Monday, January 17, 2011

Monsters, Myths & Oddities (2)

Myths, Monsters & Oddities is a monthly feature on The Lit Express that transports us back into the worlds that exist within the pages of our favorite books. We'll explore the dangerous beasts and harmless critters, sinister sorcerers and sparkly vampires that make YA fantasy come alive.
Last week I reviewed A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. I promised to talk a little bit about the "realm" or "spiritual world" in the series. Since it was published in 2003, I imagine a lot of you have already read it. But, just to be on the safe side...there are no plot spoilers here.

The books describe the realm as a place where spirits exist before they move on to their final resting place. Is there magic in this realm? Oh yeah. Those who visit the realm are able to make anything happen. I mean anything. And what if you could take some of that magic home with you? What would you use it for? The first thing I'd change in my own life? I'd make it impossible for my dog to bark at people and other dogs. Sigh. If only such a place truly existed.

...and actually...

To a lot of people in this world, magical realms or spirit worlds really do exist.

In the Native American cultures, smoking the pipe is probably the most important ritual. Why? The pipe's smoke rises up, connecting with the powerful spirits that exist in the spirit world. For the plains tribes, White Buffalo Woman is one of those spirits. She is the maiden goddess who gave them the sacred pipe and showed them how to communicate with the spirit world. She not only taught them about cooking food and praying, but also brought them buffalo during times of starvation.

<<It’s breakfast time, and I’m starving. What I would love more than anything right now is to summon a spirit from a spirit world to come and cook me breakfast>>

In A Great and Terrible Beauty, the girls visited the realm, but could spirits from the realm visit them in the human world? That’s one thing I’m not too sure about. (I’m not far into the 2nd book in the series.) And, what about in real life?

A Shaman is an anthropological term to describe a person who can communicate with the spirit world. Essentially, shaman are messengers. They enter the supernatural realms—much like the characters of A Great and Terrible Beauty—to find a solution for whatever problem their community faces and brings back an answer. If it’s sickness, the shaman looks to the spirit world for a method of healing. Shaman can also communicate with the spirits of the deceased, bringing back messages that are meant to sooth the souls of the living.

Sooth the souls of the living? (That sounds familiar.) It’s exactly what happens for Gemma Doyle, the main character of A Great and Terrible Beauty, when she enters the realm. But, you’ll have to read the book to find out how!


If you are really, truly inspired by the idea of a spirit world or realm, I suggest you watch the animated fantasy-adventure film Spirited Away. The young girl in the story ends up in spirit realm and can't get out. It has some pretty interesting Japanese spirits in it. I saw it years ago and thought it was pretty strange. Interesting...but strange.