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Posts Tagged ‘Faerie’

Time Travel is a concept that has served many literary needs: a protagonist’s hopes and desires, what-if scenarios for historical events, and philosophical puzzles and paradoxes, to name a few. It’s a trope with multiple subtropes, and typically involves a futuristic machine and a scientist out to change an event in the past or prevent one in the future. TV shows from The Twilight Zone in the 60s to the current Timeless on NBC have put time travel front and center. Movie franchises have been built around it (Terminator, Back to the Future). Every sci fi writer alive today probably has a dozen or more story concepts based on time travel stuffed into a drawer.

One of Time Travel’s subtropes is what I call Magic Time Gone Wrong. Magic Time, for those who know their faerie myths, is what sets apart the magical world from ours. Whereas our time is linear, Magic Time is circular. All magic spells rely on this fact; a circle drawn in a spell is a graphic manifestation of the time’s circle. A circle has no beginning or end, thus creating a mental form of the infinite. In its most obvious manifestation, Magic Time brings us back to the elemental cycles and rhythms of the seasons, the rising and setting of the sun and moon. In linear time, birth is the beginning and death the end; in Magic Time, the two cannot be separated.

Time Travel stories that make use of Magic Time are invariably much less geared toward sci fi. Futuristic machines and evil scientists are often absent altogether, for the engine that drives the loop often can only be described in mysterious ways. These stories are rarely about historical events, but personal karma, in which the main character invariably must find their way out of the time loop that has them mercilessly trapped.

The most well-known example of this story is the engaging and popular movie Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray as a weatherman seemingly doomed to repeat one day for the rest of his life (so popular has this movie become over time—heh heh—that “groundhog day” has entered the common vernacular to mean something happening to someone over and over again, usually with distressing consequences). Murray’s character Phil the Weatherman cannot hop into a machine and travel out of the loop; he has to feel his way out. He must undergo personal growth before he can be released from Magic Time.

Among many books for children that employ time travel, Dorian Cirrone’s recently published middle grade novel The First Last Day also relies on a time loop to provide her main character’s obstacle that doubles as a vehicle for self-discovery. Instead of a weatherman, Haleigh Adams is an eleven-year-old girl who, without realizing it, paints a picture that magically makes her live out her last day of a beach vacation over and over again. Like Phil, she has no technological way out. Her only hope is to find the instructions to the box of paints that mysteriously showed up in her backpack. Ultimately she succeeds only by perserverance, and by learning to trust her best friend, a boy she might have a crush on. By repeatedly going over the same events over and over again, she tries in subtle ways to alter reality, but nothing works until she makes a connection with her friend’s grandmother that helps her unpaint the painting and consciously choose to undue her wish for the last day of vacation to never end.

Though The First Last Day tracks Groundhog Day very closely, the main characters are quite different. Phil the Weatherman is a blasé, arrogant fool who grows so despondent he tries to commit suicide to escape the loop, only to find himself waking up yet again to the same song (“I Got You Babe”) on his clock radio. Haleigh is a bright, creative preteen who has self-image problems but otherwise is the kind of person you’d like to know. Unlike Haleigh, Phil doesn’t have a magic paintbox—his time loop ends just as mysteriously as it begins, but only after he discovers the power of love. Haleigh’s journey isn’t nearly so harrowing, but it does include a lesson in the power of letting go and accepting death. While one story is for adults and the other for grade school readers, each treats Magic Time as the power that drives personal change.

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Mythcon 43Fantasy is a genre that means many different things to many different people. For many, it means a summer action movie, a chance to escape the heat or the weight of the world. For kids it means a fabulous new world of their own to explore, perhaps not consciously realizing at first that a ripping good fantasy tale is that way because it reverberates with our own quotidian lives. Many kids and teens who adore fantasy “outgrow” the genre (or at least think they outgrow it) on their way to becoming serious adults who prefer literary novels or stop reading fiction altogether.

Then there are those of us who loved fantasy as children and never stopped loving it as adults.

For today’s young generation, that love largely took root in Harry Potter; it remains to be seen how many will retain that love into adulthood. Those in my generation cut our adolescent teeth on Tolkien, and to lesser extent, C.S. Lewis. These two authors belonged to a small circle of writers named the Inklings, and to this day their works are celebrated by the Mythopoeic Society. Last week, they held their 43rd annual conference in Berkeley, just a short bike ride from my house. So as a longtime Tolkien fan I decided to attend my first conference.

I had some misgivings at first. Tolkien fans can be notoriously indulgent expressing their personal knowledge, not only of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but of The Silmarillion and other secondary Tolkien works. They, as well as C.S. Lewis fans, often bind themselves spiritually to these works, incorporating them into their own pagan or Christian world views. They have a reputation for being indifferent to social norms, and frequently sport feathers, Celtic crosses, or tangled facial hair, together with capes and other medievalish gear.

I need not have feared. Yes, the conference had some folks dressed like that, but it was nothing like a Harry Potter or Star Trek con, in which many fans come fully dressed as their favorite character. No, this was far more intellectual than that. About half the proceedings were taken up by academic papers addressing various aspects of Tolkien and other fantasy writers. The conference theme was East and West, and I learned a new word: Orientalism, which is how the West has incorporated stories and culture from Asia into fantasy. Alyssa House-Thomas read a fascinating paper on how Lord Dunsany, a turn-of-the-century British writer who was a huge influence on Tolkien, both used and played against the Western projection of the East as an exotic place in which to stage fantastic tales—and in some cases rely on racial stereotypes. Other speakers explored topics such as Eastern vs. Western dragons, or whether Marco Polo’s tales were actually inventions. Finally, one of the Speakers of Honor was Malinda Lo, a Chinese American fantasy writer, who talked about how she incorporated Chinese culture into the original world she created for two of her novels, Ash and Huntress. The main characters for both these novels are also Lesbians.

This was all heartening to me, for it affirmed that one can be a Tolkien fan and still consider worldly issues like racism, cross-cultural influences, and homosexuality. There was much talk of the Other—that which is strange and foreign to us—as expressed in culture clashes of the real world as well as that between the real world and Faerie. I left the conference feeling I’d met people who were intensely creative, in some cases brilliantly intellectual, and very open to hanging out, whether they were published writers, academics, or “just” fantasy fans. No one was an Other, and we all seemed to have an inkling of what true fellowship is about.

LINKS: Here’s a few links to the Society and some of those present at the conference:

Mythopoeic Society: http://www.mythsoc.org/
Jason Fisher, Tolkien Scholar: http://lingwe.blogspot.com/
Sherwood Smith, fantasy writer: http://www.sherwoodsmith.net/
Malinda Lo, YA writer: http://www.malindalo.com/
Susan Palwick, fantasy/sci-fi writer, lay preacher, and blogger: http://improbableoptimisms.blogspot.com/

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