"Whom not who, your Highness," said Doctor Cornelius. "Perhaps it is time to turn from History to Grammar."
You have all heard, no doubt, that you need to learn the rules before you can break them. In large measure that is true. In my case, I simply buried the rules so deep inside my subconscious that I can no longer access them, and I went on my merry way. If I happen to come across a particularly egregious piece of writing, I'll recognize that it is badly done up and I'll probably tell my husband and my cats how it ought to be done, because I have the rules deep down inside me; but on a day-to-day basis, if you made diagramming a sentence a matter of life or death, I would die.
"It is high time we turned to Grammar now," said Doctor Cornelius in a loud voice. "Will your Royal Highness be pleased to open Pulverulentus Siccus at the fourth page of his Grammatical garden or the Arbour of Accidence pleasantlie open'd to Tender Wits?"
I was taught grammar. And taught it and taught it and taught it. I did not enjoy it, nor was I any good at it. For some reason I have always been very behindhand in learning the mechanics of any language, including my own. It is simply not in my nature to pick up on the concrete rules applied to the most mongrel of languages, English - and put that way, can one blame me...? But I was taught it, and presumably something went in because people tell me that I speak more clearly than others (when I can adequately compose my thoughts), and that I am not a bad writer. The foundation stones, although now invisible, were properly laid by my varying tutors in my youth, and they stand me in good stead today.
The face of the strange boy was very grubby. It could hardly have been grubbier if he had first rubbed his hands in the earth, and then had a good cry, and then dried his face with his hands. As a matter of fact, this was very nearly what he had been doing.
One advantage to the English language is that it is horrendously mongrel, and once you have got a basic handle on the few laws that seem to apply more often than not, your own voice and imagination may proceed to bend the rest of the pliable English tongue to your will. And the deliciously vindictive part of it all is that English is so bent and twisted and mongrel and plays so readily with one's wits that anyone trying to squeeze you into a dubious parameter of grammar is likely to find you arguing your way out of the henhouse. In fact, the better you are at the rules, the better you can argue your way out of them.
Take C.S. Lewis, for example. The above quote, from The Magician's Nephew, was read aloud to me by my husband the other evening, as he had picked up the story again and was working through it. I instantly pounced on those few sentences. How many editors today would not be all over that passage ripping it to shreds? Show, don't tell! Why on earth are you posing a possible scenario and then in the next instant telling us that is very nearly what did happen? Absolutely rubbish. Terrible construction. Off with its head. But Lewis was an excellent grammarian, and knew exactly what he was doing. That passage perfectly suits the tongue-in-cheek style of his Narnian fictions (in which he himself interjects on numerous occasions), and the reader finds it absolutely delightful. It is good storytelling. The grammar itself is perfectly sound, and in the context it actually transitions the reader's attention from the girl Polly to the boy Digory. In breaking the rules (or at least bending them) Lewis contrives to build an even stronger narrative.
The longer I live (and I'm only twenty-three and a half years old), the more this seems true. I have not read any of The Hunger Games novels, but I understand them to be written in the first person present, which is unusual. But I also understand it to work magnificently for the delivery of the plot: both Katniss and the reader have absolutely no idea what is coming, and the impact of the plot is doubled by that "living in the moment" feeling provided by writing in the first person present tense. Now, I know this style has since become popular, but whenever I see it I often feel it is just a copycat trend. It was necessary for The Hunger Games, but usually falls flat and hollow wherever else I meet it, because many other plots do not have the natural momentum of something like The Hunger Games to give it strength and dimension, the kind of strength and dimension silently provided by the past tense in most literature.you can do anything, provided you do it well
But you can do just about anything, provided you know how to do it. If you can make it work - and make it work magnificently - who is going to argue?
master the English language, don't let it master you