Travelers' Tales

Circe the Enchantress by Edmund Dulac

From "Travel Notes" by Lloyd Alexander:

"Most of us, on our journeys, go no-frills economy. But we get postcards from other travelers who have ventured before us: views of country churchyards, daffodils, Grecian urns, nightingales, birch trees. A windmill from Don Quixote. A specimen of unusual insect life, sent by Gregor Samsa.  A raft on the Mississippi -- best wishes from Huck and Jim. Greetings from Paradise. From the Inferno. From the rabbit hole.

Treasure Island by Edmund Dulac"The messages vary. Don't eat the lotuses. Exact change required on the ferry across the Styx. The best of times, the worst of times. All the world's a stage. All happy families are alike. Beware the Jabberwock. I am
only escaped alone to tell thee.

"C.P. Cavafy writes to us:

     As you set out for Ithaka
     hope your road is a long one,
     full of adventure, full of discovery.
     Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
     angry Poseidon -- don’t be afraid of them

"To which adds Lemuel Gulliver: 'A traveler's chief aim should be to make men wise and better, and to improve their minds by the bad as well as the good example of what they deliver concerning foreign places.'

Alladin by Edmund Dulac

"A commendable purpose. Travelers' tales, though, are notorious for enchancing the facts. They rank with fish stories and autobiographies, a few notches above political speeches. Mark Twain, that most reliable of pilots, who spoke as much truth as any of us have courage to bear, claimed superiority over George Washington. 'He couldn't tell a lie,' says Mark Twain. 'I can.'

"We are entitled to ask if any of these tales have credibility. They are not laboratory reports of discoveries of science, awesome and enlightening as those may be. The are not official communiques, which seldom have more than a nodding acquaintance with veracity. They are not history, an altogether different order of fantasy.  The messages of literature come from flesh-and-blood creatures like ourselves. They have been there ahead of us. They know the territory.

The Abyss of Time by Edmund Dulac

"I believe their messages are the most accurate we will ever get. They are true. As a fairy tale is true. As mythology is true. 'Myths are among the subtlest and most direct languages of experience,' writes George Steiner. 'They re-enact moments of signal truth or crisis in the human condition.' And from Elizabeth Cook: 'The inherent greatness of myth and fairy tale is a poetic greatness...extended lyrical images of unchanging human predicaments and strong, unchanging hopes and fears, loves and hatreds.'

"My purpose, however, is not to explore the great cosmologies, but the small ones; and to suggest that art is a process whereby life becomes myth, and myth becomes life....For us, the journey is a central fact of our lives.  Having set out on it, like it or not we have to keep on -- to be heroic in spite of ourselves. Sometimes our most courageous act is to get up in the morning.

Dorelia Reading by Augustus John

"Cavafy tells us:

     Hope your road is a long one.
     May there be many summer mornings when,
     with what pleasure, what joy,
     you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;
     may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
     to buy fine things,

     mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony

Marvelous souvenirs. But we can't keep them. They become valuable only when given away. This is not to say that we have gained nothing.

     Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
     Without her you wouldn't have set out.

"I hope the postcards we send back are of some use to those who have only started on their own journey; if not useful, at least pleasurable. Earlier, I asked if we should trust those messages. I should have asked, Can we trust art? We not only can, but I think we must."

Off Black Spruce Ledge by N.C. Wyeth

The Mermaid by Howard PyleArt above: "Circe the Enchantress," "Treasure Island," "Aladdin," and "The Abyss of Time" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953); "Dorelia Reading" by Augustus John (1878-1961); "Off Black Spruce Ledge" by N.C. Wyeth (1882-1945); and "The Mermaid" by Howard Pyle (1853-1911).

The view out my window today . . .

Vail in autumn

I'm in Colorado now, high up in the Rockies. Yesterday I didn't want to leave New York, but now that I'm here, it fees awfully good to see that big blue Western sky again. Leaning out my hotel window early this morning, I spotted what I'm sure was a golden eagle circling the mountain peaks above -- which reminded me of this poem by the Navajo writer Joy Harjo:

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadly growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

Stream in front of hotel
Hotel patio

On the road. . .

I'm in New York (all too briefly) on my way out to the Sirens conference in Colorado, and it sure is nice to be back. New York always feels more like my hometown than the places where I actually grew up (which weren't far from New York), perhaps because I did my artistic "growing up" while working in this crazy, wonderful city back in my twenties. Although I love the quieter, slower, nature-rich life I live now in the sheep-dotted hills of Devon, there are ways in which I still feel more truly myself here in New York, more than anywhere else. Even after all this time in the desert and on Dartmoor. Strange, isn't it?

