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Archive for January, 2011

….and page 3 of the hardcover. Here’s further exposition of Superego Sophie, her stepmother Fanny, and her sisters Lettie and Martha:

Since Fanny was always busy in the shop, Sophie was the one who looked after the younger two. There was a certain amount of screaming and hair-pulling between those younger two….

Then Sophie would have to drag them apart and mend their clothes. She was very deft with her needle. As time went on, she made clothes for her sisters too. There was one deep rose outfit she made for Lettie, the May Day before this story really starts, which Fanny said looked as if it had come from the most expensive shop in Kingsbury.

With the “deep rose outfit” we have our first example of the novel’s thematic color scheme.

Sophie is the sort of child parental-types worry least about; she’s doesn’t throw wing-dings like her sisters, with whom she has a calming way; she has a cool head, a good mind, and a terrific work ethic. Although in her way she is as strong-minded as Lettie and Martha, she is at the same time calmer and more mature. She reads, she studies, she gets good grades. Plus she’s supercompetent. Children like this must be a pleasure to raise; they’re so much less work than the more active, ebullient ones.

Then, one day, Mr. Hatter drops dead. We don’t know what happens, only that the girls lose their father just as Sophie is about to complete the Ingarian — or Inglish — equivalent of high school, and Martha and Lettie are in their freshman and junior years. He must have been a good man, to have raised three spirited, intelligent, strong-minded young women. But he leaves them nothing. The hat shop is on the ropes.

We’re told Mr. Hatter ran up heavy debts paying his daughters’ tuition at “the best school in town.” With his death his family goes from prosperity to destitution overnight. The girls’ comfortable lives are permanently disrupted, and the fairy-tale necessity of “seeking their fortunes” is no longer off in some vague future, but urgent and immediate.

All this just as the country has once again come under siege by the Witch of the Waste, Sophie’s home town is terrorized by the ominous castle-that-moves in the hills above it, and Wizard Howl, so they say, has taken a fancy to eating the heart — or is it sucking the soul? — of any young woman who is foolish enough to venture out alone.

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Insofar as I care to push the analogy, I’d have to go with Sophie’s Superego as the narrative voice in Howl’s Moving Castle. (Thanks to my friend and fellow writer Caudex for her corroboration on this point.)

Here, in a blindingly superficial review of the subject, are the Freudian components of the personality:

ID is basic reptile-brain survival impulses and drives; first food, then sex (or, in us advanced primate types, the sublimation of sex into creativity/sports/magic, etc.).

SUPEREGO is the internalization of family and societal codes of conduct. These may be transcendent and transformative, such as the Decalogue; or petty and silly, such as the (reputed) old Catholic girls’-school prohibition against patent leather shoes because they might reflect the contents of up underneath your skirt, or the fairy-tale convention that eldest children of three are destined to louse up their lives.

EGO is the poor little creature that tries to strike a balance between these two psychic T. rexes Id and Superego such that no harm is caused either to itself or to anyone else—all the while it is attempting to interact with so-called “reality.”

[This kind of analysis helps to make the Frodo-Gollum-Sam interaction in The Lord of the Rings such fun. Gollum is all naked Id. Sam is constantly channeling some authority figure or other: at first, his old Gaffer calling him Noodles and Ninnyhammer, world-without-end; later, Elrond and his Council charging the Ring-bearer’s companions with their solemn duty. Frodo is just trying to get the damn Ring to Mordor while hoping to prevent the other two from killing each other and himself.]

Sophie has plenty of the internalized strictures of Superego to call on. She has a walloping Id as well, which will cause her to exhibit all sorts of odd behavior such as crashing a castle and setting herself up as an uninvited housekeeper along the lines of Snow White, developing a scarecrow phobia, and converting her growing anger, anxiety, and desire into slimy green weed-killer. All this lies ahead in the story, however.

In the meantime, we are left without Sophie’s Ego to make sense of what befalls her. And so is she.

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Checking In

Good week, but too much going on. I’m so glad I didn’t commit to a post a day!

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Sophie is a nice young woman of eighteen, quite a bit like myself at that age—maybe a bit more circumspect, as hers is obviously a much more traditional society. It seems prosperous and not terribly dysfunctional, though. Yet lately a pall of dread has fallen over things, and there is suddenly a great deal of concern about the safety of Ingary’s young people and young women in particular.

