One More Day

Frozen faces, brittle like ice
thawing gently in the sun,
how tentative smiles break,
lapping gently at thin lips.

Sunset Image

The first snow marks the true passing of fall; when those last few tenacious leaves are finally torn from their desperate perches and left to the wind’s mercy.

The man stood silent and alone, the dying sun sinking behind the Blackthorn Stronghold. Every day he stood on the same grassy knoll to watch the sunset and every day his breath fogged in the air just a little more clearly. Flags snapped in the chilled air behind him and he knew that if he were to turn he would see tents so numerous as to be impossible to count. And yet despite the vast numbers, his army had yet to breach the walls to which they had spent a season laying siege.

Now the cold crept slowly in, spreading delicate webs of frost and misting one’s breath in the mornings and nights. The man ran scarred hands over the creaking leather straps of his armour, his blade heavy at his side.

Just one more day. Please. Just give us one more day. It was a prayer the soldier had made every evening of the last week. As though if he willed it strongly enough it would ward away the snow and the season of gold and orange would remain eternally.

For he knew as soon as the snow set in, those gathered outside the stronghold would be far more vulnerable than those trapped inside. For even the hardened people who had lived and grown here fear the white of winter and struggle to survive it. Left exposed to the elements in naught but tents, his men would slowly fall. Much like the wind whittling away at a cliff face, chipping away at stone until it all collapses. The man took a breath and felt the weight on his shoulders as though it were a cliff. To win the campaign would be at the cost of most of his men, and the wealth waiting inside would do little to comfort the dead.

The gentle crunch of browning grass being crushed beneath booted feet, drew him from his thoughts. They were far too light to belong to any of his men.

“Remus.”

He does not turn as his wife approaches and settles at his side. Nor does he look at the small figure standing to her left or the bundled one he knows she carries in her arms. When he speaks he looks still towards the fading sun. “You should not be here.”

“And yet here I stand.”

“Gisele. The children—”

“Winter is not yet upon us. They will keep.”

“They will catch their deaths.”

Gisele shifts at his side. “Soon so will we all.”

Remus turns to her and thinks there is little difference from the sight he just turned from and the one he looks upon now. Her fiery hair weaved in intricate braids had once blended with the leaves of the trees, all a ruby so brilliant that the entire forest looked as if it was aflame. Now the red locks stand out against the stark nothing that coats bare branches. Gisele meets his gaze with firm eyes, one hand resting on the curls of their older sons’ head, the other cradling their new son to her chest. The hem of her dress is damp and the fur mantle of her cloak engulfs the delicate arch of her shapely neck. They are so beautiful. Alive and breathing. And Remus fears. He has seen too much death and he doesn’t think he can bear to witness theirs.

This was always a war of attrition. If those inside the keep could last until winter, then those outside would be doomed. It was always unsure what manner of supplies Blackthorn possessed. They could be days away from starving, or could still be weeks from it. Remus had no way of knowing and because of that was stuck.

At his feet Julien moves from his mother to pluck the grass from the ground, tearing it apart as children are wont to do. Remus wishes it were as easy to keep his son safe as to entertain him.

Gisele must read something of his thoughts on his face and speaks. “I have thought of a name.”

“A name for what?” Remus asks, though he knows already.

“For our son of course.”

“It is too soon.”

“It is a good name.”

“A good name will do no service to the dead. It is too soon.”

Remus is not wrong. There are too many dangers that could steal children from the world – sickness, cold and hunger. Many parents would wait at least two seasons before naming so as to not get attached only to have the babe die. His youngest son came into the world just as the leaves started turning gold, and only now did the last of them fall. It was too soon.

Gisele huffed, but let the subject go. Remus thought she feared their son dying without a name. But Remus was responsible for more lives than those of his sons.

“If I order these men to stay I sign their death warrants.”

“Great men are rarely good ones.”

“Perhaps I only wish to be a happy one.”

