Jo Walton takes the mic at Tor.com and puts a name to a phenomenon I suspect most of us have experienced at least once. You know when you re-read a book that you read and loved years ago, and it turns out it’s almost unreadably bad? Well, the Suck Fairy got to it.
The Suck Fairy is an artefact of re-reading. If you read a book for the first time and it sucks, it’s nothing to do with her. It just sucks. Some books do. The Suck Fairy comes in when you come back to a book that you liked when you read it before, and on re-reading—well, it sucks. You can say that you have changed, you can hit your forehead dramatically and ask yourself how you could possibly have missed the suckiness the first time—or you can say that the Suck Fairy has been through while the book was sitting on the shelf and inserted the suck. The longer the book has been on the shelf unread, the more time she’s had to get into it. The advantage of this is exactly the same as the advantage of thinking of one’s once-beloved ex as having been eaten by a zombie, who is now shambling around using the name and body of the former person. It lets one keep one’s original love clear of the later betrayals.
Of course, there isn’t really a Suck Fairy (also, that isn’t really a zombie) but it’s a useful way of remembering what’s good while not dismissing the newly visible bad. Without the Suck Fairy, it’s all too easy for the present suck to wipe out the good memories.
I know I’ve been visited by the Suck Fairy plenty of times (OK, stop sniggering on the back row)… indeed, I expect C S Lewis’ Narnia books have worked the same way for many people, Ms Walton included:
Kids are really good at ignoring the heavy-handed message and getting with the fun parts. It’s good they are, because adults have devoted a lot of effort writing them messages thinly disguised as stories and clubbing children over the head with them. I read a lot of older children’s books when I was a kid, and you wouldn’t believe how many sugar-coated tracts I sucked the sugar off and cheerfully ran off, spitting out the message undigested. (Despite going to church several times every Sunday for my whole childhood, I never figured out that Aslan was Jesus until told later.)
A disappointing revelation for me, too; though I still hold that the metaphysics of the final section of The Last Battle make for a pretty esoteric look at at that particular part of the Christian doctrine. Or at least, the metaphysics of The Last Battle as I remember it (“come further up, come further in! It’s like an onion in reverse!” or somesuch)… I don’t think I’ll be going back to check any time soon.
Truth be told, I’ve done so little re-reading in the last decade or so that I’ve not had many chances to spot the Suck Fairy’s handiwork. That said, I remember thinking not too long ago that Jeff Noon’s Nymphomation was a colossal retrospective disappointment, though Vurt and Pollen still held up well to re-reading (despite being far more immediate in their initial impression than Noon’s latter works).
What about you lot – has the Suck Fairy been at your bookshelves, and whose work did (s)he get at?