The Only River

A couple of years ago I put together an anthology entitled simply “River”, a collection of stories by some remarkable writers, including Irene Radford, Nisi Shaw, Joshua Palmatier… In my editor’s foreword, I explained the concept and recounted my own history with a river.

That there is only one river in our world and our mind and our consciousness and our spirit, was not a new idea. I had been cherishing the concept of an anthology built on that premise for years, a collection of stories any of which may or may not take place on the banks of the same body of water as any other in the treasury of tales… and yet which would all tell of the same River, in essence, the River that flows through all the stories of all the world.
The River coverMap Of Contents When a friend and and colleague, Steven H. Silver, proposed an issue of an ezine edition of the St Petersburg Gazette on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Mark Twain’s death, I contributed an essay. This is what I wrote:

There is Only One River

I was born on the banks of the Danube – when it is already an old river, muddy, treacherous, full of shifting sandbanks and sucking mud and terrifying whirlpools. This was the river that held my own imagination. I was told stories about it when I was barely a toddler, of the years when the winters were so diamond-hard that the ice on the river was thick enough to bear sleighs and horses and they had sleigh races, complete with thundering hooves of iron-shod horses, up and down the frozen river.

The river which ate life during the war, when the invaders took the local residents out onto the ice and pushed them under, sometimes still alive, for the crime of being who and what they were. The river which threw out bright glints when the summer sun hit the water lapping at the muddy banks, or the deep green depths where sometimes the clear water lingered; the river whose bottom was trawled by great bewhiskered catfish whose smaller representatives you could see moving sluggishly in a large tank at the marketplace and you could walk up to it, point to the fish you wanted, and it would be expertly extracted and brained and decapitated and wrapped up for you while you waited – but I, even as a child, knew that there had to be bigger and wiser catfish in the river who had lived there for a century or more and were far too canny to get trapped into that death-tank…

I was told that when my grandfather was a child the river was still clean enough to drink from. When my mother was a child it was still clean enough to swim in (and you probably wouldn’t catch anything too bad if you swallowed a mouthful or two). By the time my time came, you’d probably catch seven different kinds of dysentery from the thing, and it smelled of diesel, closer to the main quay where the boats tied up, and, further down the embankment, of soft squelching ripe river mud, the kind that would suck the shoes off your feet if you wandered too deep into it.

The mud hid things that were known as bikovi, a kind of seed pod which was distinguished by sharp spikes – three of whom at any given time served as a steady tripod on which the thing rested and the fourth pointed straight up, sharp and solid and sturdy enough to drive through the sole of a shoe. One didn’t walk barefoot on the shore – at least not where there wasn’t open sand – without paying close attention to where one stepped.

I loved my river with a great love. The Danube which was not blue, not here, and never was. It does not matter. I worshipped the great brown water flowing swiftly by. I loved the ramshackle fishing boats pulled up on the sandbanks out where the river was not constrained by concrete or great levees. I loved the forests of cats’ tails and other water reeds that crowded its shallows, wading out into the stream. I even loved the sharp seedpods which I took such care to avoid. I loved the way it looked, the way it smelled, the way it flowed through my own veins, like blood and memory.

I was, still am, in a sort of superstitious awe of the thing. When I returned to the city of my birth in the aftermath of the NATO bombing campaign in 1999, the one that had taken out ALL the bridges that bound together the parts of the city on the river’s two banks, the only way across was by crowded ferries which often had standing room only and were stuffed with as much humanity as they could carry… or by cockleshell boats plied by private enterprise, which would take you across for coin, like the ferryman across the Styx. We did that, my mother and my aunt and I, one time, and sat in the little wooden boat as it was flung across the river by the good offices of a tiny outboard motor. I remember sitting on the wooden seat in the boat, next to the edge, with the boat low enough in the water that I could, if I wanted to, reach out a hand and trail it in the water as we crossed the river.

And I tried.

I put out a hand and spread out fingers that trembled… and I could not make myself touch that holy water. Holy, to me, for so long. I had been warned against its whirlpools as a child and now there they were, swirling brown and oddly innocuous right next to my boat… and I could not touch them. Because the legends I carried in my heart and in my spirit told me that there really WAS a river god living here, and that he was drowsing, and that my touch might wake him, and I would pay the price.

