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Fire and Hemlock (1985)

by Diana Wynne Jones

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,139597,507 (4.08)167
At nineteen, Polly has two sets of sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting memories, the real-life ones of school days and her parents' divorce, and the heroic adventure ones that began the day she accidentally gate-crashed a funeral and met the cellist Thomas Lynn.
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» See also 167 mentions

English (58)  Finnish (1)  All languages (59)
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
I'm normally a fan of Diana Wynne Jones' work but I found this one rather a disappointment. It started off quite intriguingly, with the 19 year old Polly packing for college and suddenly realising that she has lost several years of her memory - or rather, has dual memories where one life has bumped along borringly and the other revolves around her meeting at age 10 with an intriguing man, Tom Lynn, at a funeral at the grand house just up the road. The two hit it off and began a relationship based upon story telling in which they are a trainee hero and his assistant - and her heroic name is actually Hero, after the Greek mythical character but not the passive character in that myth.

The book launches into Polly's recollections of the events and people she has forgotten since age 10 or misremembered. The people themselves have rewritten their own memories to expunge the parts where she interacted with them - such as Nina, whom she formerly remembered as a best friend at junior school but having grown apart from her, and then remembers that in fact they had an on-again, off-again friendship through senior school also. She is supposed to have met her fiance Seb a few years ago at a party but now recalls that they first met at the funeral when she was 10, and that he - and in particular, his father - had carried out a systematic surveillance on her throughout the period, sometimes suggesting a paranormal agency since they always managed to be there whenever she and Tom Lynn met.

The supernatural element of the story is downplayed mostly, until the end, but is hinted at by the quotations at the start of each chapter from Tam Lin (a version of Tom's name) or Thomas the Rhymer, both poems which tell of the abduction of a young man by the Queen of the Faeries, so it is quite clear that Tom's supposed ex-wife Laurel is probably that. I've found since finishing the book that the author wrote an essay explaining the other more subtle parallels to many mythological stories and characters and also to T S Elliot's 'Four Quartets'. Although I read a lot of Greek mythology as a child and even 'did' The Odyssey for A-Level, I'm afraid quite a few of those parallels passed me by, and I do think that if reading an essay is required to understand the subtext maybe that indicates a deficiency in the book. In any case, I found it rather long and even tedious in places. Some of the parts dealing with Polly's dysfunctional parents were interesting, but elements such as the hardware shop which Tom and Polly seemed to have created by inventing it in their stories just brought more briefly sketched characters into play who were not strictly necessary and just added to a large cast. Although Tom's involvement with three other heroes incorporated into his and Polly's stories is logical enough given that they are all musicians in the British Philarmonic Orchestra who decide to branch out with Tom as a quartet, in effect it adds another three sketchily drawn characters and the antipathy Tom's enemies show to this endeavour doesn't really make sense - if they have him more or less over a barrel, then why should they worry if he decides to become even more of a struggling musician than he is currently?

I liked Polly's granny, who turns out to have her own insight on what has been going on in the big house, and the inclusion of various children's classics and 'The Golden Bough' among the reading material that Lynn sent Polly during the lost time. But the relationship between the two main characters - although strictly platonic - has a slightly discordant note for a modern reader. Initially he seems much much older and even late on, with the attempt to clarify that it was Polly's child viewpoint that made him so, I couldn't quite stretch my disbelief to cover that. It did smack of the various stories throughout history of men who had girls raised for them to become their ideal bride.
Especially as it seems he has been 'using' her to try to get away from Laurel and co. in some not quite clarified manner. And the whole ending is rushed and confused so, although I could just about work out what had happened, the very nature of how it is done meant that it comes off as a damp squib.

So not a keeper for me. Given the usual accomplished nature of the writing itself I give this an overall 2 star - the story itself would have rated only 1 star regretfully. ( )
  kitsune_reader | Nov 23, 2023 |
Before reading this book, read one of the ballads of Tam Lin. Or at least one of the prose versions of the story. Then read this - and do read it. It's very good.

Diana Wynne Jones, like Neil Gaiman, writes beautiful stories. Charming, engaging, deep, complex stories which are also perfectly simple and elegant. This is no exception. Polly reminds me of myself at fourteen, and at nineteen; she also reminds me of Polly in The Magician's Nephew (by C S Lewis), and of fairy tale heroines who win the day by being kind and brave and simply good. The magic is so unremarkable that it almost doesn't seem like magic, until it does. Thomas Lynn is as ambiguously good and not-so-good, brave and cowardly, victim and protagonist as in the original stories of Tam Lin, and the villains are perfectly wicked vampirish fairies. Or perhaps just magical, wealthy, powerful and amoral people. Or maybe something else entirely.

I read this in a day because I couldn't bring myself to stop reading once I started. Thoroughly enjoyed, would read again. ( )
  copperyon | Dec 9, 2022 |
My first thought when I finished this book was that it was a brilliant celebration of stories for writers and readers alike. My second thought was that the ending was a bit rushed and I was left with some questions about certain characters by the end.
I am very glad my ebook includes the text "The Heroic Ideal" because I would never get all of the references and all the stories the author pulled from.
This book is at its core a story about heroes and love in the way that goes as far back as myths and fairy tales and it has a similar resolution.
All I can say is that my mind was blown away and I definitely will reread this one in the future. It is one of those books that you pick up on a lot more details the more you read it and I just know it is worth the journey. ( )
  elderlingfae | Aug 11, 2022 |
I still like this book a lot but reading it as an adult makes me want to give Tom a talking to about boundaries and appropriate interactions with minors. ( )
  mutantpudding | Jul 29, 2022 |
I can't believe I didn't read this in like fifth grade and love it to pieces. ( )
  leahsusan | Mar 26, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Diana Wynne Jonesprimary authorall editionscalculated
Beekman, DougCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nix, GarthIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viitanen, Anna-MaijaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wyatt, DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Zudeck, DarrylCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Polly sighed and laid her book face down on the bed.
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At nineteen, Polly has two sets of sometimes overlapping, sometimes conflicting memories, the real-life ones of school days and her parents' divorce, and the heroic adventure ones that began the day she accidentally gate-crashed a funeral and met the cellist Thomas Lynn.

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