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Stepping into the same river twice June 16, 2013

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, films, memories, meta, television.
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12 comments

I am 28 years old. I have spent most of my adult life as a student. I only moved out of home five years ago, and I only moved out of sharehouses and student accommodation nine months ago. I have a long-term partner, but no children. All this is relevant.

I was thinking about stories, and how important age and circumstances are in determining meaning and how you react to them. There are some stories I can come back to time and time again, and get different things out of them every time. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is like that for me. I’ve been watching and rewatching it since I was twelve years old, and it means something different every single time. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is another story like that for me. Each time I rewatch it, I feel I’ve barely scratched its surface. It reveals its secrets so slowly. I’m somewhat afraid to reread His Dark Materials in case it stops being this kind of story to me. It meant so much to me, it gave so much to me that for it to stop meaning and giving would be unbearable.

There are other stories which I think gain something from being reread with adult eyes. The young-adult literature of Victor Kelleher falls into this category. I first read his work as an eleven-year-old, and continued revisiting it throughout my teenage years, but the true horror and weight of what he was saying doesn’t really hit home until you’ve reached adulthood and had some of your illusions shattered. There are other stories which mattered as much to me as Kelleher’s when I was a child and a teenager – the works of Gillian Rubinstein, Catherine Jinks’ Pagan Chronicles and John Marsden’s Tomorrow series – but for which rereading provokes only nostalgia and the restored memory of what it felt like to be fifteen, and burning with outrage, passionately emoting and dreaming fervently. The stories remain wonderful, but they offer me no new truths in adulthood, only a window into the child I used to be. This is of value, of course, but it’s not the same thing. The vast majority of works aimed at children and teenagers that I’ve enjoyed and read or watched in adulthood evoke much the same feelings.

I grew up watching the films of the Marx Brothers (I first watched Duck Soup in a cinema when I was three years old), and I always found them hilarious. What I didn’t notice until I was well into adulthood was the deep undercurrent of sadness and alienation running through them, and the tendency for Groucho, Chico and Harpo to make self-deprecating jokes, to make themselves figures of fun, to paint themselves as mercenary, petty criminals in order to get in first before someone else said the same things. There’s a defensiveness to all their quips, a brittle, knowing edge to all their humour that you only see when you’re older, and when you know more about the history of immigration to the US.

And then there are the texts for which meaning and enjoyment is, I think, contextual. I read Wuthering Heights as a fourteen-year-old and thought it was a tragic love story. I read it again at twenty-two, and thought it was a horror story, a Greek myth about gods and mortals. At eighteen, when I went through a phase of reading Russian literature in translation, Tolstoy moved me to rapturous tears, while Dostoevsky appalled and repelled me. Isobelle Carmody’s works can only truly be appreciated by teenagers. To an adult, they are dangerously naïve and lack any kind of nuance. At 28, my favourite book of Jane Austen’s is Persuasion, while at sixteen I would have said Pride and Prejudice. When I was fourteen, people told me I would cry my eyes out over the ending of Casablanca, but I was unmoved. My reaction? I hated Rick, swooned over Victor Laszlo (I was going through a bit of a thing for revolutionaries and resistance fighters) and couldn’t see what the fuss was about. If I am earnest now, I was a million times worse then. But I suspect, were I to watch the film again, my reaction might be very different. At fourteen, I read The Mill on the Floss and felt nothing. At twenty, I read Daniel Deronda and felt profoundly moved.

I remember my mother telling me, when I was a passionate armchair revolutionary in high school, that as an adult I would find repellent the Holocaust stories, tales about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and the Middle East conflict that I pored over as a teenager. I didn’t believe her, but she was right. I don’t want to look any more. I used to love uncompromising rebels, and now I prefer diplomats and passive resistance.

I don’t think all of this is down to age, in and of itself. Taste plays a role, as does environment, and the ethos of the age in which you grew up and which informed your tastes. My mother, for example, loves Charles Dickens and finds Zadie Smith contrived and emotionless. I find Dickens cloyingly sentimental, emotionally manipulative and hypocritical, while Zadie Smith evokes feelings of awe and floods of tears in me. I don’t think baby boomers will uniformly share her views, no more than I think Gen Y people will uniformly share mine, but I suspect our respective generations may have affected our tastes to some extent. (That said, my father loves Zadie Smith and was, indeed, the one to introduce me to her work.)

For as long as I can remember, my favourite Shakespeare play has been The Tempest. I suspect I see it with different eyes than the first time I encountered it as a twelve-year-old watching the Bell Shakespeare Company’s production. And I suspect it will mean something very different when I am an old woman. My point in all of this is that although it is possible to step in the same river twice, it is not possible to do so for every river. Some stories are static, and can mean only one thing at one particular age in one particular place. And some others are always changing, and go on and on forever.

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Dystopiana*, Australiana** January 25, 2012

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, life, memories, reviews.
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6 comments

I’ve always found it a combination of surprising and amusing when people talk about the recent dystopian YA boom as if it’s a new thing, as if Suzanne Collins plucked The Hunger Games out of the (dystopia-free) ether and opened the floodgates to a host of imitators. (Well, that’s sort of what happened, but that’s beside the point.) Growing up in Australia in the 90s, basically everything I read was dystopian, before I even knew what the word ‘dystopian’ meant.

The first author I got into in a major way (and who, indeed, has the dubious honour of writing the first novel-length book I ever read) was Jackie French, whose hippie-like existence in a small town near Braidwood informed her futuristic science-fiction novels for children. While she’s better known for other works, at age seven, my favourite books of hers were a five-part series, beginning with Music From the Sea, set in an Australia so parched by the sun that humans have become nocturnal and are living a lifestyle reminiscent of early farming/gathering societies. That somewhat gentle introduction to the ‘harsh Australian weather’ subgenre of dystopian literature led me to darker fare that mixed its narratives of personal and communal heroism with pointedly political calls to arms.

John Marsden’s Tomorrow series is the environmental-political Australian dystopian series par excellence. Beginning with a bang with Tomorrow, When the War Began (a title which implies that its story could happen on any particular tomorrow), this seven-book series follows the adventures of a group of rural Australian teenagers who return from a camping holiday in the bush to find that the country has been invaded, their hometown was the focal point of the invasion, and everyone they love has been rounded up and imprisoned in the local showground. The teenagers retreat to the bush and become a guerrilla resistance force, all the while agonising over whether their actions are just. Written against the backdrop of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, this series brought home the realities of war to an entire generation of Australian teenagers more used to thinking of conflict as something that happened ‘over there’.

