Across the Green Grass Fields

“Across the Green Grass Fields,” by Seanan McGuire. Tordotcom, 2021. 176 pages, $19.99.

Children have a way of wandering through doorways in literature, into the likes of Narnia, Wonderland and any number of other fantastical lands. They tend to stumble in unwittingly, wander about for a bit and eventually find a quest or heroic task set upon them.

Regan has no interest in becoming a hero. She loves her mother, father and horses. She is comfortable in her friendship with the queen bee of her elementary school, and she generally tries not to rock the boat for fear of being deemed unsuitable for the metaphorical box others have placed her in. But she places too much trust in her so-called best friend, and is reviled after sharing a deeply personal secret kept from her since birth. Distraught at the betrayal and reeling from the newly-revealed truth about herself, she comes across a doorway in the woods that asks her to “be sure.” And with little left to lose, she steps through into the Hooflands.

The Hooflands are a dream for Regan’s horse-loving heart. She is rescued by a friendly, if very loud, centaur and taken to an encampment where they herd luminous, dimwitted unicorns. It’s close to perfect, except for one thing — the residents of the Hooflands expect humans to be heroes. Can Regan hold onto her beautifully simple, peaceful life with the centaur herders or will destiny refuse to let her go? Is home the place where she was born or the place where she truly fits? And in the presence of so many inhuman individuals, what does it mean to be a person?

“Across the Green Grass Fields” represents a rare opportunity for readers to jump into a series midstream without needing any knowledge of prior installments. The sixth book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children novella series, this bite-sized story features characters and settings never before seen nor referenced. The Wayward Children series imagines that stories like the aforementioned Chronicles of Narnia are distorted versions of the truth — that children do travel to other realms, but rarely come out so well-adjusted following their return to their original world.

The series’ first novella, the Hugo-award winning “Every Heart A Doorway,” introduces readers to a boarding school for children who once tumbled down the proverbial rabbit hole, and returned unable to fit in with their old lives. Maybe they aged while they were away, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they learned strange new talents and honed the unconventional edges of their personalities. Maybe they never really fit in with their original lives, and are longing to return to the now-lost lands that fit them perfectly. The series alternates between the present-day boarding school and the origin stories of its inhabitants, and “Across the Green Grass Fields” is the first time we learn about a character without first seeing them at the school.

These may sound like standard adventure stories — they are anything but. McGuire has a way of weaving a bittersweet thread through these novellas, leaving you with an ending that may not be convenient, or traditional, but that somehow still fits. Her characters are messy and their travels don’t “fix” them. If anything, the strange new worlds amplify their quirks and jagged edges, setting a different standard of normalcy for each child. There is a sad poignancy to them all, knowing that the whole reason they are being written about is because they traveled, came back, and long to travel again. It will make you wonder what kind of land might whisk you away, should you stumble across a door. And if you do find a door drawing you in, a keyhole or a wardrobe or an inexplicably deep chest, there’s only once piece of advice to follow — be sure.

Hannah Ens is a communications specialist at the K-State Student Union.

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