The Very un-Very Chosen One
Novel: Un Lun Dun
Author: China Mieville
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville is a Young Adult fantasy novel about an alternate London. Within Un Lun Dun lives animated items and animals that have a designated chosen one, Zanna, that is to save them from a smog, a radioactive cloud that is alive and evil. Zanna travels with her friend Deeba, and with the help of people they meet in Un Lun Dun, they have a couple battles with the treacherous smog that was created by multiple chemical mixtures in London.
Because I submitted the first chapters of Shakespeare’s Promenade, I wanted to closely examine the set up of this young adult novel. By when does the fantastic occur? How quickly are backstories introduced and for how long? Mieville makes the fantastic a build up of curious events that occur to Zanna in regular London: a fox bows his head, a stranger calls her “Shwazzy”, getting attacked by a huge dark cloud, animals staring at Zanna. The reader immediately understands that Zanna is special, and strange things are happening to her. Mieville also succeeds in swiftly transitioning from present to past, and back to present. In this excerpt, Deeba and Zanna reminisce about when the peculiar events all began:
“Let’s stick to the real stuff. The fox today. And that woman. What was on the wall. And the letter. That sort of thing.”
It had been early autumn when the odd events had started to occur. They had been in the Rose Cafe (7).
Mieville utilizes a use of space within the same chapter to jump to the past, all while moving the story along. She does this again to transition back to the present. Swiftly transitioning between past and present is essential for the pacing and set up of this novel. Mieville does this smoothly by not overdoing the backstory which in turn, usually overbears the present.
When I began reading Un Lun Dun, I had an idea of what I wanted to emulate from Mieville’s writing style, which I mentioned above. Her ability to switch from past and present so effortlessly in the beginning of the novel is swift and unnoticeable.
As I finished Un Lun Dun, I realized Mieville gave the reader a greater gift: the gift to root for a supporting character without diverging from the story itself. Before Zanna’s memories of Un Lun Dun were erased, I was cheering her on with every ounce of hope my literary mind could handle. When Deeba had to take Zanna’s place to save Un Lun Dun from the smog, it was almost as if I completely forgot about how Zanna was the chosen one. All I wanted as a reader was for Deeba to succeed. As I review my own manuscript, I realize that supporting characters are the backbone, and if they succeed, they should succeed greatly. I, as a writer, should not minimize the success of supporting characters in Shakespeare’s Promenade. My writing should flow like Mieville’s, where if a supporting character has action, their action should be just as grand as the protagonist. Zanna’s story as the chosen one is written to assist Deeba in realizing her own ability to achieve greatness.
I think reader’s are so used to main character’s remaining as the main characters throughout the novels, even if they have friends next to them throughout the adventure. Take classic novels like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, or even a commercial series like The Hunger Games. The reader is surrounded by likeable supporting characters, but are always rooting for the success of Alice, Dorothy, and Katniss. What Un Lun Dun does so successfully is switch the roles of the main and supporting, that by the middle of the novel both are equivalent without the reader really noticing. Zanna is described as tall, pretty, blonde, and able to attract attention easily with her ability to be dreamy. Contrary, Deeba has a loud family, and she’s described as short, round, and messier looking than her skinny friend. Writing Deeba as the UnChosen one of this novel is a huge relatable win. I want to re-examine my own work and make sure I add relatable elements to my characters, their life, and their mannerisms. Heroes can be awkward too, and I’ve learned from Un Lun Dun that the best ones most definitely are.
Mieville, China. Un Lun Dun. Del Rey Books, 2007.