For one thing, after fifty years of business-as-usual in Ingary, the Witch of the Waste is in the news again. She has threatened the King’s daughter; his grandfather had exiled her to the Waste in the first place, hoping no doubt that she would die there. She has since regrouped and is gearing up for another assault, Sauron-like. The current King sent his Royal Wizard Suliman (NOT the Suliman of the anime) to deal with her, followed by his own brother the Prince Justin. Both have vanished.

The Witch of the Waste suggests Oz, of course, not to mention T.S. Eliot. I think both suggestions are intentional on DWJ’s part, as we shall see later.

Even worse is the sudden appearance of an ominous black castle with four thin, tall, smoke-belching turrets on the moors above Sophie’s home city, Market Chipping (or Market Market, if you will). What is even creepier is that it moves around:

Sometimes it was a tall black smudge on the moors to the northwest, sometimes it reared above the rocks to the east, and sometimes it came right downhill to sit in the heather only just beyond the last farm to the north. You could see it actually moving sometimes, with smoke pouring out from the turrets in dirty gray gusts. For a while everyone was certain that the castle would come right down into the valley before long, and the Mayor talked of sending to the King for help. (3)

Turns out this castle belongs to a new menace on the Ingary scene: Wizard Howl.

Oy! Wizard Howl! The very name is predatory, vulpine, with a bit of Allen Ginsberg thrown in. Such an evil reputation, has Wizard Howl:

Though he did not seem to want to leave the hills, he was known to amuse himself by collecting young girls and sucking the souls from them. He was an utterly cold-blooded and heartless wizard and no young girl was safe from him if he caught her on her own. (4)

Later he is referred to as a “Bluebeard,” and so he seems to be. He certainly manages to focus and distill all the sexual anxiety of the young people of Market Chipping and the surrounding countryside—and their parents.

Mostly, though, the young folks consider the entire situation to be a pain and an inconvenience.

Sophie began to feel that Wizard Howl and the Witch of the Waste should get together.

“They seem to be made for one another. Someone ought to arrange a match,” she remarked to the hat she was trimming at that moment. (9)

Unfortunately, someone already has.

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Alas, we don’t get to see very much of Sophie interacting with her sisters in HMC, which would have been very Jane Austen-y indeed. There’s a vivid correlation with Northanger Abbey, however, which I will mention as soon as I download NA onto my Kindle, since my own copy is nowhere to be found.

Okay, got it.

“[Catherine Morland’s] father,” we are told in Chapter One Page One,

“was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard — and he had never been handsome. He had a considerable independence besides two good livings — and he was not in the least addicted to locking up his daughters.”

Richard?!? I never thought of that name, which was also my father’s, in terms of respectability. Maybe it’s a Georgian thing.

“Her mother was a woman of useful plain sense, with a good temper, and what is more remarkable, with a good constitution. She had three sons before Catherine was born; and instead of dying in bringing the latter into the world, as anybody might expect, she still lived on — lived to have six children more.”

Catherine’s origins, in other words, are so free of drama and dark destiny that no one could possibly see “heroine” material in her, though she has read every sensational novel she can get her hands on and in general sees her world in terms of ruined abbeys, murdered wives, and dangerously attractive men who bear both physical and emotional scars. The novel goes on to place Catherine far from home in just sort a situation. Will Real Life live up to Catherine’s wildly overstimulated imagination?

Sophie’s own expectations are not of adventure but of failure. In Ingary, “where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist,” fairy-tales are not merely novels written for the entertainment and edification of middle-class young ladies. Instead, it appears, they are non-fiction. They are “true,” as non-fiction is said to be. They are history.

I can remember many such tales, though I can’t think of one in particular, where the oldest of three goes out to seek his fortune — it’s generally a young man — and when he encounters the Big Test, he promptly fails it by refusing to kiss the frog, befriend the ugly dwarf, answer the conundrum, etc. Whereupon the frog, dwarf, or conundrum kills him. Then the second son — as I said, it’s generally a young man — comes along. He may be slightly less impatient and rude, but he ends up dead too, or at least pretty well maimed.

But the third and youngest child is sweet, submissive, patient, and willing. He passes the Test, wins the Princess, earns fame and fortune, and may even end up becoming King one day.

