Chapter Three – The Arrival
All the Muggles are watching as a shaft of light comes across the water towards them. Some of them are terrified and hide indoors, others stand and watch the light come closer. The air gets warm and it…well, magic happens.
Like magic, flowers burst into bloom, the tumbleweed shrubberies filled with bright green leaves, and orange honeysuckle blossoms dripped with nectar (page 58).
No. The reappearance of the sun does not instantly heal the nuclear wasteland. Come on, Stouffer. You want the fame that J.K. Rowling has, why not just throw actual magic into the world and call it good, because science is really not cutting it for you.
Peacocks strutted from behind boulders with Muggles seated on their backs (page 58).
A peacock cannot carry someone around. It’s not large enough. It’s not a matter of where it sits. It’s a simple question of weight ratio. A 10-pound bird cannot carry a 45-pound Muggle.
Yur, the oldest Muggle, asks his wife Golda what she thinks is going on. She says she thinks it’s the sun. I don’t know how she even knows what the sun is, or why she thinks a bright light would be the sun, considering that the sun hasn’t been seen in Aura for FIVE HUNDRED YEARS. Then again, I don’t know why all the Muggles aren’t covering their eyes with their hands in agonizing pain because they have never seen actual sunlight before.
Yur is ninety-six, has bowed legs from arthritis, and walks with the support of a cane. But he can “move fairly quickly when he wants to”. Does not compute.
“Golda, I’m gonna go down there and take a closer look for myself,” he said.
“Not without me you old fool,” she reprimanded him (page 61).
Charming, aren’t they?
A group of Muggles follow them down the hill. When they reach the light Yur says that they need to bring the light to the Tower of Time which a giant sundial-like contraption that operates on moonlight. So some Muggles grab some baskets and…well, it isn’t explained what they do, but I guess they grab the jewels and take them up to the tower. Without noticing the babies sitting on either side of the jewels. Yeah.
“How’d they get up there?” Stubby, a five-year-old Muggle boy who asks questions about everything he sees, asked Golda (page 66).
Remember this quote, because it’ll be important later.
Suddenly they hear a noise.
“Did you hear that?” said Pitter to Patter, a twelve-year-old little girl and boy who love each other so very much they never stop holding hands (page 68).
That’s a little creepy.
They run down to the water and there are two babies there! Holy shit!
I don’t know why Stouffer decided to draw them naked, since she specifically referenced them being clothed and wrapped in blankets. Also, is it just me or are these Muggles scary beyond all reason? They have bulbous heads, split upper lips, gravity-defying clothing, and dead soulless eyes.
On the plus side, we are now 1/4th of the way through this book and the plot might finally be starting!
Pitter and Patter pick up the twins:
Patter picked up the other baby and snuggled him behind his loosely fitting overalls bib (page 72).
Yeah. He just stuck a naked baby inside his clothes.
Nothing happens for a few pages, then this:
Life on Aura had been simple and uncomplicated until the babies arrived. The Muggles never had any indication that there could be, or should be, any life beyond the shoreline of Aura to the south, Mirror Mountain to the north, Lemonade Lake and Fuzzy Forest to the east, and Volcano d’rue and the Pool of Pyro to the west (page 75).
Simple and uncomplicated? Sounds like living in a nuclear wasteland where nothing grows and there is no sunlight. Also, those are moronic names.
The twins are given to a Muggle named Nona to raise, and the Muggles start building her a treehouse. Stouffer then brings up some fierce creatures called Greeblies™. They’re giant rats. Totally original and not at all taken from The Princess Bride. Anyway, the Muggles set traps for them and feed them to their lion-sized pet sand dogs, called Nardles™. Why am I bringing this up? Mostly because it was on the copyright page. I don’t think it’s going to affect the story at all.
So, in next to no time at all, the Muggles have built an enormous treehouse with wooden spiral staircases that wrap around the tree trunk, sleeping in giant condor bird nests (built by radioactive condors, I assume) wrapped in cotton blankets (radioactive cotton?).
The staircase railings were wrapped in variegated ivy and blue and white flowering clematis (page 81).
