Kids, reading, and "good" lit...
Tanaquil2 at aol.com
Tanaquil2 at aol.com
Sat Aug 7 20:32:56 EDT 1999
In a message dated 8/7/99 11:13:04 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
sheeyun at ix.netcom.com writes:
>>Howl's Moving Castle -- besides the problems of memory for non-protags,
>>Sophie herself bears the responsibility for the situation she is in....
>I believe that I understand what Howl meant when he remarked that Sophie
>doing the oldifying spell to herself. It has always made me uncomfortable,
>Has anyone else felt this way?
I felt that DWJ was referring to how sometimes one can be one's own worst
enemy. So much of what one accomplishes depends on what one 'believes' one
can accomplish. Sophie is so accustomed--thanks to 'socialisation'
("everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst...." p.1)--
to thinking of herself as someone destined to fail that she completely
disregards her own talents--talents blindingly apparent to everyone else
around her. Before she even reaches the castle, it is clear to us readers
that Fanny, Letty, Martha, the Witch of the Waste, even the countryman
stranger in the lane who meets her as dusk is falling--all recognise her
magical gifts. And the clues are certainly there for Sophie to see--ie. when
all her hat predictions start coming true. She just has to say something for
it to be so. She makes her own reality.
But in spite of all this evidence, Sophie 'believes' she will fail, so
she doesn't even try to succeed. Perhaps she's frightened to succeed because
then she will be taking complete responsibility for her life, not living it
on other people's terms. It is so much more comfortable to be able to say
"Oh, I won't succeed anyway so why bother" than to say "These are my gifts
and abilities, what use am I going to put them to in the face of other
people's jealousy and threatened feelings?" So she colludes with the Witch
to make the aging spell stick. (Calcifer says "I can see you're under a
spell.... It's a strong spell.... It feels like one of the Witch of the
Waste's to me.... But it seems more than that.... I detect two layers." p.
And when she's old, she's freed because no one has any expectations of
old women (other than that they'll die) so she can rediscover herself and
acknowledge her gifts. Also, perhaps as one gets older one realises that
time is running short and one becomes less willing to live what's left of
one's time on other people's terms. There's a sort of last chance feel that
certainly puts things into perspective. One is finally forced to make a
choice, and one learns that what other people think doesn't (and never did)
matter. ("As a girl, Sophie would have shriveled with embarrassment at the
way she was behaving. As an old woman, she did not mind what she did or
said. She found that a great relief. p.41)
I suspect it is this sense of 'collusion' that is so uncomfortable. It's
one thing to be able to blame the world if one doesn't succeed, but it's
quite another to acknowledge one's own responsibility for what happens to
one, to admit that one might willingly, if unconsciously, harm oneself rather
than take risks or change one's life. There's such fear, stigma and shame
attached to failure that women in particular (says I) because we are so
socialised to consider what the great 'they' will think before we consider
what 'we' think, would rather not risk failure. We would rather not try.
Plus it's not 'ladylike' to be ambitious, to want to succeed. So it seems to
me that these may all be issues (hate that word) that Sophie is battling with
under the surface. So Howl is exactly right when he says to Sophie, "I came
to the conclusion that you liked being in disguise.... It must be, since
you're doing it yourself.... What a strange family you are! Is _your_ name
really Lettie too?" (p. 183)
What DWJ seems to be saying (and maybe I'm just reading that into her
work because it's what I want to see) is 'your life is your own in the end.'
It's up to you to make the most of it, but if you don't, the responsibility
is your own not society's. And it seems to me that that is part, at least,
of what lies at the heart of all her stories. (Also, it seems to me that she
uses magic as a sort of metaphor for creative gifts in general. Her
characters try to run away from their gifts but of course they can't, for
when they do everything goes wrong, and only being true to themselves puts
things right. With a gift, it seems, comes a responsibility on some level to
put that gift to use or suffer the consequences of stifling that sort of
Well that's my two cents' worth. The children's story I'm working on at
the moment has an old woman as the protagonist, so this has been great--I've
been able to put some of my thoughts in order and clarify things in my mind.
>(I'm catching up gradually-- I was off getting married, honeymooning
>then having net access problems of various sorts....)
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