Once upon a time, a human infant is abandoned in a great forest. Raised by Toad, Owl, and Capybara, the infant grows into a young woman. Called Star Bright by her animal friends, she has no conception of anger, jealousy, greed — or beauty …. Until, one day, she finds a strange object on the shores of a lake. It is a mirror, and that mirror belongs to a sorceress who desires one thing above all else: to be beautiful ….
Though not specifically targeted towards Pagan audiences, there is a lot in Star Bright to appeal to that demographic. First, it is an animist coming-of-age fable. Nature, here represented by Toad, Owl and Capybara, is sentient, communicative, wise, and loyal. Star Bright is raised by and alongside animals she considers her equals. She only begins to look down upon them as somehow her inferiors when she discovers the sorceress’ mirror. She becomes obsessed with her own beauty, and, when she loses that beauty, when she becomes ugly in her own eyes, everyone and everything around her becomes ugly, as well. Owl, Toad, and Capybara, however, untainted by human notions of beauty, still love and cherish her.
Which leads to my second point: Star Bright is also a feminist fable.
After reading the above analysis, Pagan readers may complain: “The sorceress is the villain? Misogyny! Patriarchy!” Actually, no. Star Bright is implicitly and explicitly a critique of patriarchal standards of female beauty. The sorceress of this tale is a prisoner of those standards; she actively seeks out and nearly destroys another woman in a desperate attempt to achieve that ideal beauty. As powerful as she otherwise is, the sorceress is blind to her own imprisonment; she is a collaborator, a willing agent. Star Bright, in contrast, is a natural, unself-conscious, uncontaminated beauty — until she, too, is seduced/imprisoned by unnatural ideals. And then she is nearly destroyed by another woman who should be her ally and mentor.
Oh, and then there is the quest aspect, too. Like all great heroines, Star Bright sets out to right the wrong done to her — with the help of Toad, Owl, and Capybara.
Star Bright is a sit-down-and-read-together kind of book. It is actually just the right size to share between two laps. There are a lot of important lessons here about self-image and self-acceptance that young girls today need to hear. Plus, the art is wonderful and the animals are adorable.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of EHS.]