Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Octavia Butler’s “Childfinder”

By Briana Whiteside

On June 24, 2014, the novella Unexpected Stories was released that contained two short stories written by Butler—“A Necessary Being” and “Childfinder.” “Childfinder” is about a back woman named Barbara who identifies pre-telepath children who have the potential to be fully active telepaths. The short story strongly corresponds to Wild Seed and Mind of My Mind, the first two books of the The Patternist Series.

Barabara is a childfinder, “somebody who could recognize normal-appearing kids who had psi potential before they got too old and the potential in them died from lack of use.” She has left “the organization”—a group of white people who collect and group active telepaths—and formed her own “black-only group” of pre-telelpaths.

Like Anyanwu, Barbara cared for those children who went through transition. Transition is a term used in Wild Seed to signal the period where characters obtained their powers and needed help getting back healthy.

In Mind of My Mind, the protagonist Mary creates a pattern of active telepaths and latents. Latents are the characters that missed transition and were deemed as unuseful. Mary helps usher them into late transitions, just as Barbara does to the people in her care. In turn, both Mary’s and Barbara’s followers give them loyalty and fuel the possibility of defeating any opposing force.

“Childfinder,” Mind of My Mind, and Wild Seed all present black women protagonists who are more for children than they do their own well-being. Butler’s creation of mystical superhuman characters, not simply strong black women, in speculative literature represents a distinctive construction of female heroism. And, the racial politics surrounding the defeats/and possible defeats of “the organization” and Doro important in understanding the power that Butler lends to her protagonist.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student  at the University of Alabama and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.     

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