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.
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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