The Magic of Late Winter, Part VI: Guest Post by Hope Henchey

Pictures by Hope Henchey

Friends, the natural world is changing from gray to green, chilly to warm, frozen to refreshed, but it feels like the human world has gone mad. This pandemic has reshuffled the cards of our lives. I pray for those who are sick, grieving, afraid, jobless, homebound, or lonely.

In the midst of grief and fear, I remember an ancient truth: the God who sits above the circle of the earth and inhabits eternity is our refuge – in pandemics or prosperity, peace or war.

The LORD God is our stronghold. I hope to honor Him by seeking joy in dark places and pursuing beauty through these gray days. Therefore, I am going ahead with the next installment of my Magic of Late Winter series, a guest post by Hope Henchey about late winter in Florida.

Hope’s meditation on the beauty and transience of this season in Florida stirred me like a dream of summer in the midst of winter. I love how she captures this season’s precious, fierce, fragile joy. Enjoy!

March in Florida: The Last Days of the Shire

Text and pictures by Hope Henchey

I’m a season snob, I’ll admit it.

If you ask my opinion of living in Florida for 22 years, the answer you get will vary widely depending on what month it is. You should ask in a month like March.

Those who live in colder climates might look to March with hopefulness of sunny days and fresh air. As a Floridian, however, I’ve already been enjoying sunny days and fresh air for the past few months, so I cling to March tightly as I watch the last specks of sand drizzle through the hourglass, signaling the season when my Shire will transform into Mordor.

March is so, so lovely. It’s the tail-end of strawberry season, which means those delicious berries are cheap, plenteous, and ruby-red ripe. Since we live only five minutes from strawberry fields, we actually eat strawberries at every meal. To continue with Lord of the Rings imagery, I devour strawberries in the same way the steward of Gondor murderously eats tomatoes. The juice drips from my chin like blood, but I don’t even care. It’s glorious.

March is a month when mosquitoes (“our state bird”, as we say) are still mostly gone, and the air is cool enough to enjoy all the local rivers, trees, and beaches. My favorite beach is Siesta Key, where the sand truly looks and feels like powdered sugar. Nearby is the gorgeous John and Mable Ringling Museum and Estate (yes, the circus guy) where my daughters enjoy savoring aromas in Florida’s oldest rose garden. On the way home, we like to stop by a delightful orange grove that sells soft-serve frozen orange juice. March days are full of such adventures.

Though we still might get sunburned if we’re outside more than ten minutes, the big ol’ Star seems more like friend than foe in months like these.

There is, of course, an uneasiness that pulls at my sleeve in March. I know that the hot half of the year is hurtling toward us, with its bugs and crowds and threats of heatstroke. Especially since I’m entering my fifth pregnant summer in nine years, I know that I have months of difficult breathing ahead since my organs get all squished up, yet the fourth-most humid city in America doesn’t seem to care. Even walking to my car feels like I’m underwater in a 100-degree pool. I dread that feeling so much.

But that’s the thing with seasons, isn’t it? We don’t get to control them. Unless we have the flexibility to chase around good weather, we don’t get to pick what season we’re in. I wish strawberries were always cheap and ripe, but the plants must die and be replanted and grow from seeds again. I wish the air could always feel fresh and delightful, but heat and humidity must come.

If I could customize seasons of life by sheer will, I would cut out a lot of the things going on in my life right now, issues that are heavier than hot weather or lack of berries. But the world is broken, and God has given me limits. I can receive each season as the blessing it is, given by God for His glory and my good.

There’s beauty in every season. Even summer holds things I love such as mighty yet calming lightning storms, Vacation Bible School, and lower prices on grapes. But while it’s still March, I’ll enjoy every last moment of blowing bubbles in our yard and gator-watching at Lettuce Lake Park and meandering downtown Tampa’s Riverwalk.

I thank Him for this season and trust Him for the next.

Bio picture of Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey

Hope Henchey lives in the suburbs of Tampa, Florida with her husband and four kids (fifth on the way!) She writes on her blog and microblogs on Instagram about homeschooling, RV living, theology, childbirth, and more @called.beloved.kept and @lightingfireshomeschool. She has written for Christianity Today and Daughter of Delight.

Resonance: Stories that Echo

Pink sunset over a beach.

