I will not treat your dusty path and flat, denoting this and that by this and that, your world immutable wherein no part the little maker has with maker’s art. I bow not yet before the Iron Crown, nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
Tolkien – Mythopoeia
I can remember the first time I discovered my favourite word, over twenty years ago.
I had never heard of it before. It was like a spell and a word that I have revisited in wonder, trying to understand it.
I didn’t discover this word in a place that made me feel connected to something else.
It wasn’t when I was standing in the ancient forest of Broceliande.
Or The Old Library in Trinity College.
Or when a gilt title of a book glinted out of the corner of my eye in a bookshop in Edinburgh’s Old Town.
Or among the stones of the Ring of Brodgar on the Orkneys .
Or in a thunderstorm at the tomb of Newgrange in Ireland.
Or when a dragonfly landed on my hand, when I had just asked it to.
Not even in the dawn, as the sun rose on the raw red rock face of the rugged outback landscape that I was born surrounded by.
No. It was in an unexordinary discount city-centre bookshop in the city of Adelaide, rummaging through the sale bin.
There, I found a book. Just one copy. In 1998.
A word jumped out at me
The book was The Magical World of the Inklings by Gareth Knight, about J RR Tolkien, C S Lewis, Charles Williams and Owen Barfield written in 1990.
The preface is titled On Mythopoeia and Magic.
Mythopoeia as I first understood it, standing in that bookshop, is a word that Gareth Knight equates to the word magical in the introduction.
Writers who were “capable of creating a ‘magical world’…a way of evoking the creative imagination of the reader to participate through story and landscape and characters in a deeper level of truth or reality.” (p.4 Gareth Knight)
This treasured book helped me understand the deep power of storytelling, the power of language and how some writers quest to create a sense of myth and legend in imagined worlds.
It is a word on the tip of my tongue in every landscape that moves me as I grapple to find words for what feeling is. It is the love and the longing to explore literary landscapes.
In more recent years, the word mythopoeia has been conjured through reading mythologist and storyteller Martin Shaw’s books, particularly Scatterlings (which I will one day write an entire post about!)
For the last 20 years I’ve been taking people out into the wild places, the few remaining wild places in Britain. And also that to a certain curiosity into where does wildness still reside in language itself? Could there be places witin stanzas, within stories, within poems where old gods still reside? And so quite naturally I’ve been brought back into story as a way of articulating wild information. Information from the ages.
Martin Shaw – Storytelling from the edge
I still don’t understand what I mean when I say mythopoeia, or try to describe it. I do know what it feels like.
I love when I get a chance to mix books with coding. Particularly using free software like Scratch or low-cost technology like Makey Makey. I would love to share more of this and it’s a passion that I fit into my spare time around work and volunteering. I try to use these little maker projects in the Code Club I volunteer in so that kids can enjoy hacking them too!
As we know, at the start of the year, students of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry stock up on school supplies from shops in Diagon Alley. I’m willing to speculate that the required magical textbooks costs as much as Muggle textbooks! This also doesn’t include working your way through Hermione Granger’s recommended reading list.
What is a young budget-concious student wizard to do?
Save money on textbooks by transforming any old hardcover book into a do-it-yourself version of the essential textbook for Hagrid’s Care of Magical Creatures third year class, The Monster Book of Monsters.
I converted an 1800’s (already damaged) Latin book into my very own monstrosity. I used some air drying clay and a $2 blanket I bought from a charity shop.
My creation wasn’t perfect. My teeth sculpting skills are a bit naff. I took this book out to Harry Potter events, mostly embarrassed by it. To my amazement, lots of people wanted to pat, stroke and cuddle it. Many loved that it was a real book. Perhaps I do have a career in magi-orthodontics ahead!
But, something was missing. In the Harry Potter stories and films, The Monster Book of Monsters is an untamed beast of a book. It constantly attacks anyone who comes near. I soon began to imagine how wonderful it would be if my book could made a sound in response to Muggle touch.
A book that bites the hand that reads it.
“Hasn’ — hasn’ anyone bin able ter open their books?” said Hagrid, looking crestfallen. The class all shook their heads. “Yeh’ve got ter stroke ‘em,” said Hagrid, as though this was the most obvious thing in the world. “Look —” He took Hermione’s copy and ripped off the Spellotape that bound it. The book tried to bite, but Hagrid ran a giant forefinger down its spine, and the book shivered, and then fell open and lay quiet in his hand. “Oh, how silly we’ve all been!” Malfoy sneered. “We should have stroked them! Why didn’t we guess!” “I — I thought they were funny,” Hagrid said uncertainly to Hermione. “Oh, tremendously funny!” said Malfoy. “Really witty, giving us books that try and rip our hands off!