The few remaining adults reading this book after their children fell asleep from boredom scratched their heads and started looking for a dictionary.
We cut forward to Yur and Golda sitting around. Yur’s writing in the Ancient Book of Tales, which is Muggle history and thoroughly unexciting. Golda’s listening to people singing the Muggle-Bye, a lullaby which is two pages long, reprinted in full, and has musical accompaniment in the back of the book. I’m just going to skip it because it’s bland and uninteresting. At the end of the chapter, Yur decides that they need to name the twins.
Yur’s given their names a lot of thought. Muggles consider names to be very important:
Muggles believe that the characteristics of each child’s name should tell something very special about that child. A symbolic name can result from an event, or a predestined personality trait (page 86).
Something special. I guess that explains Pitter and Patter. And the kid referenced earlier named Stubby? That just sounds mean.
The naming ceremony takes place within the Fuzzy Forest, which I might as well come right out and say it, and I apologize to you all in advance, that name makes me think of pubic hair. Blame Stouffer.
Stouffer spends a few pages describing everything, and I’m really getting sick of it. We’re already a third of the way through this goddamn book, let’s get to some action already!
After a few more pages of the book are wasted on trivial details, Yur finally says that they received the gift of sunlight, so one of the twins will be named Rah which means light. And light brought them flowers, so he names the other twin Zyn which means flower. I’m not sure why one of the twins is secondary to the other, but whatever. And then in a spectacle that would be both incredible to witness and completely implausible, one thousand and one white doves burst out of the foliage. Note that the Muggles didn’t bring the doves with them to release them. No, exactly 1,001 doves just happened to gather there and simultaneously decided to leave.
A few months have passed. Stouffer switches randomly between past and present tense a few times describing how they have food to eat now.
Pitter and Pattern are watching the twins now. Zyn’s hair color has changed to dark red, unlike blond-haired Rah. Anyway, Rah and Zyn start talking. Pitter and Patter are delighted and tell everyone and the Muggles are delighted. However, Yur, being deaf, doesn’t hear the news correctly, which leads to a HILARIOUS misunderstanding where he thinks people are talking about thirsty birds and blind deer. It’s not funny at all. Also, this chapter is NINETEEN PAGES LONG. And that’s all that happens in it. Except for a continuity error:
Bluster tugged on Golda’s sleeve. “Muggles can’t talk until they are six years old.” (page 108).
Remember the previous quote about the talkative five-year-old? This is what editors are for, Stouffer.
Rah and Zyn are now twelve years old and adventurous. They wander around for a bit and run into Golda, who is at her special place (get your mind out of the gutter) in a tree trunk in the forest.
Golda reads them a story from a book. It’s in poem form. And it’s over six pages long. It’s also not very good. Stouffer is not a good poet:
“I think we’ll get dressed for a hike,” she said,
And from the closet, took boots of bright red,
And fishing rods from a box she kept under her bed (page 125).
It took me 20 seconds to rewrite that so it flowed better.
They go over to the Lemonade Lake and Golda teaches them some random facts about Snoutfish. I don’t care. However, there is some Ominous Foreshadowing. Stouffer, demonstrating her skill as a writer, effortlessly and subtly weaves it into the scene:
Golda, smiling as she watched the boys interact with each other, sensed something she had never noticed before. Zyn seems to be a bit insecure in the presence of his brother (page 133).
ZOMG! Also, notice the changing tense?
They walk around for a bit and Golda tells Zyn to take a drink from the lake:
“Hey! This water tastes like lemonade,” he said with great surprise.
“Now you know why they call it Lemonade Lake,” Golda replied (page 135).
Holy shit! I totally did not see that coming! Does raise several questions. First, did the radiation cause it to become lemonade-flavored? Second, if there is a giant lake of free lemonade, wouldn’t the Muggles come gather up buckets of it on a pretty frequent basis? Meaning that everyone would know why it was called the Lemonade Lake, meaning that Zyn would know before he was twelve years old.
Golda gives Zyn a magical worry stone, and tells him whenever he rubs it he will be reminded of how much he is loved. After a few more pages, they run into a kid named Bumper, who is crying.
