All man­ner of beast­ies

The Goblin Wars tril­ogy

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Jen­nifer Levin

Tea­gan Wyllt­son is the teenage heroine of Tyger Tyger (2010), In the Forests of the Night (2011), and When the Stars Threw Down their Spears (2013), the books that make up au­thor Ker­sten Hamil­ton’s Celtic mythol­ogy-driven Goblin Wars tril­ogy, pub­lished by Houghton Mif­flin Har­court. Ac­cord­ing to Hamil­ton, who cor­re­sponded with Pasatiempo via email, she first con­ceived of Tea­gan when she her­self was just a child, while read­ing The Princess

and Cur­die by Ge­orge Mac­Don­ald, a 19th-cen­tury Scot­tish writer and Chris­tian min­is­ter who was a con­tem­po­rary of Lewis Car­roll. Hamil­ton, who was born in High Rolls, New Mex­ico, in 1958, de­scribed read­ing about a dog-like crea­ture that turned out to be a hu­man child.

“I felt the child’s hand in­side a rough paw-glove, and I knew I was go­ing to pull a child out of a goblin one day. That’s the day Tea­gan was born,” she said.

When we first meet six­teen-year-old Tea­gan in Tyger Tyger, she works a few af­ter­noons a week with chim­panzees at Chicago’s Lin­coln Park Zoo and is plan­ning a ca­reer in ve­teri­nary science. Her mother writes and il­lus­trates chil­dren’s books, and her fa­ther is a li­brar­ian. Her lit­tle brother, Ai­den, who has autism, spends most of his time sing­ing songs with a de­vel­op­men­tally dis­abled eigh­teen-year-old named Lennie, cousin to Tea­gan’s best friend, Abby Gagliano, an as­pir­ing painter who comes from a sprawl­ing Ital­ian fam­ily.

The Wyllt­sons read poems and sto­ries aloud to­gether in the evenings and ac­cept each other’s per­sonal quirks as well as those of their kids’ friends, who come and go freely, even liv­ing with the Wyllt­sons part­time when their own homes over­flow with too many rel­a­tives. When an or­phaned teenage cousin of Tea­gan’s, Finn Mac Cumhaill, gets in trou­ble with the law, her par­ents take him in. It turns out Tea­gan’s mother grew up among Ir­ish Trav­el­ers, a loosely con­nected clan whose mem­bers are of­ten caught up in fi­nan­cial scams and other con­fi­dence schemes. In Hamil­ton’s Wil­liam Blake-in­fused world, Trav­el­ers are the de­scen­dants of the myth­i­cal Fir Bolg peo­ple, who were en­slaved by the Greeks and made to carry bags of soil or clay. “I thought that fit nicely with wan­der­ers upon the earth, car­ry­ing their cul­ture with them,” Hamil­ton said.

Finn’s ar­rival sets off a se­ries of cat­a­stroph­i­cally mag­i­cal events, and a door to the myth­i­cal Ir­ish land of Mag Mell opens in a neigh­bor­hood park, let­ting gob­lins in and out of Chicago. Mag Mell is sup­posed to be par­adise, but long ago it was taken over by the evil Queen Mab and her hus­band, Fear Doirich, or “Dark Man,” who sum­moned and twisted all of goblin-kind to do their bid­ding. Ai­den, who com­mu­ni­cates with the essence of cre­ation through mu­sic, along with Tea­gan and Finn, must travel in both worlds to re­store bal­ance to Mag Mell and save the Wyllt­son fam­ily and ev­ery­one they love from de­struc­tion. “Mag Mell is equal parts myth, night­mare, and A Mid­sum­mer Night’s

Dream. It is the stuff that real fairy tales — the kind we had be­fore Dis­ney came along — are made of. It is a world where Fear Doirich and Queen Mab rule unopposed,” Hamil­ton said. Mag Mell is pop­u­lated by gob­lins, also known as high­born and low­born Sidhe. “They con­sider them­selves one peo­ple and one flesh, but they are not. They are a chimera of peo­ples pulled out of place and time, cob­bled to­gether by the Dark Man’s will.”

High­born Sidhe are the fam­ily of Mab, un­earthly beau­ti­ful but wicked, and low­born Sidhe are beasts stolen from their own worlds by Fear

Doirich, bound to obey him as their god. Tea­gan in­sists on con­nect­ing to the hu­man­ity of the low­born Sidhe, un­fazed by their ghoul­ish­ness or their some­times-dis­eased bod­ies, which she at­tempts to nurse back to health. High­born Sidhe, who look hu­man and can hide in plain sight, are far more ter­ri­fy­ing, with their pen­chant for sav­agery.

Though the char­ac­ters spend a great deal of time in Mag Mell, the books’ Chicago set­ting also plays a cru­cial role and grounds the tale in the tan­gi­ble world, even as that world is sud­denly alive with ghosts, an­gels, and all man­ner of Ir­ish beast­ies. A sprite named Lucy takes such a shine to Ai­den that she makes a nest in his hair and lives off meal­worms and candy. Gil, a beastie with a crush on Tea­gan, longs so much to be a hu­man man that some read­ers might wind up root­ing for Tea­gan to like him as more than a friend.

For her earthly char­ac­ters, Hamil­ton en­gages cer­tain stereo­types about eth­nic­ity and cul­ture in ser­vice of em­pha­siz­ing that ev­ery one of us can trace our roots to some mys­ti­cal or myth­i­cal tra­di­tion. As the nar­ra­tive ex­tends into the sec­ond and third books, Abby’s fam­ily takes a greater sup­port­ing role, es­pe­cially her cousins — Don, Leo, Mike, and Rafe — wannabe-mob­sters named after the Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles.

“The names are a nod and a wink to my read­ers, let­ting them know I am go­ing to play with par­ody and tilt at a few stereo­types. The orig­i­nal Teenage Mu­tant Ninja Tur­tles, who are named after fa­mous Ital­ian artists, were cre­ated as a par­ody of the su­per­hero genre,” Hamil­ton said.

While there are many dark el­e­ments to the Goblin Wars tril­ogy, in­clud­ing vi­o­lence and death, the books are fun­da­men­tally pos­i­tive, filled with po­etry, lit­er­a­ture, art, mu­sic, the philoso­phies of nu­mer­ous world re­li­gions, and a great deal of warmth and hu­mor. Hamil­ton again cited Ge­orge Mac­Don­ald as an in­spi­ra­tion, be­cause his per­spec­tive tended to­ward the goodness of all things. Hamil­ton’s books stand in con­trast to many con­tem­po­rary young adult fan­tasy se­ries, like Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games tril­ogy, which presents a dystopian fu­ture rather than a rich and mag­i­cal past that lives con­cur­rently with the present.

There is, of course, a love story at the heart of the Goblin Wars tril­ogy. Tea­gan and Finn — who are not re­lated by blood — have chem­istry so strong it prompts her to vomit the first time they meet and him to swoon the first time they kiss. Tea­gan’s fa­ther, a sen­si­tive soul if ever there was one, is wary of their grow­ing at­trac­tion and keeps a close watch on their prox­im­ity to each an­other. But in this se­ries, where em­pow­er­ment rests in in­tel­lect and com­pas­sion rather than sex­ual agency, Mr. Wyllt­son’s pro­tec­tive im­pulses are less about guard­ing his daugh­ter’s chastity than they are about help­ing Tea­gan nav­i­gate the power she wields and the mul­ti­level re­al­ity into which she was born.

Ker­sten Hamil­ton’s “Tyger Tyger,” “In the Forests of the Night,” and “When the Stars Threw Down their Spears” are avail­able at book­stores and on­line.

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