The great river. The old river. The river of dreams, and of power, and of eternity, flowing like time.

Mark Twain’s gift to me was to realize eventually that there was a way to make something into an archetype that transcended the mere quotidian. My Danube would have been a stranger to a Twain riverboat, or a black slave running away to freedom; the Mississippi would have equally been a stranger to sleigh races on ice, or to the specific kind of water reeds that grew on its banks. But I like to think that the catfish of both rivers would have found a common tongue between them as they slipped past the archetypical waters of all rivers and of all time. And I like to think that some day, if I find myself with my toes curled into the mud of the banks of the old downstream Mississippi of the Twain stories, I will instinctively be watching out for sharp seed pods which could not possibly be there.”

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Buy a copy of River at Amazon HERE

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At Daily Kos, Ojibwa tells us about

Women Warriors Among Northern Plains Indians

What is usually missing from the non-Indian descriptions of Northern Plains Indian warfare is the fact that women were often warriors. Take Tashenamani, for example:

TashenamaniTashenamani (also called Moving Robe; She Walks With Her Shawl) was a Lakota woman among thousands of other Sioux and Lakota camped at The Little Big Horn. When Lt. Col. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry attacked, she led the counterattack.

During the battle, when a soldier asked her not to kill him, she replied:
“If you did not want to be killed, why did you not stay home where you belong and not come to attack us?”

Read more at Daily Kos HERE

 

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Quote of the Day

Like Books PosterBut make that strong coffee. 

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The Death of Beth

Over the mumble years since I first read “Little Women” as a girl, I have taken more than one quiz about which character I wanted to be, or was most like.

Of course, I always came out as Jo.

Because…well seriously, Jo is the only “real” one out there.

These reflections come in response to an essay by Stephanie Foote, The Thing About Beth (“Little Beth, loved by everyone: Except me“), in the LA Review of Books.

Beth at the piano drawingAmy was Vanity, Meg was Poisonously Good (with just that faint little dash of spirit in the end, but that got scotched pretty fast and she remained the Good Girl who Did What She Ought To). And Beth is a gentle ghost.

And not one that haunts, either. She wafts through the story, and then she’s gone. Perhaps it’s that she didn’t have TIME to do anything. She was just Sister #4 from central casting, the one destined for the weepy let’s-go-the-violins death scene which would serve to “strengthen” (in the virtuous “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger ” sense) everyone else.

This was a book I read when i was quite young, living in a very different world, and to me, the background and the setting of it was as incomprehensible as it would have been if it had been set on Mars. But I devoured it, and I fell in love with Jo, like everyone did. I felt betrayed when Laurie went and picked up silly flappy little Amy instead.

Yes, I cried when Beth died, but it really was a sad set-scene. I don’t think I wept because I had felt any kind of warmth or a kinship with poor little Beth. I wept because I was supposed to weep at that point, for that character. And everyone dutifully did.

I suspect that I would less susceptible to that if I read the book now. And yes, i suspect I would respond far more viscerally to the things that Beth left behind. So much of that character lives in “her things”: Too much. Not nearly enough of it lived in the girl herself…

Read the whole essay about Beth at the LARB website HERE

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10 Terms cartoonAt Signature, Nathan Gelgud offers us

10 Annoying Literary Terms

You might not know it, Gelgud writes, but you have probably put a prolepsis into play recently.

“Did you know that a signature isn’t necessarily a scribbled name on a credit card receipt? You know that classic character that Gilda Radner played on “Saturday Night Live” who’d confuse “violence” with “violins”? Do you know what kind of mistake that is? You probably know what a climax is, and maybe even how to pronounce denouement, but do you know what part of a plot makes up the anagnorisis?”

A delightful essay you can read at the Signature website HERE

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In the New York Times, Annie Correal writes about

The Quiz

For about four decades, applicants wanting to work at the Strand, the undisputed king of New York City’s independent bookstores, have confronted a final hurdle, the literary matching quiz.

There are tests for driver’s licenses and citizenship, for New York City landmarks preservationists and sanitation workers. But a quiz for an entry-level retail job at a bookstore?

