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Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 6: The First Night of Safety

In Chapter 6, Jack and Jill choose their roles, their guardians, and their destiny.

More choices are made here. Real choices, this time, not simply choices over what to have for dinner. Both sisters have clear ideas over what they want, and they prioritise that over everything else.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 5: The Roles We Choose Ourselves

In Chapter 5, we are given a proper introduction to the Moors, and dine with the people in power.

Despite the chapter title, neither Jack nor Jill are given a real choice in this chapter, not yet. Their new nicknames were given to them. They get to choose their food, but don’t get to see what it is until after the choice is made. Instead, it is the Master and Dr. Bleak who talk about choosing.

What they can choose is what they pay attention to, and how they interpret what they see. Over and over again, we are given the differences in the way Jack and Jill process the situation and react to it. Jack watches the windows; Jill watches the Master. Jack pulls away; Jill follows close. Jack trusts Mary; Jill does not.

So what we have here is Jack and Jill in the in-between. They don’t get to choose through actions, but they do get to choose what they think and how they see things. There is choice in perception. What we choose to see shows who we are, and what Jack and Jill choose to see shows how different they are from each other.

With these differences we get more hints that we should sympathise with Jack over Jill. Jack is the one who takes in more, and who has opinions the reader is more likely to agree with. She’s the one who picks up on things like the three day limit the Master puts on their safety. Jill, on the other hand, trusts the obvious vampire and is more interested in the food than what’s going on around her.

Now let’s look at the adults in the situation. Both the Master and Dr. Bleak seem to have chosen the roles they are in, or at the very least, they don’t chafe at them the way Jack and Jill have been chafing at theirs. They are set up in opposition to one another, the same way Jack and Jill have been set up in opposition with one another. They are also set up to be foils for the twins, or who the twins could be. The Master is first described to us as handsome as a movie star, someone who could be sculpted—someone designed for beauty, as Serena wants Jack to be. Dr. Bleak, however, is described as being practically dressed, as well as ‘sturdy and strong and aching to burn’—strong and ready to act, something Chester desires for Jill. In their own way, they represent the paths their parents wanted, but because of that, they also represent what the other twin desires. Jill yearns to be the beautiful one, the one loved (or looked up to, at least) by others; that’s why she trusts the Master. Jack gravitates towards Dr. Bleak because he represents the freedom she does not have. The dichotomy of the men represents the dichotomy of the twins.

Of course, in this dichotomy Dr Bleak is presented as the better choice, the more trustworthy one. However, they do not leave out the key detail that his head had been cut off at one point. Even Dr Bleak is not free from scars. The narrative and description will not let us forget that this world is a literal horror film. This is not a place for sisterly togetherness. This is not a place to heal the wounds already inflicted on the children. This may be a place where they can be themselves, but it is not a place where they can be safe.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 2: Practically Perfect in Virtually No Ways

In Chapter 2, the Wolcotts outsource their parenting and find moulds to fit their children.

By the standards of anyone save for her ruthlessly regimented son, Louise was a disciplined, orderly woman. She liked the world to make sense and follow the rules. By the standards of her son, she was a hopeless dreamer. She thought the world was capable of kindness; she thought people were essentially good and only waiting for an opportunity to show it.

Louise, Chester’s mother, makes both her entrance and her exit in this chapter. She is here to offer another perspective, both for us and for the twins. She provides a way for us to contrast what is happening to what could be. We can see this from her first introduction that the way Chester sees her (soppy and impractical) doesn’t match the way the rest of the world sees her (disciplined and orderly). The contrast is also shown in the stories Chester and Serena tell others about Louise. It is interesting that Serena is aware that she’s not telling the truth. This isn’t just a competing narrative that holds sway because the Wolcotts are in a position of power. This is a narrative they are forcing on the world so they can look better.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones Analysis, Chapter 1: The Dangerous Allure of Other People’s Children

Introduction: Downsides of a Prequel

Down Among the Sticks and Bones is the second instalment of the Wayward Children series. It follows the adventures of Jack and Jill Wolcott, from inception to childhood to the Moors, a world which could serve the setting for pretty much any Gothic horror.

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