When I Discovered Fantasy…

2 Pellucidar books by Edgar Rice Burroughs - Ace F-158 F-280 | eBay

I was 13 years old when a friend lent me his copy of Pellucidar by Edgar Rice Burroughs–adventures in the inside-out world of the hollow earth, complete with dinosaurs and monsters–and it blew me away. I had no idea there were books like this! I couldn’t get enough of them. Happily for me, ERB wrote dozens of books. I’ve still got ’em (paperback price: 35 cents!), and I still read ’em from time to time.

Burroughs introduced me to other worlds, pure fantasy, anything goes. Just like Tarzan went to Pellucidar once.

But then in high school, sophomore year, I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Lord of the Rings, and oh, brother! This took fantasy fiction a notch higher. I find it bordering on the impossible, to describe how much I enjoyed it. I spent the next ten or twelve years of my life trying to write a fantasy like Tolkien’s. What the heck, everybody else seemed to be doing it–you never saw so many unsatisfying imitations published.

I learned an awful lot about writing by reading and re-reading Burroughs and Tolkien. I also learned to give up trying to imitate them, and just write like myself: took more than a few years to learn how to do that, too. The end result is my Bell Mountain series.

I envy those of you, out there, who’ll someday discover top-flight fantasy, as I did, and just go to town on it. I know reading isn’t as fashionable as it once was. But as much as I love movies, there’s nothing better than a roaring good book. No special effects genius, no cast of actors, no director can ever quite match what that special book can do with your imagination.

Does it serve God? Does it give God the glory? I’d say that depends on what the reader does with it. Tolkien was a devout Christian, and I’m sure he hoped his books would do that. Just as I’m sure that for many readers, they did.

Encore: ‘How to Keep a Toddler from Going Up the Stairs’

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I have to write a Newswithviews column, but first… a little fun.

How to Keep a Toddler from Going Up the Stairs

How did my grandma ever think of this ploy? It really worked! What? Go up the stairs–with the Mick-Mock up there waiting for me? Not a chance!

But I find myself wondering if any more of our fears are, like the Mick-Mock, just something that somebody made up to keep us from doing whatever they didn’t want us to do. Think… oh… Climate Change.

Memory Lane: Coming Home from the Scary Movie

Time Machine, The (1960) | Nostalgia Central

Morlocks! I knew they had to be around here somewhere!

I’m 11 years old, The Time Machine is playing at the old Forum Theater, it’s Friday night–and by some miracle, my folks let me go to see the movie. I walked there with my friend Jimmy, from down the street. He’s 12.

Okay, we’ve seen the movie, time to walk home. We could’ve gone via Main Street, but I guess we were feeling kind of grown-up and adventurous so we went by way of the back streets instead. There was nowhere near as much street lighting then as there is now.

It didn’t take us long to get the creeps. The Morlocks, the baddies in the movie… what if there were Morlocks hiding in the darkness, getting ready to jump out on us? We picked up the pace a little. We laughed nervously at our fanciful idea–I mean, come on, really! That didn’t make the Morlocks go away. Happily, we made it home before they attacked us. Dawdling Morlocks.

I wonder if kids even have this experience anymore. All it did for us was to enhance the movie experience and provide me with a pleasant memory. I wonder about the state of their imaginations.

Gee, for some reason the daily nooze this month makes me think of Morlocks… a lot…

Memory Lane: Our Friendly Egret

This video reminds me of a snowy egret who used to keep us company at the house we rented, for vacation, on Long Beach Island. Actually, she was attached to the owner of the house, who lived downstairs. But she liked Patty and me, too.

Every year she flew down to Florida for the winter, but she always came back in the spring and stayed all summer. Often she used to perch in the owner’s boat when he went fishing. Or she joined us on the dock while we fished, or on the deck when we watched the sun go down. We always had some bits of squid for her, or a minnow or two. She would have joined us in the living room if we left the door open, but for the rug’s sake we never did that.

Snowy egrets nearly went extinct in the 19th century, due to the demand for its feathers to decorate lady’s hats. When the demand went away, the egret recovered.

I never saw another wild bird half as friendly and sociable as this egret. We loved her, and it was always a treat to find her still there when we came down for two weeks in September.

And her snowy feathers surely looked better on her than on some silly hat.

The Good Old Stuff: Andre Norton

Witch World: Norton, Andre: 9780441897087: Amazon.com: Books

Before science fiction learned to be pretentious, it was fun. And no one was more fun to read than Andre Norton–at least according to my own young teen way of thinking.

I grew up on her books. I didn’t know “Andre Norton” was a pen name for Alice Norton. Nor did I realize she had over 300 books in print. Impossible to read them all. So this Christmas I asked for three of her more noteworthy books that I hadn’t read when I was a kid: The Time Traders, Witch World, and The Sargasso of Space.

Hooked! They’re just as cool as I remembered them. Too bad she never married and had children and grandchildren. Imagine: “Grandma, tell me a story!” But millions of us read her books; and by the time her long career, 70-plus years, ended with her death in 2005, she had won practically every major award you could win for science fiction and fantasy.

Andre Norton wrote both science fiction and fantasy and didn’t seem to care of they sometimes got mixed together. Her science fiction was of the kind classified by Isaac Asimov as Type One Science Fiction–which I translate as “Science, schmeience, we’re in it for the adventure!” And you can’t say her work was ever pretentious. Not ever.

