Uncertain Destination – Paul Vincent Rodriguez’ “The Tale of Aynil the Traveler”

Description by the author / blurb (taken from here):

Aynil (pronounced eye-nil) is the rarest of all fairies – a Traveler.
Because fairies rarely travel outside a small radius around their
homes, it is the job of the traveler to go where the spirit pulls him
and live as long as is necessary to find the special message he was
sent to learn. Aynil’s life is one of constantly adapting to new
environments, of learning new cultures, and of frustration that comes from wondering if he will ever go home. The story he shared spans
fifteen human years of his life and includes the three most important
experiences he had while on the wing.
aynil_cover

Review

This is already the third review in the “Tales of Fairies”-series I’m doing. I think for a better understanding it’s necessary to recall the category system I originally came up with in the „Darvin the Nerd“ review. Therein I drew a line of separation in the books for kids open to a broader age audience. I divided them either into the long and complex storyline and chronological character unfolding, as can be seen in „Harry Potter“ – or else the slim tale, which is not mainly defined by a progressing storyline, and in which parts of story surround the core of what might be an existential feeling or a message. For the latter category I found the example of „The Little Prince“ best suited.
It has been easy to insert „Darvin the Nerd“ and „Rebecca the Chased“ into that system of mine. With „Darvin“, it’s the message that holds the central place, with „Rebecca“, it’s the existential experience – with „Aynil the Traveler“, it’s the message again. 

Of course it would have been interesting to see a close portrait of the psyche of someone who spends fifteen years away from home and from his love, who can never settle down but is always impelled to pass on into another area once he has learned what he needed to learn. But the author is not profuse about what Aynil feels on the inside, except near to the end, when Aynil is actually afraid of going back because he might find that his love has forsaken him. Else the inner view into the anguish of the traveller is limited. Rather, it is the experiences Aynil makes that count, but viewed from the outside, as something that happens to him and that carries a certain meaning. This meaning of the events will, step by step, disclose to his mind the message given to him when his destiny as a traveller fairy was made known: „Whereever you go, there you are.“ – „Whereever you are, be there.“ – „Whenever you leave, go.“ – „Always remember your name.“
Darvin’s experiences reveal to him the significance of these mysterious sayings. And in so far his longing for home is described, it predominantly serves to underscore the last of these four messages.

The storyline is not as cogently pursued as in the other two books I’ve reviewed so far. In „Darvin“, events are clustered around his first undertakings as a tooth fairy. In „Rebecca“, her formative time of puberty, and especially the time around a certain Winter Social, form the grouping factor for the parts of storytelling the small book consists of. In „Aynil“, however, such a central focus is missing. The storytelling is left to bits and pieces.
Perhaps the message could have been able to attract these parts, but this is difficult, as the message really is manifold. ‘Everything happens for a reason’, mental awareness in the present, the ability to let go, the preservation of identity and a sense of home – the message, enshrined in the sayings Aynil takes with him on his journey, splits up into multiple themes that, by reason of their diversity, cannot make for a unifying factor.
Aynil the Traveler“ simply wants to tell too much with too little an allotment of space. The divergent and rich themes of the message can really only be touched at, and they can bring no focus into the tale. But such a focus would have been necessary to bind together the fifteen years of travel that Aynil embarks on.

Thus the reader is left with rather isolated episodes that cannot tie together the power they might individually contain in order to leave a binding impression on the reader. The author’s intention was too big for the format.
Aynil earns his living as a seasonal worker, he is thrown into a small-scale catastrophe on the farm, he inspires someone else to his calling – Aynil works together with elves to create furniture shining with a magical touch, and goes through his difficult moments with these elves – Aynil encounters the three little helpers of death and Death herself. Such are the major experiences he makes on his journey, such are the episodes told in the book. It would be impossible to impart a centralising weight on either of these episodes. They are of equal importance. They really each possess their own message. They are of equal disconnectedness.
Even without an apparent storyline, „The little Prince“ can unite its small shreds of story because the one existential feeling it is all about, the longing, is the magnetising force that impels all the shreds of story to attach to it. The feeling is unequivocal, it’s simple. It is so very powerful by reason of its simplicity. It directly hits upon the heart.
But in „Aynil the Traveler“ even the message is shredded and thus cannot provide a gravitation centre for for the floating bits of storytelling.

