Two Is The Beginning

Tomorrow, we will celebrate our first-born child’s 40th birthday. It seems almost impossible to imagine that fact is reality, but there’s no denying it … nor the corollary − that her daddy is considerably past his 40th birthday! (Okay, if I must admit it, me too.) How, I ask myself, is this possible?

I posted a poem here about my early days mothering this beautiful, strong-willed child. She was born in Dallas, a Texan through and through. Because I carried my babies longer than most, she was delivered on May 31 … my due date was May 12. (Back then, inducing was rare.) She weighed a hefty 10 pounds, 8 ounces! Like most parents, she gave us plenty of moments when we puffed out our chests with pride … and likewise, there were the troubling moments with many tears shed and serious questions about how her future would turn out.Mandy

We should not have doubted or worried. Today, she is a lovely and poised woman, wife to a fine man and mother to four living children. (I posted here about her child who died in utero.) She is a business woman in process of starting her own company. (Without being too cryptic, I’ll one day share more about her. I suspect the details will offer comfort and hope to other parents.)

Ah, she’s all grown up now!

Author J. M. Barrie‘s story of Peter Pan resonates with me, in part I think, because my parents took my brothers and me to the summertime outdoor opera (St. Louis Municipal Opera) that presented the story. (Years later, it was shown on tv many times.) Though we attended other productions, Peter Pan was my personal favorite.

Two songs from the production seemed to be written just for me:  I Won’t Grow Up and I’m Flying. Both songs stroked my imagination with the defiant possibility of approaching reality in a completely unconventional way. (Watching a female in the title role … Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, Cathy Rigby … didn’t hurt either. Their performances facilitated my ability to identify with them. A deep, bellowing voice would never have been believable to me.) If anyone is inclined to take a stroll down memory lane, there’s a YouTube video running the entire 1960 production, starring Mary Martin.

Alas, Peter Pan was the only child who didn’t grow up. Wendy and Peter and John, me and my Beloved and our offspring eventually grew into adulthood. There’s a passage in the book where Barrie notes:

“All children, except one, grow up. They soon know that they will grow up, and the way Wendy knew was this. One day when she was two years old she was playing in a garden, and she plucked another flower and ran with it to her mother. I suppose she must have looked rather delightful, for Mrs. Darling put her hand to her heart and cried, ‘Oh, why can’t you remain like this for ever!’ This was all that passed between them on the subject, but henceforth Wendy knew that she must grow up. You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.” 

I don’t remember having that realization when I was two (late bloomer?). I’m not even sure I realized it the day I married. But when my delightful eldest daughter was born, I suddenly knew I must grow up. And now, in like fashion, my daughter has done the same.

Useless Dragon

It’s no secret that I greatly love the The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven books by C. S. Lewis.

Screenshot 2014-04-25 23.09.39I’m working on a group of sonnets that will feature the characters in these books. I plan to post the sonnets in no particular order — mainly because I don’t have an expected order for their completion. Today’s post will be the first with others to follow as I’ve satisfactorily completed them.

I love this book cover with its sympathetic depiction of Eustace Scrubb, the dragon. In spite of his unappealing nature at the beginning of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, something about this picture captures the vulnerability of Eustace that lies hidden beneath his initial characterization … “dreadful cousin,” an imperious child of progressive parents (whom he addresses by name).

These and other clues help the reader to understand Eustace is a self-centered child and also illustrates why the Pevensie cousins (Lucy and Edmund) aren’t fond of him. Further, despite all Eustace’s progressive education, he is initially unfamiliar with a dragon’s lair (Lewis points out) because he has “read only the wrong books.” With this statement, the child-reader easily comprehends the depth of Scrubb’s educational deficit.

Something else I enjoy about the above book cover is the diminutive and valiant Reepicheep standing guard between the dragon’s claws. Regardless of how Eustace has previously treated him, Reepicheep (a student of chivalry) will faithfully stand by Eustace and keep him safe for the sake of Lucy and Edmund.

Dawn Treader is a wonderful adventure tale … for children of all ages. (See my previous post about it here.)

