly as I'll remember Howl's Moving Castle, but it's still a good book.

  • Deepthi
    2019-01-17 10:39

    I wish I could give this book infinite stars.

  • Amai
    2019-01-29 14:32

    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 more mature compared to her more kiddie-ish novels. Much longer, much more complex and detailed, and much more 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 naïve. 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 more than five stars.

  • Chris
    2019-02-10 11:34

    Fire and Hemlock is one of Diana Wynne Jones’ more 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 more 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 tân, 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 tân '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 more explicit can Jones be? The third movement, traditionally a rather sedate minuet, morphed into a faster more playful scherzo by the 19th century, but here it has morphed even more. 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.

  • Miriam
    2019-02-02 14:02

    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 more 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.

  • Deborah O'Carroll
    2019-02-03 13:36

    (Review originally posted on The Page Dreamer: is more 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 more… — 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 books:“…don’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 stories:“Only thin, weak thinkers despise fairy stories. Each one has a true, strange fact hidden in it, you know, which you can find if you look.”)It’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 them).(“Polly had discovered The Lord of the Rings and was reading it for the fourth time under her desk in Maths.” was 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 more 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 more 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.)

  • Melora
    2019-02-12 15:47

    This one had a promising start, but it rambled around too long and came to a muddled sort of end. Some of Jones's books (Howl's Moving Castle, for instance) I've loved, some (some of the less stellar Chrestomanci books) I've liked, and a couple have just been disappointing for me. This one falls into that last category. The characters are really excellent -- fully portrayed and distinctive -- and the concept is intriguing. But a couple aspects spoiled it for me. One was the ick factor of (view spoiler)[ a romance that starts when the heroine is ten, with a divorced adult man. Even though she is nineteen before they start smooching... yuck!(hide spoiler)]. Another is the amount of time spent on Polly's dysfunctional family. Yes, we see her maturing in the way she deals with them, and yes, her mother's behavior parallels that of the villainness, but still, for me it dragged. Finally, the dramatic "battle" at the end was just confusing. The pace had picked up nicely, she had my interest, and then... I just could not figure out what Happened. If Jones was going for "mystical and mysterious," she got it, but also "unclear and unsatisfying." So. This one was interesting, and it had some very memorable moments and characters, but it's certainly not one I'll be going back to.*In the interest of fairness, this is a children's book, and I am far, Far older than the target audience. A young teenage girl might well find much to love here. Our heroine learns to deal with family problems, forms lasting and not-so-lasting friendships, copes with school dramas, and spends a lot of time on Boys. Jones writes very well, and I can see how for the right reader this might be a great book. Still, I read it aloud, to my teenagers, and they also found the ending confusing, though one of them Loved the book ("It was Amazing!") and one of them liked it ("3.5 stars").

  • Margaret
    2019-01-20 08:38

    As nineteen-year-old Polly is packing to go away to college, she looks at a picture on her wall called "Fire and Hemlock", a mysterious image of flame and smoke; suddenly, new memories begin to enter her mind -- memories that reveal a childhood full of fantasies, yet full of dangers, a childhood in which she met a man named Thomas Lynn. In order to figure out what's happened to her, Polly must delve deeper and deeper into her new memories and discover where they came from and what they mean.Fire and Hemlock is based on the ballad of Tam Lin, mixed with elements of Thomas the Rhymer and the workings of Jones's wonderfully inventive mind. It's gorgeously written, full of sharp images: listening to Tom and his string quartet practice, Polly thinks that "[i:]f you were able to hear lime juice, it would sound like violins." Polly and Tom are wonderful characters, and Jones delineates their relationship with skill, as it moves from an adult and child friendship into something else.The fantastical elements of the book are subtle at first and grow over the course of the book into a mystical ending, which I must admit is the one thing I'm not entirely happy with; it's a little too confusing (or perhaps too subtle) for me. Overall, though, this is simply a gorgeous, haunting book, one of the best from one of the best fantasy authors out there.

