Sunday, 9 October 2011

Fragile Things group read - week 5

I wasn't able to join in much with the conversation Carl's group read of Fragile Things last week, which was a disappointment to me, but two weeks away from home made it difficult. And my reading time this week has been a little curtailed. How dare work interfere with the important things in life, like talking with friends about books?

On to the stories:

These days my sympathy's with Father Bear: oh yes, I do get that, and I love the way the double meaning of locks comes into play there. Goldilocks has never been a favourite story, but I like it better for this poem, that articulates our wishes as parents to protect our children early on, by the telling of stories and later, by wishing that they could learn from our mistakes, though there's also the over-protectiveness of "lock up your daughters", too - I've commented before on how good Gaiman can be at getting a lot into a small space.

"The Problem of Susan"
We know that C.S. Lewis wasn't at all comfortable with women and, indeed, probably disliked them for the most part. But his dismissal of Susan in The Last Battle seems out of all proportion, a petulant expression of hatred for all adult women, a statement that there wouldn't be any of them in his heaven, thank you very much! Since he portrays women pretty misogynistically in his adult fiction, I don't think I'm going out on a limb here (they are just about admissible if deferring absolutely to their husbands, but otherwise they are she-devils). So I'm glad that Gaiman set out to write something that would address the awfulness of what was done to Susan, left alone without her family and very unlikely to feel that a new lipstick was consolation for her loss. And there's something about the nastiness of the Narnia sections that fits with the nastiness of Lewis ridding himself of the nubile, no-longer-innocent (in his terms) Susan, but it's for people with stronger stomachs than me. I don't like it. But maybe I don't like it because Narnia is part of my innocent childhood and I don't want to be made to see the worm in the apple.

"How Do You Think It Feels?"
In the introduction to Smoke and Mirrors Gaiman says he was feeling rather blank when he wrote this story. Right. For the first time, I didn't read the whole thing but skimmed to the end. Okay, I'm a prude, but I don't want to read about sex. This reminds me (she says, changing the subject hurriedly) of when I got to know an author (whom I'd invited to speak at a conference) and his then girlfriend. The author, enjoying a spring break in England when his corner of the Atlantic seaboard was still huddled behind icebergs, very kindly gave me a copy of his latest crime novel. All I could think when I read it was, if he can imagine this sort of thing, I wouldn't want to be his girlfriend!

Oh, what a relief, I love this. All the fairytale pieces rolled up into one perfect whole. It should have been in the possession of every one of the characters in Grimm's Household Tales, required reading. It brings back so many treasured images, and there is something about the patient tone that meshes perfectly with all the wise old men and women in the stories, who would tell you, if only you had the inclination to hear. Wish I had the audio-book!

As ever, I'm eager to know what other people thought, especially about "The Problem of Susan".


  1. Haha, I agree with you about the authors of crime novels and the such. It takes a certain kind of person to be able to write about gross crimes and killings, etc. etc. It makes me a little worried for the people that are near and dear to those authors. ;)

    Great thoughts on the stories! I like what you have to say about The Problem of Susan. When you put it that way, Susan (and Gaiman's) anger at Lewis does seem rather justified, but I guess I would have liked to see it executed differently. Without lion/people sex, preferably.

  2. I think if Gaiman had left out the White Witch/Aslan "relations" I would have probably liked this story, or, I'd have at least been intrigued. I feel like the graphic nature of the final scene overshadows the actual problem of Susan.

  3. You are right, Gaiman does indeed get a lot out of a small space with "Locks". So much so that I get more out of it each time I read it. I don't know that I had any feelings one way or the other about Goldilocks before reading this poem for the first time, but I look at it as a much more interesting and complex tale because of the way Gaiman lays it open here. I very much sympathize with the bears now that I am an adult and can see things from their perspective.

    I don't agree with that assessment of Lewis' treatment of Susan, to be honest. I think there was much more to it than simply dismissing her because she was becoming an adolescent. And I'm not convinced based on Lewis' statements that he was done with Susan or her story. But even if you, and Gaiman, are 100% right, I think the lewd elements of the story are completely unnecessary and make Gaiman just as guilt of treating a character inappropriately, in this case the representation of Christ in Lewis' stories. I'm very okay with people having negative opinions of the religious beliefs of others. I am never okay with crass, disrespectful treatment of the iconic characters in anyone's religious belief system.

    "How" is really effective on some levels but I just don't like it. I have no empathy for the protagonist. To me he represents the worst of the male sex and I just don't like him.

    Beautiful expression of your feelings about "Instructions". I agree fully. It is one that is so wonderful to hear on the audio version, as is "Locks", for that matter. The audio is great overall, but it is most effective when the poetry comes into play.

  4. dooliterature and amanda: I do agree! It could have been a much better story without - and we know from some of the not-story-shaped ones that Gaiman doesn't need to do this kind of stuff to write an effective story.

    Carl, Locks is lovely, and I shall read and re-read it because I know I'll get more out of it. I do like the way he turns it round so that we empathise with the bears.
    I didn't mean to make excuses for what was done with the Susan story, so I'm sorry if it came over that way (I was rushing a bit). But when I feel strongly about something I do tend to end up questioning my own response - which is not to say that if other people can say categorically "I think this is wrong" that they should do the same, it's a trait in me that I am happy to live with because otherwise I think I'd be unbearably opinionated.

  5. So far, I seem to be the only one who liked "Susan." Maybe I've become too used to skipping over bits I don't like. Not easy to read, but for some reason, didn't bother me enough to make me dislike the story. I do, however, agree that a good story would've been all the better without those scenes.

  6. Emily, how cheering that you admit to skipping! I would have liked the story without the dream scene, I think what happens in The Last Battle is worthy of exploration and is clearly open to different interpretations. It could be an interesting debate, but it gets hijacked by this one element.

  7. You've said it perfectly, Geranium Cat. It is very much open to exploration and Gaiman's exploration is fascinating but the mean-spirited and unnecessary sexual elements distract from an ultimately weaken anything he is trying to say with the story.

  8. I am finding I am having a hard time keeping up with everything, too. I am at least popping by now to comment, but soon there will be new posts and I will be behind again!

    I loved the poem Instructions. It was my favourite read of the selections. I also enjoyed Locks. I was amazed I enjoyed two poems! The other two stories weren't terrible, but I didn't love them...