Big huge thingy dealing with many thingies

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Sat May 6 01:09:12 EDT 2000

On Fri, 05 May 2000 18:07:37 -0600, Ingrid Blythe Atkinson wrote:

>My name is Ingrid Atkinson, and I'm a DWJ-addict.

Hi, Ingrid.  (Don't you just all see us sitting around in some kind of
virtual recovery group?  "Hi, I'm Melissa, and I've been addicted to DWJ for
ten years...")

>2. Re-reading books.
>Okay, so I'm sixteen, it's not exactly an old age. I don't think age
>really has anything to do with how your views of literature change,
>although that may be part of it. I think a lot of it can be related to
>your personal experiences and other books that you've read since.

I think it sort of goes together--not that you're a certain level of
maturity at one age and a higher level when you're a little older, but that
you've changed during that time and hopefully you feel the change is an
improvement.  But it's easy for one to judge one's own reading "progression"
and say "I was this kind of reader at age sixteen, and now I'm this kind of
reader at age forty."  It isn't that the age has any absolute meaning,
because you can't go on to say "All people aged forty are at the same level
of reading maturity that I am."  And now I'm babbling again....

This is why I said in another post that I don't want to be condescending
towards myself-as-age-twelve-reader, because I really knew nothing about
books except that they were Fun and Interesting and, wow! there's this whole
GENRE of fiction that treats me as an intelligent reader and not as a baby!
It's easy for me *now* to look back on some of those books and think, "why
did I ever think these were so incredibly astute and insightful?"  Because
to the reader I am now, they're not--but to that twelve-year-old, they
totally *were*.  And I think my being hypercritical--that is, snooty and
disparaging, not critical in the literary sense--would be really rotten.
Whatever I may dislike about, say, Tamora Pierce's books *now*, I certainly
didn't feel that way before.

>me, I have three writers that have basically spoiled me for anything
>else. DWJ (even though I only started reading her in March), Terry
>Pratchett, and Lois McMaster Bujold.

That's my list too.  Only plus Steven Brust.  (Do you know how you can
torture yourself?  Bujold's web site always puts chapters from her next book
up for public consumption months before the book comes out.  My husband and
I found this out when _Komarr_ was due out--read the first five chapters and
then walked around in a daze for three months going "now, why haven't I
finished reading that book yet?  Oh, DUH, it's not even in stores yet!")

>In grade six I read Tamora Pierce's Alanna books and I
>thought they were wonderful. I thought they were the greatest things
>ever written. Why? I didn't have anything similar to compare them to.

I agree completely.  On both counts--thinking they were the greatest, and
not having a benchmark for comparison.

>Now, let's examine a "successful"
>character from DWJs books. Let's pick, say, Wizard Howl, who's the King
>of Ingary's Royal Wizard. I suppose you could take it that he's the
>Royal Wizard because of Sophie but I doubt it.

Yeah, probably not.  He had all that ability and talent anyway, and you just
know the King wanted to stick him with the job from the start.

> Take a look at everything
>he did on his own. Sure, we don't know -how- he did it, but he somehow
>found a way to travel from Wales to Ingary, studied magic, taught
>himself some things, learnt from a few masters, that sort of thing. He
>was also -not- perfect. Pierce's main characters are perfect. They have
>no real flaws. We could list Howl's flaws for ages. Just because it's
>fantasy doesn't mean the characters can't be realistic.

I think this is one of the things that makes the difference between a YA
book that adults can enjoy and one they can't.  I think Pierce is a *great*
starting place for fantasy readers.  Very clear-cut differences between Good
and Evil characters at the beginning, with some ambiguity (in the character
of Alanna's brother Thom) by the end of the fourth book; some treatment of
"adult" issues like theft, love, even sexuality, but not in any graphic
sense; and what we might call Feminism 101 in the story of Alanna's desire
to challenge her society's rules for women.  But it's all incredibly--basic.
The characters are, as you say, perfect--not that they aren't flawed, but
their flaws don't affect their ability to defeat evil, and they're there to
be overcome.  And that's as it should be--because in my opinion, these books
illustrate one of the prime purposes of young adult literature, which is to
allow young readers to vicariously defeat evil so that they can find ways to
fight their own demons.  The characters don't need to be realistic to serve
that purpose.

But by the time you get older--or as you learn the lessons from this sort of
book--you no longer need that kind of literature.  You need the sort of
thing you can learn from, well, realistic characters like Howl or Mordion or
Polly Whittaker.  And if you then go back to Alanna and feel she's kind of
shallow, that doesn't mean you didn't need her at all.  It means you took
from her what you needed to move forward.  I really wonder if I would have
appreciated the complexity of DWJ's characters and plotting if I hadn't had
the foundation of lesser books (and I say "lesser" unabashedly, because I
honestly think DWJ is one of the most skilled writers of our time).

Them's what I think.  You'll note, Ingrid, that you're not the only one who
can ramble on and on.  Welcome to our vocal crowd... :)

Melissa Proffitt
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