Where do dreams come from? Let Lowry reveal . . .

h1 August 26th, 2006 by jules


It must be hard, in some ways, to be Lois Lowry or any other insanely talented writer who has written a novel that is considered a modern classic. When you read one of their subsequent works, hard as you try, that pesky classic lingers in your mind and you compare it to the title you’re currently reading. Lots of reviews of Lowry’s work compare what she’s written to The Giver — a superb piece of writing, indeed. I dare say that The Giver became the backdrop against which we compare other contemporary science fiction books in the realm of children’s literature (but that is arguable; feel free to argue). Nevertheless, as Eisha put it when I told her I was reading Lowry’s latest, you can’t crank out The Giver every time, nor should you be expected to. So, let’s look at the merits of Lowry’s Gossamer, published in April of this year, in its own singular light.

Lowry has stated before that she is fascinated by memory — what it is and how we learn from it. In Gossamer, she delves deeply into this theme via the world of dreams. In the novel’s opening, impatient and snappy Fastidious, a dream giver (ethereal, little wisps of spirits these dream givers are), is training Littlest in their avocation — bestowing dreams upon sleeping humans by fluttering and flickering around one’s home in the dead of night, handling objects, and taking from those objects beloved memories in order to breathe life into a pleasurable and restorative dream for the unknowing sleeper. However, hordes of Sinisteeds — who are literally night mares galloping through the dreamer’s walls in a sort of menacing mist — inflict ugly, bad dreams upon the hapless sleepers:

“They are a restless herd, these dark creatures who contain within them the most profound of all our fears, the hidden things, old guilts and failings that we will ourselves to forget. Their constant pawing and snorting is accompanied by an atmosphere of foul-smelling sweat, for they glisten with it. Their energy is boundless. They toss their heads and flare their nostrils, tasting the air, searching for the places where they will spew their loathsome holdings, waiting for deepest night, the time when infliction takes place.”

The dream givers give it all they’ve got in the name of protecting their assigned humans from these night terrors. Littlest, precocious and possessing a knack for bestowing dreams due to her gossamer touch, is soon assigned to a new mentor, Thin Elderly, who further instructs her in the ways of dream giving. Thin Elderly and Littlest have been assigned to a kind, lonesome, elderly woman whose only companion is her dog. She takes on a foster child, a young boy named John, who has suffered formidable abuse (and described by Lowry in some detail) at the hands of his father, while his mother — also abused by her husband, but who is now estranged and trying to figure out her mess of a life — mostly stood by and watched. Needless to say, the Sinisteeds go straight for John without hesitation, as John is a damaged child and — with all his anger and bitterness and vulnerability — a prime target.

Lowry presents us with concise, lucid, straightforward prose — perfect for that intermediate reader who wants a straight-up compelling story without an attempt on the author’s part to wow him or her with literary somersaults in the name of style. Though the story is somewhat predictable in spots and offers a tidy ending, it still rings true with its dream giver characterizations — particularly, Littlest. Young readers will be able to quickly identify with her struggles to distinguish herself from other dream givers, discover her special talents, and hone her innate capabilities for what she does. As for the human characters, I’d have to agree with a Horn Book reviewer (Martha V. Parravano), having stumbled across a review of the book weeks ago: “The humans are such stock characters that they might as well be named Troubled Boy, Wise Older Woman, and Single Mom Trying to Get Her Act Together.” But, Parravano goes on to say, perhaps Lowry intended for this to be an allegory of sorts; her prose “bypasses the particular and goes right to the universal.”

This touches upon what I think is Lowry’s strength in all of her books: her rich themes. And all told through fantastical, spellbinding, even — at times — haunting storylines. In this one, we are reminded of the power of story — the life story each individual has — and Lowry goes so far as to acknowledge the importance of the darker times of one’s life. The dream givers’ goal is to strengthen the unfortunate sleeper from these mares of night, but even Littlest comes to understand the dream givers’ place in honoring the sad parts of our nightly visions. As she learns more about the boy’s and the elderly lady’s lives by nightly dancing and hovering around their beloved mementos, she discovers that the “sad parts are important . . . they are part of the story, and they have to be part of the dreams.”

