[DWJ] (now with F&H spoilers)

Minnow minnow at belfry.org.uk
Tue Jan 23 11:59:38 EST 2007

>Otter wrote:
> You have exposed my worst failing.  I can't get into
>> Fire & Hemlock.

Ika wrote

>Well, it's not one of my favourites, either - I like it, but (except in
>flashes) it doesn't feel quite like a DWJ book to me. I was enormously
>surprised when I discovered how popular it is, both here and in the fanfic.
>But I don't remember that woman as "sentimental", if you
>> mean the Queen of the Fairies one ...
>I was thinking already that probably I need to take more care with my F&H
>allusions, since (again from the fanfic) most people seem to think it's all
>about Polly and Tom,  whereas I think it's all about Polly and Laurel and
>pay as little attention to Tom as I can. So it's probably a case of the
>blind people and the elephant - my descriptions of the book are likely to be
>unfamiliar even to people who *can* get into F&H...  Anyway, for me the key
>phrase in the book is 'sentimental nonsense'*, which is what T*m writes on
>Polly's story - and later, after Polly's remembered that she agreed to give
>Tom up because of Laurel's taradiddle about cancer and so on, she's furious
>with herself for falling for Laurel's 'sentimental nonsense' (I think the
>phrase is actually repeated).  So, yeah. Sorry for the obscurity.

>*or 'rubbish'? Don't have it to hand.

Drivel.  (I was surprised it wasn't "sentimental tosh", which is the
DWJ-phrase in Real Life.)

The first bit is

"The postcard was from New York.  It had two words written on it.
        Sentimental drivel.  T.G.L.
Polly stared at it in outrage.  She could hardly believe it."

Then in the train on the way to the final confrontation Polly tells Tom,
"You taught me about sentimental drivel, but I didn't think of that
/once/!" about Laurel's lie that he has cancer.

You have one view (Polly&Laurel) about this book, you say that you feel
others have another (Polly&Tom); I have never seen it as being about Polly
+ any-one-other.  It's probably the one of DWJ's books that I find the most
different threads in, really.  There is the one about friendships and
loyalties (Nina and Fiona, and the quartet), and the one about having and
losing faith (almost everyone), and the one about allowing oneself to be
embarrassed or otherwise manipulated into doing things one knows to be a
mistake (Polly, all over the place), and the way that people can make
things be so by asserting them (Ivy in particular, *just as Tom does* but
for different causes), and the one about truth being a matter of
perspective sometimes, and the one about trying to own people and how wrong
it is

I wrote thus far, and then read your reply to Philip because it arrived at
that point:

>I associate Laurel
>very strongly with a particular evil member of my family, and I was trying
>to write something about that in my last post but I couldn't formulate it
>properly. You're absolutely right, I think - if Laurel *were* sentimental,
>she would herself be susceptible to Sentimental Drivel and therefore a much
>less formidable opponent. Whereas she's a very clear thinker, not at all to
>be muddled or confused by Drivel - you can't actually *be* sentimental if
>you're going to use Drivel to manipulate other people, because it would
>muddy your own machinations.
>(Though in real life a lot of people [like my own evil relative] *are* both
>manipulative and woolly-minded/confused. Maybe that's why Laurel's such a
>glorious baddie: that degree of pure, clear-headed manipulation isn't seen
>that often, I don't think. Or not by me.)

The muddled manipulator in the book is Ivy rather than Laurel, I'd suggest.
(Their both having plant-names, and appropriate plant-names at that, is a
small joy to me: Laurel, the bay-tree, the symbol of the victor, kills
anything that tries to grow in its shadow; Ivy, clinging, can't stand
alone, kills the tree it battens onto.)  Laurel does know exactly what she
is up to, and has no qualms about *using* muddle as a means to manipulate
people: she's the one who knows what is *really* going on, and misdirection
about it is her tool not only in the book but in the legends and ballads.
Ivy doesn't have a clue about reality, but thinks she knows what is going
on: her husband is cheating on her, her lover is deceiving her and doesn't
really care about her, her daughter is a sly piece who is colluding with
Granny and with Dad to try to manipulate her, and so on -- and by assuming
these things and asserting them, she makes them happen.  Her husband does
leave her for another woman, her lover does start to deceive her, and in
self-defence Polly does have to conspire with Granny.

I have a suspicion that both are aspects of DWJ's own mother, who was
certainly as destructive in many ways as either of them, and a great one
for manipulation of all sorts.


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