  • Nikki
    2019-01-23 08:43

    It's strange. I was sure at first that I'd read this when I was younger, and bits still chimed with me, but a lot of it felt like new discoveries. Strange parallels with the main character, here! I can't decide whether it counts as a new read or a reread. Hmm. Anyway! I just read a handful of reviews and they all mentioned the idea that when Diana Wynne Jones writes for children, magic doesn't need so much explaining as it does for adults. I think that probably is true, to some extent, but there are plenty of adults who can get on the ride too, and I did. Okay, I made my frowny face of confusion sometimes, but...The characters are fun. I especially like Granny, I think, with the biscuity smell and the cat called Mintchoc and her matter-of-fact ways. And her sailing out to court battles, and winning them. I wanted to kick the rest of Polly's family. I do kind of wonder why there was rather a lot of emphasis on Polly's family woes, although I guess it does make it that much more realistic. Polly's a real fleshed-out sort of character, with the same kinds of worries as other kids -- nobody coming to her play, wondering whether a certain someone will show up to her sports day, wondering when she'll get a decent figure, worrying about her parents' divorce...I definitely identified with the love of reading stuff. In case anyone wondered.The plot is fun, too. It's based on old legends of Tam Lin/Thomas the Rhymer, etc. Makes me curious to go and pick up the other book I've got on my list about Thomas the Rhymer -- by Ellen Kushner. Hmm, maybe. Anyway, it's a legend I've always been somewhat interested in. Particularly since I heard Karine Polwart's take on it, in the form of a song, "Tongue That Cannot Lie". (Here on Spotify, lyrics here.) It's a modern take on it, really, an extension of the old legend into the present.The main trouble with it is how much it picked up pace in the last quarter or so of the book. It lost me a couple of times, there. But I liked it overall, big grown up adult (nearly twenty omg omg omg omg omg) or not.

  • Astrid
    2019-02-05 16:42

    Explores in a very meta way the mythical trope of hero figures through the interactions of a young girl Polly and a man called Thomas Lynn whom she befriends at a funeral being held at the mysterious neighbouring manor house one Halloween. References to Tam Lin, Thomas the Rhymer and T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets abound and a familiarity with these should enlighten an understanding of the plot, particularly the ending which is famed for its confusing and oblique denouement, but is not essential to enjoying the mysterious magic surrounding Tom and Polly's adventures together. For me, this book epitomises the lone overarching problem I have with Wynne Jones' writing and that is the fast pacing of her conclusions; a fault made obvious by the furious application of obscure (for my illiterate brain) and dense allusion in the final chapters of Fire and Hemlock. The speed with which she ties up loose story lines after the climax and her realignment of her characters' lives after these events often occur in a way that leaves me unsatisfied with what feels like a slightly incomplete novel. Having said that, Fire and Hemlock for me has enough to outweigh this flaw in the brilliance of Jones' writing - the complexity of Polly's maturation occurring concurrently with an equally complex quest, the affection she makes you feel for these characters through Jones' wit and acutely drawn familiarity, and that flair she has for writing magical situations within completely mundane settings which radiate clearly in your imagination with surreal wonder and believability. These are common effects of Jones' writing that culminated in a best ever showing here in this book.

  • Sam Grace
    2019-01-25 16:39

    I started reading this last night when I needed something to help me fall asleep. At 4:30 a.m., I finished it. Today, my brain is dead because I stayed up all last night reading this amazing, awesome book and so now I have no substantive review because I am braindead. But it was worth it! So worth it! Really, an excellent book. Also, this may be my very favorite explicit engagement with a myth in ya. Basically, what I'm saying is, if you follow me because you think you share some taste in genre fiction, and you haven't read this book already, do yourself a favor and get your hands on it. Also? The aging in this book is unlike anything I have ever read before and his brilliant.