We have now passed the halfway mark for this book.
Chapter Eight – Doctor! Doctor!
So the kid Bumper is crying because his lovebirds, named Mick and May (are you getting sick of the alliteration? Because I am) flew away. I am not filled with sympathy. Birds are prone to do that, which is why pets are generally kept in cages or have their wings clipped.
Rah says that he’ll find the birds for him. So off he goes, with Zyn staying behind to calm Bumper down. He walks along until he sees the birds sitting in a tree. He tells them to come down and they fly down and land on his shoulders and he takes them back to Bumper. Well. That was anti-climactic. Stouffer continues to demonstrate her mastery of the English language:
Bumper’s big brown eyes gleamed, and a wide grin spread across his small, innocent, blushing face (page 145).
Why would a kid who just got his beloved pets back be blushing? I don’t think that words means what you think it means.
The scene now switches back to the Muggle village where there’s a game of croquet going on. It’s not really that interesting, except for a few references to golf and volleyball. I wonder how these concepts have survived and been passed on for generations after the nuclear holocaust, but other concepts haven’t. It’s almost like the author didn’t really think any of this through.
There is actually a point to the game though, surprisingly. Rah hits an incredible croquet shot that only Yur has ever hit and everyone congratulations him and Yur gives him a gold medallion. However, Zyn is very disappointed and jealous and walks away. Yur notices and reads him a story about pirates and how some of their treasure may be left along the coastline. Zyn is excited so the next day he and Rah go out looking for treasure. They find a cave and head inside. Rah gets nervous and wants to leave but Zyn insists on continuing. Eventually they find a room with a wooden chest and Zyn claims it as his own. There’s an emblem in the chest that exactly matches the emblem on the medallion that Rah is wearing.
So they argue a little and Rah feels bad and walks off and then Zyn goes after him and finds Rah lying on the ground. So he tries to wake him up but Rah is unresponsive. Zyn tears back to the Muggle villages, fetches the doctor, and they go tearing back. It turns out that Rah was lying on some Bordonian moss and the doctor thinks he’s allergic to it. Sure enough, after they get Rah away from it he wakes back up and is fine. And…that’s that.
Apparently Rah and Zyn are rather sharp. Rah especially. Stouffer spends several pages talking about how Rah improves things…he designs an irrigation system, a mill, and Stouffer randomly switches tenses again. Seriously. It’s really not that hard to avoid.
Stouffer mentions that the waterwheel for the mill looks like a Ferris wheel, which is an odd comparison to make in a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, where Ferris wheels have not existed in over five hundred years. Anyway, once they finish building the mill Rah asks them to build a dam, and a bunch of beavers do so. I guess they’re radioactive beavers that understand English, like the sea cows and barracudas and porpoises.
Stouffer spends two entire pages describing the process for how a waterwheel works. Not only is it poorly written, there is absolutely no reason for it. What the hell is wrong with this woman? She’s writing a children’s book, not only do children not care about mills, they really don’t care with how mills work! How could she possibly think there was a good reason to include a scene like this? It doesn’t advance the plot or provide characterization and it isn’t interesting. There is absolutely no reason for it. (In Stouffer’s defense, most of the scenes in this book are like this).
Fortunately, Stouffer moves on and provides characterization. Unfortunately, she has never heard of showing rather than telling:
Zyn was becoming increasingly more jealous of Rah. Rah was successful and visibly admired by nearly everyone. He resented Rah’s accomplishments and the attention the Muggles gave him. Zyn’s jealousy eventually consumed his spirit (page 180).
Also, she doesn’t realize that ‘increasingly’ and ‘more’ mean the same thing.
Anyway, we’re told that Zyn becomes antisocial, sarcastic, and a jerk. Rah is worried about this and seeks Golda’s advice. She tells him that he can’t solve Zyn’s problems for him. Which may or may not be true, but it kinda comes across like she’s telling him not to try helping him which isn’t great advice. At all.
While Rah anguished over his brother, Zyn was making plans to destroy him. “There just isn’t enough room here for both of us, and I can take care of that,” Zyn mumbled angrily to himself (page 183).
