Tag Archives: mythology folklore

Book Nostalgia

Do you have books that you remember reading for the first time, or that you associate strongly with a particular time in your life, or that you feel changed your life in some way?  Oh good – then it’s not just me.

When I was 7, my cousin (from a different country and 15 years older than me, hence she was the living embodiment of ‘cool’) gave me a book, telling me it was one she’d read when she was little, and now she didn’t need it any more.  I took it from her, immediately captivated by the cover image, which showed a rearing white horse.  But then I looked at the picture more closely. ‘It’s a unicorn!‘ I cried, to my cousin’s delight.  I remember taking it up to my room, which at that time had a little seat in the window (perfect for reading), and as soon as I had started this book, there was nothing that could entice me to move.  Dinner was ignored, as were my friends, as was the sunshine outside the window.  I had to finish the book.  I remember being electrified by scenes where shadow-people from another world project themselves onto a boy’s bedroom wall – those scenes terrified me, but it was terror mixed with exhilaration.  I was afraid to look at my own bedroom wall, for fear of what I might see there.  I kept reading.  I read about four ancient treasures, found by four siblings, which have the power to save or destroy another world.  I read about a dark hill, which exuded a black light-beam in order to find its enemies, and which the child-hero had to enter in order to save his family.  I read about the unicorn, who had to sing to save the world, and even as a child I knew that this song would spell its doom.  I finished the book, I cried, I wiped my eyes and then I started it again.

The book was ‘Elidor’, by Alan Garner, and it changed my life.  It was the book which awakened my imagination, and which fixed forever my love of mythology, folklore, fantasy fiction, fairytales, even historical fiction.  There is a little verse of poetry in the book, which is important to the plot, and it is written in a language that seemed like angels’ speech to me as a child; it turned out to be something even better than that.  It was the first time I had ever read Middle English, though I didn’t know what it was at the time – later, much later, during my Ph.D. studies into the medieval period, I recalled ‘Elidor’ and smiled to see how much influence it’d had over my life.

The first book I ever tried to write, I remember with a rueful grin, was a sequel to Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s magical ‘The Little Prince’.  That, also, was a book which touched my sentimental heart and made me cry bitter tears for the loss of the Prince, and his departure for another unknown world at the end of the story.  The narrator poignantly asks the reader to tell him if the little prince ever returns to earth, and so my book (complete with illustrations, I’ll have you know) was based on that idea – the little prince had returned, and I was rushing to tell the author the good news, so that the friends could be reunited.  Little did I know that, of course, in real life M. de Saint-Exupery had long since disappeared himself.  When I found out that he had been lost in action during WWII, I mourned for him as I would have for one of my own family.

These two books are the pillars around which I built my childhood.  I can’t overstate how important they were, and are, to me.  I still read them at least once a year, and I love them just as much now as I did then – and, believe it or not, every time I read them, I learn something new.

As I grew up, of course, I began to love other books – but that’s for another day, and another blog post.

A Blog on Inspiration, with some Chaucer

‘O lady myn, that called art Cleo,     Thow be my speed fro this forth, and my Muse,/ To ryme wel this book til I haue do;     Me nedeth here noon othere art to use.’ (Chaucer, Troilus and Criseyde, Book II, ll. 8-11)

This morning I woke up with no idea what to write here.  My muse, such as she is, had decided to take a morning off, without giving me notice first; it was a strange sensation.  I thought ‘maybe I’ll write about baking’, another of my interests.  Or, ‘maybe I should write a bit about happiness.’  But I didn’t think they sounded all that interesting.  I mean, I find baking fascinating when I’m engaged in it – there are few things in life I like more than to be covered in flour.  Happiness, too, is best enjoyed when you’re covered in it.  But nothing really concrete about either of those topics decided to make itself known to me.  This, I thought, could be a good thing – I can save them for another day.  But that still left me stuck.  After a few moments’ thought, I considered, perhaps:

‘Thanne [was] it wysdom, as it thynketh me,
To maken vertu of necessitee’ (Chaucer, The Knight’s Tale, ll. 3041-2)

I decided, as Chaucer advises, to ‘make the best of it’, and write something about inspiration.

I hope you’ll indulge my quoting from Chaucer, one of my favourite writers; I can’t apologise for it, because he’s my touchstone.  Where other people go straight to Shakespeare, or Keats, if they’re stuck for words or they need comfort, I go to Chaucer.  There’s nothing he hasn’t written about, nothing he hasn’t experienced (in words, at least), he created some of the most moving and beautiful poetry ever written in English (and yes, despite appearances, it is written in English!) – yet, even he suffered from bouts of writer’s block.  He is invoking Cleo, one of the Muses, in the first extract, asking her to help him ‘ryme wel,’ and he tells her that she is the only inspiration he needs; Cleo must perhaps be a jealous Muse.  Perhaps she wouldn’t wish to share inspiration duties with any of her sisters, or indeed anyone or anything else in Creation.  Clearly, whatever Chaucer said, it worked!  He had a gift when it came to sweet-talking, maybe.  It gives me hope to know that even a creative master like Chaucer suffered droughts of inspiration, because when I’m going through one, it makes me feel as though I have something in common with one of my heroes.

Perhaps it’s even true to say that occasional lapses in inspiration are necessary, because there has to be a time when you need to replenish your store of ideas.  You can’t continually deplete your well – it has to have time to refill, every so often.

I’m trying to bear this in mind as I look around inside my brain and realise it resembles the inside of a ping-pong ball this morning.  Only one thing for it – I’ll get out into the air, take some deep breaths (inspiration/inhalation), invoke Chaucer, and hope for the best.  Wish me luck!

About Patience, and Books (of course)

Today, my thoughts are turning to August 30th – not too far away now, of course.  But I have been waiting for August 30th for several months at this point.  I know, in a manner of speaking, we’ve all been waiting for it – nobody (that we know of) has a shortcut to get them from, say, March to October in the blink of an eye, just in case they don’t feel like living through all the days in between.  The reason I can’t wait for this specific day, though, is because there’s something in particular happening then, the thoughts of which have been tickling around inside my skull since before the summer.

I’ve been looking forward to it in much the same way I used to look forward to Christmas, or my birthday, as a kid.  The waiting is all part of the experience, I think.  It adds something to the eventual pleasure of having your expectations fulfilled; it makes the whole thing feel somehow greater.  I wonder, though, if this mind-set is something I have because I’m a child of a certain era, an era in which we had no choice but to wait if we wanted something.  There was no ‘instant-download’ this, no ‘one-click purchase’ that.  I think, and I know it’s not a new thought by any means, that humanity lost something important when it jettisoned its ability to wait, to anticipate, to look forward to the unexpected, or uncontrollable, arrival of something which is desired.  Soon, if our entertainment purveyors can’t download happy experiences directly into our brain before we’ve even thought of what we’d like to do, or see, or hear, we’ll consider it a travesty of justice.  As my mother would say: God forbid.

So here I am, the soul of patience.

The event on August 30th?  The new novel by my lifelong hero, Alan Garner, entitled ‘Boneland’, will be published.  I have it on order, from an actual bricks-and-mortar bookshop.  I can’t wait.