Books & Beginnings III

img_1098The Once and Future King by T.H. White propelled me further into a world where reality and fantasy melded into truth about humanity. A disturbing and tragic truth. This masterpiece is the beginning from my last post, Books & Beginnings II. It starts happily enough. Disney even adapted it into The Sword and the Stone. I was little prepared for the tales that came after young Wart became King Arthur. I had not, in my young mind, conceived of such tragedy as wrought by Mordred and the love of Guinevere and Lancelot.

T.H. White’s masterpiece was rendered from Mallory’s Morte d’Arthur which inspired Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. Hence, my fascination with “Idylls”.  It also began my love affair with poetry.

BlankBookNext up, a book I read when it was practically brand new to the shelves. It had only been out for four years when my mother handed it to me and bade me to read. It was a thick volume and I took it, skeptically. I was nine and had decided I was done with anything childish. This book seemed to many pages of text to be what my mother claimed. It was such an odd sort of novel. It was not fantasy nor a mystery or a thriller. And it certainly was no child’s story.  This story transcended all expectations and my admitted limited experience of literature. And forty years later, it still does.  There are precious few books that can claim the imagination of this classic. Can you guess it?

The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog’s mercury and oak tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was filled with rabbit holes.

Books & Beginnings II

At age eight, books turned from escape to pure magic. I would read them out loud to anyone or anything that cared to listen from the perch in a tree house my friends and I had constructed in the little stretch of woods that ran behind our houses and the neighborhood next to the lake.

img_1095In Books & Beginnings I my mother brought me A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine D’Engle.  At the time, the book had been out for more than ten years but to me it was fresh and new. This was one of my earliest influences apart from the obvious. These great books will continue in the general order I discovered them.

img_1097I read madly. It was late in my 8th year or early in my 9th year, I became enamored of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.  Those I would read every year through my university studies. And then there was C.S. Lewis – it started with The Chronicles of Narnia. These were the obvious influences on the writer I grew into. I found great truths in these volumes that many cast aside as trite fantasy.

I discovered Agatha Christie and her mysteries in the shelves of my mother’s family beach house along with a constant deluge of mysteries and thrillers that my parents called “beach cozies”. I read them all.

As my eighth year ended, my grandmother on my father’s side, began my instruction in two areas I loved, history and theater. We began to attend plays together and she instructed me on European history going back to.before the Romans began their conquest.

It was these stories that influenced the next great beginnings. It was near my ninth birthday when my mother dug deeper into her bookshelves and came out with a thin book of poetry, the most gorgeous verse I had ever imagined, and a thick paperback that encased a story based on that verse.

TreehouseUp to my treehouse I went. The birds, squirrels, snakes, my English Springer, Winston, standing guard below,  and myriad of insects, and the neighbor’s fat orange hunting cat joined me on an adventure that changed the way I thought of story.  I read every word out loud, staying until the light was too dim for me to read another word. It made me often late for dinner.

By the time I received this amazing book, the pages were browned with age, making the story all the more authentic to me. I loved the scent and feel of old books on my fingers. The opening of this volume suggested a routine life familiar to my own. One that sparked into adventure … and great tragedy. I never gave this book back to my mother. It became one of my treasures.  Can you guess the title?

On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was Organon, Repetition, and Astrology. The governess was always getting muddled with her astrolabe, and when she got specially muddled she would take it out of the Wart by rapping his knuckles.

Books & Beginnings I

img_1061-1I learned to read at age three. It saved my mother from having me muling for her to read me a story night and day. By eight or nine, I had exhausted my love for children’s literature and started at my parent’s bookshelves where I found such treasures as Plato’s Republic and Dante’s Inferno. My parents both studied literature in college.

My cousin gave me J.R.R. Tolkien at age nine but between eight and nine was a difficult time as reading was a fierce addiction for me.  I no longer enjoyed children’s books and my parents bookshelf had an upper shelf I could not reach. They refused to assist me in acquiring the books on the top shelves. They told me I was too young or some such nonsense. It was a condition I easily outgrew, but not at age eight.

One day my mother brought home a book from the library. She made a game of trying to find something that I would love. I could not fathom Dante and Plato was a bit boring, at least when I was eight.  She held the book up and said this was a book written for children like me. She was right. I wonder if you will recognize it as well.

This book, one of the greats of all time for young readers, starts in a way writers are cautioned never to begin their books. With the weather. Funny, how the best writers always break the rules. Funny, how when they do, it is in such a sublime fashion. Recognize this? Such wondrous magic.

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard

It was a dark and stormy night. 

In her attic bedroom, Margaret Murray, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. 

Do you know this? Feel free to comment.

Quotes – R.A. Salvatore

No, I would not want to live in a world without dragons, as I would not want to live in a world without magic, for that is a world without mystery, and that is a world without faith     – R.A. Salvatore

Dragon

 

I have been in a dragon sort of mood lately. I imagine this sentiment is echoed throughout the fantasy world. I would not wish to exist in a world that has no dragons or magic. That is not a world worth saving.

G.K. Chesterton – An Actual Quote

“When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale.” –Heretics, CW, I, p.143  G.K. Chesterton

 

Well, this explains so much. In this, something Chesterton actually wrote, fairy-tales more oft than not are dark and scary things sort of like our navigation in life. Again, I write fantasy and it seems my compulsion to do so is something echoed through time.

I love the writings of Chesterton, and I especially love the quotes attributed to him that he never said. My favorite misquote of Chesterton is from the popular television show, Criminal Minds:

“Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Only he never said this. This wonderful quote is a reworking of the following from Chesterton’s work, Tremendous Trifles (1909)

StGeorgeDragonFairy Tales then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

  • Tremendous Trifles (1909), XVII: “The Red Angel”

 

Quotes – Ursula Le Guin Again

Dragon

“For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.”

Ursula Le Guin 1929-2018

I write fantasy. This is spot on, and I have nothing that I can add.

Quote of the Day – Mark Twain

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them”

Mark Twain 1835-1910

TomSawyerMy dad loved quoting both Mark Twain and Winston Churchill when I was growing up. My first dog was a Springer Spaniel named Winston Churchill so for the longest time I thought dad was quoting our dog. Winston was, after all, the best bird dog in the whole neighborhood.   I understood about Mark Twain. He wrote Tom Sawyer who gave me some excellent ideas on how to get out of unwanted chores.

I read all the time. I can’t fall asleep at night without reading as that has been my habit since I was three. So one day, in my early adolescence when the guitar took up a great deal of my time,  I was trying to explain a reference to Tom Sawyer in a Rush song to one of my buddies – as those who know me, I have always looked at certain song-writers as poets.  My buddy only cared about the cool factor of Rush and did not care why the song, “Tom Sawyer” was so brilliant for that time.

He did not get it because he never read anything. If it was not made into a movie, he reasoned, it could not be any good. There were movies on Tom Sawyer, I told him, but he had this idea that he must deny all childhood things to be a man, and asserted that he did not watch “kiddie” films. I was frustrated by it and suddenly there was one more quote by Mark Twain that also proved to be a truth.  A lot of his little gems proved true over the years, even without broader context.