August 30, 2011
Here be (no) dragons
One day, after ages of it being beloved, Harriet suddenly refused to let me read Sheree Fitch’s Sleeping Dragons All Around. At that point, she was unable to articulate why, but it was still significant as the first time a book had been outright rejected (as opposed to, say, abandoned out of boredom, which is different).
She also wouldn’t let us read her The Lady With the Alligator Purse– we’re still not sure why. But by the time she’d gone off two books as various as Neil Gaiman’s Instructions and Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess, I’d started detecting a theme. And by this time, Harriet had the words to explain: “Too scary,” she told us. Apparently it’s a fire-breathing dragon thing.
But how did she discover that dragons were scary? I’d certainly gone out of my way never to mention such a thing. In fact, I’d never mentioned that there was such a thing as “scary” at all, because little people are so open to suggestion, and I’ve been working hard on cultivating fearlessness. I don’t really do “scary” anyway, except when it comes to sensible things like diving off cliffs and tightrope walking. The closest thing I’ve got to an irrational fear is an extreme unease around dogs (which is not so irrational, I’d argue, because they’re equipped with teeth that could chew your face off), but I promise you that around a dog, Harriet has never, ever seen me flinch.
So this dragons thing has brought me to the limits of my powers, my powers of “cultivation”, and I get it that this is only the beginning of a very long education. And I get it too that it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that oversized fire-breathing lizards are probably best left undistubed between covers. (Interestingly, Harriet’s dragon aversion doesn’t extend to dinosaurs. She loves dinosaurs–plush, fossilized, wooden, Edwina, you name it.)
The thing is actually, that I fucking hate books with dragons (some excellent picture books aside). It’s true. I always have– when I was growing up, I never read a single book with a dragon on the cover. Which wasn’t really difficult to accomplish, because there weren’t many books with dragons on the cover. (My YA self would have been horrified by the popularity of science-fiction/fantasy today. And my adult self remains mystified.) A dragon on the cover was a kind of book design shorthand for “boring book for nerds”, and though I was certainly a nerd, I was the type of nerd who preferred books about pretty girls dying of anorexia or getting cancer.
Fantasy books: here’s another place where I’ve come to the limits of my own powers. I just can’t get into them, though I’ve tried. And I think back and wonder if I’d been less dragon-phobic in my youth, maybe fantasy-appreciation would come easier to me. There are a lot of things I wish I’d spent most of my life being a lot more open minded about, hence the reason why I want to make Harriet’s literary horizons broad from the very start. I want her to read better than I did, but then she persists in having her own feelings about things. She persists in refusing to be malleable, in having fears and preferences and in being a person apart from me.
But also a person who is very much like me, which I’m not sure is more or less disconcerting.