She also, quite obviously, has something to say about dreams: that “{p}eople always need dreams. Their whole lives, they must dream.” And another theme, though not as prominent, is the need for change — as Littlest, towards the novel’s end, is bestowed with her new moniker, Gossamer, thanks to her delicate, feathery touch, and as she becomes solid. “Change means leaving things behind, and that’s always sad,” another dream giver tells her. But this solidifying, this growing up — much of what the young boy has ahead of him — will speak clearly to the intermediate readers at which the book is aimed.

16 comments to “Where do dreams come from? Let Lowry reveal . . .”

  1. thanks for the review, j. i was scared to read this one, as i mentioned to you before – the premise of dream-fairies helping young abuse victims was sort of off-putting to me. but you may have convinced me to give it a shot.

    also, i absolutely agree that lowry’s best-known books have been all about the big themes, and she’s said some very important things in very beautiful ways. but i have to say that i first fell in love with lowry for her “Anastasia” books, which featured a realistically-quirky smartypants character in everyday situations. no big themes, just a misfit heroine i could totally relate to when i was in 4th grade.

  2. good point. i have actually never read the ‘anastasia’ books. it’s one of my shameful secrets re children’s lit (and alas and alack, i’ve also never read ‘where the red fern grows’ or ‘little women’ — oh, this could be a whole thread!). i need to read them.

    anyway, thanks for pointing that out.

  3. well, i could match your list with my own. i’ve never read lowry’s “number the stars” – or sachar’s “holes” or an na’s “a step from heaven” or any full-length novel by walter dean myers. how big a poseur-children’s librarian am i???

  4. you’re not a poseur…i’ve never read ‘the wind in the willows’ all the way through, though i once hand-flapped my way through a stage adaptation of it as a shadow interpreter. that’s bad.

    hey, let’s do occasional posts where we both read a book we’ve never read (considered a classic, i guess), and then we can talk about it. a friend of mine gasped when i said i’d never read ‘where the red fern grows’ — not so much to chastise me but to say that i was really missing out on a great book. and, eisha, i think you’d love ‘holes’ — i remember the last page making me cry, not from getting all emotional at the story line so much, but simply ’cause it was so well-written. seriously. — jules

  5. you’re on, j! and i haven’t read “red fern” either (more gasps!) so maybe we should start with that one…

  6. you’re on. i’ll get it from the li-berry.

    — jules

  7. DAMN IT, jules, we’ve been HAD! i just checked it out today, and i think it’s going to be one of those DEAD DOG BOOKS!!!

  8. i figured as much, but we still gotta do it. come on, huddle with me now. WE CAN DO THIS.


  9. p.s. when we’re done, we can read Gordon Korman’s ‘No More Dead Dogs’…..never read that one either!
    – jules

  10. well, i have read that one, and korman is RIGHT! *sigh* i can’t believe i’m 3– i mean, i’m 22 and i have to read another dead dog book.

    wait, why do we gotta do this, again? isn’t this our blog, for fun, not 8TH GRADE?

  11. the ‘why’ is because we said we’d read a “classic” we’ve never read; how about you pick something else and *i* read ‘red fern’?? how’s that sound? — j.

  12. okay, sam-i-am. i’ll try it.

    but i reserve the right to invoke the 50-page rule.

  13. Gals, gals,
    Calm down. Don’t feel obligated to read Red Fern
    or any other classic.
    Here’s why….


    A face dripping with guilt doesn’t look attractive.

  14. i read that this morning, betty, thanks to you — and, yes, i thought of the ‘red fern’ challenge…..BUT, let me say for my part, that i truly do want to read it, dead dogs or no!! i don’t feel like i *have* to, though i’m about to put a current read down, ’cause i dread it every time i pick it up. anyway, i DO wanna read ‘red fern’….– thanks for the good read, betty!
    — jules

  15. yeah, thanks, betty – that’s a good article, and a good philosophy. but i can at least try it, i guess, and try to be open-minded… i mean, just because it’s got a boy and two dogs on the cover… and the boy is wearing overalls… and it says “for the millions who loved ‘Old Yeller'”… doesn’t mean it’s going to be like all the other dead dog/horse/deer books they make you read in school. it could still be good… and i can still put it down if it isn’t.

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