Sunday, 18 June 2017

Tuck Everlasting

Reading a classic, a well-loved book for the first time can be a bit of an anxious time. Such a weight of expectations can burden the book, can it ever really live up to that? Happily sometimes it can, and so it was with my first read of Tuck Everlasting, which is one of those amazing books that will become part of the Books I Wish I Read as a Child, and Books I Know I Will Reread. 

Tuck Everlasting was published in 1975 and tells the story of ten year old Winifred Foster. Winnie lives a cosseted, restricted life, an only child guarded over by her parents, her grandmother and even her house. 
On the left stood the first house, a square and solid cottages with a touch-me-not appearance, surrounded by grass cut painfully to the quick and enclosed by a capable iron fence some four feet high which clearly said, "Move on- we don't want you here,".
Naturally, Winnie wants out of her yard, out of her closed-off life. She wants adventures and to make her mark in the world. 
"I'm not exactly sure what I'd do, you know, but something interesting- something that's all mine. Something that would make some kind of difference in the world. It'd be nice to have a new name, to start with, one that's not all worn out from being called so much."
Tuck Everlasting is beautifully written. Natalie Babbitt has a wonderful descriptive style, but with a deft lightness of touch. 
The sky was a ragged blaze of red and pink and orange, and its double trembled on the surface of the pond like color spilled from a paintbox. The sun was dropping fast now, a soft red sliding egg yolk, and already to the east there was a darkening to purple. Winnie, newly brave with her thoughts of being rescued, climbed boldly into the rowboat. The hard heels of her buttoned boots made a hollow banging sound against its wet boards, loud in the warm and breathless quiet. Across the pond a bullfrog spoke a deep note of warning. Tuck climbed in, too, pushing off, and, settling the oars into their locks, dipped them into the silty bottom in one strong pull. The rowboat slipped from the bank then, silently, and glided out, tall water grasses whispering away from its sides, releasing it. 
The book asks the question "What if you could live forever?". It is a powerful musing on life and death, the cycle of life, and its meaning, written in response to Natalie Babbitt's four year old daughter waking from a dream scared of dying. 
"But dying's part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can't pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest."
My only quibble with the book is that I think at ten Winnie is too young, in at least one movie version she is 15 which I think is more suitable for her crush on Jesse Tuck. The 2002 movie version also supplied what is supposedly the books most famous quote (although I can't remember it from the book, or find it).
You can't have living without dying. Don't be afraid of death, Winnie. Be afraid of the unlived life.
I read the 40th Anniversary edition which has a wonderful (spoiler free) foreword by Gregory Maguire where he writes of the joy of rereading Tuck Everlasting. 

Books can have more than one theme. That's one of the reasons to reread them. That is why I can reread Tuck Everlasting over and over, even though when I meet Winnie Foster again standing in her front yard, I know exactly what she will do later in the book. 
What I don't know is what it will mean to me now. For I grow older, year by year. Life and joy, sorrow and understanding, they all wash against me, changing me day by day, year by year. When I return to the same place on time's Ferris wheel that I remember from the year before, the place may seem the same but I have changed. I have to look again, to see what the author's views might suggest to me, what they mean now. 
I haven't been much of a rereader (there's too many books to read for the first time), but I do look forward to reading Tuck Everlasting again. It's a beautiful book, well deserving of classic status. I had such a book hangover after finishing it, I did contemplate getting the first reread over and done with straight away as I couldn't settle on reading anything else for a few days. 


1 comment:

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz said...

Yes, you beautifully captured the loveliness of this book. I love especially how the author doesn't condescend to children. She takes big thoughts and shares them with children, and that is a wonderful thing.