DEL Island Discs Episode Three: Mosca Mye

This episode has been co-written by Dr Mary Morrissey, Cait Cromartie (Year 12) and Aideen Cromartie (Year 9).

This week’s castaway is Mosca Mye, the main character in two books by Frances Hardinge: Fly by Night (2005) and Twilight Robbery (2011).

These novels are set in a world that is far too mundane to fit most people’s idea of fantasy; it has some elements that are reminiscent of early modern history and others that the author has invented. But the characters are very recognisable, as are the feelings of greed and fear and friendship and loyalty that motivate them.

Mosca spent her childhood in the waterlogged village called Chough. She is an only child to a distracted academic and has recently been orphaned at the opening of Fly by Night. But her worst problem is her name: in this world, people are named after the demi-god to whom the period of time (often only a few hours) in which they were born has been dedicated, and their personalities are thought to be shaped by their names. Mosca was born in the time dedicated to Palpitattle, a trickster who (when well disposed) ‘keeps flies out of jams and butterchurns’ but who is also a thief and a liar. So Mosca (from the Italian for ‘fly’) has a name that makes people think the worst of her right from the start.

Mosca knows this about her name, and she knows that her name does not define her. So her first song is ‘This is me’ from The Greatest Showman musical.

In Fly by Night Mosca has to leave home in a hurry after a disaster in which she is blamed for burning down her house. She travels to Mandelion, a great city where all the intellectuals live. She has only vague plans for what she will do when she gets there. But she has one very important ally: her companion on her travels is Saracen, a ‘large and homicidal’ goose. Saracen could never be called a pet; he is, rather, a ferocious protector of Mosca. Mosca is aware of how small and weak she is relative to those who would harm her. But she is immensely brave, and so she and Saracen make an ideal team. There is only one song for this kind of friendship, from Toy Story, ‘You’ve got a friend in me’.

Mosca’s first job is given her by the glamorous but cold Lady Tamerind of Mandelion. Mosca is instantly fascinated by her elegance and power. Mosca always has great trouble keeping her bonnet on and her hair tidy; the apparently effortless grace of Lady Tamerind seems at first to be something admirable. Later Mosca would learn more about the darker of Lady Tamerind’s machinations, but the unquestioning admiration of an older, elegant woman is a very sympathetic characteristic in Mosca, and it reminds us that she has missed out female role models and friends. How better to explain the effect that Lady Tamerind has than K.T. Tunstall’s ‘Suddenly I see’:

Mosca’s job is to spy on a pot-poet who glories in the name Eponymous Clent. The two become uneasy partners and eventually friends, although they are a very odd pair. Clent is a rogue, a liar and a ne’er-do-well who is constantly in debt but never short of elaborate reasons why he should not pay. Clent has no problems with self-esteem but enjoys an inflated sense of self-importance matched only by a well-honed survival instinct. His concern for Mosca over the two books in which their adventures coincide becomes deep and settled. But she is never unaware of the faults as well as the saving graces of her bombastic friend. The song that best suggests the generous egotism of Clent is The Pogues, ‘I’m a man you don’t meet every day’, sung here by Cait O’Riordan:

In both Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery, Mosca finds herself on the wrong side of the powerful Locksmiths’ Guild. Because the Locksmiths are in charge of keeping people and their belongings safe, they can control all criminal activity, and in effect they become not the punishers but the managers of the criminals. Controlling all the locks means that they control all the secrets. Mosca quickly sees the power the guild have and how unjustly they use it. She has an all-consuming sense of what is right and fair, and even though she is small and almost friendless she is determined to do what she can to break the Locksmiths’ hold on ordinary people. So Mosca would love Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ about a Revolution’:

Mosca inherits her father’s love of books, but unlike her father she is not satisfied with just reading about things that happen in the world: she wants to be involved with them and to go on adventures. And so, although she initially cherished a hope of settling in Mandelion and being accepted into one of the academies there, at the end of Twilight Robbery she decides against that future and instead takes to the road with her friends Eponymous Clent and Saracen the goose. She has decided on the life of a rover and so her last song will be a celebration of the life of travelling people: here is Luke Kelly singing ‘The Travelling People’:

Mosca’s book
Mosca loves reading and her favourite books are adventure stories, including many ‘penny dreadfuls’. If she is only allowed one book on the island, however, she needs to choose one that she will happily re-read. The best adventure story to read many times over must be Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, and so we will send that to Mosca on her island.

Mosca’s luxury
Mosca’s stockings are always getting ripped and torn and stained on her many adventures. For her luxury we will give her a pair of really well-fitted jeans, because they will withstand whatever she throws at them!

About English Literature at Reading

The Department of English Literature at Reading has been an internationally recognised centre for research and teaching in English Studies for over a hundred years. Our teaching system, with its emphasis on seminars and tutorial work, encourages our students to discuss ideas with tutors and other students in a relaxed and supportive atmosphere. All of our students have access to dedicated study advisors; our academic placement scheme and 'professional track' programme provide invaluable preparation for subsequent careers.
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