Fred Bass photoFred Bass, 88,created the literary quiz in the 1970s. Credit George Etheredge

Bass, who owns the Strand along with his daughter, created the literary quiz in the 1970s. He had selected masterworks to appear on the quiz,

And then I did a sneaky thing. I made one not match. ‘Gone With the Wind,’ and no Mitchell,” he said

BTW, I took the quiz and got 40 out of 50 right. My husband refuses to tell me how well he did. [I always beat him at Scrabble, too. 🙂 ]

Read all about the Strand and take The Quiz at the NYT website HERE

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New Pokémon Game Takes Bookstores By Storm

Book Store Display Sign
Photo courtesy Facebook/Main Street Books
The display sign outside Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo.

Booksellers are always looking for new ways to attract more customers to their stores, but it’s doubtful that many thought that Pokémon would be the answer. The sudden popularity of the smartphone video game Pokémon Go is driving people into bookstores and, in some cases, driving up sales.

The nature of the game is proving a boon for foot traffic at some bookstores, like Wild Detectives Bookstore in Dallas. “It’s crazy,” said Sam Villavert, a barista at the store.

Read the whole story at Publisher Weekly’s website HERE

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Quote of the Day
Small Talk Poster

A truly twisted mind never thinks along a straight path. I like to travel that way. On the back roads. Seeing things that other people miss because they’re trying to get THERE from HERE way too fast…

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Read or listen?

Thinking about audiobooks

I listen to music, and music can move me to tears. It produce visuals which run like movies on the backs of my eyelids if I close my eyes while listening.

But words…? Words, I prefer to see.

When I was very young and in school, I could get away with listening in class and learning that (simple, young) stuff by osmosis – by the time I hit college and four subjects unloaded themselves into my brain through my overloaded ears that system collapsed completely and I had to learn to study all over again.

What this means is that when learning – i.e. words for studying, or for research – I will scribble cryptic little notes to myself while reading; glancing at those notes, after, brings to mind enire pages of text, almost verbatim. That works, because I have SEEN the words and they have imprinted on my visual memory. This is how I remember.

Perhaps that is why I’m not drawn to listening to books for pleasure, not as a way of enjoying literature.

My husband has ‘read’ hundreds of audio books because he claims it keeps his brain from going into snooze mode while doing repetitive tasks like household chores or exercise. But I am more likely to experience a visual of a description, for instance, while looking at words on a page rather than having those words whispered into my ear. And if the voice of the narrator doesn’t match the voice of the character as I have it inside my own head, that is a small constant nudge out of the story.

I have, to date, two audio book editions of my own work out – “Embers of Heaven” and “Gift of the Unmage“, two very different books. They each present their own peculiar  difficulties – and as genre books which have words or concepts or names (or accents) which are not part of a straight English-language adaptation they are already in choppy waters. I am told that HEARING these books adds a dimension for a lot of readers.

That, of course delights me and I am happy that so many people have found another way of ‘reading.’

In a thoughtful essay, James Wallace Harris explores his reaction to this form of storytelling:
James Wallace Harris photoWhen I listen to an audio book read by a great narrator…it’s like a book is a freeze-dried drama and the narrator is the water that reconstitutes the story…I think listening to audio books can be a superior way of decoding fiction…Thousands of years ago when humanity transitioned from an oral culture to a written culture, I wonder if they missed what went away when they started reading silently.

Read the whole essay at his blog HERE

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In The Guardian, Rafia Zakaria suggests that:

A vogue for self-exposure has reduced feminism to naked navel-gazing

Her article begins:

Lena Dunham photoI get naked on TV. A lot,” writes Lena Dunham in her bestselling memoir Not That Kind of Girl. Exhibitionism isn’t new to her, she explains; in fact, she rather likes being naked, as her body is “a tool to tell the story”. That story is, of course, her own: a compendium of corporeal confessions, with an emphasis on their most awkward and impolite dimensions, belches and farts, periods and pubic hair.”

Read the whole article at The Guardian website HERE

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The Most Feared Books of All Time

Most Feared Books illustrationSee the whole list HERE

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22 Magical Cakes All Book Lovers Will AppreciateMoby Dick cake photo

 

 

I LOVE the Moby Dick cake.

But I wouldn’t dare try and eat the Shakespeare one.

