“The cultural resentment toward magic comes from the sadness found in the space between the universal human longing to believe in magic and the overwhelming evidence all around us that there is no such thing. It’s not that a modern audience doesn’t want magic. It’s that they want it so badly but have already decided it’s not out there, and dislike being told that maybe they were looking in the wrong place.”
From: Staniforth, Here is Real Magic quoted in White Magic, Washuta. Review below.
What is the right place to look for magic? Here are two books searching for the answer in very different ways. The first, a YA Fantasy Novel in translation. The second an autobiographical series of ‘confessional’ style essays from Native American writer, Elissa Washuta.
A YA Fantasy in translation– Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura, translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel.
This is not the sort of book I would normally pick up – and when I bought my copy I don’t think I realised it was a YA fantasy. Looking back the title is a bit of a giveaway! It’s a lesson not to always read what you always read, because I did enjoy this. Definitely a Studio Ghibli wannabe.
So to the plot.
Kokoro has just moved from elementary school to junior high school where she lives in Tokyo. But she has been bullied and has stopped going to school. She spends all day in the house – in her bedroom playing computer games – until her father takes her games console away and tells her she should be using her time to study, then she just mooches around the place. Left alone all day, Kokoro just sits in her bedroom feeling ill and worrying about the things to have happened to her.
There is a full length mirror in her bedroom. Kokoro is lying on her bed staring at it idly one day when the mirror starts to glow with a pulsing light. Walking over to the mirror to investigate Kokoro finds the light becomes increasingly bright. She puts her palm against the mirror:
“The surface was soft as if she were pushing against water. She was being dragged to the other side of the mirror. In an instant her body had been swallowed up into the light and was moving through a tunnel of chilled air. She tried calling her mother but no voice emerged.”
The other side of the mirror is a mysterious place, a castle. But Kokoro is not alone in the castle and there is a reason why she has been called. She finds six other youngsters there. It becomes clear that they are all avoiding school. Only gradually do we find out what their stories are.
This book combines standard fairy tale tropes – a castle with winding corridors, high ceilings and chandeliers, a kitchen – but no running water. Sometimes are heard distant sounds of wolves waiting to gobble you up. There is a wishing key that must be found, to open the door to the wishing room, that also must be found. Then a wish must be made. But in time honoured fairytale tradition the story is not about what it appears to be about. Cleverly though, Tsujimura doesn’t resort to metaphor because in addition to the apparent puzzle to be solved, there are real ones. The 7 youngsters have all come from their separate lives and the emphasis is on the word ‘separate’. It is for them to work out why they are there, and if you’ll excuse the LOTR reference, what to do with the time allotted to them.
Predominantly this is a coming of age tale about empathy, friendship and overcoming fears. If you’re looking for an easy and charming read to take your mind off things, give it a go.
Still on the subject of magic but of a very different sort. White Magic by Elissa Washuta (Ten House), a book which I found on What’s Nonfiction.
Washuta describes herself as “a Native woman and an occult enthusiast” and spends a lot of time on the internet where other witches are. She is also a devoted fan of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac fame. This one is definitely a book for the grown ups.
“Not long ago the witches got upset on the internet. Sephora was “going to sell a “starter witch kit” – tarot cards, rose quartz, perfume – and the witches thought it was wrong for the makeup store to peddle spiritual tools alongside pore refiners.”
“I am Cowlitz, My people are indigenous to what is currently southwestern Washington. I was born in New Jersey, lived in Washington (in Coast Salish territory, to the north of my ancestral homeland) from 2007 -2017 and now live in Ohio, Washington.”
“I am not a medicine woman or a healer. I am a person with an internet connection and a credit card… I am a person who believes in spirits and plays with fire.”
Washuta does indeed play with fire, but the fires she plays with are not related to invocations, spells, dancing round in circles or calling upon Beelzebub to kindly dispense with your foul next door neighbours. Although she rejects the lazy connections sometimes made between Native Americans and alcohol consumption, Washuta’s fireraising has more to do with imbibing more drink than her liver could reasonably be expected to withstand and getting into bed with a succession of men who do nothing whatsoever for her spiritual wellbeing.
“I am still alive and ambulatory after having been raped more times than I can recall, threatened with a knife and a gun, smothered, choked, held down and stalked over the course of several years and at the hands of more than several men.”
Consulting a succession of Doctors she receives a bipolar diagnosis. The writer names such a dazzling array of drugs that she has been prescribed over the years that quite frankly, it is a wonder to me that she is able to pen this book at all. Her bipolar diagnosis is eventually swopped out for one of PTSD.
I enjoyed this book although I struggled to work out what the overarching idea behind it was. Sometimes it is an autobiography and sometimes is a history of the indigenous people of America and sometimes it is a story about the author’s relationship with a man called Carl which frankly went on too long for me – I just didn’t find Carl a very interesting person although the author certainly did.
Washuta has a visceral and unflinching style of writing which ultimately is what holds these stories together as we jump from therapist’s office to Ayres Natural Bridge, from ghosts to the emergency room, and on to Kurt Cobain, Native American mythology, settler imposition, tribe sovereignty, Stevie Nicks and moving house. Above all this is a tale of surviving abuse and of saving yourself, because at the end of the day we have to find the magic within.