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June 27, 2005

Archie’s Fourth of July
Posted by Teresa at 08:49 AM * 129 comments

I have here in my hand a little book, Archie’s Fourth of July, which was printed sometime in the nineteenth century by the Sunday School Union. It’s about three inches by four and a half inches,* 58 pages,* and has an embossed fabric cover and engraved interior illustrations. I can find no online references to it, but its author, Rena Ray, also wrote Grace and Her Money-Box and Old Granny Tift for the Sunday School Union.

It’s the awfullest piece of twaddle, I swear.

It’s about a boy, Archie, one of those perky 19th C. infants who’d make Shirley Temple look like Lou Reed. He has two smirking minxes for sisters, a dog named Fido whose only role is to pad out the story with tepid displays of affection, and a friend next door, Orsie, who is Disobedient.

Here’s the setup: Archie’s always been at his grandmother’s house over the Fourth of July. This year he’s at home, and he discovers that his little village celebrates it in bang-up fashion. Cannon start firing salutes at daybreak, a military parade passes his house on their way to the festivities in the village center, and there are obviously going to be all kinds of exciting to-do and fro-do.

Naturally, Archie’s wild to go see it. Then he’s told he can’t. Note: finding out he can’t go is the first actual story-type event—you know, development, conflict, decisive action, that sort of thing—in the entire book. It occurs 80% of the way through the story. The previous pages are taken up with pointless diffuse blather, mostly Archie figuring out that it’s the Fourth of July.

And why can’t he go? Because he’s too little, his sisters smugly inform him. He might get hurt in the crowds. He’d have be looked after, and they can’t do it—though why not, is something I’d like to know. Archie points out that it’s not exactly suitable for them to be going by themselves, either. They reply that Cousin Joe is taking them. Why Cousin Joe can’t look after Archie as well as the girls is also not covered.

Archie runs to ask his mother for permission to accompany them. It is a measure of the degree to which this story is padded that the book has him search all through the house, then the cellar, and then wonder whether she might not be in the cistern, before he locates her in the garden. His mother says no. Archie’s crushed. He says he wishes he were Orsie Alden next door, “and then I could go just where I was a mind to.”

“Would my little boy want to be Orson Alden and go and disobey his mother, as he does?” his mother asks gravely.

Well, of course he has to say no, he wouldn’t; and he turns away, just in time to see his sisters triumphantly driving away in Cousin Joe’s carriage. In a moment of intrusive realism, he goes inside and cries his head off. Then he wanders back outside, runs into Orsie Alden, is told in more detail about all the swell things that will be happening in the village, and very nearly succumbs to temptation! But then he doesn’t. Orsie, no doubt observing that the story’s almost reached its wordcount, runs off in the direction of the festivities.

This crisis is marked with a footnote referring you back to the frontispiece, which illustrates the decisive moment, and thus protects the reader from the least little bit of suspense about how the story’s going to turn out.

Worse, it’s at this point that the Sunday School Exemplary Story Effect kicks in: a violation of moral and general causality that used to drive me crazy, back when I was still young enough to be obliged to go to Sunday School and sit still to listen to the things. Basically, in a Sunday School story, if you give up something you want, you will immediately and inevitably be rewarded, either by having that thing come to you in some other way, or by being randomly given some other good thing. A body could be excused for getting the idea that there are only two deadly sins, Desire and Volition, and that virtuous self-denial is guaranteed to make you happy and fulfill all those desires that you’ve renounced.

Sunday School twaddle is a long-established tradition.

Since Archie has now given up what he wants, the effect kicks in and normal causality is suspended. He goes back into the house and discovers that while he’s been having his brief conversation with Orsie, his mother has somehow roped in a half-dozen neighborhood tots to spend the day with him. Or perhaps that was the plan all along, in which case his mother’s failure to tell him about it earlier was as inexplicably unkind as his sisters’ taunts. (Nasty family. No wonder he wants to go hang out with the other boys.)

Here’s the entire denouement:

Archie was pleased. The day was passed in various sports under the shady trees in the pleasant yard. The table was spread with many dainties, in a beautiful arbor which was covered with blossoms. And when the sun set, and the children returned to their homes, Archie felt that his Fourth of July had been the happiest day of his life. And shortly after, when he saw Orsie Alden carried by insensible, for he had been run over by a fractious horse, he thanked the good Lord who had put it into his heart to mind his mother.

So there. The end. And don’t you forget it.


Jim Macdonald promptly set the record straight on the actual events of that day:

That story about Orson Alden being run over by a horse? Don’t believe it. He was besotted by the punch that the Ladies’ Cavalry Auxiliary were serving at their Eat All You Want Cake and Ice Cream and Fried Sausage Picnic. I’m told that the Ladies themselves became quite giddy after drinking that punch. (Earlier during the soiree a hearty Sergeant of Cavalry (who had been in the parade) had tasted the punch and declared it “fit.”)

Wicked Dan, a villain, who also attended the festivities accompanied by a Ruined Woman known as Little Nell (who supposedly had Given Her All to save the Old Homestead), opined, “The ladies never fail to surprise me.” Little Nell (who was wearing a perky bonnet), fetched him another cup of punch.

Later Dan declared the fireworks to be “capital.” He and Nell gave young Orson (who was quite jolly, no doubt from all the excitement) a ride home, and whispered to him with a wink, “Don’t worry, lad, I’ll tell ‘em all you were run over by a horse.”

Nell giggled prettily, but, well-brought-up as she was (for all that her status now is Fallen), she covered her lips with her fan.

Comments on Archie's Fourth of July:
#1 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 11:37 AM:

Cognitive dissonance coping mechanism ahoy! He'd been here with these wonderful young children in the garden, so obviously he'd had much more fun than the people who went to the parade and saw the fireworks. He didn't want those nasty ole grapes anyway.

Also interesting: As opposed to what the powers tell you now, Jesus Hates Patriotism. Only BAD children go the the 7/4 celebrations.

#2 ::: Jerol J ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 11:42 AM:

Wow, that makes the old Davey & Goliath claymations look like a Pulp Fiction/Fight Club double feature.

#3 ::: RiceVermicelli ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 11:50 AM:

Thank you for the laugh - my monitor has been baptised with Earl Grey tea.

The Orson Alden's of the world always have all the fun. They're savaged by dogs, drowned in ponds and run over by horses, but at least they don't sit home and whine.

#4 ::: Jon Hansen ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 11:51 AM:

This story ends with the other kid having been trampled by a horse? Holy cow. Subtle, it ain't.

#5 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 11:56 AM:

Orson Alden will now forever be known as "the boy who was run over by a horse," which will make him the most popular kid in the neighborhood. People will bring him great get-well presents, too.

#6 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:07 PM:

The best thing about *this* kind of writing is that it gave rise to a whole other kind of writing that parodies it.

I'm thinking of Hillaire Belloc's "Cautionary Tales," some moments in "Alice in Wonderland," "Uncle Shelby's ABZ book" and all of Lemony Snicket's stuff....

#7 ::: Jeremy Osner ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:14 PM:

Cool -- In the back of Art Spiegel's "In the Shadow of No Towers" is a Sunday "Katzenjammer Kids" strip about the 4th -- Hans und Fritz convince the dweeby neighbor boys to try and give a "hot foot" to Foxy Grandpa, who is addressing the crowd at the 4th of July festivities; the crowd gets a chuckle out of seeing FG outwit the pranksters, unawares that Hans und Fritz have taken the opportunity to plant large explosives under their seating area.

#8 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:16 PM:

That story about Orson Alden being run over by a horse? Don't believe it. He was besotted by the punch that the Ladies' Cavalry Auxiliary were serving at their Eat All You Want Cake and Ice Cream and Fried Sausage Picnic. I'm told that the Ladies themselves became quite giddy after drinking that punch. (Earlier during the soiree a hearty Sergeant of Cavalry (who had been in the parade) had tasted the punch and declared it "fit.")

Wicked Dan, a villain, who also attended the festivities accompanied by a Ruined Woman known as Little Nell (who supposedly had Given Her All to save the Old Homestead), opined, "The ladies never fail to surprise me." Little Nell (who was wearing a perky bonnet), fetched him another cup of punch.

