Thursday, July 3, 2014

Stroke of Midnight chapter 3, Elsie Dinsmore chapter three

Chapter four opens with Merry giving us her philosophy on crime scenes. Because a private eye who can count the number of crime scenes she's been to on one hand is the person to ask about dead bodies.

I’d also learned that all bodies are an it, not he, not she— it. Because if you think of the dead body as a he or a she, they begin to be real for you. They begin to be people, and they aren’t people, not anymore. They’re dead, and outside of very special circumstances they are just inert matter. You can have sympathy for the victim later, but at the crime scene, especially in the first moments , you serve the victim better by not sympathizing . Sympathy steals your ability to think . Empathy will cripple you. No, and no. I do not know of ANY police officer who has ever talked about how hard it is to not feel things at a crime scene, usually because they are too busy feeling things at crime scenes to care. Maybe if you're too immature to deal with your emotions, you bottle them, but that's just gonna burn you out faster than therapy can fix you.

But that explains an AWFUL FUCKING LOT about both these goddamned series.

That said, this woman is a Seelie court fey who had to transfer to the Unseelie court because she, like Sage, has lost the ability to fly. She's a former demi-fey, like Sage, only they don't know what made her unable to shrink. So I'm gonna guess that Sage is gonna be involved in this, and while it's predictable as fuck things are REALLY looking up because WE ARE STILL DOING PLOT IN A MERRY GENTRY BOOK and we're all the way at chapter four. Admittedly the first chapter could have been dumped in a fire and no one would miss it BUT! CHAPTER FOUR, NO ONE HAS FUCKED, AND WE HAVE A PLOT TO READ.

They analyze the crime scene. Doyle says some stuff about the position of the guy's coat that sounds very Sherlockian and then immediately contradicts it by implying that somebody rummaged through the coat after he fell down. They decide the human body was trying to run away and someone threw a knife into him, after slitting the dead fairy-girl's throat.

So then they...sigh...discuss how to hide the body to avoid the consequences of having DEAD HUMANS in the sithen.

Consequences are part of what makes writing fun. WE NEED TO HAVE CONSEQUENCES GODDAMN IT.

And Merry shoots that idea down and insists they get the cops down here so they can hand the crime scene off to forensics and maybe find out what the fuck happened to the murder weapon.

This is...really weird. I'm actually enjoying this. We've got a dead reporter and a dead fairy under highly suspicious circumstances, with EVERY REPORTER IN EXISTENCE sitting about three doors over. AND the sithen is just CRAWLING with the Sluagh, which the Fae don't talk about--it's kind of like Fight Club, I guess--so it's highly possible more than one person can disappear in a puff of smoke.

Doyle offers to track the blade with magic.

Merry says that he tried that when her father was killed and it did fuck-all for her daddy. Jesus, Merry, when the fuck did you grow a brain AND a backbone, and if I pray really hard will they stick around? Then one of the other men ask her if she really will expose her people to the cops over one dead human and HOLY SHIT SHE GETS AWESOME:

 “Do you think the death of a human is less important than the death of a sidhe?...“Do you think the death of a cook is less important than the death of a nobleman?...“This servant, whose name happens to be Beatrice, showed me more kindness than most of the nobles of either faerie court. Beatrice was my friend,

She's going to ruin it. I know she's going to ruin it. But OH MY GOD. This is the first time in, like, Six Books that LKH has managed to set up a good plot, and HOLY SHIT MERRY IS BEING COOL AND STANDING UP FOR PEOPLE AND SAYING AND DOING THINGS THAT MIGHT ACTUALLY CHANGE SHIT FOR THE BETTER. THIS. HAS. POTENTIAL.

And THEN Merry reminds all of them that when her father died, she helped keep the cops out and his murderer got off scott-free. So now, because she knows fairy criminals can hide from her Aunt's power, she's going to open the sithen wide for an investigation, even if her aunt kills her for it. Mostly because she still feels guilty that her dad is unavenged, but also because Beatrice was her friend.

