[DWJ] Wilkins' Tooth

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Dec 29 12:17:29 EST 2011


I only just finished this (as Witch's Business) today because I had
Christmas reading, and then Glen Cook reached out from the shelf and made me
start the Garrett novels again from the beginning...you know how it is.

 

Changeover started like a big game of Telephone; Wilkins' Tooth starts
with-I don't know if it has a name, but it crops up everywhere from
fairytale to song to MASH episode, which is how I remember it best. Person A
needs something from Person B, who will give it to her if Person A gives her
something that can only be gotten from Person C, and so on. Wilkins' Tooth
moves beyond this kernel of story after only a few pages, but it was an
interesting link between DWJ's first novel and her second, especially since
the genres are so different.

 

I wish I had a better sense of the state of children's lit in the early
'70s, to see if this book was markedly different from what else was
published at the same time. I did just finish The Dark is Rising (Christmas
reading again), which was published the same year as Wilkins' Tooth, but
both books assume a sort of maturity of the reader, so the only thing that
tells me is that there was at least one other writer who believed young
readers didn't need to be coddled. Biddy Iremonger is a truly evil
character, one who is willing and eager to hurt children and against whom
adults are powerless-not your average juvenile-lit villain. There's also one
of my favorite tropes from DWJ literature, the bully who can choose
redemption; loved it in Archer's Goon and loved it here, particularly at the
end: "As for Buster, he kept his word about being friends with the Piries,
and with the others, too. Nobody could call him a reformed character. He
still had his gang. He still used slimy and disemboweled language. But he
was not so much of a bully after that. Perhaps, in some ways, he did learn a
lesson." I don't know how this looks to the young reader, but it tells me
that DWJ had a real grasp of what makes someone a bully.

 

In some ways I think of Wilkins' Tooth as DWJ's first novel, with Changeover
being a sort of exercise in all the things one needs to know as a writer.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy Changeover, because despite its flaws I
liked it quite a lot. But I think it would take a very discerning eye for
someone to read both books, without knowing the author's name, and identify
them as being written by the same person. As a first novel-or even as a
second-Wilkins' Tooth is far, far better than a lot of other first novels,
and if I'd read this contemporaneously, DWJ would have immediately gone on
my "must-buy" list. Of course, if I'd read it contemporaneously, I would
have been an astonishing prodigy, because I was only 14 months old at the
time.

 

The next novel is actually The Ogre Downstairs, not Eight Days of Luke, and
I agree that we should add "Who Got Rid of Angus Flint?" for January.

 

Melissa Proffitt



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