Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Silent All These Years

Daughter of the ForestAlthough the fairy tale of The Six Swans has always held a certain appeal for me, it wasn't until I started reading Juliet Marillier's Daughter of the Forest that I really thought about what years of silence would mean.

Sorcha is the youngest of seven children, and the only girl. All her life her brothers have been there to protect her. When their father remarries, however, their evil stepmother casts a spell that turns Sorcha's brothers into swans. The only way to break the spell is for Sorcha to make each of her brothers a shirt of starwort. As she works to accomplish this task, she must remain silent.
"From the moment you leave this place till the moment of your brothers' final return to humankind, no word must pass your lips, no cry, no song, no whisper must you utter... You will be silent, mute as the swans themselves. Break this silence, and the curse remains forever."
As the story goes on Marillier provides sometimes subtle details of what this silence demands of Sorcha. Think about it - you can't let a single sound emanate from your vocal cords. This isn't a matter of simply going without speaking. Sick with the flu? Gag silently while you're throwing up. Find a way to keep yourself from crying out with the surprise of unexpected pain. Don't talk in your sleep. Don't grunt when you pick up something heavy.

I played around with trying to keep completely silent. Even in my imagination, I couldn't go 2 minutes without making some sort of noise. A laugh, an "mmmm" to add emphasis to a gesture - I could no more avoid making sound than I could avoid breathing. Going without using words I could do; managing to keep from using my vocal cords would be completely impossible for me. My poor brothers would be dead within minutes if I were in Sorcha's place.

I like Tori Amos' song Silent All These Years as a theme for Sorcha's years of labor. Not just the words, but the dischordant feel, and the minor notes of the sorrowful, pensive melody, fit the years of pain and sacrifice Sorcha makes for the brothers she loves so much.

Silent All These YearsYears go by
Will I still be waiting
For somebody else to understand?
Years go by
If I'm stripped of my beauty
And the orange clouds raining in my head
Years go by
Will I choke on my tears
Till finally there is nothing left?

...'Cause sometimes
I said sometimes I hear my voice
I hear my voice
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent all these years

Books: Daughter of the Forest, The Sevenwaters Trilogy, Juliet Marillier
Music: Silent All These Years, Tori Amos


Jaleh D said...

It would be hard for me, too. Not only would it be hard to never sing (not that I have a stellar voice) or talk, but I subvocalize when I'm writing something out, counting money, or trying to commit something to memory. It helps me think and remember what I'm doing. To go without any sound would be agony.

I've read that book, even bought it, but it's not something I can read very often. (come to think of it, I've only read it once so far) It's so weighty and not just in its theme. All the passages of description, lengthy thoughts, and such make for longer reading time, and after a while, I start feeling bored. Some of that stuff is necessary for the flavor, and with her being silent, that reduces the dialogue content, but it could have been trimmed down. I only finished it because I wanted to find out what happened with Red.

Jennifer said...

I actually found it rather painful to read. It took me a few weeks to get through it, because I had to keep stopping to take a break. Sorcha suffers so much! But Marillier's story-telling ability kept pulling me back when I would have abandoned the book. I really wanted to find out what happened next and how Marillier would handle certain elements of the story that I knew were coming up. I thought she did a very good job of adapting the story. It was just ... wow. Poor Sorcha. Her poor family. I finished the book fantasizing about finding a way to change the outcome and make everything happy for all of them again. Yeah, I get way too attached to fictional characters sometimes.

Cannwin said...

I've read this fairy tale to the kids before and it always reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode where a bunch of guys bet this one guy that he can't last a year without talking. So he takes the bet and doesn't utter a word but pretty soon the other guys start feeling bad about the whole thing and decide to call off the bet only to discover that Mr. Chatterbox has gone and had his vocal chords cut so he could win.

I hate Twilight Zones. :) I can't imagine going for long without making a sound... especially laughter.

Shelley said...

Although I write, teaching is my "day job," and I have my students read The Chosen, which also has a very interesting discussion of the condition and even the benefits of silence.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for the suggestion, Shelley. I'm familiar with The Chosen, but I've never actually sat down and read it. I'll have to put it on my TBR pile.

mariel said...

Lovely post. This was a beautiful telling of the story, and interesting that you've linked it to one of my favourite tori amos songs. ;)


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