Remus gestures Julien over, face already pink from the cold. Remus sweeps his son up so Julien is hanging from his throat like a necklace. Julien buries his cold face in Remus’s neck as Remus wraps Gisele and the baby both in his arms and breathes them in. There is great wealth waiting inside Blackthorn that is true. But gold was cold and gemstones were sharp and his wife and children were warm in his arms.

Just one more day, he prayed.

Please just one more day.

 

Jayde Taylor

 

The Labyrinth is Thoroughly Known

2013-04-10-labyrinth

Last week I got a bit academic on you and started down this road of form and structure, and what it means to readers and writers and so on. The reason for this dialectic digression stems from my own exploration of the concepts of form over the past few months while I have been structurally editing my manuscript. As anyone who has ever done this knows, ideas of form are integral to the structural process.

I began last week by underlining the fact that ‘form’ as a concept is incredibly complex and a multifaceted term that at different points in one discourse may refer to genre, style, format or structure, or something else altogether. Indeed, ‘form’ often refers to a combination of all these things within the cultural connotations that society has built up over a good few thousand years of literary and narrative art, since well before Aristotle’s Poetics first tried to categorise and define these ideas.

Not only do these concepts of form span history, but they also span ethnicity. While world cultures vary in language, customs, religion and social structures, the ideas of form within storytelling seem yet to transcend even these vast diversities (Let’s pause for a moment and wonder at the incredible global unity that is created by the sharing and telling of stories, and how we have come to be at this moment in time as a result of the many ages and cultures that have come before).

So form is complex, yet it is also timeless. It’s difficult to define, and yet a firm grasp of form can provide an author with a necessary framework to build or remodel a work of narrative art. This is why so many literary courses deal weightily with the study of form. It not only informs our reception and criticism of narrative work, but also the way in which we construct it.

Last week I proposed we look at some theories of form that have emerged over the past fifty years or so, since the advent of Modernism combined with massive industrial and technological progress opened the world up to a greater consumption of and formal interest in literature. In the 1950s there unfolded a rebirth of literary academics, and therefore a new progression of philosophical schools of thought about the subject. Here we shall touch on only a few, but at least some of the most important theories that shape how we currently think about structure and story.

Northrop Frye

Last week I pointed you in the direction of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism as a foundational academic work that paved the way for all modern concepts of form. Frye was labeled a ‘structuralist’ (as opposed to the post-structuralists that came later) because his theories were founded on the idea of certain concrete and universal frameworks of story.

Don’t be discouraged if you began to drift halfway through Frye’s ‘Polemical Introduction’ and gave up before you even started on the first essay. Frye is considered by many to be the most important theorist on Western literature to have existed in the past fifty years. So his work is necessarily detailed and extremely thorough.

Here’s the general idea about Frye:

  • He was one of the first literary theorists to develop a theory of criticism solely based within the framework of literature itself, instead of applying theories of criticism from other fields of study, as everyone else was doing at the time.
  • This meant he studied the works themselves and developed a theory based on content and communicative ability instead of the whims of literary trends and personal taste.
  • As a student of Aristotle, he based his analysis of literature on the elements identified in the Poetics.
  • By interrogating the substance of great works of literature, he surmised that literature has a general tendency to rely on primitive formulas.
  • He developed a four-fold scope of analysis that was inherently cyclical, that is, took cues from the progressive and atmospheric change of natural seasons, the ages of man, and the progress of history.
  • This is where his famous theory of seasons comes from, where each season corresponds to an archetype of story: comedy, romance, tragedy and satire.
  • He argued that myth and literature are codependent, as literature is merely a means for a society to reinterpret and revoice myths that are central to its foundation and development.
  • His theories focus on the way in which these myths are retold.

In summary, Frye was a genius. In order to really understand his work you need to read it, but short of that try Wikipedia’s summary or this rather helpful slideshow. Basically, he discovered that within certain combinations of foundational elements, all the variety of world literature takes life, much like the twelve tones of music, transmuted through differences of register, metre, rhythm and timbre, form the basis of all the musical works of the world.

