Mortal Fire

When sixteen-year-old Canny of the Pacific island, Southland, sets out on a trip with her stepbrother and his girlfriend, she finds herself drawn into enchanting Zarene Valley where the mysterious but dark seventeen-year-old Ghislain helps her to figure out her origins.

One thought on “Mortal Fire

  1. Marilyn Carpenter & Holly Johnson says:

    Continued from Half-Bad.
    When I think about the magical elements of these four novels, Marilyn, I think of about how the magic presents itself in different ways. Did Billy Dean really have the capacity to heal? Is that magic in the way we think about magic? Canny and Nathan had powers that were considered magical within their circumstances. Hank has no magical powers, but he was able to take care of himself, and I might say, the Universe conspired with him to keep him safe and to bring people into his life who cared for him while he was figuring out who he was. Is that magical? What are you thinking about in respect to magic? How does it connect to the magic of our own lives?
    I have been pondering the word, magic, since I read your last post, Holly. This definition helps me make sense of magic in the books we are discussing. “magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Here’s that word, power, again. This aspect of magic appears more prominently in Half Bad and Mortal Fire. But first, I want to address the two books where at first look magic is not as obvious as in Half Bad and Mortal Fire.
    As you write Hank does find protection and people who care for him in remarkable ways. Is there an aspect of magic in what happens to him? Is the end of Being Henry David realistic or somewhat magical? Referring to the definition I found, the way Hank’s problems at the end of the story do seem somewhat mysterious or magically solved. Where did he get the money he uses to buy the equipment and supplies for his mountain climbing adventure? Why didn’t the ranger who warned him about conditions on the mountain stop him from climbing any farther? How did his father and Thomas, the man who has helped him, find him on the mountain? The timing for their meeting on the mountain strains belief. It does not appear that Hank has supernatural powers or has a link to supernatural forces. Hank also sees Thoreau’s ghost when he visits Walden Pond. What is the explanation for these events? Are they due to supernatural events in the story or weak plotting?
    In regard to The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean telt by hisself, you posed these questions, “Did Billy Dean really have the capacity to heal? Is that magic in the way we think about magic?” As I reread parts of Billy Dean, I was contemplating the answers to your questions. I imagine there might be varied answers to the first question based on a person’s perspective. Some might think that Billy Dean did heal. I would disagree, but my perspective is based on the fact that I think that the people who wanted to be to be healed had a strong expectation that they would be healed and that belief made them whole. Almond, the author, appears to be illustrating that phenomenon in the way he has constructs his story about Billy Dean’s healing powers. I recently read a study that reported that in certain medical tests half the patients that received a placebo instead of medication were improved or healed. Their belief or expectation that they were receiving healing drugs was noted as the cause of their improvement. I go back to the definition of magic, “magic: the power of apparently influencing the course of events by using mysterious or supernatural forces.” Is the key word in that definition in regards to these beliefs apparently? Do the characters that Billy apparently healed experience a long term healing? You asked, “Is that magic in the way we think about magic?” In the case of a healing belief we certainly don’t consider it to be magical thinking, but perhaps it is.
    There it is again, that word, power. Belief in something gives it healing power. At the end of the Billy Dean’s account of his story, he writes, “ I turn my eyes towards the lite.” (sic) … “Truth. Is it truth? … The tales of 1 person mingl (sic) with the accounts of others and what we dred (sic) and what we wish are all mixed up with what we kno. (sic) The living & the dead are all mixed up. But that is how this world is. That is how the mind of Billy Dean is. So that is how this tale must be. And yes. Everything is true.” Almond is asking us to consider how we tell our own stories. He makes me consider these questions. Are our stories made up of wishes, what we fear, what we and others know or what we know having lived them? How do we construct our own truth and it is truth with a small t or a capitalized T? Are stories a way of knowing and coming to know? How did telling his own story help Billy Dean come to know himself? Can we be truthful storytellers or are our stories constructed out of magical thinking about what we have lived and learned? Is the truth in our stories absolute or evolving? Those questions lead to me to ask about Canny in Mortal Fire. Is the magical realism in that novel a way that the author, Knox, is prompting us to consider how magic imbues our own lives and the stories we construct? What do you think, Holly?
    You have given me a lot to ponder, Marilyn. First, I want to address your question about Hank from Being Henry David and the idea of magic. The definition you used contains the word “mysterious.” I think Hank received all the materials and directions (as well as the sighting of Thoreau) by mysterious means. I think the Universe (or perhaps serendipity, which is also mysterious) conspires with us to bring about good whenever possible. I found that Hank was watched over as he grappled with his identity and then the reality of what he thought he had done to his brother. So, I do not see a weak plot, but a bit of magical realism to help us think about the way the Universe might work with and for us.
    In respect to healing in Billy Dean, I think about context. Currently, the medical benefits we have because of research and science would be considered magical in the middle ages. I think today’s doctors would be considered witches then. In respect to the way we tell our stories, that too is contextual. Some of the ways we think about the events in our lives could be magical (mysterious or supernatural). Our concepts of God, or the Cosmos, the Universe, whatever we call that—if we call that anything—could be seen as magical. Our stories give insights into our beliefs about our worlds and our lives. Our truths, if you will. So, considering Knox and Mortal Fire, I would think magic—given your definition—infuses our lives.
    Next time, let’s talk about other books these books reminded us of, or books that would make interesting additions to this textset we have been discussing.
    Continued on The True Tale Of The Monster Billy Dean

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