Transfigured: a classic double challenge post

Or: of To Kill a Mockingbird, of Jellicoe Road, and of the awesomeness of reading them both.

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When I first saw the Classic Double Challenge, hosted by Melissa @ One Librarian’s Book Reviews, I thought it was a great idea. Read a classic and a book that is a retelling or in any other way connected to that classic? Count me in. (*) And yet, I only had a very vague idea of what I would read.

Then I read Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta. Which is awesome.

In Jellicoe Road [JRoad], two girls have to study To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee [TKaM] in school, and because one of them is ill, the other helps her out. In thanking her friend, the first girl says something like “If you ever need me, I’ll be Jem for your Mrs Dubose.” I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil JRoad for you, but I ended the book more interested than ever to read TKaM — no, I had never read it before, but keep in mind I’m not American, so that’s the main reason why. Later this year I found a copy and read it.

And BAM!, I knew I had my couple of books for this challenge.

(By the way, To Kill a Mockingbird is awesome too!)

JRoad is not a retelling, strictly speaking. It’s more like TKaM is transfigured in it. The story it tells is completely different. The themes it touches upon are other.

But it has the same way of dealing with difficult subjects without ever bringing them to the forefront. In TKaM it’s mental health and racism (among other things), but everything is seen through Scout’s eyes. To me, it felt like those ethereal things that you can only see without looking directly at them (I think Tolkien describes the elves in that way somewhere, but I may be misremembering. It happens with smaller stars, to me at least). In JRoad the narrator is 17, not a child anymore, but still the feeling is the same: domestic violence, drug addiction, the story is a way of dealing with harsh themes, without ever looking at them directly.

Also, they share the same great storytelling (which may be why they both manage to deal with those themes so well).

And they share a reflection on the absence of parental figures. (By the way, can anyone point me towards something that explains the figure of Atticus Finch? A strange character, that one. Genial and lovable, but strange.)

And more than everything, JRoad is TKaM transfigured because it takes single elements from the classic and uses them to build its own story: the friend only coming over for summer, the shooting at tins, the big fire, the tree… maybe the only thing that does not make an appearance is Scout’s ham costume!

Bottom line: this was a fun challenge to do, and both these books great, but taken together they are pure awesomeness!

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(*) If you like the idea of the Classic Double Challenge, it will be on again in 2013. Also, don’t miss the Retell Me A Story event, on January 13th-19th! See you there!