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Sonnet: Eustace Scrubb: Dragon Rights

In the sonnet below, I’ve very briefly described the transformation of Eustace. Even for readers who find Eustace an unpleasant character in the early chapters, I think Lewis created an interesting character with whom children easily identify. Scrubb’s subsequent transformation doesn’t sand off all the rough edges (nor bring Eustace anywhere close to perfection) but children see a petulant child whose behavior becomes more tolerable and likable. It’s a partial transformation, one that will continue to unfold in the book that follows, The Silver Chair.

 

What’s Your Mission?

safetyHere’s another quirky film I watched this week. Safety Not Guaranteed from 2012 provides an intriguing premise:  an unusual want-ad sets three magazine employees on the trail of a reclusive (perhaps deranged) fellow who insists he can time-travel … and means to do so with a companion he hopes to hire via his want-ad.

Of the four main characters in this film, not one of them was familiar to me. I note that Aubrey Plaza is a cast member of Parks and Recreation (a television comedy series I’ve never viewed). In this movie, she demonstrated great timing and subtlety. Then there’s Jake Johnson, a comedian whose resumé includes other shows I don’t know. Mark Duplass plays the recluse, again, not someone I recognized. Karan Soni may be the least recognizable of them all.

In some regard, my unfamiliarity with these four actors may have increased my enjoyment of the film. I had no expectations or preconceptions (based on a familiar body of work). This left me free to engage with the film.

The film is strange in places and the actors give uneven performances. Especially with the slightly off-center situation, there were moments when I wasn’t comfortable liking any of the main characters. From the beginning, I wanted to like (sympathize) with them, but at points they didn’t earn my sympathy. I wanted to trust the mysterious recluse, tried to convince myself he wasn’t driven by lunacy. I felt stuck in a kind of limbo, unable to say I liked the film, but equally unable to dislike it.

Perhaps that’s due in part because the premise made me want to like it and see the premise successfully implemented. Continue reading “What’s Your Mission?”

A Christmas Story

With Christmas fast approaching on the calendar, I got to thinking today about Christmas stories. As I understand it, the cable channel ABC Family is known for their 25 Days of Christmas programming block, which includes a plethora of Christmas movies, specials and supposedly, family-friendly fare for the whole family to enjoy. I’m told the Hallmark Channel also sponsors a Countdown to Christmas with holiday movies, specials and other original programs.schedule_landing

I can’t say whether or not these channels bring in lots of viewers with this seasonal programming. The other day, I heard someone describe the programs offered on the Hallmark Channel as:  girl-meets-boy, girl-meets-another-boy, first-boy-dispenses-with-second-and-gets-the-girl. I haven’t watched enough Hallmark to know. We’ve always enjoyed the Hallmark Hall of Fame productions like Sarah, Plain and Tall, Breathing Lessons, Promise. (Notice my fancy for James Garner?)

These Hall of Fame productions portray moving and entertaining characters. The stories touch your heart without seeming contrived.

Nowadays, I’ve found it difficult to find a Christmas-related story that isn’t contrived or thematic in a way that has been done so many times as to be worn-out cliché. Producers are, of course, always on the hunt for a good (hardly ever great) Christmas story because there’s a market for it to be read/adapted/ filmed/viewed/sung/marketed with peripheral products, etc. on an annual basis! (In other words, there’s gold in them thar hills!)

I delved into my memory bank to consider the stories that I’ve enjoyed through the years. (As someone born on Christmas, naturally, my own story has always fascinated me!) What I really wanted to think about, however, were the short stories of Christmases Past. A couple special ones came to mind. I’ll highlight one here.

FieldHouseBecause we were both born in the same town, I’ve always felt something of a kinship with Eugene Field. He was an American writer with imagination and tenderness for the children for whom he wrote lullabies and poetry. (I have mentioned him before, here.)

Field lived in many places but the picture to the left shows his boyhood home (built in 1829 and now a toy museum). Once a row-house, this building stands (almost by itself) close by St. Louis’s Gateway ArchBusch Stadium and the muddy Mississippi River (less than half a mile behind this building). I’ve visited Field’s home several times and am so glad they’ve saved it (thus far) from being demolished. I’m afraid, however, that few people today are even slightly familiar with an American writer named Eugene Field.

