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Fire and Hemlock

3.95 of 5 stars 3.95  ·  rating details  ·  5,819 ratings  ·  446 reviews
Polly has two sets of memories...

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
Hardcover, 420 pages
Published May 1st 2002 by Greenwillow Books (first published 1985)
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Keturah and Lord Death by Martine LeavittThe Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne JonesSummers at Castle Auburn by Sharon ShinnThe Seer and the Sword by Victoria HanleyFire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones
Hidden Gems: YA-Fantasy Novels
5th out of 1,160 books — 2,949 voters
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The Best Fairytales and Retellings
75th out of 1,545 books — 6,775 voters

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Community Reviews

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Sep 27, 2007 Jessica rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: good kids
(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 boo
Kat Kennedy
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:

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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
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 Li
I wish I could give this book infinite stars.
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 pr
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.

This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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 ...more
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 w ...more
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 ...more
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 addictiv ...more
Jan 16, 2011 C. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to C. by: Mrs Burt!
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. Afte ...more
Sam Grace
Nov 22, 2012 Sam Grace rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hero-lovers, fans of mythologies
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 ...more
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.
"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 fan ...more
Aug 06, 2010 Heather rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Heather by: Megan
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 b ...more
Mar 22, 2009 Res rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: sff
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 paren
This book was enthralling through the first two thirds, which I read in one sitting, but the ending kinda wavers. It suffers from what I like to call the Wynne Jones Whatinthehell, wherein the story seems to be going along fine until you hit a passage so shrouded in metaphorical magic with no precedent that you’re like “What in the hell is going on?” At its best, this is a wonderfully-crafted story where you find yourself really growing up with Polly, the protagonist. She’s awesome, and this nov ...more
Sam Pope
I went into this book not expecting to enjoy it much as I'm not a great fantasy reader but I soon was totally enthralled by the storyline. Polly is a sympathetic heroine although the relationship between her and Tom Lynne is somewhat perturbing at times - why would a man be such close friends with a ten year old? This is revealed at the end but throughout the book it feels uneasy. Her home life is terribly sad - I found this to be one of the most affecting parts of the story - and there is never ...more
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, slightl
Wow. This book blew me away. It's definitely going on my list of all-time favorites. I'm going to be pedantic and say I loved loved loved the intertextuality. It's... wow. It's the book I never knew I needed until I read it. It has all sorts of things that strum my heartstrings. It's even -dedicated- to me. That still has me rather awed. Who is this other Laura who has a book dedicated to her that was obviously written for me?

If you don't know Thomas the Rhymer or Tam Lin, The Golden Bough, Eas
Nov 16, 2012 Elizabeth rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Intellectuals, mythology lovers, those who appreciate dense fantasy
Polly and Tom are both enchanting and multidimensional characters, and the cast of characters that springs up around them in the story are as well. Diana Wynne Jones, in every book, achieves the Holy Grail of authorship--every character is real. The story is layered delicately, and peeling each layer back as I read was delightful.
I do, however, have to admit that I did not get what was going on the first read through. It was a very difficult plot, obstructed with all those layers I just mentione
Magic. Coming-of-Age. Fantasy. Romance. Adventure.

Loosely based on the legend of Tam Lin...


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 Characters

Polly Whittacker: 19 year old student reading
As a ten-year-old girl, Polly accidently gate-crashes a funeral in a nearby mansion while she and her friend were playing pretend. An older gentleman named Tom helps her out of the situation, and they start talking and playing pretend together. They keep in touch, sending each-other stories, and trying to help each other out with their problems in life. However, as time goes on they find some elements of their stories coming true. Moreover, Polly has to deal with some of the family members who l ...more
Scheherazade Nudar
The first time I finished reading this book was Saturday March 11, 2006--I know the exact date because I stumbled across an entry in my journal from that time. Ah, what inanities abounded in the ink spurts of my sixteen year old self! How annoying it was to find that I'd noted the date I'd finished reading the book but then got distracted from telling of what I thought of it by instead proceeding to elaborate on such silly and mundane things which had nothing to do with the book. Argh! Anyhow, I ...more
In rereading Fire and Hemlock, I had the eerie sensation just like Polly's - having two distinct set of memories side-by-side and having forgotten some very important things only to remember them with a shock.

I actually first read this as a teen and had some wonderful memories of it, which were mostly reinforced this second time around. I still am awed by Diana Wynne Jones's storytelling. She is peerless in the fantasy realm as far as I'm concerned. There are some books you read and re-read so
Feb 18, 2010 Jess rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jess by: Laura
Why on earth did I never read DWJ in middle school? Probably because I was too busy rereading Robin McKinley, Madeleine L'Engle and L.M. Montgomery. But I think the real answer is so that I have a whole pile of new-to-me books to read as an adult, with delights around every corner, I'm sure. Thanks, Laura!

When I picked this one up at Powell's, I'd forgotten that it was a Tam Lin retelling. And really, you could read most of the book before you realize it - the beginning of the book has a very su
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 pi
Oh, Diana Wynne Jones is so awesome! Pretty much my favourite author ever. I love the time strands in this story, the way things don't exactly follow on from each other (bit like Hexwood in this respect). Ten-year-old me was very confused by this book, although I remember loving it. This time round, having immersed myself in myths and legends in the intervening years, I was able to pick up on the Tam Linn story much earlier on. Interestingly (for me, anyway), I was ten when I first read this boo ...more
Emily Collins
This book seemed so un-magical most of the way through, and I kept getting confused, thinking that maybe just this once she wrote realistic fiction that only pretended to have magic in it.
I found the first half of this book fairly boring, because it was just sort of chill, and when magic did happen, it seemed dark, or accidental, and all sorts of threats were made, but I wasn't sure any were ever going to be carried out really. Then the ending confused me, and I had to read it a few times to gr
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what just happened? 8 72 Oct 23, 2014 12:25PM  
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Diana Wynne Jones was the author of more than thirty critically acclaimed fantasy stories, including the Chrestomanci series and the novels Howl's Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm.

For Diana Wynne Jones's official autobiography, please see
More about Diana Wynne Jones...
Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1) Castle in the Air (Howl's Moving Castle, #2) Charmed Life (Chrestomanci, #1) The Lives of Christopher Chant (Chrestomanci, #2) House of Many Ways (Howl's Moving Castle, #3)

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“To love someone enough to let them go, you had to let them go forever or you did not love them that much.” 177 likes
“Being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel.” 96 likes
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