This post is about the second story to be discussed in Torque Control’s weekly discussion schedule. It’s not actually due for discussion until the 30th of this month; but, as noted in a previous post, I don’t know whether I’ll be online for the next week or so, which is why I’m blogging about it now.
The story in question is ‘A Tiny Feast’ by Chris Adrian, and was published in the New Yorker (and is available to read online: click the story title). After one of their periodic arguments, Oberon presents Titania with the gift of a human changeling. We join them in a hospital, where the child is being treated for leukaemia; the story chronicles how the faeries try to deal with the alien world of mortal medicine.
I think this piece is wonderful, in more than one sense of that word. Adrian does a superb job of working through the ramifications of his fantastical idea. Most obviously, perhaps, there’s going to be humour in the juxtaposition of traditional faeries and modern society – and so there is: witness, for example, the method Titania finds for playing a Carly Simon LP, before ‘[singing] to the boy about his own vanity’; or the times when the faeries’ glamour drops, and the medical staff become dazzled by the very presence of Titania and Oberon.
Yet there’s another, less playful, side to ‘A Tiny Feast’. Adrian makes some telling observations (‘The doctors called the good news good news, but for the bad news they always found another name’), but the heart of his story concerns the emotional trajectory of the characters, and Titania in particular. At first, the boy is just another changeling to her (she never even gives him a name); gradually, though, she comes to care about him – but the story-logic by which the faeries live has the final say. It makes the tale not only a fine piece of fantasy in its own right, but also a striking metaphor for how we may react to the terminal illness of a loved one.