“Everything talks, human…Most [people] simply can’t listen.”
-Seanan McGuire, Across the Green Grass Fields
Across the Green Grass Fields takes us to a magic land where centaurs herd unicorns like humans herd cattle, and all kinds of hoofed creatures—kelpies, fauns, minotaurs—walk the hills. The story also confronts and rejects the thinking/unthinking divide fantasy books so often maintain: some of the creatures (unicorns and kelpies) are at first presented as beasts, useful for their milk and meat or else dangerous, and some of the creatures (centaurs and fauns) are more “human-like” in wanting and talking. Everything talks, one of the kelpie “beasts” eventually tells our heroine. The divide between thinking and unthinking doesn’t actually exist. So we can try to listen.
I love that. I also wonder about how Across the Green Grass Fields reimagines this cultural trope.
In the last month or so I’ve been gardening in my friend’s yard. We dug up part of the lawn, turned over the soil, spread compost and planted seeds. This week we made a little fence because rabbits are eating the spinach we were hoping to eat. One of my favorite things about gardening, about being outside in all sorts of ways, is the opportunity to be inside a world that is so clearly engaged in a wider current of being. These trees. This dirt. A worm. The rabbits, and the little nibbled spinach leaves. In a recent conversation, a friend mentioned how so much of our lived reality happens inside constructed spaces scaled to our bodies. Couches, doors, chairs, beds, frying pans, computer keyboards. Go for a hike or lie down in a garden without your tools, and other scales become so apparent—the intricacies of the grass roots, the branching canopy laced across the sky. I want to listen, like Across the Green Grass Fields says, but the story also says that everything “talks.” Read one way, that feels heartfelt and true. Everything talks. Read another way, talking—vocal cords and tongues and exhaled air to make intelligible sounds—is just one way of communicating, and I worry about making talking the metaphor for all communication, the test for any kind of “intelligent” being-ness. I want a kind of story that creates ideas/connections/relations between humans and other-than-humans, not by saying they’re “like us” in talking, but by recognizing the life of creatures that are not as we are. Isn’t how we are itself only one, very very specific way of being?