It’s just too damn beautiful and it would be a shame to ruin it by you know CUTTING INTO IT…

See the Shakespeare and all the other cakes HERE

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Quote of the Day

Mark Twain on Newspapers poster

Today’s 24-hour TV infotainment shows disguised as “News” programs make the old sage’s epigram more telling than ever.

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Are Writers Sexy?

At Bustle, Charlotte Ahlin says writers are sexy partners and offers

11 reasons to date a writer

One example:

They are good liarsWriters are Good Liars posterWriters lie for a living… sort of. You may think of lying as a negative attribute for your partner to have, but really, you want to date someone who can lie when it counts. They should be able to hide surprise parties from you, and to keep a straight face when you show them pictures of that new haircut you want to get. And they won’t lie about the big things, because their instinct to write a tell-all blog post is simply too strong.

See all the reasons at the Bustle website HERE

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‘Where Writers Win’ shares an infographic from ProofreadingServices.com to solve a very vexing problem.

128 words writers can use instead of ‘very’

“We’re, um, very glad –oops, make that overjoyed– to share this very useful, or shall we say terrific, cheat sheet of words we can all use besides the well-worn ‘very.’ ”'Very' Synonyms infographicSee the whole graphic at the WWW website HERE

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At Off the Shelf, Amy Hendricks shares her belief that gardens in literature are both magical and symbolic and shares

8 literary gardens to escape to this summer

For example:

The Red Garden coverThe Red Garden by Alice Hoffman
A mysterious garden where only red plants grow is the centerpiece of this sweeping novel, which explores more than three hundred years in a small Massachusetts town. Weaving magic and history, Alice Hoffman’s spellbinding look at small town America is not to be missed.

See all the gardens at Off the Shelf HERE

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At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf reports on

The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit

Little Free Library photoAll over America, people have put small “give one, take one” book exchanges in front of their homes. Then they were told to tear them down.

Read the whole story at The Atlantic website HERE

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A border runs through it

At Atlas Obscura, Sarah Yahm writes about the only library in the world that operates in two countries at once.

The Border libary interior photoThe interior of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. (Photo: Jeffrey Frank/Shutterstock.com)

Rumor has it that the 18th-century surveyors who drew the official line between the U.S. state of Vermont and the Canadian province of Quebec were drunk, because the border lurches back and forth across the 45th parallel, sometimes missing it by as much as a mile.

Read more at the Atlas Obscura website HERE

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Quote of the Day

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle

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The LEY of the land

I first crossed paths with Joshua Palmatier, who would also go on to write under the name Benjamin Tate, at a con – where else does one make friends who are also writers like oneself, after all?  In the years that have passed since that first meeting, he’s written a number of fabulous books – and he also graciously consented to be part of a project that was very dear to my own heart, the anthology, “River”, which I edited and to which he contributed a story rooted in one of his own fantastical worlds.

He has a new book out. Let him tell you a bit about that, and about himself.

(Bowing out with a gesture introducing my guest blogger for the day, Joshua Palmatier)


The LEY Series

First of all, thanks, Alma, for sharing your blog with me today! I really appreciate it.

Alma asked me to talk about the inspiration, reasoning, and process of writing the LEY series, so blame her.  *grin*

Well the inspiration is easy. I was reading fantasy rather heavily back in the *coughcough* 80s and back then nearly every fantasy novel had ley lines in them. They were mentioned, but never used, basically just part of the background of the world. Maybe someone used a stone monument like Stonehenge or something like that, with ley lines connected to it, but the lines themselves … not much. It was such a cliché that I vowed … VOWED … I would never use ley lines in any of MY books.

Ha ha!  Fast forward 20 years. After long thought, I realized that what bothered me about the mentions of the ley in all of those books back in the 80s was that the authors never really USED the ley.  It was there, but it wasn’t significant, really.

So I started asking myself, how could the ley be used more effectively in a book?  Instead of it being just background, what if it was the focus? What if the people in the fantasy world started to actively use it in their daily lives, tapping into it for things like light and heat and all of the things that we use electricity for? How would this change the society?

And then this idea combined with a few others, most notably the idea that fantasy doesn’t have to be set in a medieval setting. So, if we tapped into the ley, what kind of city could be built with it? And thus the city of Erenthrall was born, where everything is powered by the ley (for those that can afford it) and the ley is, of course, controlled by the Baron, his Wielders, and his Dogs. Because of course it can’t be a utopia.

