dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #158

Gili Bar-Hillel abhillel at hotmail.com
Sun May 7 04:13:22 EDT 2000

Ooh, so active on the list...

Becca -
I used to adore Noel Streatfield and read many many books by her (though the 
Gemma books I could never stomach. Never got past a first chapter) And yes, 
they do seem to have a surfeit of characters who were born with a fantastic 
gift, whether dancing or skating or whatever, and slip into it naturally and 
effortlessly, doing everything perfectly at the first try, much to the 
dismay of other characters around them who are actually struggling to do 
well at the same activity. And, annoyingly, often the struggling characters 
end up giving up and investing their talents elswhere (Petrovas), whereas 
the characters who do everything perfectly at first try (Posys) are 
disgustingly blase about their talent.

And I guess from a certain perspective, it's off-putting that there seem to 
be no talent-less characters in the books at all, only people with glamorous 
talents like dancing and acting, versus people with dull talents like 
organising and mothering who are deluding themselves with dreams of grandeur 
but finally succumb to their humble destiny. I think the predestiny part is 
the most annoying part of it all. And there's always a "pride comes before a 
fall" episode in Streatfield's books, that's like reading the same book 
again and again.

But you can also read the Streatfield books as books for children who do 
have dreams of a career in dance and show business, and need to try out the 
ideas that:
1. Talent alone doesn't cut it. You need drive, too. (I'm thinking of that 
girl in "Dancing Shoes" who was a marvellous dancer but just didn't want to 
dance ballet)
2. Drive alone doesn't cut it either. In such competitive fields, only the 
top of the top can make it and usually the top of the top are *born* with 
certain qualities that you may just not have, such as good looks, or good 
family connections and money. It's not fair, but it's a reality. And what 
you don't have in luck needs to be compensated up for tenfold in hard work - 
not always worth the effort.

I think most of all, Streatfield is not very good at making the 
non-glamorous career choices seem as appealing as the glamorous ones, so you 
always end up feeling gypped for the character who gives up on a 
stage/rink/screen career.

As far as being predestined for greatness and being born with hidden talents 
- DWJ is full of this, and you always know it's the most ordinary of the 
characters who are going to end up with the most interesting talents! Think 
of Tonino and Angelica in "The Magicians of Caprona", or Gair in "Power of 
Three", Sophie vs. her sisters, Cat vs. Gwendolyn, Mitt in "Crown of 
Dalemark", practically everyone in "Witch Week"... if any DWJ character 
spends a great enough portion of the book moping about how un-unique he/she 
is compared to her/his siblings companions whatever, you know that:
A. said siblings/companions are simultaneously looking up to said moping 
character for some other positive quality, such as being a pillar of 
stability and common-sense, and have always admired her/him without him/her 
being aware of this
B. said moping character is, unbeknowest to the rest of them, the most 
"special" of them all. Because revenge is sweet. (Don't tell me you didn't 
gloat when the nasty girls in "Witch Week" turned out to be only very 
mediocre witches).

IMHO one of the things that makes DWJ superior to Streatfield, is that she 
always shows that every gift is no less a burden than a boon, which is a 
much more convincing way of leaving you, the reader, happy with what you 
are, (which is probably no more gifted than the next person), than 
Streatfield's tendency to conclude somewhere along the lines of "oh well, so 
I'm not cut out to be a prima ballerina despite having devoted my childhood 
to nothing but ballet, however I was always very good at washing dishes and 
someone has to wash the dishes for the prima ballerinas therefore I shall 
now launch upon an exciting career as a dishwasher".

Phew. Where did that all come from?

Also, Becca, a person as eloquent and erudite are yourself is merely being 
coy by calling herself a "baby dragon". Especially since no one is going to 
oppose you with flames or lances - the very worst you'll get here are 
opposing opinions. Which can always be blasted into insignificance by merely 
saying "pooh".

And just to add my literary two-bits to the whole identical male/female 
twins debate: Ursula LeGuin wrote a short story or novella that featured a 
set of clones that were sent as a work-force to some mine on a small planet. 
She wrote of both female and male clones of the same person, explaining that 
the parent was male, and the female clones were engineered by multiplying 
the parent's single X chromosome. One of my books called "The Science in 
Science Fiction" pooh-poohs this concept specifically, pointing out not only 
that an individual created thus is not strictly speaking a clone, but would 
be unusually suceptible to genetic disorders linked to the X chromosome - 
things like hemophilia, color blindness, and worse.

That's all, Folks!

(I find it so confusing now there's a Gill on the list, I keep reaching the 
bottom of a post and mistaking your name for mine, and thinking "Funny, I 
don't remember writing that...")

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