There are tons of differences between Tuck Everlasting and Twilight, not the least of which is that Tuck is all of 139 pages. The heroine is twelve years old and there are no werewolves running around. Twilight is a unique and impressive work, but I can never hear about it without thinking of this sweet, charming little book, which was originally published twenty-five years before Stephenie Meyer put pen to paper.
Winnie Foster is a good girl, if a little sick of being coddled. She lives an isolated life where she hardly ever meets anyone outside of her orderly Victorian family. She is debating whether or not to run away when she sees Jesse Tuck drink from a hidden spring in the Fosters’ woods. That moment—and its implications—defines the entire rest of the novel.
Jesse and his family have been the same age for the past 104 years – ever since they unknowingly drank from the spring. They’ve spent a lot of time since then trying to determine why this happened to them, and how they feel about it.
Mae, the matriarch, is bewildered. She describes her family as “plain as salt,” and declares, “we don’t deserve no blessings—if it is a blessing. And, likewise, I don’t see how we deserve to be cursed, if it’s a curse."
Pa Tuck sees life as a series of cycles constantly in motion, a wheel of which the Tucks have fallen off. He mourns the opportunity to be a part of the order of it all. When Winnie protests that she doesn’t want to die, he says:
“No, not now. Your time’s not now. But dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being a part of the whole thing, that’s a blessing. . . . You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we’ve got.”
Jesse is a little less theoretical. He suggests that Winnie wait until she turns seventeen, then drink from the spring, so he’ll have a companion. He’s like Peter Pan begging Wendy to shack up with him forever in Neverland:
“You could come away with me! We could get married, even. That’d be pretty good, wouldn’t it! We could have a grand old time, go all around the world, see everything. Listen, Ma and Pa and Miles, they don’t know how to enjoy it, what we’ve got. Why, heck, Winnie, life’s to enjoy yourself, isn’t it? What else is it good for? That’s what I say. And you and me, we could have a good time that never, never stopped.”
That’s the part of the book that doesn’t sit well with me. Jesse Tuck is 121 years old, but he still thinks and acts like a 17-year-old. Maybe he’s lonely, maybe he really does believe it’s better to never grow up, or maybe he’s just a selfish person, but I’ve never forgiven him for asking Winnie to join him.
Throughout the book, the Tucks are pursued by a man in a yellow suit—apparently a deranged relative of Curious George’s caretaker. He trades his knowledge of Winnie’s whereabouts for ownership of the Fosters’ woods, and in turn, the spring. He threatens to bottle and sell the water to people he deems deserving, and tries to forcibly take Winnie and make her drink. Mae severely injures him, which is ironic for two reasons: 1)If he dies, she will have given the man in the yellow suit the one thing that she herself wants most, and 2) she cannot be killed, and therefore punished, for her crime. Winnie is also confused by the situation, because if the man dies, Mae will be brought to the gallows and everyone will know she’s immortal. However, if the man lives, he will sell the spring water and upset the wheel.
It doesn’t take much to make the connection between Winnie’s internal battle about growing up and the Tucks’ feelings about living and dying. Eternal youth, eternal life—both certainly have their appeal. But they also each have their dangers. I’m turning thirty in a few months, so this is a time when many of my contemporaries are freaking out about growing “old.” I have to say, I don’t share their panic. I often joke that I’m so much better at being old than I was at being young, but there’s some truth in that. It’s hard being young, in ways we don’t like thinking about, and I’m glad to leave some of that—the insecurity, the instability—behind me. There are many things to embrace about aging, and if the comfort of experience comes along with a few wrinkles, I’m okay with that.
I’m not going to tell you what happens to the man in the yellow suit, but I will fill you in on Winnie, and that leads us to the other big difference between Tuck and Twilight: Winnie doesn’t do it. She decides not to drink from the stream, she grows up, and when the Tucks come back many years later to check on her, they visit her grave, which designates her both a wife and mother. “Good girl,” Pa Tuck tells her tombstone.
Mae sums it all up nicely, in a line that I hope will particularly resonate with readers of The Last October: “Life’s got to be lived, no matter how long or short."