Publication: Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Date published:
Language: English
PMID: 94214
ISSN: 08970521
Journal code: FTSR

"Take care," she said. "And if a book set you off, a book may help again when you've fetched it out of you. Try it. Goodbye. And don't forget to write."

- Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock

IN THE YOUNG ADULT FANTASY NOVEL FlRE AND HEMLOCK (1985), DlANA Wynne Jones offers an example of a true female literary hero, "one with whom all girls could identify and through that, all persons" "Heroic" 134), and thus provides young readers with a blueprint for becoming voiced and active subjects rather than objects of their own narratives. The novel's protagonist is Polly Whittacker, a young hero 'in -training who must save the life of her friend Tom Lynn. Through Polly and the hero -narrative that Polly and Tom invent, Jones demonstrates the way language creates reality through its power of generating referente and incorporating them into stories. Polly can become a hero because that is how she narrates herself; Fire and Hemlock suggests the same is possible for its readers.

Even for a writer known for complex novels, Fire and Hemlock is unusually multifaceted. The book's structure is described by Martha P. Hixon:

Analysis of the novel's intricate narrative structure reveals that Fire and Hemlock is a complexly woven novel built on a series of shifting layers and surprising spirals. Not only does the narrative repeatedly circle between past, present, and future as Jones plays with the idea of the linearity of time and reality, but also the narrative is multilayered, with these layers connected through repeated motifs drawn from music, folklore and folktale, and literature. (96)

One of the most important motifs providing structure for the novel is the ancient Scottish ballad of "Tarn Lin." The ballad tells the story of Tarn Lin, a human knight who is to be given as tithe by the Queen of Fairies, and of his rescue by Janet. In Fire and Hemlock, Polly plays among other roles) the part of Janet, and Tom that of Tarn Lin, while Tom's ex-wife Laurel is the Queen.

Polly and Tom first meet when Polly stumbles into a funeral at Laurel's home Hunsdon House. They instigate a game of "being things," in which they create a story featuring themselves as he roe s -in 'training. Later, Tom sends numerous books for Polly to read, including The Golden Bough, Five Children and It, The Treasure Seekers, and Tom's Midnight Garden, all texts that have some bearing on the situation of Tom and Polly themselves. As their friendship deepens, her copious reading begins to inform her own hero -narrative and her sense of self. Jones demonstrates, throughout the novel, the progressive improvement of both Polly's reading and writing skills, and the ways in which these inform her increasing control over her own character and actions. Thus, metafiction, which in Fire and Hemlock includes depictions of both reading and writing and a demonstration of the role of narrative in shaping reality, is essential as Polly learns to write her own story. But Jones goes further than just showing her protagonist becoming the subject of her own narrative; Jones provides a path to negotiate adolescence that leads not to limited, socially prescriptive roles but to wherever the reader cares to narrate him- or herself.

Jones explicitly demonstrates her investment in Polly as a female hero in her article "The Heroic Ideal - A Personal Odyssey" (1989), in which she explores the classic hero character. She also offers a critical assessment of the process by which both the novel Fire and Hemlock and the character Polly developed. In the novel, Polly plays many roles: dutiful daughter, hero at school when she defends a friend from the school bully, mother to her mother Ivy (at times their relationship is inverted), granddaughter, tomboy, hero-intraining, actor, student, friend, and ultimately Tom's real hero. Jones describes the "series of heroic roles" from classic and folk literature that Polly takes on: she is "Gerda in The Snow Queen, Snow White, Britomart, St. George, Pierrot, Pandora, Andromeda, Janet from 'Tarn Lin' and many more, in a sort of overlapping succession" ("Heroic" 136). Polly becomes all of the things she wants to be, by playing all of the roles that appeal to her, regardless of those who try to discourage her: Laurel, Laurel's husband Morton Leroy, Morton's son Seb, and her own indifferent mother. In modeling Polly on heroes of both sexes, Jones has created a multifaceted character who is not bound to traditional female roles. Thus, Polly provides the young reader with a more fluid and open example of gender construction than is often found in previous writing for children.

