New books

jackie e stallcup jstallcup at juno.com
Wed Oct 30 20:19:59 EST 2002


Michelle said:  
<>I was also thinking about the absent mother, and feeling a bit sorry
for the traveller woman who, preumably, is central to Sabriel's early
life but is never mentioned again.  And thinking about absent mothers in
fairy tales and children's literature
generally. >

I think this is an interesting phenomenon as well.  On another list we
once discussed the issue of absent parents in children's literature and
many writers pointed that it is a convenient way to do two things:  1. 
create conflict for the main (child) character and 2.  force the child
character to rely on him or herself in order to solve problems. 
Tangentially, it can also provide a safe space for the child reader to
imagine what life would be like without parents--a place that many
children sometimes imagine that they want to be.    

But the absent mothers in fairy tales is more complicated than this, I
think.  Marina Warner talks about it in her book From the Beast to the
Blonde, and I am not capable at this moment of transmitting her argument
very fully or capably (I'm tired, it's been some time since I read it,
etc.).  But from what I remember off the top of my head, female/female
conflict in folklore can reflect the conflict experienced by women in
their real lives... between lack of birth control and high incidence of
death in childbirth, there were many blended families with stepmothers
and so on, where the women would have to compete with each other for the
attention of the powerful male head of the household.  Add in there that
many mothers would join sons' households and you have another potential
layer of conflict.  I think that these conflicts can be sort of
sublimated into stories about missing mothers or evil stepmothers.  

One of the interesting things to think about is how this plays out when
modern writers try to write feminist fairy tales.  To me, working on
issues of community rather than female/female conflict would be a theme
that one might expect to see in feminist fairy tales.  But you don't,
really.  Well, in Rumpelstiltskin's Daughter, you do, to a certain
extent, but Hope (the daughter) has to "trick" the king into acting in
ways that are beneficial for the community...

I haven't read Gregory Maguire's work yet, but does he do this?  Or does
dwj?  I'm thinking of Howl's Moving Castle, maybe?  The relationships
between the sisters and the mother?

But how this plays into Sabriel, hmm...  I don't really know.  It does
make me think of The Ogre Downstairs, where we have certain expectations
about how stepfathers function and dwj kind of forces us to dismantle
those by the end of the book.  

Well, that was rather rambly. Hope it makes sense...

Jackie S
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