Wild Robert

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Oct 7 02:07:34 EDT 2000

Our trip to Phoenix was a road trip.  That's right, ten hours packed into
our big van with four children, one of whom was not a happy traveler
(Cordelia) and three others who seemed to think Mom was some kind of
low-budget stewardess.  We are told the best way to make long trips is to
bring along a combination TV/VCR unit and a bunch of video tapes.  Someday
perhaps we will be able to afford this.  Until then, we go the other
route--audio cassettes and paperback books.  I had a handful of storytelling
tapes by Bill Harley ("Moon pies, I like moon pies") and _Wild Robert_ by
everybody's favorite author DWJ.  It's funny how our library carries some of
the more obscure titles only on cassette.  I figured _Wild Robert_ would be
interesting to the kids, plus Jacob and I have never read it, and we needed
something for when my voice got worn out reading _Searching for Dragons_
over the noise of the car.

_Wild Robert_ is pretty good.  I am ashamed to admit that I fell asleep in
the middle of it, NOT because it was boring, but because I was just that
tired after six nights on a terrible mattress.  (We actually kept busy
enough that we didn't get to it until the return trip.)  But the girls liked
it enough to ask for it in the evenings--they are night owls.  So I've
managed to hear almost all of it by now.  

What struck me first was the repeated themes that we've seen in several of
DWJ's other novels.  The protagonist, Heather Bailey, lives at a "stately
home" called Castlemain where her parents are curators.  The parents are
caught up in their job, which in the book is primarily guiding tours around
the house, and it really sounds like a gentler version of _Time of the
Ghost_ with Heather (like Sally and her sisters) existing near the edges of
what the adults perceive as the "real" Castlemain.  A piece of description
about Robert himself--how when he touches Heather for the first time, it
feels odd and "fizzes" against her arm.  I know I've seen magic described
this way in at least one other of DWJ's books, but I can't recall which one.
The way in which the true story of "wild" Robert interacts with what legend
and history say about him is similar to what's going on in _Fire and
Hemlock_ (and, in a different way, in _Spellcoats_).

The point is, I started thinking about authors and books and how recurring
themes come up.  There are any number of writers who are prolific, but few
of those whose body of work is mostly standalone, unrelated novels.  For
example:  Anne McCaffrey has written about a billion Pern novels, all of
which exhibit common themes, but because they are related novels that's more
or less expected; that's part of the continuity of the series.  Ditto Robert
Jordan or Terry Pratchett.  Common themes are more noticeable, I think, when
you're looking at a large group of texts by one author that seem unrelated,
and I know that sounds like a contradiction, but it's not.

I think when you can examine a lot of books by the same person, you start to
see what's really important to her as a writer.  If it's just one book, the
main theme is probably important to the author, but might just be something
she thought would speak to readers and not something deeply, personally
important.  If it's a long series (or a multi-volume novel) the main themes
could just be something the author is stuck with because of what she wrote
in the earlier volumes.  But with a big, unrelated mass of texts, authors
start to give away hints of things that may not be evident individually
because they're not the big important Theme of the book.  Like the
irresponsible parent motif in DWJ, which is only occasionally a Theme but is
almost always present as a plot element.

Anyway.  I think my point was that _Wild Robert_ is fun on its own, but also
is a key to some of DWJ's major novels.

Melissa Proffitt
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