Fantasy and Me: From Puck to Aslan

I like the continuity of fantasy stories of one generation influencing the next, and the next.

In the previous installment of this occasional series, I wrote about Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, and mentioned the influence I perceived it had on later works. Today, I’m going to focus on its influence on one series: C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books.

‘Ah, but you’re a fairy,’ said Dan.

‘Have you ever heard me use that word yet?’ said Puck, quickly.

‘No. You talk about “the People of the Hills,” but you never say “fairies,”’ said Una. ‘I was wondering at that. Don’t you like it?’

‘How would you like to be called “mortal” or “human being” all the time?’ said Puck; ‘or “son of Adam” or “daughter of Eve”?’

‘I shouldn’t like it at all,’ said Dan.

Puck of Pook’s Hill, Rudyard Kipling

“Sons of Adam” and “Daughters of Eve”, of course, is how Aslan, the Christ-figure lion in the Narnia series, refers to the children Peter and Edmund,  Susan and Lucy. 

“Down at Cair Paravel there are four thrones, and it’s a saying in Narnia time out of mind that when two Sons of Adam and two Daughters of Eve sit in those four thrones, then it will be the end not only of the White Witch’s reign but of her life.”

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

Yes, but, you may be saying – it’s coincidence. It could be, except for something else:  the Narnia’s children’s last name is Pevensie.  In Puck of Pook’s Hill, Pevensey – the Pevensey Levels (which is a real place, and Pevensey a real town), the Manor of Pevensey, and the Lord of Pevensey – are an important part of the story.

Antique Prints of Pevensey Sussex
Pevensey Castle, Sussex. Engraver & Publisher:
G. Rowe, & G. Wooll, High Street, Hastings

Why?  Pevensey is referred to as ‘England’s gate’ in Kipling’s story (it’s where William the Conqueror landed in 1066), and perhaps it was nothing more than the idea of the wardrobe in Narnia also being a gate between countries (or worlds.) You could perhaps argue that Lewis was attempting to replace Kipling’s ‘People of the Hills’ as the oldest, lost mythology of England with Christianity. Or maybe it was completely unconscious. Writers borrow, often without knowing they are.

I was – full disclosure here – never a fan of the Narnia books. I was not fond of Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies, or the child’s version of A Pilgrim’s Progress I had, either. I didn’t like being preached at as a child (or adult), even subtly. What I did – and do – like is the continuity, the fantasy stories of one generation influencing the next, and the next.

Next time, a look at Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, which I still re-read every few years.

Fantasy and Me: Back to the Beginnings

“Weland gave the Sword, The Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law. It’s as natural as an oak growing.”

“Weland gave the Sword, The Sword gave the Treasure, and the Treasure gave the Law. It’s as natural as an oak growing.”

Puck of Pook’s Hill, by Rudyard Kipling.

H. R. Millar’s frontispiece to the original edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill. Public Domain

I’m going to try to give some coherence and structure to these posts on my favourite fantasy books, so let’s go back to my childhood to start it all. Here, in Puck of Pook’s Hill, is the very beginnings of my on-going love for fantasy.

For those of you not familiar, Puck of Pook’s Hill is a 1906 children’s book by Rudyard Kipling. Yes, I know Kipling is politically incorrect. I didn’t know that when I was eight, and my memory of a child’s delight with this book remains.  

Puck, an elf (perhaps), (the same Puck as in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which I’ll also be writing about, at some point) and “the oldest Old thing in England”, appears to two children, Dan and Una, from Midsummer’s Eve to early November. Either he, or characters from history he brings with him, tell the children a series of stories, which illustrate a version of a history of England from before the Conquest to the signing of the Magna Carta.

The stories begin with Puck appearing to the children and explaining who and what he is (which is not a fairy):

‘Can you wonder that the People of the Hills don’t care to be confused with that painty-winged, wand-waving, sugar-and-shake-your-head set of impostors? Butterfly wings, indeed! I’ve seen Sir Huon and a troop of his people setting off from Tintagel Castle for Hy-Brasil in the teeth of a sou’-westerly gale, with the spray flying all over the Castle, and the Horses of the Hills wild with fright. Out they’d go in a lull, screaming like gulls, and back they’d be driven five good miles inland before they could come head to wind again. Butterfly-wings! It was Magic—Magic as black as Merlin could make it, and the whole sea was green fire and white foam with singing mermaids in it. And the Horses of the Hills picked their way from one wave to another by the lightning flashes! That was how it was in the old days!’

So many of the elements of the Eurocentric fantasy I grew up were introduced to me first in this book of interrelated short stories and poems: Weyland Smith, the Wild Hunt, the ‘Little People’, and the mythologized Roman Empire (which became the idea behind my own books.)  The power of trees: Oak, Ash, and Thorn; the magic of hollow hills and circles, and, too, the interconnectedness, the interweaving, of magic and history.

Kipling’s stories would influence a generation (or more) of writers; I believe they can be seen strongly in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series (more on those another time), but also on another writer, if only in one small way. Because when Puck is described, one thing that is mentioned – along with his small stature – is his ‘bare, hairy feet.’ Just like Bilbo’s.

