Which Is Far Too Full of Muddled Thinking (on DWJ and Dahl)

Hallie O'Donovan hallieod at indigo.ie
Wed Dec 8 16:29:50 EST 1999

Oh darn!  I never expected that it would be you, Melissa, taking me on over
Dahl.  I think this amounts to an imbalance of coherence and rational
argument ability quite monumental in scale.  Be that as it may, I suppose I
asked for it.
But this is most definitely in the delete-if-you-choose category.

Before I carry on with this, I'd like to say one or two things.  Firstly, I
have seen your (Melissa's) discussions both here and on Alexlit, and I
couldn't come near to matching your lucidity of thought or expression at
the very best of times (and if you're writing like this when pregnant, I'm
even more gobsmacked!).  But this is *very* far from being the best of
times for me.  Among other things,  I'd hate anyone to think that I'd gone
off in a snit at being disagreed with or outargued, if I were to disappear
temporarily in mid-discussion.  So, on that basis...

>I'm actually more interested in your reasons for thinking no one could love
>both DWJ and Roald Dahl.

Well, I don't actually lay claim to "reasons for thinking this" - I don't
in fact *think* it.  My statement was more along the lines of exemplifying
the situation you found in your discussion with Jessie - that it's
difficult to understand when someone with whom you share many common likes
or dislikes, doesn't share an opinion you might have assumed would follow
given all the other shared ones.  So, I am freely admitting that my
expectations of commonality of taste from people on this list, are not at
all necessarily valid.

Your post on Susan Cooper was very useful in helping put some more pieces
in place for me on the argument about why I am surprised to find DWJ fans
who also really like Dahl.  Because I think part of it does hinge on
worldview, philosophy of life, call it what you will.  I would never
presume to say I could nail DWJ's philosophy of life, but every book of
hers that I've read is indicative of a general outlook on life and human
nature which I generally share.  You called it optimism, in contrast to
Cooper's realism, which is one way to put it (although, I might get
side-tracked into a discussion as to whether Cooper's view is definitely
the more realistic!).  So, while Paula might say that DWJ's humour
particularly appeals to her, and someone else might choose another aspect
of her writing as appealing, while still appreciating the humour, I would
expect that we would all share *some* part of her philosophy of life.  I
mean, to work from the crushingly obvious up (hopefully!), no one on this
list is going to believe that fantasy is a waste of time (or outright
dangerous, as some people do), or that children's books are inferior (that
smack, Deborah, would have been from MANY of us, had you been able to
deliver it!). Moving towards the more risky, we might generally agree that
people can rise above difficulties, learn to take responsibility for their
own actions, learn to understand others, etc.  We may come from intensely
different starting points to arrive at whatever central nugget of shared
belief we'd claim, but I doubt many of us would be here if we thought
*only* that DWJ had wonderful literary merit, but completely rejected her
views on life, human nature, etc.  This is not necessarily true, of course,
it's merely my gut-instinct on likelihoods.

So, with that base-line, the reason I am surprised to find Dahl fans here
is that I find every indication of his philosophy of life to be quite the
antithesis of what I'd generally perceive as DWJ's.  This would start with
the fact that I know him to be virulently anti-semitic.  Now I'm sure that
some people won't accept that I am allowed to "use" that knowledge to form
a literary opinion.  However, this is of course, not a literary opinion,
but rather an explanation of why I find this overlap to be surprising.  So,
even if I didn't see indications of this anti-semitism in some of Dahl's
books, which I do, I think it's still a valid part of the information I use
to form an opinion of Dahl.

That in itself would be a very major stumbling block for me.  It's not the
only one,  but some of the others I will admit come from books I haven't
read, but have merely read extracts from.  Not entirely satisfactory, but
believe me, the quotes I've seen from _George's Marvelous Medicine_ ,
describing the punishment of the grandmother, I found obscene enough for me
never to wish to read the book.  Ever.

Getting down to the level where you saw similarities between _The Witches_
and Harry Potter, I'd agree, and those probably explain some of my dislike
for the HP books (though I don't hate them, and am not saying that I was
surprised at any overlap between DWJ fans and HP ones).  I suppose the most
obvious similarity I see (which may be very different from anyone else's
perceived similarities) is what I'd call The Create an Underdog In Order To
Generate Reader Sympathy And Really Pile On The Suffering In Case The
Reader's TOO THICK To Get It syndrome.  (I was not exagerating when I
proclaimed my present severe lack of lucidity, was I).  I'm not sure if
this stems from generally lazy writing, lack of trust in the reader's
ability to understand, or a basic belief that most people really ARE like
the Dursleys or Snape or Miss Trunchbowl or... (pick your favourite
villian), if only they can get away with it.  But just a quick contrast
with virtually any DWJ book - eg Lives of Christopher Chant - will show the
difference there.  The sheer strength of the character of Christopher
ensures our empathy with him WITHOUT his needing to be locked under the
stairs, starved, beaten etc.  The article by DWJ from Medusa on the website
is quite amusing on her trust for children as readers (sometimes in
contrast to their adults!), and finally, well, we've covered that part
before. And since I started this,  Philip's Introduction posts mentioned
this very point - that he shares DWJ's world view.  (Encouraging, that

So there you have my reasons for being surprised at this particular overlap
of tastes.  For what it's worth.

 Or--more generally--I would rather see those
>making the assertions explain why THEY feel the way they do before those who
>think differently have to explain themselves.  I think that will keep the
>discussion more even than if one person makes a statement and leaves the
>rest to fight it out. :)

Um, I hope it's clear by now at least that I never envisioned anyone
*having* to explain themselves, or even the rest fighting it out.  Gulp.

Hallie (tottering off to bed now, exhausted)
hallieod at indigo.ie

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