Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘Thou shalt be mine at the next full moon.’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: In the unholy names o’ Them Wot Kips Out in Th’open Reaches o’ the Sea, this chapter! If we thought the business with One-Eyed Jake and Audrey back in The Dark Portal was bad, if we thought Isaac Nettle and Spittle were loathsome, if we thought Nathaniel’s warlock powers were the nastiest thing we were going to have to read with our own eyes in this book, Readers, we had another thing coming.
The figurative distance between Ben and Nelda that I talked about last chapter also comes into play for us as readers here, and is part of the way in which the mature and difficult subject of forced marriage is handled so well for a young audience.
By introducing this ‘adult theme’ within a fantasy setting, it allows young readers to engage with it in a thoughtful and compassionate way (poor Nelda! I hope she gets out of this, Esau is so disgusting, etc) while also being able to remove themselves from it if it turns out to be ‘too much’. As adults we know that forced marriage is still an awful reality for many young girls, but a nine-or ten-year-old reader might not, and this chapter allows for safe exposure to such a painful subject as this in the same way that mythology and fairytales do.
Speaking of mythology, Nelda’s predicament has elements of the story of Hades and Persephone, especially when it’s confirmed that Esau plans to forbid her from venturing out of the aufwader caves if the marriage comes to pass. It makes me wish her aunt Hesper were still alive to act as a Demeter figure and contest the union, as old Tarr doesn’t seem to be doing too well on that front. Still, at least the rest of the tribe seem to be on Nelda’s side, and perhaps there is a glimmer of hope as yet.
Matt’s Thoughts: A few of you were mentioning in the comments the fact that the American publishers hadn’t picked up on the last two books of the Whitby series. In the back of my mind, I didn’t think they were all that bad. But then when I got to Esau’s ‘punishment’ that he metes out for Nelda, I started to change my mind.
A younger reader might not realise all the levels of nuance involved in this, but at age 38, I certainly do. Geez … a banishment probably would have been better! Having said that, it also has nice echoes of all those famous fairy tales and myths (Arabian Nights being the first that springs to mind) where a heroine is forced to marry an old, ugly suitor.
However, this is not an interchangeable fairly-tale princess. It’s Nelda. We care about her!
And all of the big emotion packed into the last few pages can over-shadow the awesome details of the journey down to the meeting council. But one detail, which it would be remiss not to mention, is the arms of Esau’s throne. (We like our serpent/dragon spotting at Myth & Sacrifice!)