Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett

A long time ago my friend Ted told me about Terry Pratchett, but whenever I was faced with his ouevre in the library/bookstore/book vending-type-place, it was so large, I didn't know where to begin. But while hunting down a much more highbrow challenging intellectual life-changing brain-expanding read at the university library I wandered into the curriculum section and plucked this young adult novel at random. And I loved it. Funny, strange (there's a cheese named Horace that doesn't so much talk as mind-meld with the heroine), and charming. I've noticed that contemporary young adult lit has done really well by the just-verging-on-adolescence heroines (think Lyra, Hermione, and this novel's protagonist, Tiffany Aching) but it hasn't done so well with actual teenage girls (who seem all gossip girly). In other words, once boys enter the picture, the novels seem to fall apart and become stereotypical (Bella anyone?) swoony or bitchy girls. So somebody please write a novel with a teenage girl who is as great as these 12 year olds. I know Hermione grows up and Tiffany Aching apparently does too, but they really became icons at their younger--Harriet the Spy-esque ages. Actually I'd love to read a teen novel about a teenage couple in which both the boy and the girl (or any other gender pairing) are equally strong and in a strong relationship and busy saving the world. If you know of one let me know...

But my point...one of John Gardner's pearls on writing in Art of Fiction is how effective it can be to have your protagonist do the wrong thing for the right reason. The example I tend to give in class is Sethe in Beloved--she kills her children (an obviously wrong thing) to prevent them from being taken back into slavery (an arguably right reason). And so the conflict that ensues is provocative in part because it was caused by the protagonist, but the reader doesn't lose sympathy for the character as a result. And this is what happens in Wintersmith. Tiffany Aching dances with the Wintersmith even though she was told not to. Why? Mostly because she's a kid but partly because she really wants to and can't see the harm in it and her feet kind of take over. But all the conflict that ensues as a result of her having danced is her fault. So the level of investment in whether or not she is able to solve the conflict is higher. Her fault, her responsibility to fix. It's something I don't notice as often in kid lit where kids are often fated, born into their problems (i.e., Harry Potter).

2 comments:

Mary said...

Oooh, I love Pratchett. I am reading Carpe Jugulum right now as a cleaning sorbet after rereading The Great Gatsby. In college I had a professor of Arthurian lit tell me that it can be hard to write good characters who are also interesting characters, but she offered two examples of writers who manage it: somebody highbrow, I forget who, and Pratchett. But you cannot read more than one of his books in a row or it diminishes the pleasure. --Mary Kenagy Mitchell

Ayse Papatya Bucak said...

Hi MK! This is well timed advice. I was just thinking of picking up more Pratchett at the library, but can see how it might spoil the fun to read too many in a row. Will wait until I need a cleansing sorbet.