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Adele in Sand Land by Claude Ponti
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Road Essays
FFFFFF: The far end of the spectrum: orphans who cross the cornfield to utopia
FFFF66: Orphans going off road to reach utopia
FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans
FFCCFF: Orphans through cornfields and time How I classify the road narrative protagonist

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FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans: 08/24/18

FFFF00: The highway to utopia leads to self discovery for orphans

While the majority of utopian orphan road narratives rely on either the cornfield or an off road itinerary, sometimes the orphan is presented with a clear path in the form on a well established road: either a railroad or an interstate.

Where the journey to utopia is relatively easy and safe for the orphan, the point of the journey isn't utopia (or a return from utopia in the case of Dorothy in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Instead, the point is one of self discovery.

The two examples I will be discussing here are The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart (La Mécanique du coeur) by Mathias Malzieu, a French road narrative that has been published here in the States and made into a film, and The Vacation by Polly Horvath and American-Canadian road narrative about an orphan on an endless roadtrip with his aunts.

Jack in The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart leaves his home in Edinburgh in search of love and to test the boundaries of his condition. He has been given a mechanical, wind-up heart that might kill him if he falls in love. But he already has, with a beautiful flamenco dancer and it is she that he is searching for.

Henry, meanwhile, isn't an orphan but is abandoned by his parents. They have left to for points unknown in Africa (the most unforgivable detail of this middle grade novel) and is therefore, even in the presence of his two aunts, feeling orphaned.

Jack's destination is a traveling circus after a train ride during which he meets both Jack the Ripper and Georges Méliès. As the circus is in an undisclosed desert location (possibly northern Africa) and is arrived at via a train ride from Scotland, the trip is to a utopia (an impossible place) via a railway which is something that should be as straightforward a method of travel as possible in that the cars stay on the track and go via predetermined, scheduled routes.

Henry's journey is via interstate and maybe some blue highways too. His aunts have decided he needs a vacation to break out of his funk. He's depressed over his parents leaving him behind. When they appear to go missing later on, he fears that he may now be a literal orphan. The road trip with no specific destination is therefore a utopic one that happens to pass through real world, known locations on real world, known roads, and can be mapped up to the limit which is the unstated destination.

Jack and Henry both while traveling via conventional means find themselves. Jack learns that he is capable of love and of being loved. Novel Jack learns that his mechanical heart is a metaphorical one and that he has been long since cured of his childhood affliction, whereas cinematic Jack learns ways around his physical limitations. Henry (and his aunts) learn how to accept their new status as a family and Henry works through his feelings of abandonment while coming to enjoy the company of his eccentric aunts.

To sum up, these two journeys are utopic in that they can't be mapped by conventional means, even though conventional, mainstream travel options are used in the journeys. Both novels are ones of self discovery by characters who are orphan travelers. For Jack, his journey ends when he finds the love he was seeking. For Henry, he has the chance to go back to Virginia at any time with his aunts, but the book ends before they have decided to do so. Instead, they have opted to find a new home as a traveling family.


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