After that, it just came down to sitting down and writing.  I’m a very organic writer, meaning I don’t plot things out much ahead of time.  I just write and see where everything takes me. For the first book in the ley series, SHATTERING THE LEY, it took me in the direction of how we abuse our natural resources and what the consequences of that might be. In the new book, THREADING THE NEEDLE, my characters are dealing with some of those rather nasty consequences.

That’s generally the process for how all of the ideas for my books are generated.  I have something I think is cool (the ley) and it melds with some other idea (a fantasy with cities like New York) and then the book happens. There’s usually a third idea in there somewhere as well, but if I told you what it was for the LEY series, it would be spoilery. So you’ll just have to check the books out for yourself!  *grin*

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Threading the Needle CoverThreading the Needle

The Nexus—the hub created by the Prime Wielders to harness the magical power of the ley lines for the city of Erenthrall, the Baronial Plains, and the world beyond—has Shattered, the resultant pulse cascading through the system and leaving Erenthrall decimated, partially encased in a massive distortion.
The world has fared no better: auroral storms plague the land, transforming people into creatures beyond nightmare; silver-white lights hover over all of the major cities, the harbinger of distortions that could quicken at any moment; and quakes brought on by the unstable ley network threaten to tear the earth apart. The survivors of this apocalypse have banded together in desperate groups, both in the remains of Erenthall and without, scrounging for food and resources in an ever more dangerous world.

Having survived the initial Shattering, Wielder Kara Tremain and ex-Dog Allan Garrett have led their small group of refugees to the Hollow, a safe haven in the hills on the edge of the plains.  But the ley system is not healing itself. Their only option is to repair the distortion that engulfs Erenthrall and to fix the damaged ley lines themselves. To do that, they’ll have to enter a city controlled by vicious bands of humans and non-humans alike, intent on keeping what little they’ve managed to scavenge together.

But as soon as they enter the streets of Erenthrall, they find themselves caught up in the maelstrom of violence, deception, and betrayal that the city has descended into—including the emergence of a mysterious and powerful cult calling themselves the White Cloaks, whose leader is called Father . . .The same man who once led the terrorist group called the Kormanley and brought about the Shattering that destroyed the world.

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Author Bio:

Joshua Palmatier photoJoshua Palmatier is an epic fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics. He has had eight novels published by DAW Books, including “The Throne of Amenkor” trilogy, Shattering the Ley, and Threading the Needle. He is currently hard at work on the third novel in the “Ley” series, Reaping the Aurora. In addition, he’s published numerous short stories in various anthologies and has edited four SF&F themed anthologies with co-editor Patricia Bray. He is also the founder of the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC.  Find out more about him at www.joshuapalmatier.com or on Facebook or Twitter (@bentateauthor).

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Additional Information:

Webpage:  www.joshuapalmatier.com

Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/joshua.b.palmatier

Twitter:  @bentateauthor

ZNB Webpage:  www.zombiesneedbrains.com

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Quote of the Day

'Nuf said photo of stone engraving‘Nuf said.

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Moving Potterverse

Once upon a time there was a literary phenomenon named Harry Potter.

The twenty first century YA and children’s literature has been dominated by this story like no other, with its midnight launch parties at bookstores across multiple nations, massively popular movies, and characters that became as iconic as the Potter crew… or the much-vaunted School of Magic itself, Hogwarts The Magnificent. (Well, all right, the honorific wasn’t in there. But it’s the unheard suffix to that name. You know it. The world believes it.)

The author of this grand literary endeavor, JK Rowlings, has been transformed into one of the world’s richest and most recognizable women. She could live in luxury on the Potter millions without writing another line for the rest of her life. But that’s not what writers do.

After the Potter books were done, she tried writing a couple of books in an entirely different and unrelated genre. They did… fair to middling. And in the end, she went back to to her magnificent Potterverse. Minor controversies dogged this endeavour – like the casting of a grown-up Hermione in the new Potter installment as black.

But then Rowlings tried to go global…and far bigger problems emerged.

