Monday, June 20, 2011

One Daddy-Long-Legs I don't want to squash

I read Daddy-Long-Legs today, a light and cheerful little book published in 1912 about an orphan who's given the chance to go to college if she'll just write letters to her anonymous benefactor once a month.  Don't be put off by the potential creepiness of the title; she caught a glimpse of him during the opening chapter during a flash of lightning that made his shadow look like the long-legged spider.  It was pleasant and sassy and such a delightful ride that I don't really care that it ended predictably (and that I suspected where it was going to end from pretty much the third chapter).  Some books are like that. 

It actually reminded me a bit of the feeling I got while reading the Betsy-Tacy series.  Time long past that is "simpler" and slightly unfamiliar and thus interesting from a historical standpoint but full of many familiar feelings and types of experiences.  There's the same leisurely pacing some of the earlier Betsy-Tacy books had, too.

Also, though it could have had elements of creepiness once I figured out what was going on, it widely avoided any Tale of Genji shenanigans.

I'm also a sucker for a well-done story in letters.  Letters are such interesting things, really, and I'm sad we don't really do them anymore.  There was a factor of time delay and removal from actual interaction that allowed letter writers to be more honest if they wanted to be but also more artificial and deceptive if they so chose.  Any form where it's easier both to lie and to tell the truth has such possibilities, don't you think?  And there's just more room for emotion when handwriting (not typing) is involved.

In this book, there was the added frustration of the letter writer sending her letters off into a void where she didn't get answers.  For all she knew, here benefactor didn't even read her letters.  Maybe she was writing them for no one, and sometimes, this provoked reactions in her that she later regretted but couldn't immediately fix.  There's something about writing to someone you don't really know that is kind of freeing. 

There's a similar feeling to some kinds of blogging.  You don't really know if anyone's reading it, but sometimes, the pleasure in writing is all you really want.  When you get a response, it's a bonus, but the effort and practice in writing is valuable in and of itself.

Now I'll have to track down the sequel, enticingly entitled Dear Enemy.  I wonder if the same friend who leant me this book has that one, as well.  She just handed it to me one day saying she thought I'd appreciate it despite the traditional ending.  I was sort of flabbergasted because in the month before she gave it to me, I had run across references to it in three or four different and unexpected places (it seems this work is still quite popular in Japan, for instance).

Have you read this work or encountered it anywhere?  What are your thoughts on it? 

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