The masculine, heroic adventure story in the tradition of Odysseus has ‘only’ been dominant for the last 3000 years. Before then, myth was often about ‘origin’ — where did we come from? Who made us? Since women are the creators of life, it followed that the heroes of such myths were originally female. But where are all these original creation myths?
The female body follows the lunar cycle, which is closely associated with the idea of death and rebirth (waning and waxing moon). The cardinal function of the female body is reproduction. The female myths, describing female initiation, are aimed at repetition, rebirth, the eternal life cycle. Actually, very few genuine female myths exist in written–male, civilised, “symbolic” (Lacan)–form, due to many reasons. Connected with essential life mysteries such as menstruation and birth (both involving bloody), female myths are more secret and sacred than male myths. They have mostly existed in oral form, as esoteric rituals. In Western civilisation, they have been suppressed and muted by the dominant male culture. We can only discover traces and remnants of them, in the figures of the Progenitrix, the witch, the chthonic goddess.
— Maria Nikolajeva, From Mythic to Linear: Time in children’s literature
Now I know there’s a theory today that we must never write for children and, after all, we’re all just big kids, but I don’t believe that. It’s partly because I refuse to think of myself as a large wrinkled child, but also because, through my children, I have come to see that childhood is a special time, that children are special, that they do not think like adults or talk like adults. And even though we adults sometimes feel that we are exactly the same as when we were ten, I think that’s because we can no longer conceive of what ten was really like, and because what we have lost, we have lost so gradually that we no longer miss it.
– Betsy Byars, 1982
Pair with: The Psychology Of Your Future Self, a TED talk by Dan Gilbert
A children’s book should be written…remembering how few books children have time to read in the course of a childhood and that the impact of each one is probably equivalent to a dozen, or twenty, encountered at a later age.
– Joan Aiken, English author
Hear the story read by Douglass Greene at Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
This is my favourite story from the excellent collection Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives. This is partly due to how much I relate to the characters; when our daughter was 5 some new neighbours moved in next door. They were very unfriendly, but had two sons who were overly friendly. They would invite our daughter next door, but oftentimes she came back subdued, and once, crying. I never knew what happened next door, but I did learn more and more about the family, and had to stop my daughter from going over there. When you’re the parent of a child between around 4-8, it’s difficult to discern fact from fiction; children so often live in their own worlds. The People Across The Canyon encapsulates that confusion most beautifully.
Without meaning to, I keep reading short stories written by women who died young: Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter, and now Shirley Jackson, who died age 48 in 1965 of heart failure. Jackson’s husband released Louisa, Please Come Home after her death. Before that, she was best known for The Lottery, which is still her best known short.
Shirley Jackson’s best fiction is troubling and creepy, but this story, though interesting, is neither scary or suspenseful. Instead, you’ll be left wondering what possessed the main character to do such a thing, and maybe you’ll start wondering if our view of the people closest to us is really the accurate version.
I’m sure this short story appeals to me partly because I’m interested in the idea that perhaps there is no ‘true self’ — that we learn to fill the roles imposed upon us. I explore this same idea in our YA short story app, Hilda Bewildered.