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A Jaunt across Time

This may be my year of time travel. Maybe it's a little preposterous to have characters travel in time in a fairy tale, but while coming up with the plot for The Map across Time, I couldn't resist. I've always loved the odd theories about time travel and loved books like Jack Finney's Time and Again, and movies like Back to the Future. If fairy tales could include magic and wizards and spells and flying carpets, why not a magical map that could move one through time?

I came up with the idea for book three in The Gates of Heaven series while on a wonderful trek around England with my husband in the harsh month of January. We spent a few days in Bath and slept at the youth hostel up on a hill above town. Bath is one of my favorite cities, and as I sat upon our tiny twin bed in a room that barely allowed us to move around, I thumbed through a book my husband had brought along. In it the author spoke of needing a map for our lives that could lead us through the twists and turns and give us direction in the midst of chaos. I immediately thought about how you could portray a map that could move through time instead of space. How would that work? I thought about the old movie The Time Machine and recalled the funny sequence of scenery that met the time traveler's eyes as he sat in the machine and watched the store window dressing change in fast motion as he moved backward through the years. Eventually he sped up, and found himself going through the geological changes of the region as well. At one point he became buried under the earth but thankfully landed back in that jolly old time where people were being sacrificed to some god. I guess no matter where (or when) your journeys lead you, there's always some bum thing that makes you want to go home.

Another thing that influenced my concept of having my characters move through time was Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber series. What a crazy bunch of books! If you haven't read them, you might find them puzzling and wacky. But the story is terrific. Amber is the true land, and all other (many) worlds are only shadows. The nine princes in Amber have the ability to travel from these shadow worlds to the real Amber, but they have to do so methodically and deliberately by visually altering the landscape a bit at a time through their minds to become more like the true Amber--until they arrive. It's almost as if they have to re-create it every time. This series was written in the 1970s and it feels a bit dated. but what I love is how Zelazny shows his characters moving from one world to another, much like the way the time machine moved through time in the classic movie. So in The Map across Time, I tried to capture some of the chaotic and insane effects one might feel zooming through time as the world and sky spun in fury. I also borrowed from one of my favorite Ray Bradbury stories, "A Sound of Thunder" (from which the whole "butterfly effect" comes from), that has the main character "bumping" into himself as he goes back to the past and then returning to the future. It's all fun.

So, if you haven't had a chance to read The Map across Time yet and you love convoluted time travel stories, be sure to check it out. Yes, there are those odd potentially universe-destroying paradoxes where characters might (that's all I'll give you...) run into "themselves," but I'll leave you to work it all out.

If you think I've had enough of time travel, I haven't. I've written the first book in a young adult series called Time Sniffers, which is now getting sent out to publishers. Already one publisher is interested in acquiring it and my hope is that it will be the next big hit. The book is a little like the classic A Wrinkle in Time (throw in The Breakfast Club and The Philadelphia Experiment for good measure). Surely who can resist alien camo dogs that sniff out rips in space-time and love pizza? If you think that's weird, maybe you should read the story of the guys who came up with...have you ever really wondered ... Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. If the public can suspend disbelief enough to root for those half-baked-in-the-shell creations, then I'm sure a few dogs that can turn into couches and walls and carpeting won't be a hard sell. Right?

The Wolf of Tebron ~ On Being a Mystic

In the fairy tale, The Wolf of Tebron, Ruyah the wolf quotes G. K. Chesterton from his 1908 book Orthodoxy: "The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid." In my study question in the back of the book, I ask, "If one allows for mystery in God, how does belief make everything in the world lucid?"

I realize this ventures into deep thinking, and two reviewers took offense at the idea that I was encouraging people to become "mystics" in the manner Chesterton is speaking of. And there's the key: to understand what Chesterton means by this statement. We have one modern-day interpretation of the word, at least one meaning of the word mystic that strays into esoteric knowledge and spiritism. Of course, Chesterton would not, even a century ago, be encouraging Christians to follow that line of belief. So what was he talking about?

Chesterton has a terrific chapter in his book called "The Maniac," where he explores what he feels truly defines someone sane as opposed to someone mad. "Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery, you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in the earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand... The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious and everything else becomes lucid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery . . . He puts the seed of dogma in a central darkness, but it branches forth in all directions with abounding natural health."

I also love what he says further about the difference between the symbols of a circle (the Moon=lunacy) and the cross: "As we have taken the circle as the symbol of reason and madness, we may very well take the cross as the symbol at once of mystery and of health. Buddhism is centripetal, but Christianity is centrifugal; it breaks out. For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature, but it is fixed forever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms for ever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox at its centre it can grow without changing. The circle returns upon itself and is bound. The cross opens its arms to the four winds; it is a signpost for free travelers."

