The Young Wizards

Story time.

When my little brother and I were kids, we were part of the library’s summer reading program every year. At the end of the program, if we’d done all the eating hours we were supposed to, the library would give us a book. There were all kinds of books on the shelf to choose from: Lord of the Rings, picture books, Percy Jackson, I even grabbed the Odyssey one summer during high school.

One summer, not long after we had moved into the area,  my brother got the the bookshelf before me, and naturally grabbed the biggest thing on the shelf. The librarians all cooed at the sight of such a little kid with such a big book. I’ve seen bigger books since then, but at the time it looked huge: the spine was maybe three inches wide, and the inside was all print. No pictures. It was called The Young Wizards.

I don’t think my brother has ever actually read it, or at least not all the way through. I did, several times.

That book held the first five books in the Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, and at the time I thought that was all there was. It was enough. The gist of the story is that some kids, twelve or thirteen years old when they first start, find books on wizardry, and befriend one another over the shared interest. The books work, and they get pulled along on  various adventures to slow down entropy.

Adventure is a sort of tame word for it. Their first “adventure,” for instance, gets them pulled into a nightmare parallel-universe Manhattan where the cars are predators and the fire hydrants eat pigeons, created by a being known as the Lone Power, the one who created death.

Cheerful, right?

After books like  Fablehaven and The  Dark is Rising, this was one of my favorite books. The kids’ wizardry is all done through words,  and  one of the recurring themes of the series is how powerful words are to shape the universe. For a writer-to-be like myself, this was great.

The series was also one of the first things to spark my interest in Irish mythology and folklore, since  one of the kids gets sent to Ireland by her parents and  spends some time fighting off monsters straight from the myths. And there’s a scene with a cat going up a chimney that’s exactly like one of the folktales.

The reason I’m thinking about this right now is that I found out there are more books in the series than just the five books in that volume my brother had. Naturally, I have to reread everything. You know, when I’m not doing homework and other responsible adult things. I’ve already started.

It’s reminding me of the reasons I love storytelling so much, and why I’m trying to make telling stories my life’s occupation. There were plenty of frightening things in those books, but I never really got scared. I  was too busy feeling wonder at how a world so real could be conjured up with print on a page, and how the kids fighting the war against the corruption of good felt like something that had always been happening.

I was too young to have the story properly change my life, but it certainly had a hand in shaping it.

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Stories for children?

Yesterday I finally finished and submitted my application to the university’s illustration program, complete with a digitally colored portfolio piece, drawings of people in their underwear (they’re big on figure drawing, go figure), a filled sketchbook, and something called a “letter of intent.”

I found it absurdly difficult to write the letter of intent without using my ironic version of the formal voice.  I think my sass got loose and ate my non-ironic formal voice sometime in high school.

Anyways.

I didn’t do much yesterday, or most of the past week for that matter, besides work on that application and the occasional homework assignment.  So, no blog post on Friday.  But now I have a bit of time to think, even around the knot of tension at the base of my skull.

So let’s talk about fairy tales.

In one of my classes, I’m working on the dreaded Group Project, working on showing movement through a sequence of twelve images.  Above, you can see the first one I completed.  Mostly completed, anyway.  The sunlight could use some work.

Being art students, none of us could do that simply, so we decided to retell the story of the little mermaid.  The Hans Christian Anderson version, not the Disney one, so it actually resembles a traditional fairy tale–gore and all.

Though no one gets to draw her losing her tongue.

With that going on, the utter ridiculousness of traditional fairy tales has come to my attention.

Cutting people out of a wolf’s stomach.  Lifting someone up a tower using hair.  Trying to get an immortal soul.  A shard of glass that freezes the heart.  Ghost women who will dance a man to death.  Who looked at these and decided they were bedtime stories?  They’re bizarre and impossible and insanely creepy.

As a child, of course, those were all of my favorite things about fairy tales.  I was a weird kid.  Or maybe children in general are just weird.

The great thing about fairy tales, though, is the same thing that’s great about Star Wars, or any other expression of speculative fiction:  It is impossible, and a bit ridiculous, and often creepy, but it reflects life.  Through a distorted mirror, mind you, but mirror it it does.  And since it’s so distorted, it shows us things that we wouldn’t normally notice.

Back to the mermaid.  She wants the prince and an eternal soul.  She doesn’t get the prince, but she does get another chance at getting an eternal soul.  I personally would have asked for a name and an eternal soul, but that’s just me.

The mermaid’s mixed success is important–it reminds us that we don’t always get the things we want or need, even when we sacrifice for them, but that it’s possible to be happy anyway.

And perhaps it is the ridiculous qualities, the nightmarish aspects, of the story that makes it so memorable, so that it sticks in people’s minds and the message gets passed on.  The messages aren’t always about happy things.  All my favorite Irish fairy tales end with everyone dead.  Then again, this planet isn’t always a happy place.  Might as well reflect that bit accurately.

I think that’s why so many good modern stories use the old fairy tales.  They might alter the messages to suit the needs of the storyteller or the times, they might change the setting, but the core of the story is still a fairy tale.  Not because the writers couldn’t think of an original plot, not because fairy tales are popular these days, but because fairy tales are good.  They’re memorable.  They remind us of aspects of the world that we don’t always pay attention to.

At the very least, the fact that so many of the most retold fairy tales are dark helps me feel a bit less awkward about loving dark stories so much.

If I Had A Million Dollars

Someone hid ten thousand hundred-dollar bills in my room while I slept. It took forever to find them all, but it was totally worth it.

Actually, Hannah Heath tagged me in the million dollar writer’s tag, and now I’m responding.  Check her blog out; it’s cool.

