Polly’s read­ing list

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(Fire and Hemlock print avail­able here)

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones, based on the folk tale Tam Lin and Eliot’s Four Quar­tets, is one of my all-time favour­ite books. The gifts of clas­sic books that the prot­ag­on­ist Polly receives from Tom, the other main char­ac­ter, are an import­ant part of the plot, but not listed anywhere in the novel. I made this read­ing list of the books for the zine of essays about Diana Wynne Jones that I made. You can find it here. You can also read my inter­view with Diana here, and my account of attend­ing her memori­al service here.

The books Tom sends Polly are an import­ant part of Fire and Hemlock. Tom tries to hint at his situ­ation through the choice of books (in partic­u­lar East of the Sun, West of the Moon; The Golden Bough and The Oxford Book of Ballads) but also inspire Polly’s imagin­a­tion, and teach her about magic, the diffi­culty in know­ing what you want and being care­ful what you ask for, hero­ism and fight­ing injustice. The phys­ic­al evid­ence through the gift of books that someone cares about Polly, and the love of read­ing they incub­ate in her keep Polly going through her diffi­cult child­hood, and help to give her the strength of char­ac­ter she needs when she’s older to save Tom (your mileage may vary as to wheth­er cynic­ally created by Tom as a calcu­lated life­line or not). Even Polly’s tutori­al topic, Keats, contin­ues the themes of the book, and Ode to a Night­in­gale sums up her feel­ings at that point:

“My heart aches, and a drowsy numb­ness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,  
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains”

(The Belle Dame Sans Merci would also be pretty appro­pri­ate here).

Fire and Hemlock is a book of patterns. Themes and events cross over from begin­ning to end, and patterns shown in the stor­ies of the books Polly reads and the poems the book is based on are inver­ted and turned round in the main narrat­ive of the story,

I’ve read all of these that are possible, except Henrietta’s House. The books in brack­ets are entirely fiction­al. T.S. Eliot is mentioned nowhere in the novel, but his Four Quar­tets are as much of an under­pin­ning to the story as Tam Lin or Thomas the Rhymer. I have listed the books in the order they appear in the story. As well as link­ing to the books on Goodreads here, some­body else has also made a list of the books on the site.

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