Presenting Nature in Western Literature: A Look at Juxtaposition

In western literature, we sometimes find nature to be used as a psychological analogy for “where the wild things are” – the edge of civility where we project our fears.  In Harry Potter, for example, students at Hogwarts are banned from entering the “Forbidden Forest” located at the edge of the “safe” Hogwarts campus.  All manner of wild, scary things are said to be there and – as Harry, Hermione, and Ron discover – truly scary things such as huge spiders are located in the “Forbidden Forest.”  In other examples, Little Red Riding Hood encounters the “Big, bad wolf” in the forest while Hansel and Gretel encounter an evil witch when banished to the woods by their evil stepmother.

Yet, many writers – myself included – find nature to be a positive, enjoyable place to cultivate creativity.  There are, too, instances of writing positively about nature being a place of transcendance – Thoreau’s Walden, William Blake’s Introduction to the Songs of Innocence, etc.

I notice an unintended aspect of the two literature lists above – the forest is viewed as an unsafe place for children but a positive place for adults.  Examples of “nature as a scary place” in adult literature are Frankenstein – where the horrible reflection of our human self wanders off – and Dracula where the evil vampire resides in a far-off castle deep in the woods.

These juxtapositions, of course, are modern ones that emerged after Western literature’s historical literature written when Europe was trying to make sense of the natural world….when the Greeks were writing about humans and gods having children together and so forth.

These more modern juxtapositions about nature in western literature, I think, are indicative of how western society often frames its’ relationship to the world generally.  Are we a part of the planet we live on – the natural world – or are here as independent beneficiaries of the planet and its’ resources?

I put this forward as food-for-thought for fellow writers to consider when writing.  Personally, one of my current works-in-progress writes positively as nature being a place to experience life in its’ fullest potential.

ravenna-park

 

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Finding a story…and discovering…

It’s been an interesting journey as a writer shifting from other genres into fantasy.

My own experience has been echoed by other writers.  Stephen King writes in his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” about book ideas appearing to him (I forget his exact wording, but I came away with a vague memory of story ideas “showing up” in his mind).  Other writers, too, sometimes mention writing stories that appear to them, being the conduit for stories, and/or writing stories that “need to be told” rather than being the creator of stories.

This concept of having a story come to me – rather than me creating it – has been my experience, too.  The germ of the story idea rather “hit me between the eyes” and just wouldn’t go away.

I’ve had several ideas over the years that “just wouldn’t go away.”  A trend is that these “just won’t go away” ideas have a way of becoming big projects…..Everything from book ideas to starting a nonprofit.  I’m wondering if I should stop listening to these ideas that “just won’t go away.”

While writing isn’t new to me, writing fantasy is.  While the genesis of the story for “Uncharted Passage: Toward New Realms” stuck itself in my mind’s eye – literally – the end of the story wasn’t apparent when I began writing.  If I knew the ending when I started, the story would already be completed.  Rather, I knew I had the beginning of a story embedded in a topic that I was trying to figure out myself.  I had a fairly firm idea, though, that something needed to be told.  So, I started writing what I had.  As I did, I had to find ways to articulate what I already knew.  This has brought things into focus for me as well as for readers.  Focus for an idea for which I very much wanted clarification.

As such, I have ended up writing in “fits and spurts”  as the story has slowly revealed itself.

Once I’d written a fair amount, I opted to publish “what I had” and publish the ending in a sequel.  Thus, several readers have been introduced to the nucleus of the story in the already-published “Uncharted Passage: Toward New Realms.”  Once it came out, though, a reader has convinced me to re-publish the first publication with the ending included.  That will be done once the ending is complete.

I’m looking forward to find out how the book is going to end!  One thing I know for sure, though, is that fantasy isn’t always fiction.  We already know that, though, don’t we?  The nonfiction books we love the most are….well….. not really fiction at all.

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Bringing a sense of place to my fantasy tale

One of my favorite places in the world is Whatcom Falls Park in Bellingham, Washington.  Visitors experience the wonder of a truly magical 240 acre forest within a small town in Northwest Washington State (Bellingham, WA).  A stone bridge and the waterfall it faces are very much the centerpiece of the park.

I grew up a few miles from this park.  It’s a place that attaches itself to the psyches of visitors.  When I took English 101 in college, one of our writing assignments was a paper about a place.  I wrote about Whatcom Falls Park.  When I ran into my English professor on campus about a year later, he commented that he still remembered the paper I wrote about Whatcom Falls Park.  It makes an impression even through the printed word.