I actually don’t think that the Tomorrow series is the best of 90s Australian dystopian YA fiction, although it has great emotional resonance and Marsden’s evocation of the Australian landscape, and the unease most Australians feel within it, is spot on. But the later novels lack the believability that made the first few so powerful, and an ill-advised spin-off trilogy means the series ends, if not with a whimper, not really with a bang either.

No, in my opinion, there is a three-way tie for the best stories of this genre between the works of Victor Kelleher, Gillian Rubinstein and one particular novel of Ruth Park’s.

Most Australians of my generation will be familiar with at least one book by Kelleher, Taronga, as it was widely studied in high school during our teenage years, but I’ve always felt Kelleher was tragically unrecognised. His trilogy beginning with Parkland, which I reviewed here a while back, is both a Cassandra-like warning and a hopeful shout of encouragement. In each book, in different ways, he wipes the slate clean, so to speak, recreating subtly different Gardens of Eden to see if, once tempted with consciousness, human nature could ever lead us anywhere other than destruction.

Gillian Rubinstein is also concerned with human nature in two very good series of hers, the Galax-Arena series and the Space Demons trilogy. I have blogged about Galax-Arena in relation to The Hunger Games already, so suffice it to say that the series is, at its heart, about the exploitation of (often poor, always defenseless) children at the hands of (often wealthy, always privileged) adults, and can be read as a metaphor for the way First World countries can only ‘live’ as well as they do by (figuratively) killing the Third World.

The Space Demons trilogy is a little different, because it uses its broader dystopian concerns as a backdrop on which to set four or five parallel coming-of-age narratives. Four (and later more) young people find themselves sucked into the virtual world of their computer games (and, in Shinkei, the third book, of cyberspace), within which they must resolve their numerous personal issues, and, as becomes increasingly apparent, the problems that beset the world. The final book reads like an idealistic call to arms, a plea to remember dreams in the face of privilege, cynicism, exploitation and fanaticism, and is one of the best intertwinings of the personal with the political that I have ever encountered.

Ruth Park’s My Sister Sif makes it onto this list simply because its dystopian nature isn’t immediately apparent, and the way it sneaks up on you is absolutely terrifying. You think you’re reading a fantasy book about family tensions, parental expectation and an island paradise populated by real-life mermaids, and then Park will give a throwaway reference to the characters having never seen a butterfly or a certain breed of animal because they’re extinct. It’s chilling.

Why, then, were Australian YA authors rushing down the dystopian road a good two decades before their (mainly American) counterparts? I have several theories, but what I’ve always felt was the mostly likely cause is the intersection of Australia’s bizarre geography and bizarre history and social mythology (mythology in the sense of stories people tell about themselves).

Australians cannot quite make up their minds about these things. On the one hand, there’s this weird sort of pride in the harshness of our landscape, and on the other, there’s the fact that very few Australians actually live in it. Australians, for the most part, cling desperately to the coastal cities, and yet there’s this constant awareness that just around the corner, there’s this vast, parched desert or dry bushland just waiting to be set on fire and burn your house to the ground. As an Australian, the recent climate change debate has always struck me as very odd because, well, if we were talking about global warming in my first grade class in 1991 and the salinity problems of the Murray-Darling basin in my fifth grade class in 1995, and the hole in the ozone layer since forever, it’s not as if suddenly clued-in politicians have only just become aware of it.

Couple this anxiety about the physical features of the land with a general sense of anxiety about the location of the land itself and about one’s place in it (and by this I mean that a dominant strand of the Australian mythos has always been an uncertainty about where and what Australia actually is***) and you get this narrative of discomfort and unease. Australian literature, by and large, does not feature people ‘lighting out for the territories’ in search of freedom and prosperity. Instead, one heads off into a hostile wilderness where general weirdness goes on.****

All this combined to make Australia a fruitful breeding ground for dystopian literature. When these novelists wanted to play around with their fears for the future, their belief in multiculturalism or political anxieties, the Australian experience provided a physical and mythological backdrop for the stories that arose. It would be wonderful if the new dystopian craze introduced these wonderful works to a wider audience.

__________________
* I know that’s not how you decline Greek.
** Also, this is not about Mad Max.
*** As demonstrated by the common use of ‘the West’ to describe a group of nations of which (usually Anglo, almost always white) Australians see themselves as part, despite the fact that the only place to which Australia is west is New Zealand.
**** Think Picnic At Hanging Rock. Think Walkabout.***** This is why the Tomorrow series is so powerful, because the civilised space of hearth and home has been rendered dangerous, and the story’s heroes find the normally hostile wilderness a welcoming haven.
***** This is, obviously, a literary trope mainly employed by white (usually Anglo) Australians, and I think stems from a sense of guilt at what was done to the indigenous inhabitants of the land which Australian culture (until very recently) felt profoundly uneasy examining in an open way. And so it was explored in this slantwise manner.

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow June 12, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood.
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14 comments

Spoilers for the Tomorrow series in the post and the comments.

Massive, massive disclaimer: I am writing about Christianity here. I am not, and have never been, a Christian, and so my perspective here is one of an atheist discussing Christianity. Because I am an atheist, I view the Bible, as I view the sacred texts of other religions, as one of a literary genre (part pseudo-history, part moral guidance) rather than the word of God. As such, when I discuss it, I am discussing it as a literary text with tropes, themes and metaphors which other literary texts borrow and adapt.

I also write this from a position of some ignorance. For a variety of reasons (studying Jewish history and culture as an undergrad, and currently studying an Irish pseudo-history which draws very heavily on Genesis and Exodus), I am more familiar with the Tanakh/Old Testament than with the New, which I realise is a bit of a handicap when talking about Christianity. I know I have Christian friends who read this, and while it’s not your job to correct my interpretation of Christian belief, if I do get anything wrong and you would like to correct me, feel free to do so in the comments or by email.

With all this in mind, let me actually begin the blog post proper!

