dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #158

Courtney M Eckhardt cme at MIT.EDU
Sun May 7 14:00:51 EDT 2000

In message <20000507081322.5346.qmail at hotmail.com>, "Gili Bar-Hillel" writes:
>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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