The Father-Hunger Games


from Wikipedia

I don’t know, maybe it’s our culture–moms raise children and dads go out and farm or go to war or to the shop–but so many of the kid books I’ve read lately have had young men and women protagonists who’ve not had (present) fathers or father-like people in their lives, and feel a desperate need for one. Certainly true for Katniss and for Percy Jackson . . . and segues nicely into . . .

Jan and I went to the musical “Daddy Long Legs” at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park (the book is by John Caird and music and lyrics by Paul Gordon) based closely on the 1912 novel by Jean Webster, then when I got home I had to read the book, so I’m exhausted. Yes, this is the same Daddy Long Legs novel from which the 1955 Fred Astaire-Leslie Caron musical is loosely based. Courtesy of Wikipedia I can also tell you that Mary Pickford starred in a 1919 version, Julie Gaynor in a 1931 version and that Curly Top, the 1935 Shirley Temple  movie, was a loose adaptation.

Jerusha Abbott, the oldest orphan in turn of the century John Grier Home, is about to end her long terrible day–the worst day of the month because it’s the day that the Trustees come to visit and it’s her responsibility to make all perfect–when she’s called to the headmistress’ office. On her way she sees the silhouette and long shadow of a departing trustee. The headmistress informs her that the trustee has read one of her school essays and will (pointedly despite the fact that she is a girl) fund her to go to college to become a writer. She will write his secretary monthly and he will not answer. She is to address him as Mr. Smith, a pseudonym.

from Wikipedia

She assumes he’s elderly, greying or balding and falls in love with her idea of him as her father, uncle, grandmother and family, and he falls in love with her through her letters.  He visits her, using the fact that one of her dorm-mates is his niece, and is able to use his real name without her knowing he’s also “her Daddy Long Legs”, and (spoiler alert) they do in fact fall in love. The creepiness factor here is mitigated only a little by the fact that he’s only her father in her fantasy of him, and the book and the stage musical play it straight. The charm is in her growth from a sheltered girl to a healthy creative adult.

The whole older man rescuing/mentoring young girl who then falls in love with him resonates with the original oedipal situation–and is a novel twist on it since the real dad isn’t there to compete with. And it’s made nicely explicit that that’s what’s going on by Jervis Pendleton’s reaction to Jerusha’s attraction to her roommate’s brother.

This is one of those YA books I missed because it’s a girl-book and I’m not a girl. I recommend the stage musical, and I don’t think the book deserves to slip into obscurity. Now I have to check out one or more of the movies.

P.S. Jan points out that Pygmalion and My Fair Lady have similar themes but without the deceit.


One Response to “The Father-Hunger Games”

  1. 1 Karen

    I have the the Fred Astaire version if you want to borrow it. It’s lovely, and I’m rather upset you went to see the Playhouse version and didn’t tell me!

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