Challenge 397 Response
“The Lady Teacher Without a Name”
by Bill Bowler
Otilia Tena’s “The Lady Teacher Without a Name” is characterized by striking lapses in cause and effect and by abnormal events that pass for normal, for example:
The new teacher appears unannounced. As the story’s title says, she has no name.
I do not consider this a lapse. the child does not know the teacher’s name. Why does the little girl not know the new teacher’s name? Because she’s a little kid. I do not consider any of the events abnormal. they are the child’s fantasies.
Daisy unaccountably asks the mystery lady to be her mother.
Why would a little girl ask a teacher to be her mother? Is it so hard to figure out? I consider this normal for a young child’s psychology. It is possible that daisy’s mother is absent or dead.
Daisy’s grandfather speculates that the “teacher” may be a water sprite but otherwise shows no interest in the strange events at Daisy’s school.
Grandparents tell their kids about Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, too. He’s a nice old codger. No problem.
If the inadvertently locked door were possible in a real school, it would be a major safety issue, but it’s seen as nothing out of the ordinary.
I disagree. It’s a country school house. then again, it could well happen in New York City. Wouldn’t surprise me.
The ending of the story is very mysterious.
Well, yes, it is somewhat. But it’s okay because it’s the ending. There is the “mysterious” flute, and then the very mundane and (finally) realistic question about the teacher’s comb. I consider it a rather nice flourish.
Is “The Lady Teacher Without a Name” a coherent story or is it really a dream sequence embedded in a partially perceived reality? Assuming it is a dream, what might it mean?
It is not a dream. It is a partially percieved reality, seen from an imaginative child’s POV. It doesn’t mean anything. It is a lyrical representation of a child’s world, reality and fantasy.
No doubt, the ESL is an issue at some level, as exemplified in the title (“Lady Teacher”) or as in the use of the word “threshold” instead of “portal”, But the charm and lyricism of the child’s POV compensates for the problems of usage, for me at least.
And I think the sustained child’s POV is the essence of the work. This is not a dream. It is a melange of small real world events mixed with a child’s fantasies. They are not explained as such, nor even identified. It’s up to the reader.
What is the story about? It’s about a child’s curiosity and emotional life. And as such, I thought it was charming.
Copyright © 2010 by Bill Bowler
Few works ever published in Bewildering Stories have elicited such strong disagreement — and on the part of more than two readers. The lesson is that opinions will diverge radically when readers have unanswered questions and too little to share in common.
I think we all agree that the story is charming in ways, and it is at least a partial fantasy told from a child’s point of view. Beyond that, though:
The ESL is not an obstacle. “Threshold” for “portal” is an acceptable option. “Lady teacher” is non-standard, but we see far more difficult problems in usage here in issue 398.
Daisy never learns the teacher’s name. How, then, does she address her? “Hey, teach”? That would be rude. And it’s equally inconsiderate that anyone — let alone a teacher — would not give others a name to use, even if it’s not a real name.
Is it normal that a young child would ask a teacher to be her mother? No, it isn’t. Teachers may be surrogate parents in a way, but even young children know how to make the distinction. The fact that Daisy would ask the teacher to be her “mother” — in effect, to adopt her — points to a larger story, one that cries out to be told and overshadows the events in the narrative.
You won’t need to remind me to stay out of New York City schoolrooms, if they are as you say. The only doors that cannot be opened from the inside are the doors of prison cells. Is Daisy’s school then actually a prison? It doesn’t seem to be; the locked door would be the only indication.
It would be simpler to say that the door latch somehow gets jammed rather than locked. But then what is its function in the story?
As you say, the story is not a dream. However, the absence of cause and effect does lend the story a dreamlike quality, and the story is structured according to the fragmentation typical of dreams. Our guidelines state that we have nothing against dream sequences in fiction but that dreams are interpretations of reality, not reality itself. Therefore a story cannot be purely a dream; the dream — or the dreamlike narrative, if that’s the case — must explain something.
Of course Bewildering Stories is open to experimental fiction, but we’re aware of its perils. Given a series of unconnected events, some readers will say that Daisy is a sweet little girl who has charming fantasies. As you say, her fantasies may somehow reflect her emotions but otherwise don’t mean anything.
Others will agree that fantasies are all well and good, but they’ll want to know what they mean to Daisy. Or is Daisy herself a figment of any reader’s imagination? If so, does the reader really need the story?
In the end, we agree that “Lady Teacher” is a fun read, even if we do have different reasons to think so.