For each issue of Literary Mama, Literary Reflections shares a writing prompt, inviting our readers to respond. Our editors provide feedback on the responses we receive, and we post our favorites on the blog. This month’s writing prompt is inspired by Annette Lucksinger’s Confronting Literary Theory: Ice Princesses and Don Quixote
Many of us who have parented a preschooler are familiar with the single-minded adoration, even obsession, these tiny people develop for fictional characters. Members of my own brood have been enthralled with Cody in The Rescuers Down Under, The Nutcracker’s Clara, and Michael from Peter Pan. You may also be familiar with the preschooler’s propensity for strict, legalistic insistence on the details of what they may later come to describe as “canon.” The original version is the definitive version in their mind, and any deviation or derivation from the details of said original has the potential to send the preschooler in question into the depths of despair or a tailspin of fury.
In her essay, “Confronting Literary Theory: Ice Princesses and Don Quixote,” Annette Lucksinger observes this proclivity in her own daughter, Emmi. Emmi also became obsessed with Peter Pan, and insisted upon adherence to canon. Lucksinger recalls: “I bought an illustrated Peter Pan chapter book to read together each night. She was so excited, she couldn’t wait for bedtime. But as soon as I opened the cover, she protested.” Lucksinger describes Emmi’s reaction to the way the appearance of the characters in the illustrations did not align with the Disney version. “She was visibly disappointed, especially as we started reading and the plot diverged from the story she knew.” My own children delighted in the stage musical and the Disney animated movie, but for years rejected JM Barrie’s original written tale as unbearably inaccurate, bordering on blasphemy.
Although it’s tempting to see this mental inflexibility as a developmental stage left behind in childhood, Lucksinger recognizes her own longing for “that comforting feeling of stability and rightness in knowing what is ‘true’” when it comes to literature and life. As a graduate student encountering critical theory, Lucksinger resisted any examination or reinterpretation of books that she held dear, particularly Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. “It seemed to me that the old knight was in need of a defender against these theoretical onslaughts. . . . I prepared to defend him to the death, however poor a knight I might prove, slashing away at psychoanalysts, barring deconstructionists, pushing out postcolonialists.” But a visitation by the spirit of Cervantes helps her see things differently.
Ideas that challenge us are not the enemy. They call us to lay down our swords and deal honorably with the formidable force of our own minds—to free them. . . . It is not in all of our natures to want to grow up. It is not always easy, and it can feel as if much stands to be lost. Until we have time to test these ideas against our worlds, they place us on uneven footing. Yet, the force of insight can ultimately place us on the path to sanity and a wider, more just world, if we can only see through our folly.
Write about the experience of reexamining beloved literary works and whether you have or have not chosen to introduce them to your own children. How did your relationship to the stories and/or the authors change? What process did you find yourself going through and where did you end up?
Read the essay written by Lucksinger and submit a 500-word response to this writing prompt by June 30, 2021, for feedback from our editors. Email it to LMreflections (at) literarymama (dot) com and note “June Prompt” in your subject line. Please do not attach the essay; rather, paste the response in the body of the email.