[DWJ] Re: Princesses and transformations in DWJ (was Happy DWJ-book-related news)

Ika Willis blake at gaudaprime.co.uk
Fri Jun 23 09:55:09 EDT 2006

Minnow, responding to Judith responding to Elizabeth:

>>Melisande, by E. Nesbit. Illustrations in 90s picture book version by PJ
> It's one of the gems in the *Puffin Book of Princesses* (1965), which I
> regard as the finest collection of stories about Princesses ever

Yes! And it has one of my favourite stories in the world in it, the
Clockwork Princess: my gf gave it to me after I told her about a very long
and overwrought autobiographical poem I wrote when I was about eighteen,
about a princess who leaves a glass version of herself behind to fool her
parents so she can get away and see the world. (The plot of the Clockwork
Princess is much the same, but it has a happier ending than my peom did.)

Oh, and this gets me back to DWJ: when I did the DWJ Character quiz I got
Lukin from *The Year of the Griffin*, and was mildly put out (b/c why not
Gair or Cat or Moril?): but then I looked him up and he's another
clockwork princess, which was spooky, because I'd never noticed how
closely his story conforms to that very personal set of associations and
images before. So ever since then I've thought of the quiz as sort of
oracular - ie it doesn't tell you who you're most *like* so much as
reflecting back to you on the question you bring to it, and giving you an
unexpected answer. Which is much more interesting and helpful.

That's perhaps the thing I value most about DWJ's books, actually: so many
children's books are about transformation, about becoming something
different and better (from the 'getting-a-makeover' end of the spectrum
[OMG I am popular!!1!] to the 'getting-a-letter-from-Hogwarts' end [OMG I
am a wizard!!1!]). But DWJ is more about figuring out what you *already
are*, and finding better ways to deal with it. I remember at the Reader's
Day in Bristol (and I *will* write up a report this weekend, I promise!) I
was really happy when someone said that Howl 'completely transformed' in
HMC, and DWJ said no, he didn't, because Howl's such a good example of
that: the book isn't about him *stopping* being a slitherer-outer, coward,
etc, it's about figuring out how he can do things *given that* he's a

Which reminds me of something I've said on this list before, that DWJ has
what Walter Benjamin calls 'counsel' - that thing she does that's so hard
to define, because it's not like her books have a *moral* or they're
trying to teach you something, but... well, they teach you things. And
when I've had counselling, one of the most helpful things it's done for me
is exactly what I've just said DWJ does: not change me, or teach me a new
moral lesson or anything, but help me figure out what I already am, and
how I can do what I want/need to do given what I'm like.

Hmm. Maybe that's why I don't like F&H as much as most of DWJ's other
books: Polly has to *change* too much in it. There's that moment when she
and Fiona are talking about what *stupid* things girls do when they turn
fifteen, and I think that's the only moment in DWJ where I've had a sense
that a being a certain type of person (15yo girl) puts you in a certain
category. There's something about it that seems very different from DWJ's
usual narratives/theories about change - I'm thinking of Christopher Chant
finding out that he was responsible for mermaid genocide, and how although
he feels awful about it and I get the sense that the knowledge changed him
forever, we have such a strong sense of what led him into it and how that
event works in the narrative of his life. It's very different from Polly's
self-berating '15yo girls do stupid things'.

Love, Ika


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