  • Jenna
    2019-01-17 14:42

    "Tam Lin" is an ancient Scottish legend, told in the form of song and preserved by 19th-century anthologist Francis James Child as one of his "Child Ballads." It is one of the best-known and best-loved of all the Ballads. Over the years, numerous respected folksingers have recorded their own versions of it, including Anne Briggs, Sandy Denny, and, most recently, Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer (the last is my favorite). "Tam Lin" also holds a special place in the hearts of fantasy fiction fans: Diana Wynne Jones, Patricia McKillip, and Alan Garner are just a few of the esteemed genre writers who have penned novels based on the legend.When asked why they are so fascinated by the legend of "Tam Lin," most people claim it is the fact that the legend, in a rather proto-feminist way, revolves around the deeds of a female hero: a young woman named Janet who goes to battle against the Queen of Fairyland to save the soul of a man named Tam Lin whom the Queen has kidnapped and enthralled. But I think there is more to people's collective fascination with "Tam Lin" than they are owning up to. You see, the legend has a darker side to it; it contains elements that one might argue are rather difficult to reconcile with feminist ideology. In most versions of the song, Janet first meets Tam Lin when, for no good reason, she decides to go flower-picking in a forest that she has been warned to stay away from, under threat of robbery or rape. Janet defies this warning and goes to the forest anyway: not only does she go there, but, upon hearing the warning, she runs there "as fast as she can go" (!). When Tam Lin finds her there, he takes her virginity. The consensual nature of the act is dubious; one cannot help hearing resonances with the Greek myth in which Hades ravishes Persephone. What is clear about Tam Lin's and Janet's sexual encounter is that it takes place with a bizarre suddenness, before Janet even has a chance to ascertain whether Tam Lin is a human being or some kind of forest sprite. Tam Lin vanishes immediately afterward, only to reappear months later when Janet's pregnancy is beginning to show and she has returned to the forest to harvest abortifacient herbs. Only then does he tell her his sob story about being kidnapped by the Queen of Fairyland and enlist her help in securing his freedom.Most novelists who retell the "Tam Lin" legend conveniently leave these early scenes out (although they may hint at them in subtle, non-overt ways; in Fire and Hemlock, a novel that departs from the original legend in manifold ways, beginning by recasting Janet as a solitary 10-year-old girl, there is an overarching sense of menace, with pedophilic/hebophilic appetites being ascribed to various minor characters -- and loss of innocence, broadly speaking, is a major theme).Now, I understand that these novelists are well within their rights to omit whatever story elements they choose: different parts of the legend speak more loudly to different people. When I first discovered the legend of "Tam Lin" as a much younger woman than I am now, I was in the process of ending an asymmetric romantic entanglement that I had found myself in, and what appealed to me most about the legend was the fact that it heroized a woman for being (literally) a clingy girlfriend. It made me feel vindicated. Diana Wynne Jones, being more lofty-minded than myself, prefers to focus on other aspects of the legend, such as its representation of the "heroic ideal." Well, fortunately, there is room in the legend for us all.Wynne Jones is formidably well-read: the source material on which Fire and Hemlock is based not only includes the Child Ballads "Tam Lin" and "Thomas the Rhymer," but also includes Homer's Odyssey, T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Frazer's The Golden Bough, and dozens of other literary texts, encompassing the lofty, fat, and obscure. These literary forefathers figure into Fire and Hemlock in profound but pleasingly unobtrusive ways, leaving you with what seems on the surface to be nothing more than an unputdownable yarn. I read the whole book in a single sitting. The only part I really had a quibble with was the murky ending: after so much build-up, a novelist owes it to her readers to at least let them know what happened!!

  • Heather
    2019-01-18 16:53

    19-year-old Polly is supposed to be packing, getting ready for another year of college, but she's been reading instead. As she reads, she pauses and realizes a funny thing: though the cover on the book, which is similar to a picture that hangs above her bed, is familiar, she's sure the book used to be called something different, and she's sure that it used to contain different stories. She flips through it and can't find half the stories she remembers having read in it, which makes her panic a bit: she wonders if she's dreamed those other stories, or if, somehow, she has two sets of memories, like one of the characters in the book does. But this makes no sense: "Why," she wonders, "should she suddenly have memories that did not seem to correspond with the facts?" (p 4). So she leaves the suitcase empty and tries to remember, thinking back to the pictures that hangs above her bed and how she came to have it. It started when Polly was ten, with a strange and dream-like adventure: Halloween, and too little sleep, and running through back gardens with a friend. Then, somehow, a funeral, and a game of make-believe with a friendly stranger, a man named Thomas Lynn. Without saying much more about the plot, there is so very much to like in this book, which has roots in the stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. There's a great story-in-a-letter, early in the book, and indeed a whole often-epistolary friendship, and lots about storytelling, imagination, and heroism and choice. I like how, when Mr. Lynn gives Polly a book of fairy tales, she's unimpressed, though he promises that each story "has a true, strange fact hidden in it, you know, which you can find if you look" (p 177). And there is lots of really pleasing writing, whether ordinarily/satisfyingly descriptive or thought-provoking/interesting thematically. I feel like I cannot properly express how good this book is: the plot is exciting and the end is wonderfully satisfying (like: can't stop reading for the last 60ish pages) and the whole thing is just so well put together and well-described; all of it feels like a story very well told and well integrated: the ordinary school and home bits, Polly and her awful parents and her excellent grandmother and her various friends, and then also strange magical bits and sinister bits and adventure-y bits. And without saying too much about the end, how much do I love books that remind you that there isn't just either/or, that there are other ways and other places, if you're only looking for them? I love them lots, yes.

