Polly and Tom

Sally Odgers sodgers at tassie.net.au
Fri Jan 11 20:11:13 EST 2002


A discussion of F&H popped up on another list, and Dorien Gray posted such a
great answer to someone's query about how Polly and Tom finally escaped
Laurel. With her permission, I'm reposting it here.

Sallyo.

The query was;
Why do Polly and Tom manage to cheat Laurel?

Dorien explains -

Okay, after many, many rereads (I've been reading this book over and
over for almost 15 years, I think!), I think I understand the end -
but it's almost an instinct-level understanding, so I'm not sure if
I'm going to be able to explain it coherently. :-)  Anyway, I'll give
it a try...after the spoiler space.
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spoiler space...
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That should be far enough, I hope.

Okay, if you recall, after Polly does her bit of magical spying,
Laurel manages to force her to say she'll forget Tom - I think the
exact words are "All right, I'll forget him, just leave me alone!"
Which implies a bargain of sorts: Polly will forget Tom (and she
does), but Laurel must leave Polly alone from now on (which she
does...but probably is encouraging Seb in his pursuit of Polly; Laurel
always has to bend rules and agreements and contracts).

So Polly forgets Tom, but as she says herself, "I never said for how
long, and that isn't the same as giving him up" - I think this is why
she's allowed the chance to save him; she hasn't broken the contract.

So then Laurel comes up with the concrete pool thing.  The rule is
that either man (Tom and Morton) may call upon anything that is truly
his to aid him.  The twist in the rule is the same as the twist in the
gift that Laurel originally gave Tom - remember, anything he makes up
will come true, but will then come back and hit him.  So in this
contest, any aid he calls upon will turn and hit him - push him
further into the "pit".  Therefore, if any aid will damn him (I think
this is the "tithe to hell" bit from "Tam Lin"), the only way to save
him is to deny him all aid, and the only way to do that is to take
away the one thing that he was absolutely positive was truly his -
Polly's support.

So, Polly goes in after him, and takes away her support.  Tells him
she wants nothing to do with him and she isn't going to save him.
It's quite a neat reversal of Janet hanging onto Tam in the poem,
really, and a nice nod to "if you love someone, set them free".  So
Polly cuts hersely loose from Tom and...well, I think there are three
reasons that this works.  The first is more my feeling than anything
else; Tom has been deprived of all aid, but I suspect that Morton is
still looking for help, and that's what pushes him under - or maybe if
one side has no aid, the other side can't hope to "beat" that.  The
second reason is that it suits Laurel - if she can't damn Tom, at
least he's now going to be utterly miserable (and after all, she
doesn't much mind losing Morton; she still has Seb).  The third reason
is more philosophical, if you will:  it's sort of that only you can
save yourself, no-one else can do it for you, and Tom can only find
the strength to save himself when he believes that he has no other
choice, that no-one else can or will do it.

So Tom wins and Morton gets dumped in the pit where he belongs. :-)

Now we have the problem of how Polly and Tom can still be together.
Polly has just renounced him utterly, and if she goes back on that,
he'll become a legal target for Laurel once again.  "If you love
someone, set them free" - but that has to mean free forever.  But Tom
did not renounce Polly, and has no wish to.  And by setting him free,
Polly has granted him free choice, and he chooses her.  And then Polly
says "If two people can't get together anywhere...".  And Tom cops on
and suggests "Nowhere".  This goes back to their old pretence games,
where the place where the heroes were was "sort of here but not-here",
and they called it after the vases, "Now Here" and "Nowhere".  In
other words, because of Laurel's gift to Tom and the use they made of
it between them, they have, in a way, a private world, a place that's
almost Now Here but not quite, where they can be together.  And as
Polly points out, "if it's not true nowhere, it has to be true
somewhere".  I.e. if their guess that they can circumvent Laurel by
living in their "fantasy world" is incorrect, then they must be free
to be together in the real world.  And I think Tom's free choice has
weight here, too.

This seems garbled...I said I only understood it instinctively!  I
think what it boils down to is, Laurel can't enforce her contracts in
both worlds.  If Polly's renunciation stands in Nowhere, then she's
free in Now Here, and vice versa.  Or else Polly and Tom's Nowhere is
a completely different place from either Now Here or Laurel's world,
so they can still be free there.  And I don't think, now that Polly
has set Tom free, that Laurel can do much about his free choice.
Polly seems almost to have set Tom free of everything.

Until the sky falls on our heads...

Dorian.


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