If you count yourself in that group, here’s a chance to expand your education. In my view, one of Field’s most delightful and tender stories (that I remember from childhood) is titled The First Christmas Tree. (The story runs over 1600 words, so I won’t reproduce it in this space. Please read it by clicking the web-link above.)

Field’s short story isn’t the predictable Christmas fare. It reads like a fairy tale (one of the reasons I love it so much!) It also has a Tolkien flavor to it; think about Treebeard from Middle Earth.

Unlike many of today’s short stories, there’s definitely a spiritual dimension to Field’s story. Whether the story of the Babe born in a stable resonates with you or not, I think you’ll find The First Christmas Tree avoids the trite, sugary-sweet sentimentality of many tales told today. I hope it becomes a favorite for you, just as it is one of mine.

Lines of Succession, Part 5

Having recently completed a series of posts (first one here) on the Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale series for children, I thought I’d return to my personal writing archives for a fairy tale of my own. (It’s easy to figure out fairy tales are a genre I love.) The story is broken up into five parts. (To read from the beginning, start here.) Here’s the final part below.

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Conversation at table between the Crown Prince and the King became sparse, punctuated by lengthy silences. The only news worth noting seemed to be the progress reports on the development of the dubious future princess. The Crown Prince’s enthusiasm mounted as he observed the plain creature transforming into the young woman of his dreams. But a strange, magical spell had befallen the heir to the throne, which although not at first apparent to himself heightened the King’s concern, for the Prince represented the King’s only line of succession.

The bewitchment was a complicated one, seeming to depend entirely on the Prince’s words and occupations. For instance, on the evening when he announced to the King that his betrothed had developed fingers nimble enough to play the most difficult of piano selections, the Crown Prince’s own hands were suddenly beset by a painful, thickening arthritic condition. When he taught her to dance with the lightness of a day-old fawn, his feet instantly transformed into clumsy, stone-like objects, incapable of further movement. Hard as it was to transport his enormous hulk, the servants were forced to carry him to and from his quarters. Continue reading “Lines of Succession, Part 5”

Lines of Succession, Part 4

Having recently completed a series of posts (first one here) on the Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale series for children, I thought I’d return to my personal writing archives for a fairy tale of my own. (It’s easy to figure out fairy tales are a genre I love.) The story is broken up into five parts. (To read from the beginning, start here.) Here’s the fourth part below.

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The Prince continued, “I was surprised you would not allow the Divorcement Decree. When you told me to remember my wedding vows, I thought, in your own wise way, you must be offering clues to solve the problem myself. So I did as you suggested. I fairly took the vows apart. It wasn’t until last night that I realized the brilliance of it. I thank you for your ingenious insight. I only hope someday to be as wise a king as you have proven to be.” The Prince expressed genuine admiration. In fact, he had become so fully absorbed in thanking his father, he had temporarily neglected to refill his mouth. He went back at it hurriedly.

“I don’t understand. Please explain.”

Chewing another mouthful, the Prince mumbled, “It was that last clause, Sir. The statement that reads, ‘Until death do us part.’ Suddenly, it made perfect sense. Why suffer the pain of divorcement when it’s avoidable, right?” he sniffed, distastefully. “So last night while she slept, I slit her throat.” He revealed no hint of emotion as he bit into a piece of chocolate cake. Continue reading “Lines of Succession, Part 4”

Lines of Succession, Part 3

Having recently completed a series of posts (first one here) on the Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale series for children, I thought I’d return to my personal writing archives for a fairy tale of my own. (It’s easy to figure out fairy tales are a genre I love.) The story is broken up into five parts. (To read from the beginning, start here.) Here’s the third part below.

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Having the charming Princess back at table pleased the King exceedingly. He failed to see in her smiling face and sunny disposition any of the faults that glared so belligerently at the Crown Prince. Those days, the King appreciated Advent’s feminine companionship more than ever, for his own bride of many years, the Queen, had succumbed to fever and died. As in the early days when he had first met Princess Advent, the King could still sense the devotion that his daughter-in-law maintained for her husband. It made him even more utterly furious with his heir than he realized he could be. How could the younger man be so blind?

