Mead Halls: The "Cheers" of the Dark Ages
Or: What Librarians Talk About At Night
RW and I had this lovely literary discussion late last night when we should have been going to sleep, about all kinds of things, historical fiction whose purpose is to document a time and place (Like All-of-a-Kind Family and Betsy Tacy and Little House on the Prairie) vs. plot- or character-driven fiction that just happens to be set in a particular time and place (Like Anne of Green Gables and Little Wimmen) and how these women writers—Sydney Taylor and Laura Ingalls Wilder (or her daughter, who really wrote the books) and Maud Hart Lovelace felt this need to record their childhoods, a time that seemed so long ago and far away even by the time they were middle-aged, much more so than our childhoods were different from Mermaid Girl’s.
And how the American Girls books don’t go any later than WWII, and imagining a 60’s era American Girls series: “Meet Sunrise, a spunky girl living in a commune with her parents and their friends in the midst of the exciting hippie era!”
At one point, I forget why--something about Canadian versions of American Girls-type books and the Canadian need to Document Canadian-ness in a sort of didactic way--RW mentioned that under Library of Congress Subject Headings Robertson Davies books are classified as “Didactic Fiction.” And for some reason, that just cracked me up. “What is
Fifth Business supposed to be teaching us? ‘Don’t throw snowballs with rocks in them’?”
Here are some didactic rationales for other famous books:
Catcher in the Rye: Don’t Leave the Fencing Equipment on the Subway
Little Women: Stay Away from Hummels with Scarlet Fever
To the Lighthouse: Home Maintenance Counts!
Harriet the Spy: If you Hear a Funny Noise, Check the Dumbwaiter
Ethan Frome: Use Caution When Sledding
The Little Prince: If You Can Draw a Snake, You Can Draw a Hat
My very favorite literary moral is courtesy of Anne Lamott, though. In one of her books, a character observes that you have to wonder, when reading Beowulf: If the monster attacks the mead hall every night, why do the men keep going back to the mead hall?
Maybe they just wanted to go where everybody knew their naaames, and were always glad they came. I guess that monster was glad they came, anyway.
If you think about it, there are worse mottos for living than "Don't Go Back to the Mead Hall."