[DWJ] Sayers and Meg Cabot v. DWJ

Jackie E Stallcup jstallcup at juno.com
Fri Feb 1 20:39:31 EST 2008

Ok, yes, so this makes sense:  a deliberately written account *would*
allow for more literary language than the type of first person in which
you are, as Joe puts it, simply lodged in the person's head for no
particular reason.

I think that sometimes first person gets used because at some level it
seems like it will be easier.  (I know that's how it turned out in the
novel that I wrote but which has been shelved because, I'm sure, it's
really not very good).  In a lot of ways (like many first novels), it's
*my* story so it made sense to me to be in first person.  But it
definitely doesn't have any reason for it beyond that.  And when I tried
to rewrite it in third person, ugh, it was such a much more difficult
task that I gave it up.  

But it ISN'T easy to *do well*.  In my children's literature class, we
read Letters tfrom Rifka, which is an epistolary novel (well,
technically, it's written as a journal that take the form of letters to
Rifka's cousin, but because the cousin is not able to reply, it's quite
one-sided.)  When I press my students to think about the form, they start
to realize the difficulties that arise.  In particular, Rifka has to
explain quite a bit of historical information to her cousin which is kind
of ridiculous.  After all, she is right there in the middle of it, too! 
It gets particularly ridiculous when she says things like, "As you know
Tovah, I have blonde hair and speak fluent Russian."  I think Tovah would
be scratching her head and thinking "duh?"  (well, ok, not duh, because
it takes place in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, but you see
what I mean).

I also think of The Ivy Tree, by Mary Stewart, in which the first person
narrator is *completely* unreliable but not in an obvious, Huck Finn kind
of way.  You don't realize it until the end in a kind of Sixth Sense
twist that really pissed me off the first time I read it.  So there, the
use is deliberate, but as a reader I felt SO excluded in the end that it
was really offputting.

On the other hand, I love the use of the epistolary form in Clarissa
because you get to see so many sides of the different characters and see
the ways in which they present themselves in different contexts...


On Sat, 2 Feb 2008 01:18:01 +0000 Joe <oddenda at gmail.com> writes:
> On 1 Feb 2008, at 23:42, Jackie E Stallcup wrote:
> >
> > hmmm... now I'm wondering... where and how does DWJ use first 
> person?  
> > At
> > the moment, my feet are tucked too comfortably under me to get up 
> and
> > look.
> The ones I can think of:
> Deep secret
> Homeward Bounders
> Black Maria
> The Merlin conspiracy
> Dragon reserve, Home Eight
> The Master
> The true state of affairs
> I get the impression that DWJ doesn't use the first person lightly, 
> but 
> there usually has to be some pretext built into the narrative. In 
> the 
> case of at least 3 of the above, events are being recorded for 
> posterity (Deep Secret uses the Thornlady files as well as Rupert's 
> recollections, but the only reason we get to read them is because 
> they're made part of the historical record... if you see what I 
> mean. 
> The irrelevant stuff is excised.) Jamie's account is in part 
> prophylactic against Their return (isn't it? Time for a reread.) And 
> whatshername in Dragon Reserve, Home Eight is conscious that she's 
> recording history as it's happening. Come to think of it, Mig does 
> more 
> or less the same in Black Maria; it's not just that she has a 
> compulsion to write it down because of her vocation (which would 
> have 
> been excuse enough in any other first person narrative), but she's 
> reworked it to make it public... I think. Now I'm too lazy to go up 
> and 
> check.
> So these stories aren't using the kind of device that leads us to 
> experience the narrative as if we were inexplicably lodged inside 
> the 
> protagonist's head (whatever the technical term is for that). 
> Instead 
> they're carefully, _knowingly_ constructed pieces of writing. 
> There's 
> always some little passage justifying their creation. I think this 
> is 
> important, because DWJ has a whole slew of other books where the 
> telling of the tale by individuals, including the means by which it 
> is 
> told, is central to the narrative. (You might call this a sort of 
> displaced first person. Well, I might, anyway. Might. Just making 
> this 
> up as I go along.) Examples:
> The spellcoats
> Archer's goon
> Fire and hemlock
> Hexwood (if you take it that the Bannus is a sort of story-telling 
> machine/person (individual, anyway!) that co-opts real people)
> Now I'm tempted to think about this properly and rewrite this email 
> using short, carefully considered sentences whose meaning is clear 
> and 
> tallies with what's in my head, but alas it's 1:17 and I'm due to be 
> bounced out of bed in six hours, so I'll have to dream about this 
> instead. In the first person? Who's to say? Thanks for bringing this 
> up.
> Oh - a faultless first-person novel done in Valley-speak (if I've 
> got 
> the right sort of idea of what that might be): _How I live now_ by 
> Meg 
> Rosoff.
> Good night.
> Joe
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