Monday, September 2, 2019

Quick Sips - PodCastle #589

The latest story from PodCastle mixes a rather dark setting and premise with the promise of magic and the hope of a young woman to escape the cage that’s being presented to her. It’s all wrapped in magic and ceremony, but the message is largely the same—some people are just destined for a bad death. To be mauled by a bear, or pecked apart by birds, or murdered by their intimate partner. Helga’s only a child, and yet her entire village has largely accepted that she’s one of those people. That doesn’t mean she’s just going to accept that, though, and the piece explores what happens when the only options given are bad ones. Let’s get to the review!


“The Horrible Deaths of Helga Hrafnsdóttir” by Christine Tyler (1897 words)

No Spoilers: In Helga’s village, everyone has their own tree on which grow flowers that give glimpses of their deaths. Helga’s, though, has always been particularly cruel and creative, offering up vision after vision of terrible things happening to her from the time she was just an infant. On reaching puberty, every child is supposed to climb their tree and pick a suitable death, walking softly ever after to make sure the death doesn’t fall from them. On Helga’s big day, the whole village turns out to see what grisly fate might await her, only to bear witness to something else entirely. The piece is magical, with the feel of a folktale or fairy tale, and it blossoms in the shadow of expectations and an oppressive fatality. It finds Helga seemingly doomed, and no one particularly eager to help her avoid that fate, but rather grimly fascinated with how tragedy will find her.
Keywords: Deaths, Flowers, Trees, Rituals, Fate, Family
Review: I really like how the story looks at the way that communities are often completely okay with terrible things happening to people that they’ve decided are doomed. Once they decide that a certain person is lost, that somehow they’ve earned whatever awful thing happens to them, it creates this sort of shattered isolation, where the person in question (Helga in this case) can feel and experience just how little people care to help her avoid these violent deaths she’s plagued with seeing. For everyone else the system works well enough, so even when they don’t like it, they seem to draw comfort from it, and especially from the fact that there are those out there who have it worse. People like Helga. Helping her would in some ways make their own fates seem worse, and so they don’t, just watch as if hoping something sufficiently entertaining or dramatic will kill her. And I love that the story finds her refusing to play that part, to inhabit that role. She doesn’t want to be a victim, and yet that’s the only option she’s given. So she takes a different option, rejecting the system entirely and moving toward a world where she can be defined by something other than her grisly death. She doesn’t run, but rather embraces the possibilities before her, literally taking sustenance from what is supposed to weaken her, what is supposed to destroy her. And it’s a lovely moment when she sees the possibility of staying, of accepting a death that might be “good enough” and leaves it to her mother to basically decide, and her mother backs her up. Because it does show her that there are plenty of others who aren’t satisfied with the system, who want her to be happy and alive even if it means she has to leave. And it’s a fun story tinged with darkness but aimed at somewhere bright and free. A great read!


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