I’ve always liked etymology, but I’ve never studied it in any kind of capacity. I wish I knew a bit more about it now, because of the various spellings of the word “faerie”. Tithe was the first time I encountered the word spelled as such, and I assumed that it was the British spelling, never mind that the author is American. Thanks to this book it became my preferred spelling, because “fairy” felt a bit childish to me. But I always referred to the race of supernatural beings as “fae”, while Holly Black uses “fey”. I had to get to the bottom of this spelling mystery.
A quick Google search led me to this Wikipedia page which states that “fairy/faerie” comes from the Old French word “faierie”, a modification of the word “faie”. I was a little surprised; I had thought the word would be Gaelic in origin, considering how much I associate fae with Ireland. It seems that either spelling of “faerie” would work, though I have a harder time seeing how you would get “fey” out of “faie”.
If the previous paragraphs were being read out loud to you, I apologize for any confusion.
This is my long-winded way of saying I’ll be using the spelling “faerie” and “fae”, no matter how they’re spelled in the book. But it doesn’t really answer my question as to why Corny would spell “faerie” with the e, rather than the more commonly known “fairy” spelling when they try to Google it. I know some people hate search engine montages in their fiction, and it’s totally understandable. It’s lazy writing, and half the time the author doesn’t know how the internet actually works.
But if I suddenly found out I was a non-human, the first thing I would do would be to Google exactly what it meant to be a faerie. Kaye and Corny don’t find out a lot of useful information. Rather, trivia, which Corny finds amusing, but it’s not helpful. But there’s one other thing about this scene that hits me right in the nostalgia.
‘Can I use your phone?’
He nodded. ‘Do it now. You can’t use it while I’m signed on. We only have the one line.’
Land lines. Getting your slow internet through your phone line. When Tithe came out, my family had recently switched from AOL to EarthLink. Remember EarthLink? For the first time in our house, we could use the internet and be on the phone at the same time. It was life changing.
Eventually, Kaye remembers the kelpie that she summoned to help Roiben, and wonders if it can help her as well. Here the internet does come in handy and gives them (and the reader) some information about how dangerous it is. In short, the horse-shaped kelpie will try to lure riders on to its back, then drown and eat them. The kelpie is also one of the fae I knew about prior to reading this book, because it was a rather memorable entry in J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them book.
When Kaye and Corny do meet the kelpie, it wants something in trade before teaching Kaye magic. Kaye isn’t sure what it would want, but Corny is more open to the idea of actually drowning people.
‘Well,’ he said after a moment’s hesitation, ‘actually, there are a whole lot of people I wouldn’t mind feeding to that thing.’
‘No, really,’ he said.
‘What do you mean?’
‘I mean that there are a whole lot of people I wouldn’t mind seeing drowned. Really. I think that we should go for it.’
Kaye looked up at him. He didn’t look particularly fazed by what he’d just proposed.
This is more in line with Corny’s introduction, where he imagines himself as a murderous psychopath. Corny has a lot of anger, he wants to be bad. But he’s never gone for it. Early on, he even acknowledges that this game of him pretending to be a dangerous man is getting boring, and worse, pathetic. With the kelpie, he finally sees an opportunity – and a reason – to be that person. Fortunately, Kaye won’t let him.
After reading that conversation, I began to wonder if there was anyone I’d lead to a kelpie. I know a lot of people that I’d rather not see again, but very few I would think deserve to get eaten by a demonic water horse. What disturbed me most, though, was when I realized there were maybe two people on that list that I’d be okay with getting eaten. And from there, I had to ask myself: of those two people, would I be able to lead them to the water’s edge?
If I could, it wouldn’t be as easily as Corny could.
Kaye at least finds something the kelpie will like: the broken carousel horse she found early in the book. I’m a fan of Chekov’s guns, and I was glad to see that the horse was used for more than just hinting at Kaye’s true nature. The car ride to pick it up is harrowing for her, however. With her glamour off, all of Kaye’s senses are enhanced, as is her sensitivity to iron. While she’s in the car, the metal she’s surrounded by burns her lungs and makes her sick.
One thing that can be difficult for a writer to get across to a reader is an experience that the reader will never be able to have. Sorry, guys, we’ll never be able to smell the chemicals in our soda or have the crazy vision of a hawk. But we do all know what it’s like to be queasy and puke your guts out.
Holly Black also makes sure that we know what holding magic in your hand feels like, by using another sensation that we’ve all felt before.
Kaye cupped her hand and imagined the air in her hand thickening and shimmering with energy. After a moment, she looked up in surprise. ‘It feels like when your hand falls asleep and then you move it. Prickly, like you said, like little shocks of energy shooting through it. It hurts a little.’
Admit it: you just tried to gather energy in your hand.
No? Just me? Okay.