Later Dan declared the fireworks to be "capital." He and Nell gave young Orson (who was quite jolly, no doubt from all the excitement) a ride home, and whispered to him with a wink, "Don't worry, lad, I'll tell 'em all you were run over by a horse."

Nell giggled prettily, but, well-brought-up as she was (for all that her status now is Fallen), she covered her lips with her fan.

#9 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:25 PM:

And yet, I found it a strong point in plotting and characterization by John Varley that, in RED THUNDER, when the alcoholic ex-astronaut and the teenagers build a spaceship to beat the Chinese to Mars, the astronaut insists on asking the teenagers' parents if the kids can go on the adventure.

#10 ::: Maureen Kincaid Speller ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:31 PM:

And presumably, out there, somewhere, is a sequel in which Orson Alden, bedridden as a result of fun, frivolity and being mown down by a horse, spends the entirety of the book contemplating the terrible fact of his having disobeyed his mother and how it has laid him low, and having renounced fun, frivolity and the attendant possibility of being mown down by a horse a second time, is miraculously cured.

One wonders what happened to the horse.

#11 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:48 PM:

Excellent, Jim.

JVP: Strong? If Varley hadn't done that, I'd have expected everyone from his agent and his editor and so forth on down to the slugger to have queried it. Just think for a moment about a world where it's okay for an unrelated adult to take your minor children away with him on the promise of a trip to Mars. I already have enough trouble with the Buffyverse convention whereby, if a dodgy-looking old git from some organization no one's ever heard of shows up one day and announces that he has (by wholly unexplained means) determined that yon nubile teenage girl is potentially a Slayer, and he wants to take charge of her life from here on out, her parents will say "yes."

#12 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:53 PM:

Or poor suffering little Orsie manages, by his unfailing cheerfulness and faith, and his extremely touching death, to effect the redemption of his entire family.

This will only work if he's a blond.

#13 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:55 PM:

TNH: My impression was that Kendra aside, parents were not usually consulted, the usual recruitment running so that a convinced-of-her-slayerness-slayer would leave home with her watcher for a life of duty and certain death.

#14 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 12:59 PM:

Giles? Dodgy?

#15 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:02 PM:

Maureen: One wonders what happened to the horse.

Blackie (for that was his name) blamed himself, became despondent, took to drink, and ultimately was sent to Herr Blücher the gluemaker.* Just as the gun was to his head, in came Orsie, unsteadily walking and with head well bandaged; he threw his arms around Blackie's head and said "O Blackie! It was never your fault! I disobeyed my dear mother! And I have gotten naught but the just recompense for my foolishness! Please come home with us now!"

After that, the two became fast friends, and to show gratitude, Blackie decreed that he and all his descendents would be (I ask no forgiveness for this) known as 'orsies.

*Yes, that's what 'blücher' means in German.

#16 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:04 PM:

I agree TexAnne. Giles was not so much dodgy as stodgy. The school librarian for heaven's sake! They probably assumed he was queer, and thus safe company for a teenage girl. Little do they know...cutaway dresses and Cher wigs are only a breath away if you let your daughter hang out with Those People.

#17 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:10 PM:

Xopher: Hmm. None of the dozen librarian job-descriptions I read today mentioned the Cher wigs. I feel all disappointed, now...

#18 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:17 PM:

(Throws nearest massy object at Xopher's head.)

BSD, TexAnne, it looks even worse if they don't ask the parents' permission.

It's like that moment in Simon Coldheart -- Georgette Heyer fans will already know this one -- where the neighbors of the hero (Sir Simon known as Coldheart, who's always resolutely avoided the company of women, but has vast numbers of lissome teenage boys serving as his pages, sleeping at the foot of his bed, going everywhere with him, etc.) look at the staffing situation in Simon Coldheart's castle and say, "He's so good with children. What a wonderful father he'll make, once he finds the right girl!"

Which caused this reader to pinch the bridge of her nose and mutter, "No, that's not what the neighbors are saying."

#19 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:27 PM:

(Dodges massy Mass-y objects come from Boston? Dodges again just in case.)

Andrew, it's right after the part where you have to wear pince-nex glasses and take them off a lot to massage your nose, so everybody can see that you're really dreamy.

Teresa, Simon Coldheart sounds like it parodies itself...if not, I should get it and write a gay porn parody.

#20 ::: Mary Kay ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:38 PM:

You people are just downright evil that's what you are. You KNOW I've got this nasty cold and that laughter causes nasty coughing fits and just look at what you've written. Jesus is weeping over your wickedness.

And you, Miss Teresa, you're the worst. Not only did you start this laff riot, you linked to Mr. Berube's retcon.

Just wait till I cough myself to death. Then you'll all be sorry.

MKK--And Xopher, if you write that gay porn parody I wanna read it -- once I'm over this cold. If I ever am

#21 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 01:50 PM:

I haven't watched the Buffy TV series (yes, it's on my one-of-these-days list) but just saw the original movie again. It deliberately played up the fact that the parents, though present, were totally unaware of and uninterested in what their child was doing -- the decision to be trained by Merrick was entirely up to Buffy. From what I've read of the TV series, that parental absense-in-presence seemed to be the case in at least the early episodes as well. Basically the adults have abdicated their responsibility and are not there to be consulted -- the girl is faced with being in charge of her own life and making her first major life-decision as an adult without their input. This is a major theme in YA fiction -- at some point the child realizes the parent is not all-powerful (whether good-intentioned or not) and that he has to be responsible for him or herself. I would imagine, not having read it, that _Red Thunder_ focuses more on the adult in the story, and is not a coming-of-age story about the teenagers? And the story that started the whole bit, about poor little Archie, is all about parental control. Archie's going to grow up to be an axe-murderer if he doesn't develop a little gumption. (Dearie me, a Freudian could have a field day with that little book!)

#22 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:01 PM:
*Yes, that's what 'blücher' means in German.

Do you have a citation for that? I vaguely remember looking this up some time ago, and finding it not to be the case. A quick search in online German dictionaries doesn't turn up any entry for anything like "blücher," and I can't find a word for "glue" that looks even slightly related. Of course it could be a (very) obsolete usage.

#23 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:06 PM:

The modern version of Sunday-School Twaddle (complete with Examplary Story Effect) is, I think, the After-School Special. In that form, the story would focus on young Orson, who is high-spirited and intelligent but clearly the product of Absent Parents, who are brought to see the error of their ways when he runs off to a Fourth of July party thrown by the older students which undoubtedly features either Illegal Fireworks or Underage Drinking (or both), where he falls victim either to a Fireworks-Related Injury or to Alcohol Poisoning (or both), leading to a tearful and guilt-filled Reunion in the Emergency Room.

At some point before the closing credits, Family Counseling is undoubtedly involved.

#24 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:07 PM:

Xopher: Time, I feel, for a sharp note to one's optician.

Teresa: For what it's worth, Abebooks has a few more by Ray; titles are in keeping with the style of those quoted. LoC only has one book, but it does have a footnote that the name was a pseudonym for one "Holliday, Mary M.". No details given for Mary, though, and I can't seem to find anything elsewhere.

#25 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:07 PM:

Argh. "Exemplary."

#26 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:08 PM:

As for Archie's sisters, their adventures downtown ended with their being bundled up in a trunk bound for a Papist nunnery and a life of floor scrubbing, interrupted only by the kissing of idols and undue Priestly attentions.

Cousin Joe went into horseless carriage sales.

#27 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:11 PM:

I don't think they're re-released Simon the Coldheart yet, because I haven't seen it yet at my local bookstores. (I discovered Georgette Heyer because of comments on this board, ran out and got The Grand Sophy and Arabella, and have been collecting them ever since.) I don't think that is the only such instance though, since I seem to remember reading a similar exclamation by a fictitious neighbour.

