Thursday, January 25, 2007

Spiders, Rats, and Bridging Differences

Recently I saw the new live movie of CHARLOTTE'S WEB, one of my favorite books. I can't say it's either better or worse than the old animated movie, which has beautiful art and songs; it's different, but each is very good in its own way. I was sorry the new film left out Charlotte's line, "I love blood," when she's explaining that she doesn't eat flies, she drinks their blood. The book and both movies place strong emphasis on the importance of friendship. The new film especially stresses that theme (through the voice-over), not only between Wilbur and Charlotte, but among all the animals. I love the way this story foregrounds love between two creatures who are so different, one of whom is generally thought of as scary and revolting. The live movie also plays up the character of Templeton the rat. In this adaptation he seems genuinely offended (maybe even a little hurt) by how disgusting the other animals consider him (even if he does deserve it). He refers to himself in third person as “The Rat” but doesn't want the others talking about him in those terms. An implicit analogy is drawn between Charlotte and Templeton, both of them regarded as repulsive by many people, and by the end they form a sort of alliance. We've discussed the possibility of an amorphous blob as a romantic hero. Could we conceive of an intelligent spider as not only a friend but a romantic love object?

This is an excerpt from near the end of my vampire novel CHILD OF TWILIGHT. Gillian, an adolescent vampire-human hybrid, has just been rescued from vengeful vampire Camille, who tried to seduce her to the dark side. What little confidence Gillian ever had in the possibility of being able to fit in with either side of her ancestry has been undermined. Roger (hero of my earlier novel DARK CHANGELING) is her half-human (but vampire side dominant) father. Claude is his half-brother; Britt and Eloise are their significant others; Volnar is Gillian's mentor (and head of the vampire elders). I enjoyed playing with the analogy between a spider and a vampire, both of them blood-drinkers, both unjustly maligned by the general public:

"She needs human blood, doesn't she?" said Britt, taking a seat next to Roger. "And she's afraid to take it, poor kid. Camille couldn't have traumatized her worse in such a short time if she'd planned it that way."

"She probably did," said Claude.

At that moment Gillian walked timidly into the room, wearing a robe of Britt's. She approached Roger and stood with her hands folded and head downcast. "You spoke to Lord Volnar? What's to be done with me?"

"Confound it, you're not on trial!" Roger moved over and gestured for her to sit between him and Britt. "Volnar will pick up your education where he left off, if you're willing to go back to him. No one will force you to do something you aren't ready for."

"That's what she said."

"Camille?" said Britt softly.

Gillian nodded. "She promised not to force anything upon me—and then she—" She covered her eyes and shuddered with tearless sobs.

Britt's fingers curled with the urge to comfort Gillian. Roger noticed Eloise leaning forward, straining against the same desire. He, too, knew better than to touch Gillian at a moment like this, no matter how much he yearned to help.

After a while Gillian lifted her head and stared at Roger. "Lord Volnar wants to continue as my advisor? He doesn't think I am irreparably tainted?"

"Oh, good grief!" Britt curbed her anger and modulated her voice to a soothing tone. "Gillian, we call that kind of thing blaming the victim. Nobody here thinks that way, and I certainly hope a creature who's lived God knows how many millennia has better sense."

"I shared Camille's—emptiness."

"That must have been terrible," Roger said. "But it doesn't have to shape your entire life. Vampires are highly adaptable, and so are human beings. Both sides of your heritage are in your favor. And another thing—would you like to spend part of your time here? Learn from me—and Britt, for that matter?"

Gillian's eyes glowed. "You don't want to get rid of me?"

"I'd hardly suggest this if I did." He felt an unexpected surge of affection, which he didn't know how to handle. It had taken him long enough to learn how to express his love for Britt. And now I want to start all over with a child?

Britt reached for Gillian, then drew back, unsure whether the girl was ready to be touched. Gillian groped for Britt's hand and squeezed it. When Britt winced, Gillian looked stricken. "I hurt you. I knew I shouldn't—"

"Stop worrying, it was an accident," Britt said. "I'm not afraid of you."

"Perhaps you should be. I know I wasn't supposed to crave human blood yet. I don't know whether I can feed safely—whether I can even associate with ephemerals safely."

Eloise said, "Are you thinking of what Camille said about being a monster?"

"Partly." Gillian tensed as she watched Eloise cross the room with the bag she'd been holding.

"Here, I got you an early Christmas present." Eloise sat on the rug next to the coffee table, stroking Gillian's clenched fingers as she might stroke a kitten. "This is one of the most beloved and respected children's books of all time. The heroine is a creature most people think of as monstrous, and she lives on blood." She got out the book and placed it in Gillian's lap.

"Charlotte's Web! Eloise, that's perfect!" Britt applauded.

Though pleased at the gift's effect, Roger was puzzled. He knew the story only by reputation. [A fable about a pig and a spider, colleague?]

[You haven't read it? How culturally deprived can you get? Take my word, colleague, it's perfect. I'll bet Volnar never would have thought of this.]

-end of excerpt-

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