Walk, Read, Think


Walking and reading is one of the best things you can do. You get to enjoy the walk; you get to enjoy a book; you just need to watch where you’re going.
When I’m walking and reading, I of course think about what I’m reading, but what I’m reading often reminds me of something else I’ve read. Here’s an example.
I’m reading Trudy Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy as I’m walking. It’s a slower paced fantasy that takes place at a university for magicians. It sounds derivative, I know, but it’s a good series.
A particular scene gets me thinking. Some of the novices are gathered in the university’s arena, practicing various warrior and combat spells on one another. Guess where my brain went with this one: University for magicians—school for wizards—competitions—Hunger Games—Triwzard Cup.
Reading about a school for wizards—or in this case magicians—of course gets me thinking about Harry Potter, but Hogwarts isn’t the first school for wizards I’ve encountered. The first school for young wizards I met was the school on Roke in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. This is a series that has become part of my literary map.
But back to my walk. I start thinking about competitions. The 75th Hunger Games and the
Triwizard Cup are both competitions, although the stakes are of course considerably higher in the Hunger Games. And then something occurs to me. Katniss is aware all through the games that her every move is being watched by both the Capitol and the districts. She uses that knowledge to help her manipulate the games.
In the Triwizard tournament, things are a little different. The first task in The Goblet of Fire has Harry retrieving a golden egg from a dragon, a vicious Hungarian Horntail. But what about the other two tasks?
The second task takes place beneath the lake on the grounds of Hogwarts, while the third task happens inside a maze. The school gathers for all three tasks, but interestingly enough, they can’t actually observe either the second or the third task.
What’s the good of a competition you can’t actually watch? I wonder if anyone ever pointed this out to J. K. Rowling. Does the lack of a crowd to observe the competition diminish Harry’s victory? Don’t get me wrong, I love The Goblet of fire. It might be my favourite book in the Harry Potter series. But this is a point that irks me.
There you have it. The random thoughts of a walker/reader. If you want to meet the thoughts of someone else who walks and reads, check out what Lev Grossman has to say.
The third book in his Magician’s trilogy comes out this summer. That’s a summer read I’m looking forward to. And I will probably be walking while I read it.

All of the Annes (of course with an E)


With the LMM conference in Charlottetown just over a week away, I’m spending much time these days thinking about and reading L.M. Montgomery, particularly rilla of Ingleside. Rilla is Montgomery’s book about WWI. It’s a poignant narrative about Anne’s family and the response of the community of Four Winds Harbour to the war.
If you haven’t read the book, I won’t spoil it for you, but I’m always struck by the character of Anne in this last of the Anne books, chronologically speaking, that Montgomery wrote in her lifetime. After Rilla, Montgomery went on to write Anne of Windy Poplars and Anne of Ingleside, but these books fit earlier into the series, and, if you’ve read them, you will know the different tone these books employ. The Anne of Rilla of Ingleside is both mother and wife—sometimes writer but always a prominent figure in the community—a woman who has raised a family and experienced grief over the deaths of two children. The Anne of this book is a long way from the chatterbox who first comes to Green Gables on a buggy with Matthew, imagining names for the places she passes—The White Way of Delight and The Lake of Shining Waters—and  imagining having a family for the first time in her life.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the Anne from Anne of Green Gables, but it can be tricky sometimes reconciling the girl to the woman. Anne herself in the first book talks about the different Annes that she must negociate: “There’s such a lot of different Annes in me. I sometimes think that is why I’m such a troublesome person.” But readers of the series have to negociate Annes as well. You have to go from loving a skinny, starry-eyed redhead at eleven to understanding a wife and mother in her forties. Fans of the Harry Potter series talk about growing up with Harry and friends—especially those kids, like mine, who began reading Harry at eleven or twelve—but it’s a much longer haul with Anne.
Here are two passages that help to illustrate all of the Annes from the Montgomery’s series:
Anne of Green Gables
She danced up to the little looking‑glass and peered into it.  Her pointed freckled face and solemn gray eyes peered back at her.
“You’re only Anne of Green Gables,” she said earnestly, “and I see you, just as you are looking now, whenever I try to imagine I’m the Lady Cordelia.  But it’s a million times nicer to be Anne of Green Gables than Anne of nowhere in particular, isn’t it?”
Rilla of Ingleside
“She was thinking of little Joyce’s grave in the old burying-ground over-harbour – little Joyce who would have been a woman now, had she lived – of the white cross in France and the splendid grey eyes of the little boy who had been taught his first lessons of duty and loyalty at her knee – of Jem in the terrible trenches – of Nan and Di and Rilla, waiting – waiting – waiting, while the golden years of youth passed by – and she wondered if she could bear any more.”

