Tue
Sep 28 2010 3:06pm

The Suck Fairy

I believe I’ve mentioned the Suck Fairy a few times here but without ever discussing her in depth. I first heard of her in a panel on re-reading at Anticipation, when Naomi Libicki explained her to the rest of us. Naomi has since said she heard of her from her friend Camwyn. Wherever she came from she’s a very useful concept. This post is directly related to that panel, and also one at Boskone this year.

The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, it’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the suckiness the first time—or you can say that the Suck Fairy has been through while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck. The longer the book has been on the shelf unread, the more time she’s had to get into it. The advantage of this is exactly the same as the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of the later betrayals.

Of course, there isn’t really a Suck Fairy (also, that isn’t really a zombie) but it’s a useful way of remembering what’s good while not dismissing the newly visible bad. Without the Suck Fairy, it’s all too easy for the present suck to wipe out the good memories. And it’s much better than doing the whole “hate myself for loving you” thing and beating yourself up. The name is genius, because it’s always helpful when something isn’t real but is a useful model to have names that make this clear. Nobody really believes in an actual literal Suck Fairy, but that doesn’t stop her being very handy to know. She’s wonderful shorthand for a whole complicated process.

In her simplest form, the Suck Fairy is just pure suckitude. You read a book you used to love, and—something’s happened to it! The prose is terrible, the characters are thin, the plot is ridiculous. Worst of all, that wonderful bit you always remembered, the bit where they swim into the captured city under the water gate at dawn, and when they come out of the water in the first light and stand dripping on the quay, it all smells different because the enemy’s campfires are cooking their different food—it turns out to be half a line. “Next morning we went in by the water gate.” This most typically happens with re-reading children’s books. It’s like the moral opposite of skimming, where you’ve dreamed in extra details the book never mentioned. The thin thing you’re re-reading can’t possibly be what you remember, because what you remember mostly happened in your head. The Suck Fairy has sucked all the juice out of it.

Suck Fairies travel in battalions. Her biggest siblings are the Racism Fairy, the Sexism Fairy, and the Homophobia Fairy. Here, the thing you have to ask yourself is “How could I have missed that!” and the real answer is you were younger, more naive, less conscious of issues that now loom larger. It’s sometimes the “it was 1961” defence—very few people were thinking about these issues, and they went right over your head, too. These are ones that frequently attack my shelves. Sometimes I can justify them with “the author was ahead of their own time on this issue, if behind ours.” Heinlein gets far more hassle for his female characters than Clarke or Asimov, because Heinlein was actually thinking about women and having female characters widely visible. Other times, not so much—I just have to shudder and move on.

Then there’s the Message Fairy. The lovely story you remember as being a bit like the Phantom Tollbooth has been replaced by a heavy-handed Christian allegory! Again, this most often happens with children’s books or books read when you were a kid. Kids are really good at ignoring the heavy-handed message and getting with the fun parts. It’s good they are, because adults have devoted a lot of effort writing them messages thinly disguised as stories and clubbing children over the head with them. I read a lot of older children’s books when I was a kid, and you wouldn’t believe how many sugar-coated tracts I sucked the sugar off and cheerfully ran off, spitting out the message undigested. (Despite going to church several times every Sunday for my whole childhood, I never figured out that Aslan was Jesus until told later.) The Message Fairy also attacked some YA books to insert messages telling teenagers not to do drugs and/or sex. Political messages also abound.

Closely related to the Message Fairy is the Trope Fairy. This isn’t a case where the author’s trying to disguise a message that you should love God, or the Free Market. It’s more a case of buying into a message that there’s One Person for Everyone, or Love Always Has Three Corners, or People Who Have Sex Die, or Torture Gets Results. These things are very common in narrative, and it’s possible to read past them lots of times, and then when you do become aware of them, they’re everywhere and make you want to scream. Once you’ve noticed The Black Guy Always Dies you can’t but groan when it happens.

I find it very hard to re-read books once I’ve found the Suck Fairies have been at them. If I don’t pick up the book I can try to keep the memory of the good times, but re-reading brings me face to face with the Suck Fairy.

Photo by Flickr user cindiann used under Creative Commons license


Jo Walton is a science fiction and fantasy writer. She’s published eight novels, most recently Half a Crown and Lifelode, and two poetry collections. She reads a lot, and blogs about it here regularly. She comes from Wales but lives in Montreal where the food and books are more varied.

78 comments
Nina Lourie
1. supertailz
This happened to me with Little Women! My mother read it to me as a small child and we both loved it so hard. But then I reread it last year and hated it with a burning passion. The Suck Fairy added extra suckiness and hung out in it with the Misogynistic Bastard Fairy!

The girls were all like "la! I'm going to be awesome and talented and genius!" and I was like YAY. And then they were all "if I can't be the most talented I don't want to do it ever again and anyway getting married and having babies is WAY MORE AWESOME" and I was like "SUCK FAIRY WHAT?"

...Only I didn't know the name for it at the time. Thank you for sorta, almost salvaging a childhood favourite.
Lannis .
2. Lannis
Oh, so true on so, so many levels. Thanks Jo! It's handy to have a name to blame for the abuse...

