Families

Kathleen Jennings s368333 at student.uq.edu.au
Wed Apr 30 08:30:43 EDT 2003


Anna wrote:
> the characters have been neglected or abused or ill-parented or betrayed
> or otherwise mistreated, and they know real suffering from bitter personal
> experience. DWJ presents these traumas, and the consequences of these

I am reading Deep Secret to myself and out loud to a friend at the same time
and having the most wonderful time (I picked it up from the bookstore after
my exam yesterday and have even missed a lecture to keep reading). After
reading Anna's remarks, I thought I'd say something I'd been thinking about
for a while. Or a couple of things. But to start with:

I love the way she writes families. In so many books, the main character is
deliberately isolated from everything known and familar. DWJ may make the
familiar strange but the characters very often stay in a similar (or partly
similar) milieu to that in which they began, and families are a very
important part of this, for good or ill. I'm thinking of Polly and her
grandmother (and mother and father) in F&H, and Tom's family-by-marriage,
and in a way the musicians who are his family as well. There are the two
sets of siblings plus the human family in Power of Three. Vivian is
separated from her family in A Tale of Time City, but taken into another
one. Dark Lord of Derkholm is far more about Derk's family than it is about
the wizard themself (even Querida was married to a grandfather). That same
family is still important in Year of the Griffin, but other families are
seen as well, and the rapid friendship that develops between the main
characters welds them into a family of sorts as well. Then there's Deep
Secret, which has family trees chasing all over the place (I haven't
finished yet so I may not get this right). Quite apart from the Venables and
associates, and the Emperor's progeny, there is Maree's attachment to her
adoptive father and Nick's to the father he decided to adopt. These families
are all an integral part of the main characters' worlds and they must grow
and develop within that - all the complications and arguments and love and
hatred and companionship. It's something I've started to really appreciate
about her works - warm (or heated) interpersonal relationships which are
very real and vital and necessary, and which are missing from so many other
books, particularly fantasy where the standard "call to adventure" and
"departure" are so similar (and so disimilar to hers) and almost invariably
involve leaving home (our world, the Shire, Emond's field, take your pick)
and leaving or losing family.

Also, her characters are real and unusual - I know (or am) people like this.
And they are surprising and don't live up to expectations (Rupert's first
sighting of Maree) and fight and argue and jump to conclusions and despise
each other while both being sympathetic characters (I like Rupert and Maree
and yet could completely understand the opinion each had of the other). I
like that they do not simply have a tragic flaw or heroic fault tacked on
obligatorily, but are flawed from the very beginning and human with it. I
was walking back from uni yesterday, rather startled to notice just how deep
and blue the sky was. I had also been looking at photos of a long-ago
holiday in New Zealand (whispering Mordor! in unison with my sister - it was
winter). And I thought that I read so many books which make me think "I want
to see that place or that sky" and I hardly ever go out and look at the
utterly lovely campus I live in the middle of, or the rest of the world. But
DWJ books make me want to go out and look at people - not just the beautiful
ones, but the ordinary, bespectacled, abrasive, odd-shaped complicated ones
all around me. I go outside and look at them and know they all have stories
(because everyone has one in DWJ). Very few books make me look outwards like
that, and I realised that I've been missing it without knowing I was.

DWJ's books are an active reading experience for me. She drops you in the
middle without explaining and leaves you to fend for yourself. She doesn't
point the way to a familiar plot or pattern of events but circles and
prevaricates and spirals inwards until you look back up and realise that
every single thing and place and person has been integral to and indeed a
part of the plot from the beginning. She makes you care and think and
reevaluate the things you think you know. I feel very priveleged to have
been able to read them, and so many.
But I might have to stop for a little while. The shine is coming off all my
other books.

There are other things I was thinking about, but I'll get back to those
another time. Oh, and a few DWJ-isms I've noticed from reading a number of
her books in quick succession: 'wriggly hair' (Hexwood and DS), satisfied
hand-dusting (Zinka and the leather-winged avians) and 'blaring' (Ruskin in
YotG and Nick in DS).

Regards,
Kathleen.

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