  • Aaron Jansen
    2019-01-26 11:49

    I’m impressed that Diana Wynne Jones was able to market this as a young adult novel. Evidently she was enoying a great deal of artistic freedom at this stage of her career. The plot of Fire and Hemlock is considerably more layered and complex than that of your average literary novel, and Jones rarely spells anything out for you. The result is a book that risks incomprehensibility at times and pretty much requires multiple readings to fully grasp. I confess I was often bewildered throughout the final chapters.But, you know, I didn’t really mind all that much. Jones is so confident a storyteller that you are always sure she knows what’s going on. And sure enough, if you persevere to the end, and you are lucky enough to be reading the version with the essay by Jones printed at the back, you learn that she really did construct the story in an extremely deliberate way, and there’s a reason it feels like everything is falling into place as you near the climax, even if you have no idea what those things are or what places they are falling into. (Into Nowhere, most likely.) Often the book seems to be operating on the same kind of emotional logic as a piece of music, but there is a rigorous fairy tale logic underpinning the story as well, and just some plain-old-logic. That’s the only reason I’d hesitate to classify Fire and Hemlock as magical realism, although it has more in common with that genre than it does with Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, etc.Diana Wynne Jones and I really clicked with this book. Reading her essay at the end convinced me that we are on the same wavelength when it comes to fantasy literature. She understands how the imagination intersects with reality and how heroic narratives continue to be relevent to our daily lives. She knows myths are powerful and important. But, crucially, she is smart and skeptical and not a romantic. She can tell when myths are limiting, or plain false, and she knows what heroism in the real world entails. I plan to revisit Fire and Hemlock once every decade or so just for the pleasure of spending some time in her head. And because I still can’t figure out what was up with that horse at the end.

  • Res
    2019-02-07 13:44

    The contemporary Tam Lin retelling where ten-year-old Polly accidentally gatecrashes a funeral and gets involved in Tom's attempts to free himself from a faerie queen figure.I liked both Tom and Polly, and I enjoyed the book, but I had a lot of problems with it.My chief problem was: I have a ten-year-old daughter, and my suspension of disbelief, which handled all the magic stuff without difficulty, totally choked on the idea that anyone (even people as irresponsible and immature as Polly's parents) would hand a girl that age off to a strange man who just happened to strike up a conversation with her at a funeral. Or even that the girl herself wouldn't smell a rat.I can, in fact, imagine a much more sinister story happening behind this one, in which there's an entirely different reason why Polly's lost her memory!The climax is problematic because giant battles with magic are just hard to dramatize. As the action gets more magical, it tends to get either less active or less comprehensible. (I had the same problem with Magic or Madness.And the past and present were not woven together well. I couldn't see any reason for Polly to regain her memory when she did, and not the day before or the month after.

  • Archee
    2019-02-09 13:36

    This book means so much to me. Firstly, it reminds me of a time when I used to read in the dark - I won this as a speech night prize and proceeded to demolish it in the next one and a half hours until we were safely home. It reminds me of the culmination of my obsession with the British children's fantasy greats - both Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper studied under CS Lewis in England, and have this distinct way of story-telling that's half myth, half-reality, unbelievably ominous yet addictive, and completely "unputdownable". I loved it so much, for what I thought it meant when I was 13, for the things I thought it meant. The words were sheer trickery, like the Faery Queen, like the postcards... My yearly ritual of re-reading always revealed a new side of this book to me - it's as if Fire and Hemlock is some sort of Labyrinth, and the more you age, the deeper you go - the more you discover about the characters, and, dare I say it - yourself.

