Slaying Genre: Do You Believe In Magic?
I’ve been rereading two of my very favorite books: Coraline by Neil Gaiman and We Have Always Lived In The Castle by Shirley Jackson. Why? I could bore you with woeful tales of needing a book to obsess me and not finding it lately (suggestions welcomed!) but really, it all comes down to magic. Both of these novels, though extremely different, are swimming in magic—so much so that I can read them dozens of times and still remain captivated by the energies swirling around and in them.
For those who haven’t read them (off to the nearest indie bookshop with you!): Coraline is the short chapter book* about a girl who finds a mirror world by walking through a door that seems to go nowhere in the flat she shares with her parents. The mirror world is full of the dark and strange: button-eyed copies of her parents and neighbors (yes, with actual big black buttons for eyes), red-eyed chanting mice, ghost children, and a fabulously snarky talking cat who serves as a sort of aloof guide.
Shirley Jackson’s masterpiece, We Have Always Lived In The Castle, tells the story (from the point of view of an extremely unreliable narrator) of the Blackwood family. Merricat, Constance, and Uncle Julian are survivors of the arsenic poisoning that killed the rest of their family six years ago. Constance was accused and then acquitted of the crime, but all three of the remaining members of the Blackwood family are forced to live in isolation and are (at times violently) scorned by the village in which they live.
Both novels, though extremely different in so many ways, share a sense of quotidian magic. We Have Always Lived In The Castle is full of imagined trips to the moon, repetitive, almost incantatory movements and actions, buried treasure, and magic words. Books, milk saucers, dolls, jewels, are imbued with a sense of power, a power that protects the Blackwoods (or so the narrator believes) against the encroaching outside world. Coraline takes the familiar and defamiliarizes it, creating uncanny doppelgangers of the people and places that should be, ultimately comforting and protective.
These magics, while captivating, are not what keeps me coming back to these novels, why they are always tucked up close to my bed. It’s the ways in which these very disparate narrators, narrators who are outcasts through loneliness, isolation or their own madness, create and manipulate power (whether that power is real or imagined) over their lives and struggles. These young women are able to weave spells that change their worlds, if even in their own minds.
What is incredible about these novels are the ways in which Jackson and Gaiman show how women and girls who are disempowered can reclaim themselves, that power over the self is powerful magic indeed.
*Coraline is meant for children of all ages—though if you’re reading to or with actual children, know that it’s a creepy read--I revel in these things, and have since the womb, but younger children may be freaked out.
KL Pereira's chapbook, Impossible Wolves was published by Deathless Press is 2013. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction are forthcoming or appear in The Drum Literary Magazine, Shimmer Zine, Lightning Cake, The Golden Key, Innsmouth Free Press, Innsmouth Magazine, Mythic Delirium, Jabberwocky, The Medulla Review, Bitch Magazine and other publications. Pereira’s work on fairy tales, sexuality, Wonder Woman, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are featured on Studio 360 and other radio programs, cited in numerous publications, and assigned in courses all over the United States and Canada. Find Pereira online on klpereira.com and @kl_pereira.See other articles by KL Pereira