More than you ever wanted to know (was Re: answers from Diana)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at
Thu May 24 16:07:46 EDT 2001

On Wed, 23 May 2001 22:25:27 +0100, Rosie Burroughs wrote:

>----- Original Message -----
>From: Melissa Proffitt <Melissa at>

>> So, in my scale:
>> *Theme is mostly "objective" because I'm usually not worried about whether
>> or not I like or agree with the messages that the writer is promoting.
>> Books get a higher score depending on how easily I think I could write a
>> critical essay using only the book as my source text.  Hmmm.  I guess that
>> could be seen as subjective, but replace "I" with "people who know basic
>> crit stuff, like from high school English classes."
>Wibble. I don't think I could ever use this part of the scale! In spite of a
>respectable pass in English Lit at A-level, and a theology degree, I cannot
>do lit crit (or hist crit) to save my life, and trying to do it on a book I
>enjoy rapidly kills the enjoyment, though fortunately this is usually only
>temporary. I realise you're not actually saying you write critical essays
>about every book you read, but I am awed by the idea that anyone could think
>in a lit-crit sort of way for fun!

I started young.  :)  Seriously, when I was about 12 I had the chance to
take a grade-school class on children's lit, which was all about beginning
literary criticism.  I came home the first day and told my mother I was
going to drop it because I was afraid I wouldn't enjoy reading anymore if I
learned too much about dissecting books.  Fortunately this didn't happen.

But this is just the way *I* think about it.  Another take on theme is how
universal the book's message is.  How relevant is this character's actions
to me?  Could the results of this situation apply to other people's
problems?  Theme is (harking back to those simplistic early days) more or
less what the author's trying to say about life.  Sometimes it's obvious,
sometimes it isn't, but there's always a theme.

Actually, sometimes a more obvious theme is a drawback, especially if you
feel that the author's trying to whack you with it.  But that's still
Personal Enjoyment.

>My boyfriend once had to write a criticism of the film of The Go-Between
>(for GCSE English). He wrote an essay discussing its relation to the book
>and where it was inaccurate and why, and was told this was not what was
>required. I don't understand this attitude (the teacher's) at all. Maybe I
>just have the wrong sort of mind.

At the risk of being insulting to your boyfriend (and firmly establishing my
reputation as a bossy snob) while what he wrote was definitely a criticism,
it's a surface one.  At least the examination of the differences.  Where it
becomes legitimate critique is when you get to "why."  Personally, I think
that's interesting.  Anyone who's familiar with both can list the
differences between a film and the book it's based on; it takes skill to
understand the reasons for those differences and create a unified theory
from that.  (Another possibility for the essay being unacceptable is that it
uses a second source rather than examining the film in isolation, and maybe
that's the assignment.  This comes back to my idiosyncratic approach to
style in books; I give higher marks for books that can be analyzed on their
own, above those that can only be discussed in relation to other texts.
This is ENTIRELY my own preference, especially since one aspect of this list
is discussing DWJ's books as they compare to others.)

>> *Craft is objective insofar as I'm using concrete ideas about what makes
>> good writing technique, but subjective when it comes to how important I
>> think those elements are.  I'm personally annoyed by certain techniques
>> others don't care about.
>Doesn't this, or at least the objective part of it, come under the first

No, because craft is only peripherally related to theme.  While it's true
that they're related, a book can be well-crafted without having anything
substantive to say about life, and vice-versa.

Again, more than anyone ever wanted to know, but as it happens, I've gone
out on a limb on another email list and I'm seeking comfort in the company
of friends instead of hanging around waiting for the first blows to strike.

Melissa Proffitt
To unsubscribe, email dwj-request at with the body "unsubscribe".
Visit the archives at

More information about the Dwj mailing list