Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio

by Lloyd Alexander

This book raises a lot of questions for me. While I was reading it, I found the story very gripping. It reminded me a lot of the Coelho book we read a while back, The Alchemist, because of its quasi-middle-Eastern setting and fantastic elements. The characters were also pretty 0ne-dimensional. This is definitely a fairy tale, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The issues I have deal partly with subject matter. A key plot element is the kidnap and escape of a young girl. It is clear from the context that she is meant to be sold into slavery as a prostitute or concubine. This introduces themes of sexual enslavement and rape even though the text glosses over it. How explicit would this have to be before I say that I think this is inappropriate for young children? To what degree is it OK for my children to skim over these depths without noticing too much (which is surely what would happen if they read this book)? I can't help feeling that the subtext here is like a time bomb that can go off inappropriately -- that stories where girls are vulnerable in this way conveys a message they don't need to get in their psyches, however subliminally.

Then there are issues of style. What is up with these semi-Arabic names and turns of phrase? Why does the fawning servant with the Arabic name speak in a flowery style that is basically satirical? Why is his name (Baksheesh) a real word (it means cash or tip in Arabic) when everybody else has made-up names? Why does the leader of the horse caravan speak an obvious pidgin English and why is his adherence to tribal honor and customs lampooned so predictably? Have the PC thought police wormed their way into my brain so that I have lost all sense of humor, or is this just light-hearted fun and I should ease up already? I swear, I can't tell any more.

I honestly can't decide what I think about this. For myself, I liked the book, I thought it was funny and interesting, and it had some cool plot twists. But I think I'm going to be taking it back to the library without giving it to my kids.

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