I’m a bit of a narcissist when it comes to this blog, and I tend to check its stats quite a lot. One of the things that comes up in the stats is the various links people have clicked on to reach the blog. Yesterday, one such link was the WordPress tag ‘John Marsden’. Out of interest, I clicked on this tag to see who else had written about Marsden recently. In doing so, I found myself of the blog of a Christian music, film and book-reviewer who had written a pretty good analysis of Tomorrow, When the War Began. One of his commenters made the point that the Tomorrow series was ‘anti-Christian’. As soon as I’d read this comment, it started to bother me, and it took me a while to put my finger on why. After much thinking, I realised it boiled down to two things: I can see very strong Christian elements in the Tomorrow series, and I find the division of things into ‘Christian’ and ‘anti-Christian’ categories simplistic and unsettling.

Let’s address the first point. I do not think that John Marsden himself is a Christian. He writes like an atheist or an agnostic. Is it possible for a non-Christian to write a ‘Christian’ book? My answer will probably differ from those of believing Christians, but let me explain what I mean.

The Tomorrow series is deeply concerned with matters of ethics and morality. It’s set in a war-zone, its characters are teenage guerrilla fighters, and one of its main themes is the characters’ struggle to reconcile the morality of what they are doing (killing other human beings) with their personal ethical or moral codes. This struggle is made more poignant by the fact that the characters are undergoing it at the time when most people tend to question what they believe and develop their personal ethical beliefs.

So far, I’d say that this is not necessarily ‘Christian’, although the central character and narrator, Ellie, several times expresses a belief in God, mentions that she attended church before the invasion and examines the morality of her actions against a moral code that clearly draws on Biblical morality. However, she also undertakes actions that do not tie in with Christian-based morality – as well as killing people, she has sex outside marriage, she steals (food and equipment and so on from houses abandoned during the invasion), lies and plans acts of violence and sabotage. In some ways, Ellie’s story can be seen as an exploration of the testing of faith, and whether it is possible to go on believing or being a moral person in times of great crisis and horror; there are several references to the Biblical story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, which is about retaining one’s faith in the face of death and torment. And yet I don’t know if it’s possible to view Ellie’s story as a Christian story, and I don’t think that Christians would necessarily view it as such.

But what about the character of Robyn? She is definitely a Christian; Marsden mentions it many times. It’s in the portrayal of Robyn that I think I could argue that the Tomorrow series is a Christian series. Robyn is portrayed extremely positively. Ellie admires her greatly, and Robyn’s faith is depicted as the basis of her moral behaviour. Robyn, alone of all the teenagers in the books, refuses to kill or directly fight the enemy (she will destroy property and help organise raids to steal food and supplies). Two of the most powerful scenes in the first two books centre on Robyn’s refusal to commit acts of violence: she refuses to pick up a gun (and this is depicted as a real struggle for her) and she angrily rejects Lee’s accusations of cowardice for refusing to kill. He says something along the lines of ‘I won’t let you down’ and Robyn shouts at him, ‘How dare you imply that I am? Sometimes it’s harder to refuse to kill than to kill!’

Robyn’s struggle is in some ways a parallel to Ellie’s (as are Lee’s, Fi’s, Homer’s, Kevin’s and, in the early books, Chris’s), and because we see things through Ellie’s eyes, we, as readers, approve of Robyn’s stance (and the beliefs that underpin it) because Ellie herself approves. This is why I think to dismiss the Tomorrow series as ‘anti-Christian’ is simplistic. His Dark Materials is anti-Christian. The Tomorrow series might not be entirely pro-Christian, but it certainly isn’t anti-Christian.

This is where my second point comes in. I feel a profound discomfort when I see people dismissing certain books as ‘Christian’ or ‘anti-Christian’. As you can see from the example of Robyn, nothing is as clear-cut as that. I feel that if you see the world in such black and white terms, your own personal moral code must be very simplistic. I suspect I may be losing the agreement of Christian readers here (since, as I understand it, belief in a religion implies belief in the absolute morality or immorality of certain actions, irregardless of context or circumstances), but to me, morality can be pretty fluid.

By this, I do not mean that I have no moral code. Quite the contrary. From the ages of about 10 to 20, I thought almost obsessively about what I believed – whether I believed in any higher power, whether I believed in an afterlife, what I believed was right and wrong, what my purpose was as a human being. However, the development of my personal ethical philosophy was (and is) an ongoing process: my beliefs were constantly challenged by experiences and the growth of my knowledge, and I don’t think the evolution of one’s moral code ever really stops. And it shouldn’t. I profoundly mistrust people who have absolute moral values, because I think morality is the one thing which must constantly be reevaluated, tested and discussed. If the growth of your moral code stops at 12, or 18, or 25 or 55, it is a denial of the importance of all your experiences after that age to your development as a person. And I think belief (which is tied up in notions of morality) is something which should also be constantly tested, thought about and reevaluated.

How does this tie in with the Tomorrow series? Well, on this level, the comment that the series is ‘anti-Christian’ disturbed me. Just as I believe one’s experiences should influence the development of one’s morals, I believe in the power of literature to influence one’s development as a human being. It makes me sad to think that a Christian reader would gain nothing by reading the Tomorrow series, because I think that books fail if every person gets the same thing out of them, or if a person can only get one thing out of them. Reading the Tomorrow series as a 25-year-old is a profoundly different experience to reading it as a teenager – but I still learn things from each reading. I don’t understand how it isn’t possible for me to get one thing as an atheist and another person to get something different as a Christian from reading the Tomorrow series.

People who see the world – and its books – in such black and white terms cannot help but live an intellectually impoverished existence. In closing yourself off to a substantial proportion of the texts in the world due to a perceived lack of values, you are denying your ability to gain knowledge from a variety of sources and reexamine your beliefs according to this new knowledge. In the Tomorrow series, characters, both Christian and non-Christian, find their beliefs tested in the face of great hardship and challenge. Surely we, as readers, are equally able to do the same?

Things don’t get no better, better than you and me March 20, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl.
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24 comments

Months and months ago I mentioned on Livejournal that I was intending to write a series of posts about my favourite literary couples – although I planned to expand that to include platonic couples, groups of friends, and families. Now I’ve finally got my act together and started working on this, and so I bring you the first of what will be a series of posts. This one is a rather arbitrarily-selected group of couples (in the romantic sense of the word). When selecting them, I had three criteria:
1. That they be a couple from a book or series that means or meant a lot to me
2. That they not be the sort of people usually found on such lists (no Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy)
3. That they be characters from books

The last criterion was simply to avoid massive headaches as if I’d included other types of texts, I’d be here still writing this after I’d finished my PhD!