This puts me in mind of certain events in Little Women, which I am re-reading for the umpteenth time. Any time any of Louisa's characters act out in any way, something comes along to teach 'em a lesson. Amy and Jo fight over the play, then Amy burns Jo's book, then Jo says she'll never forgive her, and Amy, the golden-ringletted child, must needs fall into through the ice and risk drowning. Jo, of course, forgives her, and Marmee delivers a little sermon on forgiveness and losing ones temper. (These sermons made a lot more impression upon me as a somewhat religious child, and now they just seem rather treacly. I still love the book though. Go figure.)

#28 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:12 PM:

"After that, the two became fast friends..."

So that's the inspiration for Danae and Lucy's relationship in Non Sequitur!

#29 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:12 PM:

Yes, that's true of Buffy. But the implication of both film & TV series is that she is highly unusual in this: most slayers are found when they are much younger than she was, and trained by the watchers before they develop their special powers.

#30 ::: Jules ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:14 PM:

OK, should've checked for posts in the interrim. That was a response to Janet Croft about 2 screenfulls of comments back. :)

#31 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:18 PM:

Rena Ray also wrote Dainty Maurice: or, Lost in the Woods (Philadelphia : James A. Moore, [18--?]) and Winnie and his Pets ( New York : Sunday-School Union, 200 Mulberry-street, [185-?]), which features wood engravings. Both are in the UCLA library; the latter is part of a substantial collection of nineteenth century children's literature, and sounds much like your book in terms of its form factor.

#32 ::: Andrew Gray ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:31 PM:

Lisa: Interesting; Winnie was the one held by the Library of Congress, with a note saying "[no later than 1865]". Didn't explain why, though. Earliest date I saw cited for one of her books was, IIRC, 1851.

#33 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:34 PM:


Good point, but the question of authorial intent was answered for me by my asking Mr.Varley. He maintains that he was not portraying things in a strictly mimetic way, but normatively. He was doing another experiment on Heinlein's social norms in future fiction, to treat matters of patriotism, prejudice, and the like.


"I would imagine, not having read it, that _Red Thunder_ focuses more on the adult in the story, and is not a coming-of-age story about the teenagers?"

RED THUNDER nicely balances the bildungsroman aspects for the kids with analysis of the adults (the astronaut stops drinking, some of the parents are sympathetic, some indifferent, some actively oppositional). As Heinlein did, there was an honest attempt to show slightly different rules for kids and for adults, and protocols for the interaction. Everything is motivated: why one mother is anti-drug to the point of shooting drug-dealers, why the cajun "Waldo"-like genius was brain-damaged by a feloniously abusive father, under what conditions is casual sex okay.

The attention to plausibility of how gifted teenagers COULD make first-cut designs of a working spacecraft (assuming some Fantastic speculative Physics) and the hard work of getting proper real estate to build it, and cash flow, and security, made this Hard SF with social awareness. Yet, of course, it was only somewhat more "realistic" in a strict sense than the 4th of July homily.

I believe that most Science Fiction has a didactic component. I want to learn something from a novel, but with no disruption to enjoying the story, characters, and nuances of language.

#34 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 02:38 PM:

Sarah S: I thought of Belloc right away, too! My father would recite the Cautionary Tales to us when we were kids, and my brothers are carrying on the tradition with their kids.

Here's Jim, Who Ran Away from His Nurse, and Was Eaten by a Lion, and my personal favorite, Matilda, Who Told Lies, and Was Burned to Death.

#35 ::: Anton P. Nym (aka Steve) ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 03:06 PM:

That's it. For quoting that story, you owe me the deductable on my dentist's bill because that made my teeth ache. I should probably get my blood sugar level checked too... gah.

(Though I suspect that diabetes isn't the reason that story nearly put me into a coma.)

#36 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 03:23 PM:


In some ways, the Orsie story makes me understand something that just left me terribly confused about 27 years ago. There were (are? though I think one of them has finally died) these textbook/book censors in Texas called the Gablers. Phil Donahue had them on his show in about 1978, and I was so horrified by what I was hearing that I took notes. They complained at long length about the twin evils of evolution and sex education. But then they were talking about fiction and said that To Kill a Mockingbird shouldn't be taught in school because Scout was disrespectful to her father.

Talk about completely missing the point!

In the Orsie story, the other kid's mother was excerting an irrational amount of control over her son "in the name of love." And the kid was supposed to be grateful? Bah.

#37 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 03:28 PM:

I grew up with Struwwelpeter, though took the wrong morals from the tales. My sister used to frighten me with the story of Conrad, who sucked his thumbs, then has them cut off by the tailor. Never sucking my thumb did not make me less alarmed, because I took the moral as being that there were psychos out there who could break into your house, and anyone unhinged enough to cut off a kid's thumbs for sucking them would probably cut off any kid's thumbs just to be on the safe side.

This was actually a better and more realistic moral, as things went.

However, I loved the story of little Pauline and the matches, though took the wrong moral from this as well. The moral I took from this was that only a moron played with matches when they have unsecured hair and highly flameable hoopskirts. My mother had seen my fascination with fire as a child, and so had let me use the matches, supervised, thinking that I'd burn my fingers and then leave it to her, but what happened was that I got much better at using them than either her or my sister, so instead I was given the task of lighting candles and the barbecue, with the awful fate of Pauline a reminder of what happened to the terminally stupid who ignore basic safety precautions.

I loved seeing Pauline get torched on stage in The Tiger Lilies production of "Shock-Headed Peter." Wonderful staging and costuming, and a fun song too.

I recently found another story, by Helen Bannerman, the author of "Little Black Sambo," which is a wonderful bit of pyromania and magical realism done as a cautionary tale: "The Story of Little Kettlehead; An Awful Warning to Bad Babas", or "The Story of Little Degchie-head."

For those who don't click the link, a synopsis: Mary, a pyromaniac child who lives in India, accidentally incinerates her head, but the cook, not wishing to be found liable by his employers, uses Indian pagan magic to replace her missing head with a kettle with a face drawn in charcoal, sending the zombie-cyborg child back to her oblivious parents. Special cameo by Father Christmas as deus-ex-machina.

#38 ::: Magenta Griffith ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 03:31 PM:

Another wonderful parody of cautionary tales for children is Saki's "The Story Teller", in Beasts and Super-Beasts which is available online here:

His other stories are also excellent, but then, he has been one of my favorite authors since I was 14 or so. "The Open Window", often found in anthologies, is not his best. His sense of humor, and also of right and wrong, are somewhat out of the ordinary, and thus, his stories are not reprinted much, especially where impressionable children might read them.

#39 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 03:47 PM:

Mark Twain wrote some good cautionary tales, too. I wish I'd read them earlier and maybe gotten some of that silly Sunday-school pap knocked out of my head a lot sooner. I think I had a sickly fascination for the genre of stories about kids who get things given to them. I know I'm not the only one, because a lot of British weekly comics seem to be about that too. The girls' stories seem almost monotonous on the subject sometimes, though the theme was popular enough to make me wonder if they were having a depression over there when these were made (I'm thinking of ones from the sixties to the seventies in particular). But somewhere along the line I got the idea that if you're meritorious, just keep it to yourself and somebody'll be sure and spot it and give you swell stuff. I'd say more on the subject but I need to get back to waiting patiently here.

#40 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:00 PM:

Having googled on _Simon Coldheart_, and having Google spit back as a representative quote "Then Simon the Coldheart bent in his saddle and hoisted his page up with one strong hand, and held him against his shoulder. One little arm encircled his ...", I'm not sure that the gay porn version would count as *parody*. More like expansion.

#41 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:05 PM:

I suppose that for he had been run over by a fractious horse is the nineteenth-century equivalent of and then they were all run over by a truck.

My favourite parody of nineteenth century cautionary tales is Edward Gorey's The Gashleycrumb Tinies. "A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears..."

#42 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:15 PM:

Ariella sez: I suppose that for he had been run over by a fractious horse is the nineteenth-century equivalent of and then they were all run over by a truck.

So this is actually proto-Infernokrusher kidlit? I mean, it even has implied fireworks in the title -- it has to be!

#43 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:17 PM:

Just added Red Thunder to my reading list -- thanks, JVP.

#44 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:23 PM:

Soon all the wizarding community was running wild with stories of Orsie Alden, "The Boy Who Lived." Protected by his mother's love from the attempt on his life by the evil Lord Mouldywort, the muggles in the village never suspected what had happened in their very midst.

