Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Reading and viewing (or, maybe, just reading)

I keep my reading and viewing lists over at the other blog, because that's where I started them, but I think really they make more sense here. So I may move them. In the meantime the two latest additions are worth some brief commentary, no?

First, David Almond's Clay. I read Skellig a year or two ago when I wanted to update my children's literature syllabus and I was immediately enchanted. A homeless man in a garage with wings sprouting from his shoulder blades? Who eats mice, flies, and leftover Chinese food? What's not to like? It's a little parable, I think, this novel: it tells a story of a brief encounter, seems to suggest some ways to live, but also unsettles much. Are dreams real? Is evolution spiritual as well as physical? Are there angels? It refuses to answer any of these questions, leaving the reader to puzzle them out, but by raising them it re-enchants the world in the way Tolkien asks fantasy to do. I had one student who thought it was a little clumsy in one place, and the rest of the class got immediately defensive--so I didn't have to. That's always good.

But I was supposed to talk about Clay, a more recent, and more disturbing, book. This one, perhaps like Skellig as well, seems as if it's going to be an allegory. The book has a creator figure much like Caliban's Setebos in Browning's poem: a malevolent creator whose creation exists only to express his own anger and pain. But there's more, and--again like Skellig--I think the book ends up simply unsettling our categories. Yes, there are malevolent creators (and creations) but they are not the whole story. I haven't really settled for myself how good this book is--I didn't enjoy it as much as Skellig, but that may be because the main characters are not as open, as curious, or finally as optimistic, as Michael and Mina in Skellig. That doesn't mean it's not a good or important book, just that it's a little tougher read (and for an older audience, too, I think).

I need to stop here. Next up, Etre et Avoir.


  1. let me know how you like the movie - I have been meaning to see that one, but it's always been sold out.

    need to re-read that article... does he ever classify "story" in general? or does he argue that all stories are either myths, parables, etc.? that confused me...

  2. mmmkay wait - so 5 KINDS of story, parable being one, and the most "subversive"... but does Crossan think every story can fit into one classification? or that the best stories should?

  3. The movie's good, Heather--I'll try to post about it soon. And, hmmm, I think that for Crossan all stories are one of the five ("action" is almost all novels, so that makes things a little looser), though I'd argue that there's a little more slippage than he might think. He's adopting a five-fold system from ...Sheldon Sacks, I think, in a book from the 60s about Fielding (Fiction and the Shape of Belief). Like all systems it's a bit dodgy, but there are useful elements in it.

  4. ok - I was wondering about novels and such - that helps - thanks!

    'dodgy' is a fabulous word, btw...

    off to see little miss sunshine :)