Rec: The Eleventh Birthdays
My friends, something absolutely magical has just happened.
I have long been begging o_mayari to post some of her work. Finally, finally she has.
o_mayari possesses an astonishing narrative voice. One can hear the influence of Dickens -- a conscious, deliberate choice -- but above all one is left ravished by her wit and daring and the sheer intelligence of her storytelling. This is an author with a gift for creating complete fictional worlds, worlds like complex webs which however do not break under the weight of their intricacy. Far from it: these are whole worlds, worlds carefully ordered and thought out down to the smallest, finest detail. They are worlds blazingly, startlingly real. This is extraordinary because the world she portrays in the story here is a world out of joint, a dystopia if you will. It is also extraordinary because her narrative voice is a critical, distancing voice, a voice very conscious of its own fictionality. But it is precisely this difference between the narrative and the horrors of which it speaks that makes this thought-provoking fiction of the highest order, fiction which not only narrows in on the problematic kernel of the Potterworld as such, but also of the reality we ourselves inhabit.
The Eleventh Birthdays (gen, mentions Lily/James) is part of a much longer, as-yet unfinished work, but it stands well on its own. The ostensible focus is the trio: Hermione, Ron, Harry. And Dudley.
Each is turning eleven in a world far different from that of the books. Voldemort has won. There are work camps. Harry Potter does not appear to exist. Precisely this stunning reversal of events provides the means for approaching characters so well-known they are almost taken for granted, so well-known they almost seem unapproachable. The reversal in situation allows a reversal of that mindset as the author is able to question clichés and unveil roles and personalities and natures that are at once novel and unsettlingly, achingly familiar. We are shown each child's home situation, we are shown their strengths and blindnesses and unpleasant sides. We are shown what makes these children -- and the adult wizards around them -- so remarkable.
Characterisation, delving deep into the self-understanding of each character, into the meaning of each of their roles, their names -- characterisation is what is at stake here.
The story is divided into three sections, sections arranged in order of the birthdays. The order is hardly arbitrary, however, with each section revealing just a bit more about the world we find ourselves in until we are finally taken into the thick of things. Fittingly, it is at the heart of secrets that we find Snape the Unspeakable -- the ugly, unkempt, sneering, condescending Unspeakable who thrice speaks a powerful, revolutionary word. Fittingly, this master of spinning secrets makes his first appearance smack dab in the middle of the story. Why is this fitting? Although his speaking role is seemingly brief, Snape's presence and his actions provide a key to understanding this brave new world.
His presence is most strongly felt in the third section. On Harry's birthday he sneaks unseen into 4 Privet Drive bearing extraordinary and terrible gifts. Bearing revenge, an apology, hope. The vortex of magical power in that house was located in canon in the cupboard under the stairs. Now things are reversed: the house is one most magical. The cupboard is the only non-magical place. And it is naturally to this vacuum, to the coldest, most ordinary place in the house, that Snape brings his transformative gifts. Snape bearing gifts: the very idea sparks a debate amongst the house occupants about his character. Fictional debate is one of the most powerful ways to represent contradictions, puzzles, paradoxes without reducing them to a simple answer, and what we learn about Snape, and about his debaters is unforgettable. One is left with burning questions and a keen desire for more, but also with the distinct pleasure of having a new and complex puzzle to solve.
I have been writing this in stages between visiting no-fees and writing to realtors. Hopefully it makes sense. You shouldn't be wasting your time reading this anyway. Go read the The Eleventh Birthdays.
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