Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Fantasy Apostates
A few days ago, kalimac wrote an LJ post about Susan's absence from Narnia in The Last Battle (by way of a very pertinent quotation from Holly Black's Doll Bones) emphasizing that what really rankled wasn't her growing sexual maturity but her decision to think of Narnia as a fantasy that she'd outgrown. I agree that this aspect has been relatively neglected, especially post-Pullman; it certainly struck me as the most relevant aspect of her behaviour when I read the book. In fact - and I'm not sure I've seen this mentioned - it's an exact reprise of what Edmund does to Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when he pretends that Narnia was just a game that he and Lucy had invented. That is something that Lewis feels so strongly about that he has to forewarn his readers ("And now we come to one of the nastiest things in this story") - something he doesn't even do with the murder of Aslan.

I commented then, and have been thinking about it since, that the horror of this kind of betrayal is easier to understand if you have been a younger/st sibling, as Lewis was. I didn't co-create secondary worlds with my elder brother, but I certainly remember his outgrowing the kind of imaginative play that goes into them, and the bereft feeling that followed. When I read of Susan's denial, that was the string that vibrated. For those siblings who have lived together intensely in secondary worlds the abandonment must feel even keener. Did Warnie lose interest in Boxen before Jack was ready? Did Branwell go to the bad because Charlotte abandoned him in Angria?

I've been asking my students about it this week, and there was definitely more recognition of the pain of being left behind in this way amongst those who have experienced it - though that's hardly surprising. I do suspect, though, as I suggested the other day, that the whole psychodrama might have been been brought to wider attention earlier had Freud not been an eldest child. (Did that fact result in eldest child psychology being seen as normative? I don't know enough about the subject to say, but I suspect it may.) Afterwards, reading of Freud's daughter Anna's intense sibling rivalry with her elder sister Sophie and her subsequent specialization in child psychology, I wondered whether I might have better luck with her. Sure enough, her first paper, an account of her own analysis with her father, turns out to be entitled "Beating Fantasies and Daydreams" (1922).

I thought it an oddly Gradgrindian title, with perhaps more of a smack of the self-help book than I would have expected, but certainly intriguing given the subject of putting aside "childish" fantasies. Having read it I now know that it's actually about fantasies of beating. Cursed ambiguity of the English language! Nevertheless, although the Freuds (père et fille) see the fantasies as being about the father-daughter relationship rather than anything to do with siblings, I'm not so sure. And it's certainly intriguing that the fantasies themselves involve the elaboration of a mediaevalesque secondary world, which Anna goes on to turn into fiction. The final sentence is chilling, especially for fantasy authors:

By renouncing her private pleasure in favor of making an impression on others, the author has accomplished an important developmental step: the transformation of an autistic into a social activity. We could say: she has found the road that leads from her fantasy life back to reality.


Wo Anna war, soll Susan werden, indeed.

Well, I was an oldest sibling, and as such usually identified with elder siblings in stories--since Susan was the elder sister, she was my favourite; I ran into the same problem with Narnia that I did with Little House on the Prairie and some others, where stories always seemed to be about younger siblings! (Later, this was part of the attraction to Duane's So You Want to be a Wizard.) Anyway, I remember also that it was her abandoning Narnia, rather than boys and lipstick, that upset me, but from the opposite perspective perhaps of the rest of you, because I was afraid I might someday also be expected to give up magical worlds and adventures and lead the way into grownuphood. I didn't, obviously. ;)

You were a brand plucked from the burning! There's DWJ (eldest of three) and Sophie Hatter, as well, of course. But your experience and hers appear to confirm the general rule/expectation.

Yes, and DWJ's were as likely to be lonely orphans, at least in the books I had to hand. Moril I loved despite his younger siblingness, but he was such a daydreamer it was hard not to. Sophie I didn't encounter until later; for some reason none of the libraries near me had HMC.

Yes! That's it exactly. I'm also an oldest sibling and the fear that I might also lose -- or be somehow forced to lose -- the love of magical worlds and adventures resonated with me too.

I too had that fear. My diaries at 12-14 are full of fantasies about staying a kid and avoiding puberty. But my younger sister had nothing to do it. It was seeing my friends change that did it.

And I also really resented how it seemed like almost all the books I read were about how hard it was to be a younger sibling, as though being the older sister was some kind of cakewalk. Ramona Quimby, Olivia Potts, Laura Ingalls. Harriet M. Welsch was an only child; that was some relief. There were some good only children--Dorothy Gale among them. But I can't think off the top of my head of a children's book about an older sibling.

Now I can, I mean. Long Lankin by Lindsay Barraclough is terrifying and awesome, and about an older sister.

God, yes. Puberty scared the crap out of me. And I had absolutely those thoughts about the younger siblings in books--I'd forgotten about Ramona, but I was so very annoyed that she got her own whole series, where Beezus only turned up in Henry's books!

Beezus did have one book of her own early on, but yeah, after that it was kind of all Ramona, all the time. However, Beezus certainly wasn't portrayed as having it easy -- in fact she seemed to have to do a bunch of the parenting herself (and rebelled against that later).

It did irk me, as an eldest son, that in traditional fairy tales it's the youngest of three sons who gets the prize.

For me it was a younger friend who thought we should give up on our pretend games. I was delighted ten or so years later when I discovered RPGs and so I am still playing pretend games in my 50s.