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were attacked on my shelves. Another "read it as a teen" story... somehow the Suck Fairy snuck in and romped with the Creepy Sexual Context fairy. Ew. :|
kaeldra
3. kaeldra
Yes, this is exactly why I avoid rereading books! The Wrinkle in Time series = very religious (at least to this atheist's perspective). Harry Potter = bad writing, nooooo! And though I still liked them, I didn't love 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 the second time round :(
Stacey H. H.
5. geekgirl1970
Thank you thank you THANK YOU! I now know how to describe this phenomena. THIS is why I finally quit re-reading childhood favorites.
Colleen Palmer
6. arianrose
But .... but....

Does this mean you never reread at all? *mind boggles* I agree that the Suck Fairy can be a problem, but I'm willing to chance an enounter if that means I also may chance to meet the Way More Awesome Fairy and the Missed the Message Fairy and the Experience Makes This Better Fairy.

I would say I quite often find my well-loved books yield good fairies as often as bad. Those are the ones that have spines that barely (or don't at all) hold the pages in. (Though the paranormal romances from the 90's ... *shudder* The Suck Fairy had a fair party with those. The Sexism Fairy was probably her drinking buddy.)
David Levinson
7. DemetriosX
The Trope Fairy is a tricky one. Sometimes, she appears to have visited, but in actual fact, the book you're reading invented the trope. (This happens to Heinlein a lot.) Is it fair to blame an author for being copied by everyone who came after?

There is also an extremely rare counterpart to the Suck Fairy, the Anti-Suck Fairy. It's only happened once or twice, but I have encountered books that I was very disappointed in the first time I read them, and then found I quite liked them on a second reading. That's not a matter of growing up or being older either. It's happened to me with books I've read as an adult with a gap of only a few years.
Jo Walton
8. bluejo
Arianrose: I re-read all the time. But these days I don't decide whether I really like a book until the first time I re-read. And sometimes I'm reluctant to re-read something I haven't read for a long time in case the Suck Fairy's been at it -- and then sometimes I'm surprised and delighted to find she hasn't.
Walter Underwood
9. wunder
I worked out a related theory when I was reading one book a day in 8th grade (I was a library aide at lunch). I'd classified books by how many times they were a good read: once, twice, or many. Some books had nothing new on the second read, a few had more stuff on the second, but were played out on the third read. But if I could read a book three times, there wasn't an obvious limit.

I think Gentle Ben was a "twice" book.

Some tropes don't exist for you until you've seen them too many times. My son loved the Artemis Fowl books, but reading them aloud to him was painful because they are so stereotyped.

Hmm, I should add a "zero" category.
kaeldra
10. Dave Fried
Also, sometimes the suck fairy visits the author's house instead of yours.

Like when you really love a book but it turns out to be the first in a long-running series. And the first few are great, but by book four (or nine or twenty-five) s/he's just recycling the same tired tripe, or has gone completely off the rails, or you just can't overlook the obvious problems with the writing anymore. And you can' t go back and re-read the books you liked, because you know how everything ends (badly) and the author's once-charming writing style is just annoying now.

*sigh*
Matt Wolfe
11. formflow1
What? Aslan was Jesus! You could have at least included a SPOILER ALERT warning. Thanks a lot. I guess now I can move on and get to my next re-read, The Golden Compass.
rob mcCathy
12. roblewmac
1. the suck fairy and the anti-suck fairy both vist comics you loved when you were a kid a lot. I liked Tomb of dracula ok at age 10...NOW I LOVE IT!
2. I loved Howard the duck as a kid can't read them now.
3 can't speak about FFORDE or Harry potter as old favrotes but I liked fforde all right and never liked Harry much at all. The writting was ok but at least for me there was nothing apealling in the universe.
4. all the talk of re-reading makes me wonder what i'd think of Midnight at the well of Souls now.
kaeldra
13. rxa
Is there a name for the opposite effect? Where decades later you re-read something you remember as a bit of fluffy fun candy-reading as a child to discover depths you never appreciated?
kaeldra
14. Brentus
The Message-First, Story Second Fairy is no fun for anyone not looking for a lecture. In its absence the Disagreeing With The Message Fairy may bring the Suck Fairy for a reader, depending on the reader's personal tolerance level for that opposing viewpoint.
Jason Henninger
15. jasonhenninger
@13
I was just thinking the same thing. I can think of several books that I liked much better upon re-reading.
T C
16. Freelancer
It is true that Heinlein invented many tropes, mostly including let's write one half of a terrific novel, then flush the second half down a drain of disturbed filth. That's not heavy-handed, but Narnia is? ::eyeroll::
Tudza White
17. tudzax1
So do you ever deal with this "fairy" or just stick a name on it and move on.
kaeldra
18. RobinM
Oh good,I have a name for this phenomenon now but don't forget the Message Farie's evil cousin the White Man's Burden Fairy. He appears when you re-read stuff like Tarzan of some of Kipling. Thank goodness it went straight over my head at 11 or so.
Rob Munnelly
19. RobMRobM
I re-read Wrinkle in Time with my son this year and was surprised to see how Christian it was - not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Just surprised me.

