Athena’s First Story

Being a writer myself, you can imagine how thrilled I was when last night, Athena wrote — and illustrated! — her very first story. Because there would be no point in having this site if I didn’t share this sort of thing with you, here is that story, with subtitles (Athena has the creative spelling of a six year old) and textual commentary by yours truly.

“The Friends Went to Camp, by Athena Scalzi.”

Commentary: Even at an early age, Athena is aware of the need for presentation — thus, a title page. You can’t teach that. You have to feel it.

“Two little friends went out [to] camp in the forest.”

Commentary: We are introduced to our protagonists, two young girls. By placing these girls in a camp in a forest, the author is suggesting a return to a simpler time — even for young girls, the complexities of modern life are overwhelming. The forest, of course, is a common symbol for a primeval eden; here, the author is placing her protagonists in a literal “state of nature,” a Rousseauean paradise, as it were. Of course, Rousseau noted that the state of nature was often brutal and amoral, and so while our heroines are enjoying their idyllic respite from civilization at the moment, certainly conflict — and danger — is afoot.

“But one day when they went to camp, they saw a bear!”

Commentary: Nature, red in tooth and claw, shows its darker side to our intrepid heroines in the arrival of the bear. As we can see in the illustration, our protagonists are surprised by its appearance — an additional commentary on how the civilized world alienates our senses from the natural world. After all, it is the bear who belongs in the forest primeval; our heroines, plucky as they may be, are the invaders here.

However, the bear symbolism is positive as well: Many aboriginal cultures symbolically equate the bear with primal power, cunning intelligence, and a nurturing, motherly spirit (who does not know of the protective ferocity of a mother bear?). The author is playing a subtle game here — the bear terrifies the girls, yes, but it also represents aspects of natural femininity they would do well to incorporate into their urbanized, denatured world view: A symbol of the struggle every young woman must face as she turns toward womanhood.

“But the bear was getting tired…”

Commentary: But — the author suddenly asks — what are the limits of nature, and of primal power? In stark, graphic terms, the author lets us know that nature and its lessons can take us only so far. The illustration conveys the story here: after earlier pages filled with the color of the forest, the image is here stripped bare of everything but the essentials: The bear, its strength waning, retreating to the blackness of the cave. Just as the bear is filled with symbolic import, so is the cave: It represents death — a natural crypt, if you will — but it can also symbolize birth and renewal. Bears sleep through the darkness of winter, resting until the times are right to again engage the world.

What the author is saying is that while we need to integrate the lessons of nature, we are also more than what is given to us in our natural state. When nature fails or flags — as it inevitably must — our other talents must engage until such time as our natural states are refreshed again. A telling message for young women: Know who you are and be in touch with your nature, but be ready to use all the resources available to you, in all aspects of your life.

“And they were best friends forever, and their names are Becky and Britney.”

Commentary: In a striking move, the author names the heroines of the story only at the end — only after they have gone through their metaphysical exploration of self. Only after we have faced the challenges of life and nature, only after we have encountered the danger of an unexamined life, and, yes, only after we have found strength in friendship can we say who we really are — in effect, to “name” ourselves: A joyous “I am” to the world of nature and civilization.

It’s no coincidence that the author has chosen two young girls to make the journey together: As the other symbols of the story suggest — the nurturing bear, the cave representing rebirth — this particular story of self-discovery in a womanly one, not about sexuality per se, but surely relating to sexual and personal identity. So many female coming of age stories through history have introduced an idealized masculine element in them, as if to suggest a women must have a man to complete her — an idea that, tellingly enough, has few analogues in male coming of age stories (in which women are often prizes to be won).

This tale refutes the implicit diminution of the female in those earlier stories, suggesting an alternate way toward a sense of self: Encompassing, engaged and rooted in friendship. The reward for this journey is self-identity — a “name” — and through self-identity, a social identity as well: These two went into the forest as friends, but emerge as best friends, and best friends forever.

In all, a new, classic tale of growth, female empowerment, personal enlightenment. Not bad for a six year old, I’d say.

Alternately, it could just be story of two girls at camp meeting a sleepy bear. But I think that’s really selling the author short. And I’m just not going to do that.

Personally, I can’t wait for the sequel.