  • C.
    2019-01-25 09:38

    Diana Wynne Jones is my absolute favourite children's author, and this is my absolute favourite of her books. However, the first time I read this, probably at around age nine or ten, I was monumentally confused by everything about the plot, though everything else about the book was good enough to make up for it. At the time I thought I'd re-read it again when I was older and I'd understand it better because I would be smarter, but I kept re-reading it periodically and I still didn't get it. After a while I got sick of all this re-reading and still not understanding so I made a conscious decision for this book to not be my favourite any more and I didn't read it for a few years.But then when I re-read it just recently, things were much clearer! Not entirely clear, but I have hope for the future. I still love this book. I am pathologically unable to not love this book.

  • Karyn Silverman
    2019-02-15 13:36

    I know these five dates aren't all the times I've read this. But I definitely read it every year for the first few years after I discovered it, and I definitely read it in college (when I discovered the bookstore would order any book in print for me, so I ordered pretty much all the DWJ books I could find in their paper volumes of Books in Print. No wonder I was chronically broke) and again post grad school, at minimum. I love this book. It's engraved in my head and heart. It launched a love affair with Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, and taught me everything I need to know about romance (have you ever looked at a naked back? Because that lesson hit home, hard!). I don't actually have enough words for this book and the ways I love it and the ways it is brilliant, but I am so glad it exists.

  • Wealhtheow
    2019-01-30 15:46

    The best fantasy I've read in some time. I was absolutely captivated. The characters she's created, the world, the plot--it all weaves together in a truly wonderful piece of fiction. The novel tells the story of Polly, who slowly pieces together the clues of her missing memory. Her friendship with the strange Mr. Lynn feels absolutely true, from their "let's pretend" games to his comments on her writing. PERFECTION.

  • Althea Ann
    2019-01-31 14:00

    At the age of seven, Polly accidentally wanders into a funeral and meets Thomas Lynn, a professional cellist who become intertwined in her life and emotions, both as the father figure that Polly, the child of a broken home, needs - and later - it seems - as the recipient of a teenage crush.But, as a college student, Polly suddenly comes to the realization that she hasn't thought of Thomas in ages, although he was terribly important to her. And no one she talks to seems to remember him at all. Other things in her memory seem to be evidence of other discrepancies... is she going crazy? Or is something more sinister at work?Remembering, she uncovers a bizarre network of plots and influence that all seems to center on "That House" where she saw the funeral, and the wealthy and strange family that inhabits it.This is an ambitious and complicated book, and by far the darkest I've read by Jones, as she brings the Tam Lin legend into 1980's Britain. It's a YA book, but deals with difficult themes such as neglectful parents and relationships with both older men and pushy peers in a tasteful but emotionally unflinching way.Although it's written in a very subtle way (nothing at all obviously supernatural or occult happens for nearly half the book), it's a tense, compelling read - hard to put down.However, the end, where Polly finally uncovers the truth, and discovers what she must do, is very confusing - and, from reading other reviews, I'm not the only one to find it so.We are told that Polly has figured out her course of action from reading about Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer, but we aren't told exactly *what* she read, so her strange, logically-backward approach is rather mysterious. The reader just kinda has to say, "Okay, I guess that made sense for some reason.... not sure why!

  • Kerry
    2019-01-27 12:45

    I loved rereading this. It was nice to read it on Kindle and be able to mark passages as I go (that helps me absorb a text I find) and loved the Garth Nix intro and especially the transcript of a DWJ speech about heroic journeys and writing F&H.I remember this as being the catalyst that set me off to find out more about Thomas the Rhymer and Tam Lin, so it was very interesting to read it nearly 20 years later and from the other side, with the ballads well established in my head. It let me pick out meaning that I had missed before and made the read more enjoyable - but I still missed pretty much all the things DWJ mentioned in the speech at the end, so I guess there's a lot more for me to unpick in future reads.It remains a great story as well as a brilliant interweaving of myth into a modern story.I also found it had dated less than the earlier books. It still had horrible parents, but at least nobody got hit around this time.The only thing that caught me out was when Polly was at the practice with the quartet, and they needed to find out when her next train home would be. Everyone looked at Ann, who leaned down to look in her bag. For a moment, I really thought she was going to pull out a smart phone and look it up that way. Of course, what she did pull out was a paper timetable.A huge thumbs up. You have to pay attention as you read, but boy is it worth it.I added all my Kindle notes to my Wordpress blog, which you can find here if you wish. The post is password protected and the password is "here be spoilers" (without the quote marks).

