In Which I Explore My Origins

When I first thought of having this blog, the name came along with the idea, despite second thoughts and wiser cautions. Somewhere encapsulated within the heart of everything I think about children's literature is The Diamond in the Window,.

It was not, perhaps, the wisest choice for a name. There are, it turns out, any number of fan sites for this book; people looking for the novel or the blog are sent to the same list of sites. I didn't exactly understand the whole naming principle of internet sites. And, too, I wanted to pay homage.

For the uninitiated, here: a boy and a girl live in a big old house in Concord, Massachusetts, with their aunt and uncle. The discover a tiny room hidden at the top of the house, and learn that yet another aunt and uncle used to sleep there, until they disappeared as children. They had been playing at treasure hunts in their dreams with the mysterious Prince Krishna, inspired by the works of the Transcendentalists (really! Thoreau and Emerson mostly).

Here is what I tried to do: I tried to read it and remember all the ways in which I normally judge books; I tried to keep my critical faculties (such as they are) in the forefront; I tried to, I don't know, just read the damn thing. But I couldn't. Reader: I am weak. Two sentences in, maybe three?, and I was gone. I still have no idea why this book holds the key to my heart, I only know that it does.

The closest I can come to understanding is my reaction to a specific scene (so if you haven't read the book, hold off, go ahead and order it, then come back if you like and read this). Edward and Eleanor dream that they are on the big bureau and they enter the bureau's mirror. The mirror doubles them, and then doubles again, offering them images of themselves, but the images differ slightly. Eleanor, who has been considering using powder to cover the freckles on her nose, sees that one image has powder and fewer freckles, and the other is the same old her. Each image leads to two more, further and further into the future, until they find that by a series of wrong turns they've ended up in a future they never wanted, tawdry and cruel and unhappy. To go back means venturing into the darkness, but what lies ahead is even worse. They do go back, stumbling and lost, until they find out where they started and there they strive to make the right choices this time, choosing futures for themselves that will offer the possibility of both goodness and greatness.

I read that scene on the subway, and by the end I was trying not to cry.* And I still don't know why it does that to me. It's somehow the heart of what I'm trying to talk about, but what "it" is eludes me. Maybe it's just the sense of possibility that comes with being a child—or anyone. Maybe it's the idea of a dream bleeding into reality. As someone who has suffered from nightmares her whole life, I have a certain visceral response to the idea of dreams coming to life, whether in a book like this or Nightmare on Elm Street. Or maybe it's…I don't know. I don't know what it is. I only know that this book speaks to me, and apparently always will. And always has.

So if you have a kid anywhere between, say, 6 and….15, and then again from 25 to infinity (let's leave the 15 to 25-year-olds alone for now, they scare me anyway) maybe read it with them. I may be without critical objectivity in this case, but that is only to its credit.

 

* What foolishness is it in me that makes me read children's books on the subway, when time after time I end up crying, usually in midtown? It's not really working for me.

12 thoughts on “In Which I Explore My Origins

  1. That scene is what stuck with me, too. (That and the wordplay of “Trebor Nosnibor”. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised…)
    It’s wonderful that the book still holds as much power for you as it did when you were young. Books like that are a gift.

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  2. Too funny but I hunted this book down and ordered a copy the day before you posted this. Had picked up a copy of The Fledgling at a yard sale, and being completely incapable of reading a series book out of order (and slightly too old to have caught them the first time around) knew I had to track down at least the first one to begin. So can’t wait. Even skipped reading the rest of your post, as suggested.

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  3. This book is an old friend to me too. I also love the scene where they are stuck in the nautilus and their thoughts set them free. Oooo…and the one where Eddy is hiding under the porch and chases off the bankers, or whatever they are. “Kcitsmoorb!!”

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  4. I loved, loved this book and all through high school referred to it as my favorite book ever. One of the disappointments with my daughter is that, despited her very big appetitie for books, this one never got to her. I tried reading it out loud, suggesting it later when she was bored- but no go. It was just the wrong book at the age when she came across it (otherwise I am sure she would have at least liked it). Ah well, there is always a chance with grandchildren….

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  5. I got the book from the library after you posted this, and finished it last night. Thank you! Mostly, I love the connection to Concord, MA–but the backwards speak is wonderful. My daughter isn’t ready for it (she has nightmares, and this might make it worse–plus she doesn’t really do fantasy, yet). I’m keeping it in mind for a year or 2 from now, though…

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  6. Oh my goodness, I just realized–I’ve read a bunch of her mysteries, too! It was a long time ago, but I used to love the Homer Kelly mysteries… Must revisit.

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  7. This post inspired me to find the book through PBS.com and I LOVED it! I am 23 now (but love children’s lit… the main reason I became an Elementary Media Specialist) but I can only imagine how much I would have adored this book if I’d read it earlier. Definitely a keeper in my (ever-growing) collection of children’s literature. Thank you!!

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