Reflection: On Roles and Expectations in Miss Percy

Reader, you have found one of our patented reflections, which drip onto the page when a book makes me think. If you enjoy this, consider clicking the “reflections” tag at the bottom of this article, the category from the top menu, or try this one.

You know how people daydream about time travel or joke about belonging to a past era? They romanticize living a simpler life in a simpler time. Not me. My mind quickly jumps from those pastoral scenes to a life marred by medical problems unsolved by the science of the day. For one, my glasses are thicc, y’all. My prescription is around -700, which means that beyond 5 feet the world descends into a wall of smudges and colors. I cannot read text without squinting beyond about 6 inches. Thank goodness I was born in an era with accessible, affordable prescription eyewear. Beyond myopia, I take medicine for my asthma every day. The modern inhaler was invented in 1956. If I was born 40 years earlier, I would probably have died from my first, unexpected asthma attack at 11.

So, you can keep your time travel. Society isn’t perfect today, but it is the best era to live in so far. I feel fortunate, not only for my physical health, but for the overabundance of lifestyles available to me. We tell kids today they can be whatever they want, and, for the most part, we’re right (I know the American Dream is dead, I’m speaking very generally here, not writing an essay for The Atlantic). With the right training and opportunities, anyone can at least try to be anything in America in 2022. This modern freedom of choice we enjoy floated in the back of my mind as I read Miss Percy….

Obligatory Disclaimer: Although I will try to avoid the juiciest details, what follows includes spoilers for Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons, reviewed last week.

When we meet Miss Percy, she is living a shadow of a life. Her life is not her own; it is the culmination of a series of non-choices made for her, default settings thrust on her by familial and social expectations. When their father fell ill, her sister was married, while she was not, so, naturally, Mildred took care of him. When their father passed, having no income and no prospects, Mildred moved in with her sister, “temporarily, until she gets on her feet.” Having nothing else to occupy her hours, she spends more and more time with her nieces and nephews, until Mildred finds herself their full-time unpaid nurse and governess. Living in another’s home, she takes what is offered to her with quiet acquiescence – a cramped corner of the house, and little to call her own. In her sister’s home, she walks carefully, speaks softly, and takes up as little space as possible. After all, it’s only temporary. 17 years pass in this temporary, transitory, in-between space, where Mildred lives not a life she chose, but the life everyone expects of her, a life dictated by society, circumstances, and defaults.

It takes a miracle to break Mildred free of her self-imposed cage. A dragon egg drops into her lap, and a kind, handsome, single man happens to wander by to help her navigate her new adventurous life. Without this interruption from fate, providence, or sheer cosmic coincidence, the reader gets the impression she would have whittled away her life one imposition at a time until there was nothing left. Mildred’s experience braving the unknown and unexpected with her wyrmling gives her the strength and confidence to stand up to her sister, find her voice, and demand a life of her own choosing.

I suppose the reflection, the thought, if there is one, comes down to a question: If there is something in your life you’re unhappy about, something you’ve accepted by default, as a matter of necessity and circumstance, and is there something you could do about it? If yes, then what is stopping you? What are you waiting for?

As always, happy reading, fellow bibliophile.

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