Poor Sophie.

“She was not even the child of a poor woodcutter, which would have given her some chance of success.”

Her parents are well-off, her stepmother is not cruel, and her father not only doesn’t lock up his daughters, he sends them to the finest school in town. But here’s the rub.

“Sophie was the most studious. She read a great deal, and very soon realized how little chance she had of an interesting future.”

Like Catherine, she has a brain crammed with books. Unlike Catherine, who despite a lack of raw materials could become a heroine, given the right circumstances, Sophie has given up the quest before it can even begin. She’s already under a curse, and it’s a curse of her own making.

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I thought I had already mentioned what a terrific gateway book is Howl’s Moving Castle, but in looking back over my sparse post count I don’t believe I did. So I’ll mention it now. HMC sent me, the reader, out of the story world to dust off my long-neglected English Major hat and follow up on Jones’s allusions to Donne, Shakespeare, and Austen, not to mention folklore and fairy tales, botany, and rugby songs. (I still have much to learn about the actual game.)

These forays were very much worth the effort. In HMC Jone’s prose is quite spare (which is not typical of her style in general; as I said, she is a ventriloquist). Donne and the rest revealed Jones’s characters to me more fully and completely. I can’t say for certain that she intended it this way, but–oh, what the heck. Of course she did.

It may be helpful to mention that Jones was educated at Oxford, where she attended lectures by both C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. She was born in 1934 and was the eldest of three sisters (zing!). Her sisters made her finish the stories she told them, which was a great boon and a gift to her. (I wish I’d had someone riding herd on me like that as a young writer.) She is married to a professor of English at Bristol University and is the mother of three sons.

HMC is therefore firmly embedded in the grand matrix of English literature. In subsequent posts I’ll briefly compare the openings of two other novels with HMC’s: Northanger Abbey and The Lord of the Rings.

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In Ingary, the rule is that fairy-tale trappings apply. Particularly if you are dutiful, studious, and read too much, like Sophie—shy, frustrated, bluestocking Sophie.

Of course, you can learn a great deal from books; but experience is important too, and in fact the two temper one another. Sophie is somewhat withdrawn, apparently having spent most of her time in the realm of ideas. What’s more, she is fully prepared to abide by the unwritten yet bedrock assumptions of her world, in which “it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you will fail first, and worst, if the three of you go out to seek your fortune.”

Sophie has read this, and she does not question it, nor does she see any point in fighting it. And there are further complicating factors: Sophie and Lettie, her second oldest sister, are the daughters of Mr. Hatter and his first wife. The first wife died when Sophie was two and Lettie was one, whereupon Mr. Hatter married his pretty young shop assistant, Fanny. A year later, Fanny gave birth to the third sister Martha.

By these bedrock assumptions about birth order Martha, as the youngest, is the one destined for all the success in life. Sophie and Lettie are fated to get it all wrong, to run off the road, to get lost by the wayside. Sophie goes on believing this, even though none of the other fairy-tale “laws” seem to apply to this family of mad Hatters: Sophie and Lettie ought to be the ugly stepsisters, but actually they are half-sisters and not stepsisters. And none of them are ugly. If an objective observer had to pick any of them as most beautiful it would probably be Lettie. But each girl has her champion, as we shall see.

So Fanny is Sophie’s stepmother, but she’s not wicked. She loves all three girls and doesn’t “favor Martha in the least”—or so the narrator tells us. But the narrator isn’t telling all.

Who is this narrator, anyway? Sophie is the character in whose shoes we are standing throughout the novel. We are getting her point of view, but I don’t believe we are getting all of it. If we were, we wouldn’t be so surprised by later revelations.

With this narrator unreliablility in mind, I tried a thought experiment based on the hypothesis that the tale we are reading is actually only the version we get from either Sophie’s ego, or her superego, or her id. I couldn’t be sure which one, though I think it’s probably not her id, since her id is what causes her so much anguish throughout the novel.

I didn’t get very far with that line of thinking. I am not trained in psychoanalysis. I don’t have a particularly good layman’s knowledge of it, either. And I probably should show some compunction about merrily throwing technical terms around as though I knew what I were talking about.

I do know a bookish, nerdy, shy, socially inexperienced young woman when I see one, however.

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