Summer Solstice, 2019

This year in Edmonton, the summer solstice occurred on June 21, at 3:54 p.m. The rain and cloud have been heavy for a few days, but it’s still been possible to enjoy the long evenings.
Depending how far north you live, the evenings at the end of June seem to go on forever. Where I am, the sun is currently setting after 10:00, but if the evening is clear, then that evening extends passed 11:00. It’s lovely for walking.
Don’t be fooled by your calendar this time of year. Many will tell you that June 21 marks the beginning of summer. Since parts of Alberta can get snow until almost the end of June, that often makes sense. But the summer solstice is midsummer’s day. Remember Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? That’s the day we’re talking about.

Stone henge is a place where it’s believed people gathered on the summer and winter solstices for thousands of years. They still do. Check out these photos from The Guardian.However you choose to celebrate or spend your time this solstice weekend, take in the longer days. And to help you along, here’s a passage from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, describing the magic and mystery of a midsummer dawn.

“Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend. and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fulness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humourously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”
(Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”)

From the Blog Archive, Visiting the Rock

I was in a coffee shop on Vancouver Island in April. I was wearing a t-shirt I bought at Cape Spear. Two women came up to me and asked if I was from Newfoundland. I’m not, but they were, and they very quickly started telling me about their home on Newfoundland’s Avalon peninsula. These women spoke of their home with a warmth I don’t often hear.
One of the most memorable trips I took last year was to Newfoundland with my friend Tom Wharton. We flew to Halifax, then took the ferry from Sydney, Cape Breton, over to Newfoundland. You can read the post here. Then there was the North Atlantic off Cape Spear—something I won’t soon forget. I’m looking forward to a return visit to the Rock. If you want a book that captures this part of the world, check out Sweetland by Michael Crummey. It’s an awesome read.

Halloween, Scarey Books, and Something from the Blog Archive

It’s Halloween. No snow is in the forecast, and that’s a win for where I live.
Here’s something from the blog archive to get you in the mood for the day. And here are three young adult series with enough ghosts and monsters to satisfy any pallet. Enjoy! By the way, my favourite would have to be Jonathan Stroud.

1. Lockwood and Co., by Jonathan Stroud
2. Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull
And
3. The Last Apprentice, by Joseph Delaney.

An Anniversary for Narnia

October 16 saw the sixty-eighth anniversary of the publication of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis published the Narnia books once a year, until The Last Battle appeared in September of 1956. Lewis was also writing his spiritual biography at the time, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life—not to mention whatever else he was writing, as well as performing all the duties and responsibilities of an Oxford tutor.
But why a children’s story? Lewis was a scholar. He wrote about books, he wrote Christian apologetics, and he wrote fiction, but all this was for adults. Lewis had nothing to do with children. So again, why a children’s story?
There are enough books about Lewis around to keep you busily reading for years. Writers of every kind have opinions about Lewis and his life—about Lewis as a child, about his time in the war, about his more than thirty-year relationship with Mrs. Moore, which, interestingly, some writers are unwilling to explore.
Lewis is something of a puzzle. He was gregarious and fond of argument, a man who valued openness and friendship; he also flatly refused to talk about his relationship with Janie Moore with anyone, including his brother, Warnie Lewis.
Why Lewis wrote the Narnia books is perhaps less of a puzzle. He valued myth and story, and he wrote about both. Lewis claimed that he was writing a fairy tale because that was the best expression for what he had to say about Narnia and about Aslan. I’m sure it’s true—for the most part.
Lewis carried with him the memories of living at Little Lee, the house his father had built on the outskirts of Belfast. Lewis’ mother, Flora Hamilton, died in that house when he was nine-years-old. Two weeks after her death, a young Jack was shipped off to a boarding school in Hertfordshire, England.
Such events as the death of a parent have a profound effect on the mind of a child. Lewis had the company of his brother for the first year at boarding school, which he calls Belsen in Surprised by Joy. But his school-life was shadowed by the death of his mother, and the relationship with his father deteriorated until Albert Lewis’ death in 1929.
Something was speaking across the years to Lewis as he created Narnia. It’s no surprise Lewis was writing about his own boyhood as he wrote the Narnia books. There is more of the child-like in Narnia than there is childishness. And in Lewis’ own words: “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty” (Lewis, “On Stories”).