Seriously, did a pod person get to LKH? It's not particularly original by any means, but it's GOOD. And it's a plot that has nothing to do with sex or fucking or getting pregnant, but rather politics and justice and right and wrong and what it means to be a good leader and what it means to be a good person and I didn't think Laurel could do this anymore.

 Then one of her new guards admits he thinks she's about to get her ass killed, but he'll follow her on anyway because she threw herself between the Queen and her guards last night, and she's earned his loyalty. And then she remembers her father's death, and how after it was all done she slept with his (sheathed) sword for weeks because it still smelled like him.

The chapter ends with Merry swearing that this time she's going to solve the case. With the help of the police.

This is going to hurt so hard when it all falls apart. LKH has done this too many times for me to trust the potential here. BUT STILL! IT'S PLOT AND IT HASN'T RUN AWAY! AND IT'S DEVELOPING CHARACTERS!

On to Elsie.

Chapter three starts a week after Rose Allison left. Elsie gets a letter, reads it, and gets to be a generally happy little girl for about five seconds. Then Adelaide tells her that her father just wrote: he's coming home!

Her reaction?

"Oh!" she asked, with a beating heart, "will he love me? My own papa! will he let me love him? will he take me in his arms and call me his own darling child?"
This is probably the saddest paragraph that has ever been written by a human. This kid is starved for love. The ONLY outcome this could have is dissapointment, even if Horace turns out to be a reasonably good dad. And given the book's description of Horace...

Horace Dinsmore was, like his father, an upright, moral man, who paid an outward respect to the forms of religion, but cared nothing for the vital power of godliness; trusted entirely to his morality, and looked upon Christians as hypocrites and deceivers. He had been told that his little Elsie was one of these, and, though he would not have acknowledged it even to himself, it had prejudiced him against her...And Horace himself had come to look upon his early marriage as a piece of boyish folly, of which he was rather ashamed; and so constantly had Mr. Dinsmore spoken in his letters of Elsie as "old Grayson's grandchild," that he had got into the habit of looking upon her as a kind of disgrace to him; especially as she had always been described to him as a disagreeable, troublesome child.

Yeah. Not gonna happen.

So the book speeds through the time between the letter and Dad's arrival, and when Horace shows up Elsie damn near has a meltdown. And then...this happens.

But a strange voice asked, "And who is this?" and looking up as her grandfather pronounced her name, she saw a stranger standing before her—very handsome, and very youthful-looking, in spite of a heavy dark beard and mustache—who exclaimed hastily, "What! this great girl my child? really it is enough to make a man feel old." Then, taking her hand, he stooped and coldly kissed her lips.
Yes. Different time, different morals. Yeah. But I want to remind you guys again, there are modern parents giving their daughters these books as a model of behavior. And while kissing-on-the-mouth between parents and children MIGHT have been acceptable in the Antebellum south (as was slavery, disenfranchisement of women and smallpox) it sure as fucking shit is not acceptable now. But there is a battalion of parents who hold this father-daughter relationship up as an ideal model today.

Elsie has no idea how to react. Probably because no one has ever shown her this kind of affection, and she's pretty much an emotional wreck from anticipation. Horace decides to interprete this as dislike on her part, and sends her to her room. Cue tears:

"O papa, papa!" she sobbed, "my own papa, you do not love me; me, your own little girl. Oh! my heart will break. O mamma, mamma! if I could only go to you; for there is no one here to love me, and I am so lonely, oh! so lonely and desolate."

Again: She's eight. If an eight year old is suicidal something is deeply, deeply wrong. Which is another fun facet to the brainwashing brigade behind this book's modern revival: it's normalizing suicidal ideation as an every-day reaction to dissapointment.

Personally, I strongly agree that we need more responsible depictions of mental illnesses, because we need to teach people what things like depression, psychosis, schizophrenia and so forth look like, and what treatments are available. If you have a mental illness, and no one around you ever talks about it, not only will you not know that something's wrong with you, you will not have the language necessary to ask for help. That is the value in writing stories about mental illnesses, addictions, and other disorders.

