The stories we need
Tunes for a Monday Morning

True stories

Studio Muse 1

From The Language of the Night by Ursula K. Le Guin:

"I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing but a growing up: than an adult is not a dead child, but a child who has survived. I believe that all the best faculties of a mature human being exist in the child, and that if these faculties are encouraged in youth they will act wisely and well in the adult, but if they are repressed and Dragon hatchling by Alan Leedenied in the child they will stunt and cripple the adult personality. And finally, I believe that one of most deeply human, and humane, of these faculties is the power of imagination: so that it is our pleasant duty, as librarians, or teachers, or parents, or writers, or simply as grownups, to encourage that faculty of imagination in our children, to encourage it to grow freely, to flourish like the green bay tree, by giving it the best, absolutely the the best and purest, nourishment that it can absorb. And never, under any circumstances, to squelch it, or sneer at it, or imply that it is childish, or unmanly, or untrue.

"For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it's true. Children know that. Adults know it too and that's precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom.

Dragon by Alan Lee

On my desk

"So I believe that we should trust our children. Normal children do not confuse reality and fantasy -- they confuse them much less often than we adults do (as a certain great fantasist pointed out in a story called 'The Emperor's New Clothes'). Children know perfectly well that unicorns aren't real, but they also know that books about unicorns, if they are good books, are true books. All too often, that's more than Mummy and Daddy know; for, in denying their childhood, the adults have denied half their knowledge, and are left with the sad, sterile little fact: 'Unicorns aren't real.' And that fact is one that never got anyone anywhere (except in the story 'The Unicorn in the Garden,' by another great fantasist, in which it is shown that a devotion to the unreality of unicorns may get you straight into the loony bin.) It is by such statements as, 'Once upon a time there was a dragon,' or 'In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit' -- it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at truth." 

Unicorn by Alan Lee & John Howe

Studio Muse 2Words: The passage above is from "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" by Ursula K. Le Guin, which first appeared in PNLA Quarterly 38 (1974), and can also be found in her essay collection The Language of the Night (GP Putnams, 1979). Drawings: The two dragon drawings are by Alan Lee, and the unicorn drawing by Alan Lee & John Howe. Photographs: A quiet Friday morning the studio. All rights to the text and art above reserved by the author and artists.

Comments

Magical Realism

How hard life becomes,
Things fray, childhood goes
Into loops of fear, and sadness,
Like being over and taken away
So it is like holding in breath
Forever.

The childhood good luck is found
Not with money, but with the freedom
Of fairy tales, tales of orphans who find
Magical things, a leaf of gold, a seed
Flown down and rising up, green stalk,
Winding steps up to a cloud castle,
A wise woman, or bearded fellow
Whispers chants that keep fear
Away, away, like a golden fence
With jewels that shout out,
"NO!"

I lived with magic long ago, and
Still it rises up; I never know when,
I am my own fairy godmother, Sit
On a chair with a window before me,
A window that whirls with the young,
Who carry terrible heavy sorrows
And who can learn - It is
Magic.

It is a story beyond the town
Or the city, the dark alleys, the
Horrible hoops, some aflame,
The child must run through.
Run and run, but not away.
Run to the sound of beautiful
Words.

Stories come like roses, with
Of course thorns. The trick of it
Is to be mindful. All the helpers,
Small and huge, are on your side.
They will never go away. They
Will just whirl and twirl into
Many tales, all true, all magic,
All your own. You have been
Crowned with roses and gems,
You have earned them. They are
Real

I agree with Philip Pullman when he says he had no idea which age group he was writing for. When I wrote 'The Cry of the Icemark' I didn't have an imagined audience of teenagers or indeed of any age, I just wanted to tell the story and anyone was welcome to enjoy it. It was eventually pigeonholed and packaged for a particular group, but I'm very pleased to say that some of the most 'vivid' fan letters I received came from an unrelated group of American ladies in their eighties. They hailed from different parts of their country but oddly, they'd all served in the Second World War and loved the main heroine of the book, who is a fiery young warrior who leads her country to victory over an evil empire. I reached the obvious conclusion that they related to the story so strongly because in some way it translated into Fantasy their own real-life experiences as young people caught up in a war; that it made the hideous and complicated reality of the war into a simple and straightforward tale of good against evil.

