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Scourge of the Righteous Haddock
by Ashley Schwellenbach (Author) , Lena Rushing (Illustrator)
Paperback: 396 pages
Publisher: Ashley Schwellenbach; 1 edition (August 15, 2013)
The Brontë sisters—Charlotte and Emily, in particular—have been a sort of literary beacon for me since I first read Jane Eyre in college. I was so struck by the strength, determination, and moral backbone of this young protagonist, who was at once utterly alone in the world and rich in her own company. That was the protagonist I wanted to write—with a contemporary spin, of course.
Scourge of the Righteous Haddock is set in an all-girls orphanage, which is perhaps the most direct nod to the world Jane Eyre inhabits. Because the book is very much about the power of words and writing, each of the students is named after a renowned female author, most of them from the western world with a few exceptions. I wanted to name my protagonist after my favorite of the sisters—Charlotte—but also worried that the name had already been appropriated by another children’s book heroine: the spider in Charlotte’s Web. So I instead named my protagonist after my second favorite sister, Emily. And opted to make Charlotte another orphan at the school, although a very central character nonetheless.
Emily and Charlotte are not direct sketches of their namesakes, but rather models for the type of character I wanted young women to look up to and imitate. They’re creative, warm, capable, and lead the kind of rich, thoughtful interior lives that so impressed me in Jane Eyre. Emily takes after Jane in stature—she’s small and therefore tends to think other people find her insignificant, but never allows this possibility to infect her own thinking of herself. She’s willing to assert her own worth, as Jane does when she states: “The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself.”
In terms of directly quoting or referencing the sisters, I do have one character quote what I regard as the most iconic line from Jane Eyre: “I am no bird; and no net ensnars me …” However, he directs this quote at one of the book’s villains—one of the members of The Brotherhood of the Righteous Haddock, a fraternal religious order bent on destroying the school because they regard the students as usurpers of god’s role as Master Author of the Universe. The brother doesn’t recognize the quote, and once it is explained to him he ultimately dismisses the book as “chick lit,” which is a term I’ve heard applied to Jane Eyre simply because both author and protagonist are women. Everything I’ve read, every character I’ve loved or loathed, had an influence on Scourge of the Righteous Haddock. It’s my first novel and a love letter to literature as much as anything else. But there would be a Scourge of the Righteous Haddock without Jane Eyre. There would be no Emily, no self-proclaimed prophet baptizing his followers in tubs filled with condiments. While there are many points of departure between Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and my Emily—perhaps, most obviously the fact that my Emily is gay because I thought it was time for a strong, literary, gay heroine for teenagers and young adults to admire and respect—I think the essential points of character and unique worldview remain.