Who Wants to Read a Best-Seller, Anyway!

Every kid’s book I find these days seems to have made it onto a best-seller list—that or made into a film after becoming a best-seller. It’s disheartening—to say the least. Does a kid’s book have to be on a best-seller list to be good? Not likely. Does a book have to be a movie in order to get some attention? I sincerely hope not.
I heard somewhere that Veronica Roth received a movie deal for Divergent before it was even published. A tale to make any author salivate. This might be an Internet myth—I hope so—but true or not, it helps to make my point.
I’m sure you, like me, have books close to your heart that have never been turned into a film, never raved about on the Internet, or—imagine this—no one else has read. The Internet being what it is, you can, of course, find those personal treasures out there. Shockingly, other people will have read those books over which you have claimed personal ownership, and Wikipedia will more than likely have something to say as well. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to avoid the Internet.
All this in mind, having favourite books that only you seem to have read is empowering. When your friends have never heard of a particular book that is one of your all-time-favourites, you get to tell them all about it. It’s like being a pioneer, going, dare I say, where no one has gone before.
Two books I remember reading as a young person were The Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey and A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols. I’ve only ever met one other person who read The Runaway Robot, and I’ve never met anyone who has read A Walk Out of the World. I’m sure some of you have read one, or maybe even both.
The Runaway Robot is a book about Rex, a robot who is the property of Paul, a boy living with his family on Ganymede. The book is told from the point of view of Rex, which I think made me like the book even more. A Walk Out of the World is about Toby and Judith, brother and sister, who find their way into a fantasy world, and discover they belong there. I was a newly indoctrinated Tolkien freak at the time, so I was looking for anything that would take me into other worlds that were far away from my own. But as a new reader, every book was a new world, and every author a new discovery. Even still, I was desperate to create a list of books I had read that not everyone else in the world read first. I remember, with admitted nostalgia, feeling as though it was just me who was trying to understand the strange and compelling world of Lord of the Rings. But that’s what it’s like when you’re twelve.
Fortunately, I have grown somewhat as a reader since then. I no longer want to hoard a list of books that only I have read. Sounds too much like some dragons I have known. Better by far to share obscure and lesser known books, to talk about them, to rave about them, to tell anyone who will listen that they simply have to read one of your favourite books. And those pioneers you meet along the way will no doubt want you to read theirs.
So here’s to books that were never a best-seller, never made into a movie, and never, never seemed to get the credit they deserved. You can no doubt find them on Amazon, but leave cyberspace for a while and go to your local library.