Also get the Over-Sex Minded Teenager fairy re-reading much of the oeuvre of Piers Anthony. A Spell for Chameleon is actually really well done story but the leering over the bubbleheaded, incredibly hot girl at that stage of the story is a painful, sucky distraction.

A contra-suck example is the Prydain Chronicles, which is just as amazing on re-read as it was back in the third grade when I first encountered them.
Jo Walton
20. bluejo
Tudzax1: It's very hard to "deal with". The book's there, it's what it is, you can't rip the suck out of it. You can try to grit your teeth and say "it was 1935". You can write something in response -- I have done that. I'd say there's a part of Farthing that comes directly in response to discovering the Anti-Semitism Fairy at work in Josephine Tey and Dorothy Sayers, and the same with Tooth and Claw and the Sexism Fairy in Trollope. But apart from trying to avoid them myself -- and I say trying, not succeeding -- there isn't much it's possible to do beyond naming and moving on.
Sanctume Spiritstone
21. Sanctume
Steven Erickson's Malazan Book of the Fallen series definitely becomes better after re-reads.
Joshua Starr
22. JStarr
I saw the signs of the Suck Fairy's wand two sentences into the first Hardy Boys book I peeked at recently, after having read them all back in first grade or so.

So here's the question: once you realize the Suck Fairy's been at a book or series, do you avoid recommending that book to younger readers (of the age you were when you loved it) of your acquaintance?
kaeldra
23. daelin82
The Suck Fairy often heads on over to the music aisle when she is feeling a bit bored, especially hitting the 80's hair metal.
Steve Downey
24. sdowney
JStarr @ 22
I avoid it depending on why the suck has arrived. For example, the overbearing 'Message' in Narnia is still fairly invisible to kids. That it breaks genre convention, less so. And it of course doesn't get a break because it was written before the conventions got established. All books written in the past were written at around the same time.

For similar reasons, I've nearly given up on showing my kids Marx Brothers movies, and other early works. They are just too broken from a modern standpoint, w.r.t cinemetography, pacing, etc, (and the inexplicable musical number), for them to get past it.
Evan Leatherwood
25. ELeatherwood
JStar @ 22

"When was the golden age of science fiction?"
"Thirteen."

Recommend away, I'd say. It's the closest thing to undoing the Suck Fairy's magic.
Ursula L
27. Ursula
So here's the question: once you realize the Suck Fairy's been at a book or series, do you avoid recommending that book to younger readers (of the age you were when you loved it) of your acquaintance?

For me, it really depends on the nature of the suck.  I loved the Little House books when I was young, but I wouldn't give them to a child now.  It just seems wrong to give a child a book where Ma is saying that there is no good Indian but a dead Indian, or Pa gets dressed up in blackface to do a minstrel show, or the devastating removal of Native populations is treated as natural and good.  

They're books that are of their time, but they're books that need to be presented to children critically, so that the dangerous and damaging ideas they contain don't get planted and left to grow.  It probably takes an older child or teenager to be able to digest these books safely.  

On the other hand, while I find the Narnia books a bit annoying now with the heavy-handed religious message, I'd be more willing to read them with a child, enjoying the fantasy but pointing out and doing what I can to neutralize some of the sexism and racism.  It's not as heavy as in the Little House books, and the fantasy context makes it more removed from influencing real-life issues. 

On the other hand, a book that I liked as a child but find light or dull now, but without problematic ideas, I'd happily recommend to a child of the age/reading level I was at when I enjoyed it.  I've simply moved on with my reading, and outgrew the book, but that's not a problem for a child whom it fits now.  Hand-me-down stories, like hand-me-down clothes, are often better than taking your chances on something new from the store, as you know the garment has already stood up to one child's wear, and is made to last. 
Walker White
28. Walker
I first discovered the Suck Fairy with Eddings. Loved that series when I was a young teenager. I tried rereading them in college. I got half way through Pawn of Prophecy before throwing it down in disgust. I decided to hold on to the good memories I had, rather than destroying them with a reread.
Walker White
29. Walker
@19 Also get the Over-Sex Minded Teenager fairy re-reading much of the oeuvre of Piers Anthony

Piers has always been a dirty-minded man. Chthon and Phthor predate his Xanth books. And then there is all of the explicit sex in the Adept books.
kaeldra
30. TrishB2
I came face to face with the Suck Fairy of sexism last Christmas Eve. My parents gave me a Kindle, so I went in search of something to download to test it out. There'd been much wine involved over the course of the evening and I'd been out of the SFF loop for a while, so looked for something older, maybe something from my childhood. I ended up with McCaffrey's Dragonflight. It was amazing to me the casual sexism that I managed not to process at the age of 12.
kaeldra
31. RfP
@22:
Once I notice the Suck, my recommendation depends on whether it's haterrific or simply heavy-handed. If it's an Allegorical Message Fairy or a small Bygone Era's Attitudes Fairy, as @24 said, I think kids can tune many of those out. But if there's a Misogyny or Racism Fairy involved, I can't recommend the book. E.g. Anne McCaffrey's Misogyny Fairy so thoroughly Sucked the books (and finally explained why some of them upset me as a teen) that I can't imagine recommending them now.
kaeldra
32. PhoenixFalls
@30: Anne McCaffrey's Pern books were the first I noticed the suck fairy had visited too. And shortly after discovering the suck fairy had been in my McCaffrey stacks I discovered she'd -- wait, no, bad assumption -- it'd been in my Piers Anthony too. Luckily it skipped over my Darkover novels. . . but ever since then I've been terrified of dipping into the SFF I loved as a preteen. (And it's still been half a decade since I checked those MZBs. . .)
Michael Burke
33. Ludon
In general, I'd say it would be okay to let your kids read the suck-fairy affected (for you) books because as with you, they may not notice those things. This can apply to other media as well. For example - Tiny Toons and Animaniacs were loved by kids when they first ran. They were also loved by adults then but for different reasons. They were designed to appeal to both young and old but in different ways and it wouldn't surprise me if five or ten years from now those former kids look back on those series and say "That sucks! I can't believe I liked that when I was a kid."