Harry Potter coverLet’s just reiterate one thing about the original Harry Potter books – the canon, the history of HP himself, Hogwarts, all of that. What it all is, really, is the iconic British Boarding School Story with a layer of magic thrown over it like a cloak, set into a wildly inventive world.

You would have had to be heart-dead, if you love fantasy at all, not to respond to wonderful things like owls carrying mail, Diagon Alley, and that wonderful castle. (I went to boarding school in a castle, too, BTW, but it wasn’t anything like Hogwarts with the FEASTS they had for every mealtime.)

This is where Rowlings’ gift was – invention. She invented stuff, scattering these wonderful shiny ideas across the basic backbone of the story in double handfuls of fairy glitter until the thing fairly LOOKED like a unicorn – and people loved it. A couple of generations of kids have grown up with these things.

But the strength of these stories is this: they are bone-deep BRITISH. It’s English mythology, with a couple of generic things thrown in from somewhere else. It is something that Rowlings knew from within, being a part of it herself, and dammit, it showed, because you could take any part of that narrative and pull it out and it would be nicely and solidly BRITISH.

The appeal was double-pronged – for the home-crowd readers it was the beauty of familiarity and the ability to simply relax into a familiar story, comfortable in the knowledge that no matter what the story-inventions actually came up with in terms of the glittering ideas the basic narrative was a non-threatening one which would prop up and support an already existing worldview.

For the away team, the Across-The-Pond American readers, one attraction was the sense of delicious foreignness to it all, a layer of extra magic over the original story – first magical and Hogwartsy, then oh so British and weird. And so the scene was set and the foundation was laid and Harry Potter rode forth to conquer the world.
But the cozy British Boarding School narrative doesn’t work as well when planted in foreign soil.

To do this properly, it would require half a lifetime of research and dedication. You would practically have to get a PhD in comparative mythology and enchantment, or perhaps several, one from each different sphere of study – and there are so many spheres.  Unfortunately, Rowlings seems to have rushed her fences and assumed that the old trick would work – picking up that fairy dust and sprinkling it over a different base this time, and expecting the same magic to happen.

But the result was quite the opposite.

I won’t rehash it all here. Rowlings’ original stories about “Magic in North America” and the backlash to them from various indigenous groups and individuals are all over the net, and some of those people have already done a perfectly good job in reacting to Rowlings’ attempt to Potterize America. I will just make a few salient points.

1)    The most basic error here was the crass generalization – the “Native American community”, indeed. The reason for the generalization appears to be simply that it was easier to cherry-pick bits from this tribal culture and bits from that one, and just transmogrify it all into a great generic “Native American” cloth which covered an entire continent’s worth of stories. But there is no “Native American community” in this sense, any more that there would be a “European community” under which umbrella you would be writing about a mishmash of Celtic and Norse and Greek and Roman and Slavic gods and spirits, as if just calling them all “European” they would somehow coalesce into a magically coherent backdrop to an entirely unrelated story you wanted to tell.

2)    Rowlings was using Native American props to set her stage – but that was what they were, props. Look behind the (arguably magnificent) painted scenery and – oh, look – we’re back in an Anglocentric universe. All this “Native American” stuff is not treated as vivid, and living, and real, and ITSELF.

It was simply used as a new backdrop to Rowlings’ tried-and-true basic story, but that was ALL that it was good for. There doesn’t appear to be any kind of depth or research or respect for the material she was making this patchwork quilt out of. This is not what a writer does when creating a story. You can’t just mug other people’s worlds, stuff them willy-nilly into a gunny sack and take them home where you cut them up and piece them together in some fashion convenient to you — clandestinely, in the basement, by candlelight, and hope that nobody notices the stitching.

3)    The North American School of Magic. As and of itself – I mean, good grief, anyone would think that Rowlings invented the whole school of magic idea whole-cloth. Newsflash, she didn’t – lots of such schools exist in the literature, and have done long before Hogwarts ever fluttered into its pennanted and turreted existence. Her New World school story appeared to be  an extension of the Hogwarts idea, but there were…problems. They begin to multiply when the details are examined.

One, this particular school is called “Ilvermorny”, and it was started in America… by an Irish girl. It’s divided into Houses, much like the iconic Hogwarts is, but the Houses here… in a school founded by an Irish lass… are creatures from the Native American iconography. Creatures like the Horned Serpent, Thunderbid, the Pukwudgie, the Wampus. For Houses founded by Anglo folk. With English names.

