Why You Need to Read: “Across the Green Grass Fields”

Wayward Children, #6: Across the Green Grass Fields

By: Seanan McGuire

Published: January 12, 2021

Genre: Fantasy

            It had been so long since there was a human in the Hooflands. She didn’t like to consider what might be ahead of them that was bad enough to require human intervention. Humans were heroes and lightning rods for disaster, and none of those stories she’d heard about them when she was a filly had ended gently from them, or for the people around them, (8: Time and Transformation). 

            Destiny vs. chance; fate vs. free will. These opposites are disputed more often than we want to admit. Is it destiny, or did your choices lead you to this moment? Did fate or chance determine your current circumstances? Regardless of ANY beliefs—religious or not—just about every individual has debated these questions among others, or between their personal thoughts. In speculative fiction—particularly in fantasy—this debate is investigated further by including prophecies in the plot(s) of the stories. Nowadays, many fantasy authors go into the “dangers of prophecies” and how it can bring about more harm than good, emphasizing how free will is a more “realistic” approach to fantasy stories. This is one of the several messages that can be found in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, and the debate between destiny and chance comes up in the latest book in the series, Across the Green Grass Fields

            The protagonist in this book is Regan Lewis, and when readers first meet her, she is 7-years-old. This is significant because one day, during recess, one of her friends—Heather Nelson—brings a garter snake to show off to her and their other friend—Laurel Anderson. While Regan is fascinated with the snake, Laurel is disgusted with it and slaps it out of Heather’s hand. Laurel states that “girls don’t play with disgusting things like that,” because a first grader believes she knows more about the world than her friends. From that day into the 4th grade, Heather is ostracized by her classmates and Regan remains “friends” with Laurel due to fear of the same thing happening to her. The one thing Regan loves which is considered to be “girly” is horses, which her parents—who love her tremendously—indulge her. However, Regan learns at 10-years-old that she is not “completely female” due to an “anomaly.” This leads to Regan confiding in Laurel (which, was foolish), which causes Regan to flee her school in tears. As Regan is making the long walk home, she finds a Door and walks through it. Regan finds herself in Hooflands—where all mystical horse creatures reside—and is adopted by a herd of centaurs: Pansy, Chicory, Rose, Lily, Clover, Lilac, Bramble and Daisy (notice a pattern here?). Throughout her time in Hooflands, Regan is able to grow into the person she wants to be without the social constraints and the gender role expectations of her (our) world. Regan experiences the same amount of love with the herd as she did with her parents; and, she has a “true” friend in Chicory, something Regan realizes she never had with Laurel. The centaur herd, like Regan’s parents, do everything they can to keep her safe, while keeping her informed about the world around her. Regan grows up realizing that one’s sex and gender doesn’t define an individual, and she is able to think the same way when confronted about “why she was brought to Hooflands.” 

            The plot in this book surrounds the idea of friendship. As cliché as that sounds, Regan’s growth focuses on what having and being a friend entails. Yes, Regan was 7-year-old when she stopped being Heather’s friend in favor of Laurel, but such things and worse are everyday occurrences with children and adolescents (I am an educator, and I can attest to A LOT of schoolyard—and cyber—bullying). Regan—who knows she doesn’t have any friends amongst her classmates—confided her “secret” to Laurel because she didn’t have anyone else to talk to; and, knowing what Laurel’s reaction will lead to, Regan runs away. Regan learns what real friendship is in Hooflands and worries her “predestined task”—something she doesn’t believe in—will bring it all to an end, and she doesn’t want that to happen. The second plot in this book centers on the choices all of the characters make, and the “what ifs” asked by all of them. Regan realizes Heather would have been a better friend than Laurel. Regan’s parents should have given their daughter more time to process the life-changing news they had to tell her. The centaurs make many choices, which they know they had to live with, from protecting Regan to choosing husbands. By the end of the story, Regan is able to make her “ultimate” choice because she witnesses the consequences which outweigh the benefits. There is one subplot in this novella and it involves Regan’s sex (she is intersex). While this revelation comes as a shock to her and causes her to worry about how she’ll be perceived by her peers and everyone else in society, Regan experiences some of the “benefits” which she uses to her advantage unknowingly, especially for someone who loves to ride horses. The subplot is essential to the plots in this story because the subplot drives the entire story. 

