Magic and Study

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On rereading my earlier post (here), I noticed that I had created a simple binary system that on the one hand lauded what I called “pure magic” while disparaging “blended magic.” This is nothing short of erroneous. While there are some works that do hold to a pure magic, the vast majority do not. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Nearly all of the examples we will examine during this series can be understood as having a blended magic system, and I count many as personal favorites.

Put simply, a strict binary (pure or blended magic) is far too crude an instrument for our purposes. As with many other things, there exists a spectrum regarding the degree that magic is blended with other elements. In few cases, we will face the unexplained and inconceivable—pure magic. But for the most part, we will observe several large camps within which fantasy books and myths can be categorized. To that end, I’d like to spend my remaining space looking at a very common (and popular) rendition of blended magic that is tied to education.

As stated before, Lewis’s theory of wonder in magic hinges on mystery. According to Lewis, we can only be awed by magic so long as we do not attempt to understand magic or break it down into simpler. To oversimplify, a direct proportion equation can be created. There will be a greater sense of wonder with the greater degree to which the magic isn’t explained (in theory at least). And while this formula does hold up in certain examples, we must also consider alternative approaches that prove to be just as delightful as Lewis’s version of magic.

First on our list of forms to examine is what I plan on calling “magic and school.” This is perhaps one of the most common forms of blended magic, given the (relatively) recent success of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. And really, Rowling is a great example of magic and school. The protagonists often follow the coming of age arc, and the stories tend to focus their explanations of magic on technique. Finally, before we examine an example of the form, magic and school stories often begin with very distinct elements of the hero’s journey (more on this another time).

Now, despite having mentioned it already, I don’t intend to use Harry Potter as our case study for this form of magic. While a delightful read, I prefer us to focus on Ursula Le Guin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea. To that end, I would like to offer this brief passage for consideration:

Ged had thought that as the prentice of a great mage he would enter at once into the mystery and mastery of power. He would understand the langage of the beasts, and the speech of the leaves…and learn to change himself into any shape as he wished.

But it was not so at all. They wandered, first down into the Vale and then gradually south and westward around the mountain, given lodging in little villages or spending the night out in the wilderness, like pour journeyman-sorcerers, or tinkers, or beggars. They entered no mysterious domain. (Guin 17)

While there are a great number of things that can be said about magic and study, I want to reference just one point before we close for today (we will have revisit Earthsea for a second post I think). This point is the temptation for deeper power that runs alongside the mage’s journey. For Harry, this was partly embodied in the constant haunting of Voldemort. For Ged, the temptation is more transparently seen as a longing for greatness. If you’ll allow a slight rabbit trail, it is perfectly described by the hauntingly beautiful first stanza of W. H. Davies’s poem, “Ambition.”

I had Ambition, by which sin
The angels fell;
I climbed and, step by step, O Lord,
Ascended into Hell.
(Davies)

This element is critical to recognize in the magician’s journey. Often, the magician must spend their life unmaking the very evil that they released in their youth (in Harry Potter, this arc is visible in the story of Professor Dumbledore atoning for his sister’s death).

 

I think we’ll revisit Earthsea for one more week with hopefully more time spent on contrasting Lewis’s view of magic with Le Guin’s (the whole point of this series). But before signing off, I wanted to say that there will be another weekend where Shadowlander will be offered for free in its kindle format. As before, I simply ask that you please take time to write an honest review of the book after reading it. The giveaway will be for Saturday and Sunday on Amazon.

 

Magic

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As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have a bad habit of shouldering a task before knowing if I can handle it or not. This was the case with my second semester at A&M (seen here), and it threatens to repeat with the coming fall semester. On top of graduate school and prior commitments, I thought it necessary to launch a student organization on campus called The Aggie Kolbitar Society (more on the society another time).

With the danger in mind, I’ve decided to use the next few posts to prepare for a talk I will give to the Kolbitars on week one. It gives me something concrete to work on for this blog and also allows me to kill two birds with one stone.

~

Over the course of this summer, I’ve had small moments of time where I could enjoy C. S. Lewis’s Letters To Malcom– the last work published by Lewis before his death. As this is my first reading of the book, the experience has been a sequence of pleasant surprises. And while I wish I could spend more time just writing about this delightful little book, today’s post merely uses Letters as a springboard.

As the subtitle suggests, Lewis’s chief interest in Letters is on the topic of prayer. However, this focus does not keep him from a variety of subtopics, which diverge even further. And it’s in this winding rabbit trail that we find our starting point.

