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Rediscovering ‘A Discovery of Witches’ by Deborah Harkness

Perhaps, the most underrated genres in ‘literary circles’, and the most bankable ones, these days are, Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and Young Adult (YA). In recent years, the Dystopian genre as gained momentum, however, this post, will deal with the intricate nature of these so-called ‘non-serious literary genres’. As much as I love the classics, there is no escaping the fact, that the mentioned genres deal with socio-economic and geo-political issues; perhaps even more extensively than the classic themselves. Lets focus on this passage from Deborah Harkness’s book, ‘A Discovery of Witches’, the first book in her All Souls trilogy:


 

“What’s so special about this manuscript?”

“The book explains why we’re here,” she said, her voice betraying a hint of desperation. “It tells our story— beginning, middle, even the end. We daemons need to understand our place in the world. Our need is greater than that of the witches or vampires.” There was nothing addled about her now. She was like a camera that had been chronically out of focus until someone came by and twisted the lenses into alignment.

“You know your place in the world,” I began. “There are four kinds of creatures—humans, daemons, vampires, and witches.”

“And where do daemons come from? How are we made? Why are we here?” Her brown eyes snapped. “Do you know where your power comes from? Do you?”

“No,” I whispered, shaking my head.

“Nobody knows,” she said wistfully. “Every day we wonder. Humans thought daemons were guardian angels at first. Then they believed we were gods, bound to the earth and victims of our own passions. Humans hated us because we were different and abandoned their children if they turned out to be daemons. They accused us of possessing their souls and making them insane. Daemons are brilliant, but we’re not vicious—not like the vampires.” Her voice was clearly angry now, though it never lifted above a murmur. “We would never makesomeone insane. Even more than witches, we’re victims of human fear and envy.”

“Witches have their share of nasty legends to contend with,” I said, thinking of the witch-hunts and the executions that followed.

“Witches are born to witches. Vampires make other vampires. You have family stories and memories to comfort you when you’re lonely or confused. We have nothing but tales told to us by humans. It’s no wonder so many daemons are broken in spirit. Our only hope lies in brushing against other daemons one day and knowing we’re like them. My son was one of the lucky ones. Nathaniel had a daemon for a mother, someone who saw the signs and could help him understand.” She looked away for a moment, regaining her composure. When her eyes again met mine, they were sad. “Maybe the humans are right. Maybe we are possessed. I see things, Diana. Things I shouldn’t.”

Daemons could be visionaries. No one knew if their visions were reliable, like the visions that witches had.

“I see blood and fear. I see you,” she said, her eyes losing focus again. “Sometimes I see the vampire. He’s wanted this book for a very long time. Instead he’s found you. Curious.”

“Why does Matthew Clairmont want the book?”

Agatha shrugged. “Vampires and witches don’t share their thoughts with us. Not even your vampire tells us what he knows, though he’s fonder of daemons than most of his kind. So many secrets, and so many clever humans these days. They’ll figure it out if we’re not careful. Humans like power—secrets, too.”

“A little book can hold a big secret—one that might change the world. You’re a witch. You know words have power. And if your vampire knew the secret, he wouldn’t need you.” Agatha’s brown eyes were now melting and warm.

“Matthew Clairmont can call the manuscript himself if he wants it so badly.” The idea that he might be doing so now was unaccountably chilling.

“When you get it back,” she said urgently, grabbing my arm, “promise me you’ll remember that you aren’t the only ones who need to know its secrets. Daemons are part of the story, too. Promise me.” I felt a flicker of panic at her touch, felt suddenly aware of the heat of the room and the press of people in it. Instinctively I searched for the nearest exit while focusing on my breathing, trying to curb the beginnings of a fightor-flight response.

“I promise,” I murmured hesitantly, not sure what it was I was agreeing to.

“Good,” she said absently, dropping my arm. Her eyes drifted away. “It was good of you to speak with me.” Agatha was staring at the carpet once more. “We’ll see each other again. Remember, some promises matter more than others.”


 

The above dialogue, is between an alchemy scholar and a fashion designer. The characters are Diana Bishop (a witch) and Agatha Wilson (a daemon). To serious readers of literature, this would be dismissed, as ‘ambitious’, ‘flawed’, ‘non-serious’ and ‘trashy’. But to one, who reads between the lines, and explores exciting new dimensions within literature, it is an interesting read. However, it truly elucidates how class conscious we, as a society are. We have always been a divided society. We segregate one another on the basis of culture, religion, sexual orientation, gender, class (in some countries, like Pakistan: sectarian, regional, and lingual).

Agatha Wilson in the above lines states that, “We daemons need to understand our place in the world. Our need is greater than that of the witches or vampires.” In my opinion, she is spot on. Everyone needs to find a place in this world, and everyone is trying to find a way to co-exist with one another. On the other hand, everyone is also trying to kill each other, because everyone is different from one another. These are beautiful paradoxes, which are repeatedly mentioned in the aforementioned genres, which people disprove off,  as fictions writings with no serious credibility to literature. Tolkiens’ “The Hobbit’, is a powerfully subtle critique on Marxism and. In the book, dwarves were said to be capitalists and selfish, due to their need for gaining wealth and not giving a -pardon my language- rats’ arse about anyone elses’ needs. King Thorin Oakenshield suffers from the dragon sickness, which can be best described as power hungry capitalists, who have only one goal in their lives, a lust and greed for money. The dystopian YA books being published, from ‘The Hunger Games’, Divergent Series’, and a few decades ago, The ‘Shannara Chronicles’ by  Terry Brookes, all have an apocalyptic setting of a world, torn apart after a nuclear war.

We are on the brink of a nuclear war ourselves right? So aren’t these implausible genres or reading materials making reducible analysis of our current predicaments, by placing their characters in very complex situations, in various  imaginative worlds? Hmm?

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