            The narrative of this book is told from Regan’s point-of-view and in the past sequence. This is NOT a flashback, but a look back at what happened to Regan from when she was 7-years-old to when she is 16-years-old. The narrative is told in 3rd person omniscient (readers get insight to what happens to Regan’s parents and other characters) and through Regan’s stream-of-consciousness. Given everything Regan goes through and the growth that results from it make her a reliable narrator. 

            The style Seanan McGuire uses in Across the Green Grass Fields is part homage and part criticism of popular children’s media, particularly of the TV cartoon, My Little Pony (the first variant was based on the toys from the 1980s), and of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. First, let me say many of you will make the comparison to the Oz series by L. Frank Baum—and, you wouldn’t be wrong. However, thinking over what led to the protagonist making her choice has resulted with me leaning more towards Lewis over Baum; and, I might be wrong in that as well. Anyway, the author has explained to her fans how a beloved cartoon series contained a lot of danger in a world of horse creatures. Not to mention, McGuire’s view on what happens to the human character, Meghan, makes you reconsider what you think you know about My Little Pony, fairy tales and magic. As for The Chronicles of Narnia, think about the premise made by the Narnians whenever a human—“a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve”—appears in Narnia. Those humans are expected to live up to a role which was “predestined” for them, and they must go along with it because “it is was they’re supposed to do.” McGuire allowed her protagonist to be more mindful about certain things and to consider how such beliefs and notions can affect everyone, something this character is very familiar with. The idea of destiny versus free will is explored in books by Brandon Sanderson, Katherine Arden and Jenn Lyons (and even more authors). The mood in this novella is anticipation of what is coming. The tone focuses on the choices that are made in response to the anticipation of the inevitable. Once again, Rovina Cai provides the illustrations in this book. This time, those illustrations are spread out more in the book and I want to say it is because more emphasis is placed on the world of Hooflands instead of its inhabitants (many of the readers know what minotaurs, unicorns, kirins, etc. look like).  

            The appeal for this novella have ranged from mixed to positive. So far, some of the readers have said that this book is not their favorite in the series, but they still enjoyed it. Other readers (and reviewers) have been very critical about certain parts of the story, especially the ending. Everyone is allowed to have their opinions, and I can see where many of them are coming from. Yet, I do agree with one statement about this book in the Wayward Children series, it can be read by middle grade aged readers (ages 8-12)—as long as they are mature enough to deal with the book’s content. This is because the context and the characters mirror their age group the best. That being said, I believe this book continues with the theme of “cautionary tales” fans have picked up on throughout the series. Adolescent and adult readers are forced to recall their experiences as (or with) schoolgirls and how those notions continue to influence and to hinder each new generation of young girls. And, for those of you who do not believe girls are not “vicious” should re-watch Mean Girls or any “cat fights” videos on YouTube. Across the Green Grass Fields is a great addition to the series and it will be enjoyed by fans of the series. Furthermore, we have to wait another year until we get to read the next book in the series, Where the Drowned Girls Go. Who knows, maybe we’ll meet up with Regan again? 

            Across the Green Grass Fields in the most amiable book in the Wayward Children series so far, but it is not without the threat of danger fans know to expect from Seanan McGuire. This novella about young girls and horses is a much-needed commentary about choices, femininity and friendship. Say whatever you want about this book, but there is little girl you know who wishes there was a world of horse beings where you get to talk and to ride them all day long!

I was able to get this DVD during a bargain sale! I still remember watching these episodes on Saturday mornings on the Disney Channel!

My Rating: Enjoy It (4.5 out of 5).

It All Started With…Lord of the Flies

           Before The Hunger Games and Battle Royale, many of us got exposure to dystopian fiction, which is a subgenre of science fiction, in high school. To those of us who actually read the book, Lord of the Flies provided many of us with a level of violence more extreme than in The Outsiders, which some of us read in middle/junior high school. We know what the story is about: a group of British schoolboys are evacuated to avoid a nuclear war when their airplane crashes onto an uninhabited island. With all the adults dead, these schoolboys—ages 4 to 12—must now work together to survive while they wait for help and rescue. We all remember what happens next, a war starts amongst them, a few of the boys get killed, and the island gets engulfed in flames. William Golding, the author, believed this to be a more realistic scenario as to when unfamiliar children end up deserted on an island with no adult supervision. The “human animal” emerges and life becomes a “fight or flight” situation.