Chesterton ends the chapter with words Ruyah quotes: "The moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name."

These are deep forays into symbolism, but I am intrigued by them. I love the image of the cross extending in four cardinal directions and enwrapping the earth until all four arms return to the paradoxical center of collision and unity. I love Chesteron's urging of us to become mystics (which Webster's defines as "inducing a feeling of awe or wonder"). Why? In another place (and one of the themes of Wolf) he says "The riddles of God are more satisfying than the mysteries of man." By allowing mystery in God, our not understanding everything about him but trusting in his sovereignty and majesty, we become lucid.

By the light of Christ, we can see everything, understand everything. Not in the sense that we have every answer to every question. But since Jesus IS the answer to every important, mysterious question, we can all be mystics and allow that hazy reality be our clairty. We see through a glass darkly right now, only knowing in part, so the Bible says. But one day we will see all clearly as it will be revealed to us. Chesterton's encouragement, then, for us is to embrace the mystery, to revel in it, knowing that God, through the cross, has enwrapped and embraced us in the mystery of Christ, and that--that alone--is what makes us sane and keeps all things lucid.

Nature: An Excited Repetition

On to Chesterton, Part II: In Orthodoxy, Chesterton poses something I had never thought of before (imagine that!). He looks at the repetition inherent in nature and says, "the mere repetition made the things to me rather more weird than more rational. It was as if, having seen a curiously shaped nose in the street and dismissed it as an accident, I had then seen six other noses of the same astonishing shape . . . . So one elephant having a trunk was odd; but all elephants having trunks looked like a plot." He goes on to say that nature seemed to be an excited repetition, "like that of an angry schoolmaster saying the same thing over and over again." A plot indeed.

He felt as if God were trying to drill some understanding into his head. One of my favorite lines (which my lunatic Moon quotes in The Wolf of Tebron) is, "The recurrences of the universe rose to the maddening rhythm of an incantation." He says the fingers of grass, the crowded stars, and the sun were clamoring to be noticed by way of repetition.

Now here's what I find interesting: Some people, he states, suppose repetition signifies something dead, like a piece of mindless clockwork. "People feel that if the universe was personal, it would vary," he says. But variation is due to dying and breaking down, losing strength, fatigue. Poetically, he states, "The sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life." He compares this to children with abundant energy, kicking their legs in rhythm because of their excess of life. I love this:

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, 'Do it again,' and the grownup person does it again and again until he is nearly dead. For grownup people are not strong enough to exult in monotony."

Do we get this? What a concept! Listen: "But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God say every morning, 'Do it again' to the sun, and every evening, 'Do it again,' to the moon . . . . It may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never gotten tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we." In summation, "The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

How many times have we watched a spectacular sunset and oohed and aahed as if it were the first one we'd ever seen? Earlier this week I saw a double rainbow in the sky, after a heavy rain, with the mountains and lake majestic behind it. I was awed to tears, even though I had seen rainbows like this a dozen times before. "Do it again," I whispered. "Do it again and again."

The Wolf of Tebron ~ Conditional Joy

What really got me started on writing fairy tales--specifically, not fantasy, but fairy tales--was reading what G. K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy. He says that fairy tales stand out from other genres and even fantasy in general due to what he calls "The doctrine of conditional joy." Fairy tales always present a nearly incomprehensible happiness that rests on a difficult and often impossible condition or task that must be accomplished or avoided. Oftentimes the task makes no sense--like you can win the princess's hand if you do not say the word onion. Or if you pluck a chicken feather on a full moon, you will lose the kingdom. Many fairy tales begin with a quest. Either a young adult sets out on a journey or mission, then encounters many trials and tests to reveal their character. Often the one thought of as stupid or incompetent, but who has a good heart, wins out over the sibling that has smarts and courage but no integrity.

Fairy tales are often full of moral admonition, sometimes obvious, sometimes not. In The Wolf of Tebron, Joran sets out to find his wife, who has disappeared in a whisk of magic. He must solve riddles, endure hardships, and look deep within to find truth. He is told that if he seeks specifically for happiness, he will not find it. But if he seeks truth, he just might find happiness in doing so. This is what C. S. Lewis speaks about in Mere Christianity. By faithfully doing what must be done, he succeeds in his quest, even though the things asked of him seem impossible, and he truly believes happiness in incomprehensible and unattainable.

“We all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment…Here I am only trying to describe the enormous emotions which cannot be described. And the strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity...it was good to be in a fairy tale… Well, I left fairy tales lying on the floor of the nursery, and I have not found any books so sensible since.”G.K. Chesterton