Clemence McLaren (1938-)
Clemence McLaren told Something about the Author: "As a child hooked on the myths, I always wondered what the mythological characters were feeling about what was happening to them. That dimension was missing from so many of the written sources. When I became a teacher, I used to tell these stories to my students, always embroidering on the characters' personalities. (I still tell stories to my students.) My students actually encouraged me to start writing them down."
McLaren is referring to the myths of classical Europe and the body of literature that grew out of them. The Iliad is considered the first epic poem in Western civilization. Ascribed to the Greek writer Homer, it tells the story of an actual historical event that occurred during the Trojan War. For many years, McLaren and her husband worked as teachers in exotic locales across the globe. Their experiences living in rural Greece, near the island where the warrior of The Iliad, Achilles, was born, gave her the inspiration for her first book, Inside the Walls of Troy: A Novel of the Women Who Lived the Trojan War. McLaren once told SATA that Inside the Walls of Troy took her more than ten years to write.
In Inside the Walls of Troy, McLaren puts herself inside the great fortress at the ancient city of Troy and tells a story through the eyes of two young women: Helen, a famed beauty who enters into an arranged marriage to King Menelaus of Sparta, and then elopes with the Trojan prince Paris; and Cassandra, who holds the gift of prophecy and the curse of never being believed. Helen's romantic conflict allegedly brought about the Trojan War, and events prior to it are recounted by Helen in the first-person, and then by Cassandra in the book's latter half. Cassandra is able to predict the future, but she is unable to help Helen with her romantic dilemma. Cassandra's dreams have told of the destruction that Helen will bring, yet Cassandra finds that she is drawn to Helen for her looks and her sweetness. Helen, according to Christy Risser-Milne in Nimble Spirit, is "amazingly adept at ignoring her own culpability in the war until it is too late to experience any redemption."
John Zeaman, reviewing Inside the Walls of Troy for the Bergen County, New Jersey Record, found that "this novel offers keen psychological portraits and another vantage point on a great work of literature." Writing in School Library Journal, Patricia Lothrop Green noted that McLaren's descriptions of the palace intrigue, despite an outcome already known through The Iliad, "still manage to be suspenseful, and the ending is particularly deft." Susan Dove Lempke, reviewing the work for Booklist, praised McLaren as a "promising first-time author" with a talent for making these ancient tales "as fresh and vivid as any modern tale." In her review for Kliatt, Jessica Swaim called Inside the Walls of Troy an "absorbing tale of lust, romance, greed, and betrayal."- Just as Inside the Walls of Troy tells a familiar Greek tale from a female viewpoint, McLaren's Waiting for Odysseus presents the traditional tale of the Greek warrior who fought in the Trojan War from the viewpoints of four women who knew him: his wife Penelope, his servant Eurycleia, and the goddesses Circe and Pallas Athena. In the original tale, The Odyssey, Odysseus leaves for war but is unable to return at the war's conclusion. For many years, he must undergo a series of trials before he can return home, including visiting Hades, surviving a whirlpool, and killing a six-headed monster. "The first-person perspective of the women in this novel makes for a lively tale of love and deceit, trust and betrayal," according to Phyllis LaMontagne in Kliatt. Gillian Engberg in Booklist praised McLaren's creation of "the multiple voices and rich, complex personalities of the four women." "In giving voice to these previously silent women," wrote Christy Risser-Milne in Nimble Spirit, "the story takes on new depth and appeal for readers of all ages." "This is a fine companion to the original myth," Jolie Jean Cotton noted in the Honolulu Advertiser, "yet McLaren's novel stands soundly on its own."
McLaren relates three love stories in Aphrodite's Blessings: Love Stories from the Greek Myths. Told once again from the female point of view, these stories feature the heroines Atalanta, Andromeda, and Psyche and details how each of the three women find true love. Atalanta is the swiftest runner in her native Arcadia. Whoever can beat her in a footrace will win her hand in marriage, but those young men she outruns are put to death. Atalanta tries to dissuade racers, not wishing more young men to die, but Prince Milanion insists on a race. He strews golden apples in Atalanta's path, making her pause to admire them and allowing him to win the race and her heart. Andromeda is sacrificed to a sea monster because her mother's vanity has offended the gods. But Perseus, whom she has seen in her prophetic dreams, saves her from death. In the third tale, although Psyche loses her lover Eros by following the bad advice of her sisters, she eventually wins him back when the two lovers admit they have both made mistakes.
"In each story," Patricia Lothrop-Green wrote in the School Library Journal, "McLaren reveals the kernel of wisdom that continues to nourish readers." "McLaren," noted a critic for Publishers Weekly, "endows her classical protagonists with new dimensions, making them vulnerable yet courageous, compassionate yet steel-willed."McLaren moves away from her books on ancient Greece with Dance for the Land, which is set in her adopted home of Hawaii. The plot centers around Kate, a California girl with a father of Hawaiian heritage. Kate's life enters a new and difficult phase when her father decides to return with the family to his homeland. She must give up her dog, her school, and her friends in California, and deal with new troubles in a school where Hawaiian children tease her because of her mixed heritage. But then Kate discovers hula, the traditional Hawaiian dance, and she begins to gain acceptance from the other children at school. While the girl is dealing with the problems in her own life, her father and uncle argue about Hawaiian politics, specifically the issue of whether the islands should become a separate nation. Janice M. Del Negro, writing in the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, stated: "Politics is secondary to relationships here: characterization is sharp, with the emotional core of each scene played out honestly and sincerely." Bill Taylor, writing for the Hawaii Island Journal, praised McLaren, who "tackles the issues of racism and cultural elitism head on and does it very well." A critic for Publishers Weekly also found that "McLaren does a commendable job of presenting and explaining Hawaiian politics."