"I expect he was thrown under a horse," said Uncle Vermouth as he gave the bed-ridden Orsie a stale crust left over from yesterday's breakfast. "Serves the wretch right, always running off."

#45 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:27 PM:

Janet Croft:

You're welcome. I'm waiting for my wife's copy of the latest Varley novel, which got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly. I've also seen on Mr. Varley's web site that Reader's Digest is interested in a Condensed version. Interesting...

Review from Publishers Weekly


When eccentric megabillionaire Howard Christian commissions a hunt for a frozen mammoth in northern Manitoba to clone a new model in Varley's rollicking, bittersweet tale of time travel and ecology, he gets more than he bargained for: next to the 12,000-year-old beast his team unearths lies the body of a human being, wearing a wristwatch, with a metal box—a time machine?—nearby. Christian hires Matt Wright, Canada's top scientist on the physics of time, to fix the machine, and employs elephant vet Susan Morgan to oversee the cloning of a new mammoth. The machine hurls Matt and Susan back to the mammoth age, then forward again, along with a baby Columbian woolly mammoth, Fuzzy, whose engaging story cleverly alternates with Christian's indefatigable quest for personal fame. Varley's sparkling wit pulls one surprise after another out of this unconventional blend of science and social commentary with real people convincingly doing unreal things. Fuzzy, though, is the true hero, an irresistible 15-foot-tall reminder of the wonders of nature and imagination. The winner of numerous Hugo and Nebula awards, Varley (Millennium) should garner new laurels with this outstanding effort.

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved

#46 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:34 PM:

I don't know about the schoolgirls-and-horse side of English school stories, but my recollection of old books, acquired by my grandfather pre-WW2 whan my father was a lad, is that there was a long tradition of particular sorts of story, going all the way back to Tom Brown's Schooldays, through Stalky & Co., and generally totally unlike most people's experience of school.

Though, like Bunter, I never received a postal order.

The Sixties were when that started to fall apart.

But there's a tendency for books to keep coming back for the next generation of children, so the boarding school stories didn't vanish -- there just seemed to stop being new ones.

Maybe one day we'll get the story about the gay boys imprisoned at a fundamentalist summer camp who dig an escape tunnel from under the vaulting horse.

#47 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:38 PM:

Dave Bell:

"... so the boarding school stories didn't vanish -- there just seemed to stop being new ones."

One Word: "Harry Potter."

#48 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 04:39 PM:

TNH: Yes, that makes it worse. The Watchers are not nice people. Giles' involvement [with] of Buffy's Mom seems to be a rareity.

#49 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 05:31 PM:

"So what we got?"
"Found insensible. Witness said smell of powder."
"Don't doubt it. Enough firecracker fragments scattered around to blow up a whole military parade."
"You think -- ?"
"And they say I never see daylight. What was today? Look at this sock. Probably kept the lucifers in his shoe. Old trick, between hotfoots. And -- whoa. Look at this."
"I am the king of horsehair. Let's get Doctor Leewenhoek in on the case. Foam-flecked. Any fractious horse calls in the area?"
"Hm. Two fractious, two whinnying, one believed fractious but turned out to be tight girth."
"Okay, that gives us a nice pat scenario."
"So are we playing pat and mike?"
"Look under the fingernails. The powder stains inside the elbows. This kid was a pro. You got anything in that sheet on him?"
"Hmm . . . seen leaving the Deacons' Drawers Incident a year back. Nothing solid, alibi from Money-Box Gracie."
"Nothin' suspicious about that, then."
"Wait a minute. Witness says he was seen earlier with Archie."
"Captain Cistern?"
"I'm going to RPD. You keep looking."
"Like I got a date in this town?"

-- CSI Raysburg

#50 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 05:49 PM:

Andrew Gray -

"Winnie was the one held by the Library of Congress, with a note saying '[no later than 1865]'. Didn't explain why, though."

In many cases where a date in that form is given, it's the date the library acquired the book.

#51 ::: DBratman ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 05:52 PM:

Ah, here's the answer, hiding in the full LC record:

"Dated from inscription on front flyleaf."

#52 ::: regina ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 05:59 PM:

As an antidote to all this treacle, may I suggest Penrod by Booth Tarkington? I read it a number of times growing up and it still makes me laugh. Life as a small boy growing up in Cairo, IL. Although there is racism in parts of the book, the descriptions of Penrod's state of mind and his numerous scrapes are truly great fun and still apropos of fidgety boys who don't want to pay attention in school and are just waking up to the idea of girls.

#53 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 06:14 PM:

Teresa: yes, I know what you meant, but I'm one of those Buffy fans who is completely fixated on dear Ripper. (You know what they say about reformed rakes, after all.)

#54 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 06:47 PM:

I would have said I had the sister to your book, but I went down to the bedroom to retrieve it, and it was published by Book Concern in Columbus, OH. I don't know when, it doesn't say, but my mother got it as a child at least second-hand.

It's _One of These Little Ones_ by Stella Wuerffel. Story is about a poor orphan girl who gets taken into a family and by Christmas, she goes to the pageant and accepts Jesus as her saviour. During the time before the pageant, lots of icky things happen when she doesn't mind the new mother.

My favorite part of it is the penciled inscription on the front inside cover:

"Mardella Vetter
Bowdle S. Dak.

do not put any pencil marks in or you can't read it. or get this book dirty

----------- (swoopy line)

you kids wouldn't like it so well either if I mark up your Books."

#55 ::: Jasper Janssen ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 06:58 PM:

In the case of Kendra from _Buffy_, though, it seems likely that she is from a fairly poor family. Rich white dude comes along and gives whole family good place to live, *and* feeds them a strange story about teaching their daughter? I can see that happening.

#56 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 07:04 PM:

JVP -- I read MAMMOTH when it came in to the bookstore, and quite liked it, more than RED THUNDER. He seems to be going through a period of writing modern Heinlein juveniles, and doing quite a good job of it.

#57 ::: Jo March ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 07:13 PM:

In fact, I never forgave Amy for burning my book, how could I? How could anyone? I still bear a grudge about it to this day. I can hardly think about it. Come to that, I never forgave Amy for going to Europe with Aunt March, or for marrying Laurie. Anything you may have read to the contrary is just propaganda.

If you want proof that life isn't fair, it's that poor Beth died and Amy didn't so much as choke on a pickled lime.

#58 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 07:20 PM:

What a strange thought: you have to get all the way to Stephen King's Misery (which I haven't read, the descriptions of it in On Writing were enough to give me nightmares) which is kind of the inverse, before you get anything like Amy burning Jo's book in Little Women or what Dean does to Emily in the third of L.M. Montgomery's Emily of New Moon books.

(You know, those three probably don't get considered together as often as all that.)

You'd think it would be a primal fear of writers, but if it is, it isn't one they write about much.

#59 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 07:36 PM:

Jo March: Admit it. You probably took a hatchet to the ice.

#60 ::: James J Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 09:50 PM:

David Bell wrote:

Maybe one day we'll get the story about the gay boys imprisoned at a fundamentalist summer camp who dig an escape tunnel from under the vaulting horse.

"The Fabulous Escape," coming soon on Logo, starring Carson Kressley as Steve McQueen!

#61 ::: Sean Bosker ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 10:14 PM:

I was always confused by that "do the right thing and you'll get a special reward you never saw coming" Sunday school twaddle too.

A friend of mine likes to say, "You know you hold a principle when it costs you something." I've found that to be true more often than not. Doing the right thing is its own reward, there are no cash and prizes.

Another version of Sunday school twaddle is when someone admits to doing something bad, and then when they are punished, they say, "But I was only being honest!" As if they are being punished for their honesty, or that the reward due for the honesty outstrips the punishment for the bad deed.

#62 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2005, 11:25 PM:

JvP cites Harry Potter to contradict Dave Bell's observation that there are no new boarding school stories. He's on the west coast, so he may not hear the howling from both ends of the UK, from Jane Yolen and Diana Wynne Jones....
I'll admit that neither of them is as stereotypical as Rowling -- but has anyone else written similarly retro work in response to the Potter phenomenon? Harry seems to me to be a one-off, rather than a trend.

