I was about three chapters into V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic when Michael borrowed it from me. It was suspenseful. It was a page-turner. It wasn’t easy to relinquish. I decided that when I returned to it, I would focus on the craft of writing, especially in the first ~50 pages. I would discern why it was such a compelling read.

Plot Summary: Kell is a magician who can travel between worlds, worlds bridged in London, worlds defined by No Magic (our world, or one like it); Bountiful Magic (Red London, Kell’s home); Weak Magic (called Grey London, ruled by despotic twins who want to take over the multiverse.) Once there had been Black London, too, but it was destroyed. When a rock from Black London is found, Kell must stop it from destroying his world and the multi-verse. 

  1. The Hook 

Opening sentence(s): “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.” [New paragraph]: “It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”  [New paragraph]: “The first thing he did when he stepped out of one London into another was . . .”

(more…)

A boisterous red-haired older sister attempts to trap a leprechaun to prove to her skeptical little brother that leprechauns are real. She exuberantly creates Rube Goldberg-esque contraptions to pursue the leprechaun. Characters’ expressions are expertly illustrated. Delightful vocabulary and occasional internal rhyme. Some Fenians might object to the overuse of the four-leafed clover rather than the shamrock (trefoil), the symbol of Ireland. Advice on Building a Leprechaun Trap concludes the book as if a ‘research’ section. A fun, ephemeral romp. At $10.99 it’s hard to go wrong, especially for a family with several children.

A book-based activity at the HarperCollins website, https://www.harpercollins.com/childrens/how-to-make-leprechaun-trap/

A Leprechaun Trap Activity based on the book.

Lazar, Tara (author) and Vivienne To (illustrator). Three Ways To Trap a Leprechaun. N.Y.: HarperCollins, 2020.

 

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone!

tristan forward / The Green Man at Sutton Benger Church / CC BY-SA 2.0

They don’t look very Christian—those strange faces made of leaves, and those women displaying cartoonishly enlarged genitals on the walls of medieval churches.

A Sheela Na Gig, probably from the Kilpeck Church near Hereford, England

In his article for First Things, British folklorist and historian Francis Young makes a compelling argument that the odd, seemingly pagan expressions of Christianity that are found throughout Europe have more to do with a poorly-catechized culture and less to do with an established, subversive pagan resistance.

Medieval Europe was full of saints’ cults that enjoyed no sanction from the official Church. Henry II’s mistress, Rosamond ­Clifford, was venerated as a saint after her death for her beauty, not her holiness. Saint Guinefort was not a Christian or even a human being, but a dog who was said to have saved a child.

Illustration of Saint Guinefort. L. Bower / CC0

My personal favorite example of “Weird Christianity” is Gerard of Wales’s account in his Typography of Ireland (12th C.) of a priest giving communion to “good” werewolves.

Priest communes werewolf. Note the missal around the wolf’s neck. Topgraphia Hibernica, From British Library Royal MS 13 B VIII.

My second favorite is the two mice in the Book of Kells sharing a communion wafer.

Detail from the Book of Kells fol. 34r. Courtesy of Trinity College, Dublin. Two mice hold the host in their mouths.

Francis Young concludes his article:

When we encounter “pagan-­seeming” images or practices in ­medieval Christianity, we should consider the probability that they were simply expressions of popular Christianity before positing the existence of secret pagan cults in ­medieval Western Europe.  .  .  . After the first couple of centuries of evangelization, there were no superficially Christianized pagans—but there remained some very strange expressions of Christianity.

Read the whole article HERE, from First Things

 

Additional Reading

The Book of Kells at Trinity College, Dublin View online.

The Cult of Guinefort

Saint Guinefort, the Holy Greyhound

The Sheela Na Gig Project

The Surprising Roots of the Mysterious Green Man BBC video

“Every night when he says his prayers, he prays for the fairies, that they’ll be saved on the last day”—Eddie Lenihan, contemporary Irish storyteller

Read more

Photo taken September 11, 2017; courtesy of Pixabay

In our news-oriented and social media society, uncivil and anti-social events seem to predominate.

