Sunday, November 18, 2012

Rambling, and writing, and Spoiler Warning! about Rumer Godden's The Dolls' House

So, it doesn't look like I'm going to finish the NaNoWriMo web insanity. There is plenty of month left, and I'm taking some time off for Thanksgiving, so in theory I could catch up. But I don't know what to write.

Well, in part I want to write about writing. But that feels all naval-gazey. And that may be the problem, that I stop myself when I get all naval-gazey. Maybe there's something on the other side of a lot of self-absorbed babbling.

So, let's ramble, without any pretense that I'm not also keeping an eye on maximizing the word count. One question is, what do I like best to read?

Rumer Godden. The list of authors is much longer than that, but Rumer Godden has headed it for...well, forever. At least, I think forever. I was just thinking that in my mind I can still walk to the shelf in the children's room of the library where her books were kept, but I realize that that library was in the town that I moved to when I was eleven. Surely I was reading Rumer Godden's books earlier than that?

Let's think about that.

I wasn't happy to move. The old town had a few memories of parents that were part of the world--the man next door asking my father to help him tie his tie on special occasions, a store or two where the employees knew us. When our things went away on the moving truck and we had one more night in town before we followed them, a friend in town let us stay with them that night--not such an odd thing for most people, but very much so for my parents later in my childhood. So, a few weak, watery links--links as a family--to the community.

And I had some links of my own. The high school across the street where I rode my bike, the one with the old sinkhole that the kids told tall tales about--and I _knew_ kids to be told tall tales by. The odd football-field-shaped lawn shared by all the duplexes where we lived, which felt like my territory, where I knew a few kids. I knew the drugstore. I knew the grocery. And I was rather fond of my school, something that didn't happen again until I went away to college.

After the move, I longed for home. For years--for decades, well into adulthood--I had dreams about trying to get to my old school. I'm not sure what miracle would occur if I got there, but I wanted it, in the dream, more than anything.

Is it odd that I longed for the old school, not the old house? I suppose I pictured the old school as unchanged, a happier past that I could return to. At home, on the other hand, my parents were still around. More unhappy, less engaged, less part of the world. There was no point in dreaming about returning to those happier versions; they were long gone. (I did, however, have dreams about wide-eyed people who wandered around the house impersonating members of my family, I think both before and after the move.)

Anyway, that's where we come back to Rumer Godden, who so often writes about people who long for home, whether a literal four walls or a metaphorical home, a place where they have a purpose and a worth and people who recognize those things--like, come to think of it, Hogwarts. I thought that I'd always loved Rumer Godden, but maybe I discovered her on that shelf that I remember so clearly, in the new town that never felt like home.

In The Dolls' House, a family of dolls--frightened doubt-filled Mr. Plantaganet, bright scattered Birdie, plush lovable Apple, and solid sensible wooden Tottie--long for a home. They get that home, only to see it threatened by...well, yes, I'll call it evil. And in the end Birdie, despite being unable to hold more than one thought in her bell-like empty head, throws her celluloid self on a candle-flame and flashes out of existence in order to save Apple. Even one of the human little girls in the story realizes it:

"She gave her life for Apple."
"I suppose she did in a way. I suppose--if you like to call it that."
"She gave her life for Apple."
"Don't go on and on, Charlotte."

I think that the best children's books are sometimes more painful than the best adult books. I hurt for Mr. Plantaganet and his fears and his nervous pride when he gains not only a home but a proper job in a fold-out toy post office, and then his bewilderment when it all begins to be taken away. For Birdie, when she never quite remembers that her pink room has been taken away from her, and the way that she can nevertheless take joy in her feather duster and the tinkling of a music box. And it's both sad and somehow appropriate that it's Birdie, who was able to find joy no matter what, who has the courage to act.

Rumer Godden is my favorite author, but I still haven't read all of her books. When I look at lists, in fact, I've read less than half. And I think that's because they are painful. And maybe that's the problem with getting to the other end of my self-absorbed babbling, too--maybe I'm afraid that something there will hurt.

No comments:

Post a Comment