Kevin: you either had more self-confidence or were introduced to Struwwelpeter later than I was; Augustus and the soup scared me badly at five-and-a-bit, and I wasn't a particularly picky eater. Is there a doctoral thesis in the difference between Anglo twaddle, in which there is a reward for completely constricted behavior, and Germanic, in which only the punishment is shown?

Anyone who hasn't should read Denton's "The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians"; it may be a bit overdone but it's a lovely antidote to Archie etc -- get your blood sugar level back to normal in no time.

#63 ::: Yonmei ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:50 AM:

PiscusFiche: Amy and Jo fight over the play, then Amy burns Jo's book, then Jo says she'll never forgive her, and Amy, the golden-ringletted child, must needs fall into through the ice and risk drowning. Jo, of course, forgives her, and Marmee delivers a little sermon on forgiveness and losing ones temper.

When I first read Little Women I remember thinking that if I were Jo, I'd never have forgiven Amy. I'm not surprised that Alcott felt she had to have Amy nearly die before Jo could at least verbally forgive her.

#64 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:06 AM:

Re: Boarding school stories - Even before Harry Potter burst on the YA scenes, and before I'd come into contact with Diana Wynne Jones, I got my boarding school story fix from Canadian YA author, Gordon Korman, and his tongue-in-cheek MacDonald Hall stories. Oh, and the Worst Witch books.

Yonmei - I never forgave Amy for it either. One of my well-meaning great-aunts got me the Amy doll from the Madame Alexander Little Women collection. Aside from the fact that I wasn't particularly keen on dolls to begin with, I was secretly crushed that of the four girls, she gave me Amy. (The explanation was that we both liked to draw, apparently. How my great-aunt could overlook the reading, writing, and harum-scarum tomboy behaviour, I never found out. I thanked her dutifully and put Amy on the top closet shelf.)

#65 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:10 AM:

Alcott was raised in a family where the notion "it won't hurt to skip dinner tonight" was raised to "it is virtuous of you to skip dinner, and you will be rewarded." In her fiction (and to some extent in her life) this meant that she gave away all the good stuff to her sisters. Amy not only gets forgiven for burning Jo's manuscript (I'd never have forgiven it either), her fall into the river wipes the slate so clean that Jo winds up the guilty party. And at the end of the book, of course, Alcott gives Jo's suitor to Amy, and expects the reader to think it is only just.

As for Orson Alden, he recovered, didn't he? But he was interestingly scarred, and had a lucrative career in later life as a side show attraction...

#66 ::: Julia Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 02:09 AM:

I am displeased with Xopher for grabbing the gay porn parody idea before I got to this thread, but pleased to find a good reason to hunt for that specific book. :-)

#67 ::: John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 02:33 AM:

"Good nobleman, I have come to break through your icy persona and bring love into your cold existence."
"Lady, I'm just a little busy here at the moment, and I happen to already be married, though it may not have been the best idea I ever had."
"But . . . are you not Simon, called the Coldheart?"
"I'm Simon called de bleedin' Montfort, and unless you have a couple companies of men-at-arms under your kirtle, I think you'd probably better get behind something arrowproof."

#68 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:45 AM:

the really, really oppressive Alcott stories aren't the March stories, though. That honor goes to Rose in Bloom (Cousin Rose wants to marry charming ne'er do well in need of saving Charlie, but Uncle doesn't think it's a good idea because it might coarsen her spirit so Charlie goes to hell with a beer in his hand and ends up trampled by a horse and Rose marries cousin Mac, who loves her terribly in a quiet intellectual manly way which is much more real and pure and true than if he'd actually paid some attention to her and besides, he has nice eyes when he takes off the really thick glasses, which he basically doesn't) or possibly Jack and Jill (Jill insists on sledding and cripples herself, so she has lots of time to spend on a couch learning to be grateful and wrestling with the nigh-inconquerable moral flaws which, unchecked, drew her to sledding and dispair. Jack, who also sledded but advised Jill not to and was not harmed in any way, has possibly the greater suffering, what with feeling real bad about everything).

#69 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:53 AM:

One wonders what happened to the horse.

To say nothing of the dog.

#70 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 06:03 AM:


Actually, I was exposed to Struwwelpeter at four. The only story that scared me was Conrad and the thumb-removing tailor because of the grisliness and the "There really are psychos out there" moral I took from it.

All the rest of the stories I found funny, since they seemed to be the Darwin awards for stupid children.

Pauline was particularly stupid because not only did she not know basic fire safety, she thought matches were cooler than not one but two talking cats.

If the cats had told me not to play with matches, I would have forgotten them in an instant, because, I mean, talking cats. That's cool.

I also liked the hare who had the foresight to take the hunter's shotgun and blow him away. Bugs Bunny never had the sense to do that (though he did have a large supply of dynamite in his burrow, which made up for it).

#71 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 06:47 AM:

I've read that Louisa May Alcott got sick of being known for her "wholesome family books," because she preferred to write thrillers but couldn't sell them under her own name.

#72 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 07:36 AM:

I assume that the Mammoth in the eponymous book is not a Pygmy?

#73 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 11:01 AM:

Penrod was definitely an important part of my youth. Two of the three books are on Project Gutenberg, as is Seventeen (my next favorite Tarkington book). That also contains racism, mostly in the form of patronizingly phrased observations of racial behavior, which he examines in the same way he looks at relationships between boys, grownups, dogs, and combinations thereof. This applies to both Seventeen and the Penrod trilogy. Everybody in his worlds had rules they had to live up to.

It was also memorable for giving me the line about how when you're a boy, anything you do may turn out afterward to have been a crime: you just don't know. Retribution and clemency are alike inexplicable.

Oh, and Penrod pencils some good, bloody fan fic in the form of his stories about Harold Ramorez the Road Agent and ____ _____ ______ ______ ______. (The dashes are Penrod's, and represent bad language.) I re-read it every few years. Booth Tarkington had wonderful powers of observation and emphathy.

They made a movie based on it, only they turned it into a vehicle for Doris Day. It's still worth seeing: On Moonlight Bay.

#74 ::: Emma ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 11:05 AM:

Oh goody, other people who can't stomach LMA. Back when I attended high school I had a teacher who was horrified that I read science fiction and she recommended some "literary" works, including Alcott. I found Little Women treacly and wondered what "moral lessons" I could take from it, other than "be a good girl".
The teacher was surely surprised, though, when I told her I had already read The Last of the Mohicans.

#75 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 11:51 AM:

Regarding Kendra: I haven't seen the episode in a while, but didn't she indicate that her family and the culture she was born into knew about Slayers before her Watcher turned up?

Xopher *Yes, that's what 'blücher' means in German.

If so, Young Frankenstein is suddenly funnier.

#76 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:03 PM:

I object to the idea that Laurie in Little Women was any kind of prize. Jo wound up with a geeky guy who was old enough to be moderately sensible? That looked quite all right to me from a very young age. It looked extremely just to me that Amy ended up with Laurie, because I dearly wanted to kick both of them.

The LMA thing that alarmed me most recently was when I was rereading An Old-Fashioned Girl, where Polly feels all uncomfy because she can see the dancers' legs at the theatre, and she's assured that she should always trust the squidgy feeling in her stomach as a moral guide. I agree that we should feel "wrong" about doing wrong things, but visceral prejudice and social conditioning are no substitute for thought. Also, it cracked me up in Eight Cousins when math was one of the unwholesome things with which geeky Mac was ruining his health. Not...math! Nooooo!

Also I got extremely annoyed with LM Montgomery that Dean had to be such a toad in order to make the wussy mama's boy Teddy Kent look like a good deal, and I wanted Emily to run off to Paris or at least Toronto and hold salons and be adored by a gazillion distant lovers but live by herself and have Ilse and Perry to stay summers. She could retire to New Moon with a faithful French servant in her late middle years and scandalize/educate the locals well into her old age. It sounded good to me.