Chapter 14 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Hooking the book up to Makey Makey and Scratch so that anyone could make their own monsterous sound effects play when the book was stroked, was the next evolution for this old book.
We walked into our tiny local library on Christmas Eve, and in a serendipity that felt magical in itself, there, on full display on top the children’s shelf, was A Darkness of Dragons! As my daughter had a huge tower of books, I begged her to let me read this first while I had a gap between deadlines for reviews of other books…
Be still my heart, this is one of the most achingly engaging fantasy adventures I have recently read.
Although I am supposed to be purchasing fewer books, I’m afraid this is going straight to my must- purchase pile after reading it.
Sincerely this:- if you love tales of fantasy adventure, this book should be your next read.
I’m sorry that my review of this book is quite long, but I need to say all of this, even if it is just for me to capture the feeling of reading it for the first time. If you are short on time, don’t waste time reading my words, just go out and read this book now!
However, if you need convincing, I’m going to try and write clearly and sensibly…actually…nope… I’m not, this is going to come right from the heart…
In A Darkness of Dragons, S. A. Patrick takes me back to the feeling I got when I began reading some of my most loved series. Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. J K Rowling’s Harry Potter, Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings. Most recently, the same with Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor. This story has a dark edge a bit like Alan Garner’s books. A spookiness of Robert Holdstock. A darkness of Susan Cooper. Within a few chaptersA Darkness of Dragons earned a permanent place in my inner cache of imagined fantasy literary worlds that I can call on when doing mundane tasks like hanging washing. (I hope everyone has one of these inner caches, otherwise forget I just mentioned this!)
An epic imagined landscape
The story opens in the village of Patterfall, clad with pines, mountains, snow and forest. There is no map in the book, but there could be. (Maybe in Book #2??) The story traverses landscapes of mountains, forests, seas and vividly described vistas with names that remind me of imaginary childhood adventures, lying awake in Australia listening to the exotic names of the BBC shipping forecast at midnight on the radio and dreaming of adventures beyond my town. (Again, ignore this if it’s abnormal). It’s difficult to describe the feeling of a new fantasy world that feels so very plausible and believable. The laws and ways things are, are unreal, but in a way that does not jar with possibility. It’s actually very hard to cast such a spell with an imagined world with so many characters this quickly, but S. A. Patrick does it. What really excites me is that it feels so very richly mythopoeic, even having its own language, Merisax. Patrick’s world of Patch Brightwater and his friends is instantly habitable, and yet it also has some incredibly biting edges too. I could feel the darkness creeping in chapter by chapter. This contributes to the absolute compulsion to carry this book everywhere with me so that I could snatch a read at any opportunity.
Three friends on an adventure
Patch Brightwater is an instantly likeable, imperfect 13 year old. (Note: some descriptions say Patch is 12, but there are multiple specific references in the book to Patch being 13, the same age as his friend Wren). On the surface, his recent illegal acts make Patch a criminal. However, Patch’s compassion, acts of kindness and charity, truly challenge us to think about how the judgement of good and bad deeds are made. Patch’s friends, Barver the dracogriff (half dragon, half griffin) and Wren, a girl who is cursed by a sorcerer to live as a rat are inspiring, brave and wonderful characters. They are complex and believable as friends. I developed a soft-spot for Barver’s personality quirks. S. A. Patrick has created a believable half dragon, halfgriffin who interacts seamlessly with a diverse spectrum of primary and secondary characters. This isn’t easy writing territory! The dialogue emerges from diverse characters ranging from salt-of-the-earth personalities through to the cruel and deranged. We meet powerful and imposing law keepers, dragons, rats, sorcerers, witches, monks and more, all who feel so very genuine.
A dark spin on a terrifying folktale
At first, the idea of a retelling of the “fairy tale” of the Pied Piper of Hamelin didn’t immediately appeal to me. I thought I already knew how that story would go,because my own childhood had rather sugar-coated versions of this story. Although I love folklore, not knowing the depth of the Pied Piper of Hamelin story, I was a bit concerned that this might be tame tale territory. I urge you to let the title lead you. There is a terribledarkness in the original folklore of the Hamelin Piper, a German folk story dating back to around 1284. Various versions evolved, based on real events, twisting branches from the original story. S. A. Patrick has a gift in conjuring an ancient evil from the roots of the story. It will thrill young adults and grown-ups alike.
