The Fae Are Not a Phase, Part II
Faerie is a fascinating trend taking BookTok and other social media platforms by storm in recent years. For my thesis paper at The New School, I decided to write a critical analysis of Faerie as a tool for writers to provide escapism and explore humanity–and I’m excited to share it with you, part by part, here on my blog!
Part II: The Grass is Always Greener–and so is the Magic Well
A Portrait of Forbidden Love
Released in 2017, An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson follows 17-year-old human painter Isobel as she works to create portraits of dangerous Fae patrons. In Rogerson’s world, Fae cannot perform “craft,” or skilled work including cooking, painting, writing, and more. In addition, they are unable to feel emotions like humans, and look down upon the human race for their frivolous feelings. But of course, the ancient creatures crave exactly what they cannot have whether they want to admit it or not, and so a relationship between humans and Fae is born, with Fae trading favors–which must be specifically and carefully worded to avoid backlash–for human art and skills.
As the most celebrated painter of her age, Isobel simply wishes to continue providing for her small family with her craft, but soon finds herself in trouble when she paints human emotion on the Prince of the Autumn Court’s face. When the two begin to fall into a forbidden love, Isobel must choose between drinking from the Green Well to become one of the emotionless, immortal Fae herself, or death.
Margaret Rogerson Glamourizes Old-World Myths
In An Enchantment of Ravens, Margaret Rogerson teaches a masterclass in taking original Fae myths and “rules” and combining them with new, interesting applications to build her version of Faerie, creating unique opportunities for escapism and exploration on the surface while contrasting humans and Fae to explore human life on a deeper level.
For the readers who wish to take a deep dive, An Enchantment of Ravens explores what it means to be human through the contrast in the human and Fae species. Rogerson’s Fae “moved differently than humans: smooth, precisely, with a peculiar stiffness to their posture, and never put so much as a finger out of place” (Rogerson 2). They are also “talented dissemblers, but they can’t lie outright. Their glamour always has a flaw” (Rogerson 3). Both supernatural-esque qualities to their physical appearance and a propensity towards truth are elements often utilized in Fae lore. So are the Fae’s sensitivity towards iron and their predisposition to create complex and often sinister deals with humans, Fae, and other creatures to get what they want. All of these characteristics separate the humans from the Fae, but Rogerson’s work argues that it is emotion, death, and purpose which truly showcase how special it is to experience life as a human.
While the humans in Rogerson’s book experience a normal range of emotions, Fae cannot feel the same way humans do. The book’s main character describes the Fae as “no more able to understand the sorrow of a human’s death than a fox might mourn the killing of a mouse” (Rogerson 21).
On a deeper level, the harsh juxtaposition between people and the Fae allows readers to explore what it means to be human. In the case of an enchantment of ravens, Rogerson argues that the swift fragility of life, ability to feel true emotions, and sense of purpose that comes with both are what set humans apart. In fact, when a human becomes a Faerie in Rogerson’s world, these are the qualities they lose.
Rogerson’s main character, Isobel, helps to guide readers through the exploration of the importance of emotion, purpose, and death to human existence. Though many of her craftsperson peers yearn to drink from the Green Well and become Fae, Isobel rebels against the idea: “If I drank, I’d lose myself and everything I care about…. The emptiness I’ve glimpsed within you kind frightens me more than death” (Rogerson 135). She values her humanity too much to give up who she is, even for what seems like true love with the Fae prince, Rook. With Isobel as an example, Rogerson urges her readers to embrace the act of being human, in all its purpose and fragility.
Many Fae characters also articulate this point throughout the story. Gadfly, the Prince of the Spring Court, warns Isobel that “You cannot imagine the power your kind holds over us. How very much we envy you. There is more life in your littlest fingernail than in everyone in my court combined,” (Rogerson 228). Similarly, Aster–a Fae who was once a human craftsperson–voices her yearning for Isobel’s humanity with a comparison to flowers: “You are like a living rose among wax flowers. We may last forever, but you bloom brighter and smell sweeter, and draw blood with your thorns” (Rogerson 220).
The Enchantment of Escapism
Through her Fae characters like Gadfly and Aster, Rogerson reminds readers of how special their existence is, even if it may not always be acknowledged in readers’ real lives. For a young person who may be experiencing anxiety, depression, or was made to feel valueless, An Enchantment of Ravens could provide the sense that life is worth living, making readers reconsider the value they put in their own lives.
Readers may also choose to immerse themselves in pure escapism as Isobel explores Faerie at Rook’s side, marveling in the unique magic this version of Faerie offers, such as its glamoured clothes: “As soon as the dress touched her body, it unrolled new lengths of snowy satin. Lace restored itself like blossoms unfurling, and the ribbons spooled down to her toes, pristine. Just like that the dress looked freshly sewn, without the slightest trace of decay” (Rogerson 151-152).
Taking in the larger picture, young readers will also be delighted by Maragret Rogerson’s magic system itself. Coming from our modern world where arts such as cooking, painting, and writing are often devalued in favor of the monetary reward other, less creative professions can bring, An Enchantment of Ravens offers a place where art is valued above all else. “How engaging it is to see the Craft change over time,” said Gadfly, Prince of the Spring Court. “One thinks one has seen the best humans have to offer, and suddenly there’s a new method of glazing china, or these fantastic little cakes with lemon curd inside,” (Rogerson 2). By emphasizing the difference between the immortal, unchanging Fae and the ever-evolving humans, Gadfly and other Fae throughout the book compliment humans like Isobel on traits such as creativity, innovation, and the other skills needed to generate art of all kinds. Young creatives can imagine themselves in Isobel’s world as they are, basking in the knowledge that they would be able to prosper there, without having to worry about the pressures of real world society.
In many ways, An Enchantment of Raven’s beautifully descriptive language and charming magic lends the book to those who wish to escape from the mundanity of real life.
Stay tuned for Part III: A Bitter Land, A Better Land, which examines Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince…