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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Jane Langton: goodness in fantasy

Jane Langton's The Fledgling was a 1981 Newbery Honor book. It is set in modern Concord, Massachusetts, where Thoreau became famous. Georgie is a girl of about 8 or 9 who loves geese, and wants to fly. She develops a relationship with a goose, and flies. It's a good read, for youngsters, or adults. It's about wanting to fly, and wishes. But the book is also about character, or goodness. Here's Langton's contrast of Eleanor, Georgie's step-cousin, who is being raised by Georgie's mother, Aunt Alex, and her stepfather, with Georgie:

How different they are, thought Aunt Alex, Eleanor and Georgie. Altogether different. And it isn't just that Georgie is younger. Georgie is different from Eleanor all the way through, from the inside out. Why, look at her, right now. She doesn't even know that she exists. She's just eyes and ears, that's all she is, just looking and listening. She doesn't think about herself at all. The world outside her rushes into her, and that's what she becomes. She doesn't think to herself, "This is me, Georgie." Instead she pulses with the sunrise and the rain and the geese flying over the house. She's in them, not outside them. She's more like a bird or a flower than a girl named Georgie.Whereas, Eleanor! Oh, Eleanor! Just look at Eleanor! Eleanor is all Eleanor! And everything outside Eleanor becomes Eleanor too -- sisters, brothers, uncles, aunts! She sucks us all in! There isn't anything else but Eleanor in all the world! Jane Langton, The Fledgling. New York: Harper, 1980. pp. 117-8 Aunt Alex is Georgie's mother. Eleanor is her husband's niece, and the two of them are raising Eleanor and Eddy. Georgie is her husband's stepdaughter.

A nosy woman has moved into the house next door. Alex's husband can't understand why she keeps coming around so much. Alex understands:
One day when Uncle Freddy was protesting a new Prawnish assault, yet another rap on the glass, some further pressure from next door, Aunt Alex had explained to him fiercely. "It's your goodness that attracts her, that's what it is. She can't stand it. She has to poke it and pinch it and squeeze it and try as hard as she can to squash it entirely. Only she can't. And it drives her mad. Jane Langton, The Fledgling. New York: Harper, 1980. pp. 119-120.

Langton is also the author of "The Weak Place in the Cloth: A Study of Fantasy for Children" (Fantasists on Fantasy, edited by Robert H. Boyer and Kenneth J. Zahorski. New York: Avon Books, 1984. pp. 163-179. Originally published in The Horn Book Magazine, October and December 1973, pp. 433-441). In this, Langton says that fantastic worlds "on the other side of the cloth" may be reached in eight different ways. Langton, herself, in this work of fantasy, uses one of her methods, a magic being which breaches the cloth between the real and the fantastic. That magic being is a goose.

Thanks for reading.

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