Marshmallow enjoys reading books that pose complicated questions. Below she reviews a newish classic, Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, published first in 1975, that explores the theme of immortality, in a way reminiscent of the story of Peter Pan.
Marshmallow’s quick take: If you like books that pose life-size dilemmas and dig deeper into well-known stories, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with spoilers): Winifred Foster (nicknamed Winnie) is venturing in a forest that she thinks is owned by her family when she finds a spring. She sees a boy that is drinking from it. The boy tells her that she should not drink from it. He says that his name is Jesse Tuck. Winnie asks him how old he is. Jesse claims that he is one hundred and four years old. Of course, she thinks that he is joking and trying to trick her and so she asks him how old he really is. He says that he is seventeen years old. Then she attempts to drink the water coming from the spring. He stops her, wondering aloud how he will explain the story of the spring to her. Then he hears his parents coming and says that they will explain the story to her.
Jesse Tuck and his family take Winnie to their house. There they explain to her the curse of the spring. The curse of the spring is that it grants the drinker eternal life. Jesse’s family all drank from it and became immortal.
But what is wrong with eternal life? The brother of Jesse Tuck, Miles Tuck, was married, but when he became immortal, his wife thought that he had sold his soul to the Devil. She then ran away with their children. He never saw them again.
Later in the story, the Tucks set out to take Winnie back to her family. Then another man learns about the spring that makes the drinker immortal. He tells Winnie’s family (who have started to worry about her) that he will find Winnie and bring her back if they give him the forest. He later confronts the Tucks and tells them that he knows their secret and the secret of the spring. He tells them also that he will sell the spring water as immortal water. How can they stop him?
Marshmallow’s Review: This is a great book that raises the question:
Is eternal life a blessing or a curse?
The Tucks say that it is a curse because people they love end up thinking that they sold their souls to the Devil. It can also be very lonely:
That’s what us Tucks are, Winnie. Stuck so’s we can’t move on. We ain’t part of the wheel no more. Dropped off, Winnie. Left behind. And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing. You, for instance. A child now, but someday a woman. And after that moving on to make room for the new children.
Living’s heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it’s useless too …. You can’t call it living what we got.
But then there is the man who thinks he will make a fortune selling immortality. So people both want immortality and are afraid of it.
The question of how the spring is there is also interesting. Mr. Tuck thinks that it is something left over from a plan that did not work. This remains a mystery in the book.
Tuck Everlasting is a story that takes some of the ideas and themes from an older story, Peter Pan, and makes things messier and more complicated. In a paper she wrote in 1982, Professor Catherine M. Lynch says the following:
Both Peter Pan and Tuck Everlasting explore two alternative solutions to a conflict central to childhood experience: to grow up to adult responsibilities or not to grow up at all. By introducing readers to the Tuck family who magically cannot die in a world where everyone else does, Natalie Babbitt’s novel deepens the Peter Pan “myth” by dramatizing the fact that the choice of embracing adulthood includes, of necessity, choosing death.
I agree. I think this is a deeper and a more moving book than Peter Pan, which to me felt to be mainly about a little boy who did not want to grow up. But hmm, maybe I should read that story again…
Marshmallow’s rating: 95%.