criticism gone awry

Tanaquil2 at aol.com Tanaquil2 at aol.com
Wed Aug 25 02:08:09 EDT 1999


In a message dated 8/24/99 6:18:43 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
hallieod at indigo.ie writes:

>re-reading the ending before writing my reply, I came across the one line
>I've never understood at all, at all.  It's on the last page (I'll put in
>the sentence before, in case people don't have the book handy).  "She
>thought of all the things Tom might have said - which Seb would have said -
>just now to change her mind.  It was the things not said that showed they
>might have a great deal in common."   I just don't get that.  I know Polly
>said that she and Tom had nothing in common, but I'd figured that was just
>to "lose" in the contest, to save Tom, and not something she really meant,
>any more than she meant the other things she said then.  If it's Seb and
>Tom, I see what they have in common, but here she's contrasting them.
>Help!


        Well, you've got me!  I find this ending completely confusing each 
time I read F&H.  I can only trust that DWJ meant for it to be ambiguous and 
open to interpretation, because other of her novels end clearly with all the 
loose threads nicely tied up.
        Perhaps she wanted an ending for F&H that matched a sort of theme of 
personal choice, and in keeping with that she left the ending open for us 
readers to 'choose' what we think it means?
        Or perhaps she was exploring what real love is (just as she explores 
what true heroism is): love so strong that you would give up the one thing 
you needed and wanted most in the world if it would save that one you loved?  
That kind of love is pretty breathtaking.  How many people could have the 
strength of character to do that?  That would certainly be a heroic thing to 
do--an ultimate sacrifice.  The ultimate sacrifice seems v often in stories 
to be dying for some cause or person you believe in.  That certainly requires 
courage, but on some level you know that the amount of courage required is 
huge but somehow finite; after all eventually you'd be dead and know nothing 
more about it, while the people left behind are the ones wailing and tearing 
out their hair in unending misery, and making the funeral arrangements.  But 
it seems to me far more frightening and 'heroic' to say goodbye to someone 
you absolutely need, who is the sun and the moon to you, knowing that they'll 
*still be out there in the world somewhere*, and that you represent the same 
to them as they do to you, so that there's no 'sense' in your being 
separated--no third party love replacement.  To have to say goodbye forever 
and really mean it, with no hope--fighting hope every day really--until you 
grow old and die.  Well, I don't know that I would have the courage, or even 
the energy.  When Thomas and Polly separate during the course of the story, 
there's still hope that somehow they'll reunite, and it kind of keeps them 
(and us readers) going.  But when Polly rejects him at the end she does it 
without any hope and in the most final way she can so that he'll be safe. 
(it's still a shock to me every time, reading that.)  Perhaps what Thomas and 
Polly have in common is that lack of selfishness -- no that's the wrong word 
-- lack of consideration for self above the other.  Does that even sound 
vaguely intelligible?  No flames please, I'm thinking 'aloud' here, and 
trying to make some sense of the ending as I go along.  I think most people 
would be more likely, as Seb would, to try and avoid that kind of pain at all 
costs.  Keeping going was for him a constant battle; he was literally 
fighting for his life, and perhaps that sort of 'fighting' is too hard a 
habit to break.  You come to value your own life above all other things, and 
it seals you off from the kind of love Polly and Thomas have.  And if you're 
that sealed off from life and love what are you saving your life *for*?  It 
becomes a sort of hoarding up of life, like pennies at the bank.  Not much 
joy there. Thomas fought for his life too, but he managed to stay human--warm 
and loving and generous with his creativity--rather than human in Seb's 
way--fallible and weak and fearful.  What life he thought he had left he used 
for what it's for, and that spirit is what Polly loved and is what enabled 
him to love her back.
        Oh dear!  This is getting longer and longer and further and further 
from the original question.  Like Hallie, I thought that Polly didn't 'mean' 
it when she told Thomas they had nothing in common--at least not emotionally. 
But I guess I got the sense that she 'meant' it in a sort of gritting your 
teeth kind of way--with the sort of ruthlessness to self and adherence to 
principle that a hero would need in order to follow through on a course of 
action.  She didn't really believe they had nothing in common--at the very 
least they had a shared history together--but she meant to believe it with 
gritted teeth if it would make sure Thomas survived.
        She was comparing *and* contrasting Seb and Thomas.  (Sounds like an 
exam question.  Discuss.)  She's not infatuated with Thomas, she loves him 
for real which means she can see where he is weak and human and accept it 
wholly and love him.  She was weak--in Seb's way, trying to reach out and 
take what she wanted--earlier in the story, and did that embarrassing stuff 
with the spell that ended up wiping out her memory.  By the end she has grown 
up.  She gets what love is about.  Otherwise, if she's really condemning 
Thomas, it's little bit a case of the pot and the kettle.  She doesn't love 
Seb, because he doesn't love her in the way that she understands love at the 
end.  He's attracted to her, but unlike Thomas his number one love is 
himself.  And I have a hard time really, seeing Thomas's treatment of Polly 
as particularly wicked.  After all he's not a fool, and only a fool would 
refuse the opportunity to save himself if it presented itself.  He took it, 
but only when he believed it wouldn't really hurt Polly.  Of course it did, 
because that's what happens when you use someone, however noble your 
intentions.  But I think I would think less of him in a strange sort of way 
if he didn't take the opportunity.  That would have made him beyond human, 
someone impossible to love, only to worship.  No joy in that either.  It's 
very blurred to me.  Thomas was not particularly nice to Mary Fields, but 
then again, was she particularly in love with him or just 'on the catch'?  
Where's the line after all between Thomas and Polly trying to get what they 
want, and, say, Seb, or Morton Leroy, or Ivy grabbing a little happiness for 
herself?  And what about Laurel?  (Who was it on the list who described her 
as "pungently evil'? Love that phrase!)  Her view of life seems so alien and 
distant from the real, human world.  She seems to be in another sphere 
altogether morally, emotionally.  She kind of makes me think of a vampire in 
a creepy way.  Her only access to human warmth is by sucking up the human 
life of others.  Wouldn't like to meet her on a dark street.
        In some way I can't define, the ending of F&H makes me sad.  I love 
this book--it is one of my all-time favorites, but the ending doesn't make me 
feel happy the way say Howl's M C does.  Why, why, why is that?
        I don't know;  I think I've only succeeded in confusing myself 
further.  What does anyone else think about all this?


        Max (whose puzzler is all sore now)

PS.  I remember walking in Manhattan a few years back (around Greenwich 
Village or Tribeca I think) and seeing first Morton Street, then next street 
on, Leroy Street.  I just about jumped out of my skin.

PPS.  I wish DWJ would e-mail this list and answer all these questions!
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