ORFEIA: Readers’ Group Guide

If you’re studying ORFEIA as part of a reading group, here are a few ideas and resources to help make your discussion more interesting.

Jealous queens and wicked witches:  a blog post on ORFEIA and the role of the older woman in traditional fairytales.

Folklore and the debt the literary world owes to myths and fairytales.

The Greek myth of Orpheus. Click on the link to know more about the original Orpheus myth.

Child Ballad 2: The Elphin Knight. Click on the links to discover the background and original text(s) of this ancient Scottish ballad.

Child Ballad 19: King Orfeo. Click on the link to read the original ballad. Notice how far the ballad has already been adapted and changed from the original Orpheus myth.

Blog post: The Child Ballads: more than just child’s play.

The illustrations add a great deal to these books. Discover Bonnie’s artwork here.

Questions for group discussion: (some of these questions contain spoilers, so do please read the book first if you’re concerned about that kind of thing.)

  1. Why do you think the author chose to include these ballads into her text, and what is their significance?
  2. The words of the ballads keep changing at different moments in the book. Why do you think this happens? What do these changes represent to you, and to Fay, the protagonist?
  3.  Fay starts her story in modern London, and ends it in a different world. Why do you think the author chose to take a story of a modern woman’s grief for her dead daughter and relocate it to a fantasy world?
  4. What role does memory play in the story, and what is it important for Fay to remember?
  5. “My plaid shall not be blown away.” What do you understand this phrase to mean in the context of the story?
  6. In what way could this be said to be a love story?
  7. In what ways has the author used and highlighted the power of myths and storytelling in this tale, and to what purpose?
  8. Stories, like people, are changing all the time. This is one of the themes of this book. Why do you think it was important to the author to emphasize this?
  9. Why do you think the author chose to make this version of the Orpheus story about a mother and daughter, rather than keep to the original myth (which is about a man and his wife)?
  10. Music and magic are almost interchangeable in this story. What is the role of music in Fay’s quest to find Daisy?
  11. Eros and Anteros (passionate love and selfless love) are both depicted in this story. What point is the author trying to make about different kinds of love, and their power?
  12. The idea of a mortal challenging Death is well-established in folklore. How does the author use this theme in ORFEIA, and in what way can Fay be said to have “won” the contest?
  13. In this story, King Alberon (the King of the Fae) is also the Lord of the Kingdom of Death. Why do you think the author chose to give him this dual nature?
  14. The author has frequently stated that to her, fantasy and fairytale is the key to understanding human psychology. What aspects of human psychology do you think she intended to explore in this book?
  15. What role do the senses play in this story? Why do you think the author chose to showcase food, scent, and sensuality in this way?
  16. What role do illustrations play in this book? Do they enhance the story, or distract the reader?
  17. What do you think is the significance of Daisy’s pavement game? What do you think the author means when she talks of people (herself, the homeless people, Daisy) “falling through the cracks”?
  18. The author portrays Fay’s most treasured memories as “bubbles” of time. What would be your most treasured memory bubble?
  19. The Night Train is one of the ways in which Fay travels to the Kingdom of Death. Why do you think the author chose to use a train, rather than a more conventionally folkloric method of travel?
  20. As part of her deal with the Lord of Death, Fay has to sacrifice her memories of her daughter in order to return Daisy to the land of the living. How do you see the story continuing, both for Fay and for Daisy?