Jones's restructuring of the female protagonist is significant, because gender often dictates a literary character's agency; as she observes, in "the heroic tradition [...] heroes are male, and females are either wimps or bad" ("Heroic" 134). To a great extent, a woman or girl in literature is unlikely to be active or have a voice; rather she allows or is obligated by the rules of society to have men to speak and act for her. Indeed, the women and girls in the more familiar traditional tales are often asleep, such as Briar Rose, or silent, like Cinderella, or passive, such as Snow White, the Princess of "The Princess and the Pea," Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty, and Donkey Skin. There are far too few true female heroes - girls who are active, adventurous, intelligent, just, and independent - in literature. Other female heroes are not really female; they are boys and men who have had a feminine name given to them, like Pippi Longstocking, a young girl who lives by herself with her pet monkey and who beats up pirates by herself. As children's literature scholar Lissa Paul argues, "a story that simply exchanges a female protagonist for a male one usually ends up making the heroine look like a hero in drag" (161-62). This comment is very similar to the "consideration" Jones said she had in the writing of Fire and Hemlock: "Janet, the hero of Tarn Lin, behaves throughout the story like a woman and not like a pseudo-man. I wanted a narrative structure which did not simply put a female in a male's place" (135). There are yet other females such as Cinderella and even the ironically named Hero of Much Ado about Nothing, who are heroines by virtue of their socially approved womanly beauty, complaisance, silence, and passivity, all of which result in a lack of what we would normally consider heroic action. Though girls and women may accept them as role models, these characters offer little if any behavior worth emulating. Jones saw the need for a female hero and fulfilled it in her own writing for children, basing her hero character on models found in classical and traditional literatures, such as Telemachus, Britomart, and Janet. Thus, Jones integrates strong literary examples as she provides young readers with a modern alternative to passive representations of girls.

In the literature she read as a child, Jones recognized that a "hero, first, is the one you identify with in the story" (129). A hero must be active: "Heroes are brave, physically strong, never mean or vicious, and possess a code of honor that requires them to come to the aid of the weak or incompetent and the oppressed when nobody else will. In addition, most heroes are either related to, or advised by, the gods or other supernatural characters" (130). A hero is never a "wimp," as Jones puts it (129-30). Some heroes are even the "foxy, tricksy hero, the hero with a brain" (130) . In classical literature, not just anyone can be a hero, and Jones suggests that the "average hero starts out with some accident of birth, parentage, or person which sets him apart from the rest and often, indeed, causes him to be held in contempt" (131). At some point, "the hero's honor, courage, or plain niceness cause him to befriend some being who will later come powerfully to his aid. [...] [H]e can call in the debt from the powerful being he befriended earlier and, with difficulty, prevail" (131). Jones notes that, generally, these attributes apply to male heroes.

In Polly and Tom's narrative, invented at Hunsdon House where Polly has inadvertently gate-crashed a funeral, Polly is asked what her name will be when they perform heroic feats. She chooses the name "Hero," which "is a real name [. . . of] a lady in my book that I read every night. [. . .] I know a lot about heroes, because of my book" (29). Polly has much to learn to become a hero, as she realizes herself, and she and Tom decide to be traine e 'he roes. The first heroic characteristic Polly must master is honesty. When the reading of the will is over and the funeral is ending, Tom asks Polly to help him choose some of the pictures he was bequeathed. Polly immediately feels that she is "mean as well as dishonest" (35) and quickly tells Tom that she is not really related to the family and is there by mistake. Relief from telling the truth is reinforced by Tom's understanding and continued friendship. She must behave like a hero - brave, strong, honest, cunning, thinking, and just - and help her fellow trainee-hero, Tom. The message of the hero-identity is reinforced in many linguistic modes; together and to each other, Polly and Tom verbally tell the story, write the story, read the story, and act out the story in its various episodes. These reinforcements of her new identity allow Polly to become a hero outside their constructed narrative.

