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FFCCFF: Orphans through cornfields and time: 08/30/18
If utopia ("no place") is the most extreme destination for the road narrative, the next most distant one is uhoria ("no time"). Uhoria is my term for known places where the destination is defined more by time than by place. Uhorias can be (or appear to be) mappable but their location is defined by time, not space.
For this essay I'll be looking at three narratives: The "Girl Who Ruled Fairyland - For a Little While" by Catherynne M Valente (2011), The Kairos Mechanism by Kate Milford (2012), and Three Years with the Rat by Jay Hosking (2017)
These three narratives share three elements in common: a lone traveler (or "orphan"), a destination where time is different ("uhoria"), and a route that takes them through a growing barrier ("cornfield"). These terms, orphan, uhoria, and cornfield are sometimes literal and sometimes metaphoric.
Of these three, the first two feature metaphoric orphans. Mallow who is both the "Good Queen" and the evil Marquess of Fairyland choses to abandon her family, not once but twice, to seek some peace and quiet. Her status as a literary orphan is one of personal choice, not circumstance.
Natalie Minks, meanwhile, is an only child, but not an orphan. Though she shares her mother's powers, she choses to work solo because of her mother's ill health. Just like Mallow, Natalie isn't a literal orphan but her journey is done without her family for personal reasons.
Finally there is the unnamed protagonist in Three Years with the Rat who is literally alone. The degree of aloneness varies depending on where (and more importantly) when we are in the novel. He has been cut off from his family and his sister is either dead or missing. He also is apparently the only person aware of the huge gaping inconsistencies in his Toronto neighborhood. By the climax of the novel when the protagonist takes his journey through time he is literally alone, even removed from the rest of society.
The destinations for these three narratives are places out of time. Time at the start of the trip and the time at the destination are two different things.
Through Mallow's short story we learn how time works in Fairyland. Time in Fairyland is finite and allocated as people arrive (as depicted in the climax of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making). Getting more or less time in Fairyland is a fruitless endeavor as Mallow learns. To beat Fairyland at her own game is to lose oneself to Fairyland. Then as one returns home the memories remain but time snaps back to how it was (much as it does in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
For Natalie Minks and the brothers who arrive in her town, the cornfield and the Kairos Mechanism are their way to once again save the town from outside evils. The device also gives her a glimpse of a familiar utopia, namely, Nagspeake, but it here is just a footnote to explain how and why crossroads magic continues to be a problem in Arcata.
Finally there is the unnamed protagonist in Three Years with the Rat. His journey begins with the disappearance of his sister and her boyfriend. He is called to clean up their apartment when they apparently do a runner. Except he remembers things about them that don't add up to what the landlord is saying. And then things get
weird. This story line reminds me a great deal of Steins;Gate and Steins;Gate Zero (where the uhoric travel is done both by time machine and through a phonewave invention; and only the main character remembers all the different time lines)
All three books use versions of what I call "cornfields" though like the "orphan" protagonists, they don't have to be literal cornfields. Cornfields in the American road narrative are typically farmlands or other cultivated areas at the edges of more traditional roads but they aren't as undefined as the wild lands. For Canadian road narratives, however, the landscape used is more typically a meeting of trees at the waters edge from the Iroquois word tkaronto; or "place where trees stand in water" and for obvious reasons these types of narratives are most commonly set in or around Toronto.
For Mallow, her cornfield is her proximity to them as a child when she is with her family and not in Fairyland. For Natalie Minks's second adventure, it literally begins with a pair of boys carrying a body out through the cornfield at the edge of town. Furthermore, the cover art includes cornstalks as part of the mechanism with Natalie's silhouette in profile in the center.
The journey in Three Years of the Rat combines the tkaronto version of the "cornfield" with another place name Oshawa which is Ojibwa word aazhaway (the crossing place or across). So while the crossing over point isn't a literal cornfield, the use and result is the same, namely a way to travel to somewhere un-mappable, in this case, a place out of time.
These three narratives: two written for middle grades and one written for adults though apparently different on surface details share three important similarities: solo protagonists ("orphans"), a route that takes them through a defined vegetation barrier ("cornfield"), and arrive at a location that while named and mappable, is outside of the normal passage of time.