Looking at the couples I came up with, I feel a bit disappointed at the heteronormativity of my list, and I know it’s more through my own fault than that of existing literature: There are great stories with GLTBQ couples, but I haven’t read many of them (with the possible exception of Written On The Body by Jeanette Winterson). But I certainly don’t blame the straightness of this list on the ‘lack of good GLTBQ couples in literature’; that’s an unfair argument, and the fault is entirely my own.

At this point, I should warn you that there are spoilers for:
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott
Galax-Arena and Terra-Farma by Gillian Rubinstein
Romanitas and Rome Burning by Sophia McDougall
The Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein
The Troy Game series by Sara Douglass
The Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden
The Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor
The Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

1. ‘I touch the place where I’d find your face’: Breaking my heart into tiny, tiny pieces, every single time
Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

They save the multiverse together by falling in love and acting on that love. Then they realise that they can’t live in the same universe, and they have to close all the windows between all the universes, or all consciousness will leak out of the entire multiverse. I cried for three days straight when I read how their story ended, and it’s still heartbreaking to think about.
Theme song: ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ by Snow Patrol.
I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from ‘A’ to where you’d be
It’s only finger-lengths that I see
I touch the place where I’d find your face
My finger in creases of distant dark places

Even the video clip is Lyra and Will-esque.

2. ‘What’s that waiting about?’: An (arranged) match made in Heaven (Together, they fight crime!)
Captain Anji and Mai from the Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott.

The best thing about this pair is how practical they are, and how well matched. Anji is a shrewd military leader and manages to gain a great deal of prestige simply by showing up with his band of mercenaries at the right time in a threatened kingdom. But his success is almost equally due to Mai’s talents as a merchant – most particularly, her ability to negotiate and drive a hard bargain.

I’ve written before about how much I love this series because it’s a fantasy series that makes middle-class talents and middle-class occupations heroic, which is a very rare thing. I also love it because of the central couple. Anji and Mai marry for diplomatic and economic reasons, but they share a mutual respect that eventually blossoms into a practical, adaptable, generous kind of love. It’s not an all-consuming, country-destroying passion, and sometimes, you know, it’s nice to recognise that love doesn’t have to be that way.

Theme song: ‘Yours and Mine’ by Calexico’ (the song only comes in at 3.50, but it’s the only Youtube clip I could find).
Horses are chomping at the bit
The gate is nearly busted down
Moment before the calm of the storm
And everyone’s blood goes wild
Except yours and mine

3. ‘Everyone’s got a theory about the bitter one’: Kid-lit’s very own Spike and Dru
Presh/Wai-Chan and Allan ‘Allyman’ Manne from Galax-Arena and Terra-Farma by Gillian Rubinstein.

I have a huge soft spot for these two. Galax-Arena was the first book where I realised I was utterly uninterested in the heroine and wanted to read only about the villains of the piece. And what villains they are! Presh is from the streets of China, Allyman’s from the streets of Birmingham. They are among the ‘peb’ (‘people’) of the Galax-Arena, a circus arena in outer space that functions more like the Colosseum in Ancient Rome. The performers, all talented acrobats snatched from homeless, forgotten existences in the poorest cities of the world, believe they’re performing for aliens. In actual fact, their adrenaline is powering the immortality of wealthy, impossibly old people. If a performer dies, the rush of adrenaline is even greater.

Allyman eventually ends up as a recruiter for the Arena, with Presh initially as a sort of enforcer, and later, after falling pregnant, is abandoned in Terra-Farma, a place where the female children of dispossessed people are given away to wealthy men in countries with low female populations (such as China). The pair are profoundly messed up, with morality that is grey at best, and yet they are much more compelling than the mousy heroine of the story, Joella. I love them to bits.

Theme song: ‘To the Moon and Back’ by Savage Garden
Love is like a barren place and
Reaching out for human faith
Is like a journey I just don’t have a map for

5. ‘We spoke in tongues we never wanted spoken’: Across the barricades
Noviana Una and Marcus Novius Faustus Leo from the Romanitas series by Sophia McDougall.

Do I really need to explain this one? I adore stories about star-crossed lovers, particularly when they come from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Marcus is heir to the Roman Empire (but a Roman Empire which never ended, and is roughly contemporaneous with our own times). Una is a fugitive slave. But they met one another when they both possessed nothing but their lives – and even those were threatened – and they are delightfully co-dependent as a result.

I love them because they’re both such introverted, private people, and yet both of them find extroversion thrust upon them against their will: Marcus because, well, he’s of the Imperial dynasty and lives his life in the spotlight, and Una because she can read minds and thus hear the thoughts of everyone around her. They are so similar it’s uncanny, and I really hope things work out for them in the third book.

Theme song: ‘The Sea’ by Van She (the most introverted band I know).
And you said
Time would change these things
For you will always be the same
[…] Now that I’m awake
You know that we are broken
The tiny hand is past with doors
Were shut that now are open
.

6. ‘Why don’t you close your eyes and reinvent me? We can unwind all our flaws’: This is so messed up I need my head examined
Asterion/Weyland and Cordelia/Caela/Noah/Eaving from the Troy Game series by Sara Douglass.

This couple spend the first two books of this series hating (Asterion) and fearing (Noah) one another, mutually antagonistic. Noah (or Cordelia and Caela as she is then, wishes only for the love of Brutus. Asterion wishes only for Brutus’ ‘kingship bands’, which Noah has hidden. This being a Sara Douglass series, Asterion does some unspeakably awful things to Noah involving her womb (he plants an imp in it and causes the imp to be ripped out through her back), and then this is the start of a beautiful love affair of great epicness.

Theme song: How could it be anything other than ‘Mezzanine’ by Massive Attack?
We can unwind
All these other flaws
All these other flaws
Will lead to
We’ll see to
All these other flaws
Will lead to mine
We can unwind all our flaws
.

7. ‘No one’s gonna take me alive’: Love is about compromises
Ellie and Lee from the Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden.

