Rates of The Goblin Market and Voodoo Accounting

The Era of the Odde Shoppe

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution, and the slow fading of the cries of iterant vendors calling upon passers–by to "Come buy! Come buy!", stories changed to reflect the resulting social adaptations: magic was still a highly desirable commodity, but its marketing became as much a matter of modernity as that of any other stock. In his introduction to Magic for Sale (1983), an anthology of (as he termed them) Odde Shoppes, Avram Davidson wrote: "So why the odd little shop story? What is there to explain? It is archetypal and primordial: instead of the little house in the forest we have the little shop in the city; the proprietor or proprietrix is the wise old woman or wise old man,perhaps we can say the shop is the cave of the womb, one desires what is therein but one is at the same time fearful, it is dark, it is cluttered and close, it contains wonders, it contains perils, it is the way to the quest . . ." Davidson certainly hit upon an important element in the popularity of the sub–genre, but the reasoning goes a bit deeper then it would initially appear. For not only is the Odde Shoppe acting as a stand–in for the encounter at the cross–roads with the enchanter–figure who may help or harm, depending upon her inclination, but so too is the act of purchasing standing in for the quest, replacing adventure with acquisition. In the modern mindset, are the two truly analogous?They are not. Though the nature of the market (referenced in relation to a place of exchange rather than that based on the Goblin Market) is such that it acts as a natural liminal zone, with its potential for change stemming from the process of goods changing hands, and those goods affecting their buyers, the quest itself remains intact. The focus of the shift lies not in the notion that the human drive for adventure has changed, but that those adventures now take place in an environment which has evolved to possess predators who are equally as likely to try to sell Little Red Riding Hood a better basket to carry before her journey as they are to waylay her along it.

Though the odd shop is slightly more stable by nature than the Goblin Market, its magical nature assures that it will never be tied to the infrastructure around it: in such stories, odd shops are not considered to be stable emporia, as can be seen in Terry Carr’s "Touchstone" (1964) when one character asks, "If I come back here a week from now  . . . will this store sill be here? Or will it have disappeared, like magic shops are supposed to?" The magic shop retains its essence of impermanence: just as Chritina Rossetti’s Laura was unable return to the Goblin Market to purchase more of the fruit that could satisfy her, so the customers of the typical magic shop are unable to register their complaints, should they have any.The change is one of degree, and not of kind. In another tale of magical sales, Robert Silverberg’s "As Is" (1968), a man who’s been sold a faulty bill of goods — a magical car belonging to a supranatural businessman who’d like its return — is recompensed by a business contract. He happens to sell computers, and his wizardly customer says: "I’ve been considering computerizing our operation too, you know? It’s a pretty big outfit, a lot of consulting stuff all over the world, mostly dowsing now, some thaumaturgy, now and then a little transmutation, things like that, and though we use traditional methods, we don’t object to the scientific approach  . . ." That lack of objection to the idea of cosmetic upgrades tothe nature of the market lies at the heart of the continuing relevance of the Goblin Market in modern literature: though the trappings may change, and the transactions become somewhat more central to the stories, the core of the market remains the same.

Goblin Market Illustration by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Vintage Shopping: Anachronous Markets

Though the ideas of the market itself obviously change with the passage of years, the fashion in fantasy is frequently for the archaic, the anachronistic, and the timeless, presenting readers with myriad choices amongst old–styled versions of the Goblin Market. In one such treatment of the conceit of the market, Jack Vance presents readers with the King of the Faeries, Rhodion, who loves markets so much that he’s happy to attend the mortal versions in a pinch, as well as with a bona fide Goblin Fair. Gathering thrice yearly, the Goblin Faires are described in The Green Pearl (1985) as occasions which draw "traders and buyers from all across the Elder Isles, human and halfling alike, each hoping to discover some wonderful charm or trinket or elixir to bring advantages to his life or gold to his wallet  . . .with folk of many sorts who had come to mingle in unconventional camaraderie, to sell, to buy, to trade, or only to watch and listen, or perhaps to seek out some long–lost friend, or some defaulted enemy, or to recover an item of which they had been deprived: the yearnings were as disparate as the folk themselves." The one common element of all of the reasons listed lies in a desire for change, of which the market is both an offshoot and a catalyst.

In a slightly later reading of the Goblin Market, Rosemary Edgehill introduces us to what she initially calls "The Unfair Faire Affair" in The Cup of Morning Shadows (1995) when her human heroine must traverse half of Faerie in order to find her elven lover. Highlighting its liminal nature, the market is described as "the place to go  . . . [if] crossing Borders is what you’re after" and as "one of the most dangerous places in all the lands." Edgehill’s writing carries a characteristic humor, but her Market is no laughing matter: it is the fulcrum of the enchanted lands, an inevitable destination for any regular traveler. Edgehill specifies that "Every road out of [its] valley led to a different land. No road led to the same destination twice. Even experienced travelers, when caught in the Goblin Market’s turbulence, let its power fling them where it would  . . ."Her market is a blended place as a result, its denizens composed of everything from characters from other authors’ books (a device she explores more fully in a later volume of the series) to 14th century noblewomen and one lost New Yorker. Ruth Marlowe’s character possesses a distinctly troubled past: previously, the hapless heroine had had her soul sundered to discomfit her lover, only to lose him during a journey back to Faerie. Still heart–sore and half–whole, Ruth’s visit to the Goblin Market is of particular importance, given the fact (unbeknownst to her) that the "rules of commerce there were simple: you could only sell what you wanted to keep, and purchase what you already owned." When a passing junkman offers her her choice of any two objects from his tray in fair trade for the iron knife at her belt, Ruth only accepts out of idleness,little knowing that the embroidery scissors and the silken cord that she chooses at random will prove the means to the undoing of her bonds at the conclusion of her adventure. The Goblin Market offers its visitors both that which they want, and that which they need, the former typically to their undoing, and the latter more often to their benefit: the fact of the frequency of confusion as to which is which is another sign of the market’s function as a balancing point between fiction and fact, illusion and reality.

