[DWJ] Thoughts on The Children in the Wood (or thoughts inspired by it, rather)

Katarina Hjärpe katarina.hjarpe at gmail.com
Sat Sep 7 15:18:02 EDT 2013

I started reading Reflections and had a recognizing smile on my face during
"The Children in the Wood" until I got to the part about the one-sex nature
of the games, at which point I went, "Huh? NOPE." Because we played those
games in mixed groups - not always, but if there were more than two or
three of us, then very likely.

I'm trying to decide what the difference in experience comes from. It could
be time, but the essay was written in 1981 and I was born in 1980, so we're
talking no more than a decade's difference at the most. It could be place -
England versus Sweden, which isn't entirely unlikely. Or it could be a more
local variation of place. My block was four houses surrounding a play yard.
(Like this, though the exact look of the play yard isn't the same as it
used to be, and the apartment is different from the one I lived in:
Whoever was outside was the person or people you played with,
of gender and with some variations in age.

I can't recall ever playing queen, either. I remember orphans, circus
artists, Narnia, Sound of Music (that one was admittedly very nearly
one-sexed), and Robin Hood. We played Robin Hood incessantly when I was
ten. I usually got to be Will Scarlet, and I think it was a contributing
reason why I fell so hard for the Costner film and Scarlet character the
year after. (Another reason was of course that Will Scarlet in that film
was written pretty much specifically to give eleven-year-old girls their
first earth-shattering fancrush.)

As for a "neutral" girl protagonist coming off as a tomboy, that doesn't
fit my experience either. I think that may be because Swedish children's
literature was so heavily influenced by Astrid Lindgren, not just as an
author but also an editor. While I didn't warm up much to the
revolutionizing Pippi Longstocking, I was thoroughly enamoured of Ronia the
Robber's Daughter, and I never saw her as a tomboy; I saw her as a heroine.
(An interesting AL case is Madicken, who has some very masculine traits yet
is despised as "girly" by little boys in the school where I work, in a way
Ronia is not. I think it's the clothes.)

Funnily enough, that goes for my childhood experience of DWJ books as well!
Very few of her books were translated to Swedish when I was a kid: Power of
Three, Dogsbody, Howl's Moving Castle, Castle in the Air, The Lives of
Christopher Chant, Archer's Goon, and A Tale of Time City.

Of those, only The Lives of Christopher Chant and Castle in the Air are
unequivocally focused on a boy. The protagonists of Howl's Moving Castle
and A Tale of Time City are girls. Power of Three is mostly from Gair's
POV, but is pretty much an ensemble tale of a mixed group. Dogsbody has a
male adult protagonist, but a girl child. And while Howard in Archer's Goon
is definitely a boy, he also pales rather considerably next to Awful!

In fact, one of the few weaknesses I've found in DWJ books later on are the
generic protagonists in some of her stories... That might in part be
because of my age upon reading them, but looking back on what I liked as a
child, I don't think it is. I think it's a mistake to try to make "one size
fits all" protagonists. Beloved characters stick out in some way, and they
don't have to be exactly like the reader.

Anyway. This has become more of a personal musing than a DWJ post, but
since her essay started it, I wanted to post it anyway. And I suspect there
might be more of these coming as I keep reading the book!

More information about the Dwj mailing list