I'm not in a position to say whether the Icemark series has any worth, but I would say that enjoyable storytelling touches us all, and despite a certain hugely intelligent gentleman who said that no adult should read children's books, I would argue that a good story has no age bar...or indeed a bar of any sort.

Ursula le Guin at her best, there, Terri. I only wish she were in charge of our schools and universities! Can you imagine that?

Is that a copy of Lewis Hyde's "Trickster Makes This World" on your desk? I've got one somewhere and haven't opened it in years, but I remember it was quite influential on my thinking at the time...but something's bugging me; there was something in it which related to this post ... hang on, I'll go and get it.

*searches bookshelves*

Got it. At the opening of Chapter 12, entitled "Prophecy," there's a quotation from Richard Rorty:

"A poeticized culture...would not insist we find the real wall behind the painted ones, the real touchstones of truth as opposed to touchstones which are merely cultural artifacts. It would be a culture which, precisely by appreciating that *all* touchstones are such artifacts, would take as its goal the creation of ever more various and multicolored artifacts."

That blew me away at the time. Amazing how one remembers these things!

With love always,

A.

[Rorty, Richard. "Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity." N.Y.: Cambridge University Press, 1989]

Thank you Phyllis,
I love that, at first, I held my breath but not forever because "All the helpers, Small and huge, are on (my) side..."

And to Terri and Tilly (and Jane in the walls): thank you for being here to help.

"In Magic Realism as both literature and visual art the necessity of fantasy is intertwined with the inescapable condition of the real."
Audrey Niffenegger in conversation with Diane Thodos 2004
http://www.artcritical.com/2004/05/01/audrey-niffenegger/

Hi Terri

This week's series on the nature of books, reading and how experience culled from those can shape our perspective and lives, has been remarkable. Between yesterday's blog and today's, I have done a lot of thinking about what has been exiled from current literature and what some are afraid to explore, include or define.

When I was teaching English on a secondary level, our school system wanted to exclude books like "The Scarlett Letter", "Crime and Punishment" "Tom Sawyer" etc.. because they felt the language was too archaic,(hard for kids to understand), the themes delivered with too strongly moralized overtones, or the story was too homey or countrified -- whatever that means. And I felt this was an injustice to students who may have culled something emotional and humanly significant from them. They were depriving kids of their right to be challenged and to forge new opinions or perceptions of
the human condition. Even in our current state of some of our poetry as well a other forms of literature, there is an underlying cynicism, a lack of empathy or grace that is still allowed to ennoble a scene, a quality, a dream. Personification, musicality of sound, an exploration of imaginative possibilities and other things have been labeled banal or taboo. And of course, there are exceptions, especially in the realm of speculative fiction and some others. So this poem came about -

From Literature

We have exiled Beauty
in her kindness, her honor, her naive poise
to the "faraway". We have left her tall and tacit --
moonlit stone in the "long ago." Both versions of place
sound arcane, a magic sense of not there.
In the old books (spine-sewn), she was drawn
with sentiment and vulnerable grace, "live life
to the point of tears." Hers cleansed. A precious sting
left by salt, love and loss. What bled from the thorns
of a rose. The Hellenic song tells us
how Greeks took up arms to rescue her. But in the market
or public square, we dread to lift our pens
and mark the page with her name. Born from the swan's egg,
she hatched too divine to stay.

______________________________
Again, many thanks for this!
Wendy

What saddens me is that I work with children, who are on the cusp of becoming young adults, who will tell me fairytales are for babies. The irony being fairy stories are most definitely not for babies;they are dark, deep and wild. They warn us of the wolf in the human and the deception in the promise.