When I say “magic” I am not thinking of the paltry and pathetic techniques by which fools attempt…to control nature. I mean rather what is suggested by fairy-tale sentences like “This is a magic flower, and if you carry it the seven gates will open for you of their own accord,”…I should define magic in this sense as “objective efficacy which cannot be further analysed.” (Lewis 103)

Lewis’s reason for bringing magic into the conversation is quite a stroke of luck, for while he was concerned with discussing the nature of communion (or Eucharist), we may use this example to see a key difference between wonders we can explain and wonders that have no explanation. To put it another way, Lewis, in his damnably efficient manner, is showing the distinguishing line between simple magic and blended magic.

As shown by Lewis’s example with the flower, the idea of magic is at its simplest a sort of reaction of two (or more) elements that yield a result. But we have to be careful of this oversimplification; we cannot equate magic with chemistry (though my younger self might have accused the latter of being as impossible to attain as the former). Magic is not the overarching term of a more specific practice. As Lewis says, “the ‘magical’ element in such truths can be got rid of by explanation; that is, by seeing them to be instances or consequences of larger truths” (103).

Magic is itself the most specific way to describe itself. The moment we insist on explaining the thing—to break it down to more precise elements or more scientific absolutes—we grind the mystery and wonder out of magic.

~

I will have to save my next point for two weeks from now. The post is threatening to transform into a minor paper, and I have great deal more research that I need to do. Next time, I think we’ll delve into three arenas of what I am calling “blended magic,” and maybe (if we have time) into why the distinction is important.

Before I sign off, I would ask that you please consider my book if you’ve enjoyed this or any other post of mine. I cannot profess any great mastery, but I hope to dedicate my life to the study and exploration of literature. Buying a copy of Shadowlander would do a good deal to encourage and help me in that endeavor.

 

 

Work Cited:

Lewis, C. S.. Letters to Malcom. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. 1964. Print.

Housekeeping and a Poem

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Howdy guys!

So a few bits of business need attending to. First, the plan seems to be that I will [try to] write a blog post every other week in the future. Such a schedule seems to well balance my hopes in building some momentum with the simple reality that any more frequent drives my writing of stories and poetry into a back corner in an effort to put out blog posts.

Next, I’ve just recently enrolled Shadowlander  into a trial run of KDP select. This service enables me to run certain promotions with the digital copy of the book despite restricting me to only one digital edition.

To this end, I’m happy to say that a free version of the book will be available over the weekend on Amazon. Now, there’s one request I am tethering to this which you may completely ignore. If you decide to pick up a free digital copy of the book, would you please consider taking the time to writing a review after you have read it? I am not asking for only good reviews–  I am looking for people to give their honest feedback on what they have read.

Finally, I’m somewhat less exited to say that, because of my signing up for the trial run of KDP, Shadowlander will be unavailable on the ibookstore for the foreseeable future. I will let you know if this changes at any time, but for now, the book will only be available digitally for Kindle.

Now, with all of that bloody housekeeping out of the way, I invite you to look over this sonnet. It’s somewhat new, so please excuse the errors that are currently invisible to my caffeine addled brain.

 

Prayer

The pencil markings don’t comprise a verse,
And pilot pens are drying from disuse.
I cannot think or write more than one phrase—
The second always mixes curse with praise.

I said by writing I would know your name,
Or try to understand it and proclaim
The mystery of God once born as man.
Instead, my prayers are filled with my demands.

But with a no you shattered lofty plans—
A simple no I cannot understand.

So writing of myself becomes a grace:
Receive, oh God, this soul in paraphrase.

But Seriously, Why Latin?

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I was determined to dig a hole for myself during the early semesters of my undergrad. Drunk off of the success of my first term, I (in my infinite wisdom) decided that I could handle an honors philosophy class, an intro to chemistry class (a 300-student monstrosity being taught at the delightful hour of 8AM), and the first semester of Spanish. And as if this wasn’t the pinnacle of deranged lunacy, all three classes were on the same day and back to back.

Things went poorly for me.

I spent the summer licking my wounds (which were many). I knew that I needed four semesters of foreign language credit to graduate, but the first attempt with Spanish had gone less than brilliantly. It wasn’t a just matter of failing. I had failed so spectacularly that my Spanish instructor (to this day) recognizes me when we pass on campus. And adding insult to injury, I still needed four semesters of foreign language credit. Something had to be done to prepare me for my next attempt.

