Back to DWJ (was: Re: Elitism was Tam Lin)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Thu Sep 14 00:49:56 EDT 2000

How's that for an embedded subject line?  :)

On Mon, 11 Sep 2000 17:29:23 -0400 (EDT), Kyra Jucovy wrote:

>Hmm... there are certain elitist aspects of DWJ books that do make me feel
>uncomfortable in similar ways to how Tam Lin made me uncomfortable,
>although obviously not in the same quoting way.  A good example that was
>recently mentioned, I think, is the treatment of Halla in _Power of Three_
>- I have never once managed to read that book without feeling quite
>uncomfortable about this - everybody meets Halla, immediately thinks,
>"She's stupid," and then basically hates her for the rest of the book.   I
>never really feel like I get to know Halla quite as well as I would like
>before making that judgement, although I'm pretty sure that, just as with
>Tina, if I met her in real life I would take that exact attitude towards

I find this interesting because as I read _Power of Three_ it seemed that
the others' reactions to Halla are reasonable.  I went back to the book for
this, though, and now I'm impressed all over again with how talented DWJ is.
(Keep in mind I'm not trying either to prove Kyra's point or refute it;
these are my usual fumblings in the dark.)

The first time we meet Halla, she's in a bad position.  First, she's been
captured by the "enemy" and in a very humiliating way.  Then, as she tries
to escape, her little brother is acting calm and assured in a way that makes
her angrier (it is very unpleasant to be weak when you're the older one, and
Hafny's relaxed attitude is a much stronger response to a crisis than
Halla's flailing about).  So the first impression that Gair and everyone has
of her is really negative, and I think that would be unfair if everyone kept
reacting to her based on this first meeting.  But Halla doesn't get any
nicer.  She's insulting to the Lymen and the Giants, standoffish, and
unwilling to compromise--every suggestion for alternatives to flooding the
Moor, she counters not with reasons, but with mulishness ("it's happening,
and we don't want to stop it, so it's your responsibility" and so forth).
Reasonable for her to react like this, reasonable for them to dislike her
for it.

Then the situation changes.  Halla starts explaining why the Dorig need the
Moor flooded: they need living space, they're overcrowded, all their
aggressions are for the good.  And Gair sees that Gerald has "formed a very
low opinion of her mental powers" and agrees: "Judging by the unreflecting
way she spoke, he suspected she was simply repeating what other, older,
Dorig said."  And for the rest of the book, it's repeatedly shown that Gair
and Gerald are right.  Halla is sort of shallow.  She would like to be more
important than she is, but she ends up being simply boastful and a parrot of
others' ideas, without really understanding them.  She likes being important
and being the daughter of the King.  In fact, she's a lot like another DWJ
character--Polly's friend Nina, who gets treated with the same kind of
disdain for being shallow, a follower of fads, and "unreflecting."

I think there are probably other characters of this type sprinkled
throughout DWJ, and they all receive the same disdainful treatment (think of
Hildy when she's at Lawschool in _The Crown of Dalemark_).  DWJ apparently
does not suffer fools gladly, but only the fools who don't have to be
foolish.  Every one of these characters has great natural ability at
something and chooses to be less than she could be.  Ven pointed out in
another post that when Tom sends Polly all those books, he's not saying
she's stupid for not having read them yet.  Lack of knowledge is not a sin
in DWJ's universe.  Deliberately being shallow *is*.  This is probably
another form of elitism, but I find it more palatable because it's not
directed at an "innocent" so to speak.  Or maybe I'm just giving in to my
own elitism on this front.

But then I got caught up in the whole scene, and...that will have to wait.
Too long.

>	The same thing applies to my problem with _Cart and Cwidder_ - I do
>get uncomfortable with Moril's treatment of Brid - he seems to spend quite
>a lot of time thinking about how much she overestimates herself, is
>conceited, etc., when a pretty significant part of the book to me is Moril
>doing the exact same thing.  I'm glad that the book ends with Moril
>realizing his mistakes, but I wish that he had maybe applied that lesson
>to his earlier thoughts about Brid a bit.

Moril is a different case.  He's an ideal example of an unreliable or naive
narrator: we see events through his eyes, but his perception is limited and
can't be taken as absolute truth.  Although Moril puts his own internal spin
on everything that happens, we still see the actual events, and the
disparity between what Moril believes and what the reader sees is a way of
characterizing Moril.  DWJ doesn't have to say "Moril still has a lot of
growing up to do," she shows it through his own perceptions.  You could turn
the story around, tell it from Brid's point of view, and it would be the

>  I think maybe part of my
>discomfort with both DWJ and PD on these issues is that they hit a little
>close to home about my own attitudes about these things, but even so, I
>sometimes worry about it - would DWJ condescend to me because I'm stupid
>compared to her ;-)? 

Gosh, I hope not.  Though if I ever met her in person, I'd probably be such
a babbling idiot that she'd almost be justified...I tend to drool on myself
when I meet authors I really admire.

Melissa Proffitt
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