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Bridge to Terabithia | Study Guide

Katherine Paterson

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Bridge to Terabithia | Chapter 6 : The Coming of Prince Terrien | Summary



It is November, and Christmas preparations are underway at the Aarons house. Brenda and Ellie plan to buy presents for their boyfriends, and they tease Jess about his "girl friend" Leslie. Brenda saucily states, "Nobody with any sense would call that stick a girl," a comment that enrages Jess, but he holds his temper. The narrator later reflects, "it hurt his guts to realize that it was Brenda who was his blood sister," while Leslie was not considered family at all. Jess then fantasizes he is really an orphan who was found by his dad, and his "real" family are still pining for their lost child somewhere far away.

Jess is also upset and angry he has no money to buy a present for Leslie. Most of his Christmas money will go toward a Barbie doll for May Belle, for which he is pooling money with Ellie and Brenda. "Somehow this year May Belle needed something special," Jess thinks, feeling guilty that her discontent is probably because he won't let her tag along with him and Leslie. Jess gets down on himself, repeatedly calling himself "stupid" and thinking "It was a wonder someone like Leslie would even give him the time of day."

Luckily, Jess notices a sign offering free puppies. He hops off the school bus to get one for Leslie and presents the pup to her at Terabithia on Christmas Eve afternoon. She is delighted, and names the dog Prince Terrien, guardian of Terabithia. They give thanks in the sacred grove of pines. Later that day Leslie gives Jess a present: paints, brushes, and art paper. "It's not a great present like yours," she says. Jess is delighted and deeply touched, wanting "to tell her how proud and good she made him feel," but words fail him.

Christmas at Jess's house is rather dismal. Joyce Ann cries, his sisters squabble about gifts, and his father gives him "a racing-car set, which he tried to run to please his father." The cheap set, which holds little interest for Jess, doesn't work well, and his father gets angry. When Jess's mother nags him to milk Miss Bessie, he jumps up to do it, eager to get away from the scene. A proud, happy Leslie meets him at the milking shed with Prince Terrien, and suddenly "It felt like Christmas again" to Jess.


Jess shows great ingenuity in getting a puppy for Leslie. Even though he is angry at having no money to buy something, he makes the best of the situation by finding a gift that requires no money to give. And it is perfect. Leslie loves the pup more than any "thing" Jess could have bought her. After all, her family can provide her with "things," but it is companionship and joy she really wants, and for these Prince Terrien is perfect. Meanwhile, Leslie gives Jess art supplies, which may be "things," but they are things Jess desperately longs for and can't afford to buy for himself, nor will anyone in his family consider giving them to him. Leslie feels her gift to Jess is lacking compared to his, and Jess feels the same about the puppy. Since neither gift "cost" the giver anything, they both feel their gifts are unworthy. In truth they are perfectly matched to the recipients. The friends are able to give each other something important, thoughtful, and needed that the other can't provide. To Jess this exchange fulfills the true spirit of Christmas in which giving from the heart and considering the other person are more important than receiving. It is an instance of situational irony that Jess feels this spiritual fulfillment with Leslie, who is not religious at all, rather than with his family, who do attend church at least on occasion.

Christmas is not the merriest of times for Jess and his family. More than anything, Christmas highlights their poverty, both in terms of money and of the intended spirit of the holiday. Jess is frustrated at his lack of money to buy a gift for Leslie, and this frustration is mirrored by his father. Although Mr. Aarons works hard, he can't make the kind of money needed to provide his family with the things they want. He is able to buy only "cheap junk" for Jess, the racing-car set that doesn't work properly. Mr. Aarons's choice of gift for Jess is disappointing in another way; it is a stereotypical "boy" toy and one Jess has no interest in whatsoever. Still, with empathy and consideration for his father's feelings, he puts on a fake display of liking the gift to make his father feel proud. Had Mr. Aarons thought more about what his son really might have wanted, the feelings could have been genuine. But he really knows nothing of what his son is about. The older girls and Jess do pull off a genuinely thoughtful gesture in giving May Belle her longed-for Barbie doll, but beyond that one success, Christmas is mostly discord and squabbling from which Jess wants to escape.

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