Recently in Ranger’s bedtime storybook, I had to read an excerpt from a beloved children’s classic… one that I can’t stand.
In retaliation, I’ve reimagined the story in a form that makes a heck of a lot more sense:
The Shadow on the Grasslands takes place in a fantasy world of big woods and vast grasslands. Two half-pints… I mean, halflings… named Yram and Arual are happy children with their parents, Selrahc and Enilorac. Their cozy, if somewhat isolated, life changes when their father announces that they have to leave their little house. “I hear axes in the Wood. They’re too close. They’ll find us.”
Enilorac nods and begins preparations.
The small band strikes off, leaving their little house in the big wood, for the bleak and empty grasslands, risking death at every turn. To Yram and Arual, it’s a bewildering but exciting adventure. They don’t know that they’ve embarked on a quest to outrun someone who wants them—for very dark reasons.
The first twist in this story is when the reader realizes that this isn’t a normal family. Selrahc is, in fact, a high wizard charged with training the children for their destiny. Enilorac isn’t really their mother; she’s a guardian from a great city in the East, charged with keeping them safe and to teach them the ways of the East.
But a more serious twist occurs when Enilorac realizes that their danger doesn’t just lie behind them: it’s right there with them. Selrahc is under an enchantment that compels him to keep going, never settling, always seeking. Enilorac must protect the children while staying close to Selrahc in hopes of finding a way to free him from the spell.
Amid all that drama, the author spends a lot of time building her world. Daily life, from what they eat to how they make their furniture, is described meticulous, painstaking, incredibly minute and wordy detail. If this were a story set, say, on the American prairie in the 19th century, all that detail might be a little tedious.
The real stroke of genius is how the author contrasts the child’s-eye view of their life with the dark undercurrent of danger. Arual admires Selrahc’s hunting and craftsman skills, not to mention the spells he weaves with his considerable music-mage abilities. She feels safe with Enilorac in their makeshift homes along the way. We merely glimpse the danger through Selrahc’s compulsive wanderlust and his periodic disappearances. We understand the gravity of Enilorac’s task more by her steely self-control and what she doesn’t say. This understated way of telling the story heightens the tension dramatically.
My only complaint about this series is that the author apparently got distracted with her own worldbuilding and lost sight of the real plot. We never really see what it was that made them flee the Wood in the first place, and Selrahc’s condition is more contained rather than cured. It turns into a somewhat documentary-like account of a family hauling across a prairie, never really settling down, nearly dying of various causes, for no dang good reason.
Still, the story has a lot of charm. I have no doubt that it will be much beloved of generations of children. Especially if you understand the subtext.