Featured Image: H. R. Millar’s 2nd illustration to the original edition of Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, from the chapter Weyland’s Sword, entitled, “Then he made a sword”.

A new review of Empire’s Daughter

Here’s a lovely review of Empire’s Daughter, on The Writing Alien’s new blog on writing and writers.

https://thewritingalien.com/this-months-featured/

“…a knack for world-building that I have found in very few others.”

Storytellers, by Bjørn Larssen: A Release-Day Review

Set against Iceland’s harsh but beautiful landscape in the late 19th and  early 20thStorytellers-cover century, Bjørn Larssen’s debut novel Storytellers explores the multi-generational effect of the evasions, embellishments and outright lies told in a small village. The book begins slowly, almost lyrically, pulling the reader into what seems like situation borrowed from folktale: a reclusive blacksmith, Gunnar, rescues an injured stranger, Sigurd. In exchange for his care, Sigurd offers Gunnar a lot of money, and a story.

But as Sigurd’s story progresses, and the book moves between the past and the present, darker elements begin to appear. Gunnar’s reclusiveness hides his own secrets, and the unresolved stories of his past. As other characters are introduced and their lives interweave, it becomes clear that at the heart of this small village there are things untold, things left out of the stories, purposely re-imagined. Both individual and collective histories – and memories – cannot be trusted.

The book was reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, in both theme and mood. Both books deal with the unreliability of memory; both are largely melancholy books. And perhaps there is allegory in them both, too. Storytellers is a book to be read when there is time for contemplation, maybe of an evening with a glass of wine. It isn’t always the easiest read, but it’s not a book I’m going to forget easily, either.

Now, for details:

Cover: definitely pulled me in. Some may see a disconnect between the cover font and the mood of the story, but I did not.

Production (e-book): Excellent. If there were any errors, I didn’t catch them.

Writing: Very good. English is not the author’s first language, but I wouldn’t have known.

Story Structure: you need to be paying attention as it jumps between times and characters…but this is a book that needs attention paying to it, not a light beach read.

I’ll post this review to Amazon & Goodreads, where I will assign a star rating. But I am no longer rating books on my blog, just giving you my opinion. I recommend Storytellers to readers willing to give time and thought and focus to a book, and who are comfortable with being challenged by what they read.

 

Local Support!

I was very pleased when our local arts council asked to interview me for their website.

Writers need support.  Yes, we work alone, in silence or not, depending on our individual preferences, and much of our thinking and plotting and creating is done in solitude, too.  But we need colleagues to talk to, and when we get to publication, we need a different sort of support: publicity.  So I was very pleased when our local arts council asked to interview me for their website.  Here’s the link:

https://guelpharts.ca/marian-thorpe-launches-the-empire-s-hostage

Thanks again to the Guelph Arts Council!

The (Successful) Book Launch

I crossed my fingers, ordered nibbles for twenty-five people, and hoped for the best.

Friday – yesterday, the day after my book launch for Empire’s Hostage – I was an exhausted wreck.  Partly dueme reading ebar cropped to only four hours sleep (more on that later); partly due to the adrenaline-overload aftermath.  The launch was beyond-my-expectations successful.  The room was full, the applause after the readings generous, and I sold a lot of books.

So how did this happen?  I put posters up in all the cafes downtown, and did lots of Twitter and Facebook promotions, which were generously retweeted and shared by a lot of people and organizations in our town. The local arts council put the event on their calendar, and did their share of advertising. The bookstore in whose upstairs bar the event was being held did their share with an in-store display and advertising on their website. And then I crossed my fingers, ordered nibbles for twenty-five people, and hoped for the best.

I had asked a couple of my writing friends, one a poet with a newly-published book, one an established writer of genre fiction, to read that night as well.  That broadened the appeal a bit, I hope, and provided some new exposure for both of them, as well. Anyhow…it all worked.  I could have ordered a lot more food; the beer and wine flowed nicely at the bar, people stayed for the whole evening.  I signed my name on title pages many times. It felt like a good night.

But I am not a night person.  I start falling asleep about 8:30 most nights, and struggle to stay awake till 10 pm. The first thing I’d done when arriving to set up at 6:30 was order a coffee.  It was quite a large coffee, and I drank it all.  So I was very awake for the whole evening…and the late evening….and the early morning…. Even the pint of beer I’d had after my reading didn’t help. I finally fell asleep about 2 am, and slept till 6 am.  Yesterday felt like the day after an overnight flight. I managed to send thank-you emails and twitters and facebook posts. I organized breakfast for my overnight guests (even baking muffins); I remembered our appointment with our lawyer to sign our wills.  I went grocery shopping (and didn’t forget anything).  And then I crashed. The day is a blur from early afternoon onward.

Would I do it again?  Definitely!  But next time (perhaps when Empire’s Exile comes out) I won’t drink a large coffee at 6:30 pm.  Mid-afternoon might be better….

Here’s the link to the books on Amazon.  The e-books are free through Sunday the 28th.

(The less-than-wonderful photo is a friend’s phone shot.)

Book Launch Night! and some freebies.

