The magic of Young Adult fiction will never be lost on anyone, I hope, no matter their age. The Books of Bayern have been a favorite of mine since I was 11, and I recently re-read them all for the first time as a fully-fledged (or so they tell me) adult. In the process I realized that there's a lot that we can learn from a group of 16 year old girls, so I figured that I would share that with you.
The Books of Bayern
Before we dive into some of the incredible things we can take away from this fantastic series, I wanted to go over the plot lines of each book just a little with everyone, just to make sure you have a little background going into this.
Book 1: the Goose Girl
The Goose Girl first hit the shelves back in 2003, and was among my first great YA loves. It tells the story of 16 year old Anidori (or Ani), Crown Princess of a kingdom called Kildenree, who possesses a strange (and very frowned upon) ability to speak with birds. After her father's death Ani is sent packing to a neighboring kingdom (Bayern) to wed their prince, thus stripping her of her right to the Kildenree throne.
So it is that at the end of the mourning period for the late king, Anidori begins the trek through the mountains to Bayern, accompanied by a host of soldiers and her best friend/lady-in-waiting Selia. But just as Ani is graced with the gift of Bird-speak, Selia has people-speaking, giving her power over everyone she speaks to, and Selia's motives for accompanying Ani to Bayern are far from innocent. With the help of more than half of the soldiers Selia murders nearly all of those loyal to Ani midway through the mountain journey, leaving Ani stranded in the woods to starve, and takes her place as princess in Bayern.
Now it is up to Ani to find a way to reclaim her title, but in order to do so, she must first survive. So she becomes the goose girl, tending the kings geese in Bayern, hiding her identity from everyone... at least until she discovers another, much more powerful talent - the wind.
It's a story of hidden strengths, perseverance, magic, and - of course - love.
Book 2: Enna Burning
Enna Burning tells the story of Ani's first true friend. Taking place roughly a year or so after Ani (with the help of Enna, the wind, and all of her animal-worker friends) proves her identity to the king and sentences Selia to a justly deserved death, Enna is confronted by a strange new magical talent, that of fire speak. In the midst of oncomming war from the neighboring country of Tira, Enna's brother Leifer discovers the talent hidden on an ancient vellum buried under a fallen tree. He uses his newfound talent to assist with the first battle against Tira, but in the process of burning their enemies he burns himself.
Enna takes it upon herself to learn the talent that caused her last living relative's death. She uses it only a little at first but before long is slowly gaining power until she's sneaking out at night to set fire to the enemy's camps. But her actions do not go unnoticed. Enna is captured by one of Tira's foremost commanders, who also possesses the formidable gift of people-speaking. Eventually Enna escapes, returning to Bayern's capital, where Ani realizes what she's done in taking on the gift of fire-speaking: Enna, too, is burning up. Together Ani (who is now overwhelmed by her ability to speak to the wind) and Enna travel to the kingdom of Yasid, seeking answers from the ancient fire-speakers there. They both nearly die in the process, but in the end the two dear friends discover that they can share their gifts with each other and they find balance, just in time for a new life to enter the world: Ani's son; Tusken.
Book 3: River Secrets
After the war against Tira, it is decided that the best course of action to promote peace between the two countries is to trade goods... and ambassadors. Enna and her beau Finn tag along, but this story more closely focuses on another character: Razo. Razo was first introduced in The Goose Girl as an animal worker who assists Ani with taking back her crown, and had a prominent role in Enna Burning as the initial sole protector of Enna on her many rogue journeys into enemy camps.
Upon arriving in Tira it becomes clear that while Enna has stopped burning, Tira has a fire witch of their own, and that person is trying to pin the burnings on the Bayern emissaries. It is up to Razo, with the help of a red-headed Tiran girl (Dasha) to discover who is behind the burnings.
And, of course, what would a Book of Bayern be without a little magic; it turns out that our flightly new friend Dasha has a gift all her own; water-speaking. And it takes the combined talents of Razo, Dasha, Finn, and Enna to discover the culprits behind the new burnings, and save Bayern from yet another war.
