The importance of Martha Moody and childhood


In creating Martha Moody, the children’s book icon, the hero who can fight anyone and do anything, Amanda is writing into existence a new mythology that pulls from existing mythology. Amanda, as someone raised to be biblical and god-fearing, knows the stories of the bible as well as anyone; at times they become the rocks she uses to support herself. As she begins her path away from being the Highly Christian Good Wife, she doesn’t stray away from the biblical stories, only the teachings that contradict her desires. The stories remain the rock which gives inspiration to the adventures of Martha Moody.

When I first imagined the stories of Martha Moody I couldn’t help but think back to my own experiences of reading Calvin and Hobbes. At face value, they seem like incredibly different types of stories, and as we only read parts of Martha Moody (whatever Amanda has just written), it’s hard to know exactly how the stories read to the children buying them. If nothing else, Martha Moody is all print, and Calvin and Hobbes is a comic. However, the substance of the stories share similarities.

Martha Moody is a wild and adventurous woman, who’s unapologetically female and fat, and she’s respected as a whole being, not despite her physical appearance. She has Azreal, her angelic cow who protects her and stands by her. Calvin is a young boy and Hobbes is his stuffed tiger who accompanies him on all the trouble and mischief he gets into. Hobbes isn’t godly or all-powerful like Azreal, but he is highly philosophical and often is a voice of logic (if not reason) for Calvin.

The stories are not the same – Calvin “transmogrifying” himself into a tiny dinosaur, or creating an evil twin are less dramatic than the stories Martha Moody gets into. Amanda wrote Martha Moody into whatever situation she was feeling Real Martha deserved at the time, and as such some are far less nice to Martha than anything Calvin goes through.

I think the place where I connect Calvin and Martha is the relatability. When I read Calvin and Hobbes as a young child, I was obsessed because I saw a version of myself. I saw this young child with a huge imagination and a desire to play with his tiger and create his own world, where a cardboard box has a thousand uses. He didn’t want to play with other kids who cared about organized sports and he would rather fight an army of killer mutant snowmen than do his math homework. I felt a similarity between myself and Calvin (and later in life, Hobbes), and I can only imagine the impact it would have if the stories I read included a big girl, with big red hair, instead of a little boy.


Queer experiences around the self

Pg 158 “Cereus Blooms At Night”, Shani Mootoo

“Her eyes brightened with triumph as she stood at the entrance to the living room. Across it was her destination – the front entrance. She headed straight for the door. There was a long mirror, the largest she had ever seen, in a carved gold frame on the wall, and as she hurried by she saw a tiny, ragged girl.

Pohpoh stopped. She never had really thought of herself as tiny or mangy before. Her confidence slackened. She looked closely at sunken eyes. She had never noticed that they were so large and set so far back in her skull, shadowed in comparison to the rest of her features. Pohpoh wondered which was her true self – the timid, gaunt, unremarkable girl staring at her, or the one who dared to spend nights doing what no one else ever dared to do. The image of her father about to lower himself on her body charged at her suddenly, complete with smells and nauseating tastes. She gasped loud enough to startle herself and pinched her arm hard, an admonishment that she dare not lose her concentration.”


As Mala relives her journey into the terrible, haunted and disturbing house, she’s forced to come face to face with her own reflection in a mirror, and we as an audience see her perceptions about herself get questioned in a new way.

Mala dissociates frequently in this book due to her past trauma. Her dissociation is a neurological coping mechanism to compartmentalize the memories from her childhood, and the way she pinches herself, or eats chili paste, is a way of staying grounded and not getting ‘lost’ in her dissociated state. However, in her ‘two state’ mindset, where she exists both as Pohpoh, the young and helpless child, and Mala, the one attempting to act as a protector, she continues to perceive herself from her own mind. She is, quite literally, watching her younger self in her mind, but also as a social pariah, she has not been aware of how others see her. The moment when she runs by the mirror and is forced to confront that she not only exists outside of her own head, but also that the idea of herself (and how she should look) does not match up with how she physically appears.

Mootoo frequently explores ideas of perception and identity in relation to gender identity for characters like Otoh or Tyler, but I think it’s especially telling that Mala (a cisgender woman, who frequently appears as an ally for Tyler to explore gender nonconforming expressions) has a very common queer experience.  “…Which was her true self…” she wonders, and it feels remarkably similar to Tyler’s questions around what is true to him. Mala already stands in rejection of certain norms, such as language and communication, as she chooses to communicate in her own unique ways, but this moment of disconnect between the self and the mirror felt profound. Mala’s rejection of societal norms goes beyond a colonial institution like language. This instant with the mirror of being brought back to reality causes her to lose focus of guiding her dissociative state in a safe way.

It is fitting for the story to end with Tyler feeling confident in their identity, though doing so without sharing with the reader. Much the same way as Mala’s internal perception of her self becomes both a coping mechanism, and the most accurate way for her to consider her past, Tyler does not need to disclose any specific identities or labels because he’s come to terms with his own perception of himself.

