When i think faires, i don’t think ethereal qts and pixie dust, i think incest and colonialism, that classic couple, which is probably because of Under the Pendulum Sun, a horror fantasy novel i’m re-reading because it kills me, i love it. With this drip drop water torture election going on, and another black trans woman murdered in my country, of course i don’t really want to be here, as in, in reality. Under the Pendulum Sun is written by Jeanette Ng, who has also written, and delivered, my favorite two-middle-fingers-up acceptance speech for an award (the one she gave at the 2019 Hugos).
I’m a fan of scary fairies in general, and the fae folk of Under the Pendulum Sun are the scariest. They’re all about the galaxy-brain mind games. Even at their most approachable they talk in a tricksy sinister way, as if they’re dropping all these hints they’re about to murder you and they find it most amusing their innuendos are totally over your head. They casually mention devastating comments like “you should know by now I hear more than just your spoken words.” They do stuff like scorch words into parchment instead of using ink. They talk encouragingly to plants, which, combined with everything else, is an unsettling activity. There’s a top-tier fairy who goes by the Pale Queen, which is a very frightening moniker. Her real name is Mab, but most folk don’t fuck around with her real name.
The grand entrance of the Pale Queen and her court crushes it. Pages 132 and 133. Those might be my favorite two pages in this book, probably my favorite entrance for any character ever. This scene no joke makes me swoon, like hard swoons, which is maybe troubling? Her ladies-in-waiting, for example, wear necklaces of tongues and wield bloody shears and thread. Be still, my heart.
Arcadia, the faeland, is my kind of place. Drearily surreal. Crowded with hallucinogenic faces and figures in the shadows and mist. Of course there’s a castle, and it’s a nightmare to cherish--mossy, dripping with secrets, and featuring perennial favorites of doom architecture like doors that open out into nothing but a sharp, fatal fall. Obviously this is where i want to be right now.
Rather than myself, a fool white girl in 2020 america, i want to be the novel’s protagonist, Catherine, a fool Victorian white girl who has traveled to Arcadia convinced her missionary brother Laon needs her aide. Sure, i’d take the incest. Right now incest in a claustophic gothic house sounds better than living in a country that doesn’t fully believe in the deadly pandemic currently exploding all around us. At least Arcadia has Sea Whales, which are whales that swim through land, confusingly named Sea Whales as a kind of fairy joke.
Some goodreads reviewers are referring to the incest as a spoiler but i think it’s obvious enough throughout. I knew they had a romantic thing going pretty much from the beginning. They practically make-out when they meet relatively early in the novel. And there’s a funny scene where Laon asks Catherine to read from the bible, and the first sentence she happens to recite is one where a brother orders his sister to lie with him, and Laon pretty much goes “woah woah woah! please, sis, not that part.” Seriously i didn’t think the incest was meant to be a twist (there is a twist in the novel, though, and it did surprise me actually).
Maybe the incest didn’t surprise me because of Flowers in the Attic, another novel that gives me joy, and really another world that feels like a more pleasant alternative to america right now, a country where something like 40% of the people are into a white supremasist cult. With this as our reality, who doesn’t want to find romance with a sibling while held captive in a mansion’s attic as the youngest sibling is slowly poisoned to death with toxic powdered doughnuts, courtesy of your homicidal mom? If the options are that, and what got presented to me as life, i would go for the gothic horror existence. At least there’s privacy and some amount of lavishness, whereas america really puts the emphasis on banal in their banality of evil.
There’s a part in Under the Pendulum Sun where the Pale Queen taunts Laon with the idea that exotic freaks like the fae are required for his sacred world to enjoy a standard of normalcy. This is actually probably her tamest, most academic taunt (she needles him a lot throughout the book and it’s usually much crueler). I like to think the Pale Queen is emphasizing their shared love of capricious brutality disguised with nonsensical logic. Humans and fae both excel at burying wild, selfish whims in quirky rationale and absurd beliefs we manage to insist, with a soulless deadpan, we really truly do believe in and need to uphold.
I grew up in a sundown town suburb of chicago. I was surrounded by this sort of thing as a kid. It’s hard to think of specific examples of the ways in which rich white people pretend to be a lot less smart than they are, but at the same time they aren’t pretending, it’s like they cultivate ignorance until it becomes almost authentic. To bring up another fairy-centric book, In Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, those who try talking about the fae find they can only speak in riddles and nonsense rhymes. Trying to describe the logic white people insist they believe in sure feels like that. Christianity has a long history with this sort of thing, the riddle logic, it’s how they justify their genocides.
This is all clearly a mood too, but the thing about the fae is they’re more ourselves than we are, and they’re more aware of what they are. They’ve grown past shame. Similarly, most white people have grown past shame, they’ll just never admit it. They’ll never admit anything.
Memorable food is famously crucial to the fae. There’s the initiatory blood cake of Emma Bull’s War for the Oaks, the LSD-metaphor fruit in Hope Mirrless’ Lud-In-The-Mist, the eucharist in King James’ The Bible, the poison food in Flowers in the Attic a novel which i’m deciding is metaphorically about fairies right now why not i already included jesus christ, and Under the Pendulum Sun memorably includes a finger hidden in a salt shaker, a detail i adore and will never stop thinking about at least subconsciously. I love the salt shaker finger because it inspires me to look at salt shakers with renewed interest.
I wanted to bring everything together into some kind of final, cohesive point, but eh. I have no connection between fairy foods and everything else i wrote, even though, to be honest, fairy food was what i originally wanted to write about.