37 Comments on “Athena’s First Story”

  1. Well done — hilarious yet strangely moving.

    You have flawless command of what I wish for whenever I’m writing: a light touch.

  2. This post sums up why you are my favorite blogger ever. Checking out “whatever” and “by the way” are the first things I do when I get to work in the morning (just don’t tell my boss). Thanks so much for giving this girl something to pass the time and thanks for sharing athena’s insight, and lopsided cat’s pics. Rock on John!

    PS: The double double was my favorite as well when I went to UCLA.

  3. In panel three, the subtitler has clearly omitted the word “out” from the phrase “they went out to camp”. This is a radical change from the author’s original meaning that drastically skews the original interpretation. The word “out” strengthens the suggestion that this was not a single trip to the forest, but one of many “outings”, a frequent escape from the trials and tribulations of sophisticated society to the simplicity of the primordial wood. Instead of coming from some other part of the forest, they have clearly come from “inside” their complex modern life, and will come again. Growing up is not a single event in these young girls’ lives, but a continuous process, one which must be repeated many times, a new contribution being added with each repitition.

    It is shoddy misinterpretations like these that prove that we should all do well to appreciate the literary classics in their original language whenever possible, if we wish to understand the author’s true message.

  4. Oh great. Now a 6-year-old has a wider readership than I do. Darn all you Scalzis, darn you to heck.

  5. I see that Athena is following in the footsteps of the “girls road-trip” genre of literature. When are we going to see “Two Girls” on the big screen? I could see a Zeta-Jones/Zellwiger pairing as two big-city women, wearied by the frantic pace of society escaping to the woods for an idyllic weekend that doesn’t quite turn out so well. Sort of like Deliverance without the raft and the hillbillies.

  6. That was beautiful, John. Please let Athena know that her girl-camping as feminine metaphor not only shows a sterling command of the story-telling art, but also brought a tear to this cynic’s old eyes.

    Thank you, Athena and John. Thank you.

  7. Very good. You force me to tell my own ‘cute kid’ story.

    A few years back my son LOVED dubby dubby, which meant wrestling (from WWF, ‘dubby dubby’ = ‘WW’). He liked to horse around and liked to watch it, too.

    He was probably four or so and we watched some match with these HUGE, fat sumo-type guys wearing thongs! Yuck. He wanted to know what was wrong with their legs and bottoms, and I explained he was seeing ‘cellulute.”

    A few minutes later he said ‘Look, Dad, that guy has Sunny Delight too.”

    So around our house it has been known as “Sunny Delight” ever since. I like that name so much better than “cellulite.”

  8. OMG. Cutest. Thing. Ever.

    I love your authorial analysis. You are truly a doting parent to be able to see the creativity that went into this story.

  9. Prediction:

    In 2012, Athena will come storming into your office after finding this in Google and will be absolutely MORTIFIED.

    In 2018, Athena will come across this again in college, call you up and say, “You are truly the strangest man who ever lived.”

    By 2024, this will be a massively endearing Dad thing and she’s going to get misty when she thinks of it.

    So — all in all, nicely done.

  10. Man, Athena’s six and not only is she published, but there’s already an annotated edition out. What have I been doing with my life?

    K

  11. Reading this again – it really has the basics, doesn’t it?

    Exposition – conflict – resolution – summation.

    Maybe there is something to this genetics thing.

  12. “Reading this again – it really has the basics, doesn’t it?”

    Yup. All kidding aside, structurally, it’s not bad for a six year old. Or to put it another way: *I* certainly didn’t write this well when I was six.

  13. What a perfect literary deconstruction! I’m in awe regarding your astute and pithy comments honed while writing English papers in college, your SNAG (sensitive new age guy) tendencies, and your daughter’s amazing raw talent.

  14. You could bind it for her with a comb-binder thingie and make her a laminated front and back cover. I still have a story I wrote in fifth or sixth grade that my mom or teacher bound that way. (My masterpiece was entitled, “My Brother the Dork”. It was all about a girl who finds a diamond in her backyard and along with her older brother, evades a jewel thief to return it to the police. It lacked logic and was a little long on unnecessary exposition.)

  15. “Athena has the creative spelling of a six year old.”

    On the other hand, the way she spells “tired” makes so much more sense to me — phonetically, anyway.