There be dragons…and music!
Although Songs of Magic as a series will undoubtedly attract fans of dragon-based tales, there is another theme accompanying the fantasy. The magic of making music. S. A. Patrick’s ability to weave in the art of piping, whistling and playing music through Patch as a young piper, should pull at the heartstrings of anyone who has ever trembled because of a piece of music. Patch’s description of piping skills led my thoughts to the ghosts of my grandfather and those before him as traditional Scottish pipers. I remember my failed childhood attempts at trying to cast a single note on a bagpipe chanter, and then watching spellbound as my grandpa produced songs from the chanter, his fingers waving and moving as if conjuring magic. The passages describing Patch’s playing took be back to these childhood moments. For younger readers, Patch as a thirteen-year-old discovering his own music is so relevant for readers in this age group. Afer all, music is often the first time we can find a way to express the complexity of what we hold inside us, that words sometimes can’t muster.
The real magic
This is S. A. Patrick’s first novel for younger readers, but under his name as Seth Patrick, he has a series of horror for grown-ups (The Reviver trilogy) if you are so inclined.
I also had a moment of enlightenment on reading that Seth Patrick has a game programming and mathematics background. This makes a lot of sense! I can begin to understand where his power as a writer and scaffolder of imagined worlds emerges from. In A Darkness of Dragons, Patrick is beautifully demonstrating my belief that computer coding and computational thinking have elements transferable to creative writing. I wonder if this is the secret ingredient that I can’t quite explain as to why this imagined world works its enchantment so quickly. Patch’s world unfolds with a structural efficiency, a necessary underlying logic and a sequence needed to lay good strong foundations for a first-in-series fantasy novel. Yet, whilst staying true to the conventions and rules of a novel, there are still so many surprises, unexpected results and lingering questions for our minds to ponder. Although there is structure, there is space made for big hearts to feel things keenly, and amusing comments and asides to explain context so that everything feels naturally unfolding. There is a perfect tension of order and chaos, compiled with enough complexity to keep you turning pages.
Songs of Magic – the series
I truly can’t wait for Patch Brightwater’s next adventure with his friends. I hope some small snippet of my raving enthusiasm encourages you to read it and also purchase this novel to support an incredible author of young adult stories, S. A. Patrick.
This is an unsolicited and personal review of Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls. Illustrated by Jim Kay. Special Collector’s Edition, Walker Books, 2016. ISBN 9781406365771
I’m not sure how long I spent imprisoned in an ancient twisted yew tree back in 2016, but clearly it was long enough to have have missed the existence of both the book and film of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. I arrived at this book after recently reviewing the paperback release of Jim Kay’s illustrated version of J K Rowling Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. This is part of why I love the partnership of authors and illustrators, as illustrators sometimes wander you off your usual garden path, into the words of a wonderful author.
I have wanted to read the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, but it has been a while since I’ve felt able to find the emotional space for a dystopian series, so I’ve waited. I wondered if A Monster Calls was going to be terrifying and I steeled myself. The cover of the special collectors edition that I bought and the amazing ink-black illustrations by Jim Kay were definitely pointing to things crawling out from nightmares.
This is a darkly spooky tale, but within it, is the most moving story. Conor is haunted by a monster. From the cover, there is no mistaking that the monster is a terrifying tree beast. This constant haunting is entwined with the story of how Conor deals with the cancer that his mother is fighting. Instead of being spooked by this story, I found myself in tears, but also still spooked because the monster is unavoidably confronting and so raw and wild in its pursuit of what it wants from Conor.
Patrick Ness has won a range of awards for this story, and although primarily dealing with grief and bravery, if you are interested in wild nature mythology and the folklore of trees there is enough fantasy and nature mythology to root this firmly in the fantasy genre. Jim Kay’s incredible illustrations, dark, inky and shadowy enable the twisted-limbed monster to skulk through every page, looming around the text or imposing its fear in double-page spreads that made this feel as luxurious as a graphic novel.
Patrick Ness completed this story for another author, Siobhan Dowd who passed away before she could take her concept further. This additional layer of poignancy is so powerful because the circumstances and story around this are explained up front.
The collectors edition contains the novel, plus additional material the background story of the book and the making of the film. A truly beautiful book to be revered, particularly because it is printed onto the very paper soul of a tree that once stood in the earth.
This was a heartbreaking and beautiful read, suitable for young adults and adults.
