Friday, June 09, 2006

Elementals: Water - Peter Dickinson

Elementals: Water is a collection of six short stories, three of which are by Robin McKinley and the other three are by her husband, Peter Dickinson. I've now read Peter Dickinson's three stories (having read Robin McKinley's last week). Dickinson's stories are: "Mermaid Song", "Sea Serpent" and "Kraken".

"Mermaid Song" is about a small girl, Pitiable Nasmith, whose mother died in childbirth after marrying out of her clan. She is brought up by her maternal grandparents, and is not too unhappy until her grandmother dies. Her relationship with her grandfather goes downhill after that and she fears that she may die of one of his beatings or of starvation since her grandfather is no longer sowing, growing and harvesting the usual crops. Then one day, when Pitiable and her grandfather are beachcombing, Pitiable encounters someone who has a connection to a distant ancestor on her maternal side and her life is changed.

"Sea Serpent" is a story that, like McKinley's "Water Horse" was too short ! Iril and his sons manage the estuary crossing that allows pilgrims to go up to Silverspring. He and his sons are expert at taking rafts across the rivermouth, and both Iril and his third son Jarro can "dream the wave": they can see and understand the nature of the waves that come up into the river from the sea, via both dreams and a trance state. One day a man named Mel, who is in charge of building a temple to Awod, the Fathergod, and he wants to use the standing stones from the temple to Tala, the Earthmother that is at Silverspring. Iril is reluctant to accept Mel's commission to carry the stones across the river, but Mel threatens Jarro's life, so he complies. Sirion, who is the priestess of Tala, calls upon a serpent to stop Mel from taking the stones at Silverspring, but his own beast injures the serpent. The stones are removed and taken down to the estuary crossing, and then an immense sea serpent attacks a raft as it is crossing. Iril and his sons must find a way to defeat the sea serpent if they are to meet Mel's demands, or suffer the consequences.

Finally, in "Kraken", Ailsa is skipping school on her very last day at school, to go out with her bluefin, Carn; the merpeople ride dolphins as we would ride a horse. Aisla goes a long way from home on her unsanctioned trip and encounters a ship under attack from pirates. Two of the passengers on board the ship tie themselves together with the man's sword belt and cast themselves over board rather than be captured or killed. Ailsa rescues them, but she has to dive very deep to do so, and in doing so disturbs the unknowable Kraken. It keeps the lovers in a suspended animation and Ailsa and her people are able to get them back to their home, but the Kraken is angered. The merpeople are forced to take the lovers back to the Kraken or risk having their home destroyed. Then Ailsa realises that the Kraken wants her too. She believes it will kill both the lovers and herself, and her father, the King, despairs at the possibility of losing his daughter when he has already lost her mother. But the Kraken is not all it seems and things turn out somewhat differently than anyone expects.

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