Wednesday, February 14, 2018

A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies, by Alix E. Harrow

★★★☆☆ Honorable Mention

(Modern Fantasy) The narrator is a witch who works in a public library somewhere in the rural American South. Her job is to get patrons the books they need, but a lonely teenage boy poses a challenge. (4,900 words; Time: 16m)

Recommended By: 🏆Hugo+2 🏆Nebula+2 🏆Readers+1 📙JStrahan+2 👍JMcGregor+2 👍RHorton.r+2 👍STomaino+1 (Q&A)

"," by (edited by Jason Sizemore), appeared in issue 105, published on .

Mini-Review (click to view--possible spoilers)

Review: 2018.081 (A Word for Authors)

Pro: We never even learn his name, and we can only guess at what he suffers, but we’re deeply touched all the same when the narrator gives him the magical escape he longed for.

It’s a victory for her as well, in that she finally gathers the courage to do the right thing, even though it’s against the rules.

Con: So what’s the message here? You really can run away from your problems? Is running away to a magical world really any better than running away in our world?

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Alix E. Harrow Info: Interviews, Websites, ISFDB, FreeSFOnline

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8 comments (may contain spoilers):

  1. We're on exactly the same page with "Work and Ye Shall Eat" and on the same page with the pros of this one but, on the cons, I don't take it so literally or have a problem with it, even so. The story takes an anti-Puritan/Victorian view that "escapism" isn't a bad thing - that even a moment of joy snatched from a life of pain is a good thing. But I don't think the final scene has to be taken as literal escape, anyway, in terms of what the reader takes away from it. It could be more representative of the idea that nourishing our imaginative faculties and having a love of literature can take us to better places. Here, it's portrayed as an actual translation from a bad life to a presumably magical realm but I think anyone who finds that magic book that changes his/her life has "escaped" from the life they had before that change. People who might have ended up dead or in jail have gone on to become writers or scientists or teachers or librarians because of the magic of the book - the "sacred wholeness of reader and book."

  2. I really enjoyed this story. You can feel the love of books and reading in it. And as you said, I felt for the kid even though we don't know his name or much about him.

  3. Oh, I really like Jason's take on the end too! I was already predisposed (as I'm sure many other SFF readers are) to love this story about the magic of stories, libraries, and helpful librarians.

    (Your description says American Midwest, but the story mentions rural Southern US.)

    1. I finally got around to rereading it, and you're definitely right. "It has a lower success rate with black teenagers, because this is the rural South and they aren’t stupid enough to trust thirty-something white ladies no matter how many tattoos we have."

      I'll put it on the fix list. Thanks for letting me know.

  4. I rate this a 4 star myself. Yes, one for the book lovers.
    Reading a really good book can be magical, and for some people it really matters.

    I ended up feeling really bad for the kid, but very glad that he found a better life somewhere else. It felt like the child had no-one. That was what came across to me.

    I didn't understand why some of the books got referenced in the story. I have read some, or know of them but there were a few that I didn't.

    1. I searched for one I hadn't heard of and couldn't find it. I assume there were made up ones among the real ones. Particularly the "extruded fantasy product" one. :)

    2. Thanks. That would explain some that I have never heard of, both in title and author.

      If anyone likes stories about librarians, here is an excellent short story set in a future world where climate change has hit. Written by Beth Cato and published in January 2018. With one made-up reference to a children's book.