Perception and the self

It’s not the photograph that disturbs you it’s you don’t understand what photography is. Photography is disturbing said Geryon.

Photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships. Well exactly.

But you don’t need a camera to tell you that. What about stars? Are you going to tell me none of the stars are really there? Well some are there but some burned out ten thousand years ago.

I don’t believe that.
How can you not believe it, it’s a known fact. But I see them. You see memories!  

Have we had this conversation before?

Geryon followed Herakles to the back porch. They sat on opposite ends of the sofa.

Do you know how far away some of those stars are?

Just don’t believe it. Let’s see someone touch a star and not get burned. He’ll holdup his finger. Just a memory burn he’ll say
then I’ll believe it.


When Herackles discusses photography with Geryon, we begin to understand his ideas about memory and reality. Geryon has a difficult relationship with perception and throughout the book we’re forced to consider what it means for someone who’s considered a monster to interact with the rest of society. Geryon is physically marked with his wings and his skin as ‘other’ but he also has a different relationship with learning and with words. Photography speaks to him because it’s a medium which he can understand and control and manipulate in ways he isn’t able to do with words and language.

While re-reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think about the poem we read in class by Adrienne Rich, Diving Into the Wreck. Rich brings up ideas about longevity and mythology, and she really hits the audience with thoughts on memory and belonging. She begins the poem, “First having read the book of myths, and loaded the camera…” before diving into the ocean to explore, and the journey to the ship wreck she begins preparing herself with what she thinks she’ll need, and it’s only after beginning her journey that she realizes that she’s not looking at the wreck from an outsider perspective, but rather she is a part of it and has to confront it within her own perceptions. She ends the poem,

We are, I am, you are
by cowardice or courage
the one who find our way
back to this scene
carrying a knife, a camera
a book of myths
in which
our names do not appear.


Geryon develops through the story in similar ways to the narrator in Adrienne Rich’s poetry; by diving up close to the wreck, he’s forced to consider how he fits into his own story, rather than viewing his role in his own story as passive. His own mythos is only clear to him because of his work with the camera.

Time travel: Not yet possible, so instead we write novels where time isn’t linear.


Close Reading : Written on the Body



“So what affects the circadian clock? What interrupts it, slows it, speeds it? These questions occupy an obscure branch of science called chronobiology. Interest in the clock is growing because as we live more and more artificially, we’d like to con nature into altering her patterns for us. Night-workers and frequent fliers are absolutely the victims of their stubborn circadian clocks. Hormones are deep in the picture, so are social factors and environmental ones. Emerging from this melée, bit by bit, is light. The amount of light to which we are exposed crucially affects our clock. Light. Sun like a disc-saw through the body. Shall I submit myself sundial-wise beneath Louise’s direct gaze? It’s a risk; human beings go mad without a little shade, but how to break the habit of a lifetime else?” (Winterson, 80)


Time doesn’t work linearly in this story. The narrator talks about the circadian clock in the passage above, but it would be more accurate to call it a circadian rhythm. We might not be able to change it, but we can affect the circadian rhythms with far more accuracy than we can time. The narrator has more trouble with time than they do with this clockwork pattern; Louise is working against time. To address Louise’s “direct gaze” as the same as a sun gaze, makes the narrator the one telling the time as a sundial. The narrator is helpless to tell time, they aren’t able to do anything but watch and report time passing. The narrator says “we’d like to con nature into altering her patterns for us” but I don’t think that’s quite accurate; the narrator wants to con nature into changing how time functions, not it’s natural patterns. They say:


“Frighten me? Yes you do frighten me. You act as though we will be together for ever. You act as though there is infinite pleasure and time without end. How can I know that? My experience has been that time always ends. In theory you are right, the quantum physicists are right, the romantics and the religious are right. Time without end. In practice we both wear a watch. If I rush at this relationship it’s because I fear for it. I fear you have a door I cannot see and that any minute now the door will open and you’ll be gone. Then what?” (Winterson, 18)


The problem is not with time as a concept, but how time affects the precarious nature of the narrators relationships, not just with Louise but with all of their lovers. They idealize love as an infinity but are cowardly when it comes to acting in the same manner. They refuse to be vulnerable enough accept love as a finite concept, and in doing so can never fully commit to love. Over and over, the narrator shows how they make the same mistakes in their relationships, and the constant fear of time passing only contributes to this.


There are moments in the book where the narrator seems to recognize and contemplate how time interacts with the novel as a whole, which is where it starts to get interesting. “This is outside of time,” they say on page 72. That sentence could be referring to the point in the story, but I think it’s more relevant to look at the statement as a comment on the novel as a whole. The narrator is so highly focused on time, and time running out, but they’ve created their own story that ultimately has no clear beginning or end, so any fears about time exist only in the mind of the narrator, not in the audience.