In the eighth chapter of The Wizard’s Dilemma, Nita and Dairine struggle with recent developments. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For talk of cancer, death, trauma.
It is surreal to me that Diane Duane has managed to capture a specific emotion and then give it to the audience, but in a different context. Nita has made numerous references at this point to feeling like she’s woken up in the wrong world, that everything is topsy-turvy, that this should not be. It’s an emotion I am unfortunately familiar with, but I’m certain many of you know what she means by that. Trauma has a way of eating at the edges of reality, sometimes consuming it whole and spitting you out on the other side, and life doesn’t feel the same any more. But on a more meta level, this book doesn’t feel the same as it did at the start. Hell, it doesn’t feel like any of the Young Wizards books, you know?
It’s a challenging read, on the one hand, because I feel like I’m watching something I should not be seeing. Duane has crafted a book that is so intimate that I almost feel like a voyeur, as if I’m observing scenes no one should witness. The obsessive researching Nita does, the quiet tragedies and heartbreaks that unfold throughout the die, the desire to go back to sleep and hope you wake up in a universe where everything is right… those aren’t things we readily share with other people. Yet it’s all on display here, in stunning detail, in broad strokes of prose.
And at the center of it is Nita Callahan, desperate to do anything to stop the cancer from taking her mother away from her. Nita latches on to the possibility that there is a solution in her wizardry, and I don’t blame her. It’s an avenue the doctors can’t pursue, and the Oath even reminds her that she can change a creature if it’s life is “threatened.” (I don’t know that this is quite what the Oath means, but I’m guessing we’ll see more on this later.) It makes sense, then, that she dives head first into trying to determine what she can actually do here. It is also unsurprising that she doesn’t find an answer and that her manual is hopelessly complex in this regard.
Yet out of all the characters here, Dairine is the quickest to action, and that’s not necessarily a good thing. In hindsight, if anyone was going to try something rash, it was definitely her. Coming off her Ordeal, she was full of power and certainty; coming off the news that her mother might die, she acted without planning or foresight, and it backfired. HORRIBLY. Which makes it all the more sadder, no? It’s from this that she must face the fact that her magic is evening out and she’s not as powerful as she once one. AND THAT IS THE WORST TIMING IMAGINABLE. It’s like salt in the wound.
And what a wound. Reading the scene where Dr. Kashiwabara explained what the glioblastoma was and what Mrs. Callahan’s future might look like… that was rough. Really rough. Hanging over everything is the unsaid: this is bad. This is not a good thing. For what it’s worth, Dr. Kashiwabara’s bedside manner is fantastic, but there’s only some much a person can do when delivering news like she was. It’s such an odd thing to consider because doctors have to do this all the time, but it’s a singular moment for the family. This is something the Callahans will remember forever, but it’s just another day in Dr. Kashiwabara’s life.
Anyway, let’s talk about Tom and Carl. (Not Com and Tarl, as I referred to them once in the video below. WHOOPS.) It’s always disconcerting when the adult figures in a YA fantasy novel are throwing their hands up in the air and saying WE DON’T KNOW because… well, in Nita’s case, that’s not what she’s expecting. And sometimes, neither is the audience! And look, it’s not like Tom and Carl have no answers. They explain to Nita and Dairine why cancer is so difficult to eradicate from a wizardly perspective; they go in great detail to show Nita, Dairine, and the reader why there are too many variables at work here to just have a spell solve everything, too. But it’s the chilling (but entirely sensible) view on life that complicates this more than anything else:
“Where do you draw the line, Dairine? Where in the Oath does it say, ‘I’ll protect this life over here but not that one, which happens to be annoying me at this moment?’ There’s no such dichotomy. You respect all life, or none of it. Of course that doesn’t mean that wizards never kill. But killing increases entropy locally, and it’s always to be resisted. Sometimes, yes, you must kill in order to save another life. But you must first make your peace with the life-form you’re killing.”
And that includes cancer cells, which is not something I’d ever given any thought to. Neither had I really thought of this question either:
“I couldn’t ask about this before. Who are you thinking of doing this wizardry for? Your mother or you?”
WELL, GODDAMN, TOM. But it’s such an important question, y’all! Is Nita repairing the world because her mother wants it or because she wants it? Is it worth it for her to change the nature of cancer cells, or will “playing God” result in a horrific chain of events that undoes the fabric of the universe? Look, it’s an uncomfortable thing to read, but Nita hadn’t even considered these options! She was so consumed with grief and fear that she just wanted to do it. And in Dairine’s case, she actually did try something already!
It’s here that Duane ties in Ponch’s discovery to the main plot: Tom and Carl suggest that Nita use that weird universe for Nita to test out these specific wizardries. It’s a great idea, but I’m still worried. Nita cannot go forward with this unless her mother consents to it. And is she going to? I don’t doubt Nita’s abilities; she’s a brilliant wizard. But given what we saw with the Jones Inlet wizardry, what if she can’t do it? What if there’s a flaw with her wizardries? What if she does something terrible to the universe?
Oh god, this is unbearable already. ALREADY.
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