Rates of (Ex)Change: The Goblin Marketand Voodoo Accounting(Continued)

Goblin Market illustration by Arthur Rackham

Financial Wizards

Last but most certainly not least, we have the category of the modern market, where authors carry the message of the market into a broader definition, recasting Rossetti’s metaphors of addiction and exchange in wholly new fashions. The symbolism of the fruits from Rossetti’s poem have been examined under many lights: some have speculated that she intended the fruits to symbolize the pleasures of the flesh, given her references to other victims who succumbed to the goblins in their eagerness for the pleasures that "brides hope to have" and the sheer sensuousness of the descriptions of Laura consuming the fruit.In light of Rossetti’s experiences working with prostitutes, this is not an impossible interpretation. But in light of the cravings the fruits induce in those who consume them, and her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s own experiences with opium, the interpretation of the fruits as being indicative of the dangers of narcotics is equally valid.

Holly Black turns this notion neatly on its head in her novels of latter–day faeries in the tri–state area. Her first novel, Tithe (2002), touches briefly upon the nature of faerie fruit with its intoxicating descriptions of its effects, but in her second, Valiant (2005), Black addresses the question from both sides in her examination of drug–dealing homeless fae–touched mortal youths on the streets of New York making their living as runners between a faerie pharmacist and his clientele while skimming a little off the top for themselves.The drug is intended to provide faeries surrounded by iron with a dose of the glamor that they need to survive: when ingested by mortals, however, it has the accidental side–effect of loaning them a bit of the magic inherent to its customer–base. Her "lost" boys and girls call the drug, which possesses somewhat deleterious side–effects when it is ingested by humans, "Never" after the rules that they’ve created for themselves in connection to it. "Never more than once a day, never more than a pinch at a time, and never more than two days in a row." But, as with all addictions, this one eventually grows out of control,and in a fashion which demonstrates the chancy nature of life amongst the faeries: as the couriers grow more and more attached to the illicit mood–enhancer which allows them to perform their own magic, faeries among their master’s clientele are poisoned, with all fingers pointing to the Never as the substance responsible.

The Goblin Market Teapots by Carrianne Hendrickson

Black balances the question of need and responsibility carefully, demonstrating the "fit" of the market, as the intended recipients of the drugs are harmed only through the deliberate malice of one of their own, whereas the rash desire of the mortal children draws them into a detrimental cycle of self and substance abuse which draws explicitly upon Laura’s experience in Rossetti’s "Goblin Market." Granted the powers of enchantment through the Never’s influence, its users draw further and further away from their human needs: we read that "More and more, it was hard to remember the basic things, like eating. Never made crusts of bread into banquet tables groaning with food,but no matter how much she ate, Val was always hungry." When their supply of the drug is cut off in the fallout of the poisonings, the children find faerie fruit to be a kind of a magical methadone, capable of dulling the cravings if not satisfying them, but the final solution is one which Rossetti might not recognize: the heroine is not saved through the sacrifice of another, but rather saves herself through a "simple" choice made during a duel Underhill. We share Val’s thoughts, reading "What might Val miss while she was weaving her own illusions? She felt the weight of the knowledge hit her gut like a swallowed stone; she had to do this without any Never singing under her skin."Val chooses to accept mortal limitations over the "faerie gold" of the drug, expanding upon Rossetti’s initial creation of the paradigm of mortal victory through mortal rules in a wholly satisfactory fashion.

The Goblin Market Teapots by Carrianne Hendrickson

J.K. Rowling’s goblins in the world of Harry Potter differ from the typical image of goblins in many ways, but their intrinsic nature is still true to the images present in folklore and in the literary tradition: though there’s been no mention of goblin agriculture, the goblins are most certainly still involved in trade, and even in the furthering of addictions (if one reads their gambling with Ludo Bagman in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire as an incident of enabling). Rowling focuses on the goblins in their role of bankers for the most part, a role which grants them a certain degree of control over the wizarding economy, although brief references are made to their tenaciousness:one of the first comments describing them comes from Hagrid in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997), when he simply says "Never mess with goblins." In additional references to the goblins, Rowling has revealed them to be former opponents of the wizards, fighting in various Goblin Rebellions and fomenting discord in works such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2001), where they repeatedly undermined the attempts of the Wizards Council to restrict the definition of "beings" by broadly interpreting guidelines such as possessing two legs or understanding human speech. Their position in the system of the wizarding world is still ambiguous, with,for example, characters in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000) first mentioning a Goblin Liaison Office and later consigning them to the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. However, signs of their influence can be found in the fact that nearly all elements of the wizarding world presented by Rowling concern commercial trade, whether in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, demonstrating the pervasive nature of capitalism, its influence, and the goblins resulting power. Their association with the financial market, by extension a goblin market, gives them a source of power in a wizard–oriented world which would otherwise disregard them, necessitating both fair trade, and fair treatment.

"Waiting for the Goblin Market" by Omar Rayyan

In the most recent work to address this issue, Delia Sherman’s Changeling (forthcoming from Firebird Books, Summer 2006), we see how the idea of the Goblin Market overlaps with the reality of the financial market to an ever–growing degree when Sherman’s protagonist, Neef, is sent on a quest to gain three magical items, the last of these being the Scales of the Dragon of Wall Street. Neef describes them thusly: "The Scales of the Dragon of Wall Street are legendary in New York Between. They’re a pair of magic balances that turn paper into gold. You put the paper in one side and gold appears on the other. When you take the gold off, the paper disappears. Sometimes the gold disappears too, but the Dragon’s Scales are still definitely worth having."Sherman’s definition is voodoo accounting in action: though the creatures controlling the financial district are not goblins — Neef says "What I knew about the Financial Maze was that it belonged to the Folk who lived for gold hung out there: giants, kobolds, wyrms, alicantos, some dwarves. No big European dragons, though. The Dragon of Wall Street had long ago eaten all the serious competition" — their magical status and affinity for trade makes for a kind of synecdoche between them all. As the mortals drawn into the world of magic are held there by faerie food, so too, ironically, is the Dragon of Wall Street sustained by mortal substances: coffee is "what the Dragon lives on. Coffee, and Investors." To win the Scales,Neef is challenged to make the Bull laugh and the Bear cry: a seemingly impossible conundrum, but one which she must attempt if she is to fulfill the conditions of her oath. Interestingly, Neef is foiled in her attempt to gain the Scales, playing by the rules set by the Dragon, but manages to fulfill her conditions through a cunning bit of wordplay suggested by her faerie changeling, the titular character, again reinforcing the necessary balance of bargaining between the realms.

Conclusion: The Market’s Progression

The gradual changes to the facade of the Goblin Market represent the normalization of conventions which equalize the "exchange rate" between mortality and magic in the liminal realm of the market. However, regardless of how influenced by technology and trade regulations the Market may become, it is highly doubtful that we will ever see an end to its myriad permutations, or to its unexpected resolutions. Forbidden fruit is still the sweetest  . . . and the bargains are always better in Faerie.