"Imagine -- Unsuitable for Children"

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Wed Jul 7 08:51:17 EDT 2004

>Ika wrote:
>>>Drug-taking - okay, can't think of a single example there...

DWJ suggests that the nearest example she can think of is the chewing-gum
David uses in *Eight Days of Luke*, for what it's worth.  :-)

Gili wrote:
>I've also been giving this some thought. I can't think of any clear examples
>either, but characters like Tacroy sometimes act like drug addicts. (minor
>spoilers possible for "The Lives of Christopher Chant")  With Tacroy, it's
>the combination of not being master of his own fate, living a double life
>and letting his shadier underlife undermine the life he's more committed to,
>his spirit journeys sending him into an opium-like stupor... the difference,
>of course, is that Tacroy was born into the situation, as opposed to being
>bound into it slowly by a growing addiction. So drugs themselves perhaps
>aren't an issue, but the sort of harm that drugs do to your relationships
>and your personality and your cognitive abilities is an issue in several of
>DWJ's books. Some more examples might be Tom in F&H, the Duke in MoC,
>Mordion... can't think of others off the bat, but basically any character
>who is a slave to someone or something external.

Other characters in DWJ's work who could be called "slaves" (in that they
are or have been unwillingly --in one or two cases unwittingly as well--
compelled to act in ways other than they might have chosen, over a long
period, at the behest of someone who has the power to compel them) might
include the Bannus as well as Mordion in *Hexwood*, Calcifer in *Howl's
Moving Castle*, Cat in *Charmed Life*, Olga and Ruskin in *Year of the
Griffin*, Mark Lister/Herrel in *A Sudden Wild Magic*, Kathleen in
*Dogsbody*, Roddy as well as the embroiderers in *The Merlin Conspiracy*,
the entire population of the town in *Black Maria*, the various princesses
in *Castle in the Air*, almost the entire cast of *The Dark Lord of
Derkholm*, anyone in *The Homeward Bounders* who is walking the bounds, the
gang in *Wilkins' Tooth*, and what about my poor dear Sempitern Walker?  A
slave to his *job*!

After thinking it over for a couple of days I'm still dubious about this
analogy.  To use only your examples, in the cases of Tom and the Duke what
is involved is a magical or quasi-magical compulsion, which they neither
chose knowingly, accept willingly nor crave for; Tacroy and Mordion have
had a life-long training in a particular behavioural pattern, and had no
option about it from birth. The removal of the compulsion that has been
placed on these individuals has a quite different effect from that of the
removal of a drug: none of them wishes nor seeks for a return to the
situation that makes him obey his erstwhile "owner", and none appears to
suffer "withdrawal symptoms" as a result of having the compulsion removed.
It isn't something they have volunteered into, as drug-taking is in all but
extraordinary cases; it's something that has been imposed upon them, and
they are entirely glad to be free of it, with no hankerings.

Drug-taking may be a subset of slavery, perhaps, in that once one has
started to use drugs one may end up effectively enslaved to them, but
slavery is not a subset of drug-taking, is where that leads me.

It may be that what amounts to brainwashing is another subset of slavery
(into which category I might put Tacroy and Mordion) and has effects that
are similar to drug-taking from the point of view of the onlooker, and
impinges severely on the ability of the brainwashed individual to interact
normally in a social context; but since there is no associative "reward" in
the form of a "high", as there is with drugs, there is no incentive for the
individual concerned to continue in his practice other than the prospect of
death or severe and horrible punishment if he tries to escape from his

I suppose it could be argued that by showing that in every single case of
slavery I can think of in her books the slave strives to be free if he or
she knows that the condition of his or her life amounts to slavery, and
rejoices when liberated, DWJ *might* be suggesting that one should strive
to be free from a drug habit and should rejoice if it is defeated, but it
seems to me to be stretching it a bit.  I'd say she was suggesting rather
that one should strive not to be a slave to another person or persons,
since that is what these characters all are.  (Apart from the poor old
Sempitern, who is enslaved by his role in society.)

On the whole I don't suppose all that many of the slaves in our world have
much time for reading children's literature, either, even supposing they
can read, and read English at that, which is probably why the subject
wasn't put into the "ooh shocking" teaser for the television programme:
unlike drugs, which get discussed to death, present-day slaves are a
genuine taboo about which people tend not to talk in front of the children.
It might upset the children to realise just how some of their fashionable
must-haves are produced, after all.

I actually find it profoundly disturbing to correlate involuntary servitude
with voluntary addiction, which is why I have delayed my reply: I didn't
want to over-react.  The British child of ten who seeks out for example
heroin does generally have the option of not doing so: contrary to some
beliefs, a single injection doesn't addict you, it is possible to live on a
sink estate and *not* take drugs, and you do need to be fairly dim not to
notice that heroin is likely to be bad for you.  The child of ten (or four)
who is sold by parents to work in an industry which will probably cripple
or kill its workers/victims before the age of twenty-five has no choice in
the matter.


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