#77 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:22 PM:

Alcott came to hate writing what she called "moral pap for the young." She wrote a couple of "adult" novels--Work and Moods, which did not sell welll--and Hospital Sketches, about her time working as a military nurse during the Civil War. Both Cousin Mac in Rose in Bloom--which is a pretty insufferable book; I like Eight Cousins much better--and Professor Baer in Little Women were a weird mixture of her awful father and Henry David Thoreau, on whom LMA had a significant crush.

Alcott is a fascinating character; like Jo, she loved writing the potboilers (anyone who thinks they hate Alcott should look up her mellers, which are terrific fun) but felt they weren't "real" books--a feeling nurtured by her parents, who wanted her to write wholesome and improving transcendental works. With the weight of that moral requirement (not to mention the financial weight of her family, whom she supported) it was easy for her to fall into writing improving "pap" and twee fairy stories and the like. And over the course of her life she repeatedly gave away the things she wanted most to her sisters, trying to redeem herself for her failings--belief in those failings was gently instilled by her father, who felt he was too important a thinker to have to go out and earn a living...

Have I mentioned that I loathe Bronson Alcott? Among other things, he believed that blonde, fair complected people are inherently closer to God and virtue--he was himself fair haired, of course, as were LMA's oldest and youngest sisters, while LMA and her mother were demonically brown-haired and olive complected. Every time you look in the mirror you know you're a failure just by the color of your hair...

#78 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:34 PM:

Or perhaps that was the plan all along, in which case his mother’s failure to tell him about it earlier was as inexplicably unkind as his sisters’ taunts.

It might not be inexplicably unkind--she could have thought that the surprise of having the party would make up for the pain of thinking that nothing was gong to happen on the 4th.

Surprise birthday parties were a staple of sitcomes, but I don't know whether real people actually tried to hold them.

#79 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:44 PM:

Darn ! Darn and dash! Someone beat me to the Saki link AND the Young Frankenstein comment.

I think the reason for Unexpected Good Stuff in sticky children's stories is that if you try to tell children "do difficult thing X and you will be vaguely rewarded in future", they will sensibly do the thing that rewards them NOW.

I think the German way ["And then they were all disembowelled!"] is better; there's a good chance that the children will remember the story, and tell it to their friends.

Of course, I don't HAVE any children, so I'm a spectator in all this.

#80 ::: MD² ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:47 PM:

Always loved that kind of cheap moral books as a kid. Nothing would make me laugh as much as, say, the introduction of Le Tour de la France par deux enfants, when one silent look from the aged dying father is enough for the children to understand they need to "remain french" and leave occupied Alsace.
Wow !

@Madeleine Robins:
Reading about Mr Bronson Alcott and how you seem to like him would have me recommend trying flipping through Sambre, the story of a familly whose mad patriarch had a rather strange theory about red-eyed people. The story is far too convoluted, but the art is a gorgous red and black.

#81 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 12:48 PM:

This reveals the difference between the Anglo-American paradigm for children's literature, the German paradigm for children's literature, and the Japanese (Manga, Miyazaki) paradigm for children's literature.

Strangely, this is parallel to the differences between the Anglo-American, German, and Japanese paradigms for the relative priorities of pure science, engineering/technology, and consumer products.

#82 ::: Zeynep Dilli ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:05 PM:

All the biographical information about Alcott lets me make so much more sense of bits and pieces of Little Women now. It's truly fascinating.

I always felt OK for Jo eventually---whom I felt sorry for was Laurie, for marrying Amy instead of Jo.

#83 ::: Jakob ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:06 PM:

Xopher: As far as I'm aware, Blücher isn't glue in German; that would be Leim or Klebstoff. The only association that I have with Blücher would be the Prussian general, who commanded the Prussian army at Waterloo. In fact, like Wellington, he gave his name to a type of footwear.

#84 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:08 PM:

Early experience, not genes, shapes child abusers
22:00 27 June 2005 news service
Gaia Vince
[re: Dario Maestripieri, University of Chicago, Proceedings of the National Academies of Science]

"Child abuse may be more of a learnt behaviour than a genetic trait, new research on monkeys suggests. If true, the understanding may provide the opportunity to break the cycle of abuse that runs in some families."

"As many as 70% of parents who abuse their children were themselves abused while growing up. Maternal abuse of offspring in macaque monkeys shares some similarities with child maltreatment in humans, including its transmission across generations. This pattern of abuse has led to speculation that it may have a genetic basis...."

#85 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:12 PM:

Well, it's well known that the Germans make the world's best scissors.

It hadn't occured to me that "must be able to sever children's thumbs in one snip" was a design specification, but now that I know that, it makes so much sense.

#86 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:12 PM:

Coming soon:

My Life as a Kettlehead: How I Came to Love the Uncanny Valley

#87 ::: Kevin Andrew Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:33 PM:

Stefan: Thinking about the cosplay masks made me realize how easily that story could be filmed as a surreal horror short.

Of course if your new head were made of wax and/or nitrocelulose, you'd be avoiding fires too.

#88 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 01:59 PM:

I noted this morning a review of something called March, a novel which is essentially Little Women from the father's POV. The book itself sounds interesting, but (particularly as it was LMA and not her father who went to war) I always thought she sent Mr. March off to minister to the troops to save herself the exertion of trying to find something nice to say about him. Little Women is essentially Alcott trying to write the "good parts" version of her own childhood.

Not that I've thought about this stuff a lot or anything.

#89 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 02:39 PM:

Another thing that fed into the sympathetic portrait of Amy might be that when "Beth" died, Louisa was living in Boston trying for a career as a writer, but then "Meg" got married and left home, she had to return to Concord to take care of her parents. You notice there was no scene where Jo extravagantly forgives Meg...

It might have made it easier to forgive "Amy" for Laurie that he didn't exist. May got married to a european years after Little Women came out.

#90 ::: Mris ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 03:04 PM:

I read an advance review copy of March, Madeleine, and I was not impressed. (If someone told me that, I would have read it anyway. Still.) I thought that Geraldine Brooks got awfully caught up in details of Bronson Alcott's biography, even when they directly contradicted things Little Women said about Mr. March. I thought it was meandering and obvious, but my big annoyance with it was that it rewrote petty things about Little Women to suit. Yes, Bronson Alcott was (for awhile, at least) on the end of the vegetarian spectrum that would refuse to use manure on the orchards because it "properly" belonged to the animals. But there are numerous examples in Little Women that indicate that the March family did not stick to those rules at all (including, in Good Wives, Mr. March), and it just seems silly to contradict that in order to be able to use that bit of research.

I know the draw of research. Bow howdy, do I. But when someone sets out to fill in the gaps of a childhood classic, it seems like they should have a better reason than "cool research" to ignore the work in question.

#91 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 03:32 PM:

Small thread hijack (sorry, everyone):

Madeleine, sent you email yesterday; did you get it?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread.

#92 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 03:37 PM:

More on topic:

When I was in elementary school, I read a children's novel which featured a boy who was blinded by a 4th of July firework. While I'm sure that that part of the book was meant to scare children away from playing with firecrackers, the rest of the novel was a fascinating journey through acquired blindness as the hero learned to read braille, navigate in a world he once had seen, etc. Eventually he gets a guide dog and goes back to school and has a pretty cool life.

If we were supposed to never want to touch a firework as a result of reading this book, all the cool details about being blind negated that message, at least for me. There were all sorts of interesting tidbits like using arrangements of safety pins to identify clothing by color (someone would have to help you determine the color in the first place, of course) and folding bills of different denominations in different ways. Being a weirdly detail-oriented person, I ate this stuff all up. I've no idea if any of it was/is actually true, of course.

And I don't remember the name of the book, though I think my mother still has it . . . .

#93 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:02 PM:

Follow My Leader. I read that one too. Learned Braille, too, though never to read it with my hands.

#94 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:07 PM:

Xopher (and an email correspondent) are correct, that was the title of the book I was thinking of.

Glad to know I'm not the only one who has that still stuck in her/his brain.

#95 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:18 PM:

The bit about Jo and forgiveness belatedly reminded me of something I hope someone here can clear up.