Some of the most compelling images of the market have come from the pen of Neil Gaiman and the brushes of Charles Vess: their presentations of the market center on the similar element of it allowing one to find one’s heart’s desire. In one interpretation from The Books of Magic (1990), young Tim is offered just that on his first visit into Faerie in trade for a year of his life, his voice, or the color of his eyes. When his guide refuse on his behalf, the tradeswoman proffers a "gift" of berry–juice for his travels, only to be rebuffed again with the rejoinder that he has no time to dally in the Faerie, indicating that the ancient conventions of Rossetti and her predecessors are still functioning in full force. Tim is allowed, however, to accept the woman’s good wishes, wishes which might in fact be responsible in some wise for the foilingof a disreputable market–denizen’s plot to press him into service by framing him for theft. Instead, Tim and his companions are all allowed to choose reparation from amidst his possessions, objects which prove to be enormously useful in the trajectory of the tale. The idea of the market as an endless repository of deus ex machina has become so commonly accepted that Dianna Wynne Jones mocked it openly in her Tough Guide to Fantasyland (1996), but the results should not be so much associated with the goods themselves, necessarily, as with their place of origin, as the duo’s later collaboration Stardust (1997) indicates.

"Night Time Fair" from Stardust © and ™
by Neil Gaimin and Charles Vess

Although the Market at Wall in Stardust is never directly referred to as a Goblin Market, no more than the Odde Shoppes are referred to as its settled outposts, it is clearly descended from it. Coming to the meadow just beyond the border between Faerie and a modern world in which a young Victoria reigns every nine years, the Market carries goods of every sort, including not only the ubiquitous enchanted produce, but also everything from new eyes for old to bespelled flowers of glass. It is a place where one can find one’s Heart’s Desire, as indeed first Dustan Thorne and his son Tristan do, though in very different ways. Dunstan Thorne is granted his Heart’s Desire by a foreign lodger come for the Market who offers him a princely sum for lodging in his home for the length of the Market. Despite his largesse, Dunstan hesitates, notingthat "If you’re here for the market, then it’s miracles and wonders you’ll be trading  . . .," a shy suggestion to which the stranger acquiesces, promising him his Heart’s Desire, and later commenting that "my gifts last a long time. You and your firstborn child and its first-born child  . . . ." It’s a promise and a prophecy spoken all at once as a result of the Market’s appearance, and it proves true in the most unexpected of fashions  . . .

While shopping for a present for his lady–love, Dunstan comes across a stall in the Market selling neither discomfiting objects such as storm–filled eggshells nor objects beyond his means, but rather delicate, beauteous glass flowers, picked from the slopes of a mountain in Faerie. But the proprietor proves more enchanting than her wares, and thus Dunstan finds his Heart’s Desire. Interestingly, though this market–woman observes the same rules as the original goblins of Rossetti’s poem, refusing coin in favor of such intangibles as the color of his hair or his memory of youth, settling finally for a single kiss upon her cheek, this does not contravene the "rules" of the Goblin Market as they are perceived in modernity, rather serving as an example of how compromise can prove possible in the face of a common goal.Dunstan, in fact, gains not only his Heart’s Desire, but also an additional consequence when his infant son is delivered to the gate between Faerie and Wall nine months after the departure of the Market, and three months after his marriage to his lady–love. That son, Tristan Thorn, is raised in ignorance of his heritage, barred from the one egress into Faerie offered by the Market until he is sent off on a quest to find a falling star in order to gain what he thinks is his heart’s desire  . . . the hand of a young townswoman amused by his grandiose promises of love. However, Tristan’s travails in Faerie demonstrate the possibility of broader horizons to his dreams and desires alike, culminating in his entry to the Market, where his father’s former lodger, unobserved, notes his realization of his true desire for the star Yvainewith only a wry "Which is all the thanks I’ll ever get out of them, I wager  . . . ." The set–scene of the market–place for the denouement of their tale is mete indeed, demonstrating both its ability to unveil self–imposed deceptions, and as an appropriate location for the conclusion of transactions.

However, the market is shown to be as ephemeral as it is liminal: magic is not a matter for permanency, and even the Market at Wall is shown to have an ineluctable end–point: one visitor observes that there are "Fewer and fewer of them, every nine-year  . . . mark my words, soon enough this market will be just a memory. There’s other markets, and other market–places, I am thinking  . . ." and indeed her notion stands true. And not all of those market-places conform to past images, not even in their reimagining of the nature of the transactions they will host  . . .