How do you spend the day prior to a book launch?  I practiced the excerpt I’m reading one more time. I packed bags with books and cash, raffle tickets, tape, pens, business cards, bookmarks, a receipt book.  That took maybe an hour.  Otherwise…

This evening is the official launch of Empire’s Hostage, Book II of the Empire’s Legacy spinesseries.  It’s being held in a bar downtown, one that is part of an independent bookstore/cinema/restaurant complex that hosts many cultural events, from book launches to indie bands to art shows to indie filmmakers. I’ve invited a couple of other writers to share the stage with me, a poet and a novelist. (I figured that way their friends would come too!)

So how do you spend the day prior to a book launch?  I practiced the excerpt I’m reading one more time. I packed bags with books and cash, raffle tickets, tape, pens, business cards, bookmarks, a receipt book.  That took maybe an hour.  Otherwise…

I went grocery shopping. I did laundry, and made beds. I cleaned bathrooms and bedrooms and the kitchen. I made cookies. Because I have family coming for the launch, and staying overnight, and needing dinner and breakfast. I’m not complaining….but I am curious.  Were I a male writer, would I be doing all this?  Share your thoughts!

And in honour of the official launch, the Kindle editions of both Empire’s Daughter and Empire’s Hostage are free on Amazon until Sunday, August 27th.  Grab them both while you can!

Meanwhile, I still have to figure out what to wear…

 

 

 

 

Catching Up

“Retirement” still seems to involve twelve-hour days.

Posts have been few and far between recently….my apologies.  Here’s why.  I’ve just finished printing and framing twelve new versions of graphic prints, to be included in atepsave1 cutout351 display of eighteen of my works that I’m hanging next Wednesday.  I also completed Empire’s Hostage, Book II of the Empire’s Legacy Series, this week, prepped the files for printing, and sent them off – just waiting now to get the first proof edition. cover ebook under 2MB smaller This was also the last week of the on-line university course I’ve been taking, on the landscape archaeology of Britain…and then there’s been the community newsletter, the community herb garden, retirement parties to attend, books to edit, the kitchen cabinets to prep for painting (next week!), and all those little things – like grocery shopping and meal prep and time with friends – in-between.

“Retirement” still seems to involve twelve-hour days – I’m usually started on the day’s work a bit after 7 a.m…..and it generally continues on to about 7 p.m.  I’m still fairly reliant on my on-line calendar to remind me what’s next to be done. The huge difference is that I’m doing exactly what I want to, most of the time, and an hour-long bike ride to pick up my library books and a liter of paint is multi-tasking – exercise and errands in one – but it’s FUN.  And if I feel like taking a day (or more) off, there’s no-one to tell me I can’t, or shouldn’t…hence our week in Cape Cod and the White Mountains at the beginning of the month, a fairly last-minute decision. (But if we were ever going to see Bicknell’s Thrush, it had to be done. I’m pleased to say we were successful.)

I’m going to drop the pace for a few weeks, though: it is, after all, summer.  There are outdoor concerts to attend (weather permitting, in  changeable and stormy Ontario this year), books to read….and cupboards to paint. I need a break before I start writing Empire’s Exile, Book III, plus there are a few other projects that have been on the back burner…and in the fall I start a new university course that will help with the background for Exile.  I will, of course, keep everyone updated on the release and promotions for Empire’s Hostage, but also, I hope, some other posts…I miss it!

To my Canadian readers, have a safe and fun Canada Day weekend, remembering that Canada 150 is also Turtle Island 15,000. We have a lot to celebrate, some things not to, and a lot of work to do.  Happy July 4th to my US readers: stay safe:  Nolite te bastardes carborundorum; and to the rest of the world, whatever season it is, enjoy!

 

 

 

The Cult of Unicorns, by Chrys Cymri: A Review

When dead bodies and unicorns begin to appear in the English midlands, Penny White, Church of England vicar , has work to do. 

When characters from a story begin to inhabit your dreams, you know the story has Cult of Unicornsreally taken hold of your imagination.  In my case, it was a snail shark, a creature of Chrys Cymri’s mythical, magical land of Lloegyr, a mere thin-space transport away from our own world, that began to crawl through my nightly fantasies.

When dead bodies and unicorns begin to appear in the English midlands, Penny White, Church of England vicar and official Church liaison with Lloegyr, has work to do.  With the help of Peter, the local detective, her brother, the devil-may-care dragon Raven, and her gryphon companion, Penny must navigate the glamour of unicorns and the deep pockets of a multi-national corporation to find the truth.  Interspersed with realistic examples of the difficulties of running a parish in an increasingly secular world and glimpses into Penny’s personal struggles, The Cult of Unicorns is a satisfying read set in an easily-believable world just a little skewed from ours (or is it?)

An appreciation of Doctor Who and good whiskey likely add to the reader’s delight in Penny’s world (I qualify for both) but aren’t necessary.  But you do need to accept a beer-loving snail shark named Clyde that loves the Teletubbies and can sing…and clearly my subconscious was quite happy to suspend that piece of disbelief, because Clyde comes to visit every so often, sliding his way into otherwise normal dreams.  He’s delightful…as is The Cult of Unicorns.  Five stars.