Tag Archives: Mongolia

‘Let Me Share a Treasure with You’ (2017)

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We have a lot of new readers here, so you guys would have missed this, first time around.


This wonderful footage was taken, most it, by J. B. Shackleford, photographer for the American Museum of Natural History’s expeditions to the Gobi Desert in the 1920s.

Watch: this is the key to another world.

Where I Get Some of My Ideas From

I write about a world that never was, inspired by a world that used to be.

This is footage from Roy Chapman Andrews’ Gobi Desert expeditions in the 1920s, for the American Museum of Natural History. This is Mongolia as it was then, but isn’t anymore.

God has wired into some of us a longing for places we cannot reach, either because they exist no more or because they never did exist. A fantasy writer taps into that. We know the past was real, because we used to live in it: but was it really? Things change. Sometimes they change too much. Places I used to know very well are so gone, so wiped out without a trace, that they might as well have been in Mongolia in 1926: or tucked away in Lintum Forest. Pick one.

Did I dream these places? Were they ever really real? Because I can’t find them anymore.

Oh, but God can. He most certainly can.

Let Me Share a Treasure With You

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Andrews confers with a Mongol camel-rider

I think it’s safe to say I couldn’t begin to write the kind of fantasies I write if I’d never read Roy Chapman Andrews’ non-fiction accounts of his scientific expeditions to the Gobi Desert. He led the great Central Asiatic Expedition for the American Museum of Natural History, into a country passed over by many of the currents of history–a country so wild, so exotic, that it might as well have been a fantasy world, like Middle-Earth or Narnia.

To see what I’m getting at, visit the Roy Chapman Andrews Society website ( https://roychapmanandrewssociety.org/ ), scroll down quite a ways, and then watch some videos of original film footage from the expedition. The video in the middle of the page is especially haunting, with a gorgeous piece of music attached–The Gael by Trevor Jones, part of the soundtrack of The Last of the Mohicans. Maybe I’m some kind of nut, but this video brings me close to tears.

Because it’s a lost world, sights that no one will ever see again, a world unto itself, with no Starbuck’s, no MacDonald’s, no transgender bathrooms, none of the dismal plock we have to hack our way through every day.

It makes me homesick for the world of my own fantasy novels: somehow these videos get me to thinking I can go there–to Lintum Forest, to Roshay Bault’s house in Ninneburky, to the Abnak camps among the foothills. All fantasy, of course.

But God has given us imagination for a reason; and I think the reason is to keep us sane.

A Hero with a Broken Wing

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Roy Chapman Andrews in the field

I raced through my wife’s gift, Quest in the Desert by my boyhood hero, Roy Chapman Andrews–the story of an expedition to Mongolia in the 1920s, and the wild adventures of the leader and his dog. These are avatars of Andrews and his dog, to whom he dedicated the book; and the adventures are based on his actual experiences.

I was expecting a rip-snorting yarn, and I got one. What I wasn’t expecting was an undertone of sadness that will haunt me for a while.

The Mongolia that Andrews fell in love with is long gone, the world he inhabited is only a memory–and I’m old enough now to empathize with that. My world’s pretty much gone, too, and I don’t much like the one that’s replaced it. And yet there’s more to it than that.

I somehow got the impression of a man who, wherever he went, didn’t quite fit in. Certainly he was needing something that he couldn’t seem to find.

And then, watching some film footage of Andrews’ expeditions, it occurred to me that maybe the wistfulness was in me, not the writer. Watching the black-and-white ghosts of Andrews’ bygone world, I found myself longing for it in some way that I could hardly understand.

I have read much of Andrews’ non-fiction, and now I’ve read his novel, written more than twenty years after he had to leave Mongolia for good, the communist regime having kicked out all the Westerners. And now I think I know what Roy Chapman Andrews was missing–mind you, my conclusion is based only on the words he committed to publication.

There is no sign, in any of this printed work, that the author had any communion with the God who created him, whose Son redeemed him. And looking out on our God-rejecting age–which, with a little bad luck and a lot of stupidity and wickedness, could turn out looking like Northern China in 1926–it makes me think that a human being without God is incomplete, and will never be complete. There is only so far we can go without Him, and that’s not far enough.

Which, I believe, was the broken part of Roy Chapman Andrews. He traveled very far indeed, but never far enough.


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