Silenced Beasts: Study of the Voiceless Monster in Marcin Szczygielski’s “The Heart of Nephthys” and Other Works for Children and Young Adults

Silenced Beasts: Study of the Voiceless Monster in Marcin Szczygielski’s "The Heart of Nephthys" and Other Works for Children and Young Adults

Anna Mik

The term „monstrum” is a sign of exclusion. Being excluded might be a consequence of the decision made by monsters to keep away from humans. However, one may argue that humans, out of fear of unknown and potentially dangerous, condemned monsters to exile. But frequently appearing monsters in popular culture – and also children literature – potentially might be likewise a sign of need to include them into the main discourse, a sign of willingness to hear their voice. Yet, the question remains: do monsters want to be included or maybe – they would rather stay silent and do not interfere with human affairs?
Many monsters were inspired by classical mythology that contained numerous voiceless beasts predominantly being just tools of gods and goddesses. In my paper I would like to present one example of mythical character from Marcin Szczygielski’s book “Serce Neftydy” [“The Heart of Nephthys”] that in 2017 won main literary award and the title of the “Book of the Year” for young adults awarded by the Polish Section of IBBY. This science fiction book for young adults is based on the ancient Egyptian mythology, however it also contains various motifs from classical mythology. One of them would be an adaptation of the ancient concept of a mythical beast: the depiction of Haro recognised by characters either as a female centaur of a faun. She is a hybrid created from the various genetic material left on the – formerly considered to be dead – planet. Besides bizarre looks, her main trait is the inability to speak as her tongue has been torn out by other beasts out of jealousy of Haro’s skill: articulating her thoughts. Yet, she is eager to help the main protagonist and even though she cannot speak – they find a way to understand each other. I would like to ask a question what this agreement represents and whether it changes the relationship between a human and a monster.
During my presentation the character of Haro will be shown in many contexts: as a symbol of voiceless women, voiceless animals, or anyone who has been silenced. This example will be also supported by others from CYAL, such as: centaurs from Harry Potter series; Mr Tumnus from Narnia; monsters from “Beasts of Olympus” series by Lucy Coats; all gaining their voice thanks to a child. Hopefully, I will find a way to understand mythical beast and hear what it actually has to say in the contemporary fiction for young people.

Biographical information

Anna Mik  holds an MA in Polish Philology and is a candidate for PhD at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales”, supervised by Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak and Prof. Grzegorz Leszczyński.  Mik’s research interests covers study of monstrosity, human-animal studies, minority discourses and children’s culture. She is also a Research Assistant in Prof. Katarzyna Marciniak’s ERC-funded project “Our Mythical Childhood…The Reception of Classical Antiquity in Children and Young Adults’ Culture in Response to Regional and Global Challenges.” Mik is also a member of a Research Laboratory of Children’s and Young Adult Literature conducted by Dr Weronika Kostecka and a member of Student’s Science Club: “Fairy Tales” at the University of Warsaw.