Barnhill’s “When Women Were Dragons”

The image-sound-emotions that arise when I think of this novel are an amalgamation of the screaming-yell of Eleven when she channels every spark of power within her against Evil in Stranger Things, a pastoral scene from an intentional community, and a refrain from Hamilton, the voices coming together to sing, “Rise up!”

That’s not by accident. That is art.

A friend of mine recommended the book in a post the day after the Uvalde massacre (May 24) (which occurred on the heels of the leaking of the draft Dobbs decision (May 2) . . . and everything else). In her Acknowledgements at the end of the book, Kelly Barnhill says one of the things the book is about is rage. My friend said that it is also about “what you can do when you imagine more and push beyond accepted limits of society.” First comes rage, then imagination, then, hopefully, the doing that leads to change.

It is a wake-up call to rouse us from our sleepy complacency in a Dickens style. Barnhill tells us a story of dragons that is engaging and fascinating and, at the same time, she holds a mirror before us. Her characters wrestle with socially sanctioned silence and self-applied blindfolds. Through her story, we hear the call to not sit down, to not be quiet, to not continue floating with the tides set in motion by others.

For, “[w]hen power belongs, not to the violent, and not to the wealthy and well-connected, but to the people, a different sort of future begins to present itself.” pg. 332

Make sure you read the Acknowledgements once you have finished the book. This is a story born of and for our times.

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