I recommend The Only Plane in The Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 with a little bit of the armchair historian, but mostly for its catalog of everyday courage and quiet affirmations of dignity which occurred that day. Here are some of them: (more…)

We’ve all heard stories of near misses: someone reschedules a flight on a hunch or whim and avoids a disaster.  We’ve heard stories of ignored intuition: Abraham Lincoln reportedly didn’t want to attend Ford’s Theatre on the night of his assassination.

Other tales are rare or nonexistent: what if you listen to your intuition and nothing happens?

Last night I was out with friends. I parked my car, shoved thirteen dull quarters into the meter, went inside the restaurant, ordered my first drink, and pocketed the change knowing that I would need it to add to the meter again in an hour and a half. I set an alarm on my phone and went out to the street at the appointed time.

It was a mild night. I grabbed only the change, and left my coat and purse inside the restaurant with friends. I intended to run in and out, no big deal.

As I walked onto the street, an older man with gray hair and a hood approached me—too close to the restaurant entrance. He had greedy look of a salesman, proselytizer, or panhandler.  He was slightly disheveled—but not alarmingly so. I didn’t wait to hear what he wanted. I shook my head and continued to my car.

Then I realized that I didn’t have my car keys. In Philadelphia, when you pay for on-street parking, you get a receipt to place on your dashboard to indicate what time your parking payment ends.  (Technically, it wasn’t a ‘meter’ – it was a ‘parking kiosk’ –a machine which served the whole block. A newfangled machine that accepts dollar bills and credit cards. But ‘parking kiosk’ is a more awkward phrase than ‘meter.’ A meter it shall always be.) I needed to be able to unlock my car and put the receipt on my dash.

So I returned to the restaurant and got my purse and keys. Mindful of the intrusive man I had seen, I held my purse tightly, as all women instinctively know to do. On my way outside the second time, he was still lurking outside the restaurant doors.

It’s true that I was slightly tipsy. Was my gait unsteady? It’s hard to say. I’m naturally clumsy.  I could be twelve noon sober and stumble over my own two feet. I’ve literally done that before.

I didn’t feel like prey. But he approached me as if he thought I was a potential target. A target of what, I don’t know. I didn’t want to find out. I felt his greedy gaze.

He approached closer.

I don’t usually give spare change to beggars; sometimes I do. I try to treat street people with respect. I look in their eyes. I wish them well. I acknowledge their humanity.  I don’t think this man was homeless. He wanted something else.

“No,” I told him, shaking my head.  Perhaps he had a legitimate need and impaired mental health. A younger self might have stopped to listen or to try to help. Last night, my intuition urged me forward.

First responders are taught to keep themselves safe first; the secure the accident scene and park safely beyond it. Life guards are taught how to avoid being accidentally drowned by the panicked person they are trying to save. I kept walking.

I crossed the street to deter him, and he followed. He swerved ahead to approach me from the front. He spoke to me; I didn’t hear what he said.  I outstretched both arms in front of me to create a physical and symbolic distance.  “I don’t talk to strangers,” I announced loudly, assertively.

I went to the next payment kiosk, past my car, and I watched him out of the corner of my eye. He wandered into another storefront, away from me.

For most of my adult life, I’ve been struggling to hear my intuition. On February 11, 2020, on South Street, Philadelphia, I found it.

I re-upped my parking, returned to the restaurant, and enjoyed the rest of the evening with friends.

I listened to my intuition—and happily, thankfully, nothing happened.

 

I’d shelved the book numerous times as a Children’s Librarian. But it took Victor LaValle’s creepy New York modern fairy tale, The Changeling, to get me to open its pages and actually read it.  (It looks vaguely familiar; perhaps I had opened it when scouring the shelves for a book to read aloud for storytime and found it wanting.) There’s no doubt about it: Maurice Sendak’s Outside Over There is weird. (more…)