McLaren once explained to SATA that her own personal experience served as inspiration for Dance for the Land. "In 1970, my family and I went to live on a small island in the Western Pacific. A grand adventure, but I was unprepared for the culture shock. This was my first experience of being a minority." It took her five years to convince her first publisher that the book should be published at all. He was not interested in publishing a book that, as James Rumford explained in the Honolulu Advertiser, "took a long, hard look at a place most people want to believe is paradise." Rumford concluded with the hope that "her book for young adults will encourage others to write honestly and forcefully about these Islands. Only in that way can we expect the youth of this state to grapple with the issues they must one day face." In 2004 an expanded version of Dance for the Land was published as Dance for the Aina.
McLaren said: "It turns out that Hawaii is unique in that every ethnic group (including native Hawaiians) is a minority. On the surface, we manage to live together harmoniously, but I gradually learned, as does Kate, the main character in this book, that some local people see haoles (Caucasians) as representatives of a ruling class that discriminated against and excluded all others. These layers of resentment are complex. My white skin reminds some Hawaiians of the 'superior' race that imposed on them a religion, a culture, and a language—people who, in the end, stole their land and their nation. The current Hawaiian sovereignty movement, which takes many forms, is about regaining that land and that almost-extinguished cultural pride—a lot of baggage for island children to inherit.
"Now, twenty-nine years later, Hawaii is home. I've had the privilege of studying with a kumu hula who taught us, through her life and work, the healing power of aloha. I understand Pidgin English (although it's presumptuous for a haole to speak it). I'm studying the Hawaiian language, and hope one day to be able to navigate its subtle metaphors. I teach in a school for Hawaiian children, who are constructing their own versions of sovereignty. Most are hapa (mixed race), like Kate in my book. Almost all come with baggage.
"Books and films about Hawaii paint a picture of mixed-race people with flowers in their hair, laughing and dancing hula together. And this picture is often true, but there's much more underneath the surface. Living in a multicultural paradise—with all its ethnic baggage—is sometimes a messy business [but] also more interesting and more significant. I hope my book will address this complexity. Here as elsewhere, ethnic prejudice gets passed down through the generations. This book is about moving beyond the fears and stereotypes and learning to live together in aloha, a lesson I believe Hawaii can teach the world."
The author, who continues to live in Hawaii, told SATA: "Students who really want to be writers will, quite simply, put in the hours and hours obsessing, revising, dreaming, and living in their stories. They won't be able to help it. Writing is an addiction, that's why people do it. Very few writers make a lot of money or become famous, and writing is a tremendous amount of work. Still, for most of us it's a healthy addiction. The main advice I have for students is to prepare for a job that will support and even nourish this addiction. Don't expect it to pay the bills."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, October 15, 1996, Susan Dove Lempke, review of Inside the Walls of Troy, p. 414; February 15, 1999, John Peters, review of Dance for the Land, p. 1070; March 1, 2000, Gillian Engberg, review of Waiting for Odysseus, p. 1236.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, March, 1999, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Dance for the Land, p. 247.
Childhood Education, winter, 1999-2000, Andrea Bartlett, Dance for the Land.
Children's Bookwatch, April 1, 2004, James A. Cox, review of Dance for the Aina.
Hawaii Island Journal, February 1, 2004, Bill Taylor, review of Dance for the Aina.
Honolulu Advertiser, May 6, 2000, Jolie Jean Cotton, review of Waiting for Odysseus; March 7, 2004, James Rumford, review of Dance for the Aina.
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 28, 2000, review of Waiting for Odysseus.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2001, review of Aphrodite's Blessings: Love Stories from the Greek Myths, p. 1688.
Kliatt, May, 2004, Phyllis LaMontagne, review of Waiting for Odysseus, p. 20; January, 2005, Jessica Swaim, review of Inside the Walls of Troy: A Novel of the Women Who Lived the Trojan War, p. 15.
Maui Weekly, July 15, 2004, Joseph Bean, review of Dance for the Aina.
Publishers Weekly, February 1, 1999, review of Dance for the Land, p. 86; March 27, 2000, "Make That Herstory," p. 82; December 17, 2001, review of Aphrodite's Blessings: Love Stories from the Greek Myths, p. 92.
Record (Bergen County, NJ), February 16, 1997, John Zeaman, review of Inside the Walls of Troy, p. 9.
School Library Journal, October, 1996, Patricia Lothrop Green, review of Inside the Walls of Troy, p. 148; January, 2002, Patrica Lothrop-Green, review of Aphrodite's Blessings, p. 137.
Voice of Youth Advocates, February, 1997, p. 338.
Bess Press Web site, http://www.besspress.com/ (February 19, 2005).
Nimble Spirit Online, http://www.nimblespirit.com/ (January 21, 2005), Christy Risser-Milne, reviews of Inside the Walls of Troy and Waiting for Odysseus.
Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) BiographyClemence McLaren (1938-) Biography - Writings, Sidelights - Personal, Career, Member, Honors Awards