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chubby unicorns

The problem with The Stolen Child, which I am reading for my book group, is that it treads into territory that I hate to see messed up by the WRONG portrayal.

I thought I had grown out of that feeling. It was the feeling that would make me seethe when I was a kid when I saw My-Little-Pony-style unicorns, you know, all roly-poly, with big eyes and grins and fat horns on their heads and horse's hooves instead of cloven hooves. Didn't people know that unicorns were supposed to be beautiful???

I got so that I could tolerate more than one interpretation of something (dragons, unicorns, elves, etc.), but in my heart of hearts I still had (and have) my preferences

I've read lots of stories with interactions with the realms of the fair folk or faery or fairies--and I tend to like ones that make them wild and beautiful and dangerous and magical. But I can take variations.

I was dreading reading this story after I heard the guy interviewed on NPR... he just didn't seem to understand fairies and the fairy realm at all. And if you look at the blurble on the back of the book (admittedly not always the best thing to look at), it's all about identity and stuff... okayfine, but if you're going to do that, don't drag magic into it, okay? Make it one of those boring adult books that I still don't read, where people read newspapers and sigh and gaze out windows as their coffee cools.

One big problem is that the author seems rather confused about changelings. He turns changeling-dom into a rotational thing--you're a human baby or child who's grabbed, so you become a fairy changeling, but then after some hundreds of years, it's your turn to get to replace some other human child, and you return to the human world, and meanwhile the child you've changed places with is now a fairy for a while--until s/he gets to do the same thing. It means that the band of hobgoblins (as the author calls his fairy troop) that one of the main characters finds himself with is all former humans--there ARE no real fairies, only former humans doing stints as fairies until they can get back to being human again.

Doesn't this seem pointless? In traditional tales, the idea was that the fairies grabbed human babies to rejuvenate their own bloodlines, or to use as servants. There was a purpose for it! There's no purpose to the operation in this book--they're all just temporary hobgoblins waiting their turn to get back into the human world again... you have to wonder who was supposed to have grabbed the first human, in this system, and why.

Plus, they have no society at all--it's just this little band of hobgoblins, all on their own, with no wider fairy world. And they're more like a Peter Pan's band of lost boys than like true magical beings. Peter Pan's lost boys crossed with a very marginal group of hunter gatherers. That's what they're like.

The changeling who replaces a human boy at the start of the story, as he grows (having now become a human), he reveals a talent for music that's left over from his former human existence, back before the several-hundred-year interlude as a hobgoblin--and apparently in that existence, he was German. Except oops, the story's set in the United States, in the Northeast, and if you go back more than 300 years, you've only got Native Americans. So... are we supposed to believe he was some eighteenth- or nineteenth-century German immigrant's son or something? The author doesn't seem to care about this sort of detail.

Sigh. I haven't finished the book yet. Maybe it will grow on me. I doubt it though.

But a story about a changeling that I truly loved, that shows a believable, real-feeling fairy world and makes you really feel like you know what it's like to be a changeling is The Moorchild, by Eloise McGraw. I guess that had to do with identity too, but not in some heavy, ponderous way. The paperback edition has yucky cover art, but the book is really good.

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
suzan_s
Jul. 14th, 2006 12:19 am (UTC)
I think I would have put that book down by now....not to be picked up again....except by a vampire changeling unicow.
asakiyume
Jul. 14th, 2006 12:38 am (UTC)
unicow
haha-unicow! I love it :-)
heyes
Jul. 14th, 2006 08:55 am (UTC)
I feel the same way
About Elves. I hate hate hate the keebler/santa's elves. I have always thought of elves since I was a wee little on as either being like Tolkien's elves or like those scary Sidhe I read about in some scary faerie tale book. I didn't know that unicorns could have cloven hooves though, that's kinda creepy.
babydriver
Jul. 14th, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)
I absolutely agree. My major beef of the sort is in the stupid portrayal of angels as fat little babies with harps and naked bottoms. What about the terrible six-winged Seraphim or the wise, many-eyed Cherubim?

Stupid.Stupid.Stupid.
sin_agua
Jul. 14th, 2006 11:52 am (UTC)
I loved the movie "Prophecy." Terrible seraphim indeed. ;)

But yes, I get where you are going with this. It's the Disney-ization of mythology (if I may use that word inoffensively), just like they did to our children's stories - which were MUCH darker/bloodier in their original versions.
babydriver
Jul. 14th, 2006 08:01 pm (UTC)
I haven't seen that one. My only source for knowing about the different angels is church ;)

Definitely agree about the children's stories! My favorite of the originals was "The Little Mermaid," I remember vividly my grandmother reading that to me when I was little, and both of us crying at the end when she kills herself. Disney SUCKS!
grayheyes
Jul. 14th, 2006 08:52 pm (UTC)
First off, I thought you hated Book Club!
And I agree that the author has no place writing about such things if he doesn't understand them. (I do like the My Little Ponys, though.
There's nothing wrong with being chunky!)
Your description of the Hobgoblins made me want to rent Labyrinth!
asakiyume
Jul. 14th, 2006 10:59 pm (UTC)
Oh, Book Group has grown on me over the years; I like it now :-) Just don't like this book, is all.

I agree with you that chunky can be quite nice. What I don't like is turning something into something it's not--cutesiefying it, or changing it in some other way.

Yeah, Labyrinth is a very cool movie! I like the art of Brian Froud, which they used for the creatures in that.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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