That is not what this is. This is saying that suicidal thoughts in children are normal, come from a moment of hysteria and aren't a big deal. That it's a weakness on the child's part. That it's something they need to outgrow. That it's just a part of being a melodramatic git. Folks, if an eight year old is suicidal, they need to go see a doctor and be kept under a massive amount of supervision because something has gone very, very very wrong inside their brain, and whatever it is, it's going to be very difficult to get it treated (because kids don't react well to most psycotropic medications.) This paragraph, and the many to follow, is a tool that can (and probably has) be used to minimize the emotional turmoil of the children reading it. Elsie survived it. It can't be that bad.

 The Dinsmores have lunch. Elsie stays upstairs because, frankly, she's in no condition to be around people. Her father interprets this as her disliking him and decides that he doesn't much like her either. She doesn't get to see him again for two days...and when she does, this happens:

Elsie stood irresolutely in the middle of the floor, wanting, yet not daring to go to him.
But just at that instant the door opened, and Enna, looking rosy and happy, came running in, and rushing up to her brother, climbed upon his knee, and put her arms around his neck, saying, "Good-morning, brother Horace. I want a kiss."
 "You shall have it, little pet," said he, throwing down his paper. Then, kissing her several times and hugging her in his arms, he said, "You are not afraid of me, are you? nor sorry that I have come home?"
 "No, indeed," said Enna.
 He glanced at Elsie as she stood looking at them, her large soft eyes full of tears. She could not help feeling that Enna had her place, and was receiving the caresses that should have been lavished upon herself. "Jealous," thought her father; "I cannot bear jealous people;" and he gave her a look of displeasure that cut her to the heart, and she turned quickly away and left the room to hide the tears she could no longer keep back.
This is textbook emotional abuse. Withdrawing from one child because she doesn't display the reactions he wants, and then going out of his way to bestow attention on a different child, AND to draw comparisons between that child's behavior and the other's. This is horrible. And the book does, to its credit, treat it like a somewhat shitty thing to do--though not as the all out "Horace Dinsmore Should Never Be A Parent To Anyone Ever Again" clue that it actually is.

And once again, Elsie runs off crying so she can beat herself up about not being perfect.

She scarcely raised her eyes from her plate, and did not know how often a strange gentleman, who sat nearly opposite, fixed his upon her.
Oh fuck. This guy.

This "strange gentleman" is Edward Travilla. He's a very good friend of Horace's and he plays a very big role in Elsie's story. But right now she's eight and he is literally old enough to be her father.

Travilla and Horace go off for a ride. Elsie goes off alone to play the piano and Mr. Travilla finds her there and talks her into playing for him. She plays and sings for a while, and then they have a conversation. Finally they have this exchange:

 "Ah! I see I was mistaken," said he, smiling; "I thought you could hardly care for him at all; but do you think that he loves you?" Elsie dropped her face into her hands, and burst into an agony of tears.
So we have a strange older gentleman having an unsupervised conversation with a severely damaged eight year old about how nobody really loves her.

Just peachy. And it gets better:

Elsie, having been thrown very much upon her own resources for amusement, and having a natural love for books, and constant access to her grandfather's well-stocked library, had read many more, and with much more thought, than most children of her age, so that Mr. Travilla found her a not uninteresting companion, and was often surprised at the intelligence shown by her questions and replies.

This is the picture of the homeschooled child. Naive, technically well read, full of whatever ideas her parents/teachers have stuffed her full of, often without any of the touchstones or experiances any of her peers have, and kept in an enviroment where adult company is much, much more likely than that of other children--which they don't fit in with, anyway. And often desperately, desperately lonely, so very much so that any positive attention will make them latch on to whoever it is offering it. And very, very frequently nobody will bother teaching these kids that certain kinds of positive attention are bad.

