January brings a short story full of magic, dancing, and...trolls to GigaNotoSaurus, where a young troll comes against the prejudice of humans and the pressure to conform to stereotypes. It’s a piece that looks at art, and the acceptable ways that people are expected to perform—the emotions and characteristics they are allowed to conjure to their audience. And the strength and bravery it can take to break out of those roles and refuse the conventional portrayals and wisdoms concerning different groups. It’s a piece with a breath of the forest, of the damp earth and cool air of a mountain hall, and a troll who wants nothing more than to fill the world with dance. To the review!
“Hand Me Downs” by Maria Haskins (6788 words)
No Spoilers: Tilda is a troll. Not like the online asshole kind, but rather the actual, factual troll—which isn’t really what people imagine when they think about trolls. She’s larger than a normal human, with grayish skin and bit more of a trollish bearing, but otherwise she doesn’t look that much different from a human. And she wants to be a dancer, a prospect that is currently being complicated by her dance instructor, who’s...rather racist. Because when people think trolls, they think certain things. That they are large and clumsy and stupid. That they lack grace and subtlety. That they have tails. And so the performance that Tilda’s been sidled with, the one that is supposed to punch her ticket into a prestigious dance academy, is what humans think of when they think troll. It’s a dilemma that guides the story as Tilda, a young person without any other troll friends her age, must navigate this very delicate and loaded situation, where she has to weigh the future she is desperate for against her own self-worth and dignity.
Keywords: Dance, Trolls, Family, Stereotypes, Music, Magic
Review: The piece has something of a YA feel for me, in part because Tilda is young and because the focus is on her learning to navigate a world that is often hostile and toxic toward her. It’s a piece about dreams and about coming to a more accurate and complicated understanding of the world than before. Of leaving a part of childhood, in this case a part that wanted to believe the world wouldn’t be so twisted, behind in favor of seeing the harm Tilda experiences as wrong regardless of how widespread and pervasive it is. I like that the story sets it up very carefully, without clear lines to say what is necessarily bad or good. Tilda’s father got to where he was in part because his early career catered to the misconceptions about trolls. To the fear and the stereotypes. And while he’s pushed past that, it haunts not only him but his relationship with his daughter, who can see the holes in the argument he gives that her dancing is somehow different from his acting.
And really I like that family here is something that is messy, that is both restrictive and freeing, that doesn’t know quite how to frame the reality that is trolls are seen as these ugly, stupid things. Inhuman, and so less than human. Which is hard not to internalize when the lesson that Tilda’s been taught most is to make the best of things. To accept the mistreatment and abuse because to do otherwise would make the humans uncomfortable, would challenge their ignorances—which is something many humans don’t appreciate. Tilda is trapped by the arguments that people give to children—that the world is simple, that the world is fair, that if they work hard and fit in they will be rewarded. Not that she isn’t given other arguments, but that the simple ones, the ones that promise that people will like her and she can be successful, are very hard for children not to gravitate toward. Because it speaks to the way the world should be, and learning that sometimes there is no winning, no amount of work that will overcome an injustice at the societal level...well, it’s useful but painful. And I like how the story takes Tilda there, through her love of music and desire to express herself, to show people the truth of her and a bit of the magic that she’s always had to suppress.
The feeling of movement and expression is beautifully captured in the piece, too. I wish perhaps that there was a bit of troll rage that Tilda got to use as well, because simply showing the world a side of trolls that is graceful and magical and...good is perhaps covering up the fact that her anger can be beautiful as well, and shouldn’t have to be bottled up all the time. But I do like how she is able to push back against the role that people wanted to put her in, and how she could find her dance and her voice to say no and speak her mind enough to have her moment in the spotlight. It’s a magical, liberating story of expression and grace and movement, and it makes for a wonderful read!