Monday, February 13, 2012

Farewell, Mr Christopher

Thanks to some feminist who castigates John Christopher for not including strong female characters in his tripods trilogy, I know that the author – one of my favorites from childhood – passed away Feb. 6 at the age of 89.

I confess to being a man. I confess also to not really pondering the inequality of the imbalance between male/female characters in the books I read as a kid and the books I read now. Forgive me, feminists, for I have sinned: I have loved a trilogy of books (a love supplemented not by the atrocious British television series based on the books but by an atrocious comic book rendering done in Boys Life magazine) that has no strong female characters, though conversely I have loved other books, notably Melba the Brain and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which do have strong female characters. Bebother me for enjoying the former as well as the latter and not giving a tinker’s cuss for the difference in gender.

Torie Bosch, said feminist, would be good to read the obituary she links in her screed, in which she dismisses the influence of Christopher’s “lady editor” in a quotation-marked sneer. Says The Guardian:

[Samuel]Youd [Christopher’s birth name] had an unusual way of working. He did a quick first draft of the opening chapter, but for the remainder typed a "final" version, with several carbon copies. When he had completed the book he would go back and redraft the first chapter. He used the method when he wrote his first Tripods book, The White Mountains (1967). Almost at once he came into the charge of an American publisher's editor called Susan Hirschman. She ordered a rewrite before she would accept it, so he gamely redrafted the first chapter. Then Hirschman said the middle sequence was no good, so he reworked that. More followed. Afterwards, he reflected ruefully that she had made the novel much better than it might have been, as she did for the novels that followed.
I think I’d like Susan Hirschman: Focusing on making the story better, not getting into a fret because there were no strong female characters.

Anyway, off the feminist bit.

Christopher is a master of the genre, and not just because of the tripods. My favorite book of his is The Guardians, followed closely by The Lotus Caves. I like his spare approach, his limited focus on just a few characters and situations rather than making for a more complex tapestry. He leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination, and when he has to describe something in order to help the reader along, he does so in the fewest number of words possible so he stays out of the reader’s way. That’s a remarkable way to write a novel, and I think he does the process justice.

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