- The Man Who Thought He Was a Bird
Jane Rosenberg LaForge
320 Pages; Print, $15.99
In The Hawkman: A Fairy Tale of the Great War, Jane Rosenberg LaForge masterfully weaves together the serious and the magical to produce a captivating and often surprising novel that simultaneously honors and transcends the traditions and conventions of two time-honored genres—war novels and fairy tales. It may seem like an unlikely pairing, but in this mythical work, the ravages of war— and those of family, class, and gender—are sometimes tested and sometimes saved by the magic of unlikely love and profound friendship.
LaForge, a poet and author of With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women (2012), After Voices (2009), Half-Life, (2010), and An Unsuitable Princess: A True Fantasy (2014) blends fantasy and reality to produce in The Hawkman a novel of great complexity in rich, lyrical prose.
At the end of the book, LaForge provides an explanation of the source material that influenced and informed the novel as a whole. She explains that, "The Hawkman was primarily inspired by a reading of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tale 'The Bearskin,'" and she shares here how many of the Grimms' tales examine "metamorphoses between good and evil, man and animal, and the impoverished to the unaccountably wealthy and powerful. These transformations are often linked to love and marriage." These themes are all explored in The Hawkman as well. But she cautions readers not "to believe that The Hawkman is a retelling of the more popular 'Beauty and the Beast,' but 'The Bearskin' is the controlling tale here." Additional source material on WWI, life in the POW camps, and the composer Erik Satie, to name a few, contribute to the authenticity of LaForge's tale.
Eva Williams, "an author of small fairy stories and little poems," in America, has come to Bridgestonne, a small village in England, to teach at the women's college owned by Lord Arthur Thorton, his wife Lady Margaret, and their son Christopher. In Eva's first meeting with the Thortons, she learns of the existence of an "unfortunate," who the village children call The Hawkman, "because of his eyes, the way he kept watch on everything, the coat he wore, and the scream that was his speech . . . A screech it was." The Thortons describe him as a scavenger; they claim they have tried to help him but that every time they approach him, "so that we might find out who he was, what he needed—to send him back to his family . . . he screams, or runs, or disappears for weeks at a time should anyone approach him. He tells us nothing." Of course, Eva is intrigued by this description and soon after has a chance encounter with The Hawkman, which leads into "a story about a man who thought he was a bird and the woman who helped him find his humanity again."
Throughout the novel, I was often reminded of Mary Shelley and Frankenstein (1818). The Hawkman shares many similarities with Frankenstein's monster—he is an outcast, is unable to communicate because he does not speak, [End Page 22] is a being with powerful emotions, good and pure intentions but also the frustration that comes from being from having been tortured in some ways, from being constantly misunderstood, and in this case, from having survived a brutal war. Clearly, the comparison was intentional, as is evident when Eva comes upon The Hawkman while out on a bicycle ride and attempts to help him: "She walked the bicycle, and he lurched behind her . . . The farther they walked together, the stranger they must have seemed, Miss Williams thought—master and servant or Mary Shelley and the physical manifestation of her imagination." Not unlike the monster, who was created by the doctor, The Hawkman was created by the culture that tormented him. Miss Williams takes him into her cottage and there they begin to protect and take care of each other; when Christopher Thorton objects to this arrangement, Eva Williams responds, "'Where...