Some of the books I've seen mentioned here could have appealed to both young and adult readers - again, for different reasons - when they were first written. If those books didn't exist back then and were to be published today - exactly as we know them to have been written - how many of them wouldn't stand a chance in today's market? Would Adventures of Huckleberry Finn survive a first publication today? Could the original Bad News Bears have been made and released today with all the same content? Yet, kids can still discover Huck Finn or the Bears today and react to the kid-level part of the storytelling. On the other hand, they may pick up on some of those things and not like the story. Well, then there is always the next story for them to try.

Also. my example of something seeming better when I came back to it later. Death of a Salesman. I hated that story! I hated it from the time I read it in school - the old fashioned way. One kid in class reads so many lines then the next one picks up then the next and so on and everyone else silently reading along. Skip ahead to my working as a projectionist at Webster College and projecting the Halmark production of Death of a Salesman starring Dustin Hofman. I loved that story! I've loved that story since then.
kaeldra
34. C Hirst
What would you call the reverse effect especially with cinema adaptations of books. When the Jane Austen couple kiss - IN PUBLIC! - or a medieval romance with '20s dialogue and hairstyles.
With a book, if you can (temporarily) set your mind to the time or universe of the story, most of the problems go away.
Kate Nepveu
35. katenepveu
I have twelve hours of work to do in eight today, so just swooping through to say that here are a few sketchy notes from this year's Boskone panel.

And "Suck Fairy" has joined my list of talking-about-literature terms I didn't know I needed before I heard them and now can't do without (the rest: incluing (hi Jo!), Mary Sue, Id Vortex, fantasies of political agency, and competence porn. You could probably create an interesting and not-very-wrong view of my critical tendencies from that list, come to think of it.).
Sherwood Smith
36. Sartorias
It was so painful to finally find copies of the Enid Blyton Adventure books that I had loved passionately as a little kid, and discover that in the intervening decades the Suck Fairy and her fairy pals had played four quarters of football with the stories. They still sit on my shelves, just so I can look at them and remember the passion.
kaeldra
37. Madeleine E. Robins
I am well acquainted with the Suck Fairy and her underlings, but I think she has an overworked, under-appreciated older sister (for whom I have no name yet) who either protects certain books from the depredations of the Suck Fairy, or luminously underlines all the cool, interesting stuff that went over my head the first time. Whenever I say "every time I read this book I find more cool stuff in it," I think the Suck Fairy's older sister has been there.
Alex Brown
38. AlexBrown
Yeah, I don't really have the Suck Fairy problem, at least not when it comes to books, but I suffer through this all the time when it comes to music. How I decided that I hated Radiohead at 13 is completely mind-boggling to me, given that I have pretty much had OK Computer and Pablo Honey on repeat for the last year and a half.

For books, though, I tend to have the Deeper Experience Fairy stop by. I'll read something, more or less enjoy it, then re-read it years later and fall all over myself discovering layers I missed the first go-round. The Narnia books were like that for me. I caught the Christian message but it didn't even influence my opinion of the books until I re-read them a few years ago - and I was a devout Adventist when I first got hold of them. And even though I'm an atheist now I still love them.

I don't really mind the racism/sexism/homophobia (unless it's really out there, and in that case I would've been bothered by it during the original read) because I can accept that it is a victim of the cutlure/society/time it was written in. I mean, really, pretty much everything prior to the Feminist Movement (and beyond) is riddled with sexism (hello, every Austen heroine that marries below her station or has an affair ends up miserable and/or dead, but the ones that marry money are happy as clams, but Northanger Abbey is still one of my fave books).

But I honestly can't think of a single book that was ruined for me by the Suck Fairy. If I have a problem with a book it doesn't ease up over time. The things I didn't like about it when I was 10 are still there now, only I'm now more apt to getting pissed off about it (i.e.: The Little House on the Prarie...frakking hate those books).
Marissa Lingen
39. Mris
The lovely thing about the water gate aspect of the Suck Fairy problem if you happen to be a writer is that you can then go and write something with that bit yourself if you happen to have something it works in. Since it isn't actually where you thought it was, and you have all the pieces it needs and stuff.