It was Mom’s idea to take a class at Richland. No, it wouldn’t transfer over (or so my advisor in the English Dept. told me), but it might help mitigate the semester-long feelings of terror and confusion. This too wasn’t a absolute success, despite being a much easier class, and there was no way I would take a second stab at Spanish in the fall semester. I had earned the dubious distinction of scholastic probation (at A&M, it was referred to as going “sco-pro”) through my stupidity and shortcomings with foreign language. I would have to have a stronger semester if I wanted to stay at A&M, and foreign language was still a major question mark.

But already I’ve gotten ahead of myself in our little story time. As I mentioned just seconds ago, the first attempt in Spanish was marked with unending confusion on my part. And while some of this confusion was because of a poorly planned schedule (I tried to do way too much too quickly), there was the inescapable fact that my brain couldn’t effectively work out the many facets of a foreign language. But equally inescapable was what I have already stated a couple of times: I needed four semesters of foreign language credit to graduate.

It was time to get advice. The learning psychologist I had met as a high school student agreed to sit down with me over the winter break. From her, I was introduced to the idea of giving Latin a try. As she put it, “it’s the language for dyslexics.”*

So I tried… and gloriously failed. Despite sleepless nights of reviewing vocab, I had swung twice at foreign language classes at A&M and missed both times. Any more misses, and I could look forward to being that sad senior who’s kept from graduation by one class.

For a variety of reasons (too many to really explain here), I decided that I should give a second stab at Latin. I owned the textbook, and the professor was a very good teacher (a lady I will forever respect), so I promised myself that the summer would be spent reviewing every day. That didn’t happen, but I did review. I returned to Latin class (my first class of the fall semester) determined to master the language.

It’s been nearly two years since that horrendously hot August day. What I am going to show you all is, I think, proof of my progress with the language. I still haven’t mastered Latin, though I certainly have fallen in love with it’s elegance. Now, having spent a great deal of time winding you up, I would ask that you take a few seconds to read this very short two line Elegy.

Elegia Prima:

Per Fluenscam secta Dei mihi erat via tantum?
Fluenscam ut vidi cor mihi plenus erat.

Was path through the river flowing down God’s only way for me?
That I saw the river, for me the heart has been satisfied.

 

*(Probably not her exact words… it’s been a few years since that meeting).

Shadowlander

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I still don’t know how to write this post.

When I began Shadowlander (several years ago), I had a grandiose vision of what I would accomplish. I had absolutely no hesitation thinking that I could change the world around me through mere words, though I was never so honest as to state my ambition in so many words. Because if I did tell someone, then I would have to admit to the intrinsic pride that I still wrestle with on a daily basis.

Pride for what, though? I haven’t accomplished anything so magnificent. I’m a college graduate, someone who’s been published once in a student journal, and who succeeds by surrounding himself with more nimble minds. But I had my facade of humility, and plenty of righteous indignation towards more transparent persons. To that end, I could have easily been imitating Robert Downy Jr. when he played the role of Iron Man in The Avengers. “He [Loki] wants flowers, he wants a parades. He wants a monument built to the skies with his name plastered [on it].”

All of this to say, I have to do some self promotion. I really don’t want to, but the simple fact is that a writer cannot expect to sell unless Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 8.31.07 PMsomeone promotes their work. To that end, I would like to introduce y’all to Shadowlander. It’s a self-published collection of poems and short stories, and it’s available on Amazon, Kindle, and the iBookstore.

Regarding the content, the book is somewhat eclectic. The short stories are predominantly fantasy, although one flash fiction story is realism. The poems are mostly abstractionist, though some of the newer works flirt with imagism. Almost all are metrical.

I’m including one of the poems from Shadowlander below. If you enjoy it, I hope that you would be willing to look at the rest of Shadowlander. The digital versions only cost $0.99, while the paperback costs $22 (though Amazon has the book on sale right now for $17.60). Thank you in advance if you do decide to purchase a copy. Regardless, I will be working to create more content for this blog, and hope to be a little more regular with my posts.

 

Beyond the Sea:

At last I’ve found the silver thread
In losing taste for sleep and bed.
While driving down the dusty road
From Dallas to borrowed abode,
I set my mind to place of birth—
This open sky above dry hearth.
And while reflecting came to this
One glimpse of truth that others miss:
The one is blind that only sees
The beauty found beyond the sea.