Understand, I’m not holding these out to you as great Christian literature. Anyone who wants to become a writer can learn much by watching a master storyteller at work. I don’t think God requires us to make everything an overt theology lesson. Do we not know that simple pleasures come from Him? Sometimes a ride on the merry-go-round, a yo-yo trick successfully performed, a sip or orange juice, or the sight of a bright red cardinal in a green pine tree–sometimes these simple little things are exactly what we need, and God knows that. That’s why He’s provided them.

 

‘Memory Lane: DIY T.V. Repair’ (2016)

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Were I just a few years younger, I’d be too young to have seen this technology, let alone remember it. This is a culture that’s no longer with us.

Before there were transistors, printed circuits, browsers and whatnot… there were vacuum tubes.

Memory Lane: DIY T.V. Repair

I can’t explain what a vacuum tube is or what it does, although my father and my uncle could. All I can tell you is that when I was a little boy, a TV set was chock-full of vacuum tubes. And there was this cool tube-testing machine at the local hardware store, where you could find out which tubes had to be replaced.

We don’t even have a hardware store anymore–to say nothing of persons who could take apart any appliance, fix what was wrong with it, and put it back together so it works. My father could do that with every appliance in his home. I can only shake my head in awe and wonderment.

Anniversary: Our First Date, 1976

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I think that’s a reproduction of The Islanders menu, printed in the print shop at the good old Bayshore Independent, where Patty and I were working in 1976. I was managing editor, she was the bookkeeper. And The Islanders was a slam-bang great restaurant–I had my first Chinese food there, when it opened–which made it a natural destination for our first date.

And we’ve been together ever since.

After The Islanders we went to the movies (Voyage of the Damned–not exactly a knee-slapper) and then to Sam’s Bar & Grill for a nightcap. It was more an old-fashioned tavern than a bar and grill.

All those things are gone by now… except us. I don’t like to think of how our lives would’ve turned out if we hadn’t met: glory and praise to God, who has blessed us with each other.

Man and Cat: It’s Complicated

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My father was a big softy: which was why so many people loved him. But he always tried to hide this aspect of himself… fooling nobody. Every dog knew this man could be had.

Our cat Henry was a very discerning feline. If I had let him pick my friends, I would’ve done better. He had little use for most of the people we brought into our home. They could “kitty-kitty!” him all they liked and he still wouldn’t go near them.

So there’s my father sitting on the rocking chair in our living room, discoursing on how much he loves dogs but cats, nah, not his cup of tea, never could warm up to cats. You big faker, you. Because there’s choosy, discriminating Henry sitting on his lap! Purring. And getting petted.

Your animals know who’s good, who’s not. Don’t be afraid to trust them.

The Ghost of a TV Western

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I was nine years old in 1958, and I have a vivid memory of lying awake in bed, listening intently as my parents, downstairs, watched Jefferson Drum.

This TV Western–and there were dozens of them, in those days–had theme music like none other’s. It was a grim, stately drum solo. I fully expected to find it preserved somewhere on the Internet so I could play it for you. Lying up there in the dark, that theme used to thrill me. Frankly, I don’t see how the show could ever have lived up to that theme music.

But, alas, I can find no trace of the Jefferson Drum theme. It is as if it had never existed–a fate that has overtaken many things and places of my childhood. Village of Bonhamtown, gone without a trace. Oppenheim’s estate, utterly erased. Lived here all my life and I can barely find my way around.

For the record, Jefferson Drum (played by Jeff Richards) was a crusading newspaperman in the Old West, before “journalists” turned into organ grinders’ monkeys for the Democrat Party. The show only lasted one season; but I can still hear that drum solo in my mind. I wonder if anybody else remembers it. Was there really any such thing, or did I dream it?

Memory Lane: A Whopper of a Snow Day

Child walking through deep snow Stock Photo - Alamy

I may have told this story once before; but what with today’s white sky and cold temperature, I think I’ll tell it again.

Rewind to 1966. It’s snowing like crazy when we get up in the morning, but they haven’t shut the schools and off we had to go–my brother, our friend Gary from next door, and me. Off to the bus stop, with the snow coming down like gangbusters. And after waiting half an hour, it became obvious to us that the bus wasn’t running that day.

“Well, let’s walk!” I said. Some two miles to our high school, and now it was snowing even more heavily. But we were young, we liked the challenge–and in just an hour and a half, we made it to the school.

Hardly anyone was there: maybe a quarter of the staff and a few dozen of the student body. My home room was Mrs. Wilcox’s chemistry lab, one of the few classrooms that was open. Mrs. Wilcox had put up a dart board for the half a dozen students who were there. That was a treat! We played darts while Mrs. Wilcox read a novel.

By and by the principal came in and sent everybody home. The snow was deeper now, but we didn’t mind. Up to our knees and still coming down. Two hours to get home. And after lunch we went back out again, all the way down to Tommy’s Pond to help other kids clear the snow off the pond for ice skating–which was what we and a lot of other townspeople did that evening.

It sort of went without saying that school would be closed the next day, too. So we went to the Y, which was mysteriously open–I guess so Mr. Williams could smoke his pipe in peace–and shot pool for a while in the adults’ lounge; and then back to Gary’s basement for a game of cards.

What fun that was, all of it! My father went ice-skating that night: couldn’t get the car out, our dead-end street was among the last to be plowed. Lots and lots of sledding at the pond, with a fire in a metal drum so you could warm your hands.

I wonder if they have snow days in Heaven. Betcha they do.