Children learn about and replicate their roles in society through the stories they are told, and thus it is important to provide children with models worthy of emulation. In Fire and Hemlock, Polly absorbs the characteristics of her hero-character in the narrative. The importance to children of building their own narratives has also been noticed by Bronwyn Davies in Shards of Glass, where she argues that "Each child must locate and take up as their own, narratives of themselves that knit together the details of their existence" (17). Like the children in Davies's study, Polly and Tom create a story in which they are the protagonists. Because her fictional hero-self is assertive and brave, these traits begin to seep into Polly's real-life personality as she uses her voice, imagination, and intellect to create the narrative.

Jones's own extensive reading allows her to create a complex female hero based on literary tradition. In "The Heroic Ideal," she discusses her history of varied reading. Though an avid reader, she lived in a home in which "there were almost no books in the house except learned ones, or books [. . .] used for teaching." By age ten, Jones had read almost nothing that would be considered appropriate for young children, yet she had read "innumerable collections of Greek myths" (129). The books Jones read influenced the creation of the female hero Polly, and she specifically learned from The Arabian Nights that "it was possible for a girl to be a hero" (129) . In Fire and Hemlock, Polly's storytelling is influenced by the books she reads. Polly's mother's mental instability and her parents' divorce represent her own "accident of birth, parentage, or person which sets [her] apart from the rest" as is typical for the hero of tradition ("Heroic" 131). In Polly's community, the divorce is enough to make her the object of pity. Another heroic attribute is a connection to the gods, often demonstrated by supernatural gifts or abilities. Through her heroic adventures, Polly discovers that "knowing things is [her] heroic gift" (232), along with her ability, through Tom's "gift" from Laurel, to make the episodes she and Tom imagine and narrate become real.

Polly's stories, the ones that she writes, are modeled after other texts, and so are Polly's actions in the story. The narrative is constructed with several layers of metafiction originating from Jones's acknowledged literary influences. Jones makes use of these as she writes about Polly, who in turn narrates a nascent tale which she then fortifies with extensive reading so that she is able to write more powerful stories. Jones uses the heroic ideal to shape her story, while also allowing the characters to use storytelling to become heroes themselves. Polly receives books on heroism from Tom, and as she becomes more widely read, her imagination develops and she becomes a better writer. Once the stories are written, Polly and Tom find themselves in real-life variations of the episodes, giving Polly the opportunity to practice being her hero-self.

Ironically, Polly's fear of Morton Leroy, Laurel's husband, who seems to know whenever Polly is in contact with Tom Lynn, is the catalyst for her identifying with her hero-self, even though she experiences great foreboding when he is present. For instance, when Polly has cleverly and secretly sent tickets to Tom Lynn to see her perform in a school production, Mr. Leroy appears nevertheless and warns her once again to stay away from Tom. In response, Polly defies Mr. Leroy and refuses to heed his warnings and threats. Polly hurries home to her grandmother's house, "expecting horrors to jump out at her at every corner [... but] not want[ing] Mr Leroy to know how terrified she was" (203). Polly refers to the narrative as a way of giving herself courage. For example, when she is afraid of alerting Morton Leroy to her actions, she chides herself, saying, "Was this the creature that once called itself an assistant hero?" (323). By referring to the hero -character self, Polly tries to recapture linguistically the identity she originally created for herself with language. With the culmination of the narrative, Polly has attained agency and subjectivity. At the crisis, she is able to use her intellect, her voice, and her actions to save Tom.

Before the Narrative

To discuss Polly and Tom's narrative in depth, it is necessary to begin at the point when Polly first becomes aware that she has forgotten the past. Polly begins thinking about an odd extra set of memories while she is reading a book she is sure she has read before. The stories are all familiar, but she suspects there were other, different stories in the book in the past. Her memories are also like this: familiar but somehow wrong, she realizes. To reconstruct those memories, Polly talks to herself as if she is telling a story: "It's no good. I'll have to go back to the time before it all started, or didn't start, and get in from that end" (14). Once she does so, the original memories immediately start to return. Polly discovers that when she was young, she had already partially achieved the adventure and agency she longs for as a young adult. When she was a child, she manifested her voice for the first time by creating the hero* narrative, and now she is unconsciously repeating the same act. Polly must begin at the beginning of her own narrative in order to logically and coherently reach the conclusion of her story and the answers she seeks. The stories Polly tells herself foster an understanding of what happened in the past, what she must do to correct that past, and how to proceed.

