Saturday, April 4, 2009

Why "The Mystery & the Magic?"

Why is my blog called The Mystery & the Magic?

Here's the short answer. These are the things I seek. Whether I am writing or reading, or creating or consuming some other form of popular culture, my hope and deepest desire is to witness a spark of the transcendent. I want to see between the drapes separating the mysteries of our world and the answers beyond. Great writing, and great art in general, has this unique ability to wonder openly at the mysteries of our lives, to put shape to our shuddering spirituality, and to attempt to grasp those deeper resonant heart pangs we all feel. This for me is the mystery, and the magic.

Here's the longer answer:

I recall a scene in the indie film Waking the Dead starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly. I put on the movie a few years ago during a season in which I watched everything, like everything I could lay my hands on. Indie films, mainstream movies, and oddball documentaries and features produced in obscure corners of the world. Every so often I stumbled across something that blew my mind. Waking the Dead was one of those movies for me. In the film, Billy Crudup (amazing actor!) loses his girlfriend (Connelly) in a fatal accident but years later as he moves on with his life and goes into politics he has all but forgotten about her.

Then he starts to see her again.

Or he thinks he sees her. Is he seeing a ghost, something from the afterlife? Is he just experiencing a deep grief that he never resolved? There is a scene, near the end of this movie, after a major political triumph, in which Crudup breaks DOWN. He is at dinner with his family, and he tells them that he has something to say, and his emotions have reached that point and the floodgates explode, he's completely overcome, crying, telling his family how badly he is losing it, how he is seeing his old girlfriend but she's not really there, and how much he doesn't know what is happening to him, how he cannot stop freaking out and the moment is so honest and intense and wonderful. We should all be so honest with our families. And when its done, his family smiles hugs him, totally accepting. He wipes his eyes and they eat.

For me, it was a profound moment that spoke to something about the human experience and condition that we all long to express even when it's difficult. This story brings light to the mystery of human grief, the need for family and how we grapple with death even when it's so difficult and raw, that somehow beauty surfaces in our own vulnerability. There is a magic in this kind of story. And it's amazing when that spark appears out of nowhere in a place where it shouldn't appear at all. It's when our world rubs up against the supernatural one, which is all around us and oh boy, I know it inside when I see it.

When I first started to read fiction, I began with a fantasy novel. I read a book called The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, published in 1977 (the same year Star Wars came out, and the year I was born). Before The Sword of Shannara I hadn't really read any proper "books" of that length - the edition I read was over 700 pages long. It looked massive in my hands. I was young, 12 years old.

I was home sick from school that day and my dad handed me the book, and after everyone else went to school and work, I opened it without any idea what it was and began to read, and proceeded to tear through the book from morning to night, stopping briefly for meals, my eyes to the page ALL day. I stayed home from school again the next day and finished the 700-page book the second night. I have never read a book that length so fast since. It was a whirlwind reading experience, first of its kind, and the beginning for me of a whole new world. Reading. Stories. Magic.

What was it that propelled me forward at such a pace? Obviously, the characters and the story, which I found out later, were in large part based on The Lord of the Rings. But also, the magic used in the story, and the mystery of how that magic worked and where it came from; the mystery of the supernatural. It was the draw of that thing beyond what I knew, what I know. And to this day, I know there is a world beyond our own and I am ever-fascinated by the flickers of it that I see ever-so-rarely in my life. I was inspired by the magic and mystery of this book, the wondrous things the author explored through this strange and new idea that I hadn't seen explored in this way. It captivated my imagination.

This blog is all about writing, publishing and fantastical stories, my own and those of others authors, creators and filmmakers. So when I distill down the ideas that I am most drawn to in my favorite stories, the mysteries, and the magic of life are what's left. And there it is.


beth♥ said...

'The Sword of Shannara' was my first fantasy novel as well. I was ten.

"I want to see a fluttering of the drapes between the mysteries of our world and the answers beyond." Well worded, dude. GREAT!

Valerie Comer said...

Enjoyed hearing how your blog got its name. I'm pretty sure I don't need to explain mine: In My Little World!

Alexander Field said...

Beth, yeah, that book was a fun place to start at such a young age, but wow, so similar to LOtR.

Valerie, thanks for coming by. Yours is pretty straight forward isn't it - and that's probably a good thing too...

Robert Treskillard said...

"I am ever-fascinated by the flickers of it that I see ever-so-rarely in my life"

I think that inspires a lot of us: God calling through the mysteries of the world, his power through the magic of imagination.

May you inspire it in others through your writing, Alex!

ORION said...

The totally reminds me of what got me into reading and writing- to go to that 'other world'
great blogpost!

Alexander Field said...

Robert, agreed! Thanks for the kind words!

Orion, right there with you! Thanks for popping by!

Alexander Field said...

Robert, one more thing - may your writing inspire this in others well! : )

Eve said...

I liked the glimpse of raw emotion you saw in this movie. It always amazes me how God can use anything and speak to us through it.

Keanan Brand said...

Excellent post!

Another good (though raw-language) flick with Billy Crudup is "Dedication", in which he portrays a writer of children's books. It stayed with me long after I watched it.

The Sword of Shannara was one of my early forays into fantasy, too, but The Hobbit had been there long before then, since I was six-ish, I think, and the animated film came out, then someone gave me the record with the accompanying book to follow along with the reading. Then I just checked out the book from the library for myself, and read it in huge gulps. The Hobbit was my introductory drug, you might say, into the whole realm of fantasy literature.

By the way, the edition of Shannara I read included the awesome artwork of the Brothers Hildebrand. A few years ago, I bought a couple prints of theirs for my home office: one of Smaug guarding the treasure (from The Hobbit), and another of Eowyn fighting the Witch King (from The Return of the King). Great for the imagination!

Alexander Field said...

Eve, it's a surprising raw moment on film, so rare. But refreshing too.

Keanan, I haven't seen Dedication, but I might have to check it out. 'Waking the Dead' by the way is a heavy film, not for the faint of heart either.

By the way, I have that same edition of Shannara, with the Hildebrand artwork, it's falling apart but I still have it. And I could see how having those prints on the wall would be fantastic for writing (even while standing up!). I need to post some some inspiring posters on my wall!

Pink Ink said...

Great post! Enjoyed reading about your early influences.

When I was in grade school, I was hospitalized for a couple of days, and to make me feel better my dad gave me a couple of Nancy Drew books to read.

Hooked me onto suspense/mystery from then on. :-)

Alexander Field said...

Thanks Pink Ink...sounds like you have a similar history! : )