Fire & Hemlock ending

Deirdre Behan dbehan at
Mon Aug 30 18:38:06 EDT 1999

I’ve been getting the list for ages and felt I had to jump in because I’ve
always been confused about F+H. I live in Dublin and have just stopped teaching
multimedia and set up a record label instead for my sins. I've been reading DWJ
since I was 9 or 10 ie the late 70s. I borrowed most of her books from the local
library and have spent the last few years buying every DWJ I can get my hands
on. I'm missing Witch Week and Black Maria because I found them frightening when
I was younger and didn't want to buy them, of course now that I want them
they're unobtainable. I bought most of my DWJ in the local Forbiddden Planet
which obviously never sold them and found books published in the mid 80s still
there in the early 90s. There are some recent hardbacks there at half price if
anyone's interested. If anyone is, I'll go on a scouting mission.

But back to F+H.

I've always felt that the ending of F+W was really weak and have never really
understood it despite countless discussions with friends. I've always wanted to
understand it because I've really like the book. I’m not sure that the ending is
that important, or at least not to me. I am frankly uneasy at the way that Tom
uses Polly although I do recognise that Tom always tries to protect Polly unlike
her parents who are extraordinarily indifferent to her. I love the way he gives
her books and the way that they make up stories and go on adventures together.
However I find the developing sexual relationship between them unsettling and
disturbing : there are too many inequalities between them for me to be
completely happy with their relationship. He met her when she was 11 or so and
he must have been in his early 20s. In some respects it is a story of how Polly
finds adventure and falls in love but how much do you know about Tom, he’s
fighting so hard all the time. I know that Tom begins to back away when Polly’s
14 and that he’s aware of these issues, complexity being something that DWJ is
never afraid of. But I have to say I’m still not convinced about the validity of
the relationship between Polly and Tom, based on the fact that she was so young
when Tom met her. I realise that I may be denying Polly the validity of her
choices. I suppose my difficulty is I have no trouble with Tom’s relationship
with Polly as a child and no trouble with their relationship as two adults, it’s
where these two cross over that I have problems. Ultimately of course, it is
Polly’s love of Tom which drives the story.

What’s important to me about the book is that way that it shows Polly growing
up, looking at all the things that influence her from her friends, to the books
that she reads, to her relationships with her parents. It describes wonderfully
what it’s like to grow up and all the things that you have to learn along the
way. The difficulty of the structure and the way that flashback is used describe
the often muddled way that we actually experience our lives on a day-to-day
level. When we look back at time in chunks we begin to make sense of things and
impose meaning. In addition, we experience reality on lots of different levels
from the intellectual to the emotional and this book conveys that beautifully
using the device of Polly’s confusion about her memories, where she has to look
back at her adolescence and make sense of it. She can’t access intellectually
all the things that she’s learnt but as the book develops you find out how she’s
grown up and new perspectives she has on the world around her and the people
around her. One of my favourite examples is when she finds her copy of Tam Lin
and realises that “Of course, when she was  twelve, she had not known that Tam
was simply a North Country form of the name Tom.” This very simple sentence
shows how she’s grown intellectually but how by finding the book again she’s
beginning to re-engage with her 12-year-old memories and emotions and on the way
to discovering how she can complete her quest as Hero.

I find the portrait of Polly's parents quite chilling. It's written around the
same time as Time of the Ghost and they do share the theme of parental
indifference though in Time of the Ghost the sisters have each other and the
parental neglect seems relatively benign when compared to the behaviour of
Polly's parents. I also think that Time of the Ghost shares some very common
themes about growing up and the choices that you make. It also contains one of
my favourite DWJ quotes which I just have to throw in. It's when Cart comes to
visit Sally in hospital and it sums up the changes that growing up brings and
that I think link the two books.

"Chiefly she was occupied in staring at Cart - whom she remembered as a blue
bolster with a blurred face. It brought back a scene, around the seven years
ago, probably just before their school broke up for the summer holidays, when
she and Cart had been coming out of school. At the bus stop had been standing a
line of girls, some from the Boots across the road, two from the school office,
and a group from the Poly down the street. She and Cart had wondered how all
these grown-up girls came to be so incredibly slim and pretty. They had wondered
what happened in five or seven years to work such a change. They looked at the
other girls coming out of school. They looked at one another.

"I don't know," Cart had said gloomily. "It must take a miracle."

The miracle had happened to Cart."


(This book also has the most hideous Point Horror style cover of Sally standing
at a gothic window with a candle, with the pull quote "She's fighting for a life
she may already have lost ... ". The worst DWJ cover by a long shot.)


PS How do people get the time time to write to the list, this has taken me ages
to write.


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