Ending of eight days of Luke - SPOILERS

Dorian E. Gray israfel at eircom.net
Sat May 15 12:37:28 EDT 2004

Charlie said...

> I just finished Eight Days of Luke - my very last DWJ novel! Till Conrad's
> Fate, that is. I must admit I was surprised by the ending, which....
> S
> P
> O
> I
> L
> E
> R
> S
> P
> O
> I
> L
> E
> R
> ... had David's cousin, uncle and aunt suddenly turn out to be crooks and
> skip the country, allowing him to move in with Astrid. Unpleasant as
> Bernard and Dot were, there had been no hint of criminal tendencies
> heretofore. Was it simply a way of getting around the fact that, as next
> kin, they would have needed to give their permission for him to move out?
> didn't work for me, anyway.

I didn't find it at all surprising that they had been embezzling David's
money.  There seems to be (in kidlit, anyway, I don't know about Real Life)
a particular type of personality which would never dream of shoplifting,
say, but doesn't have any problem with embezzling a minor child's
inheritance.  They seem to see the money as sort of their due for looking
after the child, however poorly they may fulfil that responsibility - it is
not, to them, actual stealing.  And I think it's their belief that they're
not really doing anything wrong that comes across to us the readers as "no
hint of criminal tendencies".

It is, of course, also a device on the author's part to get the tiresome
baddies out of the way so that the child hero can live happily ever after,
but it didn't seem a particularly contrived one to me.

> It also struck me how very similar this device was to the one used at the
> end of Roald Dahl's *Matilda* to get rid of Matilda's unpleasant family
> allow her to move in with Miss Honey. (Another parallel, not quite exact:
> David's relatives had been spending money to which he was entitled; Miss
> Trunchbull had been doing the same to Miss Honey.) Does this kind of thing
> happen a lot in children's fiction?

I rather think it must, since I accepted it happily as the kind of thing
that happens...but I can't offhand think of any other examples.  Maybe I
just accepted it because DWJ made it convincing to me.

But I'm thinking maybe some authors feel a need to do this kind of thing to
prove that the bad adults are *really* bad - what I mean is, making a
child's life a misery is...a messy sort of a crime.  Not always considered
illegal.  Abuse can be tricky to prove legally, takes forever, and a child
may be rendered unhappy without anything that could legally be considered
abuse taking place.  But if the bad adults are shown to being doing
something more clear-cut-ly illegal, such as embezzlement, then we the
readers know that these people are *really* bad, and the child's misery and
attempts to escape from it are validated.  If you see what I mean.

Thinking about it some more, it seems a rather old-fashioned kind of plot
device; it calls up a lot of fairy-tale echoes, but it also seems to me
somewhat Victorian.  I'm not entirely sure why.  It also makes me think of
J. K. Rowling, though there has been no suggestion yet that Harry Potter
even has any money for his frightful (and to me, unconvincing) relations to
steal.  I don't doubt that if he had, they would, though!

Until the sky falls on our heads...

Dorian E. Gray
israfel at eircom.net

"It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
-Wm. Shakespeare, "Macbeth".

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