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Picturing a World

Blue sunset

Blog post alert: Who knew? Sunsets on Mars are blue! Now there's a small detail that should add a touch of unexpected realism to a sci-fi story or else spark some major imaginative flight of fancy. What about the night a blue sunset began to billow and sway like the aurora borealis?

Via Gurney Journey

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Thanksgiving potluck, 2020

Instrucitonal page, Norman Rockwell Museum collection

A friend on a lovely New England back road told me about the barn-door, grab-and-go, potluck dinner she and her neighbors have organized for this COVID-19 Thanksgiving. Six of them (two couples and two singletons) have been assigned a dish. Each will make six servings and place them in six paper bags. This morning, they will gather at a table in the wide door of one participant's barn for each person to pick up a complete dinner. Then off they go home. It sounds so cute, so perfect for describing a picturesque New England town in these strange days, so—what could go wrong? Well, what could? Ladies and gentlemen, fire up your story engines!

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And The Ocean Was Our Sky

"Call me Bathsheba." Thus opens Patrick Ness's novel, The Ocean Was Our Sky. (I giggled, remembering the opening to James Thurber's The Wonderful O: "Call me Littlejack,' he roared. And the taverners called him Littlejack.") An obsessed captain hunting a villainous Toby Wick? Surely this must be a joke, a parody of Moby Dick. It works by inversion: ocean for sky, whales who hunt whalers. A female narrator, Bathsheba, against Melville's Ishmael. But the book isn't funny: it's heartbreaking and weird, and Rovina Cai's illustrations are as important as the text.

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Cluny interior

This week, an astonishingly acute reader notified me that I had got Quilliard's name wrong when I mentioned this  watercolor in a 2013 blog post. The old link no longer works anyway, so I'm delighted to post the image itself with a stable museum link. I used this watercolor to help imagine Jeanette's week at the Cluny in Where the Light Falls. Lovely to see it again! How I wish the novel could have been illustrated by an artist who took inspiration from such 19th C paintings.

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Northern Lights

Yesterday, my copy of this British 25th Anniversary edition of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights arrived, with Chris Wormell's stunning illustrations. The landscapes are breathtaking, especially those of icy mountains and the aurora borealis.
 
As it happened, I've been reading Peter Davidson's wide-ranging Idea of North, a study of how the concept of "north" has figured into art, culture, folklore, etc. Last night, I came across a passage about how certain magnetized stones retain their orientation in spite of geological shifts. Davidson remarks on "this fundamental marvel of the earth itself having an idea of north, a northern memory" (p. 56). The idea of intelligence as information rather than consciousness is certainly coming into focus these days, including in the observation of how plants respond without a centralized brain. But think of it, the mineral world with memory, too!
 
For my library book club, I am reading Migrations, by Charlotte McConaghy, which is set in a near future when mass extinctions have wiped out almost all wildlife. What I'd love to see is a speculative fiction that embodies the life—the activity, and change, and slow responses—of the inorganic as well as organic world in sentient characters. We need to feel within us the tides and flow of the more-than-human world. A fantasy might be devised so that such awareness is part of everyone's experience, or a special set of a population; or it could be that in a more conventional realistic story there is at least one character grappling with the implications of just what non-human, non-animal intelligence entails.
 
So as a jumping off point (a là Natasha Pulley)—if it were true that people could slow their rhythms down to the sound waves sent by elephants through the ground or perceive with their own senses the changes wrought by water on a cliff, what else would have to be true? What would follow?
 
NB: The 25th anniversary illustrated edition of Northern Lights will be published in America in May 2021 under the title The Golden Compass. 

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Gotch dragon

Last night, tired of political news, I surfed the 'net and found an astonishing collection of dragon images at Tor.com. It goes on and on. I scrolled and scrolled. Most are 20th and 21st C illustrations for fantasy fiction, which vary from cheesy to brilliant. Even the cheesy ones are so professionally executed that if you love dragon pictures, you'll get a kick out of them. Scattered throughout, moreover, are older images from Renaissance Italy to Chinese scrolls to William Blake—and this one by Thomas Cooper Gotch. It stopped me and held me; and this morning it sent me into a variation of Natasha Pulley's writing exercise.

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Celebrate!

The election results are in. And by chance, they were celebrating this day 407 years ago. Huzzah, huzzah, huzzah! (Image from a 17th C French manuscript, « Le discours de l'entrée (7 nov. 1613) de Messeigneurs le duc d'Espernon et marquis de La Vallette en la ville de Metz, avec les pourtraits des arcs triomphaux », par « D. Jacquet » (1614).)

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Waiting

In this strange time of waiting for the final election results, of coping with next phase of COVID-19, of wondering what comes next, I reviewed some old files of images and found this one by Canadian artist Kristin Bjornerud, which I had taken from Terri Windling's Art, activisim, and the soil we grow in. Sometimes untranslatable pictures seem to sum things up! (Or maybe you see a story here?)

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Inga Moore’s Secret Garden

An edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett's Secret Garden illustrated by Inga Moore has been my bedtime reading for the last few days of the presidential campaign and should get me through to tomorrow's aftermath. It's lovely. I'm not sure when I last read the novel—maybe as much as thirty years ago when Ruth Sanderson's beautiful edition was published. When I opened this book, I knew I would have adored it as a child and was going to enjoy it now. In my conceit as a garden historian, though, I thought its illustrations of the Misselthwaite grounds were a bit over the top—much too complicated and big to be maintained by the one gardener I remembered from the story. Well, I was wrong.

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