  16. This is the first time I’ve ever checked out your other site. (See, I can’t write in my journal right now due to server problems on AOL, and yeah, I tried that “cache” thing – oh well – so I’m just out here surfing.)

    Anyway, I love your deconstruction of Athena’s atory. Hilarious and brilliant. And I’m sure it precisely captures the essense of her message. Right? :-)

    So funny!

    Have a great weekend!

  17. Abstract

    Post-feminist semiotics and situation in the ritual of liberation: intracultural sublimation and suprarestoratrics in the works of Athena Scalzi.

    As Baudrillard suggests the use of cultural desublimation to challenge the status quo, Athena Scalzi challenges patriarchal referents in her latest work, “the friends went to camp” in a highly metacritical synthesis of antithetical substantive dialectic. While the subject is interpolated into a cultural desublimation that includes reality as a whole, the crisis of Self vs. Other is never directly recombined in the Other, but is subsumed into the Self-mnemonics of the nominative text. Patriarchal quantaphones destabilize the heirarchy of gender role identification while providing necessetical uncertainty in the role of the Bear in the parathetical pre-sexual dynamicism of the capitalistically contextualized characteristic metasticization of the memeological morphology of the heterodox. The intersticies of the text remain indeterminate regardless of the teleological identifications.

  18. You can write that last paragraph, Mark, but you sure as hell can’t *speak* it. I just tried. I’m still unknotting my tongue.

  19. I doubt I could speak it, either! Several of the words were made up… but in thinking about it that just might add more credibility. As a joke I might send it in as part of a query letter with some fake credentials, but probably not. Alan Sokal already did that joke much better than I ever could in an experiment where he sent a bullshit paper to the humanities journal Social Text:

    http://www.physics.nyu.edu/faculty/sokal/

    All praise the postmodernism generator from which I shamelessly stole a few terms.

  20. Comments on a Young Author

    John Scalzi has written a fine annotation of a young author’s illustrated children’s tale:What the author is saying is that while we need to integrate the lessons of nature, we are also more than what is given to us in our natural state. When nature fa…

  21. i love your story it looks like you put a lot of hard work and efort in to this story please dont send me an email because i already get enough crap in my inbox anyways great story and keep up the good work!!!!

  22. Omg i cried. The ending was so sad, and i think the book could just be published! Well actually, ok it was cute yeah yeah….who cares? But, maybe this little girl might become an author, OMG!!!

  23. If only i wrote a cute story when i was 6 or seven and then i placed it on the internet.

    Would i Be Famous?
    Could i be a published author?
    Could i go to book signings?

    Lets all take a minute to think if when we were six we wrote a story aout two best friends and a bear and we put it on the internet.

    OK, lets not think about what happens next…..
    :D :-) @_@ ‘_’ Peace Out!!

  24. If J.K. Rowling made alot of money with her book written on napkins when she was 30 sumtin’, then just think about how much $$$ cha ching $$$ this little gals’ gonna make if she sells this stuff on paper!!!!!

    – Emi:)

  25. Hello Hello again! – No Photos Please!! –
    I think in 2020 when Athena finally figures out about this darn site, that she is going to be ticked! Or embarassed! I am writing when there is like 30 comments already posted. Just think about how many there will be by the time she reads this!!

  26. Little Athena, before you write another hard hitting story that the whole world must listen to, try to check your spelling, You would be doing all of us a great favor!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    And yes, we can all tell that you have the interesting penmanship of a 3- i mean 6 year old!

    Oddly, its saying i’m typing at like, 11 o clock but i am in Cali, so like, its 8 o clock and i am supposed to be researching the god Athena! I was looking at images, and then i saw the cover so like, i should get back to work! Good Night Ya’ll!

  27. Good Night everyone! Happy late easter!!
    Good Night everyone! Happy late passover!!
    Good Night everyone! Happy late Christmas!!
    Good Night everyone! Happy late St. Patricks Day!!
    Good Night everyone! Happy late Valentines Day!!
    Good Night everyone! Happy late New Years!
    Good Night everyone! happy late Thanksgiving ( my last years birthday!)
    Good Night Everyone, Happy Late First Day Of School!
    – Oh wait, its too too late for that!