About 25-30 years ago, I read a Sunday School tract in which A was angry at B for something B did to A. B was in a car accident, and A and C realized that B could have died unforgiven by A, which was clearly A Very Bad Thing for A. B resolved from then on to forgive immediately any transgressions against self, lest transgressor die unforgiven.

Is there a sect of mainstream Christianity (the tract came from the church of an Army chaplain) that believes:
1) forgiveness is an act purely of will, not grace; and
2) forgiveness of the one transgressed against (even if the transgression is not itself a sin, just something that angers the other person), not by God, is necessary for the soul's wellbeing?

#96 ::: Janet Croft ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:20 PM:

I very fondly remember Follow My Leader, too! A Scholastic book -- we probably all got it through their school book sale flyer. Full of cool stuff like braille watches and how dogs are trained. A quick check on World Cat -- written by James B. Garfield, 1957 -- I wouldn't have been getting Scholastic books till the late 1960's/early 1970's, so it must have been a perennial favorite. He only wrote one other book, and it was never reprinted like Follow My Leader was.

#97 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:21 PM:

Sorry. Distracted by urgent cat messages. Should have read:

A was angry at B for something B did to A. B was in a car accident, and A and C realized that B could have died unforgiven by A, which was clearly A Very Bad Thing for B. A resolved from then on to forgive immediately any transgressions against self, lest transgressor die unforgiven.

#98 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:21 PM:

I have to read March, even if it's awful.

I was named after Jo March, and when I think how I grew up just like her it makes me worry about having called Sasha after Alexander the Great.

Incidentally, as a child I had no idea that Little Women, What Katy Did, Pollyanna, Tom Sawyer and Elsie Dinsmore were not in fact giving me a picture of contemporary America. I thought it was WWII that Mr March was away fighting. I could see that the technology and clothes and customs were different, but it was a foreign country after all.

On the whole it's a good thing there are no more ships sailing to C.19 children's book America. But if I did find myself there, I'd certainly know how to behave.

#99 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:30 PM:

Follow My Leader is still in print, from Puffin. The cover shown on Amazon is nowhere near as cool as the one on my book, which had a stark white background IIRC.

Hmmmm . . . dd has a bunch of bookstore gift cards to spend, from her birthday. I wonder if I can steer her choices a little . . . .

#100 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 04:55 PM:
Surprise birthday parties were a staple of sitcoms, but I don't know whether real people actually tried to hold them.

People certainly do it for adults on occasion. Whether anyone has been silly enough to try to do one for a child, I don't know. I certainly wouldn't.

#101 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 05:10 PM:

Didn't LMA end up becoming the guardian of "Amy's" daughter after she died of complications of childbirth?

#102 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 05:15 PM:

Thank the gods my friends know better than to try that for me! The last time it happened I allowed myself to be dragged to the beach because everyone I knew was going to the beach that day for some reason I couldn't understand...I hate the beach, so it was purely for the company, and because people BEGGED me to come along that I went. Then they told me it was for MY BIRTHDAY. I believe I actually cried once I was alone, I was so frustrated.

The only kind of surprise I like is "what's under the wrapping paper." Other than that, all surprises are bad, at least at first. I try to avoid them altogether.

Also birthday parties, unless they're for someone else. But that has another cause.

#103 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 05:43 PM:

More Surprising Parties from the Urban Legends page.

#104 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 06:03 PM:

Jim - That's a good page. It cites several TV comedy uses of the situation, but not my favorite one: the British sitcom "Coupling," where the guest-of-honor of the surprise party is the perennial horndog Jeff.

That show added an extra twist to the joke: the woman leaves Jeff alone in the room, instructing him to keep his eyes closed while he's in there, so he doesn't see his friends and family gathering, and they're so shocked by his display that they watch in silent mortification.

I'm generally very squeamish about comedy that depends on the humiliation of sympathetic characters, but that gag worked for me, I think in part because Jeff eventually did get the kind of party he expected.

#105 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 07:47 PM:

Jo -- I remember thinking about the same on Blyton et al, although that's not as large a time gap. I think I'd caught on somewhere in the middle of Buchan (age 11), but may have had parental help.

#106 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 08:53 PM:

Melissa (email was itinerary? Yes, got it) and Xopher--as it happens, I'm reading Follow My Leader to the Younger Child right now--I think we'll finish it tonight. As a kid I was totally fascinated by the mechanics of coping with life as a blind person. YC loves the book, and rather curdled my blood last night, saying wistfully that it might be worth it to play with firecrackers, if you got to exist in the world in this whole different way...

In the book, the boy who is blinded (happily named Jimmy Carter, which makes me snicker every time I read it aloud) at first, and quite understandably, is angry at the boy who accidentally blinded him, but eventually forgives him. Mike, the boy who threw the firecracker that blinds Jimmy, has a much harder time forgiving Jimmy for, essentially, getting him in such trouble. Reading that part led to a fascinating discussion about how it's possible to hate someone just because you know you've treated them badly...

#107 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 11:05 PM:

I forget who it was who said that the hardest thing in the world is to forgive those we've wronged.

#108 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 28, 2005, 11:18 PM:

Xopher: La Rochefauld

#109 ::: Naomi Kritzer ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 12:44 AM:

Count me in as yet another one who never forgave Amy. Or Dean, for that matter.

Incidentally, I once heard Maxine Hong Kingston speak -- she read an excerpt from the book she was working on at the time, The Fifth Book of Peace, which tells the story of the destruction of a previous manuscript in the fires that swept through Oakland in 1991. Kingston's book (at least that version of it, it was a work-in-progress at the time) implied that the fires were divine judgment on the U.S. for the Gulf War. What I took away from the story (which is really harrowing) was that this was a message from God to all writers that we should always have an off-site backup of our work.

#110 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 02:34 AM:

Naomi Kritzer:

A Biographical Sketch of a Friend & Acquaintance of Aleister Crowley

"After awhile Lowry became plagued by unfortunate disasters of fire which culminated with his own house burning to the ground on June 7, 1944. He immediately ran to a neighboring house 'to ask that the occupants phone the fire department...shouting "Help, help, help me!" He was only dressed in his undershorts. Unfortunately his neighbor did not have a phone. One of the few things which survived the fire was typed copy of the original manuscript of Under the Volcano, a book which was qabalistically written..."

(Clarence) Malcolm Lowry (1909-1957)
"After a short visit to Mexico in 1945, the Lowrys returned to Canada, where they stayed until 1954, then moving to England. During his last years Lowry planned a modern, 'drunken Divine Comedy,' a sequence of seven novels built around Under the Volcano, titled The Voyage That Never Ends. He had already written the 'Purgatory' part. It was a short story entitled 'Lunar Caustic.' 'Paradise' had been destroyed in the fire."

#111 ::: Michelle K ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 08:36 AM:

Surprise birthday parties were a staple of sitcoms, but I don't know whether real people actually tried to hold them.

I've been involved in lots of surprise birthday parties, most of which did not occur on the recipient's birthday, and several of which involved getting the person to another state.

I like 'em, because they're a good excuse to get family and/or friends together, and to be all stealthy and secret for a good cause. (For the last surprise birthday party I got to go through my grandmother's photos and scan pictures of my aunt as a child.)

#112 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 10:06 AM:

I once was part of a group that threw a surprise party for a friend; it was, near as I could tell, a true surprise, and was, as a party, a great success.

I'd never do it for a child--throwing children's birthday parties is fraught enough without making them surprises as well.

#113 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 12:11 PM:

Very belated comment on Simon Coldheart: Hasn't the wimpier modern incarnation just been exonerated in that trial in California?

#114 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 12:13 PM:

I was also part of the group throwing that party, and it was a terrific success. I was proud to have pulled it off, as the victim had No Clue. Also threw one for my husband when he turned 40, which was similarly successful--despite the fact that half the people who were supposed to be there could not get there because a monsoon settled itself upon the city. And years ago, I was a co-conspirator in my father's 60th birthday surprise, which was a stealth surprise party: he knew he was going to a party, but didn't get that it was for him for an hour or so, until he realized that many of the people who were there were his friends, and otherwise unknown by the hosts. By the time we brought out the cake he had a foolish grin on his face--and my father is not the sort who grins foolishly.

