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The Curse of the Raven Mocker 2003

Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2003
Jacket image by Steve Cieslawski

Best Children's Book of 2003, 
Baton Rouge Advocate
Top Ten Books of the Year, 
Books and Culture Magazine

Out of print in both the FSG hardover and Penguin/Firebird paperback


The Top Ten Books of 2003

”Books and Culture”/Christianity Today   By John Wilson | posted 12/22/2003

3. The Curse of the Raven Mocker, by Marly Youmans (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). If you haven't heard about this novel, that may be because it was published as a Young Adult book. Then again, it's a novel that eludes categories right and left. It's a fantasy—but nothing like most books in that genre. It draws a lot on Cherokee lore, but it isn't a "Native American" book. It is a portrait of the artist as a girl about to become a woman, and a story of the Spirit (and of spiritual warfare). As I have learned since first getting acquainted with her work a year and a half ago, Youmans (pronounced like "yeoman" with an "s" added) is the best-kept secret among contemporary American writers. She writes like an angel—an angel who has learned what it is to be human. I hope you too will discover Youmansland.

2003 was a very good year for reading
  By Greg Langley  Books editor, “The Baton Rouge Advocate”  12/28/03
Best Children's Book: Curse of the Raven Mocker by Marly Youmans (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18). A fantasy set in the mountains of North Carolina filled with giants, shape changers, Native American myths and Celtic traditions.

This is a book of magical beauty, as captivating and dangerous as the magic of Adantis. --Sarah Meador, 
Curled up with a Good Kid's Book

PICKS OF THE WEEK    November 20, 2003 Fredric Koeppel, Books Editor, “The Memphis Commercial Appeal”
We doted on Marly Youmans's last novel, "The Wolf Pit," published late in 2001, and are happy that another has appeared. "The Curse of the Raven Mocker" (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $18) is being marketed for the Young Adult category, age 10 to 14, but prose this luminous and a narrative this strong deserve wide readership. As with "The Wolf Pit," set on a Civil War battlefield, and "Catherwood," set in upstate New York in the late 17th Century, "The Curse of the Raven Mocker" incorporates elements of folklore and fantasy that the author renders indivisible from the novel's atmosphere. In this outing, set in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the girl Adanta goes searching for her sick father, who departed in a quest for a healing lake sacred to the Cherokee, and for her mother, who was enchanted by a stranger called the Lean One and lured away from their home. Adanta has no choice but to follow wherever the trail leads, which happens to be deep into the mountains inhabited by shape-shifters, fairy-like little people and wizards who turn into birds - the Raven Mockers. The fact that Adanta means "soul" in the obscure mountain language formed from Scots, Irish, English and Cherokee tells us something about the nature of the girl's mission and the dangers she faces. We hope this beautiful novel reaches the audience it deserves. 

Raven Mocker is wonderful feat of imagination 
By Greg Langley.  Books editor, “The Baton Rouge Advocate” 10/12/03

Once in a while, a book comes along that is a delight to review. It's so good that you are tempted to just say "buy it, read it, enjoy it" and not much more. The Curse of the Raven Mocker (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $18) by former Baton Rouge resident Marly Youmans is just such a book.

Although this is ostensibly a young adult book, it has a magic that will capture readers of all ages. It's the story of Adanta, a young girl on the cusp of becoming a woman who lives at a house her mother calls the "Little Cabin In Between." The house is on the edge of the great mountain range called the Blue Ridge and close to the territory once inhabited by the Cherokee.

Adanta's world is filled with sunshine and myth; life is governed by mystic rules and old beliefs. “… the girl looked out the window -- like all the others in the cottage, it was outlined in a deep, vibrant blue. It had been her mother's thought to follow an old country practice and paint the frames blue to keep witches and sorcerers from crossing the threshold."

Adanta lives happily with her father and mother in the cabin until her father comes down with a "blood sickness" and leaves to find a legendary lake, Atagahi, whose waters could heal any sickness. Her father stays away too long, and her mother is drawn away from the cabin by "the Lean One," one of her father's old friends who just shows up one day.