All the astronomy in _Prince Caspian_, for example. It isn't actually there. It's only in my head. It's just lately I've been thinking I should write a thing it *is* in. Something where the kid actually *does* get to be playing with the giant telescope and the magic orrery that are apparently nowhere to be found in _Prince Caspian_ at all. (This is very sad. They were my favorite part.)
Cassandra Farrin
41. welovetea
Oh man, Anne McCaffery all the way. I loved her. Adored her. She made me into a fantasy novelist.

And then I reread her novels and realized just WHAT happens to the women when the queen dragon flies...and how it gets justified and how I was made as a reader to be annoyed that Lessa gave Flar such a hard time. And how often women are described as needing to be "beaten." Yeesh!
Glenda Wilson
42. glinda
Thank you; I needed that term.

(I honest-to-ghods didn't notice sexism in books until about 1975, so anything I read before I was 25 may, or may not, have been visited by the Sexism Fairy, and sometimes I really don't want to find out. Ditto the Tropes Fairy - though I can still re-read Doc Smith every decade or so. Ditto some Heinlein - my two favorites are The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Glory Road, and they both get revisited every few years.) (And I wish the Message Fairy wouldn't take up residence in sooooo many of Sheri S. Tepper's books - tried to re-read The Fresco last week, but nope, still too much Message vs. Story and Characterization going on.)
kaeldra
44. flibbertigibbet
Ah, Suck Fairy, why did you have to visit the Dark is Rising quintet by Susan Cooper? I loved those stories as a child - why did you have to insert so many instances of deus ex machina? What's with the dull plots and the unsatisfying ending?

I was an Eddings fanatic as a young teen, enough of one that I didn't realise/mind that he'd written the same trilogy FOUR times. As has been mentioned in this thread, the Suck Fairy has made hay with his oeuvre in the meantime. Sigh. The perils of growing old.
Bill Milligan
45. gt4431b
Fahrenheit 451 was one of my favorites as a kid. I read it until the cover fell off.

In tenth grade, we were forced to read 451. I simply couldn't finish it. Just as I hated every other book ever assigned in English class, Fahrenheit was obliterated by a stuck-up schoolmarm with sand in her nether regions.

It's been almost twenty years since tenth grade, but I still don't want to touch that book. I know it's irrational. But there it is.

Sometimes I wonder how many other books of "great literature" that constituted required reading would have been enjoyable had I come across them without school?

I take some of it back. My senior year of high school, I had a fantastic English teacher who made assigned reading come alive. Years after I graduated, he was fired for insubordination to the edunazi administration. Forty years worth of his alumni crammed the school board meeting and demanded his reinstatement, insisting that he was the finest teacher of any subject they'd ever had. Unsurprisingly, the school board threw up some cowardly legal excuses and declined.

The American school system is at the very least an elder child of the Suck Fairy.
kaeldra
46. C12VT
I recently read Little House on the Prairie, and while there has definitely been a visit from the Racism Fairy, I felt it doesn't deserve the degree of censure it gets from parents these days. Although Ma is very anti-Native American (and yes, it's pretty hard to get over the "only good indian is a dead indian" lines) Pa's attitude is much more tolerant. Also, the events of the book seem to disprove Ma's saying - some members of the local tribe had wanted to attack the white settlers, but one of their leaders (who had visited the Ingalls' house earlier in the book and was described fairly positively, albeit in a rather "noble savage" way) talked them out of it, probably saving the Ingalls' lives. Overall, the book mostly reads as an accurate portrayal of the attitudes of the time rather than something written from a racist perspective. Definitely something that needs contextualizing, but I think still a good read for kids.

I had a Suck Fairy experience with Wrinkle in Time, but it wasn't because of religion - rereading as an adult and a parent, I couldn't help but get really angry with the parents in the book. When I was a kid I just assumed that they were good parents because their kids seemed to like them and they seemed nice. But on re-reading, they came across as neglectful and unwilling to help/stick up for their kids, to the point of endangering them (especially the sick genius little brother).
kaeldra
47. dmg
David Dyer-Bennet
48. dd-b
You know, there might be a market opportunity here. Storage containers for specially beloved old books that will keep the suck fairy out!

I think maybe tin-foil dust jackets are the right approach.
David Dyer-Bennet
49. dd-b
Who picks the illustrations for these articles? I'm wondering what this one represents. Is that the suck fairy in person? (It's not Jo, I can tell that much.) And are those a group of books that have been caused to suck?
Alex Brown
50. AlexBrown
gt4431b @45: I stopped reading for classes after 2 experiences when I took Honors English at a public high school. First, I was assigned to read Crime and Punishment over Christmas break. Worst. Christmas. Ever. Second, I wrote a paper about The Scarlet Letter (which I've never enjoyed even remotely) about sexism, feminism, etc. and was told that I was wrong and stupid and that Hester was actually the antagonist and the pastor dude was the innocent victim and so on. I got an F. For having an opinion. And being a feminist. Did I mention my teacher was a woman?

dd-b @49: They better not be. I'll fight to the death anyone that dares slander H2G2.
kaeldra
51. frgough
This whole article can be summed up in one sentence: I grew up and became a close-minded sophist, and now anything that disagrees in the slightest with my enlightened world view sucks.
kaeldra
52. frgough
@c12vt,

Your problem with Little House on the Prairie is that it's an historical account of things that really happened and it doesn't jibe with the propaganda you've been fed about how wonderful and utopian Native Americans were. So, as a defense mechanism, you attack the author instead of facing up to the fact you've been lied to your whole life.
kaeldra
53. Antaeus Feldspar
This whole article can be incorrectly summed up in one sentence

Fixed that for you, frgough.
Alex Brown
54. AlexBrown
frgough@ 51-52: I don't think anyone is suffering under the delusion that Native Americans lived perfectly peaceful lives until the evil White Man showed up...

