Wild Robert, Diana Wynne Jones


Wild Robert is quick and sweet. DWJ draws characters so quickly and so well–I kind of hate her. She has this sense for mannerism and personal history and attitude that feels almost like what good fanfic writers can do, but without a source text, and even for secondary characters, and instantly. That’s sort of Dickensian as well.

As usual the ending is like, ‘what’. You read DWJ and come away angry. Where is the rest of this book. I mean I can GUESS what happens and maybe DWJ feels that’s as good as writing the ending. I was thinking today about how there’s something tragic about too neat and definitive an ending–the way it forecloses the possibility of story, the sort of tragic structure of ends, the way things must now go one way you can have no imaginative part in, that allows for no branchings-off. Gili Bar-Hillel* said something about the logic of DWJ’s endings at the Seven Stories conference, about their tactical refusal of neatness (I was EXHAUSTED so I don’t perfectly remember her argument), and now I sort of agree with her more than I did at the time, even while I still think–DWJ’s endings could be edited to something ‘satisfying’ and maybe should have been? They’re like little wounds at the ends of the texts. And sometimes DWJ tries TOO hard and ends up with this sort of over-determined, superfluous ending that somehow still has these problems–like a cliff hanging over the sea, where the base has been eaten out by waves.

There’s an interesting portion of Wild Robert where some rowdy teens are transmuted into pastoral nymphs and fauns and set to run riot in the woods. Both the heroine, Heather, and I were discomforted by this–I’m a bit worried about er, sexuality and consent, and I don’t think the book means to allay my fears there. It’s for younger readers, sure–but also I don’t think the book necessarily shies from the possibility that this will go badly, that these teens will do things in these forms that their waking selves will half-remember with fear or regret. Robert–might not understand the modern ethical reading of what he’s done. I guess what the book crystalizes there is the uneasy relationship that always exists between magic and consent.

I think the ending of the book sort of postulates a romantic future for Heather and Robert. Heather’s come to understand him and learned how to curb him. Robert’s immediately likable and charming. He needs her. He possibly likes her as herself–he certainly wants to trust and love someone. But I don’t necessarily know quite enough about Heather–I know her reactions to things, but not much about her in an overall sense. I don’t know what Robert has to offer her, and Jones conflates Heather’s maternal, older-sisterly care taking with romantic love, which seems a bit… fuckboi man child? Which Robert is, but he’s also lovely.

Anyway this was a good book and it took me an hourish and I will struggle to focus and NOT binge-read all the DWJ I haven’t had access to while I’m house sitting what is essentially the library of my dreams. …but not that hard.

* [The house I’m sitting at the moment has Hebrew versions of some DWJ books, shelved not together, but with the books I assume they’re translations of. I think Bar-Hillel must have given them to the owner, because I think she translated them and I know the two women know each other. There’s a small, strange pleasure in putting together how something could have happened, that maybe I’m especially live to right now because I’m in the middle of writing a mystery story. Actually, though, I hate clues and am a bad reader of mysteries. I only care who and why and never how. It’s often pretty obvious whodunit because–that’s the shape of the story/the dramatic necessity. Or: it’s not obvious and it’s boring, because there’s no feeling of necessity, and I’m just there for the characters, world, and detective gaze. This doesn’t mean I’m good at clues–the opposite. I find them difficult to focus on and follow. I don’t take much pleasure in ‘solving’ a mystery, and when I do it, I’ve solved the plot rather than followed the clues.]


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