Because Polly has difficulty negotiating her memories, she begins before the memories split, that is, when she first met Tom Lynn. This strategy precipitates a flashback to her childhood as she recalls first her friend Nina, then her favorite book Heroes, and finally the funeral she inadvertently attended. Jones uses the flashback device as a means for Polly to recover the lost memories. Whne the flashback is itself a memory being retold, the narrative within that flashback functions as metafiction, because it represents Polly telling herself a story within the story. This interior narrative includes the game of "being things" that she and her friend Nina were already playing before she met Tom, and also the "hero play" that Tom and Polly create. Once Polly begins telling herself the story of those memories, she recovers pieces of her identity. Polly's subjectivity, agency, and voice develop through Jones's metafiction, and thus Jones demonstrates to the young reader how she can create her own story. As the creator of one's own narrative, one is not bound by the limits set by one's community and can, like Polly, play all the appealing roles.

The flashback to Polly's childhood shows Polly as a timid young girl. It begins with her desire to be just like her friend Nina, who is confident and boisterous. Polly lacks agency at the beginning of the flashback, basing her actions on what others like Nina want or demand from her, and thus not making her own story, but following the stories of others. She remembers that she "could not seem to break out of her prim, timid self in those days, and be properly adventurous, without Nina's threats to galvanize her" (19). Only when she begins her own hero -narrative will Polly find her voice and subjectivity.

Remembering that day on which she met Tom, Polly describes herself just before the meeting as being in a dream-like state. Because of her passive state, Polly is not grounded in her identity; therefore, nothing around her is grounded either. And, as in a dream, everything falls into place and happens of its own volition when Polly and Nina are romping through neighbors' gardens, "quite unable to stop or go back" (20). Believing she sees Nina entering Hunsdon House, Polly follows. Once she is in the house, Polly is served a drink and told to go through to the lounge, where other people come and go as if in a dream. Young Polly comes out of this dream-like state when she finally realizes where she is and what is happening around her, though she is still unable to control it, making her panic. She is trapped in the lounge as the will of the deceased woman is read, until Tom invites her to leave. It is only by accepting his invitation that she can escape. This episode highlights Polly's initial powerlessness. What the narrative will do, once it begins, is give Polly a power she has never had before: self-determination.

New Hero

Once Polly is rescued from the reading of the will, she and Tom walk in the gardens of Hunsdon House. Since Polly is afraid of being found out as a trespasser, she flirts with Tom to distract him from realizing that she should not be there. Polly's reliance on this feminine ploy demonstrates her need to manipulate the situation in a conventionally feminine way rather than to use her mind to extract herself. Once the hero -narrative is started, Polly ceases to flirt, and instead she tells Tom that she is there by mistake. Rather than become angry about Polly's trespass, Tom invites Polly back into Hunsdon House, thus reassuring her that she can trust him when she confides in him.

As Polly, initially shy and passive, begins the hero -narrative with Tom at the funeral, she starts to rely on her own voice and imagination for the first time, without having to be goaded into storytelling as before. Though Polly and Tom create a hero-fantasy, it does not have the dream-like quality of the initial part of the flashback. Polly pushes herself into narration, the effort of which is as important as the act of narration itself. Her voice becomes stronger as she takes a direct role in creating her identity, naming herself and determining her position as subject in the narrative. Even when Polly and Tom are upset with each other in front of Granny's house, Polly still demands with confidence a picture he had earlier promised to give her: '"You can give me my picture now' Polly said haughtily" (42). Her manner suggests that Polly is no longer the meek little girl in a dream-like world she was earlier that day. She is in a solid world with nascent agency that she is eager to explore and develop. Beginning the hero -narrative and voicing it gives Polly self-determination and control for the first time in her life, creating the new confidence she now boldly displays.

