Review: “Half-Human”

For the love of books

Mermaids, selkies, nymphs, centaurs—these are a few magical creatures that are physically half-human, simultaneously having prominent animal and human natures.  Famous mythological creatures, such as Medusa or the Minotaur, are unforgettable in their grotesque appearance and violent behavior. Other mythical creatures can be found in fairy tales.  Cursed by the gods or born half-human without any plausible reason, each being or creature endues ridicule from humans and is automatically condemned to a reclusive lifestyle due to its “abnormality.”  In Half-Human, an anthology edited and compiled by Bruce Coville, eight short stories and one poem reflect on the existence of “half-humans” and what their lives could be like.

Linnea by D.J. Malcolm and Water’s Edge by Janni Lee Simner concentrate on the inhabitants of the sea.  In one tale, a young girl becomes a mermaid against her will, discovers her father’s hidden past connections with the sea, and defeats a god, all in the same day.  In the other, another adolescent finds an ethereal explanation for her love for the sea and her strange differences from the rest of her normal family by a secret about her innate “inheritance.”  Mythological beings and creatures are main characters in Nancy Springer’s Becoming, Jane Yolen’s Centaur Field, and Tim Waggoner’s Soaring.  All set in modern times, these three stories are very intriguing.  In Becoming, Dusie (short for Medusa), learns that she is named after her aunt for more than one reason.  Her mother is a Gorgon sister, and according to a cursed fate inflicted by the Greek gods, Dusie has unfortunately inherited the Gorgon traits, starting with snakes for hair and the infamous stare that turns people into stone statues.  Faced with the prospect of a very isolated life on account of her physical looks, Dusie consults with her mother and other mythological ladies (like the Sphinx, a harpy, a lamia, etc.), hopelessly trying to understand what love is and how true love cannot be measured by beauty.  Centaur Field is about an unexpected mishap in the form of an accidental and quite mysterious birth of a baby centaur, while Soaring focuses on a half-human, half-hawk teenage boy named Icarus and how he must set both parts of himself free.

Incorporating myths about nymphs and dryads (tree-spirits), Elder Brother by Tamora Pierce expresses how cruel and prejudiced humans are, as well as men’s anti-feministic notions, in a tale about the personal journey and self-discovery of a tree that is permanently changed into a man named Quiom.  Lawrence Schimel composed an interesting poem in How to Make a Human, whose title describes its content very well.  Scarecrow by Gregory Maguire has the same characteristics, being a background story for the character of the Scarecrow from the novel The Wizard of Oz.  Princess Dragonblood, on the other hand, is a fairy tale, only Jude Mandell’s heroine happens to be half-dragon.  Princess Eleanor learns the truth about her origins soon enough and resolves to control both her dragon and human sides without destroying herself and her life in both worlds.

Set in medieval times, Bruce Coville’s own contribution to Half-Human is The Hardest, Kindest Gift.  One of the most profound narratives in his entire collection, Coville’s story places a known Biblical tale concerning fallen angels and a famous rebellion into the creation of a lamia named Melusine.  Doomed to hold her physical form for all eternity with the exception of one impossible condition, Melusine looks for the chance of mortality to end her unhappiness and suffering, eventually finding it with a mortal.  However, fate and human fallacy prevent Melusine’s mortality from being permanent, and it is up to Geoffroi LeGrandent, her grandson, to give back to her what was rightfully hers.

As stated in Coville’s own introduction, all the main characters in this anthology share the same problems and the same desires—acceptance, a firm understanding of their identities and where they belong, freedom, a family, a home, a true friend, and most of all, happiness.  In some ways, they are more human than “regular” humans.  The question that arises during Dusie’s longing for true love or Quiom’s doubts about human goodness is if there are in fact any “full” humans in this world.  When humans do not demonstrate human virtues and characteristics like compassion, reason, and rationality, how can they be called humans?  Aren’t all people half-humans unless they complete their human natures by acting humanely in every sense instead of relying only on their animalistic tendencies?

Half-Human is partly a retrospection of how people have not ever changed, either in behavior or mentality.  It is a provocative collection of individual thought about not only the possibility of physical half-humans but also the reality of how half-humans exist in all who do not live up to the very qualities that make them human, both mentally and physically.  Perhaps the moral of Half-Human is that those who are only humans physically are the real “half-humans.”

Original review: Part 1: A compilation of stirring modern stories that center on mythical beingsPart 2: A compilation of stirring modern stories that center on mythical beingsPart 3: A compilation of stirring modern stories that center on mythical beings, Examiner.com

 

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