Magic in the Woods

I love storytelling. I’ve always loved reading anything I can get my hands on, and there’s an art to really telling an engaging story. The way a well crafted story grips you is conscious altering. It takes you to a world outside of your own, to the point where your surroundings become the fantasy. This was a phenomenon I discovered early.

One summer when I was ten or eleven, my parents put me on a plane to Alabama to visit my aunt and uncle. They had a cabin in what I remember to be a tangle of woods near a small, tree enclosed lake. I’ve never been one for the heat of summer, but the woods were cool and shaded. That year cicadas set an almost maddening undercurrent to the normal susurrus of forests, but it was still peaceful. It was the perfect setting to get lost in daydreams and fantasy novels.

Knowing I was a bookworm, my aunt took me into town to visit the library. It was there I discovered Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. The cover of Redwall caught my eye from a display on a really tall shelf (it probably wasn’t, but I’ve always been very short). I grabbed it almost as an afterthought, as I already had an armful of books that I had to set down to climb the shelf for this one. In the car on the way back, I scanned the description and decided I wanted to read it first. It had me from evil pirate rats and ‘unlikely hero’. Really, I just loved anything with talking animals. I read Orwell’s Animal Farm when I was too young to take anything away from it other than pigs are assholes. But legendary swords and evil pirate kings are good too.

I had no chance. From the beginning, I was sucked into the epic. Matthias, the main character, is clumsy, intelligent but not quick-witted, chubby, and socially awkward–everything I hated about myself as a child. Throughout the story, his character builds into one to match Martin the Warrior, a hero of Redwall legend.

Redwall is an abbey (more in a spiritual sense than religious) of peace-loving woodland creatures that is constantly the target of evil vermin and the center of Jacques’s non sequential novels. Though it has allies in the Long Patrol, a rather hilarious regiment of British hares that is nonetheless deadly, Salamandastron, the stronghold of the badgers, a group of large, fearsome warriors made even more terrifying by their propensity to berserk episodes they call the Bloodrage, and sundry other groups of battle ready beasts, most often Redwall’s heroes are found within its own walls. The rest of the inhabitants rally to the hero, some taking up arms themselves while others keep to their standards of nonviolence and wield witty insults instead. In the later stories, Redwall has become a formidable icon to villains, seen by some as a challenge and others as a place to give a wide berth. I loved the juxtaposition of a peaceful sanctuary obliterating such imposing foes as Cluny the Terrible and his vast army of pirate rats from the debut novel. It’s the David and Goliath style of good overcoming evil that makes us all feel a little more powerful inside.

So I sat down with this book, and nothing else existed until page 110. I heard a noise and startled out of what I can only describe as a trance to see my aunt giving me a look that was equal parts quizzical and amused. “I’ve been standing here saying your name for a couple minutes now,” she said. “That must be some book.”

Book? was my first thought. Then I turned my head to glance around the room, and I could feel my body easing back into a different plane of existence. I hadn’t been reading so much as fully immersed in the story. There had to be a better term for “book” to describe something that was able to pluck me from my own world and plant me firmly in another.

That was my first experience with brilliant storytelling, and I have no better word for it than magic. I believed in some childish things a lot longer than I should have. I remember my stepfather sitting me down and telling me there was no white knight on a pegasus swooping in to save me. I was stuck and I had better get used to it and quit with all this fantasy shit. He didn’t understand that I had my own white knight who would take me to places he couldn’t dream of. I could even be my own white knight if I wanted–I was always good at creative writing (though for the longest time I thought that meant writing in shapes). My own worlds were stirring in my mind, and I was experimenting with my own magic.

Since that summer, the woods have always held a piece of that magic. I like walking alone usually. There’s no need for external conversation, and the muted sounds of foliage and animals result in a deep feeling of quiet. As selfish as it sounds, it’s almost an affront when I see someone else walking along a trail disturbing my time away from humanity. I renounced the religion I was raised with, and I’ve never been much for spirituality, but my walks in the woods come pretty close. It’s not so much a place to recharge, though, as a place to retreat for awhile. Pretend the world is as it should be rather than as messy and awful and unkind as it is. I’ve always thought I’d make a good hermit.

I weave my own stories in my own way. I make magic where I am able. And I’ve always wanted a pet dragon, so I decided to make one of those too.

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One day I’ll be a charismatic, jolly, and certainly arthritic (runs in the family) old storyteller like Brian Jacques. I met him once; he slung an arm around my sister and I and announced to our mother that he was “taking the girls out for a beer”. This after proving he was just as much a storyteller in spoken word as written. He didn’t read passages from his novels, he sat in front of an enraptured crowd and rallied us to the war cry of Salamadastron, hissed the prophecy of the villainous Taggerung, built up the storm of the novel he was touring, Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, in blustering cadence. It was just as captivating as his novels, and he became my idol.

I tell my stories as I can, but I have worlds I hope to one day give readers the keys to explore. Until then, I have my metalwork, this blog, and way too many notebooks and folded paper scraps filled with snippets and scenes. Through an emotional support unlike any I’ve ever had, my words are coming back. My worlds will be realized.

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