21 February 2015


Locus Focus: Take One Hundred and Thirteen!

I may not have finished my personal challenge to write about four faerie tale retellings in October and November of 2014, but since I read one more book and buy a DVD for it, I feel obligated to finish. After all, it counts as a backlog, which makes it an official part of the CLUTTER that I have TO CLEAR in 2015. So here is a post for that third book at last.

And now to update the Locus Focus page and the list of settings on the Books page . . .

The Country
Spindle's End
by Robin McKinley

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to descale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn't, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn't have to be anything scary or unpleasant, like snakes or slime, especially in a cheerful household--magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself--but if you want a cup of tea, a cup of lavender-and-gold pansies or a cup of thimbles is unsatisfactory. And while the pansies, put in a dry vase, would probably last a day, looking like ordinary pansies, before they went greyish-dun and collapsed into magic dust, something like an ivory thimble would begin to smudge and crumble as soon as you picked it up.)

It's about time that I tried a Robin McKinley novel, aye, Amy? =D

The first two books I read for the Return to Faerie Land challenge were disappointing in different, but related ways: one had a setting that had clearly not steeped long enough to give it real strength, while the other had a world with a real wealth of detail, but not also a focussed view of the whole. McKinley more than makes up for that now with Spindle's End, which is as thick with magic as its characters' cottages threaten to be.

What I find most creative is not McKinley's twist on the original faerie tale, but her twist on the assumptions about magic that we probably didn't even know we had. I'm willing to bet that most of us see magic the way we see smart technology: intangible, for the most part, and wonderfully convenient. Well, that's not the case in this unnamed country, where magic is annoyingly tangible and about the most inconvenient thing there is! Imagine your smartphone leaving that "slightly sticky plaster-dust" in your pocket (possibly staining the fabric on the outside, like sweat patches), or your WiFi router constantly spreading light cobwebs through the house, or both doing a number on your allergies. You probably wouldn't chuck them out just for that, especially if you could also get "charms" (what we call "accessories") to make them more manageable, but they'd be less sexy, wouldn't they?

The real question is what a world in which magic/technology has such drawbacks would be like--and McKinley's answer is more than satisfying. For it is definitely a world in which "magic-workers" play an important role--not because we've made ourselves need them, as is the case with IT professionals, but because we naturally need them, as is the case with medical specialists. And now the analogy is a little better, because doctors do tend to have a certain smell about them, the way magic-workers do--which, if you knew how much I liked the smell of hospitals, you'd know I don't mean in a bad way. Yet doctors would be more like the realm's magicians than its fairies, who are "the wild cards in a country where magic itself was wild." You're never born a doctor, but you must be born a faerie. Or as we see with the royal family, you must not be born a faerie. There is a strong tradition here of having non-magical kings and queens--and well, you'd want your rulers to be the stolid, reliable, earthy, sort, wouldn't you? Definitely not the sort who'd turn some things into other things for the fun of it . . . or even for the principle of it . . . or simply by accident!

It is into this world that a king and queen make the generous, but ultimately unwise decision to invite a representative from every village in the kingdom and twenty-one representatives from the faerie population ("And I think we should invite at least one man. Male fairies are underappreciated, because almost no one remembers that they exist") to attend their newborn princess's name-day. But how could they have guessed that one fairy, who had been so quiet for so long that people had started thinking she was dead, would take offence at being merely represented and not personally asked? Indeed, the plot that we recognise from our Sleeping Beauty flows so smoothly from the particulars of this world that it is hard to believe that the plot came first and that the world was built around it later on.

Question of the Week: What is your favourite "charm" for mitigating the more negative effects of our magical modern technology?

Image Source: Spindle's End by Robin McKinley


mrsdarwin said...

I myself have never read a Robin McKinley novel either, but this sounds like a good place to start.

Enbrethiliel said...


She's definitely worth trying, if you like faerie tales and Fantasy. =) But now I feel that I should admit Spindle's End was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I really liked the world building, but thought that the big "action sequence" dragged along the ground. I don't know if this was because I made myself read it when I wasn't in the mood for books or because McKinley did make it too dreamy and reminiscent of an LSD trip. =P

Sheila said...

I love McKinley! Originally I only read her because she was next to Anne McCaffrey, but I ended up really enjoying her books. My favorites are The Hero's Crown and The Blue Sword.

My favorite technological charm? The off switch. I don't think we use those enough. Addicted to Facebook? Log out for a day or two. Electromagnetic radiation giving you a headache? Turn off your wireless when you're not using it. Taking your washing machine/heater/dishwasher for granted? When it breaks you will realize how useful it is! ;)

Enbrethiliel said...


The off switch? What's that? =P

Seriously, I'm about to hit it now, which is the only way I'll finally relax for the night . . .