[DWJ] Being Talked Up To

Ellen Willcox eawil3 at email.wm.edu
Thu Mar 31 13:22:08 EDT 2011


(I realize that subject line makes little sense on its own, but bear with
me.)

I can't seem to discover which it is - I've read dozens of beautiful
tributes to DWJ over the past few days - but I thought it extraordinarily
well-put when one person said that her books not only didn't talk down to
readers (children in particular), but talked up to them.  It made me think
about the things I've gained from reading and rereading her books.

Howl's Moving Castle has been my number-one favorite book since I first read
it at the age of eight.  At that time, I thought that when Howl took Sophie
to visit his sister's family in Wales, he was bringing her to a different
fantasy world.  I'd never heard of Wales.  I assumed this was just another
parallel universe, like the multiple fantastical worlds I would later
discover through Christopher Chant.  You can't imagine the size of the
"*Click*  WHOAH!" moment that happened in my head when I realized the truth.

Dogsbody was the second of her books that I discovered, when I was probably
not yet ten.  It wasn't until a few years back, in college, that I really
grasped some of the things DWJ was tying into - and it wasn't until a few
MONTHS back that I, now in graduate school, discovered that "dogsbody" is
actually a word people use.  (Here in America, it's not.)  A word with a
meaning that cleverly connects to the book.  Once again, whoah.

These are both pretty basic things that I'd probably have learned a lot
sooner if I lived in the UK.  (The Wales one at least, I hope!)  But to me,
they're still related to the cleverness and emotional truths that DWJ was
brave and kind and smart enough to put into books written for children.
They're all things that I didn't understand the first time through, but
instead of making the books "too hard," they made the books stronger.  After
all, people - children especially - don't immediately grasp everything that
happens in the real world.  They're are good at knowing when something's
been simplified for them, and it doesn't feel honest.  A book that's
perfectly straightforward tends to be one that won't be reread in adulthood
- if it's even enjoyed in childhood.  DWJ's books, on the other hand, are
rich enough to last forever.

Anything you didn't get the first time through one of her books, but you do
now?

- Nic


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