The Man with the Money

I was thinking about GUM, or Great Uncle Matthew, who swoops in at the end of Ballet Shoes with his huge amount of money and his freethinking ideas. 

And then I was thinking of The Diamond in the Window, and how the prince comes in at the end with his…huge amount of money and his freethinking ideas.

And The Wolves of Willoughby Chase? Check. Her parents return, with the free-flowing cash to rescue them all from poverty and restore order and happiness. Check also: freethinking ideas.

It's funny—I hadn't quite seen it as a whole before. I mean, I know it happens in grown-up movies: no matter how bad things seem, the guy in charge will somehow come in and show you that there is order in the universe, and somehow that's a good thing. And I don't know that I would exactly equate it with the prince rescuing trope, exactly, because these princes are—. Well, they're grown men, come to save the day, actually, now that I think about it.

Help, this is starting to freak me out. There are other ways that books end, aren't there? Books where the heroines have a brush with abject poverty and adventure? The books I loved beyond reason as a child? They aren't all Great Uncle Matthew—are they?

I mean, I know money brings with it at least the hope for freedom from care. And so often children's books, especially those with plucky female heroines, turn on money, or the absence of it. I mean, in The Wizard of Oz she doesn't end up magically rich at the end (thank heaven).

Is this a more modern phenomenon? Have any of you noticed it? What's it all about?

4 thoughts on “The Man with the Money

  1. I think it’s the idea that the solution to the problem comes from external sources. It’s just not quite as satisfying as having the characters be more responsible for their own success. Whether the last-minute external source is a person or a technology or whatever, it still feels a bit false. It’s like in Star Trek when they figure out in the last five minutes how to rewire the warp nacelles to produce Omega radiation that is instantly fatal to the alien virus (or whatever….I’m making stuff up here!) and you are left feeling a bit like the characters’ emotional journey got cut short.

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  2. Another version of the Uncle Matthew plot is “A Little Princess” – just as she is sinking into the worst kind of poverty, her garrett is magically transformed by the servant from the building next door (I loved that scene!).
    For what it is worth, I think that what you are responding to is just a variation on the kids’ book version of The Hero’s Journey.
    We are at home being taken care of by our parents, something happens that forces us into a new world (poverty, danger, or magical as in The Wizard of Oz or Narnia) and after we journey and are tested in this new world, we are returned to the safety of home (Max returns and his dinner is still hot). It’s less about money really and more about a felt safety.

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  3. Interesting idea, though it feels more deus ex machina (am I spelling that right?). It’s the appearance of the elderly monied gent that gets to me. And it is about money, in A Little Princess too. It’s not that I don’t love these books, and of course money has to be in them somehow, but it just never quite hit me before. Neither Max, nor the Pensevies, nor Dorothy had money come into the equation (well Dorothy a little…).

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  4. I think it is deus ex machina for the most part. In the “money” stories – the children journey into another world (poverty), they fight the good fight by surviving and then come back “home” when they are saved by someone with money. In the magic stories they journey into another world and fight a good fight (due to the presence of magic and magical beings, they have a lot more ways of doing it) but there is generally a sort of deus ex machina at the end of these too “OK, magic is over, time to go home.”
    BTW, I think the fact that it is an old rich man is probably just due to the age of the books that we are talking about. Ooh, although in “The Saturdays” Mrs. Oliphant is a bit of an GUM. As is Mrs. Frankweiler. Trying to remember how “The Railway Children” ends – most of E. Nesbit’s books are of the magic variety but that one is about money.

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