Study Guide

The Ear, the Eye, the Arm The Supernatural

By Nancy Farmer

The Supernatural

Sometimes—often, actually—he had trouble remembering exactly what the Mellower had said. Afterward there was a period when he felt sleepy and a little foolish. And so he fought to keep from being entranced. Most of the time he won. (1.43)

You are getting very… sleepy. Just like a hypnotizer with an old pocket watch, the Mellower is able to put people in a trance. With just his words of praise, he can render anybody sleepy and hazy—even the General. Tendai isn't so sure he's a fan of this feeling, particularly because it means he's not in control of his thoughts anymore. So who is?

A shave was a wandering spirit who entered you and taught you a special skill. It didn't matter that the Mellower was of the English tribe and the shave was obviously Shona. You didn't have a choice about who possessed you: when a spirit wanted you, he or she generally got his or her way. If you resisted, the spirit made you sick. (3.38)

Spirits are feisty, according to Tendai. The Zimbabweans believe that spirits—good and evil—can possesses people at any point. Most of the time, they do it for a specific purpose. For instance, Rita is really good at math, say, so an ancestor might help her out there.

The Mellower has a Shona shave. Aren't we lucky a spirit decided to possess him? I wish someone would take an interest in me. But he was too contented to worry long. With his hands folded on the ndoro, he drifted off into a dreamless sleep. (14.56)

Don't you hate it when everybody else gets a visit from a helpful spirit except you? That happens to us all the time. Tendai so badly wants a spirit to use him because it's an honor when they do, plus he wants to be special. Right now, though, it seems like he's not that great at anything.

The men went back to conversing among themselves. Eventually they let Tendai know their names. The old man was called Garikayi, and most of the others were his younger brothers. They didn't reveal too much about their totems, because such information could be used by witches. Slowly, tediously, the conversation wound on. (16.28)

In Resthaven, everyone believes in spirits and witches, and they take these beliefs very seriously. In fact, no one even wants to eat from the same plate as Tendai just in case he comes from a long line of witches. The supernatural plays a huge role in the heritage and culture of Zimbabwe in the book, particularly in Resthaven.

"If you don't expel the muteyo, everyone will think you're witches. I think that will please the Spirit Medium very much." (22.69)

Rita explains that their drink will not taste as bad as everybody else's, but they will still be expected to barf afterwards. Otherwise, they are witches. It's that simple. It seems like a huge fake-out to us, and we wonder why they have to give Tendai and Rita a special potion to prove they are witches if they really believe in this stuff.

"Traditional Africans didn't kill witches unless they'd murdered someone. But you'll wish you died. You'll get food the goats wouldn't touch and the nastiest chores. But worst of all, people will hate you. They'll look at you with loathing for the rest of your days. It's a terrible fate." (22.106)

Remind us never to go to Resthaven—we do not want to be treated like witches. We know that witches are a really big deal to the tribe. Why do you think that is? It doesn't seem that different to use a spirit (or a Spirit Medium) and a witch, yet it definitely is to the Resthaven people. What gives?

The Spirit Medium turned his attention from the ndoro to Tendai's face. Tendai expected to see hatred, but what he detected was far more surprising: it wasn't the Spirit Medium at all! The shape was the same, but the presence hovering inside the man's body was completely different. (23.42)

Creepy. Tendai can't believe what he sees during the ceremony, especially because he wasn't sure whether he believed all this supernatural hoopla anyway. Something is happening at this moment, though, and we're pretty sure it has something to do with the supernatural taking over.

Tendai caught a glimpse of what the mhondoro really was. It—for the spirit was both male and female—stretched back to the first human who raised his—or her—shaggy head from the immediate business of finding food. She—or he—became aware of the land. He saw the good red soil and clean water flowing through it, the plants that sprang up and the animals that bounded through them. (39.15)

We love the way the mhondoro is described as completely ambiguous and androgynous. It's not important what the spirit looks like—in fact, s/he is utterly malleable—it only matters how the mhondoro is used. The spirit uses power in a different way than humans, and doesn't need human features to work the magic.

Gradually, one after the other, the spirits that attended the Masks took up residence. The men jerked as they were possessed. The sound grew louder. Barks, yowls, grunts and hyena laughter filled the air. It was the animals trapped as messengers. They circled the chair, calling for their Master, who fed only on humans. (39.38)

The Masks don't hold back when it comes to their beliefs. Not only do they use the supernatural, they make sacrifices to it. We can tell that overuse of the supernatural is not always a good thing. It's fine to believe in spirits, but it's quite another to kidnap a teenage boy and kill him for the sake of spirit warfare.

I'm going to leave you now, said the mhondoro to Tendai. You ought to think about becoming a spirit medium. You have a real talent. (39.51)

When the mhondoro possesses Tendai, he is relieved. Not only did some spirit use him, the spirit did. Going through this experience really solidifies his personal journey. It also helps him come to terms with the fact that the supernatural can act all around you at any given time.

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