And oh, what compromises! These two fell in love while fighting a guerrilla war (as 16-year-olds) against invaders of Australia. Living rough in the bush, leading raids on their former home town, blowing up airfields, being condemned to death, Ellie and Lee find the time to fall spectacularly in, and then out, of love, while coping with PTSD, bullet wounds and having to grow up way too fast.

Their on-again, off-again relationship spans the entire war and its aftermath, and I’ve always appreciated that Marsden had the guts to show with these two that love is not easy, it’s not the cure for everything, and it’s not necessarily empowering or a protection against depression and other kinds of psychological illness. It just is.

Theme song: ‘Knights of Cydonia’ by Muse
No one’s gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

8. ‘Where small birds sang and leaves were falling’: Love is not just for the young
Gordianus and Bethesda from the Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor.

These two are in their fifties and have known one another since Gordianus was a starry-eyed, penniless young Roman traveller and Bethesda was a surly Egyptian slave. (I admit, the beginnings of their relationship are a bit…troubling, and I have heard of the argument that any relationship between a master and a slave is non-consensual, as the power imbalance makes consent impossible. BUT! Gordianus frees Bethesda and they then enjoy what appear to be thirty very happy years of marriage.)

I love Gordianus and Bethesda because in most of the books I read, adult couples are either absent or not discussed, and I find their relationship really heart-warming. After 40 years, Gordianus still thinks Bethesda is the most beautiful woman in the world, and remains both impressed and terrified by her subtlety of mind. For her part, Bethesda seems to love Gordianus, although the books are told from his point of view so it’s difficult to know what she’s really feeling.

Theme song: ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’ by The Pogues
Take my hand, and dry your tears, babe
Take my hand, forget your fears, babe
There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow
They’re all gone, gone in the years, babe
.

9. ‘The will to greatness clouds the mind, consumes the senses, veils the signs’: Awwwww
Domick and Kella from the Obernetyn series by Isobelle Carmody.

I adore Domick and Kella because they’re just so adorable. He’s a Coercer, she’s a Healer. He’s a bit arrogant, a bit of a loner, and a bit at odds with the non-violent ideals of the rest of the Misfits. She’s compassionate, sociable, chatty, and totally horrified by any thought of violence. All together now…AWWWWW!

Of course, the fact that I loved Domick and Kella so much made it inevitable that Carmody would kill Domick off. I’m still bitter about that.

Theme song: ‘The Farthest Star’ by VNV Nation
Redeeming graces cast aside
Enduring notions, new found promise,
That the end will never come.

We live in times when all seems lost,
But time will come when we’ll look back,
Upon ourselves and on our failings.

Embrace the void even closer still,
Erase your doubts as you surrender everything:

We possess the power,
If this should start to fall apart,
To mend divides,
To change the world,
To reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent.
If fear should win our hearts,
Our light will have long diminished,
Before it reaches the farthest star.

{Bonus awesome – the final lines of this song seem very Elspethy: Wide awake in a world that sleeps
Enduring thoughts, enduring scenes.
The knowledge of what is yet to come.
]

ETA; Jordan pointed out that I forgot to include my Space Demons couple. Well, you can find them here!

10.’Why don’t you play the game?’ : Best ‘It could never be, but I wish it would’ couple
Mario Ferrone and Elaine Taylor from the Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein.

These two would never work. Even Rubinstein herself admits it in the epilogue to Shinkei, the third book in the series. Elaine grows up to be a famous dancer, touring the world. Mario grows up to be a ‘live fast, die young’ computer game writer, who occasionally phones up Elaine to tell her his life will be incomplete unless she marries him. ‘So far,’ Rubinstein writes, ‘she remains unconvinced’.

I shipped these two before I knew what shipping was. It seemed inconceivable that they could go through so much (being sucked into computer games and forced to work out whatever issues they might have – hate in Space Demons, fear in Skymaze and dreams (and the breaking thereof) in Shinkei) and not fall in love. Oh, how naïve I was!

I like Elaine and Mario because it’s a partnership of equals, and because the books are all about the need to work together, be less isolated and insular and live as part of a community. And, let’s face it, if you’ve travelled through an alternate reality built out of one another’s fears and dreams, you don’t really have much to hide from one another.

This pairing would never work out, and it’s not written for us to interpret it as working out, but I can’t help liking it quite a bit.

Theme: How could it be anything other than ‘Digital Love’ by Daft Punk?
You wrap your arms around too
But suddenly I feel the shining sun
Before I knew it this dream was all gone

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I wish this dream comes true

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
We’ll make this dream come true

11. ‘The gentle genocide in your eyes’: Token Every Woman Loves a Bad Boy couple
Nick and Mae from The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Because come on, if you’re not shipping them, you’re insane!

Theme songs: ‘Gentle’ by Strawpeople, just for that above quote, and
‘Love is a Stranger’ by Eurythmics
Love is a stranger in an open car
To tempt you in and drive you far away
[…]And love, love, love is a dangerous drug
To take you away and leave you far behind
.

Book learning November 19, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl, memories.
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The only wars my family waged were with pen and paper.

Madhur Jaffrey, Seasons of Splendour.

As someone who lives a little too vicariously through books (and the occasional film or television series), the idea that a person might fight his or her battles on the page really resonates with me. For me, books have always provided if not guidance then at least aspirations. For almost as long as I can remember reading, I have latched on to particular characters and attempted, with varying degrees of success, to emulate them. There have been a lot of articles and posts recently about female role-models in literature (prompted in part by the upcoming release of the New Moon film and the inevitable bout of hand-wringing about the message Bella Swan sends to impressionable young women) and this post is prompted, in part, by these articles. I’ll do a links round-up over at Livejournal so you can see the sorts of things that are being said, if you’re interested.

I’m quite proud of my literary role models, on the whole.

The first character I can remember pretending to be, was, fittingly, Sara Crewe from A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. (I had spent many years pretending to be fairytale princesses before that, but I choose to ignore that as I feel my identification with these princesses was more due to the fact that they wore pretty dresses and jewellery.) For those of you not familiar with the character, Sara is the daughter of an English soldier who lives in India as part of the colonial administration. She grows up pampered in a London boarding school run by the cartoonishly vile Miss Minchin, until her father’s death, which leaves her penniless. Miss Minchin, who spoiled Sara because she hoped to get rewarded by the wealthy Captain Crewe, finds herself responsible for a girl she detests. Overnight, Sara’s life changes. Instead of being the favoured student at the school, she is now a drudge teaching the younger students. She has to move out of her luxurious rooms into a cold attic, eating scraps where before she had dined on delicacies.