Rowlings’ own account of the formation of this school, comes a rather telling sentence: “Faithful to the taboos of his people, the Pukwudgie refused to tell [Isolt, the school’s Irish lass founder] his individual name, so she dubbed him ‘William’ after her father.”

How many ways does this wave red flags? The magical Irish lassie finds an indigenous creature in the New World. The creature *does not trust her enough to tell her its true name*. So she just calls it William. As you do, when you’re the colonial power wading into the “lesser” and the “native”. You don’t know their true names or natures, so you just give them a name you understand and can handle and treat them exactly as though you would treat any other creature by such a name with whom you might be familiar, taking little account of all the background which you’ve just swept under the carpet.

So a School of Magic founded in a New World teeming with its own magic and mythology… sets itself up in a wonderful old-fashioned British Boarding School narrative… fits itself up with Houses (and because we’re Over Here now we’ll just play games and name the characters after local creatures we really have no deeper understanding of).

But then, a burning question.

4)    What does this school teach? And to whom? Because if it simply imports nice white colonial children to be taught the magic brought all the way from the Old World and therefore superior to anything in the new world, then it is problematic on a certain level of demanding a question as to just why it exists in the first place. Young (white) wizards and witches intent on learning traditional magic… could have been shipped “home” to learn it at the source. And if the student body were to be widened to include the native-born, things really start getting sticky.

If the magic being taught is the white colonial kind, then this is a rather prettily dressed up version of the horrors of the indoctrination schools where American Indian children of many tribes were forcibly taken to be “civilized”, forced to cut their hair and not to use their own language and follow their own culture, until they could be extruded on the other end of this “education” as properly improved. Or at least “improved” enough to POSSIBLY be considered as worthy of being included in the white man’s society (and even then treated as fourth-class citizens, demeaned and denigrated and discriminated against). All their own culture and language and legends and, yes, magic, shriveled and died underneath the heavy hand of those who came to “improve” the “native lot”.

This school is White Man’s Burden writ large. No amount of pretty window dressing will make it other. There isn’t enough fairy dust in the world to hide the ugliness of this. The indigenous magic had already existed in this place long before a magic white girl named Isolt thought to build a clone of Hogwarts here. The practitioners of such magic did not need this “school” – they would have been trained, in their own way and in their own magic, by their own elders and adepts.

This is an egregious way to try and paper the tried-and-true lucrative formula that drove the Potter phenomenon over an underlying structure which has no relationship to that formula, in the hope that the Potterverse juggernaut will just keep on sailing right along.

Well, she’s been called on these points, and more besides. The resounding silence from an author who’s been known to interact with her readers on social media and elsewhere on the Internet is something of a clue that Rowlings probably realizes what a mess this all is, and is trying to figure out which way to jump from here.

Personally, I see the whole mess as having been eminently avoidable. If only the author had been able to take that sideways step, to set aside the livery of Eurocentric and Anglocentric fairytale, if she had been willing to put in the time, to talk to people she needed to talk to. It would probably be best if she were willing to take responsibility for it all now, and by that I don’t mean a defensive retro-explanation of the whole thing, trying to make it all seem copacetic in the rear view mirror. I mean take a stand and come out from behind the silence and say “I messed up but let’s see where we can go from here”.

Rowlings has found out, the hard way, that you cannot simply endlessly recycle one good idea – and most emphatically you cannot simply clothe that idea into an “exotic” overcoat and call it a new idea. There are people out there – there are always people out there – who will discern the shape beneath the cloak, and who will know the cloak as an attempt to pull a fast one. This particular effort is akin to dragging out a pantomime horse (you know, the kind made up of two people, one of whom is the horse’s ass) onto a beautifully set stage, sticking a cardboard horn on its forehead, and insisting that the audience accept it as a real Unicorn.

If you don’t have the Unicorn of a true idea… your best bet is bring on something else entirely. A budgie. A squirrel. A Capuchin monkey. A salamander. Even (if you insist on staying with a four-footed equine of some description) a zebra. Something new. Dressing up an old idea in new clothes and then laying a cloak of silence over it all… is simply not going to work.

Not even for the woman who invented Harry Potter.

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