 

Buy Shadowlander on Amazon

 

 

 

A Quick Breath of Air

Scheduling constraints (and personal limitations) prevent me from writing or sharing anything fresh with you all. At present I am fostering a kitten, and much of this week was spent helping Breakaway Ministries as a volunteer. Still, I don’t want the blog to be a summer endeavor only, so I am forcing myself back out here, and I hope to repeat the act in a semi-regular fashion. Because of limited time, these posts will almost always be poetry, unless I’m feeling incredibly confident about something.

Silence:
I wrote this nearly a year ago, and transcribed it to my computer in November of 2014. I’m not sure what sparked the original idea, but that is the case with many poems that are older than one year.

Into rocky winding song
Valley narrow, verses long
And with bleeding hands hold on
While the burden tumbles gone.
Cold refrain at valley’s head
Sing aloud until you’re dead
Perhaps one day to be read
“On smooth sheets now rest your head.”

A Very Tiny Crumb

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I promise that, at some point, I will return to a more wholesale presentation of creativity. My hope has been that, every other post, I could present some piece to you– be that a prose or poem. The ‘off’ posts, like my last, would then be thought of as the miscellaneous bits and pieces that allow me to pad this blog out.

Regarding the bit I am showing you today: I thought that I would share an incredibly small piece of something that I am working on. Its a part of the first chapter, but I think it is safe enough to share. I should also note: As this is a draft I am sharing with you, it is very likely that this is not the final form of this paragraph. It is extremely probable that I will either revise it again, or even possibly omit it. To that end, if you have a strong opinion one way or another, I’d ask that you share them in the comments. It is always helpful to receive feedback.
All of that said, enjoy!

~

Thirty minutes after Gregory left the tavern, it began to rain; thunder and lightning soon followed. There was a myth often told in Pharus that the Fairy King wept on the night after one human murdered another. Though the sky was usually overcast, it didn’t rain often. Indeed, it might never stop raining were the myth actually true.