Ellen Kushner, Holly Black, and I had a long, productive meeting at Random House yesterday about publicity plans for the new Borderland book, which will be out on the shelves next May. There are many interesting plans afoot. Today, more visits with publishing friends and colleagues; tonight, a NYRSF reading at the Soho Gallery for Digital Art featuring Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire, which I'm really looking forward to. (Perhaps I'll see some of you there?) Then I'm off to Vail, Colorado in the morning. A good trip, all in all. (But yes, I'm missing my pup!)

The picture above is one of my all-time favorite New Yorker covers, by Adrian Tomine. It reminds me so much of my years here as a young editor, commuting back and forth to work every day with a book in my hand and manuscripts weighting down my backpack. Below, in the bottom center of the photo, you can see the historic Flat Iron Building where the Tor Books/St. Martin's Press offices are located. (It's the triangular building in the crouch of the "V" where Broadway and 5th Avenue meet.)


Flying off again. . .

I'm off on the first leg my transAtlantic travels today, heading back to the States for the first time in two years. It's hard to believe that it's been so long. I'll post from the road if I can . . . and gather pictures, thoughts, and stories along the way, filling my pockets with such treasures to carry back home to the Devon hills.

I always grumble before the start of a trip, for I hate pulling away from the quiet rhythms of my studio when I'm in a good working groove. But once I'm on the road I remember that travel, too, is good for writing and art. It interrupts the work, but it feeds it.

No doubt I'll come back home, as I aways do, bursting with stories to tell.


A French/English Mythic Arts Collaboration . . .


The past several months have been such a roller coaster, due to personal and family matters, that I've been remiss in telling you about one of the nice things that happened this summer: my trip to Brittany to see the French opening of the "Sir Lanval" exhibition. This exhibition (as you may remember from my previous post on the subject) is part of the Shared Legends Project, a collaboration between the Chagford Filmmaking Group here in Devon (the folks who turned my step-daughter into a dragon last summer) and the Centre de l'Imaginaire Arthurien in Brittany (organized by my friend Claudine Glot, an expert in French myth and folklore).

In the first part of the project, the two groups worked together to make a film of "Sir Lanval," a 12th century lay by Marie de France about a poor Arthurian knight and a beautiful fairy queen. In the second part, artists from (or with strong connections to) Brittany and Dartmoor contributed works inspired by "Sir Lanval" to an exhibition that premiered this summer at the castle pictured above, in the legendary forest of Broceliande.

For the opening, the project organizers brought artists from both sides of the Channel together for five glorious days in Broceliande. We were hosted royally, with storytelling in the woods, trips to mythic sites, a music concert at the Chapel of the Holy Grail, and many other delights.

View from the castle window View from a castle window

Storytelling in Broceliande Harp music and storytelling in the forest

Rider in the Forest  C Riders in the forest and castle courtyard

Chapel of the Holy Grail Tile-work mural in the Chapel of the Holy Grail

The pictures here are from that magical trip: from the castle and forest where we spent our days, and from La Gacilly (a village full of artists, like ours here on Dartmoor) where we spent our nights -- and where Rima Staines (one of the other artists in the exhibition), Tom Hirons, and I got the chance to visit dollmaker Virginie Ropar's enchanting house and studio.


La Gacilly 1 The village of La Gacilly (above and below)

Mermaid sign in La Gacilly

La Gacilly 2

The exhibition moves to the Breton city of Rennes this autumn, which is where the finished "Sir Lanval" film will have its French premier. The English film premier and exhibition opening take place in Exeter in December -- which is when it will be our turn to host the French artists in our village at the edge of mythical Dartmoor. It will be a challenge indeed, for our Breton friends have set the bar of hospitality very high!

The Valley of No Return The "Val sans Retour" (Valley of No Return) in Arthurian myth

Breton fieldsBreton fields and farmhouses


Sir Lanval

Poster art by two of the painters in the exhibition: Brian Froud (Dartmoor) and Olivier Ledroit (Brittany)

You'll find more pictures of Broceliande and the exhibition over on Rima's blog, The Hermitage (August 7th post, Chapter 3). You can see my contribution to the exhibition in my previous "Sir Lanval" post  --  and here's me under the trees of that deeply mythic forest (below, in a photo taken by a Breton friend), with my hair in my eyes and a book in my hands, as usual....


In the Forest of Broceliande