I am very lucky in that I work in a Storytelling school. We read whole books, poetry is not confined to SATs; so far this year we have introduce Edgar Allen Poe alongside others. The value of telling a story that speaks truth is so much more important than one that emphasizes reality. I have to admit that I never much liked One End Street or J. Wilson as they smacked of reality. What I did like was the family in Elidor, the ordinary backstreets that were other than they seemed. I am loving the Snow Spider trilogy, which is rooted so well in the past of Wales.

Whilst I have a great affection for the classics I have read, I know that I will always pick up fantasy, science fiction or a children's book in preference to any other genre. What is so true though, is that a story should lift you, take you away and make you think. It should open doors that would otherwise be closed and secret. All readers know they are going to be given a map through the lives of others and have the vicarious thrill of living that life. We all know when a story is not true as we cannot relate to it, however mundane or fantastical.

I have been loving these posts, Terri, though not always had the time to tell you how much. Thank you. xx

Your first stanza is a WOWSER indeed. And look what I have stolen from you!

Fairy Godmother

"I am my own fairy godmother...."
--Phyllis Holliday


I sit by the fire, gnarled hands
folded in a prayer. My lap
is deep as a book, as unknown.

I pull the spirtle spiritedly
through the porridge
till the spell is done.

I bake the bannock on the hot stone,
peer through the leper's squint,
from the wrong side, eat alone.

I dance all night with
the women of power,
howl at the rising moon.

Then I change my clothes,
my hair, my skin,
grey rats to greyer men.

I do not need to marry the prince.
for I've already captured the king
in his home.

I am my own godmother,
my own mother god,
my own story, my own poem.


©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Nailed it again, Wendy. I love how the first line presages the last two.

Exiled Beauty

Remember the men, not brutal
on the outside, but hard bought
and brought up, killing song birds
to number them at the Christmas count.


Remember feathers plucked
for bonnets, leather tanned
for belts and shoes.
Women's hats adorned with doves.

So much easier to capture
in marble, that awkward cold netting,
than to sit silent under a tree
and watch Beauty flutter in the wild.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Exiled Beauty

Remember the men, not brutal
on the outside, but hard bought
and brought up, killing song birds
to number them at the Christmas count.


Remember feathers plucked
for bonnets, leather tanned
for belts and shoes.
Women's hats adorned with doves.

So much easier to capture
in marble, that awkward cold netting,
than to sit silent under a tree
and watch Beauty flutter in the wild.

©2016 Jane Yolen akk rights reserved

Exiled Beauty

Remember the men, not brutal
on the outside, but hard bought
and brought up, killing song birds
to number them at the Christmas count.


Remember feathers plucked
for bonnets, leather tanned
for belts and shoes.
Women's hats adorned with doves.

So much easier to capture
in marble, that awkward cold netting,
than to sit silent under a tree
and watch Beauty flutter in the wild.

©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Lovely and brave: we who read classic books when we were quite young found so much
that might have been written 50, 100 or more years. Shakespeare 500 years ago, and
much longer ago, and flourished. What a great metaphor - Grecian beauty "to0 divine to stay."

We who loved classic novels in an early age were quite clear about the messages that
come from any age, from Shakespeare to Jane Austin, the Brontes, Greek myth,
Dickens and on and on and on, were so lucky. "She hatched too divine to stay...." Sadly
children lose so much beauty.

I love this. Tried to comment more but I'm not sure it will be seen....

I've been having a problem with making comments.

Sad. Born from the swan's egg, she hatched too divine to stay. What modern children lose without knowing all this.

For some-one who is countrified and homey, this is a fine bright topic. Of course, a country girl can feast on beauty of words and feels children are deprived when she is "born from the swam's egg, hatched too divine to stay."

