dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #158

otheng otheng at kinghenry8.coventry.sch.uk
Mon May 8 08:28:33 EDT 2000


----- Original Message -----
From: Courtney M Eckhardt <cme at MIT.EDU>
> >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.<<

Often, though, teh story is told from the POV of the "ordinary" child - and
teh talented child may well be obnoxious initially.

> >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.<<

The children tend to talk wit the same voice, too. Not that I noticed that
when I was 8!

> >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)

Yes - there's also an emphasis on the tremndous self-discipline needed.

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.

The lesson that it's sometimes better to cut your losses is perhaps rather
English, but a valid lesson for all that!

> >- 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<<

True in "Stealer of Souls" too, I think.....

> >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".<<

True - though the sheer hard work of creative life is also something Streatf
eild stresses.

> >(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...")<<

Sorry about that - I could revert to "Gillian", my full name - but only my
mother calls me that - if anyone else uses it it's a sure sign I'm in big
trouble!<g>

Gill


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