Then Adanta is alone. She knows her mother and father are far back in the mountains to the west and resolves to journey there to find them. It is to be a journey of discovery but one filled with danger and adventure, magic and mystery. Adanta meets the giants who are her neighbors, and the pony boy who rides out of the mountains. She navigates a corn maze and meets an old woman who turns out to be her grandmother. She is headed to a secret land called Adantis.

Alone in the mountains, Adanta meets Magpie Joe, who is as wild as any character Lewis Carroll ever dreamed up. "Magpie Joe, at your service, purveyor fine trained birds, imported and local, black-and-white talking magpies, nightjars, finches, ravens, crows, Scots rooks, pigeons for bearing messages, and mountain snowbirds."

Bespectacled and garbed in a great, black, flapping coat, Magpie Joe has to touch his head to earth every so often to keep from lifting off. It's the effect of the birds he sells. "They have too much influence on me. Draw me right off terra firma if I'm not careful," he tells Adanta.

Adanta is surprised when Magpie Joe "flung back the two wings of his strange costume to show a great many pockets of different sizes, each with a bird tucked inside, a short velvet cap tied over its beak."

With her bird-like new friend's help, Adanta continues her search and finally reaches fabled Adantis. There she encounters many strange and wonderful beings -- some dark and evil like the Raven Mockers -- and continues her search for her parents.

Youmans combines poetic writing with a lively pace to keep the story moving. It's Adantis itself that is the star of this book, though. In combining old Cherokee and Scots-Irish myths with her invented world, Youmans has achieved a marvelous feat of imagination and writing.

Here Adanta remembers her mother Charlotte and the lost times they enjoyed: "She had been the one to wake the girls early on May Day so that they could wash their faces in dew and be beautiful forever. At night she had often led a parade of boys and girls into the big meadow to chase fireflies and to stargaze. She had never lost her pleasure in sparklers, pot-and-spoon bands, crowns, silly hats, and shimmery capes, all of which featured in her evening adventures, and she had the gift of making these things seem magical yet comic, so that even the oldest children would join in."

This is a book that is destined to become a classic and to win many awards. It is my early favorite for the National Book Award for Children's Literature.

Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it.

A fantasy for children that provides all the disconcerting resonances of true myth

by Juliet E. McKenna, The Alien Online

. . . Finally she reaches the heart of the supernatural evil she must challenge, for her sake, and for her parents. And it is an evil that will send a frisson up the most urbane of spines. Furthermore, since this is myth in the finest tradition, the resolution is something neither Adanta nor the reader is expecting. There is no cosy reset button to be pressed. No one wakes up and finds it was all a dream. Adanta's life is changed for ever.

In each case, permission for extended quotes was granted by the publication’s managing editor or by the author.

Penguin Firebird paperback, 2006

An Interview with ‘A Word in Time’

The following is an interview between Gavin Francis and Marly Youmans—a result of her friendship with Carole Sargent--writer, teacher, and owner of AWIT in Georgetown.

GF:  What inspired you to write "Curse of the Raven Mocker?"

  I was not so much "inspired" as begged into the writing of this book.  I wrote it in the fall of 2000 because my daughter Rebecca asked for a fantasy.  She was a rather advanced reader and addicted to magical worlds, as she still is three years later.  In one way I pleased her and in another I denied her, because many of her favorite writers were from the British Isles or else were Americans who wrote as though born in the very Old World--with castles and wizards and dragons and an English landscape.  While I gave her plenty of the strange and magical, I stuck to the world of my childhood--the Carolina mountains and the folklore of that region, both Scots-Irish and Cherokee.

GF:  When did you first become aware of the legend of the Raven Mockers, and what was it that intrigued you about it?