"Icemark:" series has a lot of worth to me. I always as a child loved brave fighting women.
I was peeved that Mark Twain thought little girls and women were fluffy.

x

Courage comes from facing the dragon, hope from seeing the unicorn.
In war the dragons are real, just as they are in politics, and so too the Unicorns. Without the Unicorns, there would be no reason to go on.

Thanks, Phyllis.

Fairy Godnother

"I am my own fairy godmother...."
--Phyllis Holliday


I sit by the fire, gnarled hands
folded in a prayer. My lap
is deep as a book, as unknown.

I pull the spirtle spiritedly
through the porridge
till the spell is done.

I bake the bannock on the hot stone,
peer through the leper's squint,
from the wrong side, eat alone.

I dance all night long with
women of power,
howl at the rising moon.

Then I change my clothes,
my hair, my skin,
grey rats to greyer men.

I do not need to marry the prince.
for I've already captured the king
in his home.

I am my own godmother,
my own mother god,
my own story, my own poem.


©2016 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Folks, if your Comments don't post right away, please don't repeat them -- sometimes there's just a bit of a delay with Typepad, and if you just wait a bit it will sort itself out and the Comment will appear. If you keep trying to re-post the comment, however, either it appears multiple times or the spam filter starts rejecting everything.

Thanks.

Le Guin's last paragraph "For fantasy is true, of course. It isn't factual, but it's true. Children know that. Adults know it too and that's precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phony, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. They are afraid of dragons because they are afraid of freedom." stimulates in me the myths and metaphors that were for decades stripped and washed with soap with bible and dollars. They named my blood 'savage' and demonized my speech.
But what they could not see, simply and perpetually, grew in the fresh water streams and brackish ponds.

Mo'o goddesses of water management are the dragons alive today as they have always.
Mo'o the name for backbone old, and new born.
Mo'o waited while old women pick at scrap yards for the truth.
Mo'o who maintains keen vision and even sharper nostrils.
Mo'o tends the water, sniffs out lies, eats them whole.
Mo'o who gives her name to story, like pue'o leaving pellets... Mo'olelo.
Mo'o on your wall, on your screens click, click, click.
Mo'o in the waters fresh and brackish, that dragon never sleeps.
Mo'o now the name lives within me Mo'okihana.

How long does it take for the Mo'o to grow the truth? It makes no never mind. What matters is that she grows. Here is a link to a presentation "Our Narratives Endure" to show HOW Mo'olelo lives in Hawaii today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TWl4xirg-Ss

Thank goodness! Two comments, because I was testing. Yesterday none of my comments showed up. I panicked. Could I never write any more here? So I am pleased they finally showed up. Tech + magic.

Last night, I tried to thank you, but my posts just vanished! So glad they returned, thought for some reason, not here. Anyway, beyond tech wreck, all is returned. Words spill out and here they are. A lot of bottled things arriving!

I am blushing, here. What a lovely gift. Love, "I dance all night with woman of power,
howl at the rising moon..." YES. Also "grey rats to greyed men..." Why yes, and the end,

"I am my own godmother,
my own mother god
my own story, my own poem"

Tears in my eyes
Smile on my mouth
Almost hear you chant
Echo, echo, echo

I think the same thing happened to you; the poem not showing up....but wow -Men...killing song birds to number them at the Christmas count. That is an entire novel in a walnut.

Another lovely poem packed with wit, sorrow and beauty. And timely.

Sorry. Did not know what happened. Now I know.

"Metaphors that were for decades stripped and washed with bible and dollars" And on,
to give me the shivers that comes with raging truth. Your blood 'savage,' so much like the native Indians I lived around. As a young person, when we got to see them sing and dance during the rodeo, I knew they had something magical and Right!

PS. When Jane steals from me, I am blessed

Mark Twain obviously never met the women in my family!!!

I think this may be my favorite of yours now, Phyllis. It speaks straight to the heart.

