On the subject of Wicked Women

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Tue May 22 00:59:36 EDT 2001

Since we started talking about Laurel again, this is a response to an old
old discussion in which Hallie dared, yet again, to disagree with me.

(Note: in case you were wondering, it is an Old Old Joke that Melissa is
Always Right.  This stems from the fact that I occasionally channel the
spirit of Daisy Parker.  So now you know.)

Melissa wrote:
>>You know, I rather like Laurel.  She's the bad guy, but she's not evil--just
>>totally alien.  She's cruel, but fair (in both senses).  It hints at a whole
>>realm of Faerie that we never see except in the glimpses of Laurel's life.

>I tried to resist doing this, but, do you _really_, Melissa?  I find Laurel
>totally evil, largely because she feels so very unalien to me.  I know
>she's the Queen of Faerie and all, but I suppose she seems so like a lot of
>people that I always think of her as human - in all the worst ways.  That
>belief that one is entitled, because of being prettier, richer, having
>achieved more, is frighteningly prevalent at the moment in my experience.
>And fair?  Only when she sets the rules so that she'll win - or when she's
>playing with other people's money, as Christopher says in The Perilous

>OOH, I'd agree with everything you said if it were applied to the Lady in
>The Perilous Gard...

The funny thing is, I agree with everything you say, but in reverse.  That
is, I see the Lady of _The Perilous Gard_ as the one who is very human, and
Laurel as the alien one.

Here's what I think about Laurel.  I don't like her as a *person*.  If I met
her in a dark alley, I'd be scared and revolted.  I really really hate a
certain recent trend in writing about vampires, for example, that makes the
vampires the good guys and the ones the reader is supposed to sympathize
with and want to be like (Anne Rice would be the most obvious example).
Ugh.  Here are these creatures that look on humans as basically meat on the
hoof, and so many readers are thinking it's cool and wonderful and why can't
I be a vampire too?  That really bugs me.  So I don't worship Laurel.

On the other hand, I do like her as a *character*.  I agree that she looks
like the kind of privileged wealthy debutante snob who assumes that she
deserves more, is more worthy, because of her position and wealth.  But
because she isn't human, I think it's reasonable (from her point of view) to
think so.  (Sidebar: The idea that Laurel is not human is, in my mind,
implicit in the text.  It's possible that she IS in fact human with
otherworldly powers, but I think this is one element which is lifted whole
from the faerie stories of Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer.)  I don't *agree*
with her.  But there are ways that she genuinely is different from other
humans.  She behaves the way she does because that's how the Faerie are.
Which is why I say it hints at aspects of the Faerie realm that we never
see.  Laurel's evil because she does things for her own benefit that make
humans suffer.  But to me that seems a lot like a spider preying on a
fly--something she does because of her nature.

This shouldn't be an excuse.  I mean, if we're the fly, we're not obligated
to lie there and let the spider suck out our juices with a straw.  But we
fight back; we don't say "the spider shouldn't be like that." Obviously the
spider *is* like that, and that's its nature.  That's why Polly fights back
in the end.  The only way to beat Laurel is to play by her rules--and bend
them just the way Laurel does, because bending the rules is itself a rule of
the game.

The Lady of the Perilous Gard is a different case.  There, it's clear that
she's a human who's been raised in a different culture.  There's nothing
intrinsic about her that makes her more or less human than Kate; when she
gets all snobbish, I want to say "what makes you so special?"  And yet the
fact remains that I like her as a person better than Laurel.  Laurel is, as
I keep saying, an alien.  The Lady is human.  So although I think she has
less "right" to set herself up as superior than Laurel, I'd still back her
against the alien Faerie any day.

I don't know how much of this comes across in either text.  How one reacts
to Laurel (or the Lady of the Perilous Gard) is subject to personal opinion
and experience, of course.  I'm simply awed by DWJ's handling of this cold,
heartless, self-centered character.  _Fire and Hemlock_ in general leaves me
stunned with amazement.  It's such a good STORY that it took me several
readings to realize that it's also one of the best young adult novels I've
ever read--in form, in content, in everything.  What did Philip say recently
about telling someone that "everyone seems to think DWJ is a children's
writer except her readers?"  Absolutely true.

Melissa Proffitt
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