The ED SF Project

The Ellen Datlow/SCI FICTION Project, that is. We're showing the love for five and a half years of great short fiction, and we need your help! We've got over 300 stories to cover, so if you're a person who loves short speculative fiction, we want you. Go here to read the list and add your voice.

Friday, December 16, 2005

"Come On, Wagon" by Zenna Henderson: An Appreciation by Suzette Haden Elgin

Suppose your family includes a child with a talent that's not one of the standard culture-approved set--a talent that's inevitably going to get that child labeled with the dread word "different." Are you going to notice? If you do notice, are you going to understand that what you're perceving is a talent? Suppose you do understand; then what? What, if anything, should be done about it?

"Come On, Wagon" is a story that explores those questions. The narrator claims that he doesn't like children, but he pays enough attention to them to notice that one child--Thaddeus--is different. When Thaddeus walks away from his little toy wagon saying, "Come on, Wagon," the wagon does as it's told.

As happens all too often in this world, the other people in the story not only don't value and nurture this talent Thaddeus is gifted with, they all work together to make sure he "outgrows" it and turns out just like all the other kids. Which means that on the day years later when that talent is the one thing that could have prevented a tragedy, Thaddeus either doesn't remember how to use it, or has so thoroughly accepted the idea that what he does is impossible that he is no longer able to use it.

Unlike the narrator of "Come On, Wagon," I like children very much. And I have always valued Zenna Henderson's stories for their portrayal of the world of children (tweaked just a science-fictional tad) and of the children that inhabit that world.

It's easy to say that we human beings would like to have psibilities--talents that would let us manipulate the physical world without machines and tools. "If only I could just wiggle my fingertips and heal a broken leg . . . mend a broken chair or window . . . send a message to my friend and get one back . . . persuade a tornado to pass my household by." Those talents have a seductive allure, and we think how wonderful it would be to have them. But Zenna Henderson's stories show us clearly and vividly that with those talents would come new responsibilities and burdens and unpredictable consequences, and that perhaps our tendency to stamp out any signs of them in children is only another way of trying to protect the little ones.

"Come on, Wagon" drives home an important point: We can't arrange for those talents to be available only on the rare occasions when we suddenly perceive them as desirable. If we want them, we have to let them be there all the time, to be practiced and fine-tuned.

Many thanks to Zenna Henderson and to Ellen Datlow for this wonderful story.

Link to story.


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