Five Golden Things — Seanan McGuire

The Five Best…
…genre stories about creepy telepathic kids.

Everybody loves a mind-reader, right?

The telepath or mentalist has been a part of the genre landscape since the days of vaudeville and traveling carnival sideshows, where “mind-readers” trained in observation would use shills and accomplices to wow the crowd with amazing displays of their supposed psychic powers.  It was understandable that these figures would loom large in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror communities.  These are some of my favorite mind-readers…and best of all, they’re all kids.  Creepy, creepy kids.

Tin foil hats won’t help.

5: Danny Torrance, The Shining by Stephen King.

Until The Sixth Sense came along and updated the pop culture yearbook, Danny Torrance was viewed by many people as the quintessential example of the creepy yet harmless psychic child.  He was blessed—or cursed—with “the shine,” an undefined psychic gift which made him unfortunately attractive to predatory ghosts.  That might not have been as much of a problem, had his father not taken a job as caretaker at the phenomenally haunted Overlook Hotel.  Oops.

First published in 1977, The Shining is a story of hauntings and horror that has seen multiple adaptations, including an upcoming sequel from King himself, titled Doctor Sleep.  But it’s little Danny Torrance himself who helped to elevate the story to the classic position it holds today.  Ghost stories are always at their best when there are children involved, and Danny and his “shine” have been capturing imaginations—and scaring people sleepless—since page one.

Creepy kid count: one.
Psychic powers: undefined, telepathy, clairvoyance, and sensitivity to the dead included.

4: David and Petra Strorm/Rosalind Morton, The Chrysalids by John Wyndham.

I blame much of my lifelong obsession with creepy telepaths on John Wyndham, whose works found me at a very early and impressionable age.  He, too, had a curious fascination with telepathic children, and nowhere is this clearer than in The Chrysalids (published in the United States as Re-Birth).  Originally released in 1955, The Chrysalids can almost be viewed as a precursor to the X-Men.  Our title characters are all mutants, living in the wake of a catastrophic nuclear and/or biological war.  Their world is controlled by the fear of genetic variance, and anything that doesn’t fit a carefully documented list of pre-war characteristics is destroyed.

You can imagine how happy their parents are to discover that their children are telepaths.

The Chrysalids has very skewed ideas about radiation and biology, but some fascinating ones about telepathic society and the way that the human race will react to change.  It’s also one of the most gender-balanced of Wyndham’s works, having both male and female major characters.  Best of all, it’s hopeful, showing that telepathy could be a positive adaptation, something to bring us closer to together as a species.  Highly recommended, but remember when it was written.

Creepy kid count: at least three among the telepaths, more among the wider cast.
Psychic powers: telepathy, empathy, some hints of precognition.

3: Katie Welker, The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis.

This is a book that will cause people who grew up in the 1980s to go “oh, yes, I remember,” and may elicit blank stares from the rest of the audience.  Thankfully, Willo Davis’s classic tale of isolation and telepathy is back in print as of 2011, and should be easily found at your local bookstore or library.  It was originally printed in 1980, and was one of my favorite books growing up.  It tells the story of Katie Welker, who has never felt like she quite fit in…with anyone, really.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that her eyes are silver.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she can move things with her mind, and everyone around her thinks she’s a witch.

This is very much a middle grade book, suitable for any kid smart enough to read it.  I can’t honestly say how it would play with an adult who was reading it for the first time, but I feel that the themes are universal enough, and the prose strong enough, that it’s worth trying.  If nothing else, you may find a wonderful new story for the children in your life.  Telepathic or not.

Creepy kid count: one, to start.
Psychic powers: telekinesis, telepathy, some hints of precognition.

2: Kami Glass and Jared Lynborn, Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan.

If The Girl With the Silver Eyes is this list’s foray into middle grade, Unspoken is pure modern YA literature… except for the part where it’s also a Gothic mystery, complete with creepy old houses, intrepid heroines, and the occasional gloomy moor.  Kami Glass has lived her entire life with the voice of her imaginary friend, Jared, sounding in her head.  He’s also her best friend, and all attempts to get her to give up on the fantasy of his existence have failed.  Despite this, she’s an energetic, well-liked girl whose efforts to found a school newspaper are actually bearing fruit, and the scoop of a lifetime has just walked into her grasp: the mysterious Lynborns have returned to Sorry-in-the-Vale…

Part modern YA, part classic Gothic, Unspoken was one of my favorite books of 2012, and the bizarre relationship between Kami and Jared definitely qualifies it for a place on this list.  Come for spooky atmosphere, stay for the witty banter.  And the naps.

Creepy kid count: oh so very many.
Psychic powers: telepathy, sorcery.

1: The children of Midwich, The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham.

If the creepy psychic children of speculative fiction can be said to have a godfather, it must be John Wyndham, the only author to make this list twice.  His second entry brings us to the sleepy town of Midwich, where a strange phenomenon has left all the women pregnant—and the children, when they come, look nothing like their parents, but very much like one another.

The Midwich Cuckoos was originally printed in 1957, and has since been adapted for the screen multiple times, as well as inspiring creepy hive-mind telepathic children in everything from books to comics.  Unlike The Chrysalids, Wyndham doesn’t bother trying to make science explain the telepathic offspring of his villagers: it’s aliens, pure and simple, and they mean nothing good for the human race.  Although very much a product of its time, with stereotyped gender roles and pacing that seems slow by our modern standards, this book set the tone for all the creepy telepaths to follow.

Welcome to Midwich.  Hope you’ll get home alive.

Creepy kid count: all of them.
Psychic powers: telepathy, mind control.

Seanan McGuire was born and raised in Northern California, where she failed to demonstrate any measurable psychic powers (although not for lack of trying).  Disappointed but not discouraged, she turned herself to writing, and has released thirteen books since 2009, with three more coming this year alone.  It is widely believed that she doesn’t sleep.  Seanan lives in a crumbling old farmhouse in the San Francisco Bay Area, which she shares with three enormous blue cats, a lot of books, her machete collection, and more creepy dolls than anyone is comfortable with.  

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