A New Beginning, The Perilous Realm Online

In 2013, Thomas Wharton published The Tree of Story, the third book in his Perilous Realm series. This book brought the adventures of Will and Rowen to a close—or just about. In an interesting return to his series, Tom has decided to republish a new version of the trilogy on his website, ThomasWharton.ca.
The Perilous Realm Online begins with the retitled first book, The Endless Road, and Will, still the main character, finding himself alone in a mysterious wood.
Tom has dispensed with the prologue, which I always loved, and some of the back story of Will’s family. The book now launches right into a motorcycle crash and a boy fleeing into a forest. The tone is darker and the pace faster.
Tom will be publishing the series a chapter at a time, so be sure to follow along. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with this new Perilous Realm.

A Hobbit Odyssey

Our first day in Auckland has us clearing out of the place we spent the night, then going in search of coffee. Luckily for us, a bakery café is just across the street. It has WiFi, which our room didn’t have. The coffee and breakfast sandwiches make us feel like humans again—I rediscover my favourite coffee, a long black. We decide to spend the morning exploring before beginning our trip down New Zealand’s North Island.
This trip is the chance to spend time with my eldest daughter, but it’s also the chance to find things hobbit related on the North Island. My kids are used to this. In 2016, I made a pilgrimage to Oxford with my youngest daughter to see where C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien lived and worked. I’m lucky to have such indulgent daughters.
We begin our drive south. Our first stop is Hamilton. On the way, we stop and walk at Hunua Falls. The area is beautiful—lush and green—and we take a trail down to the falls. But it’s winter here, so we can’t linger. We need to get to Hamilton before it gets dark.
Hamilton is our jumping off point to Hobbiton. The film set of Peter Jackson’s Hobbiton is the first real stop along this hobbit odyssey.
The day is fine—bright sun and cool air. We arrive in Matamata before 11:00, wander into town and get coffee. We’ve been to Hobbiton before, and this time, we will drive rather than take the tour bus—for one thing, this will give me more time in the gift shop. The tour is lovely, and it’s good to revisit the set. I can feel like one of Tolkien’s creatures as we walk down paths passed hobbit doors of every colour, stopping to knock and see whose home. And the tour ends at The Green Dragon, where we sit with our mugs of ginger beer and plan our visit to the gift shop and how we will spend the rest of the day.

In the next few days, we drive south. WE stop at the Ruakuri Caves to take a tour. A hundred metres down, our guide shows us the Mirror Pool, where Andy Serkis practiced for his role as Gollum in An Unexpected Journey, the first of Jackson’s Hobbit films.
We drive passed Mr Ngauruhoe, part of the Tongariro Crossing, and the setting for Mt Doom, but the rain hides the volcano. Finally, we arrive in Wellington, where we visit the Weta Workshop, where artists created thousands of props and costumes for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. I check out a display of chain male, from dwarven male to mithril; I heft the mace used by the actor who played Azog.
We have two more places to visit around Wellington before departing New Zealand. There are many more LotR sites to visit, but we only have so much time. The cool, winter weather has been holding all the way down the North Island, but here in Wellington, it’s raining.
We drive to the banks of the Hutt River, where the fellowship launched their boats after leaving Lothlorien. We walk along a gravel road that borders the river, but Nothing of the set is left, so we have to imagine the company climbing into their boats as the rain pelts down.

Our final stop is Rivendell in Kaitoke Regional Park. Again, nothing remains of the film set, but something of Middle-Earth lingers here beneath these trees. You can find signposts marking where Aragorn and Arwin stood on the bridge, and where Gandalf walked with Bilbo. You can cross the stream on a swinging bridge and walk through the Rivendell arch.
As we follow the paths beneath the dripping trees, With the sound of the stream filling the spaces beneath the branches, I’m struck by the mystery of this place, and I’m glad our Hobbit Odyssey has brought us to this final stop.