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

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Mon Aug 9 21:28:02 EDT 1999

In a message dated 8/9/99 7:17:03 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
hallieod at writes:
>My goodness, I'm having such a "light-bulb" moment!  (No point in my
>re-re-posting everything, but it's the thread started with Tanaquil's post
>of 7 August.)

    I think it started with Mary Ann's response to Jessie's post

>>>jessie wrote: 
>>>Howl's Moving Castle -- besides the problems of memory for non-protags, 
>>>Sophie herself bears the responsibility for the situation she is in....

>>Mary Ann wrote:
>>I believe that I understand what Howl meant when he remarked that Sophie 
was >>doing the oldifying spell to herself. It has always made me 
>>Has anyone else felt this way? 

        So, yes, you two are responsible!

>I won't go so far as to say anything about enlightenment, as
>the feeling is more, why did I miss this when reading it myself???   This
>goes way beyond "duh".

        If Mary Ann hadn't asked if anyone else felt uncomfortable about this 
aspect of Sophie, I doubt I would really have thought too much about it.  But 
when she did, it really made me stop and think, and once that happens, well, 
it's all downhill from there....  I think one of the most amazing things 
about DWJ is how much doesn't jump out and hit you on the head on first 
reading.  You get so swept up in her inventivenes and her delicious 
characters that it's often not until the third or fourth reading that you 
start noticing other things.  (Or perhaps I'm just a slow study.)  It's like 
fine wine vs plonk, or arm-and-a-leg-perfume vs that frightful stuff the 
ladies on commission spray all over you the instant you step into a 
department store.  Or--what's that beer that refreshes the parts other beers 
can't reach?  Heineken? Carling Black Label?  I don't know....  Anyway, You 
get my drift.  There's more to her than meets the eye.

>The part in Fire & Hemlock where she talks being a
>hero and ignoring embarassment jumped right out at me the first time I read
>it, and I thought it was a brilliant way to put it.  I would have
>considered that my most important lesson (which I'm very much still in the
>process of learning).  But somehow the question you've been discussing in
>Howl's Moving Castle about Sophie's lack of recognition of her own gifts
>causing her to strengthen the oldifying spell, pretty much escaped me.
>Unfortunately, my daughter lent our copy to a friend of hers, so I can't
>rush and check up, but, as I'm remembering it, there wasn't even any
>question of anyone else telling Sophie that she was untalented or
>worthless, was there?

    No one was exactly telling her she was untalented or worthless, but Fanny 
did seem to feel a little uncomfortable with Sophie's talents, and seemed to 
take great pains not to disillusion Sophie (if that's what you can call not 
paying someone what they're worth??)  And the Witch made sure to dismiss 
Sophie's gifts too, when she cast the oldifying spell in the first place.  (I 
think she said something like "Mysterious Allure.  How very obvious" about 
the hat spells.  Sorry, my copy has taken a mysterious walk somewhere so I 
can't give the exact quote.)  But you're right.  The people who truly cared 
about Sophie (Howl, the sisters, Calcifer, Mrs Pentstemmon) never disparaged 
her gifts and always took them seriously.  But it's like praise vs criticism. 
 Somehow you never believe praise, but it's all too easy to believe 
criticism.  Unless you're the one person on the planet who didn't come from a 
dysfunctional family....

>Tanaquil mentioned "socialization", but the quote
>given ("everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst...."
>p.1)-- is rather ambiguous on whether this really was outside opinion, or
>just Sophie's own decision that that was what everyone knew.  Makes it even
>more her (and therefore my/our) own doing.

        It seemed to me that that quote might be a DWJ reference to the power 
that our stories, fairy tales, folklore have over us.  How they define our 
culture and influence our behavior.  And that she is perhaps suggesting not 
so much that we should disregard them--after all she's a storyteller too--but 
that we should use more discretion in reading or listening to them, take what 
we need from them but not swallow them wholesale, or use them to hide behind. 
 I like what you say about the ambiguity of that quote.  I hadn't thought 
about that, but I think you're right.  It really does make us question 
Sophie's view of the world, and emphasises what a good job she does (we do) 
fooling herself (ourselves).

>I'm still flumoxed as to why I didn't notice what now seems so glaringly
>obvious.  Could it perhaps be because I didn't believe there was any message
>in this for me, as I have no gifts ?????

        I hope you're joking about that.  Everyone has gifts.  Everyone.  But 
sometimes it's up to you to put a high value on them.  Or perhaps the gifts 
you have you take for granted, while there's some poor slob down the block 
who'd give their eyeteeth for one tenth of your gifts.  It's that praise vs 
criticism thing again.  If someone tells me my flaws, I'm only too ready to 
believe them.  But if someone tells me I'm good at something I look at them 
like maybe they need their head examined.  But everyone has gifts.  You just 
have to admit you do.  Then you have to use them.  So easy.  (Not!).
>At least *now* I know what I can blame my own lack of self-belief on .  I
>clearly didn't start reading Diana Wynne Jones when I was young enough.

        LOL.  Don't you wish you could say that about all problems?

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