And it doesn't make me a close-minded sophist to be bothered by the casual manner in which people talked about killing off an entire people. I can understand that it was the time, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. As adults it's harder to look past stuff like that, and as kids most didn't really know anything about it, we didn't have the context to be able to properly get bothered about it. It doesn't detract from the book, just changes the way we think about it.

Also, it's not really about becoming close-minded, just changing opinions as you grow and mature and learn to take things in different contexts. It's about seeing things in a new light. No one is attacking the authors, we're just commenting on how we interpreted what they wrote when we were children versus how we interpret their works now as adults. That's very different from launching an attack on the author.
kaeldra
55. Padme of Hidden Lake
Wow - I never saw religion in Wrinkle in Time (with the exception of Many Waters which was rather obvious) but I did discover a lot of real science in it that I hadn't noticed the first time. I picked it up the weekend before my AP Physics exam and after rereading it for the first time since I had been in elementary school I finally understood what the heck Enstein and Hawking have been talking about. As far as travel by bending the time/space continuum and actually used the book as part of my explanation on my AP Exam. (I got a 5 on that one - top score and it is scored on a curve when I had been certain I would fail the Relativity section).

But I have definitely met the Suck Fairy. I tried re-reading two of my first chapter books and couldn't finish either for them. I think a part of it was that they were both mysteries and simple so the story didn't hold me when I already knew the end. So the Suck Fairy was hanging with the Lack of Suspense Fairy on this one. I would reread these with a child or recommend them to children because they wouldn't have the knowledge of the solution to make the earlier parts boring.
kaeldra
56. Meg Thornton
I can list a series of books which, by and large, get something of a nice visit from the anti-Suck Fairy as I get older, namely, the Asterix series of comics (well, the earlier ones, anyway). I can remember reading "Asterix in Britain" when I was five, and liking it for the adventure and the storyline. As a teenager, I re-read it, and realised all the jokes I'd missed as a kid, because at the time I didn't know the group which was at the top of the "bardic charts" actually resembled four real-life Liverpudlians who'd made something of a musical sensation about a decade earlier; or that the "Oxenbridgenses" tribe that Anticlimax belonged to was a joke about the Oxford/Cambridge annual rowing match; or a lot of the other cultural references made throughout the book. Even now, I'll re-read the book and note bits and pieces I'd missed before, and it just gets better every time. Even little things like the puns in the names get better as I get older, because my fund of cultural references gets wider and deeper, and I can comprehend more of them.
kaeldra
57. ejj1955
I see two types of sexism in books--there's the kind that Asimov, the original Star Trek et al. practice, in which the future is depicted as having the gender attitudes of the 50s or 60s at best. Remember the original Star Trek episode in which a woman went nuts and switched bodies with Kirk because she couldn't stand the "women can't be captains" thing--and then gave herself away by being emotion and irrational. OMG. (Or Oh My Flying Spaghetti Monster)

But then there's the books in which women just are absent--Joseph Conrad springs to mind, though he's hardly the only one. He writes about manly men having deep thoughts or whatever--I'm not sure because I was incapable of finishing his books no matter how often I tried--but women just are either peripheral or nonexistent. Ugh.

I've always wondered why chasing a big whale was fraught with deep meaning but chasing an eligible husband treated as frivolity--one of them was a lot more necessary for the individual's future happiness than the other, and a lot more universal in terms of the human experience.
kaeldra
58. submandave
@ejj1955: You keep saying "sexism," but I do not belive it means what you think it means. I will agree with you all day that a writer assuming that cultural and societal gender roles will persist unchanged centuries from now is narrow-minded, but it does nto necessarilly indicate a bias or prejudice on behalf of the writer against women. Likewise, the fact that Marlow was not accompanied by a vibrant, strong-minded suffragette as he went up river is mearly a realistic reflection of the contemporary world of Conrad and nothing more.

If you start talking about the Gore books, however, then you'll have a pretty good basis for claims of "sexism."
kaeldra
59. clvrmnky
I'm afraid to share my faves with my kid (once she's beyond the chewing on books stage) because I just /know/ "A Cricket in Times Square" is gonna suck. I already know the Victorian Suffering Animals stories my mom gave to me suck even harder.

Fiction, children's, YA or otherwise, exists in a time and place, and few examples are truly timeless. Sometimes to criticise them for being of their time is actually us (or the Suck Fairy) being anachronistic.
kaeldra
60. Chris Chittleborough
I really enjoyed The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams when I first read it. I especially liked the deft way Williams revealed What Was Really Happening. Then I re-read it, and found that when you already knew the backstory, the 'front-story' was not that great. The Suck Fairy was busy with that book.

welovetea @41: On Pern, getting Impressed by a queen dragon means regularly experiencing something close to rape by the rider of whichever Bronze dragon was fittest that day. It's an ...interesting... way to run a Weyr.
kaeldra
61. Andy Hickmott
I have to ask:

What, then, does the Tooth Fairy do to your books? Does it have anything to do with "slight foxing?"
kaeldra
62. ofostlic
No-one seems to have mentioned the Science Fairy, another hard-working member of the Suck Fairy team.