  • Laurence
    2019-01-25 12:55

    Toegegeven, ik was al iets ouder dan het doelpubliek toen ik dit boek voor het eerst las, maar ik vond het fantastisch. Zodanig fantastisch dat ik het terugbracht naar de bibliotheek, het vervolgens kocht en het dan nog eens twee keer las.En blijkbaar moet de indruk toch wel gebleven zijn, want nu, een dikke tien jaar later, was de drang om het nog eens te lezen ontzettend groot. En jupjup, ik vind het nog altijd even fantastisch. Het is een jeugdfantasieboek, maar het blinkt uit in originaliteit. Zelden heb ik een jeugdboek gelezen zo wars van alle cliché's. De sfeer is onrustwekkend, de relatie tussen de hoofdpersonages is bizar en het einde is dat ook. Maar tegelijkertijd zit er ook veel humor in het verhaal, en wordt Polly verbazingwekkend goed geschetst als het opgroeiende kind. Diana Wynne Jones was werkelijk een getalenteerde schrijfster, één die haar doelpubliek duidelijk niet onderschatte. Want voor een jeugdboek is dit echt wel een complex en gelaagd boek.Ik plan mijn volgende leesbeurt over tien jaar alvast maar in mijn agenda. Heerlijk zulke nostalgie.

  • Joanna Meyer
    2019-01-22 12:59

    I'm not sure how many times I've read this now—somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five, I think. It's so rich and mesmerizing every time, and I always notice something new. This time through I read the version that includes Garth Nix's introduction and DWJ's essay "The Heroic Ideal"—it was fascinating to read about her inspirations and how she structured the novel, and to hear her take on the ending, which has always mystified me a bit, though I understand it more with each successive read. Still madly in love with this multilayered, exquisite, profound, beautiful novel. 💚

  • Goddess Of Blah
    2019-01-23 16:35

    Magic. Coming-of-Age. Fantasy. Romance. Adventure. Loosely based on the legend of Tam Lin... NOWEHERE... HERE NOW... WHERE NOW.... Not many books leave an impression on you after you've read it. Those that do (and in a positive nice way) are companions for life. I've read this book several times and I still enjoy it. First published in 1984 - it's charming Old School wholesomeness, well written and quintessentially English.==============The CharactersPolly Whittacker: 19 year old student reading English at Oxford University - St Margaret's College (fictional college- probably based on Lady Margaret Hall). But the actual story starts from when she's 10 years old.Thomas Lynn: a cellist (view spoiler)[trapped in Laurel's schemes (hide spoiler)], Tom is a latter-day Tam Lin but with a few twists. He puts up an affable and somewhat foppish exterior (a quiet bohemian), however, he's actually determined and in some respects calculating. Granny: Polly's Grandmother: a caring no-nonsense character who is Polly's guardian for most of the story. She's the type of granny that reminds you of freshly baked scones, homemade crunchy biscuits and crumpets. She lives in a small cottage/house with her cat Mintchoc. It's a quaint picture but provides an excellent backdrop to the story. (view spoiler)[She too lost her husband to Laurel. (hide spoiler)]Dumas Quartet: is the musical ensemble Tom belongs to after he leaves the British Philharmonic Orchestra (view spoiler)[(much to the displeasure of his "handlers" aka Leroy-Perry's) (hide spoiler)]. And yes it has The Three Musketeers connotations. Laurel Leroy-Perry: the antagonist is regal, elegant, beautiful, wealthy and a loosely based rendition of the "Queen of the Faeries" from Tam Lin's Ballard.(view spoiler)[She requires a male sacrifice to live eternally. (hide spoiler)]Sebastian Leroy: (view spoiler)[a somewhat anti-hero. I felt some sympathy to his plight despite his personality. (hide spoiler)] He's the image of the privileged, sneering Public School boy - Fiona describe shim as Marmaduke". It's on an autumn day, on Halloween that Polly first meets Sebastian at Hudson House.Nina: at the beginning a fat, frizzy haired bespectacled girl but latter a curvy siren - she was Polly's friend at the beginning of the story. It's on Halloween, Polly and Nina dress up as High Priestess and run around the local neighborhood, when she loses Nina and stumbles upon a funeral and meets Tom.Fiona Perks: Polly's friend whom Laurel underestimated.Ivy: Polly's mother, a vulnerable, woe-is-me type who is suspicious of women luring her spouses/partners away from her. (view spoiler)[When Ivy acquires a new partner she even cast suspicion on Polly. Polly suspects "Laurel got to her" (hide spoiler)]Mintchoc: granny's cat There are many more characters - all well executed but to mention them would be (almost) a spoiler. =============== Synopsis:One 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 changed.But 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...A fantasy within a fantasy. The legendary ballad of Tam Lin is woven into the story resulting in magic, adventure and action combined with teenage angst, family drama and a subtle love story. It's a magical adventure which will enchant you. The magic is manifested skillfully throughout the pages entwine magic with practical every day life. A perfect fantasy fiction.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

