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Dreams and Shadows

May 26, 2020

IMG_3978During the time of isolation a friend sent me two fantasy books, the first one entitled Dreams and Shadows. It’s a 2014 novel by C. Robert Cargill and I enjoyed its humorous mix of fantasy with explanations about the nature of the supernatural characters, provided in the form of fictional excerpts from A Chronicle of the Dreamfolk by Dr. Thaddeus Ray, PhD.

The introduction sets the humorous tone, starting with “once upon a time, there were two people who fell very much in love” and ending with one of them finding a changeling in the crib of their baby, Ewan: “she could see the creature’s yellow, catlike eyes—black slits where the pupils should be—glowing in the dark of his crib. The creature who took Ewan, a “Bendith Y Mamau” is then described in the next chapter: “pronounced ‘ben-dish uh mo-may,’ a Welsh phrase meaning ‘mother’s blessing,’ they are the chief child thieves of any fairy court, and the first to whom a community will turn when they desire fresh infants.”

Next we get the story of a little boy named Colby who finds a djinn named Yashar in the woods near his house, the story of the djinn, purported to be excerpted from a fictional work entitled “Timm’s Lost Tales: The Arabian Fables,” and the story of how Colby makes a wish. This is where the fantasy starts to have stakes, to make you care about the characters. Yashar warns Colby that
“monsters are real. Very real. But they’re not just creatures. Monsters are everywhere. They’re people, they’re nightmares. They’re jealous viziers. They are the things that we harbor within ourselves”….Yashar leaned in closer, poking a single stern fingers into Colby’s chest. “One day there may be a monster here. One with the teeth of a shark, the strength of a lion, and the cruelty only a man can bring to bear.”
Colby’s wish is to see all the supernatural creatures Yashar has told him about: “Fairies, angels, wizards. I wanna see ‘em all. That’s my wish.”

Readers are then taken with Colby to fairyland, and see some of the glamorous and fearsome creatures who live there, followed by Dr. Thaddeus Ray’s analysis of why the fairy creatures are so dangerous to humans:
“It would seem that these creatures feel emotion only to serve an end: to feed. Like a human being feels a rumble in its stomach to alert him to the need for food, a forest spirit feels love, jealousy, or anger. In this way they are both drawn to their food and possess the means to lure it to its doom.”

We get Dr. Ray’s version of the Tithe, a seemingly accurate description of how it works for the fairy folk in Cargill’s fantasy version of fairyland, a place called The Limestone Kingdom, and how it affects Ewan, a stolen human child raised on fairy milk. And finally comes the complete story of what happened to Ewan’s parents, how he stumbles into a love triangle with his changeling, Knocks, and a fairy maiden named Mallaidh, and how he meets and befriends Colby.

At the end of Book One, 200 pages into the novel, Colby has saved Ewan from the fate the fairies intended for him and the two boys have promised to be best friends forever. Yashar and Colby have “walked into the night, away from the first of their many adventures together. And while they did, in fact, go on many more adventures—taking them to many other great and terrible places—this was not where this adventure truly ended for Colby Stevens; for just as all little boys must grow bigger, so too must their problems.”

After another excerpt from Thaddeus Ray–about “dreamstuff” and “soulstuff,” which includes the information that a supernatural being is “comprised almost entirely of dreamstuff”– the adventures of Colby as a young man living in Austin, Texas begin. It’s clear that Cargill himself lives in Austin. He describes spring as Colby’s favorite time of year:
“It was still early in the season, when the days could get well into the high seventies, but the nights were a brisk, wintery forty-five. Austin weather was like that this time of year: dysfunctionally bipolar. It was a time of year trapped perfectly between two very different world. And Colby Stevens felt a certain kinship with that.”

The love story of Ewan and Mallaidh continues, except that Ewan has now forgotten most of what happened to him in fairyland and Mallaidh is pretending to be a human girl named Nora. Ewan is playing in a band he calls Limestone Kingdom and even though he doesn’t realize it, Nora knows that “they were fairy tunes she remembered from childhood.” And Ewan meets Knocks again, the changeling who was left in his place and now has good reasons (reasons Ewan can’t remember) to want revenge on Ewan. Knocks is a “redcap,” and ultimately he succeeds in making Ewan one, too, although not before Colby once again bargains for Ewan’s life. This time he gives a speech to the Limestone King and his Council:
“It was your fairies who took him from my world, your fairies who robbed him of his humanity, you yourself who put him on the sacrificial stone, and now it is your fairies again who set out to slaughter him for offenses he has not committed. You came into our world, you stole our child, and now you pretend that it is your place to judge his fate.”

Coyote gets more involved in the action, although no one ever knows what side he is taking or what his purpose might be. He rebukes Colby for thinking that he could take a side in a dispute that he sees as “putting bumblebees in jars to watch them fight.” He provides the serious perspective in Book Two, as Yashar did in Book One, saying
“The trouble with human beings is that when examining the actions of others, they always apply their own ethics and point of view, hoping to understand them in the context of what they might do and why they might do such a thing. When no answer lies in that examination, they always ascribe malice. Malice, you see, is the only thing people understand without explanation. You are born with it and thus come to expect it.
Do you know the difference between a good man and a great man? A good man looks around at his brothers, sees their ignorance, finds himself horrified by it, and sets out to educate them. A great man instead finds himself elated by realizing that his brothers will never know any better, using it to his advantage to forge an army of the ignorant, fighting to leave the world a better place. Ignorance is the only one truly unstoppable force in this world. And the only difference between a despot and a founding father is that the founding father convinces you that everything he does was your idea to begin with and that he was acting at your behest all along. Yes, people are sheep. Big deal. You need to stop trying to educate the sheep and instead just steer the herd.
No one wants to admit that they’re not smart enough to understand what’s going on, so they create such elaborate fictions to convince themselves otherwise. Fairies are the construct of man and bear with them both his arrogance and his ignorance.”

Even though I quote the moralizing bits, because they’re the heart of the story, the adventure and the humor are what propel the plot, even the excerpts from Thaddeus Ray, who begins an essay “On Ghosts and Things of the Past” by intoning solemnly that “there are no such things as ghosts.”

As the story of Colby and Ewan comes to an end, Colby banishes the fairies from Austin and prohibits them from ever again paying the Tithe with snatched human children. It’s a satisfying ending to an intricately interconnected series of stories, although it is left open for a sequel, a copy of which my friend thoughtfully provided.

 

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2020 7:51 am

    Oh, this sounds really fun! I was reading Zen Cho’s latest book recently and it reminded me of how much I enjoy stories set in and around the fairy realms. Adding to the list!

    • May 29, 2020 2:26 pm

      It is really fun. It has a bit of a slow wind-up, but ample reward once the ball is in the air!

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