In the fifth chapter of “How Lovely Are Thy Branches,” the darkness comes for Filif. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For brief discussion of racism, xenophobia.
Oh, Filif, you are so incredible.
There is an ordinary nature to the evil in this story. While Duane does suggest that the glassy, distant look in the Terror Twins’ eyes is the work of the Lone Power, I didn’t think that she meant that these two boys behaved as they did simply because they were possessed or not in control of themselves. One of the things I enjoy about the world in this series is that Duane does not ignore complicity. A person can do the work of the Lone Power without necessarily being aware that they are. That does not negate the effect of those actions, though!
These twins felt all too familiar, especially in the awful climate we’re seeing around the world. There’s a terrible regression happening as the most vulnerable people are once again being exploited and harmed for being themselves. For being born in different places, across arbitrary and invisible borders. For not loving people as you’re supposed to. For being seen as a threat to the majority, when the opposite is actually true.
The construction of the scene here, which Nita watches through her dream, is such that it mirrors the problem in the most direct way possible. These two boys see something that does not belong to them, that reminds them of the strange neighbors next door (who are described as “foreign”), and they believe that destroying it is their right. Their retaliation. Their necessity. It’s cruel, yes, and I don’t want to ignore that. Some people are cruel just because they’re awful humans. But there is an unmistakable edge to what they do, and I don’t think we should ignore it.
The Twins target Filif and the Rodriguez home because they’re different.
Now, the cool thing about this is that it’s a metaphor BUT ALSO, THERE ARE NON-WHITE AND NON-AMERICANS HERE AS WELL. So it doesn’t have that uncomfortable sting of being a metaphorical oppression without any representation of said people at all. And given the story of the Outlier, Filif’s reaction to these jerks is even more meaningful. Faced with imminent destruction, Filif grows to a terrifying size and AWAKENS THE TREES OF EARTH. It is INCREDIBLE and also SCARY and I loved that Duane didn’t let us forget how powerful Filif is.
But there’s a more pure reason this felt so great to read: I love stories about standing up to bullies. Especially when those stories don’t do that thing where they make the bullies more sympathetic than the bullies characters! Filif stands up to the Twins, and he puts fear into them without actually hurting them. It doesn’t seem like anyone has ever just told them to knock it off, and some people just need that! Regardless, it’s still a spectacle, and I’m glad that this chapter managed to give Filif more depth than he already had.
CHRISTMAS VENGEANCE, Y’ALL.
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