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“She could teach them her fudoki and they would become her family. She would have a home again.” 

“People have their own fudoki, Small Cat realized, though there seemed to be no order to the stories and she didn’t see yet how they made a place home.” 

“Everyone wanted to tell their stories and to know where they fit in their own fudoki. She was not that different.”

Kij Johnson’s “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles” was refreshingly light-hearted and innocent. The short chapters, easy vocabulary, happy ending, and embedded moral all led me to conclude that this story is essentially a children’s story. Because I understood that the intent was not to be “literary” it was easy to let things go that I would normally consider flaws. For example, many of the descriptions and jokes were juvenile such as, “North was turning out to be a long way away” and “After the first time, she never forgot to pull off the feathers before eating!” If Johnson wanted the reader to take the story “seriously,” she would have used better descriptors than “big” and “little” and certainly avoided corny jokes ending in exclamation points. Her other stories have demonstrated this ability time and time again. She still gets an important message across, as many fables and children’s stories do. Small Cat comes to understand that the stories we can share define us, she “comes to age” over the course of her journey, and learns to respect differences. The depth of the ideas presented, particularly those about what stories mean to individuals, is easy to understand because of the simple language and format of the story. There’s no need to hide the morals in thick metaphor because the intent for a child to be able to understand. “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles” is evidence that you can successfully break the rules once you know them.

While I understood how to approach “The Cat Who Walked a Thousand Miles,” I had no context for which to interpret the story that (bizarrely) followed, “Spar.” I found a great interview with Kij Johnson in which she discusses the story a little bit here. From the interview, I gather that she was toying with unconventional story-writing. For example, she practically eliminates the plot and scarcely characterizes the protagonist. My best interpretations after sifting through the slime were 1) the irony of a woman who wanted a physical relationship with Gary and ended up in a terrible sexual situation after all 2) a metaphor for an abusive relationship in general or 3) understanding one’s place in the minds of others. Maybe. It’s hard to interpret. One thing’s for sure: “Spar” is not a children’s story.



One Response to “A Children’s Story and One That Is Not”

  1. Kaitlin says:

    Thanks for posting the link to that interview. After reading it, I feel as if I can think about “Spar,” well, at all.