Kids, reading, and "good" lit...

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Mon Aug 9 14:41:36 EDT 1999

In a message dated 8/9/99 12:22:12 PM Eastern Daylight Time, mcmullea at 

>I like how dwj has the shape of Sophie's gift fall in with this idea -
>she makes reality even more noticeably than others, therefore she must
>put a *lot* of effort into turning a blind eye to it.

    Yes, exactly!  What's that formula?  'For every action there is an equal 
and opposite reaction'--except in this case the amount of energy you repress 
is directly proportional to the amount of energy you need to repress it. 

>And you can see her passing things up and not being good enough for things: 
>thinking that apprenticing for free in the hat shop is fitting to her lot, 
being >completely intimidated by Howl upon their first meeting on May Day. 
Ostensibly >her alarm arose from having been so isolated and quiet, but maybe 
more because >he's too exciting-looking for what she has plotted for herself 
and insists is true >about herself....[DWJ] really tackles the thorny issues 
- And the way she *doesn't* >overlook the collusion in difficulties is SO 
refreshing and truthful too.  Sophie is a >character who strikes close to 
home with me and gives me some truly >uncomfortable moments of reading

    Isn't that the truth!

>but there's no question it's worth it.


>And it's also funny how reading about a character who has  uncomfortable 
>realizations not unlike the ones you are having while reading about the 
character >having them...(got a bit tangled in this sentence)...anyway, it 
makes me think a lot >harder than most books and learn things about life that 
I wasn't suspecting when I >flipped the book open.

>I've been reading dwj since I was 7 or 8 (20 yrs - can't name another writer 
with that >kind of staying power in my life) and there have definitely been 
times where I was >highly reluctant to hear this information, but there have 
also been times when the >only place I heard this said was in her books.  
Breath of fresh air.  Useful
>knowledge.  Rueful reminder  ;)

    Absolutely.  I can't think of any writers who do this so well and so 
consistently for children.  There are some books by other writers ('Bone 
Dance' by Emma Bull, 'Silver Metal Lover' by Tanith Lee) that tackle similar 
issues (yuck, that word again) but not necessarily from the same viewpoint, 
and not really for children--and children are probably the ones who need to 
hear it most.  I say 'catch 'em young!'  If I knew then what I know now, etc, 
    I reread DWJ for comfort: to hear someone out there saying, "go ahead, 
you can do it, trust yourself" instead of "who do you think you are anyway" 
or "who died and made you queen of the world" !!  I really remember how I 
felt reading that part in 'Fire and Hemlock' where Polly learns that being a 
hero has a lot to do with being willing to appear foolish, not letting other 
people's opinions sway you from doing what you need, deep down, to do.  I've 
never heard that anywhere else, but it absolutely changed my life (not to 
sound grandiose and queen-of-the-world-like, you understand!)  It just made 
me so much more willing to take chances.  And anytime that self-doubt starts 
creeping back in--which it always does--I just go reread F&H and I feel 
better.  I don't know...there's something about seeing it there in black and 
    Which of course opens up a whole new can of worms.  Just 'cause 
something's in a book don't mean it's so, but it sure feels like it is.  
Think of all the things we read in 'history' books that turn out not to be 
'history' exactly.  DWJ in 'F&H' touches on this when Tom warns Polly against 
sentiment.  It's almost a handbook for subversives: DWJ teaching children to 
question everything.  Shocking!
    And what a defense for the genre of fiction in general, and fantasy in 
particular.  All those people who say they don't read fiction because it's 
not 'true', or they despise fantasy because it's escapist.  Most of what I 
learned about how the world works--really works, what motivates people 
etc--is from reading fantasy.  Fantasy stories may not be 'true' in the 
literal sense, but they can be true in the psychological sense, just as myths 
are.  But we use 'myth' as a synonym for untruth.  Go figure.

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