This summer I read almost exclusively speculative fiction. Partly that was because it’s my home genre, and so I have a lot more of it than I have anything else, and partly it was because I was in the middle of moving and most of my books were already packed. Anyway, although it was a lovely summer of reading, come September when I started unpacking books again, I was ready for a change from spec fic.
One of the first books I found while unpacking was The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I had never read it before, though I’m pretty sure I was right in the target demographic when it came out. I presume that’s how I own a copy now; I was probably given it as a gift years ago, but never got around to it.
I thought, hey, perfect–a light read (I was sick, and moving, and limping from a shelf-dropped-on-toe incident) and it will bust me out of my spec fic rut/comfort zone. I started reading.
The opening epigraph:
“Not all who wander are lost. – J.R.R. Tolkien”
Haha, can’t escape it! But that quote actually primes you for a bit of intertextual reference that took me quite by surprise.
The opening paragraph:
“Once upon a time there were a pair of pants. They were an essential kind of pants–jeans, naturally, blue but not that stiff, new blue that you see so often on the first day of school. They were a soft, changeable blue with a little extra fading at the knees and the seat and white wavelets at the cuffs.”
Is it just me, or is that awfully reminiscent of…
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
“It had a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats–the hobbit was fond of visitors.”
I find that cleverly done–all the elements from the Hobbit’s opening are there, condensed; the precise description, the definition by negatives, the sense of comfort emphasized, the possibility for magic suggested. For those who’ve read the Hobbit, I think it brings an element of the Hobbit’s tone–the first big adventure, finding one’s self, having to leave or grow up from the comfort and safety of a sheltered world–to the very start of the Sisterhood. And after all, those are the big YA themes.
Okay, I guess I’m done geeking out over intertextuality for now. I hope I’m not the only one who loves intertextuality this much…