Circuses, vampires and the Big Bad Wolf

Dear Uma: Our territorial government was in evidence all this past week hosting a mining forum and reminding me, somehow, of those travelling circuses: the kind that featured brutally trained, helpless animals and a staff of people that said 'dis''dat'

Dear Uma:

Our territorial government was in evidence all this past week hosting a mining forum and reminding me, somehow, of those travelling circuses: the kind that featured brutally trained, helpless animals and a staff of people that said ‘dis’‘dat’ and ‘dos’ and drink Coke for breakfast. The kind that would pass through small towns once a year or so, setting up to fleece the entertainment-hungry populace before moving on.

These circuses didn’t play the cities where the inhabitants are more discriminating, where a circus means Cirque du Soleil, a show using incredibly talented people from all over the world and doesn’t have animals at all.

The only thing in common with YTG and the Cirque is that they both cause me to marvel; the daring of the dupe, the crudity of the performances, and the naivete of the audience for the first, and for the second, a simple amazement and gratitude for such a demonstration of talent and imagination. The fact of the simultaneous existence of these two organizations of Homo sapiens gives me simultaneous feelings of despair and hope, my usual state of being. There is indeed great comfort in the familiar.

I mention the forum because, during their sojourn, I read my way through Stephanie Meyer’s vampire books, an endeavour that necessitated a walk to the store every morning in order to buy Coke and barbecue-flavoured potato chips, prerequisite food for a literary adventure of this nature. This walk gave me a daily dose of fresh air and exercise, thus negating any ill effects from the diet of junk food, and also took me past the recplex where the forum was taking place.

The sight of all the cars clustered around the recplex reminded me, for some reason, of hyenas gathered around a kill. Why hyenas? Because they are scavengers, getting the remains of the work of the lions who have done the job, eaten their fill and gone to sleep it off. An image that came about, I daresay, from a growing body of awareness of the politics of the North and the relationship between the federal and the territorial governments. It may not be an accurate image, and it is likely not one that would be popular, but I didn’t ask for it; it just appeared every morning as I strode by, intent on my own hunting and gathering.

The four books that compromise Meyer’s catapult to fame and fortune are all thick and chock-a-block with combinations of words that quickly become easy to anticipate so I will confess I did speed read, a technique that with practice means one gets the story without dwelling too long on the tools used in creating it.

All I have to offer after this excursion into the realm of the hottest thing in youth literature is, what can writers come up with next? The ante for sensation has been seriously upped with this horde of blood-sucking vampires and limb-tearing werewolves. Whoever and whatever must follow Meyer’s trail when the imitators have been exhausted will have to be more horrifying and grotesque, while maintaining the mood of this creepy quartet that this is all perfectly normal; this world full of handsome people morphing into beasts more savage than any natural one.

In the aftermath, the single thing left hanging in my mind was that I had been asked, as a reader, to believe Bella, the central character and a seemingly ordinarily traumatized-by-divorce girl, found these creatures in their human form irresistible. And she tried ‘em both: a werewolf and a vampire. Yeah, like a guy whose skin glitters like glass is attractive and the one who lifts his hind leg to pee makes the feminine heart race. It renews my belief in the need for special education classes designed to teach girls how to cull the boy herd.

Now, how did I come to be spending the most part of a work week reading vampire books? I told you, this is a long story.

A young couple I’ve met through Cee (everyone I’ve met here has been through Cee; she is the social maven of this town) have five children, on purpose, Cee says. They have decided to do with a single income in order to raise the kids, a good and noble concept but one which means she stays home and does the domestic stuff while her husband works. The plan is to take turns; when the kids are a bit older, he will stay home and she will work. Cee has been helping them out in discreet ways and enlisting the rest of her friends to do the same. When she approached me with the idea that I might want to add my efforts to her cause, I was happy to say yes – until I discovered the role she’d planned for me was one of babysitter. I don’t know what she was thinking; not only do I not have much experience with children, I am content with not having much experience with children. I like them just fine, at a bit of a distance.

Obviously the mom needed a day for herself, so I offered to pay for a sitter. Absolutely not, Cee told me, the idea is to provide some help in a less overt manner: paying a sitter would feel like charity and spoil the whole enterprise. That’s when I came up with the idea of buying some kids’ books next time I was in Whitehorse. There is a very good second-hand bookstore and I usually visited it when I was in town anyway; what would be different is that I would browse and buy in the children’s section this time, giving the books to Cee who could then pass them on to this nice family. She would have to tell the tiniest and whitest of lies in saying they were her kids’ old books but we agreed this is something she could do in good conscience.

And that is how I came to get Twilight, Eclipse, New Moon and Breaking Dawn. They were a good bargain, being sold as a set, and the oldest child in the worthy family’s litter was a girl who loved to read. I took the precaution of calling Cee to find if this quartet was age-appropriate; it was, and I was told this would be greatly appreciated. I started reading it while I was still in town and read it most of the way home, reading aloud to Pete as he drove until he begged me to stop. The man has no romance when it comes to literature.

While searching out books for the younger kids, I came across some copies of Where’s Waldo? and was reminded of reading these books with your Jason when he was little. We’d both enjoyed these books, so I bought them, telling the clerk I was happy to see they were still in circulation. He said the books have fallen out of favour; I Spy is the newer, similar choice for that age group. I took a look at I Spy; Uma, they are dead simple. Waldo was a challenge to find in those large, intricately drawn pages; I Spy practically draws large arrows to the objects to be found. Am I to assume that kids’ books, along with every other popular form of media, have been dumbed down? Tell me it ain’t so!

I went ahead with the Where’s Waldo? purchase because I think the parents of the kids who are getting these books are the sort of parents who read with their offspring and likely have children who aren’t discouraged by a bit of a challenge.

There was a book for the younger kids that I found really amusing and backed up by the helpful and knowledgeable clerk, I bought it, too. It’s the story of the Three Pigs but told from the point of view of the Big Bad Wolf, who swears on wolfs’ honour that he was framed. Great illustrations, and a storyline both adults and children can enjoy. Well, Pete and I did, with him claiming to represent an adult and assigning me the role of the child, an arbitrary decision on his part and one which led to a few miles of friendly debate on the drive home.

That was my week; how was yours? I would be grateful for any advice you feel you can offer on children’s books as I plan on getting more on our next trip; I think I am hooked on the genre.

Love,

Heather

Heather Bennett is a writer

who lives in Watson Lake.

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