Families

Anna Clare McDuff amcduff at math.sunysb.edu
Wed Apr 30 10:08:51 EDT 2003


On Wed, 30 Apr 2003, Kathleen Jennings wrote:

> I love the way she writes families.

	Me too. There's a response to a bit from what you wrote next w a y
at the bottom of this email because it reminded me so strongly of
something to do with the ending of Merlin that left me gasping with
admiration. *Lots* of spoiler space first though as it would be a real
spoiler who hadn't read it yet...


	If anyone hasn't read Archer's Goon yet, they might find this a
bit of a spoiler too!



> 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.

	My favourite example of this comes from Archer's Goon.  When I was
a child the family I would have most liked to belong to was Howard's
adopted family. Now I'm grown up I admire the realism of their portrayal
(I'm still convinced that I know *exactly* what their kitchen smelled
like) and I love the way she portrays Howard's struggles with his adopted
family, his birth family & his realisation that after 130 odd years he's
going to have to try to grow up right this time. It's such a wild and
inventive way to have Howard face up to his own human flaws! Oh, that
scene when he walks into the temple & sees everything the He That Grew Up
Last Time built. And realising that all of Venturus' faults are his and
that he will have to deal with them, and even if he is tempted to try to
weasel out of them his newly rediscovered brother is there to mentor him:
"Two things you don't do. Won't stand for either. Don't go off in
spaceship. Don't be a baby again.". Genius...  Sheer genius...

> 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.

	That's beautiful, and I know exactly what you mean. I find so many
fantasy novels have a depressing tendency to discount the wonders of our
world in comparison with the wonders of the fantasised world. Our world
seems so mundane by comparison, it has no magic, no centaurs, no miracles.
But DWJ's worlds use their fantastical elements to bring the wonders of
our world into sharp relief so that we can appreciate them more, and see
them in new lights. As great books should. Human nature in all of its
terrors, joys & awkward "oh god I have to peel all these potatoes and I
have a headache and my toe itches"-ness is right in the centre of things
where it belongs.


Serious Merlin Spoiler below, please don't scroll down if you haven't read
the book yet.

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	Ok, here goes:


> 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.
>

	Yeah. This is one of the things that left me gasping about Merlin,
the way at the very end of his rather heroic "striding off into his
destiny" adventure Nick returns to his adopted father, his graceful
recognition that his destiny doesn't just involve magic, and power, and
adventures on other worlds but also involves being a good son to his
rather vulnerable adopted father, is a sign of real maturity. I can't
think of any other author who might have ended such a book that way.

	Anna




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