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Road Essays
Getting there: it's the road, stupid
In the upside-down: the hobo life in Oz
Re-Mapping the road narrative project
Sibling magic on and off road in the fantasy and horror road narrative
Small towns and out of the way places
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Sibling magic on and off road in the fantasy and horror road narrative: 05/27/18

Cover art

In most of the horror and fantasy road narratives I've read, the protagonist is a singleton, often an orphan. Even when the protagonist has a family, they're often adopted, thus still giving them access to orphan magic. Siblings, though, bring a different dynamic to the journey.

In the early part of Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (2017) as Jacqueline and Jillian are facing the unexpected spiral staircase in the attic trunk that once held their dress-up clothes, that asserts their journey is different. Specifically:

It is not hard, after all, to be sucked up by a tornado or pushed through a particularly porous mirror; there is no skill involved in being swept away by a great wave or pulled down a rabbit hole.

The idea here is that Dorothy and Alice had an easy time getting to their fantasy worlds. Alice fell down the rabbit hole and pushed through the looking glass. Dorothy on her first two trips was carried away by a cyclone (Baum's choice or word) and washed over board in the South Pacific en route to Australia.

While Alice and Dorothy do have stories of adventures in alternate worlds, I don't count Alice's stories in my road narrative project. Alice's adventures are fundamentally different from Dorothy's primarily because they are British stories.

British travel stories are to paraphrase Bilbo Baggins, "there and back again" tales. They are about the journey to a place with the understanding that the final stop on the itinerary will be home — no matter how great the adventure. Alice in both her trips, goes home and never considers the possibility of staying, where as Dorothy, even in the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is told she might have to settle there if the Wizard can't find her a way home. Then of course, later in the series, she does in fact settle in Oz and manages to get her aunt and uncle to move there too. Fantasy worlds in American road narratives are the new frontier.

Another way Dorothy and Alice differ is a matter of family. Alice has her parents, her governess, her big sister, and her cat. Dorothy has her aunt and her uncle, and of course, Toto, but in the first book, the events whatever they may be that orphaned her are still raw and recent. They are recent enough that Aunt Em wonders in chapter one how Dorothy can still manage to laugh. Looking at another famous alternate world British story, Peter Pan, Mary, John and Michael were siblings who traveled together — but they too had a mother and father waiting for them at home and there is never really an worry that they won't get home at the end of their adventures.

Family adventures in American road narratives, especially in fantasy and horror ones, are rare. The most common type appears to be the siblings traveling together. In Down Among the Sticks and Bones the siblings are twin girls — who have been raised arbitrarily separate people: one very boyish and one very girlish, contrary to their own personal wishes. They go to Moors to find their true selves and that doesn't involve being twins or a like in any way.

Back to McGuire's assertion that the trip to the Moors is harder for Jack and Jill (as they are known in the first book, Every Heart a Doorway) vs. Alice and Dorothy. Removing Alice from the equation and looking at Dorothy, as an exemplar of "orphan magic," the question is, "is sibling travel different from orphan travel?"

Tentatively, I say yes. In discussion of Speedy in Oz I noted that travel to Oz seemed to most often come as the result of near death experiences. For the orphan who is the last remaining of a family — due to death or perceived death — it appears that they can avoid dying or that the process of dying is transformative — taking them to a new place rather than taking their life.

When siblings travel together, the stakes are higher because it's entirely possible that one will die, leaving the other. This threat is supplanted numerous times in Supernatural (2005 - ?) as both Winchester brothers have died at least one and the surviving brother with the temporary power boost of orphan magic is able to resurrect or otherwise rescue the fallen brother. It has gotten to the point that the reapers and Death themself are annoyed at the Winchesters, and yet they still manage to cheat death.

As am I only two thirds of the way through Down Among the Sticks and Bones I don't know how the sibling dynamic will play out for Jack and Jill, beyond knowing it won't go well for them. We know the Moors weren't a happy place for them from how they are characterized in the first book. We know they have seen death and we know they are capable of killing. I just don't know quite how that comes to play yet.

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