            That novel, I am not sure whether or not I would classify it as groundbreaking, was published in 1954. Fast forward to the 1990s in Japan where a man reads Lord of the Flies and found it to be outdated. This man, Koushun Takami, wrote his dystopian novel with a modern society in mind. Battle Royale was published in Japan in April 1999. This novel made Lord of the Flies look like a child’s game; there were more students and they were older (around 15 years-old), they were given actual weapons (ranging from a machine gun to an ice pick), and their government is making them participate. There are similarities: the students are left alone on an island and they eventually begin to attack and to kill each other. There are differences: more of these students get killed off and you get the point of views of several characters, which provides each of their back stories and motives. Yes, there are also girls who are characters in Battle Royale and they are just as violent as the boys.

            The interesting fact about Battle Royale was the ironic reception it originally (and still) receives. Publishers in Japan found the content to be too violent and too inappropriate, and even the United States distanced themselves (or tried to) from this particular novel (look up the date of the Columbine High School Shooting). However, the novel became a bestseller and a favorite among young readers (the U.S. eventually translated and published this novel in 2003). This led to the film adaptation directed by the late Kinji Fukasaku in 2000, which was also controversial and successful. Even Quentin Tarentino stated: “I wish I had made this movie.” I would also go as far to say that Battle Royale is similar to Mean Girls in which there is more taking place within a large group of students than what is seen by everyone else.

            Some people, including children and adolescents, are willing to submit to their ‘naturalistic’ behavior. This sound like something you learned in biology and in psychology. And yet, we still enjoyed them all the same. Battle Royale took the time to look into why most of the 42 students were willing to participate or to opt out of the “game.” This meant that each student’s home life, school life, and life-changing moment molded them into how they “played”: the good, the bad, and the ugly. In fact, I would not recommend this novel to anyone until after he or she has read Lord of the Flies and The Hunger Games trilogy. This is because I think a complete understanding must be obtained in order to seek out the hidden subplots found in this novel.

            I believe it is safe to say that the success of The Hunger Games in the United States matched the same success Battle Royale had in Japan. And, both went on to become global bestsellers. It can be said that The Hunger Games trilogy is a recent retelling of both Lord of the Flies and Battle Royale. The main subplot is that the resistance had already taken place and these “gladiator games” became part of the treaty. Plus, like the gladiator games of Ancient Rome, the public looks forward to watching them to the point where the games have been hyped up and televised. Sound familiar? The difference in this series is that Katniss is the only point of view readers get, and her post traumatic stress from the games is not understood until the next two books. Katniss gets fame, which she can never get rid of. And, her actions lead to a second revolution that intensifies the already dystopian civilization.

             By the time The Hunger Games was published in 2008, and the film adaptation released in 2012, many fans and readers have at least heard of Battle Royale, and some people even went as far as to accusing author Suzanne Collins of “stealing” the plot. However, in Collins’ defense, any well read person could spot how Greek mythology and literature (the Minotaur) and the reality T.V. shows found their way into the story’s plot. Battle Royale stands alone because even if you have not read the book, you could not deny the amount of tragic deaths mixed with the various ways each of the characters die. Plus, the fact that you get into the minds of each of the characters before they die makes each of their deaths more gut-retching than the characters in the other two books (sorry Rue). That is when you realize that except for the subgenre and the main plot, both stories are not alike.

            Within more than 50 years, the world has seen the publication and the popularity of 3 dystopian novels written for adolescents. In them we experience just how influential the world is to the younger generation and how they plan on acquiring their roles as adults. This reality is grim and fearful as well as realistic. If the adults in such places are not willing to find a peaceful solution to the world’s problems (please note: I am not a pacifist), then why should the children? The children in Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale, and The Hunger Games are put into their situations because of what the adults have or had been doing. Hence, these kids literally must fend for themselves, and the results are disturbing and tragic.

            I am sure that within the next 10 years another dystopian novel will emerge and become as popular as its predecessors. Just like before, we will compare one book with the other and wonder whether or not the latest novel ripped off one of the previous ones. But remember, the popularity and the success of this subgenre all started with Lord of the Flies