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Bewildering Stories

Rachel Parsons writes about...

“I Still Wake From My Nightmares”

“I Still Wake From My Nightmares” appeared in issues 151-156.

The Canadian Connection

I innocently asked Rachel Parsons about the references to Canada in “I Still Wake From My Nightmares.” The answer has to do with that pet peeve of science fiction writers, Margaret Atwood:

In “Nightmares,” Rosalyn is reading The Handmaiden’s Tale, and in this one, Alias Grace, both about women confronting a male-dominant society. This helps situate the story in time, and it is kind of funny that people in a fantasy world would take our literature as fantasy.

Also, it is a rib on Americans, who haven’t a clue where Canada is, not that someone on a world thirty light years away would necessarily be any better. But I hesitate to say this or any more; it’s the kind of joke where people read in their own reasons for laughter.

The Role of the Inner Child

You should be proud of [the Challenges]. I thought the questions were thought-provoking and right on. The only thing that seemed missing was any question about the metaphor of the inner child and the underlying theme of what denial does. (The girl demon was an inner child; Rhiannon had to confront traumas from her past to get help; there was no help for Gwennan. When she became a mother, she ate her inner child.) And of course, the denial at the court of New Fairy simply further humiliated Rhiannon. If people could only accept her...

Actually, I’ve invented a place in later stories, Wynne’s Inn, which is half way to the town of Arbeth Dactyl from Caer Rhiannon, where anything goes. There, former soldiers hang out and accept Rhiannon perfectly. They neither treat her as a whore nor as their princess, but simply as Rhiannon, their friend.

Anyway, if you wish to include questions about the inner child and denial theme, now that people have read the whole story, that would be great.

Rachel Parsons

Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Parsons

Thank you for the compliment on the Challenges, Rachel; they’re all the better when one has something good to work with! As for questions about the “inner child,” I confess I’d have to start by asking what that is. My impression is that it’s a term of psychology that seems to have made its way into the outside world. But what do I know; I may have it backwards.

Be that as it may, your description of repression of the “inner child” suggests to me a rejection of the past that requires emotional overcontrol. The result may be outright psychosis, as in Gwennan’s case, or various degrees of neurosis that hamper the characters in dealing with the reality in which they move.

I think most literary criticism and I, for sure (I’d call myself a structuralist descriptivist if I could be sure of spelling it correctly), would not consider a literary character as a real person. Otherwise we’d start writing backstories of our own, and that’s the author’s prerogative.

Rather, I approach the question more as a matter of fact, for example: What do we know about Gwennan that foreshadows her emotional turmoil? Does the story give us any information about her that we can say leads to the aberration she shows at the end of “Nightmares”?

I’m sure the inner child is a handy tool that writers can use to make characters coalesce and take shape in the imagination. As you say, Gwennan is the prime case in point. Otherwise the only literal child’s role in “Nightmares,” as I recall, is that of the mysterious girl who seems to know more about Rhiannon than one would expect.

Rhiannon’s world has a way of turning characters inside out, so to speak, by making their weaknesses — or perhaps more properly, the effects of their weaknesses — visible to everyone. Thus it helps to know that Rhiannon’s curse is not arbitrary; it is a consequence of a character flaw — being an insensitive brat, to put it mildly — that she’s had to outgrow (see also “The Characters of Rhiannon’s World,” in this issue).

The field of psychology has a lot to contribute to literary criticism; if the tool seems appropriate to the work, then by all means use it. Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — not to mention traditional and modern fairy tales — practically demand interpretation in terms of modern psychiatry. So does Rousseau’s Confessions : the autobiography becomes all the more remarkable when read as a first attempt at auto-analysis, and it helped open the way for Sigmund Freud and others more than a century later.

I, for one, would be very interested in an essay on the role of the “inner child” in the creation of the characters in Rhiannon’s world. I think you’re off to a very good start here, Rachel. Thank you for a most enlightening and entertaining conversation!

Copyright © 2005 by Don Webb

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