Sunday, October 09, 2011

R.I.P. Group Read: Fragile Things 5

Locks

The Problem of Susan

Instructions

How Do You Think It Feels?

from: Gaiman, Neil. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. New York: William Morrow.

First of all, before I discuss the four selections for this week's R.I.P. group read, I have to tell you what a dolt I am. You see, I completely forgot, when I signed on for this challenge (and the whole R.I.P. challenge) that I would be spending most of the month of October in Maine without easy Internet access. I can get it at the library, but when you are in Maine in October, you don't tend to want to spend most of your time at the library. And the library in Maine is closed on Sundays, so this will be my last official post on Fragile Things. Have no fear, though, if you are still interested in what I have to say about it, because I'm going to continue to read it and will post my thoughts when I can (along with the other books I'm reading for the R.I.P. Challenge). It just may be that you have to wait till November for me to finish up.

Now, onto my thoughts about this week's four:

Locks
Another poem. This one is absolutely charming, all about Gaiman telling "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" to his young daughter. First of all, can you imagine getting to be Neil Gaiman's daughter and having him read you bedtime stories? It's charming, but it's also poignant, as Gaiman remarks on the changes he knows will be inevitable as his daughter ages. It's also a commentary on the importance of story telling (you won't get any argument from me on that point). Finally, it's a commentary on the protectiveness a parent feels for a child. It's beautiful, really. Again, I wish I had a whole collection of his poetry.

The Problem of Susan
I've mentioned over the years, in other blog posts, that I was not the fan of Narnia that it seems all the other kids I knew were. I liked The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but not anywhere near as much E. Nesbit's fantasies or the Oz books. I read some of the other Narnia books, but basically just to see what all the fuss was about, and I don't think I even bothered to finish out the series. I was surprised, then, to find, that I absolutely loved this story. It doesn't matter that I had no idea what Susan's fate had been. Gaiman explains that both in the Introduction and in the story itself. What I love about this story is that he answers the question the reader wants answered, the one he or she has been asking, even after multiple readings of a favorite novel, and because he's a writer he can. It's like reading Little Women for the hundredth time and thinking, "Why couldn't Jo just have married Laurie?" The question, in this case, happened to be, "But what about poor Susan? Just because she liked to do things like wear lipstick?" It's the sort of thing that seems so unfair, her being denied her family's great reward. Gaiman does a superb job of imagining what happened to Susan. It's not blissfully happy, but it's probably not nearly the punishment C. S. Lewis probably had in mind for the child who was more fond of worldly things than she was of godly things (I like to think that even as a child I couldn't handle the Christian allegory in the Narnia tales, the way Lewis hits the reader over the head with it, which is what I discovered when I reread The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a few years ago. But, I suspect, it had more to do with not really liking any of the characters).

Instructions
Heavenly, heavenly poem. I can't even begin to describe it. You must read it for yourself.

How Do You Think It Feels?
This is a melancholic love story. When I was young and went through my fair share of breakups, I used to wish that I could just, somehow, cut out the part of my brain that remembered the person, that remembered both all the lovely times we'd had together and all the heartache at the end. I felt I'd be better off if I could just throw out all the memories. Now that I'm older, of course, I'm glad I couldn't (and not only because I'd probably have less than half a brain at this point). All those experiences are very important for making us who we become, and they do make us wiser, and they do harden our hearts -- a little, at least. Luckily, most of us do not harden our hearts the way the heart is hardened in this story. Or do we? If Gaiman gave us hope in Harlequin Valentine, he sort of takes it away here. Nonetheless, I liked the story. If nothing else, it's always a comfort to those who've had to glue their hearts back together time and again, fearful that next time they might break beyond repair, to read a new theme on "'Tis better to have loved and lost..." even if it's an extremely bleak one.

3 comments:

Carl V. said...

First off, you might want to re-post your link on my post. For some reason that link takes me to a 'restricted' page but if I click on your name in the comments it brought me right here.

"Charming" and "poignant" are two great descriptions of "Locks". It is both of those indeed, it really is. It means so much more to me having a daughter who is almost past her teenage years. It really makes me think.

The problem I see with the Problem of Susan, or one of them, is an interpretation of Susan's fate that is not truly in line with what Lewis wrote. People seem to want to forget that it was not necessarily "heaven" that she was banned from but the Narnia that she no longer chose to believe in. I think that interpretation doesn't truly take into account either the things Lewis himself has said about the story or the hints even in the story itself that Susan was not "lost" but was on a journey that would eventually bring her back to her belief and to Narnia.

But even with that being said, I am more than okay with any interpretation of the work if it is given without taking the childish, shock value tact of sexualizing the religious icon of the story and turning him into a cannibal as well. Sure, it was just a 'dream', but the fact remains that it is a dark and unnecessary addition to the story that only succeeds in making me not care at all about what Gaiman is trying to say.

Kristen linked to a great post about the Susan story that says what I feel so very much better than I do.

I feel the same way about "Instructions". It is one I feel like pushing off on everyone I know that reads.

While I don't like the protagonist in "How" at all, I do think it is a very effective story about pain and the avoidance of pain and even about the cost of selfishly following one's desires while not caring about the cost to ones self or those others you are connected to. It isn't a story I like re-reading, but it is very effective.

Emily Barton said...

Carl, I re-posted and think the link should work now. I might actually feel more the way you do about "Susan" if I had read that far in the Narnia books (or had any real memory of them). And I absolutely agree that the sex was cheap (as it was in "Problem"). Part of the problem for Gaiman in rewriting it is that, since, from what I gather, he was raised by parents who were Jewish Scientologists, he may not have been as well-versed in the more Christian aspects of the story when he read it as a child, and that might have influenced his thoughts as an adult. I didn't really like the protagonist in "How", either (you described him as "selfish" in your own post, and I agree), but I did like the story and the idea of how to protect the heart.

Carl V. said...

To be honest I haven't read the entirety of the Narnia stories either and never knew anything about the handling of the family members until I read this story for the first time back with Fragile Things came out. So I'll give kudos to Gaiman for that, it caused me to go do a little research and made me think...never a bad thing to work the ol' brain cells.

You point something I've heard from several friends, which is that they didn't get the Christian aspects as a child and now as an adult they feel frustrated by them. I always try to point out that Lewis never tried to trick anyone, he was open about what he was doing when the books were written. The problem is that they are not marketed that way by publishers, so I can see and understand why folks get frustrated.

I agree with you about "How" in that they whole story of the protection of the heart is great, and I do like the more creepy elements of the gargoyle/golem as well. Overall I think it is how sad the story really is, how hopeless it feels, that makes me not "like" it.