  When I was in high school, my mother was head of serials at Hunter Library in Cullowhee, and I would spend several hours every afternoon poking about the university library.  Sometimes I had the freedom of the archives and was allowed to do things like rummage through Horace Kephart's scrapbooks (he's mentioned in the book).  Among many other things, I read Cherokee materials--the Qualla Boundary lay just down the road.  When I wrote "The Curse of the Raven Mocker," I made use of James Mooney's observations on Cherokee history, myth, and sacred formula.  My borrowed copy of what Adantans call "Mooney" is inscribed to my librarian mother by George Ellison, author of the introduction:  "For Mary Youmans with sincere appreciation for her help with the preparation of this introduction."  I do mean to give it back some day!
As for the "intrigue" of raven mockers, what's not to like about wizards who are powerful dark birds with malign powers and shape-shifting abilities?  Then there's the uncanny consumption of the victim's heart, obtained by magical means, and the stealing of years. 

GF:  Did you have a specific message that you were trying to communicate to young readers through "Curse of the Raven Mocker?"

  No.  Message is another sort of Mocker, one who steals life from stories.

GF:  Has writing a book for a younger audience been different than writing your previous books?

It was very different because I had a fan pleading for many new pages each day.  Moreover, my audience of one agreed to amuse a younger brother, then three, in exchange.  In sixteen days I came up with a rough draft.  Every writer could use a reader that eager and willing to help out with the household.  It would probably lead to a fearsome rise in productivity. Of course, rewriting took a good deal longer, since it didn’t come with babysitting!
Barry Moser says that a novel meant for a grown-up audience has a certain "density" that books for children and teenagers lack.  I hope that the "Raven" has a good deal of that density to it, as well as the combination of strangeness and beauty that allures in any sort of story.  It does, however, rely on the jettisoning of parents--at least for a time--and on boy and girl characters to a degree that is new to me but old to the kingdom of children's literature. 

GF:  From an author's perspective, is publishing a children's book significantly different than publishing a book for adults?

  I had to wait longer for the book to appear than with my three prior novels, but I had the fun of working with my editor, Robbie Mayes, in new-to-me areas like choosing an artist and giving input on images.  Steve Cieslawski did the jacket; we found that his mystical and surreal pictures at CFM Gallery somehow "matched" the story.  Another difference is that hardcover children's books are not expected to succeed or fail in a three-month window of marketing opportunity--the demand on an adult novel--as they rely to some degree on schools and libraries for sales.

GF:  Did your own experiences as a mother influence the way you approached writing this book?

  I wrote the "Raven" for a specific audience of one, my daughter.  In that sense, yes.  But I don't imagine that there's much that comes directly from my own life as a mother, except maybe the pleasant sense of chaos when Adanta meets Tass's brothers and sisters.  My children often feel like a much larger number than three.
One other family link may have had some influence.  The Adantans are a mixed-race people who consider themselves to be primarily related to the Cherokee and the Old World settlers of the mountains but set apart.  I suppose that knowing my husband's grandmother may have swayed me here; Beatrice was half Akwesasne Mohawk and half French Canadian but considered herself to be something else entirely, though she passed easily from her family in town to her family on the reservation.  I was fond of her; she talked wonderfully and incessantly until the day she died.

GF:  Did you draw from any of your own childhood experiences as you wrote "Raven Mocker?"

  My parents, who have lived in Cullowhee, North Carolina for the past 36 years, had a love for mountain rambling.  And my mother has studied and grown native wildflowers for many years.  In a subtle way, these things from my childhood contributed to the book.

GF:  Have any of your own children read the book? If so, how did they relate to the book?

 Rebecca has read the book at least five times.  While reading the galleys, she found a hard-to-catch error confusing the person "Adanta" with the place "Adantis," and for that she was rewarded with a heap of FSG books.  She likes the story very much.

GF:  Would you like to write more books for young adults?

  Recently I wrote another "Adantis" story.  It's called "Ingledove."  A brother and sister wander into Adantis and encounter its drowned lands, outlandish serpents, an Uktena, magical Water Dwellers at the roots of the mountains, witchmasters and the Master of Witchmasters.  My daughter's verdict is that it is even more surprising than the "Raven Mocker."

Interview:  Bes Stark Spangler, "Adantis, Land of Melded Cultures," North Carolina Literary Review  no. 13 (2004)

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