What I loved about Sara was not so much the grace with which she endured this change in circumstances but the way she chose to endure them. You see, Sara was a reader. (‘She doesn’t just read books, Miss Minchin, she devours them,’ her father says.) More importantly, she was a storyteller. The thing that kept me covering wooden crates with red crepe paper (to make them look like Sara’s ‘battered red footstool’) and drawing fireplaces on bits of paper in order to stick them on my wall to recreate Sara’s attic bedroom was the power of Sara’s imagination. ‘Suppose,’, she would say, meaning, ‘Imagine something better than here’.

A Little Princess was an early lesson for me in the power of the imagination to overcome the most horrendous circumstances. The book articulated something I’d only just begun to understand: that books offered readers another, infinitely more wonderful world.

The next book to set my imagination on fire to such an extent was Adèle Geras’ wonderful The Girls in the Velvet Frame. What, you might ask, did a story about five Jewish sisters growing up poor in pre-Israel Jerusalem have to do with a seven-year-old middle-class Canberran in the early 90s? For me, it was two things: the warmth of the sisters’ relationship (and their relationships with their widowed mother Sarah and unmarried, ageing aunt Mimi), and the perfection of Geras’ characterisation.

I loved the matriarchal world of the Bernstein sisters, as I saw (and valued) a similar quality in my own family (which is made up of very strong women with very close relationships). And I loved, in particular, two of the sisters: dreamy Naomi, who saw the world through rose-coloured glasses and used storytelling to occupy her two younger sisters, and practical, cynical Chava (‘I always expect bad things to happen, because then bad things don’t disappoint me and the good things come as a nice surprise’). There’s a lot of Naomi and Chava in me, and there is a lot of stubborn, determined Dvora in my younger sister Mimi. I recognised this even then, and I identified passionately with Geras’ characters.

When I was ten, along came one character who would blow them all away with sheer awesomeness. I’m referring, of course, to Pagan Kidrouk, from Catherine Jinks’ Pagan Chronicles. I read these books initially as I was invited to a talk given by Jinks at the sadly now defunct Griffith Library, and I fell in love with the snarky, sarcastic, scarily intelligent hero. It’s been a life-long love affair: if Pagan were to walk out of the pages of the books today, I would follow him to the ends of the earth, even if all he did was make disparaging remarks about my intelligence and rage at the stupidity of mankind.

Part of the appeal of Pagan lay in his identity as a literate intellectual in a largely illiterate, anti-intellectual world (the books are set during the Third Crusades). He was irresolutely bookish, with a rich, if angry, intellectual life going on in his head. He has always appealed to my book snobbery, which in my preteen days was even more fierce than it is today. I read, therefore I am would’ve been my motto if I’d heard of Descartes. Pagan made even the illiterate characters recognise the value of reading: Lord Roland, the knight whom Pagan serves, remarks (giving me a quote that has always resonated with me), ‘People who read are always like you. You can’t just tell them, you have to tell them why.’ I swooned, and I’m still swooning today.

The Tomorrow series by John Marsden also provided me with a set of inspirational characters. After briefly cheating on Pagan with Lee (haha), I settled down into a more sedate appreciation of this classic Australian series. I honestly think it was one of the most important cultural artefacts of my generation. For about five years, everyone was reading these books. When a new one came out, we’d all be discussing them on the playground, speculating about who would live and who would die. They were, for my generation, bigger than Harry Potter, and for that they’ll always have a special place in my heart: although I loved being a reader because it set me apart, I also enjoyed it when my classmates and friends read so that we could discuss books.

I also adored the characters because they rang so true. Not one of them is a stereotype or a cardboard cut-out placed in the book as a mouthpiece for Marsden’s views (which happens so often in so many YA books). Oh, sure, it was very clear what Marsden’s views were, but he let them seep through organically, whispering at the margins of one of the most gripping plots I’ve ever had the pleasure to read. Marsden’s teenage characters, from Ellie the tomboyish, self-reliant narrator to Fi the sheltered princess, from Robyn the pacifist Christian to Lee the depressed, revenge-obsessed artist, taught me how to be brave. They taught me that war was hell and that I had a moral obligation to do all that I could to prevent it, and they taught me that teenagers were the most powerful, most adaptable, most resilient and most resourceful creatures on the planet.

The next author to play such a significant role in my moral and intellectual development was the wonderful, eloquent, word-weaving Philip Pullman. He gave me such great gifts: the character Lyra, from his His Dark Materials series, who is probably my favourite fictional heroine, and is definitely the most heartbreakingly human character ever to stalk the pages of a book, and the book The Tiger In the Well, which gave me a speech which has informed my political beliefs to this day. These books didn’t exactly change my beliefs (I was an atheist already, I was in favour of knowledge and consciousness and life, I was a social democrat, I was appalled by unchecked capitalism) so much as confirm them and articulate them in a way that I could not have done myself. No books have ever meant more to me than His Dark Materials and nothing has ever had, or will ever have, such a profound effect on my life.

In His Dark Materials, the idea that a very small event has the potential to create millions and millions of universes is a crucial theme. Well, the fact that my sister overheard me complaining about lack of books (I was put off by the cover of Northern Lights, which had animals on it: I’ve never been particularly interested in stories about animals) and forced Northern Lights into my hands utterly changed my life. I would not be at Cambridge without Philip Pullman.

There are several other book, film and television characters who are important to me: Amelie from the movie Amelie (who gave me unrealistic expectations about life, but introduced me to the joys of quirkiness and serendipity), Sulien ap Gwien from Jo Walton’s Tir Tanagiri Saga (who showed me that one could have a fulfilled life without romantic realitionships), Una from Jo Walton’s Romanitas series (whose intense introversion and observation of other people is something with which I identity strongly) and the characters in Joss Whedon’s television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Firefly (who taught me that the family that you choose for yourself, united, can never be defeated, and that misfits can save the world).

