Monday, October 14, 2019

Winter Masques

I should have taken better notes on this book. I'm sitting here, staring at a blank screen, trying to come up with something to say, and I'm just drawing a blank.

In my defense, Winter Masques enchanted me almost immediately. It is another one of those books that is ostensibly about some dedicated subject - here it's fleshing out kiths and seemings - but which mostly winds up expanding the Changeling: the Lost setting, creating dozens of new fantastic locales and hinting ever more about life in the magical realm of Arcadia. I could easily read a dozen more books that were just filled with similar fantastic conceits.

It's interesting how much this book manages to just get my own aesthetic sensibilities. There are dark forests, filled with brambles, human beings who are living candles, and ifrits in their city of brass. It's hard to pinpoint the thing I love most about this book.

It is, however, pretty easy to pinpoint the thing I love least about it. Or, at least, the thing that stops and makes me question, "should I love this as much as I do? Is it even okay?" Winter Masques is also the book where they try to take Changeling: The Lost global, and my instinct is to like it. I want desperately to like it. But then it does something like suggest that Coyote could be a type of Native American faerie creature, and I'm forced to go hmm.

I mean, the faerie in Changeling: The Lost are presented as really, really evil. So I'm just sort of taking it on trust that when Winter Masques presents some creature or spirit from an unfamiliar culture, that it's the kind of dangerous monster that would be at home in its particular horror milieu. However, if I'm being honest, I'm not entirely confident that they're actually pulling it off. Call it a hunch, if you like, but when I look at the mythological cross-pollination that I am familiar with - like the idea that the lords of the faerie realm might be Christian demons or Grey Aliens out of modern ufology - then what I'm left with is just the tiniest bit of genre disconnect.

Like, you've got these mysterious creatures that capture people and do terrible things to their bodies and souls, and at the broadest literal sense, that might be demons. It might be aliens. But the stories don't quite feel right. There's a whole canon of (for lack of a better term) celestial fantasy, featuring earthbound angels and demons, that has its own set of tropes that don't match up very well with what Changeling is trying to do. I mean, yes, there was an angel in Neverwhere, but by and large, it would be weird if elves and goblins and such started showing up in The Omen.  Which is not to say you can't do good, compelling work that equivocates Faerie with Heaven and Hell, but just that it's surprising. It doesn't quite fit.

And if the things I know about have that feel of being awkwardly stitched together, how can I trust at all that the things I don't know about are being used respectfully? Ultimately, the stakes are pretty low, and it's interesting hearing about all these mythological figures being interpreted as faeries, so I'm mostly okay with enjoying this book on a personal level. But I'm certain the readers of this blog have come to expect a higher standard from my professional opinions, so I'm forced to point out that it is a potential issue. I guess my advice would be to do your own research, not take anything for granted, and if you decide to turn your Changeling: the Lost game into a podcast or youtube series, consult with a member of the relevant culture before incorporating any of this book's material that you're not personally familiar with.

UKSS Contribution: Sometimes, a book filled with richly imaginative fantasy will pose a challenge to me, because I'll basically want to steal everything. And sometimes there's a book that would be like that, were it not for a single concept that effortlessly rises above the pack and stands out as exceptional even in an otherwise strong field of contenders.

Winter Masques manages to be the second type of experience thanks to a wonderfully awful idea that is still banging around in my head, even after 12 hours of procrastinating and a complete failure to take notes: Manikin Town.

The faeries would kidnap people, turn them into living dolls, and then pose them in cute little model towns, complete with a whole collectible cast of other toy-like residents, some of whom were real people, similarly trapped, and others who were but cunning automatons. Sometimes the faeries would be interested, and wind up the town to bring it to life, and sometimes the faeries would get bored . . .


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