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Fire and Hemlock

3.96  ·  Rating Details ·  7,178 Ratings  ·  548 Reviews

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 fa

341 pages
Published July 19th 1990 by Teens Mandarin (first published 1985)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Dec 17, 2011 Wealhtheow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy
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.
Aug 01, 2007 Deepthi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could give this book infinite stars.
Sep 27, 2007 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Dec 15, 2007 Astrid rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 29, 2008 Scott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 13, 2011 Miriam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, ya, books, memory
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
Jun 01, 2015 C. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 22, 2009 Res rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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.

Althea Ann
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. Ot
Aug 06, 2010 Heather rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 10, 2010 Archee rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
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
Goddess Of Blah
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
Goddess Of Blah
I've read this book several times. And even now in my late twenties I still enjoy reading this. Its my favourite DWJ book. This book transports me back to my childhood like no other book can. And its still a magical experience. Polly will remain my favourite “hero”
Apr 21, 2012 Chris rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy, dwj
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 11, 2015 Melora rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-aloud
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 s ...more
Kat Kennedy
Oct 02, 2011 Kat Kennedy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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:

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 in
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
Sam Grace
Nov 22, 2012 Sam Grace rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 04, 2016 Kerry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 08, 2016 Elena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: great-books
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
Emily Collins
Oct 25, 2012 Emily Collins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 13, 2013 Amai rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, favorites
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
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
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
Oct 01, 2015 Jenna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"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
Deborah O'Carroll
(Review originally posted on The Page Dreamer:

This 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.” T
Feb 19, 2015 Rachel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 read
Aaron Jansen
Jun 03, 2015 Aaron Jansen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 f ...more
Oct 03, 2015 Nancy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: year-2015
(A sort of 3-3.5 stars, I think?) This is a weird one, one I can't sort out my feelings about. Polly and Tom's relationship made me uncomfortable -- not initially, but still fairly early on. I wish I'd been able to read this with Spoils; if nothing else, it might have helped me figure out what exactly I think about it.
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what just happened? 8 99 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...

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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.” 208 likes
“Being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel.” 125 likes
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