Answering a question with a question: the Magic 8-Ball in Hiromi Goto’s Half World

Jeremy trying out a Magic 8-Ball

Melanie Tamaki, the teenage hero of Hiromi Goto’s Half World, travels between different planes of existence, crosses a living bridge composed of flying crows (twice!), accepts counsel from a talking green rat that conserves its strength by spending much of its time as an inanimate jade amulet, and battles a sadistic villain capable of swallowing his victims whole. She sets out to rescue her mother but succeeds in setting the entire Universe back on its proper course and saving both of her parents as a happy side effect.

In the photo above, you can see Jeremy trying out a kind of toy oracle known as a Magic 8-Ball. Though we ended up inviting all of our students to give it a whirl, we had originally brought it to our office last week so that we could give the young people who are currently reading Half World with us (children a few years senior to Jeremy and his classmates) a feel for what it must have felt like for Melanie to consult one, as she does several times during the course of the novel.

Goto’s Magic 8-Ball, as befits a children’s toy dragooned into service as a deus ex machina in a work of epic fantasy, is quite a bit different from the conventional model manufactured and sold by Mattel.

'Half World' by Hiromi Goto

For one thing, the Magic 8-Ball that Melanie uses is furnished to her by an intelligent but non-verbal raccoon that rolls it down a highway traffic tunnel and presents it to her moments before she plunges through a doorway into a realm referred to throughout the story as Half World but which is similar, in some respects, to the Christian theological construct known as Purgatory. She doesn’t buy her Magic 8-Ball in a ToysR’Us.

For another, the answers served up by the toy are quite different from the twenty stock answers compatible with yes-no questions (e.g. “WITHOUT A DOUBT”) that are available to users of real-world Magic 8-Balls. Melanie only gets to attempt to use the raccoon’s gift on four occasions during the story and, on the last try, it disintegrates in order to provide her with the keycard that she needs to enter the baddie’s hotel suite. Unfortunately for Melanie, its three replies come in the form of cryptic rhetorical questions, the meanings of which are unclear to a rattled and on-the-run Melanie desperate for clear and useful advice on how to stay alive and get out of Half World with her mom.

The answer given by the Magic 8-Ball in Hiromi Goto's 'Half World' to the hero's first question.

In the order that they appear throughout the story, the 8-Ball’s answers are: Can your part in destiny be fulfilled without your knowledge of the part? (pictured above), In times of crisis and indecision who will advise you?, and What your enemies inflict upon you will you inflict in return?. The first could be construed as a reminder that each of us needs to have a grasp of the realities that we’re facing (and perhaps a goal), the second seems to be an obfuscated call for self-reliance, and the third is a restatement of The Golden Rule.

The illustration in the snapshot above is one of a number scattered throughout Half World. Along with the book’s striking cover image, they are the work of Jillian Tamaki, a gifted artist who maintains a frequently-updated blog that’s always chock-full of gorgeous eye candy.