May 29, 2012

Enchantment

As I posted centuries ago, Facebook told me to read Enchantment by Orson Scott Card for the tenth book in my Year of Reading at Your Mercy. Actually, it was my friend Barbara speaking to me through Facebook—but I suppose you didn’t need me to clarify that it wasn’t Mark Zuckerberg himself.

I finished Enchantment several weeks ago. This is the second novel I’ve read by Orson Scott Card. Ender’s Game is special to me, and I can see now, from reading Enchantment, that Card has a gift for using fiction to make readers consider ideas even as they are immersed in story.

I enjoyed Enchantment. It’s a Sleeping Beauty remake (or spin off of sorts, involving time travel!) told through the perspective of the prince character. Fairy Tale princes are usually such boring, stalwart heroes, but Ivan, our hero in this story, is a breathing, running, argumentative, proud, kind, bold and fearful boy growing into a man. I also love the villain—and, as in most fairy tales, she’s a true villain, never mind how much we know about her victimized youth. Her name is Baba Yaga and her game is ruling the world. She has no fear, complete faith in her power, and her only desire is domination. She’s mad scientist and cackling hag rolled into Genghis Khan. With a collection of eyeballs and a vengeful (but funny!) bear-god at her beckon call.

My favorite thing about the story is the scene near the beginning when Ivan first discovers the sleeping beauty—a forest scene with leaves whirling inside a sudden, hidden chasm, in which danger and desire mingle perfectly. Ivan doesn’t take action during this scene. He’s compelled by fear, uncertainty, and disbelief to run away home, where his parents are preparing to leave Soviet-ruled Ukraine for upstate New York. But what happens here haunts Ivan’s heart and mind as he grows older. It also haunts the reader. The scene is so stirring you can’t wait to get back to it. And you know, just as surely as Ivan does, that you’re going back.

I adored certain parts of Enchantment, but like most books, it has flaws. Even though, a few paragraphs above this one, I admire Card’s ability to blend reflection and storytelling, the story is bogged down at times by its own intellect. Card uses these characters to contrast the life of an academic with worldy, work-a-day life. His characters confront religious identity, cultural blinders, and the power of belief and disbelief to make or break a cause, or in this case, to break gods. And on top of all that, the story examines the impacts of societal freedom. Ivan is born in the Soviet Union and comes of age in America, so through him, we gain perspective on two expressions of “free” society. But even so, while, I love a good, meaty conversation—and while I love much of the introspection and discussion in this book—I don’t always want to have a meaty conversation with the novel I’m reading. At least not when Baba Yaga’s around and I keep looking over my shoulder and wondering why everyone else feels so contemplative.

I also have a hard time with how easily Baba Yaga is defeated. I know that last sentence is a spoiler, but this is a fairy tale, after all, so you probably could have guessed the villain isn’t going to be allowed to dominate the world. The thing is, Card writes Baba Yaga so successfully, as such a force, that her defeat leaves me flat. I bet a satisfying defeat is a hard thing to write for a satisfying villain. I must remember this as a writer, but I’ll probably forget.

Now then, I will end by saying how glad I am to have read Enchantment—as a reader who loves fairy tale adaptations and as a writer who aims to write thoughtful fantasy herself. This book offers up on both fronts.

And wow… I want to stand on the rim of that chasm again, to feel the leaves whirling and writhing at my feet, to look across, with fear and wonder, at the impossible. It gives me chills.

I checked out Enchantment from the Knox County Public Library.