YotG along with other, off topic things.

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Sep 9 00:32:03 EDT 2000

On Fri, 8 Sep 2000 18:10:20 -0400 (EDT), Margaret E Parks wrote:

>by the way. . . I was looking at the teaser for YotG (it's actually being
>published in the US at the same time as in the UK! yea!) and I was
>surprised.  It turns out that the griffin in the title isn't Kit, which is
>who I assumed it would be, but instead it's the female
>one.  (sorry, can't remember her name off the top of my head, and
>I left my copy in Virginia) Thinking
>about it, though, I think it makes sense. . . didn't she, in Dark Lord,
>turn out to be more than what she seemed?  that, I think, is one of DWJ's
>common themes, but I know better than to think that she'll be predictible.

For one thing, the book takes place eight years after the end of _Dark Lord_
(something I keep forgetting) and so Elda is the only one it could be about,
given that she's a first year student...she would have to be eighteen when
it starts, as I recall.  Also, Derk was so dead set against his children
going to the university, so this gives the university time to change enough
that he'd allow it--for one thing, Querida's not in charge any more.  (I
just finished re-reading _Dark Lord_, can you tell?)

spoilers for _Dark Lord of Derkholm_

All the way through reading _Dark Lord_ again I kept thinking it was Lydda
who was the griffin of the title.  Then I thought Callette, because Querida
wanted her so badly for the university.... Anyway.  I *still* don't love
this book.  I like it a lot--and you have to remember that a DWJ book I
merely like is still miles ahead of most other books.  I have been reading
this series of books by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, and I am just plodding
along out of duty at this point, none of the three having been bad enough to
drop...just dull.  So _Dark Lord_ was a huge relief.  

But still...I don't know why, but it's probably some character flaw on my
part that I don't love it.  It defies prediction.  Every time I thought I
knew where the story was going, something happened to change it.  First I
thought it would all be about Derk being the Dark Lord.  Then he gets
blasted by Scales and his kids have to take over.  Then as they're in the
middle of orchestrating battles and Dark Lord defeats, Blade has to head up
his own pilgrim party.  Then he gets kidnapped.  It all keeps changing.  And
it *felt* like so many different points of view, though I think it's really
only a few--Derk, Blade, Querida...possibly one or two more.  And this might
not even be the real reason it still doesn't click for me.  It's just too
frustrating not to be able to identify this problem.  

On the other hand, if I look at it as a subversion of the epic fantasy
genre, it's just incredible.  I mean, the dwarf Galadriel--I laugh every
time I read that part.  Magical creatures that are the result of scientific
experimentation.  Political in-fighting at the wizards' university.  Pianos
instead of harps.  The omnipresent and disgusting stew (though I admit that
a can of Dinty Moore would be heavenly right now, I must have some kind of
sodium deficiency going on...).  I totally, utterly admire DWJ's work.  I
just don't love it.  Humph.

But I'm very very excited for _Year of the Griffin_.  This is such a rarity
for DWJ to write a sequel, of all things, that I can't wait to see what she
wanted to say.

>When the fourth Harry Potter came out, somebody in Newsweek said that the
>test of a classic children's book is, would you still love it as an
>adult?  One of
>the ones he said counted as a classic was A Wrinkle in Time, but by those
>standards I have to disagree.  When I first read it, I loved it, but when
>I read it (and a Swiftly Tilting Planet) a year or so ago, I found that
>the portrayals of good and evil were too absolute and too
>traditional, and I found myself getting annoyed.  When I first read it, I
>bonded with Meg because she was different, and espoused room for
>difference, but I don't think that L'Engle left much room for different
>ideas of what's right and what's maybe not in her books.  Anyone else have
>an opinion on this?  (i think that's a rhetorical question.)

I think you grow as a reader in a way that changes the set of books you
consider great.  I don't think it has much to do with chronological aging,
except that a 30-year-old has had 15 more years of potential reading time
than someone half her age and has different concerns than a
fifteen-year-old.  In any case, you ought to be a different reader when
you're an adult than when you were thirteen (and, I daresay, you ought to be
a better one, except if that's true then Becca is going to be some kind of
supernatural genius in fifteen years).

But saying that a classic children's book is one you can love as an adult as
well is slightly misleading.  It's true on one level; most "great books"
have multiple layers to them, so that a reader can appreciate, say, _Pride
and Prejudice_ as a romance and a comedy and an historical novel.  So a
children's book that adults can enjoy would have to be layered in some way,
unless we are talking strictly about nostalgia, which I think we are not.

On the other hand, it's an inaccurate statement because it doesn't allow for
any changes in a reader other than the changes of aging.  My adult reaction
to Madeleine L'engle's books is similar to Lizzie's; I re-read a lot of
L'engle earlier this year, as well as reading some books for the first time,
and found that my moral philosophy (which was practically nonexistent when I
read them for the first time) has become more defined now.  I had the same
reaction that I have to Pamela Dean--I was annoyed by how very definite her
characters were in their opinions, because I couldn't argue my side.  And my
beliefs are different from hers in a big way.

There are, however, plenty of people whose reactions to L'engle are
different from mine.  And even though I don't adore her books the way I used
to, I still see in them a powerful yearning after truth and a strong sense
of goodness.  Her books are single-minded:  simple, not simplistic.  I read
so many fantasies as a young teen that I now see are simplistic (though I
don't own any of them, so I can't name names.  Just trust me on this) and
that I now dislike not because I disagree with them, but because the answers
they give are to problems I no longer have.  Or are answers that are
unworkable for me now.

What I'm getting at is that a children's book is not a classic because
individual adults still love it.  It becomes a classic when adults in
general can read it and love it.  I think _A Wrinkle in Time_ is a classic
despite my personal lack of enthusiasm for it.  I'm not sure how Harry
Potter is going to fare, though.  Sure, plenty of adults love her books
*now*.  Plenty of people love John Grisham too.  This says nothing about the
quality of their respective books and plenty about fads in reading.  It's
going to take some time to see whether or not Harry Potter is merely a fad.

(My own criterion for whether a children's book is a classic or not is: Can
I write a critical essay about this book that isn't a sociopolitical study
of the time in which it was written?  In other words, does it have a Theme?
But you'll notice that the MLA isn't exactly beating down my door for my

Melissa Proffitt
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