[DWJ] DWJ, Time of the Ghost, and awful childhoods

deborah.dwj at suberic.net deborah.dwj at suberic.net
Sun Dec 10 12:10:08 EST 2006

I was just reading a galley of the forthcoming Tim Wynne-Jones.
When I read the afterword in which he explains how this
(completely fictional) story is nevertheless set in the place and
time of his childhood, in the city and year and family structure,
I found myself thinking "oh, honey, I *know*".  Because you can
always tell when authors do that.  Even in the hands of the most
gifted authors -- a camp in which I number Wynne-Jones, without
question -- the fictional story that overlaps with the author's
own childhood too closely is always marked.  I didn't know any of
the circumstances of Wynne-Jones' childhoood before I read the
book, but I could still tell that's what book I was reading.

I tried to explain it to Allen.  "It's a certain nostalgic glow,"
I said.  "A certain shine of Brownie cameras and Raleigh
three-speed bikes and glass bottles of pop from the corner store,
a vision of the world as ultimately hopeful, and a sense of the
story as being aware of itself as frozen in time.  Even in this
story, where the protagonist spends plenty of the time angry at
his dysfunctional family and terrified of the cold war.  It
always happens, even to the very best of authors, when they
fictionalise their childhoods."

And then I thought about it for a minute, and said, "Well, except
for Diana Wynne Jones.  She had such an awful childhood that
*her* semi-autobiographical fantasy novel is almost unreadably
pessimistic, and is far *less* optimistic and hopeful about the
future than anything else she's written. "  Now that I think of
it, TotG is so pessimistic that there's no hope at all for the
child protagonists.  One interpretation is that the child
protagonists are doomed, but they have one hope: to grow up as
quickly as possible, because childhood is going to suck like
nobody's business, and if they can get it over with as quickly as
possible they can get on with the less miserable parts of life.
Not really a children's book conclusion at all, when you think
about it.

There were green alligators, and long necked geese
Humpty-backed camels and chimpanzees
Cats and rats and elephants, but Lord, I'm so forlorn
I just can't find no unicorn.		-- Shel Silverstein

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