Oh my, a splendid, splendid response.

"I would say that enjoyable storytelling touches us all, and despite a certain hugely intelligent gentleman who said that no adult should read children's books, I would argue that a good story has no age bar...or indeed a bar of any sort."

I couldn't agree more. And I love the Icemark books.

Yes, that's "Trickster Makes This World." I've been a huge Hyde fan since a friend of mine gave me The Gift back in the early '90s -- a book that's been hugely influential ever since. I have all of his books now, including his poetry. The latest, "Common as Air," is excellent too. It's on copyright and the cultural commons. Hyde takes a subject that could be extremely dry and makes it fascinating. He stretches my mind every time.

Thank you!!! I love her work, and missed this interview.

"Even in our current state of some of our poetry as well a other forms of literature, there is an underlying cynicism, a lack of empathy or grace that is still allowed to ennoble a scene, a quality, a dream. Personification, musicality of sound, an exploration of imaginative possibilities and other things have been labeled banal or taboo."

That is so true! Yet if children and teenagers don't read these older texts, how will they have any understanding of the ways the world changes, or empathy for the lives of people in generations and cultures different than their own? I think the "dumbing down" of our expectations of what children can read, in school and outside of it, is not just an aesthetic problem, but a moral, political, and sociological one.

I recently read Elizabeth Goudge's children's books for the first time (The Little White Horse, Linnets & Valerians, etc) and was struck by all the ways they differ from children's fiction published today. Do parents give such books to children now, or would they be considered too gentle, too dated? I certainly wish I'd read her as a child. I think she would have been my absolute favorite author.

I love your poem, Wendy, which reminded me of this quote from The Transit of Beauty by Shirley Hazzard:

"Beauty is the forbidden word of our age, as sex was to the Victorians. But without the same power to reassert itself."

The first sentence strikes me as true. I can only hope that the second one isn't as well....



"...a story should lift you, take you away and make you think. It should open doors that would otherwise be closed and secret. All readers know they are going to be given a map through the lives of others and have the vicarious thrill of living that life. We all know when a story is not true as we cannot relate to it, however mundane or fantastical."

Oh, well said, Charlotte! Your students are so very lucky to have you.

Powerful, Jane. And we're all complicit (the bonnet, the leather shoes, or their equivalent), though there is valor in striving not to be.

You have a gift for the "short and wise," Michelle.

It's just a Typepad thing. Fortunately it doesn't happen too often!

It's important work you're doing keeping your Native Hawaiian tales and truth alive for the next generations, Mokihana.

Ha, I was in our local independent bookshop (I can't tell you how much I love the fact that my little town has an independent bookshop/cafe!), browsing with my daughters, and my big munchkin pulled out 'Trickster' and said, "Here mum." She knows me so well! So now it is sitting on my desk, and I'm about a 5th through it. Loving it so far.

This is beautiful, Wendy. And I believe you are right, it's not considered 'cool' or 'hip' to be interested in beauty, or integrity, or truth, or to create art that celebrates them. And while it's true that older literature may be more difficult to understand and glean meaning from, that's not a good enough excuse to abandon it. In my daughter's English classes at high school, they seem to be doing a lot of work on 'popular culture' films and analysing advertising. While I think it's a great idea to introduce children to the skills of pulling apart an ad or a film because it might teach them how to avoid being manipulated by such things (and I did this at Uni, and found it very valuable), I believe children also need to be exposed to those great works, and themes, that created literature in the first place. And anyway, how can kids ever learn to pull apart the layers of meaning in modern films like (for e.g.) "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou", or "Winter's Bone", if they know nothing of the stories of the Odyssey, or of greek tragedies?

Yes! Exactly.