Weird. Is that a hint of a plot I see?
Zyn is a loud and nasty young man. Seriously:
Zyn was a loud and nasty young man (page 185).
Zyn’s a troublemaker, and everyone is worried about him. However, Zyn eventually gets a group of followers that he bullies into complete and total submission to him, a group he calls the ‘Nevils’. Is it a coincidence that the name has the word EVIL in it? Who knows???
Zyn bullies a kid named Teeter into complete submission, which leads to this hilarious quote:
“Yeah, I got him right where I want him, oh, yes I do, diddy do – do!” Zyn smirked (page 190).
Yes. He actually said diddy-do. Randomly in the middle of a sentence. For no reason.
Our narrator switches tenses again and begins telling us about Zyn’s gang:
Jiitters is a sixteen-year-old boy who has a problem with his nerves. His hands shake out of control when his conscience bothered him, and lately they shook all the time (page 191).
Yes, she misspelled Jitters’ name. Also, if his conscience bothers him that much, why is he involved in a gang?
Chops, fifteen years old, is a muscular boy who chews gum, blows bubbles and pops them with his fingertips. He wears an old black leather jacket he found (page 191).
First – all of the Muggles are pictured as being absolutely stick-thin with no apparent muscular development. Second, where the hell is he getting bubble-gum from? Third, why the hell would he pop them with his fingertips? Finally, how the hell would a black leather jacket survive a nuclear holocaust and then last perfectly for FIVE HUNDRED YEARS???
Stubby is fifteen (page 192).
Remember Stubby, the five-year-old who can talk? Yeah, he’s ten years older now. Which is odd, because twenty-two years have passed. How Stubby has only aged ten years over the past twenty-two? Not really certain. And yes, this is the same Stubby – Stouffer specifically references the fact that he asks questions about everything.
Stouffer spends two more pages describing the gang but it’s not interesting or important. Eventually she gets to the more important part, which is explaining in so many words that the Nevils are terrorists. You know what might be good? Showing us their acts of terrorism instead of just stating that they are.
The Nevils build themselves a house on top of the Manchineet Tree. And this next part is literally too stupid for words:
The Manchineet Tree sheds radioactive pollen that has caused Zyn and the Nevils’ skin to blister and discolor. It made their nails thick and crusty, and the whites of their eyes yellow and bloodshot (page 194).
Uh…why don’t they move?
Zyn’s naturally curly, strawberry-blond hair that once hung just below his shoulders was falling out in clumps. His very long eyelashes no longer outline his emerald green eyes. He was ill, very ill, but he would have never swallowed his pride to ask anyone for help (page 195).
Seriously. Why don’t they move?
Stouffer is trying to set this up as Zyn being too stubborn to ask for help, but she’s ignoring the rather important point that they don’t have to ask for help. Nothing is keeping them there. They are sitting in a radioactive deathtrap as their bodies slowly disintegrate for no fucking reason. Also, remember the part where they are terrorists? Why don’t they drive the Muggles out of their village and take it over or something?
The really sad part is there is a far better reason if Stouffer wanted, for whatever reason, to have the Nevils living there: a couple lines about how Zyn was too stubborn and prideful to admit that he made a mistake in choosing a radioactive tree in the first place, and that’s why he forces everyone to stay there. It’s a little contrived, sure, but Zyn doesn’t seem too mentally stable, so there you go. Instead he just comes across as a blithering idiot.
I would complain about the fact that there is one radioactive tree sitting there and none of the other trees anywhere else are radioactive, but I’ve complained about Stouffer’s intolerance for science and logic enough, I think. So, my bad.
We skip over to Rah who feels bad for his brother and tries to think of something to do for him. He can’t think of anything, so he reads a story from the Ancient Book of Tales about greedy rabbits. Now, considering that this book is supposed to contain wisdom, you might think this story would be some kind of allegory or allusion to their current situation, or that it might inspire Rah to come up with a brilliant solution. It isn’t and it doesn’t. So there’s really no reason for it to be in here.