The King discovered he was unwillingly falling in love with the young woman. Whenever he saw her, he invariably smelled lilacs. He could study her face for hours, savoring her delicate, sensual beauty. Her eyes were like lilacs, a soft, violet-blue. Her lips were the shade of a velvet rose. Continue reading “Lines of Succession, Part 3”

Lines of Succession, Part 2

Having recently completed a series of posts (first one here) on the Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale series for children, I thought I’d return to my personal writing archives for a fairy tale of my own. (It’s easy to figure out fairy tales are a genre I love.) The story is broken up into five parts. (To read from the beginning, start here.) Here’s the second part below.

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 After the newlyweds returned from their honeymoon trip, the King requested their presence and they dined nightly in the royal quarters. With just the four of them, the setting was more intimate than on official state occasions. They took their meals at a small square wood-carved table. The King sat across from his son with the queen at his right and Princess Advent on his left. One evening as he handed a platter of fresh vegetables to the younger woman, the King inquired, “Am I correct in recalling you prefer the green tomatoes over the red?”

Advent nodded. “I’m partial to most things green, Highness.” She took the dish, shrugging her shoulders in feigned self-deprecation. It was common knowledge the palace decorators had painted her bedroom a lively shade of mint green. Continue reading “Lines of Succession, Part 2”

Lines of Succession, Part 1

Having recently completed a series of posts (first one here) on the Chronicles of Narnia, a fairy tale series for children, I thought I’d return to my personal writing archives for a fairy tale of my own. (It’s easy to figure out fairy tales are a genre I love.) The story will be broken up into five parts. Here’s the first part below.

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A prince customarily has his own way about things. Therefore, when the Crown Prince of the land, a young man reared in palace splendor and gifted with the talents and magnificent physical features from a thousand generations of royal descent, came to his father the King with a request, the King was disposed to fulfill it, even though he was not convinced his son had made the best or most timely choice.

“I have found her, Father, the woman who pleases me more than any other in the kingdom. Her beauty is without equal, her intellect is superb, and she is devoted to me as the Queen is to you, Sir.” The Prince’s eyes glowed with the light of awakening love. Although the two men were dining together, the Prince showed scant appetite for the delicacies on his princely plate. His only thought was for the woman whose smiling countenance played vivaciously in his thoughts. Continue reading “Lines of Succession, Part 1”

Not a Tame Lion . . . But He’s Good

eng_LWW_1st_amerNext Friday, November 22, 2013, will mark 50 years since C. S. Lewis died. As a way to commemorate his life, my posts of the next seven days will address one of the seven volumes comprising the Chronicles of Narnia. (This won’t simply be a summary of the books; if you haven’t already read them, please read them for yourself.) Like opening the door of a wardrobe, each volume will serve as my starting point.

Before I begin, however, anyone who has studied or is more than casually interested in Narnia and the Lewis vision for his stories should also read Planet Narnia by Dr. Michael Ward. The book is subtitled:  The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis.

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There’s no set rule about the Chronicles of Narnia. The individual books may be read separately and enjoyed as stand-alone tales. But reading the seven volumes as a single unit adds a second, broader layer to one’s reading pleasure.

Professor Ward argues there’s a third layer, a “deeper magic” if you will, wherein Lewis laid out his seven chronicles by a purposefully hidden structure. Ward makes the compelling case that each volume’s thematic elements connect logically with one of seven planetary objects:  Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, the Moon, Mercury, Venus and Saturn. It’s a fascinating thesis and I find Dr. Ward’s presentation makes a lot of sense.

Lewis dedicates his first volume of Narnia to his goddaughter, Lucy Barfield. The cover page for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe includes the subtitle:  A Story for ChildrenIn his dedication, Lewis observes Lucy has already grown “too old for fairy tales” but he also predicts the day will come when she’s “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” In typical understatement, Lewis laments the commonly accepted fallacy that fairy tales are meant only for children. He believed (as I do) that the adult imagination also thrives when brought under the enchantment of fairy tales. Continue reading “Not a Tame Lion . . . But He’s Good”