*shiver*

I don't think Freud normalized elder-child psychology specifically because of the absence of any kind of acknowledgment of sibling relations in his theory. As an elder child, my life completely changed due to my younger sister, in ways that still enrage me (perhaps more so because my relationship with my sister is quite bad). I don't think an elder-child psychology would ignore subsequent siblings; it would discuss the upset their arrival (and refusal to depart!) creates.

I don't think an elder-child psychology would ignore subsequent siblings; it would discuss the upset their arrival (and refusal to depart!) creates.

Yes, that's true.

I did have a kind of shared game with my younger brothers. I did eventually kind of drop out from active pursuit, but I don't believe I ever sneered or belittled it, and we still make reference to it today. But I should ask them if they felt I abandoned it.

Have you ever watched Ginger Snaps?

Something about this entry (and I suppose the other entry it's in response to) really got to me, but it's hard to say what, or if it's even really appropriate for me to use your comment space as a venue to vent about my own personal issues. I mean, obviously, in part, it's this kind of sense that the complaint about Susan, and the complaint about Zach and Alice kalimac quotes from Doll Bones, are purely age-related - because the quotation from Doll Bones really resonated with me, and I'm the older sibling. But of course that's not quite fair. Yes, my brother and I (and our other friend, my brother's classmate) had various secondary world shared fantasies together when we were young. And yes, we don't live in those shared fantasies anymore, even though we did until fairly late in life - the one that was just my brother and I, without our other friend, went on until I was in my mid or even late-twenties, if only fairly sporadically. And yes, this is a source of sorrow and pain for me - there is a sense in which playing these games was the single most rewarding thing I ever did in my entire life, and the fact that I don't do it anymore is one of the biggest losses of adulthood. I think it's very true that the experience of playing them is kind of fundamental to my personal philosophy of life, that most of what I think about the meaning of life is tied to what those games were for me. But I don't have the feeling that there's a single person to blame for it, or, at least, I don't think I was the one to pull away or my brother was the one to pull away - if anything, it was mostly logistics which got in the way. We didn't prioritize the imaginary games as the only important things in our lives, so, even if they were the most important, the combined weight of all the other important things, for both of us, got in the way.

I guess I am bothered, both with Susan and with the way that the protagonist of Doll Bones frames her complaint, with the linking of the loss of this shared imaginary world with a specifically sexual or romantic maturity - I never entered that world, myself, and my brother entered it at the age of fourteen, which was actually at least a year before we deviated from our original intense closeness. I do feel, on some level, intensely betrayed by my brother for pulling out of our closeness (something, however, that isn't well-linked to the death of our shared world), and it's hard not to link that to his romantic relationships, but, if I'm being honest, I can't help but suspect that he feels I pulled out of our closeness first. In the last year of the peak of our relationship, when he was fourteen and I was seventeen, he had a lot of other friends and, as important as our bond was to him, it was quite clearly not the only important bond with his peers in his life - for me at seventeen, I had barely any friends, and didn't particularly respect most of the ones I did theoretically have - when I went to college, still keeping up the intensity of my connection to my brother in my heart, and finally found other people who really spoke to me, did that leave my brother feeling bereft of a devotion that had previously been directed only at him? I worry that it did, even as I feel like it's unfair on some level if my brother really did resent me or pull away from me for having a life outside of him when he had never had a life restricted only to me. These issues are too intense; my relationship today with my brother is much better than it has been in the past, but I still can't possibly ask him what he thinks happened to our original relationship because I can't imagine that he would feel comfortable being asked that, much as I wish I knew.

ETA: if you do feel this is not the appropriate space for my personal rants, just let me know, and I'll delete it.

Edited at 2014-03-15 06:55 am (UTC)

It's not a rant - it's really interesting!

Clearly, from what you and others have said, I was hasty in defining this as an older sibling thing - though I do think that's likely to be the most common way that it manifests, especially when you take into account not only the age difference (some people do - erroneously - see giving up a rich imaginative life as part of "growing up"), but also the greater responsibility typically put on older siblings' shoulders (it's made clear in Susan's case that she sees herself as shouldering a quasi-maternal role). But differences in personality and friendship groups are also important, as your own example and that of Holly Black's characters make clear. I suspect that the Lewis boys and the Bronte siblings were in situations of relative isolation, which must have made them even more mutually dependent, especially since both groups were growing up with out a mother.

I'd not heard of Ginger Snaps! Though reading about it briefly, it sounds as if I used a similar plot in my story for Twisted Winter. I will seek it out.

I think that what you wrote about touched on some deep issues that are very buried in my everyday life - I don't think about these things too often because it's too painful! Glad you find it interesting, at any rate.

Just going by what you wrote about in this entry, I think you would find Ginger Snaps interesting, assuming you don't have an aversion to gory horror. I had never heard of it either when a friend showed it to me some seven or eight years ago, but it's stayed with me quite vividly ever since. I don't think I really shared the fear of the other older siblings on your friendslist that I would be forced to give up magical worlds in my adulthood, because there were so many adults in my life who modelled adulthood as a space where the imagination was indulged in just as much as it was by children. But I really did hate my adolescence, even though I wasn't expecting to, probably in part because I was so alienated in practice from the narrative of changes that I had theoretically had no problem with, and I tend to find narratives of girls' resistance to adolescence like Ginger Snaps, DWJ's "The Girl Who Loved the Sun," or Connie Willis's oddly similar "Daisy in the Sun" to be really powerful.

I appreciate your sharing those issues here. And will check out Ginger Snaps, though horror is not generally my genre. It's not the films themselves I dislike, it's being alone in a dark house afterwards...

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