  • Nina
    2019-02-06 14:35

    The concept of the book was good, but the author failed to keep it exciting. I found the relationship between Polly and Tom intriguing, but most of story was dull. There were extra characters that seemed pointless and did more to confuse the story than add to it. I was more than halfway through before I even felt the story going anywhere. There's so much more the author could have done with Polly's feelings and adventures with her mysterious friend, and more she could have done with Polly's family in regards to him. Towards the end the author threw things in that didn't even make sense, and the end was confusing. I hate to say it but the only good thing I found about the book was the concept. I gave it two stars which might be generous. I liked polly and Tom.

  • Rachel
    2019-01-29 15:53

    A surreal read, despite taking place in the real world with only a few elements of the fantastic, there is a dream-like quality to this book. It is oddly unsatisfying, but I still have to give it four stars because Wynne Jones knows how to make you keep turning those pages. The story opens when ten-year-old Polly stumbles into a funeral at a grand and mysterious Hunden House while playing with her friend Nina in their neighborhood. She is mistaken for a mourner and stuck sitting through the reading of the will, when a man beckons her outside. She exits with Thomas Lynn, who reveals that he is paying his condolences to his ex-wife Laurel's deceased mother. Polly amuses him by spinning tale of their alter egos, Tan Coul and Hero. He invites her into the house to choose the five pieces of art his ex-mother-in-law bequeathed him. He is supposed to choose from a particular stack of less valuable paintings, but while he is distracted Polly mixes them up so he ends up with the most valuable ones. He lets Polly keep a photograph that strikes her fancy - the Fire and Hemlock of the title, which features four shadowy figures and a bonfire. The two become unlikely friends, and write to each other regularly. Lynn is a cellist who tours and sends her books from the places he visits. Polly sends him stories she writes about Tan Coul and Hero. Although she only sees him a few times a year, he's an important figure in her life, especially when her parents divorce and tragically, neither her mother or father wants her. She ends up living with her grandmother. But whenever she interacts with Lynn, she's warned off by Mr. Leroy, who is married to Lynn's ex. For some mysterious reason, Leroy doesn't want Polly to associate with Lynn, and even has his young son Seb spy on her. During her sporadic visit with Lynn, a few supernatural things happen. A town and store described in Polly's stories turns out to be real, and it's even owned by a man who looks just like Lynn. A pile of leaves turns into a windblown monster chasing Polly and Lynn, and in their desperation to escape, they run over one of Lynn's musical associates. And while enjoying a day at the carnival, suits of armour in a haunted house ride come to life and attack Polly, and Lynn is seriously injured defending her. These are interpreted as the actions of Mr. Leroy trying to keep them apart. Polly is not entirely blameless as she did break into the Hunden House where Leroy and Lynn's ex-wife live and steal an old photograph from the wall. In addition to intentionally mixing up the valuable paintings so that Lynne got the Picassos and Manets. Still, her determination not to be intimidated by Leroy or his son Seb is pretty impressive. After about six years of friendship, it becomes clear that Polly has a crush on Mr. Lynn, and one of the stories she sends to him reveals that. He seems appalled and writes back that her story is sentimental drivel. For some unexplained reason, Polly forgets Mr. Lynn. Her life seems to take a different track altogether, for example, she is not friends with Nina, she has only known Seb for a few years, and the Fire and Hemlock picture has no meaning for her. At the age of 19, she becomes desperate to remember Lynn, but no one she knows can recall him, not even people who have met him. She finally succeeds in getting her college roommate to recall Lynn and then she tracks him down, but he claims not to remember her. Undeterred, she follows him and eventually ends up on a mysterious train bound for Laurel and Mr. Leroy's house, where the novel finally reaches its bizarre conclusion.I kept hoping that denouement would resolve some of the mysteries of the book and explain the significance of certain objects, but it never did. The Fire and Hemlock photo seems to contain Lynn's spirit, or something along those lines, but it's never explained, nor the significance of the opal necklace, the other photograph Polly stole, the fountain, the mysterious train, or how Lynn was using Polly to preserve himself, or anything, really. Polly's grandmother does finally admit that a man's funeral occurs at Hunden House every nine years on Halloween, and every 81 years, it's a woman who is buried. Eventually it is revealed that Laurel and Mr. Leroy are fairies, of a sort. Bad ones who kill a man every 9 years to preserve their immortality. And Mr. Lynn was supposed to be next but somehow, Polly saves him.The reason I raced through this book was because I kept thinking it will all fall into place and everything would be explained. It wasn't. Polly does end up in a romantic relationship with Lynn, despite her anger at him using him in some undefined way. That seemed a little odd to me given that she met him when she was just 10 and he was maybe 25, or at least, old enough to have been married, divorced, and playing in an orchestra. So there's a pretty big difference in age, which would not have been quite so extreme had they met when he was 30 and she was 19, but he seemed to be a father figure to her throughout her childhood, so it just seemed a bit odd that they were suddenly lovers.I will probably have to re-read this because I keep thinking I missed some vital clues and that the ending reveals all the mysteries, but I have a feeling it'll be just as perplexing on the next go. But I can't say I didn't enjoy it and DWJ rarely disappoints.