Essentially, he found that literature is about telling the same stories in an infinite number of different ways.

Joseph Campbell

Campbell takes this concept of central story archetype one step further in his seminal work, The Hero with A Thousand Faces, from which the theory of monomyth, or The Hero’s Journey, is derived. Campbell was a scholar of legends and world religion and his work points to the same conclusions as Frye regarding literature and narrative being simply the retelling of myths. However Campbell goes on to decide that all stories can be traced back to a single myth, irrespective of time, place or culture: the transformative myth of the hero.

John_William_Waterhouse_-_Ulysses_and_the_Sirens_(1891)

Here’s where we can get less abstract and more concrete about form, specifically how it applies to narrative structure. While Campbell’s work was also complex and expansive, he was very adept at applying his theories to modern stories, not just literature but film as well. Add to that a fantastic way with words and ideas, and you quickly see why this guy became so important to contemporary story theory.

Campbell’s work is much more accessible for non-academics than Frye’s so I recommend a full read. However, this series of interviews with Bill Moyers provides a comprehensive and entertaining summary of his ideas, beginning with this fantastic quote from The Hero with A Thousand Faces:

We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the heropath. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.

Here’s the Campbell overview:

  • Through extensive comparative research of myths and legends throughout the world he developed a theory that all stories centre on a hero completing a transformative quest.
  • He defines a hero as someone who has found or achieved or done something greater than the norm; who has risked himself for the benefit of others.
  • Like Frye, Campbell discovered that story was cyclical, specifically formed by a going and a return.
  • The basic motif is that of leaving one condition and finding a source of strength or change in order to bring the hero into another, more mature or advanced condition.
  • All stories are based on the objective of saving something: a people, a race, a person, an object, an ideal; and of the hero sacrificing something in order to achieve that salvation.

Have a quick search around the internet and you will find countless diagrams of the hero’s journey and pictorial depictions of Campbell’s work. You will also find a lot more information on the ideas that have come from his writings, specifically the monomyth, but also the structures of initiation rituals and coming-of-age stories as they tie in to the hero’s journey.

In summary, Campbell found that all stories can be traced back to the idea of a transformative quest, that of sacrificing one state for another in order to benefit an external cause.

So…

You may not agree with the above ideas, in which case you would be more interested in the schools of deconstructionism and post-structuralism which became very popular when meta-thinking was all the rage, and was probably what dominated most literary corridors when you were at university (and no doubt still does). Next week we’ll touch briefly on these thoughts, and consider why, after all that, we keep on coming back to this inescapable idea that there is nothing new under the sun except the way in which we colour things.

Is the labyrinth thoroughly known? Or is it impossible to ever know?

Perhaps therein lie two sides of the same coin.

 

Elise Janes

 

Anthology: Poetry

Like visual art and music, the world of poetry is also full of seasonally-inspired works, from Frost’s snowy woods to Shakespeare’s summer sonnets. The following represent two sets of seasonal poems examining Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter, one set from the northern hemisphere and the other from the southern, in this case exclusively Australian bush poetry. The contrasts are interesting and readily apparent. Where the northern poets described distinct climactic features easily recognisable from the bias of classical canonic art, the bush poets experienced the seasons in terms of rains, crops, the quality of light and the subtle changes in flora and fauna.


NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

Vernal Equinox
Amy Lowell, 1874 – 1925

The scent of hyacinths, like a pale mist, lies

between me and my book;
And the South Wind, washing through the room,
Makes the candles quiver.
My nerves sting at a spatter of rain on the shutter,
And I am uneasy with the thrusting of green shoots
Outside, in the night.

Why are you not here to overpower me with your

tense and urgent love?