Because of her investment in the narrative and the characteristics she assigns herself in the stories, Polly chooses to uphold the hero code in real life. In the adventures she and Tom imagine, Hero is brave, strong, honest, cunning, resourceful, and just. The hero -narrative gives Polly a code by which to conduct herself, and many of her actions are directed by this coded narrative. As part of her training, she begins playing soccer with the boys in her school, and Mira Anderton, the school bully, jeers her from the sidelines and thus challenges her heroic position. Polly thinks she should beat Mira up to settle their positions, but decides to wait until Mira does something cowardly, as bullies do. Polly's chance comes when Mira abuses a smaller child. Polly defends the child but also takes this opportunity to show Mira that she will not be bullied by her, thus establishing her own position. The story shapes Polly's identity, because she behaves honorably, even in dealing with someone who is unjust.

Polly's confidence is also boosted by the narrative, so that when Tom asks what to say to reporters who will want details of their heroic feats once they are accomplished, Polly assures Tom that she can handle the reporters. Polly's voice is quickly developing along with the narrative, as demonstrated by her eagerness to retell the stories to these reporters as soon as they occur. Thus, she invents, communicates, and reinforces her new, heroic identity through language. Polly's voice even becomes the stronger and more potent of the two. For example, when Polly and Tom invent an ironmonger's shop in Stow-on-the-Water, the proprietor is Thomas Piper who lives with a woman called Edna and her son Leslie. Polly suggests that Edna is Thomas's wife, though Tom disagrees. Because these narratives come true, Polly and Tom later really encounter Thomas, Edna, and Leslie at a hardware store in Stow* on-the-Water. Here, they are initially told that Thomas Piper is Leslie's uncle and Edna's brother; only later do they discover that Edna is secretly, in fact, Thomas's wife, as Polly declared. At this moment, Polly's voice, though just developing when they invent the episode of Thomas Piper, is stronger and more influential than Tom's because it is her version of this element in the story that is ultimately true.

There is a time, at age thirteen, when Polly briefly loses her hero-self. That is when Polly's paranoid mother Ivy mistakenly believes that Polly is manipulating David Bragg, Ivy's lodger and her love interest. Ivy convinces herself that David is the mysterious man sending Polly books from all over England. Polly and David attempt to convince Ivy she is mistaken, but Ivy will not listen, deciding that the only way she can achieve happiness with David is for Polly to go to her father, who has been suggesting that Polly come and live in Bristol with him and his girlfriend Joanna. Polly reluctantly goes, only to find on arrival that her father has not told Joanna that Polly will now be living there. In fact, he puts off telling Joanna until Joanna finally asks Polly when she will be returning to her mother. Rather than embarrass her father and cause trouble, Polly says she is leaving the next day. As her father and Joanna drive away, Polly is left on the sidewalk with no food, no money, no return ticket, and nowhere to go. Because Polly had no control over either her move to Bristol or the situation once she got there, the move fails. But a hero knows to call for help when in need "Heroic" 131), and that is what Polly does. After wandering the city for hours, Polly unexpectedly finds Tom Lynn's car and then the place where he is practicing with the Dumas Quartet. Once Polly asks them for help, she can resolve her difficulties. Tom and his friends pool money for a return train ticket to Middleton for Polly; they also share their food with her. Tom then contacts Polly's grandmother and sends Polly to her. Polly never again lives with either her mother or her father, who have both hindered the development of her narrative-self. Granny subsequently reveals her own style of heroism when she "sailed out, like a small upright army of one, to do battle with offices and banks and solicitors" so that Polly can legally live with her (253). Though Granny failed as both the original Janet of the family1 and as Reg's mother, she repeatedly rescues Polly.

With the creation of her own story, Polly also gains control of the narrarive by developing her sense of discretion. Polly chooses not to tell Nina of the narrative she and Tom are creating, though Nina is desperate to know.2 In her attempt to learn what Polly is up to, Nina yet again threatens Polly with loss of friendship. Nina's threat is unheeded, however, because Polly is now, in real life, as confident as she is in the hero -narrative. Once the narrative begins and Polly's identity is shaped by it, Nina's threats never again work on Polly. Displaying her new-found confidence, Polly turns the tables on Nina and threatens her with lost friendship. While she is not really serious in her threat, she is experimenting with her new power.

