Saturday, January 9, 2010

Runaway Train


I ran away when I was ten years old. I packed up my color-changing tea set, a change of clothes, and three or four of my favorite books in my faded yellow suitcase that I clicked shut with a satisfying snap. I wrote a melodramatic note about being too sad to stay at home and walked out the door. I was found within minutes, and the consequences of my actions led to many fun therapy sessions. For this reason, I opened From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg, winner of the 1968 Newbery Medal, with both excitement and trepidation. Unlike me, Claudia had a detailed plan of escape that had more to do with having an adventure (and liberation from the patriarchal mores of her large family that confined her, the only girl, to the kitchen), than a deep-seeded sadness. As I read it, I found myself opening up to the possibility to the lightness of this situation, and let go of the baggage of my own runaway train.

Claudia, and her younger brother, Jamie, do what we only dream of doing: they run away and live in the Metropolitan Museum of History in New York City. Each child complements the other; Claudia supplies the methodical planning and foresight, while Jamie provides the cash and complications. In the midst of their elaborate plan to learn as much as they can from the museum, they encounter a mystery that captivates their interest. A small figurine from the Renaissance, which resembles an angel, has been purchased by the museum and the children are determined find out if Michelangelo really created it. Claudia and Jamie are self-reliant and clever, and use their individual skills to uncover the truth. Claudia is single-minded in her focus to solve the mystery when she tells Jamie, "I don't want to come home the same" (98). For Claudia, going home before finding out about Angel won't change her life or how she perceives herself. The act of running away becomes less about how her family treats her, and more about what she can accomplish. Claudia, unlike other children, is running towards a goal. Her behavior reminds me of the following verse from "No More" from Steven Sondheim's Into the Woods:
Running away- go to it.
Where did you have in mind?
Have to take care:
Unless there's a "where,"
You'll only be wandering blind.
Just more questions.
Different kind.
Claudia's persistence keeps her moving towards her dream, and the eventual revelation about Angel from Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler herself. While my escape held no destination, Claudia always knows where she is going, and how to get there. For her, the train is not running away; she is the conductor.


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