Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Going back to Narnia

I watched Shadowlands many years ago but there's a scene I have always remembered. C.S. Lewis is sitting in (what I figure to be) Magdalana College in their Great Hall. He's at a long table eating with all his colleagues. His book has just been printed and they start attacking it intellectually. Everything rolls along fine- they attack, he rebuffs, all college-y goodness till someone scoffs at the wardrobe scene. What is the wardrobe scene supposed to represent? Enlightment of the mind? They dilly-dally around a little more till C.S. Lewis grows short and he says, 'No, it's magic. That's all it is. Magic. Nothing else.'

And really, every time Lucy walks through the back of wardrobe, that's all I can think. Pure magic. And perhaps that's where C.S. Lewis was truly brilliant. He didn't dally around with symbolism on this. He knew what was true and stuck to his guns in front of his colleagues. 'Magic. That's all it is. Sheer magic. It just happens.'

And I'm wondering if this 'magic' is a trait common to all really good stories. Things just happen- they do and for no symbolic reason. They just happen one day.

Of course, I cling to this because I too want to walk into the world that lies behind the coats in the wardrobe. I too want to be staring at a painting and have it suddenly pull me in. And I too want to be sitting at a train station and suddenly get sucked into Narnia. It's magic. Nothing else. It just happens.

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How to Get Through a Big Book

How to get through a Big Book and have a little fun too.

  1. Make and eat food mentioned in the book (big books always include food, usually in meticulous detail).
  2. Read a little bit each day.
  3. Make a soundtrack.
  4. Dress like a character from the book for a day. Or a week. Or a month if it really grabs you.
  5. Ten minutes to kill? Daydream about the landscape or what the characters are seeing as they move through their day.
  6. Read passages you enjoy out loud. If you’re in the right mood, record yourself reading passages and share it (Instagram is great for this). Include illustrations if you like (thank you, Shirin).
  7. Whip out a highlighter or some sticky tabs for those great parts.
  8. Pace yourself and remember, reading gigantic books isn’t a race. It’s about the journey. Might as well bring along snacks, good drinks, great lighting, and enjoy the ride.

How to Search for Story Settings

A big city not far from mine has a casino. I’ve heard a few stories from friends that have worked there. Most center on being treated badly by a customer and revenging themselves by throwing the customer’s car keys into the Fox River. Karma is enacted on a regular basis at the casino.

There’s something about that river, flowing by, murky green during the day and black at night, a bottomless pit for car keys.

The river divides the city in half, east to west. The Fox flows along the old warehouses, limestone and brick, built back when the city had manufacturing plants and industry. Now the warehouses sit sturdy and silent, crumbling ever so slowly. Their roofs are flat and give the illusion of brick walls running straight into the sky. Some were built like prosaic wedding cakes, higher and higher, until the final topping is small square with tiny windows. Industry has never been about aesthetic needs and wants.  And yet by some miracle, these old turn of the century warehouses have achieved it just the same.

I observed the warehouses from the back deck of the riverside café, clutching my cup of earl grey and wishing I had put sunscreen on. It was the first time I had ever been to this café and I came because I needed a new setting for a fiction story I was working on. None of the cafes I remembered from the past were working for me. I needed this kind of café, one that hung out in an old manufacturing city where there wasn’t much industry left. There was, at least, a casino and many local businesses and this café hung on, here at the water’s edge.

A little further up was the casino where my friends had thrown those keys into the water. From my point on the deck, I could see the grimy metallic white heel of the building jutting out. Another friend told me that he goes there regularly to play black jack. It relieves stress and earns a little extra cash for his family.

The wind picks up a little and despite the sun, it’s chilly. Spring plays these tricks on us.

There is no sign of life in the warehouses all around me. We’re all boxed in together and the light plays off their empty windows, open and blank to the sun. I sip some tea and play “Over the Hills and Far Away” by Led Zeppelin just to see if this café will work for my story. It only takes a few bars of listening to the song and I know that this place is perfect. This spot on the river is perfect for many stories. It’s  been perfect for all the stories I know nothing about and the ones that I’ve caught the smallest glimpses of.

A mallard suns himself in the weeds that line the water’s edge. The river moves fast and sure and I turn off the music. No need to for further noise. The song is already there.