Patrick Ness, A Monster Calls. Illustrated by Jim Kay. Special Collector’s Edition, Walker Books, 2016. ISBN 9781406365771
Catherine Doyle, The Storm Keeper’s Island, Bloomsbury Childrens Books, 2018. ISBN 9781408896877.
This is an unsolicited and personal review.
The Storm Keeper’s Island by Catherine Doyle is a luminous flame of a story! Smouldering in the pages mingle the wild, ancient strengths of nature and family love.
The story is set on Arranmore Island, a real island , Árainn Mhór off the west coast of Ireland. Fionn and his sister Tara have come to the island to stay with their grandfather, who is candlemaker. Malachy seems grown from the island and part of the ebbing tides of sea and the cycles of island folklore.
As Fionn and Tara try to settle into island life, the wellspring of ancient island magic stirs. It calls for the powers of the Storm Keeper of Arranmore. There are signs that times must change forever. New friendships must be forged and old ones mended. Finn must survive betrayals and peril, to quell an ancient evil that is rising to destroy the island.
This story is a wonderful read for middle-grades to young adult. It tackles the complexity and frailty of memory and time, as well as family relationships.
Wildly enchanting, there is also a bright light flickering on the horizon! This isn’t the end of Fionn’s story!
The next book in the series is due out in July 2019.
In this post, I’m describing the first time I felt what it was like to have the closest sense of what Shaw writes about when he describes a journey from dreaming to getting dreamt, which can happen as part of a wilderness vigil. When you know you will never have such a vigil, can your own stories conjur something close? Do yours?
It’s twilight and we grasp candles. I’m around nine years old, and I am wearing my ceremonial brown clothing for the last time. It is adorned with cloth badges. Each badge represents a skill I have mastered. The paddock behind the beige brick suburban hall is unremarkable. Half dead weedy grass crunches underfoot. A depressed looking singular tree stands sentinel.
In the corner sits a small crafted monument of a fly agaric mushroom. It has been painted roughly, and seems quite out of place. But it is twilight, and so, for a moment we look beyond.
The women and other girls my own age sing, while some of us, who are now the right age, are each lifted by our arms, by our leaders. We each for a brief moment soar over the mushroom, in the twilight. My heart flutters in the sensation as my feet leave the ground, held gently by the women. In that lightning moment of voices and flying, we are not children in a street where our neighbours grow drugs and fight each other in the street. We are lifted. Over.
Our rite of passage complete, the next time we meet, we will bear “robes” of blue. I am different.
This is the first time I remember understanding how enchantment and a bigger belief in yourself can be conjured by a simple ceremony. A rite-of-passage that feels connected to a myth, even though the myth and the symbol does not properly belong to the land here.
I was just a Brownie, graduating into being a Girl Guide, but in the twilight, flickering like candlelight, for a moment, I was a little more.
“The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.” Carl Sagan
There’s a concept in astronomy that I love. It’s the idea of the edge of the observable universe. I love it because our very attempt at defining the limitations of space, create room to imagine the infinite.
The fascinating unknown of the unobservable universe.
It might even be the most poetic thought thinkable about our universe. It reminds us of our imaginations.
What is there beyond what we can see and measure from our perspective?
Even with technology capable of seeing into deep space, and complex mathematics able to theorise, model, predict and replicate. It’s probable that there is far more beyond our edge, that we can’t see.
As a learning designer, it feels like my job is to advocate always, for this unobservable universe in education.
Learning, and the dark art of measuring it, analysing it, predicting it, evaluating it and replicating it is what we do within the boundaries.
For me, to be able to reach outside of those false edges that we create around learning, like formal education, it always has to start with big unanswerable questions.
“Thrillingly paced, Night Flights are three adventurous prequel stories about Anna Fang, mechanic, pilot, spy and rebel assassin. Anna is a character familiar to readers of Reeve’s massively acclaimed Mortal Engines series.”
“As a fan of classic sci-fi, having read my way through the likes of Isaac Asimov and Ursula Le Guin, before moving into fantasy for many years, Enchantress from the Stars has made me fall in love with science-fiction all over again. Although perhaps already hinted at in the critical acclaim and awards cited on the cover, Engdahl’s writing and how she expresses the inner thoughts of her characters is compelling from the outset. In the prologue I could already sense a clear potential to hook those who believe that science-fiction isn’t a genre they enjoy.”
“Dashner’s epic face-off in this ‘good kids versus evil grown up’ adventure has plenty of nightmarish mutant monsters and downright creepy scenarios faced by a likeable gang of young human characters. The story builds into what becomes a terrifying page turner.”