Monday, April 7, 2008

Child Heroes

Walker spent much of the weekend at tryouts for Peter Pan and then callbacks. They had him sing for John at first on the callback day, but the musical director kept calling him up to sing with the Peters, too. At worst, he'll get to be a lost boy. I think they're a bit reluctant to cast a 12-year-old as the lead of the annual community theater musical, especially one requiring deep enough pockets to rent "flying" equipment.

It was kind of a shame, I thought, that there were only three boys singing for Peter in the callbacks, and the other two were too old; their voices were deeper already. Obviously, someone was trying to hear males for the role, but I think it's probably going to be a Mary Martin-type show, given the number of girls who sang better and were older than twelve (one was 20, but a very small person). I did have a small revelation, sitting in the back row of the theater listening to Walker sing. We're always on him at home not to sing at the table, and not to sing right in our faces. That's because he has an increasingly powerful voice!

At any rate, it got me thinking about child heroes, and how often in YA fantasy literature, the adults are reluctant to entrust the fate of the world to one so young. (The first examples that come to my mind are: Lyra in The Golden Compass, the four children in Narnia, Artemis Fowl, Gregor the Overlander, Percy Jackson in The Lightning Thief, Lina and Doon in The City of Ember, Molly Moon, Roald Dahl's Matilda, Ethan in Summerland).

Deeba in China Mieville's Un Lun Dun is a child hero in a book that turns a lot of conventions on their heads in a thoroughly delightful manner. For the first 134 pages, it seems to be a traditional child hero tale--the "chosen one" is recognized by animals in our world and is subsequently transported to another world she has been chosen to save. But she is frightened and ultimately beaten, and goes back to her world, where she stays. Okay, maybe you guessed it from the title--the other world is a parallel universe--an Un-London--and the child who can actually save it is the Un-chosen one, Deeba, who no one has made much of a fuss over.

That's just the first delightful twist to this story. There are a lot of good word jokes that eventually degenerate into puns and actual characters (called "utterlings"). The chosen one from the first part of the book is referred to in Un Lun Dun as the "shwazzy" which we eventually learn is a version of the term "vous avez choisi." London's Royal Meteorological Society, abbreviated as RMETS, is referred to in Un Lun Dun as Armets, a magical society of "weatherwitches." And the mysterious thing that solved London's smog problem in 1952 is Un Lun Dun's magical talisman against the magically malignant smog that threatens their entire existence, the Klinneract.

There are wonderful and original details in this story, like a character who is a ghost (called a wraith), some very scary giraffes, and an army of animate umbrellas, plus a flying bus and a suspension bridge that moves around to evade people looking for it.

This is a book for book-lovers, but not too inaccessible for kids (like Summerland, you'll enjoy it more, the more other books you've read).

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