This condition of the apparent randomness of events still undergoes a further complication. Because even within the bits of tale-telling coherency is not always achieved. This is particularly evident in the piece of story related to he part of the message called „Wherever you are, be there“. Later Aynil reflects thus on the saying: „ … which I took to mean that everyone must live in the moment and not worry about the future or dwell in the past.“ This meaning first dawns upon him when it is only by a heightened attention on the present moment he can prevent being caught by the elves he’s working with. These elves, it must be added, hold a grudge against him. However, it’s not explained why this is the case. The son of the leader of the elf-group offers a hint for the reason. He says that his father, Girkin, fears that Aynil, by way of his progression in the furniture-making profession, might render the work of the elves superfluous and thus rob their jobs. However, when Aynil directly asks Girkin if this was true, the latter replies that fairies don’t have the build to do the work elves do. Aynil reiterates his unanswered question; but Girkin does not reply. Instead, he starts musing about the miniature house they are about to finish. They are doing this for an elder member of the human family they’re building the furniture for. This man, friend of the fairies, spends his last days dreaming about the house he once lived in. The fairies listen to him, they draw up the plans and hand them over to the the elves, who craft the house according to the plans. However, they can’t do the finishing and require the skills of a fairy to do so. On the occasion, Aynil offers his help and Girkin accepts.
Now from all this I am unable to gather why the elves would have been envious about Aynil in the first place. Doesn’t this episode just elucidate the larger truth also reflected upon, that elves and fairies are co-workers with different tasks contributing to a common goal? And why would that make the elves believe that Aynil could make their work redundant? Because it’s the finish the fairies give to the material that accounts for its magic? But Aynil needed the completed structure of the house in the first place to put the finish on. He couldn’t have done the building of that structure as a fairy, given, as Girkin said, he was lacking the necessary constitution.
Thus either I’m not clever enough to find the answer to Aynil’s question in Girkin’s evasive talking about the miniature house – which is a real possibility – or the answer is not given at all. In the latter case, it’s left unexplained why the elves are mad at Aynil and thus large parts of this episode of the story are left more isolated still – the attempts at catching Aynil, though providing for the principal action in the book, turn out to be senseless.
The stories inside the story themselves are shredded. How could they possibly be linked by the attracting force of a message just as shredded as they are?

To make the point clearer, here’s another example of the partial incoherency of the episodes. When Aynil encounters Death’s little helpers, the topic of suicide is met by a brief discussion. On his blog the author writes about the evolution of this chapter and this helps to explain why it apparently contains two contradictory messages. But it doesn’t explain why the contradiction wasn’t remedied or at least presented in a manner that could show the reader why there really was no contradiction at all. First, it’s said that suicide – not martyrdom, but, indeed, suicide – might be the destiny of a person, an act by which he accomplishes a greater good. However, this message is superseded by another one, which declares that suicide is of no avail because it’s an illogical “permanent solution to a temporary problem” and that it precisely bars a greater destiny from the person to whom the pain was given as a lesson in order to become a teacher for humanity.
I cannot but see a stark contradiction here. Either suicide is wrong – for whatever reason and without any invocation of the moralising tone. But then it would be problematic morals indeed if the author thought what is wrong can be used for a greater good, that in doing what is wrong someone might comply with what destiny called him to do – by this line of thinking, murder, yes, anything that is wrong could be acceptable. It’s an easy bet to say that this is not the kind of morals the author shares.
Either suicide is wrong, or it’s acceptable. But if it’s acceptable, it must be assumed that for some people it really is the fitting solution and does not stand in the way of their greater destiny. Nevertheless, such an interpretation is ruled out by the universality of the wrongness of suicide that is made explicit by the said superseding stance on suicide in this chapter.
In consequence, the reader is left with a contradiction. Again he is faced by an episode within the already incoherent story that also lacks coherence.

Only a clear message can generate the central force field that can pull parts of storytelling together into a unified structure. But, as has been shown, the message in Aynil itself is multifold and thus far too diverse for the slim format of the book. It might well have been possible to integrate the different parts of the message in a full-scale novel, or else to sufficiently arrange storytelling around each part of the message by small novels within a big one. “The Little Prince” also was tiny, but its epicentre, in this case an existential feeling, was unifold and went straight to the heart. Like that, by the power set forth by its very simplicity, it could bind the fragmented episodes of storytelling to itself. In Aynil, however, these episodes are thrown into puzzling isolation, because no central message draws them unto itself. To the structural confusion further adds that the episodes themselves are not written out in cogent unity. Aynil’s tale is not a tale. It is bits of storytelling floating in the frame of a small book.

As I have told in the respective reviews, the integration in storytelling has worked out far better in “Darvin the Nerd” and “Rebecca the Chased”. For “Aynil the Traveler” to cover a fifteen-year span, there really would have been necessary a powerful message to bring together the episodes he lives through during this long period.

But, of course, again the writing style in “Aynil” is superb and again the author is engaging in what he tells, and be that even just roaming bits of storytelling. The proof is that I finished this novella without regret and that the last two chapters gave me a very warm feeling. Any author who can evoke feelings or reflections is a magician – I just wish Paul Rodriguez would do full justice to his own magic.

Rating: 2 of 5 stars

Link to Amazon Germany (paperback)
Link to Amazon USA (paperback)
Webpage to the bookseries “Tales of Fairies”

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