I wrote that college paper over twenty years ago, but I’m still writing about Whatcom Falls Park.  I wish I had kept the paper I wrote in college so I could compare it to what I’m writing now.  I suspect that my writing skills have improved in the intervening years.  One thing I know for sure, though, is that there’s an art to bringing out the live experience of visiting the park on the printed page.  My own attachment to this magical place, I think, will help me bring out its’ wonder in the fantasy literature I’m aiming to finish this summer.  I am looking forward to bringing Whatcom Falls Park to readers.

Whatcom

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Encouraging North American Fantasy Literature

I wrote a blog post in mid April in which I pondered the seeming lack of fantasy literature set in North America (see post).

I’ve continued discussing this topic with other fantasy writers.  I’m finding that I struck a theme that’s resonating with North American readers.

Therefore, I’m now involved in a project to stimulate more fantasy literature set in North America.  The English-language fantasy literature set in the U.K. and Ireland, of course, is great literature that should be enjoyed.   There’s a desire to see the UK/Ireland fantasy literature supplemented with literature set in North America.   In essence, it’s time for North American literature to start “catching up.”  We’re encouraging people to learn about the new efforts to stimulate fantasy literature set in North America.  To learn about this North American initiative, visit “Wizards and Literature” here.  Thanks for taking an interest!  Also, please help spread the word.

Tennessee caves

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Channeling Plot Lines

 

Channeling creative energy to find the remaining plot twists for “Building Bridges” (sequel to “Uncharted Passage: Toward New Realms,” coming in June).

channeling

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UK, Irish regional constructs by women fantasy writers

As a fantasy reader and author, I’ve noticed a trend.  The women fantasy writers who I come across – and this may just be the writers whose fantasy tales are catching my attention – are all setting at least part of their stories in England, Scotland, Wales, and/or Ireland.

This isn’t surprising from the authors live in those countries.  Take, for example, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter), SW Fairbrother (The Secret Dead), and Samantha Shannon (The Bone Season).  Katherine Kurtz (The Adept) lived there for a time.

Then, there are the likes of Deborah Harkness (All Soul’s Trilogy) and Diana Gabaldon (Outlander) who live in the U.S. and who also set their stories at least partly in England and/or Scotland.

The list of authors goes on and on.

Disclosure: I’m also currently writing a series of fantasy stories that are partly set in Ireland. My motivation is personal – I am weaving my Irish ancestry  and genealogical interests into the story line.

Of course, there are also male writers who set their stories in England.  C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien come immediately to mind.

I’m wondering what it is that makes the U.K. and Ireland such a draw for fantasy tales.  Is it the historical context of this region having a long period of human habitation, literature, and myth from which to draw?  Or are these places somehow deeply imbued with magical properties?  Perhaps a long tradition of fantasy tales written in this region makes the region a natural draw for authors?  The region’s medieval past may naturally lure fantasy writers?

I’m open to discussion on this.  Insights welcome.

grove

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Brigid: One of Ireland’s Three Patron Saints

Ireland has three patron saints, not just one:  Patrick, Brigid, and Columba. Brigid is in many ways a more significant saint than Patrick.  She’s sometimes known as ‘Mary of the Gael.’

Brigid has found her way into the short story that I’m currently working on (a sequel to Uncharted Passage: Toward New Realms ).

Brigid lived from about the year 450 to 525, so her life began toward the end of Saint Patrick’s life.  She was a nun and abbess who founded several monasteries, including one in County Kildare for she’s named.  Ireland’s early church had a higher number of women leading monasteries than other parts of Europe, including monasteries that housed both women and men.   Brigid was the most significant woman in Ireland’s early church.  It’s possible that the she was the namesake of an earlier pagan figure of the same name, giving her an even broader cultural significance.

I find Brigid fascinating.

Those who predicted Brigid’s birth and life, so the story goes, predicted her as a figure associated with liminality – in a ‘betwixt and between place’ – meaning a time or place of crossroads or transitions.

According to Edward C. Sellner, author of Finding the Monk Within, Brigid demonstrated compassion toward marginalized individuals – such as the poor and lepers.

Her combined experience with liminality and compassion toward marginalized individuals interwove within her in a way that allowed her to find a path toward leadership.  What an interesting route to leadership!

Researching Brigid also leads one to a medieval Irish manuscript that discusses – among a host of other topics – Ireland’s three patron saints.  That manuscript being the Book of Lismore.  I’ve added the Book of Lismore to my never-shortening reading list.

Brigid

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