Teaching Dark Lord

Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk Philip.Belben at powertech.co.uk
Tue May 14 11:36:29 EDT 2002

Jackie is reporting on her literature course:

> for these last couple of weeks of class, we read another fantasy novel,
> Mr. Was, and a chapter explaining fantasy and science fiction in our
> textbook.

Pardon my ignorance - I've never heard of Mr Was.

> How else to say it? Almost to a person, they hated Dark Lord.  I was so
> disappointed!  Although I assured them that after we have finished

Oh, no!  I should think you might be!

> discussing it, they should at least appreciate it, I'm not so sure.
> Several said that they had trouble getting into it (this was true both of
> die-hard fantasy fans and readers who don't like fantasy).  One of my

Have they all read the whole book yet?

> fantasy fans who didn't like it also says that she doesn't like Lord of
> the Rings and feels really badly about not liking either this book or
> LotR.

Well, I haven't read LotR _since_ I was an adolescent...

I don't think she - or any _individual_ - should ever feel bad about not liking
particular books.  Some books are not for some people.

OTOH almost a _whole class_ not liking DL is a tragedy!  (How many students in
the class, BTW?)

> Another didn't like Derk and his habit of tuning out instead of
> communicating with his wife.  Some said they felt like they couldn't join

Well, yes, that was one of Derk's problems.  Hey, a real character with real
flaws!  How novel!

I could go on disagreeing with the things your students said, but it won't

> What do you all think?  I wonder if that is a general sort of knee-jerk
> reaction to fantasy.  This particular student has been a staunch defender
> of "the classics" from day one and has been very dismissive of every
> adolescent text we've read, so I suppose a disdainful reaction to fantasy
> is not so unexpected from her.

I doubt it's a knee-jerk reaction against fantasy, but what did your students
think of the other fantasy you studied?

> I know that the book is, well... odd, like so much of dwj's work.  One of
> the things that she is doing is playing with our expectations of fantasy,
> and that's what I really liked about it and thought that they would

Well, I think she does that in most of her books.  In Dark Lord, she's doing so
a bit more explicitly, and I would have agreed with you in expecting your
students to appreciate it best.  I mean, if these young people are going to
teach literature, they should understand literary conventions, why they're used,
where they're useful, and so on, and should really appreciate a fantasy that
comes out and says "Generic fantasy conventions are messing up our world!"  Oh

> up their confusion.  Some of these expectations include 1. issues of
> gender roles, 2. adult/child relationships (what were those parents
> thinking???) 3.  symbolism (it's hard to tell what side querida is on,
> partly because jones makes use of negative symbols, such as snakes, to
> describe her) 4. particular themes 5.  language issues... etc.

I think that these are all worth studying!  With luck, you ought to get a really
good discussion on the symbolism (why is a snake a negative symbol? etc.), but
you don't sound very lucky so far...

Actually, I recently re-read DL and YotG.  YotG is one of DWJ's funniest books,
I think, but DL certainly has its moments.  And Scales is my favourite dragon in
all literature...


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