Some of it is changes in what is known -- if it's an important plot point that Mercury has a permanently dark side, then the story is likely to be impaired when we find out that this isn't true.

Some is just mistakes on the part of the writer. I got Peter Dickinson's "The Flight of Dragons" for Christmas, the year it came out. I loved it. When I reread it ten years later, it had changed, and all the basic chemistry it relied on (and quoted in detail) relied on confusing calcium metal with the calcium compounds in bones and teeth.
kaeldra
63. HelenS
submandave@58: A too-rigid conception of gender roles seems to me to be the very basis of sexism. Perhaps you were thinking of misogyny?
kaeldra
64. Rivka5
I just finished reading Little House on the Prairie aloud to my 5-year-old. I get how shocking it is to see that your happy childhood book about building a log cabin was replaced by these creepy scenes of impending race war.

In my opinion, though, a close reading of the book does not support the idea that its thesis is "genocide, yay!" I think it's a very clear portrayal of people who are doing Something Wrong, and the things that happen to them as a result. Yes, Ma and some of their neighbors say that "the only good Indian is a dead Indian," but the narrative voice is much more ambivalent.

There's a particular bit where Pa explains to Laura that whenever white people move to an area, Indians have to move on. These Indians have been moved several times already, and now they'll be forced to leave again because Pa and other settlers want to live there. "But Pa, won't the Indians be angry about having to leave their land?" "Be quiet, Laura. Go to sleep." I don't think we're meant to come away from that passage feeling happy and complacent about what the settlers are doing.

I wouldn't hand Little House on the Prairie to a kid and walk away. But I think that in the hands of a parent or teacher who isn't afraid to address the racial issues, it's not at all a bad vehicle for discussing what routinely happened on the western frontier. The Indians got totally shafted. The people doing it didn't think of themselves as bad people. Their thoughtless sense of entitlement stirred up violence, and then they thought the Indians were evil.
kaeldra
65. bethme
We read the Little House books to our 5 year old with pleasure, tho it was a shock when we started the first one to discover the first chapter's all about slaughtering animals -- something I'd not really noticed as a child -- and that we were gonna have to do a LOT of explaining. We found it a great teaching tool to discuss how very different things were a hundred years ago, especially culturally. And as someone else mentioned, Pa is mostly multiculturally accepting, so the overall message from the books is not the same as the views expressed by some characters (like Ma).

The Just So Stories had also been visited by a number of bad fairies since my youth, but we went ahead and read them anyway, again discussing how the author wrote things that way because in his world people were seen very differently -- and how we really like the changes since then, at least in our part of the world.

So far, our worst fairy experience was the discovery that the Religious Message Fairy had written whole chapters into Heidi that I swear weren't there before.

Some of my Fantasy/Sci Fi has been visited by the Suck Fairy, too, but not as badly as the kids' books. And even as a kid I'd noticed the misogyny on Pern, but I thought that the point of the books was that that discrimination was stupid -- witness Menolly's escape to the Harper Hall, for example. I'm gonna have to reread the Flight books so see what I think of the queens' flights these days, though.
kaeldra
66. Neil in Chicago
“it’s always helpful when something isn’t real but is a useful model to have names that make this clear.”

One of the strangest mistakes of my life was complaining about gremlins messing up the day in the hearing of a Tibetan monk. He asked what gremlins were, and I tried to explain that they were sort of American folklore, that we didn't really believe existed, but talked about as though they did . . .

But where he comes from there are not only such things, but elaborately thought out taxonomies of things whch are believed in . . . "surreal" is too timid a word for where I found myself.
kaeldra
67. HelenS
I think the big problem with LHOP is that it gets read and taught in classrooms -- and if you ARE a Native American kid in that classroom, you have to sit there and read "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" (or maybe hear your teacher saying that, if s/he is reading aloud) over and over. Context/schmontext, that's a pretty stinky experience -- especially if everyone around you is taking the point of view that here's this nice, cozy, all-American kind of story, one that couldn't possibly be problematic in any way (and believe me, people do think that way about LIW).
Christina Morris
68. cmorris
WHAT A RELIEF! I thought it was me, but apparently it was the suck fairies all along.
Cait Glasson
69. CaitieCat
It should be noted, too, that saying that $BOOK has some really sexist tropes in it is not the same thing as saying that $AUTHOR is a sexist. Fred Pohl, for instance, in the Gateway series, wrote of a world of purely Freudian attitudes, and had some wincingly bad stuff about the Freudian beliefs in re: homosexuality and gender roles.

Had he written it today, it would likely be a very different book, as he is and was a true lefty-liberal to the bone (as can be seen from his blog). A comment about $BOOK being sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/whatever =/= "$AUTHOR is irretrievably sexist/racist/homophobic/transphobic/whatever"; it means that they wrote it that way then. Doesn't mean they can't change and grow too, just as we have.

