Tuck Everlasting: An Appreciation by Gregory Maguire
November 27, 2019 by Anonymous
There can’t be a very large club of people who, in their lifetimes, have seen their original novels be turned into musicals for the stage. Natalie Babbitt, who was a distant friend of mine, is one of them.
Meeting at an event to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the original publication of her classic novel, Tuck Everlasting, we talked briefly about the weirdness of being an observer on the sidelines as a certain kind of melodic and theatrical alchemy was being performed upon our fiction. (I had been in the same situation as my novel, Wicked, was in development for the stage.)
I don’t remember exactly what we said, but we didn’t disagree, so I think I’m safe in presenting a viewpoint that Natalie Babbitt probably held. We certainly agreed that there is no conversion from one artistic medium to another—from the pages of a novel to the boards of a stage, say—that doesn’t involve risk, courage, thrill, and the possibility of getting the tone wrong. This is part of what makes live theater so vital, of course—every performance has a slightly different character depending on the mood in the house, the simpatico among performers, and a multitude of other conditions (including, all too often, what the top-of-the-hour headlines are braying about an hour before the curtain goes up).
Tuck Everlasting is an escape from the news, because the news changes and Tuck Everlasting is, well, aiming to be eternal, by the look of it.
In its simplicity and its narrative confidence, the story of Tuck Everlasting is an American parable. I believe Natalie Babbitt’s story is the equal of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” and E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web and perhaps even a couple of Emily Dickinson’s postcards from eternity. The American story of itself—from Puritan times, anyway—is about progress, self-assertion, and a certain willed obliviousness to the past. But Wilder, White, Dickinson, and yes, Natalie Babbitt, all say: Hold on. Another American truth, one less loudly proclaimed, is that the great experiment of our individual lives is conducted within the framework of eternity.
What Tuck Everlasting does so brilliantly is to emblemize this simple but oft-overlooked truth, make it clear as August sunshine upon a spider web, a Ferris wheel, a cemetery nodding sleepily in its chorus of bees and swallows. It’s a truth that any child can take in, and must—that the value of our personal lives is a consequence of the reality that we live in time, and our time is brief.