So basically this is a character that homeschooled girls will sympathize with IMMEDIATELY. I read this paragraph ten years ago and went "OH MY GOD THIS IS ME THIS IS EXACTLY ME"

Which makes what is to follow so. very. fucking. creepy. Travilla heads over to Horace and they have this exchange:

"Really, Dinsmore," said Mr. Travilla, as they stood together near one of the windows of the drawing-room soon after dinner, "your little girl is remarkably intelligent, as well as remarkably pretty; and I have discovered that she has quite a good deal of musical talent."
 "Indeed! I think it is quite a pity that she does not belong to you, Travilla, instead of me, since you seem to appreciate her so much more highly," replied the father, laughing. 
"I wish she did," said his friend.
What makes all of this intensely creepy is that much later in the series, Edward Travilla marries Elsie. If you keep that in mind, every single one of the Elsie/Edward exchanges makes Edward and Bella look like the poster children for healthy relationships. Travilla goes on to tell Horace how much Elsie seems to love him, which Horace dismisses because of course she doesn't.

 There's another party that throws Elsie and Travilla together, so he takes the little girl over to meet his mother.

The estranged eight year old daughter of his friend that his friend has not seen for her entire life.

After a few minutes Edward asks Elsie to play and sing for him again. She refuses because she's shy. There's too many strangers in the room. Daddy overhears, and then he orders her to do it.

"Stay," said Mr. Travilla kindly, pitying her distress, "I withdraw my request." "But I do not withdraw my command," said her father in the same stern tone; "go at once, Elsie, and do as I bid you." She obeyed instantly, struggling hard to overcome her emotion.

So the theme in this chapter, other than Edward Travilla is a creeper, is that love must be earned through your goodness and obediance. Obeying instantly is very important in fundamentalist Christian circles. Immediately and without thought. Elsie does not get her father's love by existing, which is a fundamental right every single child should have, but rather by proving that she is a good, honest, pretty little girl deserving of that love. First Elsie proves her goodness and then the people around her love her. Which is utter fucking horseshit. In the context of Christianity, it's idiotic because the foundation of it is unconditional love--that we are loved by God reguardless of who and what we are, and loved intensely. And there are several stories in the bible--the Unforgiving Servant being one of the key ones--that make it really clear nothing pisses God off like his children being conditional in their love and acceptance when he's given them unconditional love and unconditional pardon. So for someone to be pounding Christ into the ground the way this book is to make parental love, the most basic, fundamentally unconditional love human beings have, into something that children have to earn is the most insane, rage inducing thing I've ever seen.

And it gets worse when you take theology out of the equation. Once again: These books are being used right now to "guide" girls into proper behavior. Love is a difficult, stressful, overwhelming emotion that demands you put the needs of the beloved over your own. It demands unselfishness and total empathy, and if you're a self-centered asshole it can be very difficult to do it right. Stating that love needs to be earned allows the authority figures to withdraw that love entirely. Now they don't have to be unselfish, they don't have to put the needs of their children over their own. The child, they can argue, has not yet earned the right to unconditional love. But you can't earn love. You don't earn love, you feel love, and placing the responsability for YOUR feelings on someone else's behavior is the single most unhealthy, wrong-headded and sometimes intentionally manipulative thing another person can do. A child CANNOT earn their family's love, and they should never need to.

Under this pressure, Elsie has a breakdown and Horace, who had started to warm up to her, withdraws completely. She's left alone and unhappy. Again.

Meanwhile the book continues to be creepy.

But he seldom noticed her, unless to give a command or administer a rebuke, while he lavished many a caress upon his little sister, Enna. Often Elsie would watch him fondling her, until, unable any longer to control her feelings, she would rush away to her own room to weep and mourn in secret, and pray that her father might some day learn to love her.
I do not remember if that got cleaned up in the reissue, but damn.

 And that is the end of the chapter.

1 comment:

  1. We sleep in puppy piles...
    Bodies are an it....
    Feels Like I read this before Hmmmm

    The other book is just utterly horrible!