Though Polly creates her own narrative in the novel, she is by no means competent in the beginning, nor does she move in a steady progression from incompetence to competence. For example, at the funeral, Polly initially finds storytelling difficult because she is not being bullied into creativity by Nina, though once she begins, she is comfortable. Later, Polly's narrative becomes derivative and overly dependent on her prolific reading, as demonstrated when she models one story of their narrative after Tolkien; but Tom will not let her do this. He understands that she must create her own story, telling Polly, "You stole that from Tolkien. Use your own ideas" (185). The books he sends her and those that she reads on her own are the basis for the structure of the hero epic that Polly must live but not a model that can be slavishly followed. Jones's own work demonstrates this concept, because while she incorporates what she has learned about heroes and narrative from the Odyssey among others, she creates her own story, which is completely original. Charles Butler reports that Jones herself learned much about narrative structure from Tolkien as a student attending his lectures at Oxford, when she "persevered as Tolkien mumbled reluctantly for several weeks about plot construction" (Four 22). Nevertheless, having read The Lord of the Rings some fifteen years later, she "never felt [she] wanted to do anything similar" (Butler, "Interview" 171). Although Polly has worked hard at the story and is angry and hurt by Tom's rejection, she ultimately realizes Tom is right and sets about creating another story that is her own.

The Lost Years

Like many female protagonists, such as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, Polly loses her narrative, though only for a while. Four years before she began to remember, Polly was lied to by Laurel and manipulated into forgetting Tom. Polly doubted herself and believed Laurel when she was told that Tom had cancer and only four years to live, and that he was embarrassed by Polly's attention. In an effort to end the torment Laurel was inflicting upon her, Polly gave in to Laurel and agreed to forget. Once she realizes she has been manipulated, Polly chastises herself for "not having the sense to remember something Tom has said himself: that being a hero means ignoring how silly you feel" (348-49). When considering the time period after Polly agreed to forget Tom, she thinks those "four years [...] had been formless and humdrum years. Polly had done things, true, but it had all been without shape, as if she had been filleted away from her own motives and the things which gave her shape" (319). Trying to find her place in the past, Polly recalls the vases in the garden of Hunsdon House. Tom had spun these vases. When they stopped, on one vase Polly could see the word "no" and on the other the word "where," forming the word "nowhere." Tom spun the vases again, and they formed the words "here" and "now," and then "now" and "here." Polly understood these vases as a heroic sign that heroes could at the same time be "here now," "now here," and "nowhere" (33-34). Polly later realizes that the two constituent words represent "the two sides to Nowhere [...]. One really was a dead end. The other was the void that lay before you when you were making up some' thing new out of ideas no one else had quite had before" (377).

"Here Now" is the drab mundane world in which Polly subsists during the four years she has forgotten Tom. Polly's life in the Here Now begins when she agrees to forget Tom and continues until she actively begins to understand what happened in her past. The notion of the monotonous Here Now is fitting for how Polly feels and where she is existentially: she has lost everything that was invigorating in her life. With the loss of the narrative, Polly has also lost her agency, voice, and autonomy. When she begins to remember, Polly is no longer satisfied with her life. Polly dreads returning to Oxford to continue her studies though she is eager to share a flat with her long-time friend Fiona. Polly is engaged to Laurel's stepson Seb, but is dissatisfied with this relationship as well. She has slipped back into her prim, timid self and, just as before she met Tom and began the narrative, cannot be properly adventurous. Polly is restless in her studies and does not know what she wants. As she places the book she is sure she read before beside her open and spine upwards on the bed, she thinks about Granny scolding her for treating books this way but then questions whether it really is Granny who dislikes the habit. This act, which leads to the confusing half'inemory and the realization of her general disappointment with her life, initiates Polly's search for her self.

