Sunday, December 7, 2014

Into the Land of the Elves: The Picture Books

(I have no clue why the font has shrunk. It's the normal font size I always use, I have it set to normal, I've tried bolding it, resizing it...nothing works. Sorry about that...) 

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall: author, mentor, researcher
July 27
7:00 PM
The Picture Books  
            When I met up with Apple Blossom at the magnolia archway, the disappointment in her eyes told me that things were not going to go the way I’d planned. “Uh-oh,” I said. “What happened?”
            “I was only able to get one person to join our research group,” Apple Blossom said with a disappointed sigh.  
            “Oh! That’s not so bad!” I was relieved that she had gotten any volunteers at all. “Just one person is better than none! So who is our generous volunteer?” Right then, Wildflower sprung out from behind a holly bush, holding on tightly to her treasured diary. How had I not noticed her there before? “It’s me!” she cried, bouncing on her toes. “It’s me, it’s me!” She ran over to me and stood at my feet like a soldier reporting for duty, smiling hopefully. I smiled back. “Somehow I knew that you would join us,” I said. “Welcome to our research team, Miss Wildflower!” I was happy that she would be working with us and I was proud of her for volunteering, but at the same time I was disappointed that she was the only one who had. She was only five years old and her abilities were very limited. The unfortunate truth was that there just wouldn’t be much for her to do, and the only assignments I could think of for her were meager pittances. Still, I was willing to take what I could get—after all, we could have gotten zero volunteers. But things were certainly not going to go as I had planned.
            “Wildflower, dear,” I said, “is it okay if Apple Blossom and I talk privately for just a moment?”
            “What does that mean?” asked Wildflower.
            “It means that I would like to tell her something that’s only for her to hear,” I told her. “Will you let me do that? You can write in your diary for a moment while I do.”
“Okay.” Wildflower returned to the holly bush to sit down beside it and write. I gave her an approving smile and pulled Apple Blossom aside. “What is she able to do?” I asked.
“She can’t really do anything,” Apple Blossom said concernedly. “I could teach her a little bit about note-taking,” I suggested. “She can’t really write yet, but she knows how to formulate ideas.” But Apple Blossom shook her head. “You’ve got to help me change the others’ minds,” she said. “That’s your job for today.”
“Well…I can certainly try,” I told her, “but I can’t promise anything.”
            “They’re frightened,” said Apple Blossom. “That’s the only reason they won’t do it.”
            “They’re frightened of me?” I asked, alarmed.
            “Oh, no, not of you!” said Apple Blossom. “They’re frightened of what they might find out.”
            “I can understand that,” I said, “but I have a feeling that learning the truth would make them feel better about it.”
            Apple Blossom gave me a hard look then, a look that meant, “Aidyn, you’re wrong.” The truth was that they didn’t want to know the truth. The truth might shatter the perceptions they had that had become facts so long before now. If the Jadeites and the humans had any connection, they didn’t want to know about it. Jadeites were Jadeites and humans were humans, and if anything at all indicated that they were anything more than two phenomenally different creatures, they didn’t want to hear it.  Nothing would change their minds. Apple Blossom had given me an impossible task. “Apple Blossom,” I said, “I respectfully request that you give me a different job for today. What if I were to be your research assistant?”
            “What would you do then?” asked Apple Blossom.
            “I’ll find the books you need,” I explained, “and I’ll take notes, write down page numbers and titles, make citations…things like that.”
            “Are you sure we can’t convince the others to help?” she asked with a sigh.
            “I can’t be entirely sure,” I told her, “but I really don’t think so.”
            “So what is Wildflower going to do?” she asked.
            “The small tasks,” I said. “She can put things away and carry books and papers and things.”
            Apple Blossom looked very unsure about it all, but she finally said, “All right,” with a sort of uneasy shrug. I waved Wildflower over, and the three of us set out for the Grand Greenwood Library. The soldiers met with us at the bridge, and that was something Wildflower was afraid of. She whimpered and hid behind my legs, and I could feel her trembling. They had kept out of sight the day Apple Blossom and her friends had gone off in search of the “shekrumseh,” but today they towered over Wildflower—a few of them were human sized—and their armor gleamed in the sun like the exoskeletons of giant green beetles. I found it to be in incredibly poor taste for these soldiers to clank around behind us when we had a young child with us. Of course she was going to be scared! They had kept out of sight before, and they should keep out of sight again. But, of course, they weren’t going anywhere, and I had only myself to blame for that. I held out my hand for Wildflower, and when she took it I could feel her shaking. “It’s all right, Wildflower,” I said, giving her hand a squeeze. She moved closer to me, and every so often she glanced over her shoulder at the soldiers, keeping an eye on them as they tried to do for me.
            The Grand Greenwood Library gave us a welcome release from the soldiers’ all-seeing eyes. They must have picked up on how much they had frightened Wildflower, as they didn’t even bother to peer in at us through the windows (which would have set her off in a bad, bad way). We set down our equipment: my messenger bag, notebooks, bookmarks, and pencil case, Apple Blossom’s leafy green notebooks and matching tree-bark pencils, and Wildflower’s diary and pen. I asked Apple Blossom, “Can you name some of the picture books about humans?” It was as good a place to start as any.
            “I can name one,” Wildflower piped up.
            “Go ahead, Wildflower.”