Ten things I would do if I suddenly had a million dollars.  

One.  First, I would probably get yelled at.  People who have money seem to get yelled at a lot.  The IRS would send ominous paperwork.  Some non-yellers would probably be extra nice to me, the way we all were in high school to the one person in class who had food when lunch hour was ages away.

Of course, that doesn’t technically count as something I would do.

The first thing I would do is work out exactly how much money I’ll need over the next several years for food, tuition, rent, medical bills, gasoline, et cetera, and set that aside.  Having fun with the money is great, but let’s be practical.

Two.  I’d get a really excellent computer.

One that’s light and thin for easy transport, but has a good sized screen and a keyboard that’s comfortable to use.  I’d get some top-notch digital art programs on it and a Wacom tablet too, because drawing with a mouse hurts after a few minutes.

Three.  Travel.

A million dollars would make it far easier to chase my dream of drawing all the interesting places in the world.  I probably would get worn out before I got to go to all the interesting places (since I think most places are interesting), but I would definitely spend a few months in Ireland.

I’d go myth hunting in Ireland, too.  Have I mentioned how great Irish myths are?

Four.  Art supplies.

That stuff’s expensive.  I’d add to my collection of Copic markers, get lots of canvas boards, various types of paints, more colored pencils, chalk pastels, and many, many sketchbooks.

There’s nothing sadder than filling up a sketchbook you’ve gotten emotionally attached to and not having a replacement on hand.  Well, there are sadder things, but in the moment it’s hard to remember that.

Five.  Novels and comics.

I would get every published work of Brandon Sanderson’s, lots of Winter Soldier comics, see if the Charmed comics are any good, and buy every Hatter Madigan graphic novel.

Have I talked about Hatter Madigan?  It’s a spin-off from The Looking Glass Wars, both novel and comics by Frank Beddor, which turns Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on its head.  It’s great.  Imagine the Mad Hatter as a royal bodyguard.  No, scarier.  But he isn’t terrifying because he’s so clearly on the side of the light.

Anyways.

Six.  A decent guitar tuner.

The one I have is pathetic.

Seven.  An engagement ring.

In case I find someone I feel inclined to give such a thing to and have the guts to initiate such an exchange of jewelry.

Probably something silver with abalone inlay.

Eight.  Past that, what does a Dragon (or girl) need?

I’d get flowers for my mom’s garden.  Pay to get the kitchen floor back home redone.  Nice things for the people I love.

Nine.  Donate to the art program at my old high school.

I mean, it was a good program.  But there’s always room for improvement.

Ten.  Tithing and other donations.

In my church, we give ten percent of all our income to go to building chapels, helping missionaries, various humanitarian works, that sort of thing.  It’s a way of giving back some of what we’ve been blessed with.

But even after all that, I’d still want to donate to specific causes.  Like the group at my university that wants to cure asthma.  Other groups researching treatments and cures for cancer, mental illness, fibromyalgia, and other diseases and disorders that are making life difficult for far too many people.  And probably a group working to get clean water and electricity to areas that don’t have it.

Donating may not be the most original of uses of having lots of money, but I don’t actually want that many things for myself, past a healthy life and chances to make art and stories and learn about the world.  Why not help people when I have that?

Okay, I know I’m supposed to tag someone and keep this going, but I’m a rebel.

Happy Good Friday and Easter weekend, and if you don’t celebrate those, happy weekend!

Stories from Ireland

A large part of my ancestry is Irish (but nowhere near all–I’m a mutt), and so I’ve taken an interest in Irish storytelling.  When I was in high school, I asked for, and received, three books of Irish myths and folktales for a birthday.  Some of the stories featured things often associated with Ireland, like leprechauns and Saint Patrick (though never both at once).  Many did not.  Many of the stories I had never heard about, but they were beautiful.

There’s a bittersweet feeling to a lot of those stories.  Ireland has been through a lot of terrible things, and it shows in her legends.  They have a combination of joy and loss.  There are many, many sad endings.  But even those stories that end sadly have moments of great light and hope.

 I like that.  It’s important to have hope–it’s what gets us through the worst things life can offer.

I especially like the stories about faeries.

Not like Tinker Bell, or Cinderella’s fairy godmother.  The faeries of Irish myths, in all their varied forms, are far more powerful and dangerous than those.  They have no particular interest in human affairs, except when they want something from us or a human catches their eye.  They are capricious, willful, often selfish, and untamed.

Looking at them, I’m not entirely sure why I love their stories so much.  I guess it might be because in some ways they are like forces of nature, which cannot be controlled however much humanity may damage it.

And they go to Tir na nOg and leave Ireland for human habitation, for reasons of their own, and return infrequently by human terms.  They live on the edges of reality.

Last year, when I had the opportunity to dance as the Snow Queen in a local production of The Nutcracker, I tried to take inspiration from those characters, to put some of the wildness of the Irish faeries into the way I danced.  I don’t know how well I succeeded, but I enjoyed it immensely.  I’m planning to make a graphic novel of The Nutcracker sometime in the near future, because as much as I love the music and dancing, the plot and characters need fixing, and I’m taking inspiration for the character of the Snow Queen from the faeries.

That’s not the only place Irish storytelling has influenced my creative endeavors.  Those bittersweet stories, swirled with light and dark, are too fascinating to me to not influence what I make.

Hopefully I won’t get any magical backlash for that.

As promised, a December blog post with no mention of Christmas.  Except for in that last sentence.  I was thinking of saving this topic to write about closer to Saint Patrick’s Day, but I think I’m allowed to be proud of my heritage whatever time of the year it is.  🙂