As Polly tries to work out what has happened so that she can fulfill her quest, it is her grandmother who encourages her to continue. Granny has also forgotten Tom but does not dismiss Polly's search for answers, and she "take [s] on the role of Fate and Wisdom quite overtly, shearing fish and explaining the riddle of the ballad of Tarn Lin" "Heroic" 137), thus playing a key role in helping Polly defeat Laurel. Granny asks the important question of what set Polly off, and the answer is a book, suggesting that metafiction is not only what is written in texts, but also what is read. Jones once again uses metafiction to demonstrate Polly's growth towards a heroic identity: all of the books Polly read and the stories she wrote and told throughout the years have contributed to her identity. Thus, Polly pushes further toward resuming and completing the narrative that allows her to be the hero.

Rereading, Retelling, and Recovering the Narrative

Remembering the narrative is a kind of awakening for Polly. She realizes that she is not who she wanted to be; her behavior is falling short of the heroic identity she created for herself. Significantly, and unlike many heroines, Polly's agency is not re 'established because she is awakened by a man. Rather than wait for some "Prince Charming" to rescue her or wake her with a kiss, Polly draws on her own intellect and linguistic prowess to wake herself, as it were. When she remembers her story, she recalls what it was like to be heroic and adventurous, rather than needing approval from others.

At the crisis of Fire and Hemlock, Polly saves Tom by letting him go and finishing their story. She understands that full agency occurs when she is inde' pendent and when Tom does not depend on her either. What saves Tom is her not helping him but rather recognizing his independence, learned through the story they created and - ironically - from the books Tom sent her. Upon saving Tom, her narrative, the "hero play," and "being things" game are all complete. At this point, Polly is fully grown. She has a sense of self-definition because she is a thinking hero and has deciphered Laurel's rules. She now understands that she has to make "the only redress she could [...] the reverse of possessiveness - complete generosity - generosity so complete that it amounts to rejection" "Heroic" 140).

At the conclusion of Fire and Hemlock, Polly is not the shy girl she was at the beginning of the novel, nor is she in the dormant state that many female protagonists fall into. Polly has full control of her self. She has voice, agency, and subjectivity. She is active, rather than passive. Polly has made these gains by incorporating all of the heroes she has encountered in her reading and the heroic roles she has created for herself. Polly is now playing her best role, the one she created: her self.


1. Polly's grandmother was also a Janet two generations before Polly but did not know how to "hold on" and so lost Polly's grandfather to Laurel when she was pregnant with Reg.

2. I am indebted to Roberta Seelinger Trites at this stage of my analysis. Trites argues in chapter 8 of Waking Sleeping Beauty that the female protagonist "can control to whom she tells that narrative" (130).

Works Cited

Butler, Charles. Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children's Fantasies of Penelope Uvely, Alan Gamer, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper. Lanham: Scarecrow: 2006. Print.

_____ ."Interview with Diana Wynne Jones." Rosenberg et al. 163-72.

Davies, Bronwyn. Shards of Glass: Children Reading and Writing beyond Gendered Identities. Cresskill: Hampton, 1993. Print.

Hixon, Martha P. "The Importance of Being Nowhere: Narrative Dimensions and Their Interplay in Fire and Hemlock." Rosenberg et al. 96-107.

Jones, Diana Wynne. Fire and Hemlock. 1985. London: Harper, 2000. Print.

_____ . "The Heroic Ideal - A Personal Odyssey." The Lion and the Unicorn 13.1 (1989): 129-40. Print.

Paul, Lissa. "Enigma Variations: What Feminist Theory Knows about Children's Literature." Children's Literature: The Development of Criticism. Ed. Peter Hunt. London: Routledge, 1991. 148-65. Print.

Rosenberg, Teya, Martha P. Hixon, Sharon M. Scapple, and Donna R. White, eds. Diana Wynne Jones: An Exciting and Exacting Wisdom. New York: Peter Lang, 2002. Print. Studies in Children's Lit. 1.

Trites, Roberta Seelinger. Waking Sleeping Beauty: Feminist Voices in Children's Novels. Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 1997. Print.

Author affiliation:

RENÉ FLEISCHBEIN is a PhD candidate at the University of Southern Mississippi. In addition to children's and young adult literature, she also studies British literature from the Restoration to World War I.

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