Before Katniss and Tris made living in dystopia fashionable, and even before Harry Potter showed the world that it’s possible for a strange and lonely child to find a like-minded community of champions who love him not despite his differences but because of them, there was a whole body of work that baby geeks gobbled up as eagerly as ever a modern tween slurped down the latest Mortal Instruments installment. Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, for one. Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence. Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet, always. Dune and The Dragonriders of Pern, if you were a little older. And then, of course, there were Tia and Rabbit.
Tia and Rabbit are the protagonists of the very first science-fiction novel that ever captured my imagination. It’s called Children of Morrow by one H.M. Hoover, and it’s no longer in print. That’s probably okay; it’s incredibly problematic and also (whispers) objectively kind of terrible. But no matter. Even with all its faults, I remember it more fondly than it probably deserves.
So, plot. Tia and Rabbit live in a post-apocalyptic dystopia known as the Base, where the Fathers rule with an iron hand and the people worship a decommissioned warhead. They’re “different” from the other children – indeed, Tia is widely considered to be a witch – and their only respite from a life of drudgery and abuse lies in their recurrent dreams of a beautiful seaside community called Morrow. When Rabbit accidentally kills a Father (oopsies), they learn that a) Morrow is an actual place and b) these lovely dreams they’ve been having are actually telepathic transmissions from Ashira, the Elite of Morrow. There is a place in Morrow for them – but Ashira can’t just come scoop them up. They’ll have to go to her.
Most of the rest of the book deals with Tia and Rabbit as they make their way through the ravaged landscape to the coast, encountering strange creatures, eerie burned-out shells of cities, and danger in numerous guises. They also find and eat – randomly – avocados, even though previous sociopolitical, geological, and environmental disasters have stripped the land of many plants and animals. (Avocados: the cockroaches of the Plant Kingdom? I refuse to believe it.) Anyway, they make it to Morrow, where everyone’s a telepath and they’re safe and they don’t have to worry about abuse at the hands of the Fathers or anyone else anymore, hooray, The End.
Do the good people of Morrow lift so much as a finger to help other miserable souls who might be stuck back at the Base? Pffft. No. Tia and Rabbit are special. And why are they special?
WELL. I’m so glad you asked. They’re special because it turns out that Morrow has been keeping tabs on the Base for years. Some time back, some Morrowian field researchers went to check things out, and they came upon some women toiling in a field. A couple of the investigators took it upon themselves to incapacitate two of the women and artificially inseminate them, as one does in these situations, I guess. Those women were…dun dun DUN…the mothers of Tia and Rabbit.
Did I remember to mention that this is a children’s book, written for children, shelved in the Children’s Section of the public library in Topeka, Kansas, a lovely city that has never been popularly considered a bastion of liberal thought?
So, ick. Ew. Gross. I mean, yes it was 1973 and also I’m sure there are some parallels to be drawn with certain European explorers and their appalling treatment of various indigenous populations throughout history up to and including perhaps today, etc., but I don’t really feel like I need to go there, because at the end of the day there’s only one thing to be said, and that’s OH HELL NO.
And yet. I can’t find it in my heart to despise this book, and I even feel a little bit guilty, as I write this, for being so hard on it. If it weren’t for Children of Morrow (and its icky premise), I would never have tried to read The Witches of Karres in second grade. (Tried. It worked a lot better when I was an adult.) I never would have discovered Charles Wallace or the Old Ones or Pliocene Earth or Pern. This ridiculous book was my gateway drug.
But enough about me; I want to hear about you. What was the first genre book you remember reading? What was your gateway drug?