These characters are in some ways more important to me than the themes of the texts in which they appear. As I took on all these characters and integrated them into my identity, they ceased to be the creations of their respective authors and became something different. I hesitate to say that they taught me how to be, since of course I am not as stoic as Sara Crewe, as resilient as Naomi and Dvora Bernstein, as intelligent as Pagan Kidrouk, as brave as the teenagers in the Tomorrow series or as all-around awesome as Lyra. I don’t have the courage of my convictions of Dan Goldberg and Sally Lockhart, I don’t brighten the lives of those around me as much as Amelie Poulain, I’m not as loyal as Sulien, I’m not as determined as Una and I’m not as good a friend as the characters in Joss Whedon’s shows. But all these characters taught me who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to live. Although I do not live up to their standards, that I value these standards says something essential about my identity.

When I was a child, the world seemed so wide March 22, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl, memories.
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For someone whose favourite series of books is about the absolute necessity of embracing conscious, adult existence, I sure spend a lot of time reminiscing about my childhood. On days when adult life seems to ‘suck beyond the telling of it’ (Gratuitous Buffy Quote #1), childhood experiences seem that much more wonderful, their joys that much fiercer, their emotions that much stronger, the whole 17 (to pluck an arbitrary number out of nowhere) years that much more meaningful than anything the previous seven have had to offer. Nowhere is this more apparent than in my attitude to my favourite texts (TV series and movies, but for the most part books) of my younger years.

It became apparent, in a couple of conversations with Sibylle, that I mythologised my personal canon of childhood to an absurd degree. Sibylle has set herself a rather awesome reading challenge this year: to read the best young-adult, science-fiction and fantasy novels out there. Since these are my three main genres, I was happy to oblige with suggestions. What we both noticed was that I was constantly saying things like ‘such and such a book was my favourite book when I was seven’ or, ‘so and so wrote the books that meant the most to me when I was a teenager’. Although I have discovered texts that I adore since hitting the wrong side of 18, they are much rarer. (Hello, current crazy Watchmen obsession! Why don’t you stand up and take a bow, Great, Epic Fangirling of Scott Westerfeld and Cory Doctorow of 2007-8? And let’s not forget the time that American Gods reduced me to a quivering heap of awed silence.)

But a recent post of Sibylle’s forced me to reexamine my rather blinkered, uncritical view of my childhood canon.

I’ve also watched Grease (1978) for the upteenth time. It was my favourite movie when I was 13, which means nothing as to its quality. I’m very suspicious of my teenage and childhood loves as I don’t think half of them were based on merit. You won’t find me writing about how wonderful something is based solely on my childhood memories of it.

Ouch. Even though she assures me this comment wasn’t aimed at me, it did make me think that I needed to assess exactly why I champion my beloved texts of childhood so fiercely.

One of the things I’ve noticed about adulthood is that you have much less time to be a narcissist. (Somewhere, my mother is rolling on the floor laughing at this admission of her most narcissistic of daughters.) I know this sounds odd coming from someone whose idea of a good time is to sit in her room, reviewing books on the internet while talking to people on IRC, but the pull of the ‘real world’ is slightly more insistent once you’re an adult. If nothing else, there’s a need to earn money to support an expensive lifestyle of Buffy boxed sets, fantasy novels and, once in a while, food. Childhood and adolescence, in contrast, offer many opportunities for sitting in one’s room, thinking about how such and such a novel (or film, or song) PERFECTLY ENCAPSULATES ONE’S LIFE. (That is, if one’s childhood is as wonderfully middle-class Canberran as mine was.) But it is not merely opportunity that causes this vastly expanded childhood canon.

I’ve realised that I like texts in three different ways. These can be roughly summarised thus:

  • Head: These texts appeal to me solely on an aesthetic level.  I appreciate the technical proficiency of their creators, and in some cases, their complex themes, but I feel no desire to reread or rewatch them.  I can’t list any examples because, once I’ve read or watched such texts, they exert no further pull on my imagination.
  • Head and Heart: These texts are aesthetically pleasing and speak to me on some personal level.  They have some kind of meaning that either fits in with my worldview or has some relevance to my life, and tend to encourage me to want to write about them and discuss them with others.  The majority of the books of my childhood would fall under this category, as would most of my current personal canon (Sophia McDougall’s Romanitas series, China Miéville’s books, Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series, Dollhouse, most of the immrama that I’m writing about for my dissertation).
  • Head, Heart and Soul: These texts are technically proficient.  They possess themes which speak to me on a personal level and make me want to write about them and discuss them with other fans.  But, most importantly, they make me reexamine who I am, make me want to change, to become better, to think more.  These are the texts that I would quite possibly die to save.  Thinking about these texts makes my life worth living.

This last category contains such things as His Dark Materials, Buffy, Firefly, Sara Douglass’s Troy Game series, Parkland, Earthsong, Firedancer, The Beast of Heaven and Taronga by Victor Kelleher, The Tiger In The Well by Philip Pullman, The Vampire Chronicles, Catherine Jinks’s Pagan series, Adele Geras’s Tower Room series and book The Girls in the Velvet Frame, John Marsden’s Tomorrow series, Jorge Luis Borges’s Labyrinths, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, the films Amelie and Waltz With Bashir, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfield, Jo Walton’s Tir Tanagiri Saga, Cirque du Soleil’s show Quidam, Buile Shuibne, and the graphic novel Watchmen.

Of that list, only American Gods, Small Gods, The Vampire Chronicles, Buile Shuibne, The Troy Game, The Tir Tanagiri Saga, Waltz With Bashir, Firefly and Watchmen were read/watched by me when I was an adult. And of that small list, the only ones read/watched by me after I finished my undergrad degree were Waltz With Bashir, Watchmen, American Gods and Small Gods. That’s a very small proportion of a rather large personal canon.

I do read slightly less than I did as a child (when I would routinely read three books a day), but that can’t be the only reason. Of the three books a day I read as a child, after all, not all became Head, Heart and Soul books. Why, then, are so few of the texts that have meaning for me texts I’ve discovered as an adult?

It’s not a reflection of quality. Objectively, I know, for example, that the Pagan series is of a much higher quality than the Vampire Chronicles, and that Victor Kelleher is a much better writer than Sara Douglass. I might (after doing Honours in English literature, working for five years as a book reviewer and two years as a feature sub-editor) know a bit more about what makes for bad writing than I did as a child, but none of the ‘childhood canon’ books on my list are badly written. I’ve read them all many times as an adult, and they remain as wonderful now as they seemed to me as a child.