I mean, who among us hasn't changed their beliefs at all since they were newly adult?
kaeldra
70. RetroGrouch
Personally I got a kick out of the animal slaughtering scene in LHOTP, as I was living in a nice suburb with a bunch of kids who thought food comes from the store, while I had a bunch of relatives who were farmers and I knew where food really came from.

You can't blame suckage on books that were written before racism, sexism, "insert whatever offends you here", became an issue in society. Bad writing you didn't recognize because you were too young, inexperienced or not yet jaded, THAT you can blame on the "suck fairy".

There has to be some relative of the suck fairy who runs around preventing the completion of series of books, making other books by the same author suck, and inducing good authors to write offensive crap into otherwise good books.

The books I personally can't re-read are Tolkien. Especially LOTR. I tried a few years back when the movies were coming out, and found myself cheering for the orcs hunting the hobbits.
kaeldra
71. Margaret Dean
@clvrmnky: Don't be afraid of sharing A Cricket in Times Square with your kid. I loved it as a child, read it to my kids, and it definitely holds up -- even more so because I'd gone to college in NYC in the interim!
kaeldra
72. KatherineC
I've found that the Anti-Suck Fairy comes most frequently to books that weren't just like the previous book by that author. When I first read The Dubious Hills, for instance, I was disappointed that it wasn't another Secret Country book--but when I reread it some years later, I realized how terrific it was itself--I was just too dumb (or too focused on my expectations) to see it the first time.
kaeldra
73. DeleD
I am thoroughly disgusted at readers applying modern societal tropes and mores to an SF and Fantasty writer who mostly describes medieval societies or dystopian societies. I can't say how much this makes me want to barf, really, there's not enough food for that!

Anne McCaffrey wrote anything but misogyny in a positive form. In fact, her stories were and still are among the first to put strong female characters on the fore. I read her books with 12, I re-read them on a regular basis, and they still ring absolutely true and fair to me. Of course I am not enough of a nut to think I can apply modern POV to a medieval society including guilds, a patriarchal society and nobility.

Next time you read your Shakespeare do the same to him, and watch him suck badly.

Ye Gods!
kaeldra
74. Yundah
I love the Suck Fairy concept. It's definitely unseeligh.
kaeldra
75. heavener5019
Oh, she's tricksy, that one! She snuck in and ruined the best parts of The Fellowship of the Ring. Fortunately, there's another -- a Glinda to Sucky's Elfaba -- who went and changed all those horrid old bad spots that I hated the first time into the most delightful fun parts now.
Lesley Mitchell
76. dkscully
Ah, the Suck Fairy. She's visited more than a few of the books I've re-read, and is one reason (behind, I don't have time, there are too many new books) why I don't generally re-read.

The Trope Fairy, however, can get you with new stuff, too.

I read a great article about the packs of dogs barking in literary distances, last year. And now, every time an author has a dog bark for no better reason than a filling in sentence, it breaks the mood and makes me laugh.
kaeldra
77. John Cowan
The Dragonrider Suck in Pern is not Sexism Suck, it's Classism Suck. Green riders (who are male, though their dragons are female) get raped in exactly the same way as gold riders.
kaeldra
78. Cara M
*glingleglingle* and a new fairy is born. :)

Actually, once when I was maybe 8, I was in the middle of reading a very exicting book, but it was late and my parents made me go to sleep. While I slept, I dreamt the end of the book, in brilliant epic detail and deep characterization. On waking, I eagerly finished the book only to find that it was much weaker and thinner than my dream had made it.

My first visitation by the suck fairy. Kind of early, I think!
kaeldra
79. Tafadhali
@supertailz: "This happened to me with Little Women! My mother read it to me as a small child and we both loved it so hard. But then I reread it last year and hated it with a burning passion. The Suck Fairy added extra suckiness and hung out in it with the Misogynistic Bastard Fairy!"

Kind of the opposite of that happened with me and Little Women -- I remembered having a ton of problems with various plot points as a child, to the point that I actually stopped reading 3/4 through, which I never did. Then, at 20, I decided to read it again and when I finished I thought, "Hey! I don't know what happened, but it was like an Unsuck Fairy came through and all the bits I didn't like are magically vanished! Didn't Amy marry Laurie? Didn't Beth die? Am I crazy?"

Turns out that Little Women was originally published as two books, Little Women and Good Wives, the "oh my gosh, my first book was so popular" sequel, and I had inadvertenly happened on one of the only modern editions that didn't combine the two. So we're all reading the book with the frustrating sequel squeezed in, as if a very real Suck Fairy had been through and decided we didn't get to have awesome.



And, yes, I have experienced the Suck Fairy all too often in my re-reads, especially as I reread a ton of children's books. Often the problem is just quaint language that apparently didn't bother me at all as a kid, but sometimes it is surprise racism or heavy-handed allegory. Realizing Narnia was hardcore Christian didn't affect my love of the books, really -- I can talk about it for hours, but I still love the stories I loved when I was young -- but that's only because I never read The Last Battle when I was little. I would have loved it and then cried bitter tears when I realized how completely awful it is to my super atheist sensibilities. (*cough*Susan*cough*)

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