Naiya and I met up via gchat to talk about our thoughts on the first half of Akata Witch, which, as you recall, we are co-reading. We squealed and worked through a lot of things, but two things really came up for me as my two favorite (as in interesting to think about) things about the book thus far: first, that we kept seeing Harry Potter connections and couldn’t decide how we felt about them, and second, that there is a thing about how knowledge isn’t just power, as they say, but literally currency. It’s some cool shit.
Naiya: I just feel I shouldn’t be making a connection between this story and HP – I should be making this connection between the story and the genre/tropes of the genreBegs the question – has HP become an archetype?me: True. But comparing this to HP can lead to productive discussions on why this isn’t on “Can’t get enough of Harry Potter?” booklists and stuffI thin kit’s become the recognized version of the archetype, yesI mean, he’s totally a Campbellian heroAnd Sunny is starting to fit in there too
So yeah. Assuming Harry Potter is the archetype (and I’m talking both the character and the series), it’s interesting to think about how Sunny fits into this and also what that says about our ideas of what makes a hero. If you take Campbell’s monomyth, you can see a lot of that in Harry Potter, and some of it is building up in Akata Witch, too. There are trials; there are moments when Sunny has to accept something even though she can’t see at all how it will work out; etc etc; and you can see even how small moments are similar in both the HP series and in this book (which, awesomely enough, is going to be a series). For example:
me: I think when you boil it down and get rid of the specific locations and details, the initiation pretty closely matches HP’s entry into the wizarding world – platform 9 3/4, meeting new creatures, starting to perk his ears up to words and sounds, new money, etc
Then you have to look at my other favorite archetype, Raglan’s hero scale, and see again how much of that can be applied to the SFF heroes we know and love. But those heroes are generally white males, so I find it really interesting that I’m seeing some of that in Sunny. Not all of it, mind you, but you have to view Raglan as a protohero just as Campbell’s is a protomyth. So I’m guessing that when I finish the book, I’ll see more of that in Sunny, and it will be interesting to come back to that.
There’s also the learning thing, which is my favorite, obvs, because of this and this and being the daughter and sister of teachers and all. So, with a slight spoiler, I will say that I think it is fibbity fab awesome that once Sunny is initiated into the magical community as a free agent, she learns that the way to make money is to learn things. And then money rains from the sky. Literally. Harry Potter has to go to Gringotts and deal with goblins, but Sunny just gets to figure things out and get paid for it. How awesome is that?
Naiya brought up the point that this is very much like a video game, which I never would have thought about because I have played like three EVER and did not grow up with a gaming system in my house. But when she made the comparison, it made perfect sense and made me wonder how much I am missing in SFF by not being a part of gamer culture.
Naiya: It’s like…video game expLEVEL UP WISDOM
So as Sunny is pretty new to the world, she is making Chittim (the currency of Leopard people) without really trying or meaning to, because she is simply trying things out and figuring out what it all means. She and her friends get money for all types of things, like simply achieving the desired outcome with a spell but also for, like, talking about why something didn’t work and proposing new methods. GREAT METAPHOR FOR A FUNCTIONING EDUCATION SYSTEM, FRIENDS.
One thing I like about this device is that it means Okorafor does a lot less of what many SFF writers (feel they) have to do: introduce an all-knowing wise man (read: Dumbledore) to explain all things in excessively long dialogue paragraphs, make judgments and dole out punishments, and be the boring teachers who don’t feel like characters so much as plot devices to force characters to do things and occasionally screw up in a predictable way. There are teachers in this story here, but it’s much more about learning in a natural way. And I think that is an awesome real life lesson and a refreshing thing to see in a book.
I’m looking forward to finishing up the book this week and chatting with Naiya again. We’re dying to talk to Okorafor about this too, so stay tuned!