You won’t believe this but it’s true.
We listened together to the darkness and I heard Dad’s voice.
A few thoughts….
Rereading this marvellous tale last night I was once more reminded of the transformative power of storytelling. The central character Blue begins to write his ‘Savage’ out into the open after his father dies and after suffering a local bully’s systematic cruelty towards him. Rejecting the conventional, ‘feelings’ diary’ approach advocated by his school counsellor Mrs Molloy, Blue ‘ripped up all that stuff about myself, got an old notebook and started scribbling…’ Scribbling seems a more liberated, creative activity and very much congruent with Blue’s leap of faith into the cathartic flow of the story.
Blue’s story situates his character ‘in ‘Burgess Woods’ where the Savage ‘lives in a cave under the rooined chapel.’ Such a habitat is ambivalently both suggestive of a primitive freedom and a certain ‘lostness’ perhaps, as well as the decay of spiritual coordinates and belief. The architecture of ‘home’ has been dismantled through loss and something must intervene to rebuild this dismantled sense of ‘homeliness’ The creation of a ‘truely wild’ Savage self, unbound by convention and lawfulness, privileges an instinctive self expression, memorably represented in the text through the interweaving of black, green and blue coloured illustrations that capture the abject territory of raging unassimilated grief, seemingly displaced onto the character of the Savage via Blue’s writing. This is declared a story ‘for myself’ unlike the stories which are presumably not for myself but for others.
The impotency of loss seems cathartically released through the intense physicality (and visual quality) of the Savage’s visceral rage. His body is distorted through a prowling combination of anger and fear, compassionate curiosity and barely contained violence. The pictures of the Savage remind me of Munch’s famous painting, The Scream as well as several paintings by Chagall, where the distortion the physical self gives expression to extreme emotions and even to some form of magical experience. ‘You are alone, in a dark wood. Now cope.’ (Francis Spufford)
Grief renders us strangers, not only to others and but also to ourselves; Blue’s story of his Savage allows Blue to externalise his emotional catastrophe , thus discovering an agency and outlet for self expression that his conventional self has felt deprived of. The Savage seems a mixture of vigilante and pilgrim as he leaves his wood, his wilderness home and embarks on an almost chivalric quest to right the wrongs the bully Hopper has committed. It is this quest which begins to integrate both Blue and the Savage and I was fascinated by the role of Jess as some Arthurian maiden, being protected by her two knights as they both in their different ways attempt to rebuild some form of imaginative faith in a bleak, lost world symbolised by the ‘rooined chapel’ and the moral degradation of the ‘stinkin’ Hopper.
1) How far do you find Wendy B. Farris’s five characteristics of magical realism helpful in developing your appreciation of Almond’s novel? Is the very form of the text itself some ‘hybrid’ narrative where thresholds between one system of representation and another are crossed and redrawn?
2) Is the unlawful spelling magical in any way? How does this impact upon your understanding of the text and its emotional resonance(s)?
3) ‘Everyone who witnessed the moment agrees that it was almost eight o’clock at night when Ferula appeared without the slightest warning. (Isabel Allende, The House of the Spirits) Think about Allende’s ‘magical realism’ in comparison with that of David Almond. Can you detect any similarities/differences?
4) ‘But it’s time to move forward, to share the story. To let it go.’ How far does Blue’s declaration (deploying Mrs Molloy’s language) signify his return to a world of conventional meaning and restriction?
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