Friday, September 30, 2005

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."


Blogger Drinne said...

Ok I don't even know if you'll see this since the post is 4 years old, but mead halls were where they slept. The single warriors who didn't have families or homes - it was because there weren't alot of buildings.

So if you had a bunch of people being fed in the feasting hall they moved the tables and benches and slept there.

That would make the moral of the story - don't go to sleep : )

I always though the moral of the Beowulf story was - "set watches."

And "don't kill the high priestess of the local coven".

But I'm more of a Grendel supporter so I might be biased.

6:43 PM  
Blogger elswhere said...

Drinne, I don't know if you will ever see this reply, but your comment has got to be one of my favorite comments of all time: funny, diplomatic, and informative. Thanks!

7:05 PM  
Blogger Drinne said...

I cheated - I put "notify me by email" for comments on this post" : )

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

BTW - you do know me IRL - I met your cousin on Halloween and don't know if she mentioned it but I'm Adrienne from middle school/alternative school.

She pointed me to your blog. : )

I suppose this means that I've delurked.

7:14 PM  

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