‘Bad Dreams’ by Tessa Hadley

Bad Dreams by Tessa Hadley, 2013

The magic trick:

Constructing a brilliant metaphor for a child’s realization about the world

“Bad Dreams” takes a couple of left turns and does a few interesting things worth noting. But I’m not going to note any of those things further. I’m most taken with the concept expressed in the story’s first half; the subject of our protagonist’s bad dream.

She dreams that an epilogue appears at the end of her favorite book. The book is one in a series – Swallows And Amazons, it’s called – about six kids having adventures one summer at a lake. It is a perfect mock YA series. I’m thinking it was The Babysitters Club back in my generation. Anyway, that’s spot on. So we have that, and then she reveals this epilogue idea. It’s brilliant. The girl in the story dreams that she finds a mysterious epilogue that tells her what happened to all the Swallows And Amazons kids when they grew up. In short, they don’t do well. They all seem to meet early and unfortunate ends.

It’s almost funny for the reader. But it’s terrifying for the protagonist. She feels as if her entire world has been turned upside down.

I think it might be the best metaphor I’ve read for that moment when life suddenly gets scary and complicated for a kid.

And that’s quite a trick on Hadley’s part.

The selection:

She had read all the other books in the series, too, and she acted out their stories with her friends at school, although they lived in a city and none of them had ever been sailing. The world of “Swallows and Amazons” existed in a dimension parallel to their own, touching it only in their games. They had a “Swallows and Amazons” club, and took turns bringing in “grub” to eat, “grog” and “pemmican”; they sewed badges, and wrote notes in secret code. All of them wanted to be Nancy Blackett, the strutting pirate girl, though they would settle for Titty Walker, sensitive and watchful.


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