            “The Beast on Two Legs,” she said, and I had to laugh. It sounded like a cheesy B-movie from the 1940s. “All right,” I said through my giggles, “what about you, Apple Blossom?”
            “Well…” She looked up at the ceiling. “There’s The Menace of the Outskirts, Humans: Creatures of Destruction, The Tan-Skin Beasts…” I wrote all of these down as she listed them off, but I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I did. They were the cheesiest-sounding book titles I had ever heard. I mean, “Tan-Skin Beasts?” Honestly? Well, these five titles told me that to the Jadeites, we humans really were nothing but unpredictable, menacing, destructive beasts. And yet, I wasn’t treated like a beast at all. They certainly didn’t trust me, and they didn’t view me as a friend or a welcome guest (with the exception of Apple Blossom and Wildflower, of course). My sticky fingers and insatiable curiosity hadn’t done anything to help that. But the Jadeites were amicable enough to me. Wildflower’s parents obviously approved of their daughter’s association with me enough to keep allowing it. The king and queen allowed me to continue visiting with Apple Blossom, so long as it was done under the watchful eyes of the soldiers. Even with my restrictions, I was given a considerable amount of the Greenwood to explore and experience. It was certainly not the way that most would treat a dangerous beast. I knew that I had Apple Blossom to thank for most of this, and I felt a surge of warmth and gratitude for my friend.
            “That’s all that I need for now,” I told Apple Blossom. “Can you tell me where to find these books?”
            “Well, do you want fiction, or…” Apple Blossom stopped herself from finishing that sentence. “You know, it’s probably best if I just show you. Come on.” She got up from her chair and headed off into the maze of books. “Come on, Wildflower,” I said. “I need you to carry some books for me.” She appeared at my side almost instantly.
            Two of the books were found in the same section, a section full of brightly illustrated picture books with boldly written titles in large print. They were the kind of books that you would find in the children’s section of any library. “This is The Tan-Skin Beasts,” said Apple Blossom, handing a book to me. I looked over the book’s cover. The title was written in an urgent shade of red and hovered directly over a detailed illustration of three people: a man, a woman, and a child. Their facial expressions were blank, and except for the swords and spears they were carrying (even the child held a weapon), they seemed perfectly ordinary. Their skin was the same creamy color as my own, but in comparison to the Jadeites who were all pearl-pink and paper-white, it could be considered tan. Whoever had illustrated this book must have seen humans before. I had expected us to be depicted as some kind of exaggerated horror movie monsters.
            After some more searching, we found The Beast on Two Legs. This cover featured a towering man with biceps big enough to rip a tree in half. In one hand he held a lit match and in the other he carried an axe. In the background was a forest that had been set ablaze. “I don’t know anyone who looks like this,” I said as I handed both books to Wildflower. Now that I had seen two different interpretations of humans (both labeled “beasts”), I was more curious than ever to see exactly what it was that made us so scary.
            We returned to our table, Wildflower dutifully set the books down, and I opened up The Tan-Skin Beasts. “Do you need me to read it for you?” Apple Blossom asked. “Not right now,” I answered. “I just want to look at the pictures.” I could tell that she didn’t want to read me any book that called me a beast.
            Those pictures didn’t tell me anything about a possible connection between Jadeites and humans, but it did tell me everything about “the tan-skin beasts”; there were full-color illustrations of humans partaking in such acts as gleefully cutting down trees, burning up forests, and brutally attacking Jadeites. There was a picture of two grown men kicking around and pulling the hair of two little Jadeite girls. There was a small group of Jadeites looking mournfully out on an area of forest that had been charred and littered with plastic bottles and balled up papers. There was a human woman clubbing a Jadeite woman over the head, a sadistic smile painted on her face. This is what Jadeites expected of humans. These were the monsters that Jadeite children were terrified of—and until I quickly proved otherwise, they feared that I was one of them. I was so trusted in comparison to the rest of my kind because I was a human and yet not one of these monsters. And the slightest hint of evidence that I was not as angelically good as I led on—the thievery of five jade stones—resulted in a league of soldiers keeping sharp eyes out for any signs of escalation.
            But this isn’t what bothered me. What bothered me was that things like this had actually happened. They had to have happened, in order to give the authors of books like these any material. It was nearly universally accepted by the Jadeites that humans were fearsome monsters, and in order for that to become a universal constant that was documented and depicted in books, some humans had to have made their way into Jadeite Greenwoods and acted like fearsome monsters.
            Some Greenwoods had been completely trashed, or even burned, by careless people.
            Some people had encountered some Jadeites and responded by attacking and brandishing weapons at them.
            Some people had found it appropriate to beat a Jadeite child.
            For some reason, it had never occurred to me that there must have been a reason for the Jadeites to fear humans the way that they did. It had never occurred to me that humans had done something to establish their place as the bogeymen of the Jadeites. Or maybe it had occurred to me, and I just didn’t want to believe it. Humans are bullies to anyone who doesn’t fit into their own limited little ideas of the world.  
          Those picture books left me with a hatred for my own kind.  

No comments:

Post a Comment