Book 4: Forest Born
Here we meet Rin: the younger sister of Razo. Rin has always had a keen ability to reflect the personality of those around her, making her a favorite among her family, but she has also always had another ability, one that haunts her deeply. You see, Rin can make people do whatever she wants... she need only speak a few words. She spends her childhood running away. From her home, her dear mother, and her words, and often finds herself running to the trees that surround her homestead in the Bayern forest. There, clinging to the trunk of an ancient tree, Rin finds a stillness and peace that grounds her, enabling her to return to her family feeling a little more whole than when she left. That is, until she uses her "gift" again. After commanding a young boy to kiss her she runs to the trees once more to escape the horrible sensation inside her that follows and finds, much to her dismay, that the trees have turned on her, and instead of the feeling of great peace that she expected she finds nothing but loathing.
With the trees no longer behind her, Rin feels she has no choice but to run away again... but much further this time, so when Razo and Dasha come to visit Rin leaves with them back to Bayern's capital.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire - literally. There are more burnings this time, and tensions begin to rise with yet another country; Kel. Rin learns much about the troubles as she spends her days caring for Ani's son, Tusken. But one day, when the "fire sisters" (as Rin has come to call Ani, Enna, and Dasha) leave to discover who is behind the mysterious burnings, Rin realizes that she knows key information what will help them in their quest. Commanding Razo to care for Tusken, Rin follows the girls to Kel, where they are greeted by an old, and very unexpected foe.
Digging a Little Deeper
While we could take the Books of Bayern at face value and learn from them the more overt themes of loyalty, strength, and a consistent journey towards self-discovery, I believe that there's more here. The books already teach us a lot about what it means to be human and to be strong, and the magic weaved into the stories can teach us even more. Let's take a look at each of magical gifts given to Ani, Enna, Dasha, and Rin and the characteristics of each.
Now that we've briefly covered the talents explored within the series, let's take a moment to consider what those talents could represent.
How These Talents Reflect Human BEhavoir
Each one of these talents could, in some ways, describe us. If we take a second to think about each of the talents in the book we might discover interesting examples of interpersonal relationships, as well as individual characteristics.
People speaking is an easy one. That already seems to exist. Perhaps not to the extend represented in the books, but there certainly are plenty of people with an incredible charisma and command, that almost forces you to like them and want to listen to them when they speak. People who seem to always get their way. People who can make you believe anything they say. Sometimes this can be a good thing; an excellent professor has a way of commanding the room and drawing your attention. However, often times these traits are negative. You find master manipulators and two-faced friends in every corner of the world. It's important to identify those traits within yourself. If you're a "good" liar (is there really such a thing?), or if you can push people to do what you want... perhaps you have your own special version of people speaking.
Perhaps animal speaking is another one that is normal, although I don't feel that it represents any potentially negative qualities. Some people are just good with animals. Some people can recognize when their pet is upset or scared. Some people have a way of gaining wild things' trust long before any of us could even hope to approach them. A good quality all in all, and not one with any extreme underlying meaning; except perhaps that if you really listen, animals everywhere are speaking to us.
Nature speaking... a conundrum. We could never possibly understand what it is to control wind or fire. But I believe that certain emotions that we feel represent those things. Water... gives life but it's an unstoppable force. Necessary, but destructive. A lot like vanity and confidence. Or any other trait that starts as a good thing but can grow into a nasty thing that takes over whoever has it. Fire speaking.. it's easy to translate that into anger. Anger can be a good thing. Anger can protect people. Anger can push someone to change something that's wrong. But it can also cause immense damage. It's very nature is purely destructive. Wind speaking.. In the books it's described as a useful tool at first that eventually overwhelms you, not necessarily causing damage to anyone else though... perhaps it's like a friend that initially comes with good advice, pushes you beyond your boundaries... stimulates growth. Until you suddenly find yourself doing things that you wouldn't normally do, and probably don't even want to do. You find yourself sucked into a whirlwind of decisions that you can't seem to escape from.
Some of this is reaching a little. I certainly didn't read the books searching for hidden meanings, so it makes sense that I didn't extract more than just a taste of what could be lurking beneath the surface. But it raises a question: If we were to look at every story as a story that has a MEANING and then a much smaller meaning ... who knows what we could learn in the process.