 

Summer Song
William Carlos Williams, 1883 – 1963

Wanderer moon
smiling a
faintly ironical smile
at this
brilliant, dew-moistened
summer morning,—
a detached
sleepily indifferent
smile, a
wanderer’s smile,—
if I should
buy a shirt
your color and
put on a necktie
sky-blue
where would they carry me?

 

October
Robert Frost, 1874 – 1963

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.

 

To Winter
William Blake, 1757 – 1827

O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.
He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his scepter o’er the world.
Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.
He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch! that deal’st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.

 


SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE 

September in Australia
Henry Kendall (1839-1882)

Grey winter hath gone, like a wearisime guest,
And, behold, for repayment,
September comes in with the wind of the West
And the spring in her raiment!
The ways of the frost have been filled of the flowers,
While the forest discovers
Wild wings, with the halo of hyaline hours
And the music of lovers.

September, the maid with the swift, silver feet!
She glides, and she graces
The valleys of coolness, the slopes of the heat,
With her blossomy traces;
Sweet month, with a mouth that is made of a rose,
She lightens and lingers
In spots where the harp of the evening glows,
Attuned by her fingers.

The stream from it’s home in the hollow hill slips
In a darling old fashion;
And the day goeth down with a song on its lips
whose key-note is passion;
Far out in the fierce, bitter front of the sea
I stand, and remember
Dead things that were brothers and sisters of thee,
Resplendent September.

The West, when it blows at the fall of the noon
And beats on the beaches,
Is filled with tender and tremulous tune
That touches and teaches;
The stories of youth, of the burden of time,
And the death of devotion,
Come back with the wind, and are themes of the rhyme
In the waves of the ocean.

We, having a secret to others unknown,
In the cool mountain-mosses,
May whisper together, September, alone
Of our loves and our loses.
One word for her beauty, and one for the grace
She gave to the hours;
And then we may kiss her, and suffer her face
to sleep with the flowers.

Oh, season of changes – of shadow and shine –
September the splendid!
My song hath no music to mingle with thine,
And its burden is ended;
But thou, being born of the winds and the sun,
By mountain, by river,
Mayst lighten and listen, and loiter and run,
With thy voices for ever.

 

Summer
Louis Lavater (1867 – 1953)

I am weary,
Weary of bracing myself against the sun’s hot hand;
I am weary, and I dream of cool places . . . .

I see a grassy couch
Under a canopy of leaves;
A reedy river murmers by,
Crooning an old, old melody
Tuned to a long-forgotten scale,
Made when the world was young.

Rolled to the river’s edge the hills lie fast asleep;
Pale stars slip o’er their ledge and sink into the deep:
Down in the deep they sink to slumbrous peace,
Down in the deep they drink the water of peace;
In the quiet deep they quench their fires in sleep
And drown in a cool green dream.

The sun insists his burning hand upon my head;
I am weary, and I dream of cool places.

 

When the Sun’s Behind the Hill
C J Dennis (1876 – 1938)

There’s a soft and peaceful feeling
Comes across the farming hand
As the shadows go a-stealing
Slow along the new-turned land.
The lazy curling smoke above the thatch is showing blue,
And the weary old plough horses wander homeward two ‘n’ two,
With their chains a’clinkin’, clankin’, when their daily toil is through,
And the sun’s behnd the hill.
Then it’s slowly homeward plodding
As the night begins to creep,
And the barley grass is nodding
To the daisies, all asleep,
The crows are flying heavily, and cawing overhead;
The sleepy milking cows are lowing sof’ly in the shed,
And above them, in the rafters, all the fowls have gone to bed,
When the sun&’s behind the hill.
Then it’s “Harry, feed old Roaney!”
And it’s “Bill, put up the rail!”
And it’s “Tom, turn out the pony!”
“Mary, hurry with the pail!”
And the kiddies run to meet us, and are begging for a ride
On the broad old “Prince” and “Darkey” they can hardly sit astride;
And mother, she is bustling with the supper things inside,
When the sun&’s behind the hill.
Then it’s sitting down and yarning
When we’ve had our bite and sup,
And the mother takes her darning,
And Bess tells how the baldy cow got tangled in the wire,
And Katie keeps the baby-boy from tumbling in the fire;
And the baccy smoke goes curling as I suck my soothing briar,
When the sun’s behind the hill.
And we talk about the season,
And of how it’s turning out,
And we try to guess the reason
For the long-continued drought,
Oh! a farmer’s life ain’t roses and his work is never done:
And a job’s no sooner over than another is begun.
For he’s toiling late and early from the rising of the sun
Till he sinks behind the hill.
But it grows, that peaceful feeling
While I’m sitting smoking there,
And the kiddies all are kneeling
To repeat their ev’ning prayer;
For it seems, somehow, to lighten all the care that must be bore
When the things of life are worrying, and times are troubling sore;
And I pray that God will keep them when my own long-day is o’er,
And the sun’s behind the hill.

