I’d be rightfully fucking pissed off to if Irish bastards stole my house and cursed me to hell! For all Peadar O’Guilin’s novel does right, it flounders on the complex topics of displacement and genocide.
I’m not much of a young adult literature reader. At least, I wasn’t. I read The Call by Peadar O’Guilin, and if you’re not familiar, it goes like this: between the ages of like twelve to sixteen, at some point you’re gonna wake up naked in The Grey Land. The Grey Land is populated by evil fairies who want to kill the shit out of you, and you have to survive a day in their world. A day there, in the Grey Land, is three minutes in our world. It’s a book with some interesting ideas and spins on Irish folklore, but I found myself fixated on one aspect alone—the antagonists, the Sidhe.
The Sidhe are beautiful fairy people who never break their promise, and populate the alien world of the Grey Land. However, the Sidhe are not native to that Land. Thousands of years before our story takes place, the Irish showed up with weapons, killing those who resisted. And the fairy-folk that lived through the onslaught of the Irish? Essentially, they were forced from their villages and thrown into this world’s (the world of The Call) equivalent of Hell, The Grey Land. O’Guilin makes it crystal clear that the Irish set off the actions that would begin the war between their people, by invading and colonizing Sidhe lands.
In the Grey Land, the Sidhe were forced to adapt or be killed by their new hostile environment. They could never go back to their home, the “Many Colored-Land” again. Cruelly, ‘windows’ exist in the Grey Land; basically, portals reflecting life on Earth. So, like, not only are you sent to Hell, but then you get the extra fucked-up bonus of watching these assholes kick it in what used to be your house.
The Irish people, the colonizers, spent generations in the sun and beauty of nature while the Sidhe were left to rot. And you know what? I can’t be mad at them for turning Irish kids into dogs once in a while.
….Me: The Sidhe did nothing wrong
I don’t know if this was Peadar’s intention, but, as a person who has been displaced and mistreated by colonizers, I found myself siding with the Sidhe…probably more than I should’ve.
There’s no excuses in the terrible things that the Sidhe people have done. They mold the flesh of human beings to suit their own twisted needs. They turn children into hunting animals to track down other children that have been called. They wear armor made of writhing, screaming flesh and ride horses that are–you guessed it–molded from human children.
But, to be faiiirrr……
You gotta admit that the Sidhe have a right to be a little ticked off. In fact, I think they were mildly justified in their revenge against the people who damned them to eternal hell. Again, O’Guilin makes it crystal clear, no way of construing the history in his book, that it was Irish colonization that kicked off the war between the fairies and the humans. And it seemed like, in certain passages of the book, he was hinting at some sort of truce between the two warring people’s. Both sides were in the wrong at some point, so both sides need to come together and reconcile their differences. In fact, it seems like there’s plenty of room in the “Many-Colored Land” (Earth) that the Sidhe are so eager to get back to.
O’Guilin touches upon this in a section of the novel, about at the halfway mark. One of the professors acknowledges that, while the Sidhe have done evil and cruel things to the Irish people, the Irish are not so innocent themselves.
They have blood on their hands as well. One of the survival collage’s teachers, Mr. Hickey, brings up this idea of forgiveness and moving on, much to the dismay of angry teenagers.
“Listen,” he [Hickey] says, “we don’t need the Sidhe to teach us evil. We were the ones who put them in the Grey Land, remember? We Irish…we trapped an entire race of people in hell for all eternity, just so we could take their homes for ourselves.”
The truth of it is undeniable, but it’s not a popular opinion, and the cheerful mood of the class instantly chills.
“Look,” he says, “I’m not saying that anybody here deserves what’s happening to them, all right? The point is, we’ll never beat them if we don’t understand them. And it might even be that we can’t beat them, but that we can find some kind of compromise and make peace with them.”
The Irish must understand the Sidhe in order to end the war between their two people. And it’s such a beautiful sentiment, colonizers and colonized finally recognizing each other for the betterment of both groups, and O’Guilin takes that idea, takes a big ole’ shit on it and throws it out of the window.
The second book ends with the Sidhe’s failed attempt at a siege upon Earth, and they are driven back to the hellish Grey Land. The connection between the two worlds is severed by the end of “The Invasion”, meaning that the Sidhe are forced, once again, to live out their existence knowing that the thieves who stole their homes will never be charged for their crimes.
It can be argued that the Irish atone for their sins via the Call itself, but it’s never framed as payback for their role in starting the war.
I get it, to an extent; touching on topics of genocide and displacement are heavy themes for a Young Adult novel. But so is child death, the loss of a loved one, and living in a totalitarian government cut off from the rest of the world, which O’Guilin managed to write just fine.
So I guess my question would be: if you can’t handle colonization in a good way, why even include it? It’d be one thing if Guilin kept the backstory of the Sidhe race mysterious, but he alludes to their genocide and displacement at Irish hands many times in the novel. Too many times. So many that you think something is going to happen with that, and it simply never comes.
Besides all of my griping, I think “The Call” presents an interesting concept and characters, and I recommend giving it a read if you’re looking for an enthralling YA horror book.