I'm in total agreement with the great Ursula Le Guin. I believe the ability to imagine is of immense importance, and one that is being assaulted on many fronts these days. But it's something that I tell my girls over and over, 'use your imagination', and they astound me with the things they come up with. I spent a lovely hour with my youngest (11) the other day (in that same lovely bookshop/cafe I mentioned earlier!), drinking chai latte while we discussed her latest 'book'. It may never make it down onto paper, but the tangles and whirls of the story are fully fledged in her mind, and she kept me entertained for a good 45 minutes explaining her story, occasionally asking for advice, discussing narrative problems and how they might be solved, refining characters and plot details. This is just the latest of several she has floating around in her head at the moment, she is constantly making up new stories, and one of the first things she always does is begin illustrating the characters. Maybe these tales will never actually be written down, but it doesn't matter, she is honing her storytelling skills and her imagination, and that will be invaluable for the rest of her life. And it's hugely entertain for her mother to listen!

Hi Phyllis

I love the message of this poem -- how words belonging to stories can become the antidote to life's sorrows and depression. Their is magic in those stories and they help to shape our childhood. This is an enchanting poem. I thank you so much for sharing it!

My Best
Wendy

Hi Phyllis

Thank you so much for gracious words and thoughtful comment. I totally agree with you about what can be found in reading the classics!

Many thanks!
Wendy

Hi Terri

I would like parents enrich their children with the older texts and challenge their minds. But somehow, I feel there is not much of that happening. We need to challenge our kids with language, ideas and allow them to really discover thinking, imaginative inquiry and other tools to form the ability to clearly judge, think and shape their perspectives! Thank you so much for your kind words toward my poem and that incredible quote by Shirley Hazzard -- I am in complete agreement with her!

Again thank you!
Wendy

Hi Christina

Thank you so much for your kind words toward my poem and for sharing your wonderful an keen perspective. I agree, how can they understand our modern culture, our global situation, our own humanity and even the problems in their own life, if they are not challenged by the classics and older texts. Again, I really enjoyed reading your impressions and appreciate the time you have taken to share them!

My Best
Wendy

Hi Jane

Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my poem! I really appreciate it and am very wowed by your poem. But a marvelous and "so true" way of looking at "Beauty exiled".
Love all of the stanzas but that last one is stunning -

So much easier to capture
in marble, that awkward cold netting,
than to sit silent under a tree
and watch Beauty flutter in the wild.

Yes! exactly, but beauty in all its vibrance and force is most meaningful, most enlightening when she is alive, when she flutters in the wild, when she breathes in words of art and when we see her in deeds or actions that define the best of the human condition. Thank you so much for sharing this poem!

It is so lovely!
Take care
Wendy

Excellent point, Phyllis!

thanks for sharing it,
My Best
Wendy

Hi Jane

What a wonderful poem -- love how you capture this individual godmother/mother god -- I want to go out tonight and -

dance all night long with
women of power,
howl at the rising moon.

I love the thought of that and how the woman is empowered by her own storytelling and her own identity as a caster of words and ideas.

Thank you for sharing this!
Loved it!
Wendy

A long time ago I noticed that many poems were so lacking. I called the the "mowing the lawn poems."

Thank you, Terri, much appreciated.

The younger generations do give me hope. Every time I look at our daughter and her friends (in their 20s), or my god-daughter and her friends (in their teens), I feel a little better about the future.

Thank you Terri. Yes, the work is important as much for the next generation as it is for us who flounder on our swims at tidal shifts: as elders in the making. I write as much for us Old Ones who are forgetting. It's there ... in the pockets of forgetting that the power lies break down and hybrid stories rise like mo'o with gray hair, wrinkled breasts and poetry with many meanings. Medicine.

Hello Terri and all. I've been busy with family affairs for the past several days and fallen behind again. I wish I could spend more time with all the comments here because I'm sure they're as rich and rewarding as ever. Hopefully I'll be able to come back to them sometime in the near future. In the meantime, I just need to add to the flood of thanks. What a beautiful post, and one I agree with fully. There is no shame in fantasy, only room to stretch & grow. Much love to all.

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