 

A Ballade of Wattle Blossom
R Richardson

There’s a land that is happy and fair,
Set gem-like in halcyon seas;
The white winters visit not there,
To sadden its blossoming leas,
More bland than the Hesperides,
Or any warm isle of the West,
Where the wattle-bloom perfumes the breeze,
Ant the bell-bird builds her nest.

When the oak and the elm are bare,
And wild winds vex the shuddering trees;
There the clematis whitens the air,
And the husbandman laughs as he sees
The grass rippling green to his knees,
And his vineyards in emerald drest–
Where the wattle-bloom bends in the breeze,
And the bell-bird builds her nest.

What land is with this to compare?
Not the green hills of Hybia, with bees
Honey-sweet, are more radiant and rare
In colour and fragrance than these
Boon shores, where the storm-clouds cease,
And the wind and the wave are at rest–
Where the wattle-bloom waves in the breeze,
And the bell-bird builds her nest.

 

Elise Janes

 

All poems are in the public domain and sourced from http://www.poets.org and http://australianpoems.tripod.com

 

Anthology: Art & Music

The seasons have long inspired artists across all disciplines, both singularly and as a complete cyclic whole. Here is a representation of some of those sets from visual artists and composers around the world and from the Renaissance period through to the Twentieth Century.

 

Giuseppe Arcimboldo
(1526-1593) Italian

Arcimboldo’s portraits are among today’s most recognisable Mannerist paintings, particularly his portrayal of the Four Seasons, two of which are on display in the Louvre. Mannerism was an artistic movement that straddled the Renaissance and Baroque periods and focused on the connection between humans and nature.

“Arcimboldo also tried to show his appreciation of nature through his portraits. In The Spring, the human portrait was composed of only various spring flowers and plants. From the hat to the neck, every part of the portrait, even the lips and nose, was composed of flowers, while the body was composed of plants. On the other hand, in The Winter, the human was composed mostly of roots of trees. Some leaves from evergreen trees and the branches of other trees became hair, while a straw mat became the costume of the human portrait.” (from Wikipedia)

 

Nicolas Poussin
(1594-1665) Italian

Painted only 100 years after Arcimboldo’s portraits, between 1660 and 1664, Poussin’s series portrays the seasons through allegorical landscapes, focusing on the grandeur of nature and it’s power over man rather than the Mannerist depiction of intimate connection. Commissioned for the Duc de Richelieu, the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, Poussin’s series symbolises the seasons through Old Testament episodes.

 

Antonio Vivaldi
(1678-1741) Italian

Composed a half-century after Poussin’s series, Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons (Le quattro stagioni) are arguably the most recognisable pieces of Art music in the world today. The suite is a set of four violin concertos, each representing a sonnet describing one of the four seasons. Firmly Baroque in style, the concertos are balanced, evocative and virtuosic.

 

Astor Piazzolla 

(1921-1992) Argentinian

Contrasting in style to Vivaldi’s concertos, Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas, also known as the The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, is a modern chamber music suite representing the season’s in Piazzolla’s native Argentina. Composed in the twentieth century, the suite is a set of four tango compositions scored for Piazzolla’s quintet of violin (viola), piano, electric guitar, double bass and bandoneón.

