I had a lot of conversations with Dr Abbey about child Salamandra as he started getting to know the deeper lives of the characters on our fictional island. It’s always interesting bringing someone new into the inner life of the books, seeing what is obvious to them, and what I need to talk about, and what new things are discovered in that process.
“How old is she in this book?” he asked. I had to admit that I couldn’t tell him. Her age is vague, reliably, for reasons.
It’s always difficult to know what to say when there are things in a story that are important, and you want people to notice them, but you also don’t want to spell them out. How old is Salamandra? Is she a physically small child? A precocious child? A magical child? What kind of child is she? If you’ve read New England Gothic, you’ll know that many of the monsters on and around the island are probably her mother’s children. What does that make Sal? What was really going on with her when she was thrown into the sea in The Blind Fisherman?
Who is she? What is she? These are questions at the heart of the story. I can encourage you to think about it, but that’s about as far as I’m ready to go.
In this image by Dr Abbey, we see child Salamandra as she starts to add wrappings to her regular attire. The strips of cloth have prayers, charms and spells written onto them and they are a form of protective magic that she builds up over the years until she has an entire dress of it. She is a grumpy child, and with good reason.
A very long time ago, I read a quote from Toni Morrison to the effect that often the most important part of a story is how we shape holes for other people to put things into. It’s an idea I’ve spent a lot of time with. The holes are where we write ourselves in, bring our own stories and experiences to fill in the gaps. The holes are where the collaboration happens between author and reader. Hopeless Maine is the project in which I have given most thought to the gaps. It’s also the only project I’ve done where a lot of people have responded by wanting to bring their own creativity to those spaces. It’s a truly exciting process.
Who is child Salamandra? She’s the awkward, unacceptable one. She’s the child who refused to be tamed. She is your lost inner child. She is the magic your child self wanted. She is the resilience to survive bullying and to overcome setback. She is herself despite where she came from, she is not simply a product of her parents. She is childhood rage and frustration, and a child’s keen sense of justice and fair play. She might rescue you. She might glower at you. She might set fire to your kitchen chair. If she whispers to you, listen carefully – she may have secrets to share, or demands to make.