Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Burrahobbits, Peter Dickenson, “The Kin”

The Burrahobbits fantasy book group met February 28 to discuss Peter Dickinson’s “The Kin”. This work by the prolific author is composed of four stories (originally published as four books) about the adventures of the “Moonhawks”, a clan of people at the dawn of human culture and language. The books were written for the Young Adult market, so the protagonists are a small group of young people who become separated from their clan while trekking to new territory after being displaced by a hostile tribe. Whether the main story is fantasy (as opposed to speculation) is debatable, although there do seem to be definite instances of “First Ones” (tutelary animal spirits) speaking through the people or sending true visions. Each chapter of “real world” action is accompanied by a portion of the Kin’s mythology, commencing with the birth of People into the world, and including some hero tales and the story of the first warfare.

The Kin survive drought, volcanic eruption, flood, marauding lions and crocodiles, and enemy raiders by dint of ingenuity, guts, and the occasional vision, though not without losses. The nice thing about these stories is that the leaps of invention are quite reasonable. For example, a deadfall trap used to catch “rats” for food is extrapolated into a larger version intended to deal with a man-eating lion. One of the things we found quite interesting was how little it took to establish a technology, or a culture. When the book opens the Kin’s tools are limited to digging sticks, knapped stone cutters, and the all-important fire log, which allows the Kin to keep and transport fire. They use hollow gourds to carry water, but have no strings or straps, so anything that has to be carried has to be carried in hand. Though contact with other people they meet in their wanderings, they acquire the use of other tools, such as fishing spears. We found it quite interesting that although most of the other people the Kin meet are pre-verbal, they tend to have skills and cultural development that are the equal of, if not in some ways superior to, those of The Kin.

It is not a thrilling book, but it is an interesting and engaging reflection on what it is to be human. It is also cleverly written, since Dickinson manages to use a restricted vocabulary for the Kin’s language without being dull or repetitious. (A humorous note: I predict this is the longest book you will read that has no mention whatever of what someone is wearing or not wearing, since the concept of clothing does not exist in this milieu any more than airplanes or automobiles do--). Enjoyable light reading for adults and possible thought-provocation fodder for advanced children able to deal with concepts of death and battle.
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