Elise Janes

See the Anthology of Poetry.

Mythos in Children’s Literature

There is a vast amount of literary technique to be learnt from writers of children’s literature: how to condense character, how to form intimate adventure, how to elucidate on complex issues with simple yet profound illustration. Regarding the symbolism of seasons, in external and internal frames, the following excerpt from Virginia L. Wolf’s article considers what we can learn from their use in classic children’s narratives.

The Cycle of Seasons: Without and Within Time (except)
Virginia L. Wolf

“Seeds grow to plants, yield their harvest, and die, the earth lying dormant and barren until the cycle begins anew. Within a year an animal may also progress from birth to full maturity, producing its own offspring. Similarly dependent upon the natural cycle, people find in the seasons multi-leveled and universal symbols. We see spring as childhood, summer as adolescence, fall as maturity, and winter as old age. On the religious or mythic level, the cycle of the seasons becomes the birth, death, and return of a divine being. In literature, according to Northrop Frye, there are mythoi, or generic plots, associated with the seasons—comedy with spring, romance with summer, tragedy with autumn, and irony with winter (162). The full cycle may suggest permanence, promising transcendence as spring follows winter or threatening endless repetition as summer leads to fall. Or, it may capture continuous change as each season offers new and unique experiences.

“In a children’s novel whose primary setting is home, formal requirements often necessitate the use of the cycle of the seasons. Novels using this setting differ enormously, depending on their individual content, especially the age of their protagonists, but besides their use of the seasons, they share other characteristics. Typically, they concentrate on a very small setting, introduce very little conflict, and celebrate a way of life. They may seem a collection of episodes with no clear-cut order. But, as I intend to demonstrate, the cycle of the seasons gives them form and, in the process, meaning.

“Four such novels are E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods, Eleanor Estes’s The Moffats, and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Part I. All four are relatively stationary in space, focusing on their respective protagonists’ homes, and all four have a strong female emphasis. None of them, furthermore, introduces serious conflict. On the other hand, there are many differences among them. Charlotte’s Web runs from spring to spring, The Moffats from summer to summer, Little House in the Big Woods from autumn to autumn, and Little Women from winter to winter. Also differing are the seasons emphasized, Charlotte’s Web and The Moffatsstressing summer and Little House in the Big Woods and Little Women stressing winter. The most significant differences, however, are those created by the age range of the protagonists. Wilbur is one at the end of Charlotte’s Web, Laura six at the end of Little House, Janey nine at the end of The Moffats, and Jo sixteen at the end of Little Women. The age of the protagonist is, of course, an essential factor in determining the age of the child reader of a novel and the form this novel can take. In their similarities and differences, in other words, these novels should provide the critic with the opportunity for increased understanding of the ways children’s novels vary for the sake of audience.

220px-AnatomyOfCriticism“At the same time, they also reveal the potential of the cycle of the seasons for structuring children’s novels set in homes. In Northrop Frye’s terms, Charlotte’s Web and Little House in the Big Woods are romance, both very nearly becoming myth, and The Moffats and Little Women are comedy. Frye uses the term myth to refer to a communal vision controlling a work of literature. “Undisplaced myth, generally concerned with gods or demons” (139) he sees as the center of all literature, which often displaces, or adapts, myth to varying degrees for the sake of plausibility. To the extent that the techniques of mimesis—verisimilitude, fullness and accuracy of description, for example—characterize a literary work, in other words, myth is displaced (51, 139-140, 365-367). Romance Frye defines as “the mythos of literature concerned primarily with an idealized world” (367), and as the one which least displaces myth. Both similar and different, comedy is the mythos of literature in which myth is greatly displaced, resulting in romantic comedy to the extent that the ending represents an ideal, and ironic comedy to the extent that it does not (163-186).”

