05 April 2007

A Grimm Situation

I had The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy-Tale Detectives, by Michael Buckley, on my to-read pile, but I moved it up after a young reader told me she liked it a lot.

So far it seems to be from the same mini-gothic world as A Series of Unfortunate Events, a world in which not only are there orphanages, but their workforce seems to consist exclusively of people who hate kids. And the only people signed up to be foster families are sadistic loons. At that rate, pixies and giants seem like a refreshing splash of realism.

I also can't help noticing that the younger Grimm sister, Daphne, is the more sensible one. And that the reader who recommended Sisters Grimm is also the younger of two sisters. Hmmm. Of course, I'm a younger sibling myself, so that portrayal doesn't surprise me.


lostinozbook said...

My mother and I constantly use to discuss the fact that many adults, in novels for children, despise the children. Roald Dahl was notorious for evil adults. I love that you pointed that out.


J. L. Bell said...

I think that child-hating adults all a hallmark of a particular school of children's writing that has Dahl as its dean and Lemony Snicket as its current leader.

Such stories seem to rest on the notion that someone who disliked children would go into child-services social work rather than, say, making lots of money on Wall Street in a child-free environment.

H. K. Lundy said...

You have to get further on in the book and in the series. Miss Smirt and the foster homes mentioned are a miniscule part of the Grimm world. Smirt dosn't even appear in Book Three.

Kelly said...

Well my elder-child still loves "The Sisters Grimm," even if the younger one is more sensible. You have to work again stereotype sometimes, don't you ;)

P.S. I'm the eldest, can you tell?

J. L. Bell said...

H.K., I realize the non-fairy-tale world is a small part of Sisters Grimm. It may even make sense to show that "real" world as horrible, so being chased by giants and monsters seems less awful, even preferable. But that portrait of a Child Services worker in particular seems not only unreal, but also unoriginal and unhelpful.

As for Buckley's portrait of little sister Daphne as sensible, one clever aspect of the book is how that comes through even as the narrative voice sticks to elder sister Sabrina's point of view. So we understand her take on events, and we understand that she's not dumb; she's just too wary.

In a way, Buckley's playing off a standard elder child/younger child dichotomy. Big sister is bossy, little sister is convinced everyone's looking out for her. As the series progresses, those traits might make Sabrina seem more sensible than Daphne.

Anonymous said...

Mean adults? Dickens, A LITTLE PRINCESS.... Aren't they pretty common in classics?

J. L. Bell said...

Again, I wasn't questioning the existence of mean adults, in fiction or in real life.

I was noting the pattern, verging on cliché, that child-hating adults would go into child-services social work.

Sure, if there were more money in social work, that might make sense, just as Count Olaf decides he must become an adoptive parent because of the Baudelaires' fortune. But absent such a motivation, it turns the character into a flat puppet manipulated by the author for added drama.

In Dickens's Oliver Twist, the Bumbles were in charge of the orphanage because it was a steady job with some financial rewards in a time of great poverty—the real focus of the novel.

In Burnett's A Little Princess, Miss Minchin has gone into teaching at a time when there aren't a lot of other prospects for an unmarried woman.

In The Sisters Grimm, Miss Smirt has gone to work at an orphanage despite hating kids because...