“Finnegan’s Field,” by Angela Slatter

“Finnegan’s Field,” by Angela Slatter. Tor.com. Novelette.

I loved Slatter’s “Of Sorrow and Such” last year; excellent dark fantasy, to the hilt. This one looks like it touches on fae and changeling children.

Content Warning: Difficult material in this one. Specific content warning in the first comment.

Read the story:

Finnegan’s Field

5 thoughts on ““Finnegan’s Field,” by Angela Slatter”

  1. Well.

    I adore stories about the callous, unknowable fae; the kind Susanna Clarke achieved so perfectly in "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell," and in her short stories. There’s a White Wold roleplaying game, "Changeling: The Lost," which is all about exactly this kind of thing: fae and changelings and trying to return to a life you’ve left behind that doesn’t have room for you anymore; where everything’s *different* in all the wrong ways. It’s some of my favorite themes and materials. So I was rooting for this one hard.

    The torture scene broke this story for me. Hell no. I do not want to read that, being done by a parent to the image of her six year old daughter.

    And from that point on, it morphed into a fairly bog-standard revenge story; one acknowledged from the start as practically futile – all the emphasis was on vengeance, not preventing further kidnappings, and the one bone thrown to Anne was that her daughter (unrecognizable, un-saveable) will rest in peace.

    It’s grown on me a little bit, though. One of the things I admired in "Of Sorrow and Such" (my review: https://www.facebook.com/notes/ziv-wities/of-sorrow-and-such-by-angela-slatter-for-best-novella/10153315895249537 ) was the protagonist’s ruthlessness. She wasn’t cruel, but she was crystal clear about what was necessary for survival, and when she had to do what was necessary, she did, no apologies.

    To some extent, I can read the story this way, too. We KNOW how the changeling story goes. We know from the start that Maddie has returned *other*, not herself. We know the story structure, where nobody but her mother can tell the difference. We know, to a large extent, that this ISN’T Maddie who’s back.

    And in that case… well, saying "to hell with this" and torturing the imposter has a direct, ruthless sense to it. If you read the story as being genre-savvy, then saying "no I am NOT going to live in dread as things get worse and worse," saying "I am not actually fooled by this imposter and yes I actually trust my own good judgement" is almost refreshing.

    ….almost.

    This works only assuming a *high* amount of genre-savviness. Anne’s judgement isn’t good because she’s sensible and actually made a good call; it’s good because she’s the protagonist and it’s *that* kind of a story. That’s not the kind of judgement call we want anybody making ever even if we think that person is a *really* good judge of character.

  2. Yeah. There’s a lot of Fridge Logic working against this story. The fact that the brutality was against a (seeming) child wasn’t what bothered me; it was the fact that we are apparently supposed to think that Anne was the first person ever to try to fight. (Folktales that prescribe what to do with a changeling, sometimes brutally, exist, but they’re not mentioned.) More to the point, when Anne sets off to hunt down all the "Mr. Underhills", it is depicted as if embarking on a heroic quest that only she can complete. Nothing in the story provided justification for why she should be quite that unique.

    At the start of the story, it is stated that people formerly just accepted losing children to the fairies. Really? The offered justification, that fatalism is deeply engrained in Irish culture, is kind of weak. In fact, I wonder what sort of idea about essential Irishness is behind the statement that descendants of Ireland, no matter where, are uniquely suited to this kind of relationship with the fairies. The fairy-Maddy even says "You know the rules; your blood must tell you!" We don’t necessarily have to accept that this is correct, that "blood" relationship is all that’s necessary to participate in this situation, but certainly there is a very strong statement about the nature of Irish culture being made in this story.

    I did think up one justification (which doesn’t entirely satisfy me) for why Anne should be different from her ancestors: the fact that children in our day no longer routinely die young from hunger and disease. There definitely is a cultural shift. Even in the early 20th century, deaths of children were though of as something that just happened and could be dealt with. But as more and more causes of mortality are eliminated, increasingly a child’s death seems absolutely, impossibly unacceptable. So extend that attitude to fairy abductions. But it’s not enough to save the story for me.

    1. That’s a really interesting point.

      I was FINE with the fatalism at the start – if children really are spirited away by magic and never return, I can see becoming fatalistic about that.

      And Anne’s uniqueness is clear: she’s the only one whose child has returned.

      But by the end of the story… by the end of the story, we know it isn’t fae doing the kidnappings; it’s humans. They’ll leave traces. They can be tracked down. It beggars belief that they never had been.

      And Maddie… we’re TOLD why she managed to return. Because she was too strong; too angry. But the moment you combine that with her being the ONLY one – what, no other kid was angry enough? Was Maddy a uniquely vengeful six-year-old? Doubtful. It doesn’t actually hold together. Alas.

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