Writing Seasons

No this will not be a discourse on the figurative seasons of a writer’s life. There are plenty of those oozing around the web and many more hidden in forgotten spiral notebooks on your study shelves.

Right now I’m focused on a much more literal literary problem. I’m interested in the craft of writing seasons.

Weather plays a pivotal role in narrative. Beyond the objective way it motivates plot and action, climate affects mood and tone in both monumental sweeps and incredibly subtle nuance. Seasons define culture, customs, language, symbols and associations in ways that few other narrative features can. It is inevitably a major player in any creative work.

walden_pondImagine, for example, that Thoreau had secluded himself on a Florida beach instead of the woods of New England. Walden would be an altogether different experience (with a different title) and we never would have had such an enlightened discourse on the transformative power of Spring:

The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last. Suddenly an influx of light filled my house, though the evening was at hand, and the clouds of winter still overhung it, and the eaves were dripping with sleety rain. I looked out the window, and lo! where yesterday was cold gray ice there lay the transparent pond already calm and full of hope as in a summer evening, reflecting a summer evening sky in its bosom, though none was visible overhead, as if it had intelligence with some remote horizon.

Consider the brooding danger of To Kill a Mockingbird without the backdrop of a long Southern summer. Hannah Kent’s Burial Rights without the crystalising Icelandic cold. Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori without the Japanese fall of winter sakura blossoms. The English Patient without the hot, sandy North African war. A Tale of Two Cities without rainy London streets. The White Tiger without the steaming slums of Delhi. Love in a Time of Cholera without the tropical heat of the Caribbean coastline.

In fact climate does more than simply play a part in a single story: its manipulation in one work forms part of a dense cultural mesh through which all associated narratives are viewed. That is, the way authors and storytellers interact with seasons defines the social discourse of the places they write about and the cultures they inhabit.

As an Australian I am aware of a niggling responsibility to try and build on the sparse cultural mesh of our young, small and (let’s be honest) insecure narrative landscape.

When I was just a little book nerd reading my Richard Scarry and Beatrix Potter I would often find myself wondering where my parents hid those great piles of red leaves in which to jump (preferably with yellow galoshes). I would wait in my backyard hoping to spot a phantom squirrel nibbling an acorn. I would gaze out over green parks trying to imagine where all the spring bunny rabbits were hiding. I would search around our living room in hopes of finding a crackling fireplace, the one I was meant to curl up in front of while snow fell outside.

In short my imagination was genuinely confused by the disparity between the seasonal landscapes of my picture books and the reality that surrounded me.

DPSAnd thanks to narratives like The Groves of Academe, The Secret History, Wonder Boys and Dead Poets Society I find it easier to picture a school year beginning amidst chilly autumn leaves than in a hot, clapboard classroom under a sadly rotating ceiling fan. Apparently we are supposed to camp in immaculate pine forests in the summer instead of at the beach. And overseas vacations should be at the Caribbean or the South of France instead of Fiji.

This phenomenon of seasonal currency also translates directly into the invented worlds of speculative fiction, finding its way into a variety of speculative genres but most obviously into epic fantasy where Northern Hemispherical climates dictate the law of imagined geographies. Middle Earth is modeled on the seasonal terrain of Tolkien’s native England, as is Lewis’s Narnia. American landscape features throughout Jordan’s Wheel of Time and is particularly apparent in the Western flavor of King’s Dark Tower series.

In Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire narrative weather is a major player on a number of levels. It not only creates atmosphere, tone, obstacles, opportunities and cultures, it literally defines the identities of the warring families of Westeros and Essos, and thus the entire backbone of the series.

The_Wall

I’ve dreamed of the day when I would read (or write) an epic narrative where the climatic world was turned on its head. In my version of A Song of Ice and Fire the Wall would be in the south and Dorne would be in the north. The Iron Islands would be the Sandy Islands, and winter would never be coming.

