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Road Essays
FF00CC: orphans in the maze of the city

FF0099: an orphan in a city labyrinth: a close reading of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere

FF0066: Orphans going offroad in the city

FF0033: An orphan's journey to the big city by way of the Blue Highway

Road Narrative Update for February 2019

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FF00CC: orphans in the maze of the city: 03/08/19

January book sources

The next way to or through the city for the orphan traveler is through the maze. Or for city based road narratives, the maze can be a metaphor for the complexity of the city.

For this stop on the spectrum, I will be discussing two books: The Dragon That Lived Under Manhattan by E.W. Hildick (1970) and Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier (2018).

The lone traveler in Hidick's book isn't the knight; it's the boy who summons him. The boy lives in New York. He's at the park unsupervised (thus making him a lone traveler, albeit on a small scale). When the knight wants to kill the dragon who has taken up residence in the subway tunnels, the boy choses to go instead, not to kill the dragon, but to help it.

In Sweep, the lone traveler is Nan Sparrow. She is a literal orphan who has escaped from the man who runs the chimney sweep business and keeps children in unsafe conditions both at "home" and at work. Now all the other sweeps are also literal orphans, so Nan can't harness her "orphan magic" until she's alone. In Nan's case, that means nearly dying, alone in a flue. Her near (or actual death depending on how you read that scene) is the moment that her magic is activated, in the form of Charlie, a soot golem.

The destination for both of these narratives is the city. Rather, the action for these books is all within the confines of the city. There is very little in the means of travel, except in and around the city. The boy, goes from Central Park to under Manhattan to one of the city's abandoned subway tunnels. Nan, meanwhile, goes through London via chimneys, and rooftops, until finding a home in an abandoned mansion that has more chimneys than is practical.

In road narrative studies that focus only on the eight percent, the road narrative has to have an actual road trip, typically going from New York to somewhere in California, or sometimes, from a city to a rural area.

If these were the only types of road narratives, then this category, and these two examples, wouldn't qualify. I hope by now, I've shown how the traveler, the destination, and the road are prominent features of many North American narratives, even those that aren't literal road trip stories.

Finally there is the route taken. As both of these examples are contained within the cities they start in, the route traveled is somewhat metaphorical. For the boy, the journey to find the dragon is one of twists, turns, and potential danger both from the city itself, as well as the dragon. For Nan, the danger lies in her work as a chimney sweep, as well as from the man she has escaped. Both journeys, both paths through the city are ones punctuated with the threat of death. In Nan's case, literal death, although she was brought back through the magic her predicament released.

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