#115 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 04:42 PM:

My son was excited to buy a board game, and since he was barely three, we picked up Chutes and Ladders for him.


The game would be fine if not for the moralizing. It isn't enough to skip ahead or slide back in the game if you land on a certain square, each of the chutes and ladders has to teach a lesson.

If you land on the square with a picture of a girl pigging out on candy, you slide down the chute to the picture of the same girl with a tummy ache.

Ride a bike with no hands ---> Broken arm

Read a comic book when you should be reading a history book ---> sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap

The "ladders" are mostly better: When you plant a garden, you get pretty flowers. When you care for your pet, you get the pet's love.

The ones that really bug me the most are the Sunday School Exemplary Story Effects, just as you mentioned. Mow the lawn, go to the circus. What crap. I do not want my son to learn that he gets rewards for taking out the trash. Until he turns 18, taking out the trash is his whole purpose in life. Frankly, that's why I wanted a kid. I was sick of taking out the trash and doing the dishes. I don't need some board game that forces me to shell out for tickets.

Luckily, he doesn't pay any more attention to the games moral lessons than he does to mine. When I asked him about the pictures of the girl who carried a too-tall stack of plates and bowls at the top of the chute and sitting amidst a pile of broken crockery at the bottom, he told me that it meant you should never take a bunch of dishes on the slide.

Smart kid.

#116 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 05:02 PM:

James, thanks for the attribution. I never did decrypt that.

#117 ::: Penny Dreadful ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 05:23 PM:

The table was spread with many dainties, in a beautiful arbor which was covered with blossoms.

Erm, what planet is this? Assuming an "arbor" means trees, which trees bloom in July? Where I live, trees bloom in spring, well before leaves grow.

As a veteran reader not only of Little Women,but also Little Men and Jo's Boys, I found myself wanting to read what Jo wrote more than what Louisa had put on the page.

#118 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 06:10 PM:

Q. Why does Simon Coldheart like twenty eight year old boyfriends?

A. Because there's twenty of them.

#119 ::: Aconite ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 06:24 PM:

Penny Dreadful: Assuming an "arbor" means trees, which trees bloom in July?

Crape myrtles, magnolias, and purple smoke trees. Also, vines run up trees and bloom; ones here (eastern US, zone 7-8) are decorated with something that looks like trumpet vine as well as morning-glory type blossoms.

#120 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 06:48 PM:

The question is not, "Do people really throw surprise parties?" but rather, "Is it every actually a surprise?"

We threw a surprise party for my mother's 70th birthday. We had a lot of fun with the secret-agent part. On the day of the event, we claimed that we were just taking her out to brunch at a place some of my co-workers had recommended; of course, the place was ACTUALLY where the party was going to be.

My Dad had picked the place. I drove out, with my Mom in the front seat and Dad in back. He used to be a real back-seat driver and loved to give directions. I thought I finally had the last word on him: "Dad, this place was recommended by my co-workers. You've never been there. What makes you think you know where it is?"

But he recovered. Rats. "I know the general neighborhood," he said.

When we got there, my mother looked into the hotel and said, "That looks like cousin Debbie. What's going on here."

I thought I said, "That's ridiculous. Why would cousin Debbie be here? It must just be someone who LOOKS like Debbie." But my Mom looked skeptical.

Later on, she claimed to have known for weeks. She said my Dad is terrible at keeping secrets — he didn't tell her, but she knew something was going on, and she figured it out. I find that believable.

A few months later, my Mom got sick with a brain tumor, which led to rapid senility. She died about two years later, after many months in a persistent vegetative state. So that day is one of my last good memories of her.

Sorry that story took a turn for the maudlin there. It happens.

#121 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2005, 06:51 PM:

> Sunday School Exemplary Story Effect kicks
> in ... in a Sunday School story, if you give up
> something you want, you will immediately and
> inevitably be rewarded, either by having that
> thing come to you in some other way, or by
> being randomly given some other good thing.

(franticly scribbling in my writing notebook: 'SSESE = bad')

Making Light: throwing ourselves on literary hand grenades so you don't have to.

Thanks, Teresa!

#122 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2005, 05:46 AM:

Reading this thread has put into my brain a weird idea that I feel like inflicting on the rest of you.

Three-way tag-team deathmatch!

Among Louisa May Alcott's Little Women; Louisa May Alcott's Little Men; and Mother Hitton's Littul Kittons.

#123 ::: Per C. Jorgensen ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2005, 10:21 AM:

This thread made me remember one story I was told in Sunday School in the 70ies. The main character was the daughter of (presumably Scandinavian) missionaries in Africa, and she'd been given a fine and expensive doll by her grandmother. She and her best friend, and African girl from an orphanage, played a lot with the doll. When it was time to leave Africa, she wanted to give the doll to her friend. Her parents objected, however, stating that it was not fair on the other girls in the orphanage that one of their number had such a fine doll, and suggested that the doll should instead be sold, and the money given to the mission.

I must say that that was probably one of the first instances that I knew that adults believe that children will swallow most anything. I kept wanted to ask, why can't the girls in the orphanage all play with the doll? If it is bad to make differences between the African girls, why is it right to sell the doll to - presumably - Africans with money, who will give the doll to their girl? Well, at least they got the donate money to the church message over loud and clear.

#124 ::: cmk ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2005, 12:04 PM:

Not for the first time, I get the impression my age is considerably above the average of those represented here; but can I really be the only one exposed by nuns to the story of the saint (can't remember his name but expect I'll never forget the story, bar Alzheimers or equivalent) who obeyed the command "pencils down" at the end of a written examination, by stopping in mid-word?

His answer was of course completed in golden ink by an angel, and he received full credit (or enough credit to gain the object for which he was taking the exam, or some such; maybe I don't remember the story that well).

I actually did this at least once (why yes, I was a revolting child, why do you ask?), and I did receive an unreasonable reward, in that the same nun who was responsible for my delusional behavior was grading the test.

[PS: In the usage with which I'm familiar, an arbor is not a tree, but a shade structure on which vines are grown.]

#125 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2005, 12:23 PM:

cmk - I was once taking part in a time-limited debate (in a consensus organization, shudder). When my two minutes were up, I stopped in the middle of a sentence. This impressed everyone, which made me feel good - until I realized that it had become the standard thereafter, where before people had been allowed to finish a reasonable sentence.

#126 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: July 03, 2005, 02:37 PM:

The tyranny of therapism.
The authors of One Nation Under Therapy question the notion that uninhibited emotional openness is good for our mental health.
by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel

"In 2000, five Canadian psychologists published a satirical article about Winnie the Pooh entitled 'Pathology in the Hundred Acre Wood'. At first glance, say the authors, the hero of AA Milne's 1926 children's classic appears to be a healthy, well-adjusted bear; but on closer and more expert examination, Pooh turns out to suffer from attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, binge eating, and borderline cognitive functioning ('a bear of very little brain'), to name just a few of his infirmities."

"Pooh's friends are similarly afflicted: Rabbit fits the profile of narcissistic personality syndrome; Owl is emotionally disturbed, which renders him dyslexic; and Piglet displays classic symptoms of generalised anxiety (a diagnosis that is admittedly difficult to dispute)."

"The Canadian spoof makes a serious point: the propensity of experts to pathologise and medicalise healthy children en masse has gotten way out of hand...."

#127 ::: the Other michael ::: (view all by) ::: July 13, 2005, 11:04 AM:

I vaguely remember some reader I had to read (mid-twentieth century vintage, if not quite a bit later) in which the town was celebrating its very elderly Revolutionary war veteran, when they realised that he was a Hessian soldier. But everybody was happy in the end, anyway.

#128 ::: Sumana ::: (view all by) ::: July 26, 2005, 11:16 PM:

PiscusF: Another Gordon Korman fan! Did you ever read his "No More Dead Dogs", in which the hero gets sent to detention for writing an accurate and negative review of a children's book in which the dog, as always, dies?

#129 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2011, 10:22 AM:

For the recipe for Chatham County Artillery Punch (as served by the Ladies' Cavalry Auxiliary at the picnic), the recipe is here.

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