L.M. Montgomery and War, the Eleventh Biennial Conference

On June 25, I will be travelling to Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, for L. M. Montgomery and War, the Eleventh Biennial LMM Conference, at the University of PEI. This year’s conference commemorates one hundred years since the beginning of WWI.
This is my fourth trip to this conference, and it’s an exciting event for Lucy Maud fans and scholars from around the world. I will be staying in downtown Charlottetown, a short walk from the harbour, the Anne of Green Gables Store, and the Anne of Green Gables Chocolate Shop. The chocolate shop will definitely be one of my stops.
Enjoy a tourists welcome to the Anne of Green Gables National Park. Remember, Anne is an industry for the island.
Charlottetown is a beautiful city, and it would be a challenge to find friendlier or more engaging people anywhere in Canada. Charlottetown itself is an older city—as far as Canadian cities go. During my last two trips to the conference, I had the good fortune to stay at the Great George, which I was told hoasted the fathers of confederation at the Charlottetown Conference in 1864.
The Lucy Maud conference starts on Wednesday, June 25, and I will be presenting on Friday, June 27. My paper for the conference explores post-traumatic stress in Montgomery’s fiction, specifically rilla of Ingleside and Jane of Lantern Hill.
While Montgomery wrote only one book exclusively about World War I, the conference will feature papers and presentations that cover war in all of its implications in her fiction.
Watch for updates and photographs from Prince Edward Island as the conference gets closer. If you haven’t’ read Rilla of Ingleside, Montgomery’s novel about the war from the perspective of the home front, you should know that the book largely comes from Rilla Blythe’s point of view, Anne’s youngest daughter. Rilla has to grow up as the community responds to the war and the war effort. Here is an excerpt.
“We must keep a little laughter, girls,” said Mrs. Blythe. “A good laugh is as good as a prayer sometimes—only sometimes,” she added under her breath. She had found it very hard to laugh during the three weeks she had just lived through—she, Anne Blythe, to whom laughter had always come so easily and freshly. And what hurt most was that Rilla’s laughter had grown so rare—Rilla whom she used to think laughed over-much. Was all the child’s girlhood to be so clouded? Yet how strong and clever and womanly she was growing! How patiently she knitted and sewed and manipulated those uncertain Junior Reds!
Rilla of Ingleside, Chapter XII

The Dream of the Tree: An Original Fairy Tale


Once there was a man who had a dream that ruined his life. In the dream, he was walking across a vast country. He was not just walking, he was striding, striding with seven-league steps while the ground beneath him and about him blurred and shimmered. He passed through forests, over great plains of grass, and through the gaps between the mountains. He strode on until he saw a mountain rising up before him. It was a mountain as he had never seen a mountain before. It went up-and-up, climbing higher and higher until it was lost in the sky.

He paused at the foot of the mountain and looked up. Only one thing to do. He began to climb.
He went up-and-up, stepping over streams, wide meadows, and over stands of trees. He went on until he came to the end of the trees where there was only rock. He kept climbing.
This mountain, he thought, was surely the highest mountain in the world. He climbed and climbed.
Finally, after what seemed a year and a day, the man arrived at the top of the mountain. Across a great plain, the man could see a tree. It was surely the tallest tree he had ever imagined. It went up-and-up until impossibly far overhead the tree spread its branches.
The man walked across the plain towards the foot of the immense tree. As he did, his seven-league strides kicked up swirls of leaves. There were countless numbers of them, and as he caught one of the leaves he realized that each leaf held a story, or a fragment of a story.
He caught leaf after leaf. He read snatches of stories about people who lived and died, fought tremendous battles; stories of boys and girls, of men and women who wandered far, searching for love, for revenge, and for treasure. He read snatches of stories about patients and greed and the longing that goes with lost love, friendship, and family.
The man looked up to the great tree. “This must be the tree where all stories come from,” he said, aloud to himself.
He hurried forward to the trunk of the massive tree that rose up like a wall before him. Reaching out a hand he touched the trunk of the great tree. For one, indefinable moment he had a glimpse of the ongoing story of the world, from its beginning in the depths of space and time to its conclusion at the end of all things.
And then he woke. The cry that escaped his lips in that moment was a cry of grief and loss. The man had glimpsed for one instant the story of the world, and as he sobbed aloud in the grey morning, the dream began to fade.
Later that day, the man sold his house and everything he owned. He took the money from the sale of all of his belongings, and he wrapped it in a handkerchief with a loaf of bread. He left the home where he had lived all of his life and took to the road. He told himself that he was going to find that tree, if he had to search to the ends of the earth, for he wanted just one more glimpse into that story.
 And so he did. He wandered far and met many people, and to whomever would listen he would tell what he could remember of that story and the fragments he read on the leaves. Many people thought him mad, and others just thought him a storyteller. Some were glad of his stories, but many were not, for in everyone he met, he planted a seed of that longing for the story he glimpsed when he touched the tree in his dream.

Storytelling at Fort Edmonton Park


Here is an audio link to my storyset at the 26thannual TALES Storytelling Festival,
(The Alberta League Encouraging Storytelling),
Held at Fort Edmonton Park, May 24-25.
This is the first time I have told at the festival in ten years, and I had the good fortune to tell again in St. Michael’s Church, an acoustically rich, beautiful old church on 1905 Street. My set is an hour in length. Enjoy.