What Fools these Mortals Be: An Analysis of Chris Adrian’s “A Tiny Feast” by Addison Antonoff


Therefore, a prologue:

Chris Adrian’s “A Tiny Feast” follows Titania and Oberon (if those names sound familiar, good! hopefully you’ll catch all the references I make to Midsummer) as they take care of a changeling (Boy) who is diagnosed with cancer. At rise, Titania and Oberon are talking to Dr. Blork and Dr. Beadle (which is used in Shakespeare to mean parish constable!) about Boy. The doctors try to comfort the two as they explain treatments.

Cue flashback to the arrival of Boy in their lives: he has a gift from Oberon to make up for a fight (apparently it’s easier to kidnap a child then to spring for a pearl necklace). They fight a lot, by the way. The author describes the care taking of Boy, and how they saw him more as an object than a creature.

Back to the hospital (just a heads up, we’ll be here a lot): Titania complains about how ugly the hospital and the workers are. These workers cannot see her magic – she has made the room beautiful. That doesn’t help much with her mood. Actually, she’s about to turn a social worker – Alice – into a cat when Oberon reenters the room. The “glamour” slips for a moment, and the social worker sees the true Titania. Alice sees more and more as Oberon and Titania start fighting.

Cue another flashback: At first Titania treated Boy like a pet, much like his Beastie. Gradually, he becomes more like a son to her, even tries to call her mommy. Which is good and all, until your child starts dying.

Again, in the hospital: a barrage of treatments. Titania doesn’t understand any of it. Oberon makes Doorknob (not a name from the original play) try some of the medicine. Doorknob goes nuts and Oberon knocks (heh) him out. Luckily, the medicine has a better effect on Boy. Arguably. He can at least sleep better, but when he wakes up, he’s hallucinating.

One day, a good day, he wakes up and says he’s hungry. Titania sends fairies off to get cheese sandwiches. They bring back a large selection. Boy picks one from the hospital cafeteria. Titania reflects on singing to him, and how his lack of discipline pissed off Oberon.

They can’t go home. Titania takes him on walks through the ward. He is no longer allowed to eat solid food. Oberon feeds him, Titania gets pissed, Boy throws up. All healthy, functional trademarks of a family. Time goes on. Boy keeps asking Titania for food. Just one, tiny feast (what is the title, alex?). She’s about to feed a chocolate bar to Boy when Oberon returns and says he has something better. They all cook a tiny meal together and the boy devours it.

Flashback time: Boy went missing, and Titania, fire-eyed maid of smoky war that she is, is about to bring an army down on his mortal mother. Luckily, they find him asleep. Anyways, back to the hospital.

Titania tells Oberon that Boy was a terrible gift. The cancer has gotten worse. She admits that she thinks that when the boy dies her love for Oberon will die, too. The doctor talks about letting Boy die, and Titania loses her glamour. She commands that the doctor do all mortally possible to save her changeling. Boy dies. The fairies build a bier out of the room and they all take him back to the fairy home. Beastie died of grief.

What visions have I seen (compelling things we can learn from):

Obviously, if Chris Adrian can take from Shakespeare, so can we. We can also take from Adrian.

  1. “Take pains. Be perfect.”
  2. Juxtaposition – this story is about two worlds colliding (hint: look at the green highlights!). It’s clear in the imagery (the magic vs what the mortals see, for example). Take two different universes and put them in the same space. Instead of romantic love (like in the play), this story focuses familial love. The tension between these two universes is very obvious – it’s been going on for a long time. This isn’t the first changeling, and Titania is about to go to war with a human. Obviously not the best of terms. This tension becomes unavoidable when Boy becomes sick. The chronic tension doesn’t throw a wrench between Boy and health, but it makes the attempts to cure him much more strained.
  3. But what makes this story good is that it goes beyond just stuffing two very different domains into one space. The rules have to be clear for each world. For the mortal world, there doesn’t need to be much exposition. The readers are familiar with it (until aliens knowingly become a part of our social structure, but that’s a different story), which gives Adrian time to expand on the “fun” stuff – the magic world. The exposition is woven into the story – Titania’s confusion in regards to the medicine (relatable, but is clearly different through her thoughts), the rush to fulfill Boy’s wishes (also relatable, but clearly different through the responding action).
  4. Use Shakespeare. It worked for Sondheim and Bernstein, Adrian, the Kirkpatricks…

Up and down, up and down, I will lead them up and down (question time):

  1. Why does the story follow Titania? How would it be different if the story focused on Oberon’s point of view?
  2. Does Titania become more or less likeable (or no change) throughout the story? Why? Oberon? Does this influence your like/dislike of the story?
  3. Why Titania and Oberon? What does the story have to gain from using these iconic characters? Does it help or hinder? How do you think it affected the writing process for this story?

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