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Fire and Hemlock
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Fire and Hemlock

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  10,084 ratings  ·  922 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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Lia I read this as a child, and then later as a teenager, but I think a lot of the nuances of this book would be lost on a younger audience, and the endin…moreI read this as a child, and then later as a teenager, but I think a lot of the nuances of this book would be lost on a younger audience, and the ending is particularly confusing. I'd say 14 and up, but I think this is a far more mature book in terms of themes and meaning. (less)

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Average rating 3.97  · 
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 ·  10,084 ratings  ·  922 reviews

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In childhood, we view the world through a sort of a magical patina. The borders between fantasy and reality are a bit murky and porous, and really odd things can seamlessly coexist with reality. For most of us reality solidifies with age, but for some the strange magic remains very real because once upon a time they accidentally brushed up against the world that plays by some other rules.
“She walked the other way, in an empty kind of horror. Real life, which yesterday had seemed safe and dull
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
(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
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
Spencer Orey
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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
mark monday
synopsis: a young girl becomes a brave hero who rescues a forlorn gentleman in distress.

judging from reviews, this is apparently DWJ's most challenging novel. whether it is the layers of references to myths and folk songs, the hallucinogenic final battle, a potentially uncomfortable scenario in which a 10 year old girl finds a connection with a grown man and later falls in love with him, or even the surprisingly casual, minor note quality of the ending... many readers find this to be a confusing
Mar 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uto-p, x2, uto-e
The first time I read this book, I was intrigued by the beginning, bored by the middle and confused by the ending. By the time we hit that ambiguousness, I just lost my concentration and energy and was not willing to pay the careful attention it required. But I knew I wanted to return to it. And so here I am.

This is a coming of age story of Polly, the New Hero, an ordinary English girl. This is a retelling of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer. This is Polly's Odyssey, her journey that requires brave
Kat Kennedy
Sep 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
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:

Freaky interpretive dance that should never have existed. Who the fuck comes up with this shit?

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
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  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, own
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
Jul 22, 2022 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
Jun 20, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: books, fantasy, memory, ya
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
Rosamund Taylor
Dec 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fantasy, ya
Moving this from 4 to 5 stars for my 2022 reread. It's such an uncanny, compelling and imaginative book, and I think about it all the time.

2020 review:
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
May 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 16, 2011 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
STILL THE BEST BOOK IN THE WORLD, glad to have that confirmed, I can die happy now

I was supposed to be pacing myself with this reread but of course I had to go and read the last 150 pages in one go like a tool :') and now what shall I do :')

Anyway, a list of some of the reasons this is indeed the best book in the world even if only like 3 people have read it:

*all the references and intertextuality and the complexity and how everything slots into place but also doesn't make sense in the best wa
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.

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
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
Nov 16, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020, faves
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
Li Sian
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fire and Hemlock is one of my favourite books in the entire world, and I reviewed it (quite incoherently) five years ago, but not on here I think. Having just reread it quite thoroughly, now's the time!

19 year old Polly Whittacker is in her bedroom puzzling through a book she thinks she's read before - but all the stories in it are different. With this initial puzzle it soon becomes apparent she has two sets of memories of her childhood: one normal; of school, friends, parents, and Granny, and
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
"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
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
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
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
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
Lauren James
From the Queen of fantasy, this 1985 release is a weird and wonderfully unique fairy tale remix. It's dreamy and romantic, and worthy of an annual reread. ...more
Nov 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novel-owned

“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
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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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