The Mythical Voyage

  My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time. Allison Hunter.

Sometimes the gripping plot or engaging characters are what sell a book. With Mythical Voyage: Tale of the White Ponca, Robin Ymer’s gentle style is what wins me over. Her book has the feel of a read-aloud tale, perhaps because it originated as bedtime stories for Ymer’s young children.

The plot is a simple science fiction spin on the origins of unicorns, which for the most part works. Two unicorn parents have a baby, Bibi, whom everyone soon realizes is different from them. Eventually, the parents learn that Bibi is destined to become a messenger and will eventually travel through portals bringing hope to inhabitants of other planets. The first part of the book is reminiscent of our folklore about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, who became an outcast because of his nose, but eventually ended up becoming the head reindeer for Santa Claus. The second part resembles epic journey stories and includes some delightfully fun scenes: “She would stomp her hoofs to dislodge lizards from their hiding places; and when they hastily fled head high in search of quick shelter, she would trot after them practically at their tails.” Alas, this middle section is where important information is sometimes given after an event has already been set in motion. Case in point, in one paragraph, we learn that Bibi’s family will go on a long journey, thus deserting their cave. In the next paragraph, we learn that colonies were crowded and so an abandoned cave could be quickly taken over. It feels as if Ymer is making up her story as she goes, which makes for bad plotting but also fits the air of a bedtime tale—and so might not be a completely wrong choice. As for the end, I concur with other reviewers who felt it came too quickly. One minute, Bibi is learning wisdom from the Guardians and the next she is travelling through a portal to her final destination. Especially given where Bibi ends up, why not show her adjustment? Then again, this would add bulk to a book, which at one-hundred-and-fifty pages already feels rather long for its intended audience of six-to nine-year-olds. And yet Ymer’s style kept me entranced and so it might have been worth tacking on one extra chapter.

When it comes to the characters, there are things, which I liked and disliked. Let’s get the negatives out of the way. First, I’m not sure why Ymer decided to call the unicorns “Poncas.” On her website, the question is asked: “Why write another story about a unicorn?” Ymer responds that Mythical Voyage is not another unicorn adventure, but one where the reader becomes acquainted with the Ponca. It feels as if she tried to distance herself from the label of unicorn, perhaps with the hope of creating a unique animal. However, the reality is that both her descriptions and illustrations made clear that she’s writing about unicorns. So why not just call it what it is? Especially when a Native American tribe also has that name? Second, I’m not sure why Ymer drew attention to the baby’s color, portraying white as special and black as ordinary. Not that I’m trying to be politically correct but that seems like an unusual choice in a world that often judges people by color, especially when Ymer then never mentions this unique feature again. When it comes to the positives, I love how Ymer creates a unique culture for her brand of unicorn. For example, her unicorns dislike being alone, communicate only through sounds, never make any sounds except with their hooves, have a morning ritual of grooming one another and an evening ritual of telling stories, and the list goes on. For one hundred and fifty pages, I lived in another world. What an awesome feeling! Then there’s the other feature which makes Bibi unique: her horn with its seven twirls. Her extra-large horn distinguishes Bibi as one of the wise ones and a messenger. That was a cool idea.

Last, there is Ymer’s style. Anyone remember the Serendipity Books by Stephen Cosgrove, which were popular back in the 1970’s? This is one comparison that comes to mind. Another is Louisa Mae Alcott’s Flower Fables, stripped of their syrupy-sweet preaching. Mythical Voyage is a quiet unfolding tale, which makes me think of gentler faraway times. There are some stories which set the heart racing, others which make one weep. Mythical Voyage does neither, but instead feels like a calming breeze, which is a great reason to read a book. I can easily imagine myself a parent pulling out this book, brewing up some hot chocolate, and gathering my children around me to read. And that seems like a perfect reason for me to recommend Mythical Voyage: Tale of the White Ponca.

Author’s Note:  BIBI is THE Unicorn, and therefore must be white. I did not invent her. As I have written to you in the interview, I am acquainted with an African belief that Albinos born among Black People are thought to have supernatural powers. So I had the idea to create a tribe of “black unicorns” which I named Poncas (totally unrelated to the North American Native tribe), with specific characteristics and powers that would allow Bibi to develop into the Unicorn, the creature that appeared on Earth in Medieval times. Bibi can be interpreted as being an albino Ponca.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

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