Something old

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This week, in the absence of poetry or a story (I promise I am doing more than it seems), I though I would share this little snippet with you. It is from an e-portfolio that I was supposed to create for A&M’s university honors program. No longer a part of that program, I had completely forgotten about the post until recently, and decided that I would publish it here for you all. I hope that is alright.

~~~
The first time I heard about an e-portfolio, I was a freshmen at Richland Jr. College. I was largely still a high school student, had no understanding of where I wanted to go, and considered the assignment to be nothing more than busy work from a class that didn’t really matter. Inadvertently, I had adopted the perception that everything I did should have an obvious objective; I believed that if I was to be troubled to work on a project or class, I should know and understand just why I had to do that work.

Long, rambling story short, I failed that class, largely because

Oops…

of my lack of attentiveness to the e-portfolio project. Adding salt to the wounded ego, I still had to retake the class, because Richland required it of every student entering their program. Like it or not, I would have to work, and on a project where I might not understand the immediate benefits. I was going to have to take myself out of the drivers seat once again,and I would have to trust that my instructors understood enough to point me in the right direction.
I will not insult your intelligence by tying this into some absurd attempt of perseverance triumphing over all troubles. I won’t even go so far as to say I have fully learned the lesson that I stated above, but I am learning. I’ve realized that right now I have two options. I can sit in some corner, pretending that my limited understanding is all there is, or I can humble myself to the truth that this world is a lot bigger than I give it credit for, and there is plenty more to learn.

Credit to Hannah Alger for this little gem.

Is it perfect? No. Nothing is. Like I said before, this isn’t some corny “you can do it” story. It’s not even complete. I expect that I will have to be taught to learn time and time again. We’re not willing to learn unless we admit that there is something we don’t already know, which implies personal weakness or deficiency.

While I’m in the process of deviating from required content, I thought I might insert a short quote by C. S. Lewis. I will probably quote Lewis a good number of times, as I am continuously humbled and inspired by his work. In his fantasy work, “The Horse and His Boy” Lewis made a very simple, yet very striking remark: “Do not dare not to dare.” I think that while I might never reach the apex of mental ability or writing effectiveness, I should still try my hardest to improve on myself – dare to grow, as it were.

A Few Notes and A Poem (or Two)

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First things first: I don’t expect to write a new post every week. Present variables considered, the best I can hope for is to present something new every other week. I will try to include something creative in every post, if I can manage, but I will also be including a handful of updates, and maybe (if I dare) a few random thoughts as well.

Second, while I am woefully behind schedule (with regards to my summer plans), I do hope to have all parts of my MFA applications finished by summer’s end, and possibly have a short story or two written as well. These, depending on how they turn out, may find their way here. If such is the case, I will add a new page on the blog (like I did for “Gamer”).

Lastly, I’d like to take a moment for shameless plugging: if you enjoy or are encouraged by anything in this blog, would you please share it with any friends who you think might also enjoy it? While my first reason for writing is an enjoyment of the craft, my second is that I am striving to create a life from it. Yes I realize that attempting to write professionally is much like flying to the moon with only a bathtub, and that much of the work here is imperfect. Still, I’d ask that you please consider sharing these short, somewhat awkward attempts at writing. If nothing else, it might spur someone else to write better on a topic that I touch on.

Now for more poetry!

P.S. I should state that, while some poetry I write is derived from a sort of overflow of emotions, other poems are very much written in the abstract and without any foundation in my personal experience. Simply put, do not necessarily believe that a writer is telling you exactly how they feel by what they write down. We are, above all else, very good liars (for that is what a story teller is).

In the company of Shelley — Imagined primarily from considering the differences from older forms (primarily from the romantics) and the current form of ‘Spoken Word.’ In no way am I antagonizing S.W.. If I was, I would be far more direct.

“An Archaic mess of Tasteless color.”
“Old fashioned thoughts weighed down by older form.”

A younger mind might submit to such squalor;
I confess, I don’t want to just conform.
A sordid mess, that self-centered haiku.
When did the loftiest form roll in the mud?
Such vivid shades of Brown! Better on you.
The shades of gold and green – those subtle buds –
The romantic greats like marble gods!
Their eyes fixed out, their hearts awash in light.
A world alive and heightened by a verse.
Allowed to sing, to dance, to fly, then die.
As mutinous children all run away,
In the company of Shelley I will stay.

Doormat — This piece is a tad more recent that some of the other works I’ve posted. The effort was create a sort of energetic flow in the lines. You can decide on the success or failure of the attempt for yourself.

A walked on little terrier,
That’s how I feel sometimes.
Always around, and seems so sound,
He’ll help once more, its fine.

Perhaps a doormat’s more fitting
Description of my state.
No real thought is ever given
Until I start to break.

Yet muted stare, my one response,
No loud protest offered.
Instead I frown, or just look down,
No battle to offer.

So come right in with filthy feet
Or ball to make me fetch,
It’s plain to me you’ll never see
No plans of mine to catch.

A Couple of old Poems

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A few small bits and pieces as I again work to reignite this old thing:

1. There  will likely not be any new stories posted for some time. My prose work will, for the next half year or so, be entirely focused on preparing a portfolio for my MFA applications.
2. That said, there will hopefully be poetry, and maybe a rant or two thrown in for good measure (because I can’t seem to avoid such for very long).
3. Also, I do plan to try and create some fashion of regularity to my posting, but that isn’t certain yet. I will need to first figure out what I plan on showing to you all.

So there you have it– a game plan for what will hopefully be a slightly more active summer. All that remains now is to give you a poem or two, so….

Sonnet 1: From Bleeding Side— This particular poem was my first weak attempt at sonnet form. I fully admit to the somewhat bland imagery– a flaw that my friend Laura was quick to point out almost two years ago. 

My crime remains, a failure to believe Your truth,
Maker, I call myself, instead of one who’s made.
A lie believed, and now I sell for naught my youth,
While cry I more from wounds that grew out of my blade.
For what?’ I ask as ruin falls where I reside
What king am I? Whose land is built beyond the night.
A lifeless lump of clay ‘til You alone decide,
A hollow shell until my eyes You chose to light.
Creative soul, hear now the truth about your King,
Our goal, to see all Heaven in imagined scene,
Is handed down from throne to cause your art to sing,
A grace to see, to tell, and then at last to mean.
Through this clear view, begin to see my fate,
With art from bleeding side my hope did He create.

Silence— Silence belongs to the category of poem fragments. They often are incomplete, but this particular one managed to feel adequate without having too complex a meaning. 

Into rocky winding song
Valley narrow, verses long
And with bleeding hands hold on
While the burden tumbles gone.
Cold refrain at valley’s head
Sing aloud until you’re dead
Perhaps one day to be read
“On smooth sheets now rest your head.”

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