In my world, pumpkins don’t grow at Halloween. Snow doesn’t fall on Christmas Eve. Beaches are never cold, windy places with wooden piers and taffy. Birds don’t fly south for the winter. Heading west means deserts, not prairies, and north the Equator, not the Arctic Circle. There is never a real reason light a wood fire, or rake leaves, or shovel the sidewalk. We steal mangos not blackberries, and bake pavlova instead of pie. Family picnics are BBQs at the beach, not sandwiches in green meadows.

This is the world I know. This should form the landscape of my imagination and therefore of my imagined worlds. It’s a strange thing to have to work against a preconceived cultural notion of tone and place because the culture, while dominant, is not your own. Yet it is part of my responsibility as an emerging creative voice, and a challenge I submit to all those in the same position: to add to this global lens in our own language and rhythm, and make our own experiences, and that of our Southern-land compatriots, a greater part of the world’s narrative imagery.

 

Elise Janes

the end

He holds your hand in both of his, sitting on that cracked top step, his face grim and vulnerable with tender resolution. “It’ll work out. I’ll work it out.”

You stand before him, panic quickening your heart. “What are you saying?”

“I’ll move.”

He meets your eyes, exposed conviction in his gaze, and your breath is gone. But surely he knew?

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Surely he knew this was the end.

You hear the others through the open door, laughing over their share-house dinner. They know you’re both out here, they know why. Your time is up and you have to decide.

The door is open but this grip of his feels like the most intimate you’ve ever been. The weight of the simple gesture makes it real, terrifying. He waits and you can’t speak.

What did you think would happen? Maybe you hoped that when the moment finally came you’d both laugh and agree it could never work.

Or maybe you wished through the descending seasons that your heart would shed a layer and this would suddenly be right.

The question was there from the moment you met, knowing you were his type and he was yours. He took you to the old hall on campus and you stared up at the tiny stained glass windows, portraits of legendary writers. You were breathless, in awe, like he knew you would be.

His careful approach to life was a relic from his childhood, from his infamous neighbourhood and absent father perhaps. A determination to make the right decisions, avoid hurting others. This was the first commandment of his life, despite the subtle, contained wildness in him: an irresistible conflict of impulse and hesitation.

Were you completely honest with each other? Not really, not with the deeper stuff, the hidden places. You showed him most of who you were: not everything, but more than usual. The rest you dropped in hints, hoping he would catch them, hoping he would show some sign of awareness, acceptance.

But if you lost your security or your strength or your resolve or your temper it would surprise him. He would try to re-strategise, to deal with this new antagonist in you, full of tense dissatisfaction.

You didn’t want to be dealt with (even thought he didn’t mean it that way). You needed someone who would push back, who would put you in your place or be moved by your conviction or slam the door in your face or thrust you against a wall. He would be slow and considerate and that would make you push further, irrationally scratching for that true impulse, the indication that you were both alive to the same humanity.

Perhaps you’ve known all along that he couldn’t be that person. But still you wanted to be with him, to see what would emerge, hoping he would prove you wrong. All the passing seasons have faded into this inevitable parting and all you’ve thought about is this moment, forming your heart around the possibility of a future.

Perhaps it’s your fault for letting your heart go because now the memories are too real and they won’t go away, wedged in your mind, forever shadowing the years of your life.

Time is up and you have to decide, and here he is on the step with his earnest eyes telling you he’ll move, he’ll follow you, he’ll make it work, and you know he believes it.

So, you see? No one wins. Both of you cautiously following the path of possibility, neither willing to make the first mistake, and this where it ends. Surely he knew that?

But no, he never did, and for that you blame him. Now you have to be the one to admit reality, to open his eyes to the truth. You must be the one who does this awful thing and it’s not fair. You gave him your heart, you tried, and yet he still doesn’t know you, not really.

The laughter grows louder in your ears and your hand trembles in his grip, under his waiting gaze. He has broken your heart, and now you must break his.

Elise Janes