Perhaps it has something to do with the relative complexity (and stability) of one’s adult identity in comparison to the fluidity of the identity of a child. A child is, to a certain extent, unformed, and capable of possessing many facets, not all of which must be satisfied in a work of fiction. Thus, the part of my child-self that consoled itself through ‘supposing’ was satisfied with A Little Princess, while the part of it that thought all humans were beasts found expression in the works of Victor Kelleher. I did not require a text to be all things to all parts of my personality, and so was satisfied with texts that embodied just some parts of that personality. As an adult, I require more of my texts, and so, for the most part, am disappointed in this regard. A text must, as I wrote elsewhere in this blog, speak to me and for me and and about me, but it must do so to and for and about all parts of my identity.

That is asking a lot of a text. In fact, in the face of my high-maintenance requirements of texts, it’s a wonder any have managed to find their way into my personal canon at all since I turned 18. So thank you, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, Ari Folman, Alan Moore, Sara Douglass, Jo Walton, Anne Rice, crazed anonymous medieval author of Buile Shuibne, and Joss Whedon for somehow finding a way into the seething mass of contradictions which make up my mind, heart and soul. Sometimes, your writings are the only things that make me feel anything for this confusing, terrifying, beautiful and heartbreaking thing called adulthood. For this, I am eternally grateful.

You! Out of my genre! January 10, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, reviews.
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This post was meant to be about Regurgitator, but when I woke up and saw that my LiveJournal friends’ page was filled with responses to a series of articles about YA books, I knew I wanted to give my 10 cents’ worth.

I spent a few hours digesting what the articles were saying, and will briefly summarise them here. (They are summarised in the order of the links I posted above.)

The first is a review and discussion in The New Yorker about Kathy Koja’s novel Headlong. I have not read the book, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the writers’ assessments, but I have read many YA novels in the course of my six years of YA book-reviewing (and, more importantly, my 16-odd years spent reading YA books). And what I would say to the authors of this review is ‘you are utterly, irredeemably, disrespectfully, inexcusably wrong’. The review not only damns all young-adult authors with its faint praise of Koja’s book, but also insults the intelligence of every teenager who has ever picked up a book and seen him or herself reflected back in its pages. The authors as one describe YA writing as ‘facile’ and ‘uncomplicated’, teenage girls as narcissistic and imply that YA writers have an easier time of it than ‘proper’ adult writers.

What is wrong with these people? If the best you can do in discussing YA writing is refer to The Catcher In The Rye and Twilight, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. If you think of YA literature as typically preachy, two-dimensional and unrealistic, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. If you are talking about emotionally and philosophically complex YA writing and you (as Americans) do not refer at least in passing to Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother, which has been nominated for a Hugo Award, Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, you are doing it so wrong you might as well not even do it at all.

All right, let me take a deep breath and move on.

The next article is from the New York Times, and looks at the way in which teenage girls supposedly read (they allow ‘a novel to carry them so effortlessly from one place to another that for a time they truly don’t care about anything else’), with a focus on the Twilight phenomenon. It’s a brief, sweet article, full of a yearning for the lost Eden of teenage self-absorption, and a recognition of the importance of books in the forming of identity. Something about it bugs me, though. It’s slightly patronising. Although the author is saying that this phase of reading is an essential step on the journey to adulthood, she’s saying it’s a phase. Something to grow out of. It’s as if there’s something shameful about reading something that’s badly-written, or seeking to be transported to another world, or hoping to find echoes of yourself among the words of others – as if to do so as an adult is childish, a sign of emotional immaturity.

I’m not even talking about the Twilight books here, because I have a whole range of problems with them that I may go into at some point. There’s just something profoundly unsettling about a journalist implying that teenage girls will read any old junk, as long as it appeals to their inherent narcissism.

The final article is from The Atlantic, and purports to be about ‘what girls want’. In actual fact, it’s an attempt to explain why what girls want is Edward Cullen. I’m still struggling to make up my mind about it. The writer certainly has a compelling argument for the appeal of everyone’s favourite sparkling vampire, one with which I’m inclined to agree – but that’s the problem. I find the argument disturbing.

Twilight is, in its essence, a story about teenage female sexuality, sans sex. (It is, as the author of the article writes, a ‘1000-page treatise on the art of foreplay’.) And yet Meyer’s extreme preachiness – her ‘true love waits’ abstinence-only views, her extreme pro-life didacticism – is not merely wrong, it is dangerous.

I remember reading an article about the appeal of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (and by extension Bluebeard, Jane Eyre and every other story where a mousy little girl loves a devouring ogre) and saying, ‘yes, and yes, and yes I agree’ to the following point:

It is the story of the ogre and the little girl, where she loves him because he may kill her, and he accepts her (and doesn’t kill her) because he loves her fear.  That’s why they can live happily ever after – as long as she doesn’t recognise the Gothic mansion of his appetite for what it is.  – Michael Wood, ‘At the Movies’, London Review of Books.

Nothing wrong with that assessment. It is entirely true. That is how some teenage girls (and some women) think about sex. It’s the abstinence and the anti-abortion (even if, as happens in the final Twilight book, carrying the baby will probably kill the mother) that disturb me. As I’ve said elsewhere, when a series is as popular as Meyer’s Twilight, there’s a serious cultural reason for its appeal. What worries me is what, in the common experiences of teenage girls, Twilight is talking to.

If you want a more honest, and less dangerous, depiction of female teenage sexuality, I would point you in three directions. The first is the entire Season 2 arc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in particular the episode ‘Innocence’. The second is The Dead of the Night (the second in Australian young-adult writer John Marsden’s Tomorrow series). The third is The Amber Spyglass, the concluding book in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. All of them are written by middle-aged men, and all of them treat female teenage sexuality with respect, dignity and responsibility.

There is some incredible stuff going on in YA literature, and there has been for some time. It’s fantastic that such institutions of the mainstream media are giving this genre the time of day. But until journalists stop filling their assessments of YA literature with qualifiers, equivocation and inaccurate and insulting representations of the genre, its writers and its readers, I’d prefer it to remain languishing in its current ghetto-like backwater. We – the young-adult writers, reviewers and readers young and old – know it’s fantastic. And we know why it is fantastic. And these New Yorker, New York Times and Atlantic journalists do not. Let’s hope that one day, they understand what they’re missing.