  • Paradoxical
    2019-02-12 08:46

    I'm not sure what I was expecting from Fire and Hemlock, as I went into reading it with half formed notions and a sort of attitude of "Well, I guess I'll find out when I actually read it." But this is a curious little book that is a little understated, a little bold, a little charming, and a little uncomfortable all wrapped together. Polly is a great character. When the book opens she's nineteen, but for the majority of the book, she's ten (and then slowly grows up). Terribly precocious, slightly awkward, head full of imagination, she sort of runs around to her own rhythm. She's a good, solid main character. She's a bold little thing, but at the same time, you know she's a little girl and she shows it all the while, at once childish and more aware than one thinks. She grows up believably. I rather liked her.Then there's Tom Lynn--the divorced musician who somehow strikes up a friendship with Polly--and it is interesting how they got along with each other, how they fell into the same imaginary world and keep up a friendship (mostly through letters) though they are so different in age. It's a trifle strange at the same time, but then again, there's an undercurrent of strangeness in the book that gets more apparent as you read further into it. He's a bit formless to me, if only because for a great deal of the book he's this older character who is kind and plays along with Polly, and you don't really get to see inside him, except for these small flashes that make you go "There you are."The book mainly deals with Polly growing up, the situation with her family, and this curious friendship she has with Tom--a friendship threatened by another family who are not quite normal, and who make frightening threats that, even more frighteningly, come true in some way. Polly, the nineteen Polly, is retelling her past because she has forgotten it--or rather, forgotten large chunks of it--and she's suddenly reminded and wondering how on earth she has forgotten in the first place. And the story that she tells, which is the great majority of the book, is the story that she is remembering as she thinks about it.Because of this the story is a bit slow. You're not quite sure what is happening, why everything is happening, and between all of the bits of mystery is Polly growing up and dealing with her family and making her best way through life. In contrast to this, the ending is very fast and rather abrupt. You (somewhat) understand what is happening. You (somewhat) get what needs to happen. Then the ending comes along and smacks you in the face and before you can catch the number of that car that just ran you over you realize it has already sped away. Yeah.Still. I confess a weakness to Tam Lin inspired stories, and this was a good one. On the other hand, I wish the ending was less... as it were. 3-4 stars, rounding down to 3. The author did a good job, the writing is very well done (as per Diana Wynne Jones), but there's something about this book that just didn't make it great.