Thoughts after Jo Walton

The Conversation With was highly enjoyable, it was tremendous fun to hear Nancy Pearl and Jo Walton Talk About Things. Some of the things that came up in conversation stuck with me, and I’m still turning them over. One is sort of an extension of or tangent at least marginally near the ‘artists don’t have to make more of your favorite thing’ discussion.

They were talking about what Jo herself likes to read, and she said something to the effect of ‘any big chewy sort of book with aliens, on a spaceship.’ (I am paraphrasing WILDLY because I did not get that quote down at the time.) She then went on to say that she enjoys them so much but cannot write them, how she herself is incapable of writing the same book twice, but there are authors who are on the 20th book in Series X and she is first in line at the store the day it’s released to buy it in hardcover and devour it whole, but she does not write them.

1. Your favorite author does not necessarily enjoy reading the sort of books they write.
2. Your favorite author may enjoy books you really don’t.

This is true of any artist – a painter doesn’t necessarily, although they MAY, hang paintings done by similar artists in the same vein on the walls of their home, and they probably like things you don’t. Your favorite musicians may enjoy music you hate. The reverse is also often true – I once got a summer’s worth of new music out of a few name-droppy interviews with Robert Plant (and discovered The Incredible String Band, permanently baffling all but a few of my friends, because friends, like the artists you most admire, don’t necessarily like all the things you like).

When you’re young, and fairly unformed, self-definition frequently involves finding things you agree with and surrounding yourself with those things, in order to re-enforce your sense of your own identity. I think sometimes this carries over FOR DECADES, and you’re still expecting from your favorite author/artists/musician what you expected from your friends at thirteen: Total Psychic Unity. But that doesn’t exist, and that’s the beauty of it. People make these things you really love, and they do it without being exactly like you.

[Somebody once accused Madeleine L’Engle of frequently stating the obvious, and since then I haven’t felt that bad about it, because I like Madeleine L’Engle, and this actually makes my point because I read that about her when I was around thirteen, and thought, Madeleine L’Engle and I, we can be in the club of people who frequently state the obvious, and it really helped at the time.]

Anyway. I don’t read very many books that happen on spaceships with aliens. I do from time to time, but not often, and I’m certainly not waiting on #21 of Series X. But I really loved Among Others and I am happy that someone like Jo Walton doesn’t write the same book twice, and reads stories about aliens and spaceships, and then writes a book about a teenage girl from Wales who loves to read and happens to occasionally do magic.

The other thing that stuck with me, was the topic of looking for a door into Narnia. That’s a loaded conversation for a post-Christian, but when Jo described checking the back of the wardrobe, as an adult, I took it in the best possible spirit. She went on to say that if she doesn’t check the back of the wardrobe nowadays, it’s not because she has grown up, but because she’s happy the way she is. ‘What I have is good, and I don’t wish to leave it.’ (Again, this probably isn’t an exact quote.)

I haven’t sorted that one out yet. I suppose it never occurred to me that the main reason someone would be after a magic door because they were unhappy. I mean, it’s a good reason, and certainly people in books often find their magic doors when they are at the end of their ropes, circumstances, resources, etc, and it definitely helps to tilt the plot in the direction of the magic door, but at the same time, magic door. All my most serious relationships have a TARDIS clause.

I was heartened, though, to hear her make the distinction between being so contented with one’s life that one wouldn’t seek to leave it, and growing up. No longer believing in magic doors is not at all the same thing as no longer looking for them.

Here’s an xxfromlastnight outtake for the hell of it: