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Fire and Hemlock

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  9,498 ratings  ·  820 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
Paperback, 438 pages
Published April 12th 2012 by Firebird (first published 1985)
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Hannah Banana The writing is simplistic enough that someone who is 10 or 11 could understand it, but the plot is a bit confusing towards the end. I would say around…moreThe writing is simplistic enough that someone who is 10 or 11 could understand it, but the plot is a bit confusing towards the end. I would say around 12 and up. (Also, there is some minor language in this book occasionally)(less)

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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Polly is a capable young woman who has lived a completely ordinary life. Or so she thinks, until one day she's cleaning out her old bedroom and starts to remember - in great detail; it takes up most of the book - a different life, a second set of memories revolving around a somewhat older man, Thomas Lynn, who had been her friend while she was a child, and with whom she shared some very strange, otherworldly experiences. Polly realized (view spoiler) ...more
Sep 27, 2007 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
Spencer Orey
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mg-fantasy
This book is wonderful! It's a cool remix of two old fairy stories in an 80s setting. It's also a coming of age story about a girl Polly who gets pulled into some magical drama because of a dude she meets when she accidentally crashes a funeral. If it's magic at all? There's a great tension around whether anything is really going on.

It's also a story about surviving bad families. Polly's parents are haunting, great characters with depth that change in little ways.

My one real negative is that on
Sep 07, 2012 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 Lin an
Kat Kennedy
Sep 20, 2011 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:

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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
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, dwj
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wish I could give this book infinite stars.
Deborah O'Carroll
Re-read March 25, 2020

SO GOOD! Even more amazing on a second read! <3 I may add updated thoughts...

Original review

(First read January 1, 2016. Original review posted here:

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
Sep 16, 2011 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
Jun 20, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, fantasy, memory, books
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
May 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been on a DWJ re-reading kick lately, after not having touched most of her books for 10, 15+ years. The Chrestomanci books are still fun and essentially as I remembered them. Fire and Hemlock, however, definitely does not read the same way it did when I was 15.

This is one weird, complex, richly allusive, and altogether singular book. It's billed as a take on Tam Lin, but it is by no means a retelling, despite a central character named Thomas Lynn. Instead, Diana Wynne Jones draws from a hug
Dec 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, ya
This book is very strange! It's unlike any other Wynne Jones I have read because it's set firmly in the south of England in 1985, and though there are fantasy elements, they are minimal. Yet it leaves the reader with a feeling of weirdness and creepiness entirely disproportionate to the events described. Polly is a lonely girl whose parents are divorcing. Her grandmother is the only figure of stability in her life, as her mother and father ignore her or use her as leverage between them. When Pol ...more
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
Jan 27, 2009 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, 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
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.

Dec 15, 2007 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
Hello, favorite book. Hello, book I'd take to a desert island. Hello, book I want to be buried with.

(Doesn't it say a lot about the quality of Jones' books' covers when of all the editions, I've had to choose this one in a poor attempt at saving my reading challenge's aesthetic? Yes, I know I'm shallow, but what's up with that other cover for this where Polly looks like she's 40 and Tom looks like he's 60?)

Anyway, God. I don't even know what to say. This was so lovely and nothing like what I e
Sam Grace
Mar 08, 2012 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
Jun 27, 2007 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. ...more
Mar 16, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy
me reading that ending...

p.s. so now I've read her essay "The Heroic Ideal - A Personal Odyssey" and I'm no closer to understanding what the hell happend.

Consequently, the most important threesome is Laurel, Polly, Ivy. Ivy is the mundane parasitical version of Laurel, evergreen and clinging—Laurel as the Lorelei in Suburbia, if you like. And Polly—make no mistake—is intended to be an aspect of Laurel too—Laurel as Venus and the Fairy Queen. But she is the aspect that appears not in “Tam Lin”
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
two separate thoughts:

one) my supervisor in my nightmarish final year of uni quoted a line from this to me in one of our many, many tearful meetings, "a sort of steely goodness came upon polly." i'd only vaguely remembered that conversation & had never looked for the quote until i found it here entirely by accident, but it felt v precious to read it and immediately recognise those words, hear them in her voice, & be v grateful that she'd given them to me.

two) this is an incredibly difficult book
"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
Lara Mi

“I don’t think I will get married,” Polly said as she stood up. “I’m going to train to be a hero instead.”

Fire and Hemlock is filled with mystery and suspense, I couldn't help but get absolutely absorbed into it. The plot is so intricate and multilayered that it is sometimes hard to keep up with which things relate to one another. But it is wholly worth catching all the details.

One side of the story focuses on Polly's fantasies and stories which she invents with her friend Mr Thomas Lynn, and
Aug 03, 2010 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
A.D. Jansen
Jun 02, 2015 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
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
Sep 10, 2010 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
Aug 18, 2008 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
Karyn Silverman
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 aff ...more
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Diana was born in London, the daughter of Marjorie (née Jackson) and Richard Aneurin Jones, both of whom were teachers. When war was announced, shortly after her fifth birthday, she was evacuated to Wales, and thereafter moved several times, including periods in Coniston Water, in York, and back in London. In 1943 her family finally settled in Thaxted, Essex, where her parents worked running an ed ...more

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