Within my love for stories is embedded several, more specific affinities. One is for echoes, writers’ allusions to each other’s owork across the ages in archetypes, allusions, and retellings. I love tracing certain ideas across literature: for example, the fact that Cyrano de Bergerac’s large nose alludes to the classical poet Ovid’s physiognomy, or that Huckleberry Finn’s adventures fit into the genre of Bildungsroman.

Sitting in my British Literature Survey class, the first freshman English course at my school (where they weeded out all but the most passionate literature-lovers), I listened to my professor describing the land of Beowulf. She outlined the social structure of the mead hall, the king and the warriors, the scop’s entertainment during the nightly feasting in the communal sleeping hall, and though I had never read Beowulf before, I was thrilled by my own recognition. I had seen it before, as Tolkien’s Rohan.

The best writers are (usually) excellent readers, like rivers fed by the tributaries of their predecessors. They soak in wisdom and knowledge, images and patterns from their favorite works and then recreate them in the freshness of their own experience.

As a growing writer myself, I struggle to create stories that are wholly my own, while still following the traditions I love. For years, I longed to echo the stories I loved, with all their beauty and wonder – and created a rehash of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle, Martha Finley, Roald Dahl, Elizabeth Bishop, L.M. Montgomery, George Macdonald, Elizabeth Winthrop, Betty Brock, Betty MacDonald, and Lynne Reid Banks that brought nothing new to the genre.

Around ten years old, I gave up. I finished Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader and felt the depths of joy and longing at its end fill my soul. I realized that I didn’t have the maturity to write something that rich – so I decided to stop trying.

I grew, and wrote, and started many stories that I never finished. I yearned to write about crumbling castles and mysterious mansions, faraway mountains and fantastic adventures, but scorned my own attempts as pathetically derivative.

My last semester of college, I took a Creative Writing course in which the professor had us read two short stories a week and write a reflection of what we wanted to “steal” (artistically imitate) from them.

I read Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, “Ile Forest,” in the anthology I bought for the class. The richness of its gloomy atmosphere and wild setting, its old secrets and new passions, captivated me. I found myself questioning my self-imposed creed: Le Guin wrote a story brimming with tropes – the mysterious old house in the ancient forest, the enigmatic hero, the beautiful young woman, love and longing, in 1976 – years ago now, but long after those elements had been invented and reused by all those who came before. Were they trite, or classic?

I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Velvet Room and had a second shock: she, too, wrote yet another story about a mysterious old house – but I loved her book. She made it her own mysterious old house. So did Megan Frazer Blakemore in The Water Castle, and Jacqueline West in the Elsewhere series, and Daphne du Maurier in Rebecca, and Maryrose Wood in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. I just finished Elizabeth Goudge’s bewitching, exquisite book, The Bird in the Tree, which is full of “tropes” – the mysterious old house, the place-of-refuge, the little village by the sea, and the drama of family.

Write what you know. I think that’s true; no one is going to be very impressed by my tale of an archeological mystery in Egypt unless I do a lot of research first, and even then, knowledge is often a pale imitation of experience. Yet the rule that is new to me (though others have discovered it first) is write what you love.

What settings, characters, plot structures, and genres inspire you? What sets your heart on fire, and lifts the weight of exhaustion and boredom from your shoulders when you think about it? What stories heal and comfort you? And what do they all have in common?

Choose a few ideas, settings, situations, etc. that could be considered tropes, and then think about how you could make them your own. I listed some of mine below.

TropeMaking it Mine
The child who is swept away from a dull/painful life to a magical country– Recasting the main character as an adult
– Making the real world better/happier than the magical country
– Creating an especially imaginative magical country; for example, as fascinating as The Rainbow Prison in Bruce Coville’s Luster series
– Playing with the obligatory lesson that the child learns; not the usual one of learning to “be brave” or “how to make friends,” but something less common like “doing justice” or “creating beauty”
The ancient, mysterious forest– Make the forest echo a real, earthly region its gorgeous intricacy: temperate, boreal, a bayou, a rainforest – use the beauty of a real ecosystem to make the fantasy more powerful
– Create a magical system that rules the forest with specific laws (ex. a certain species of tree becomes a gateway to other worlds at night)
Life of a poor but happy family– Pour my own experiences into each character; create tension through anger, jealousy, misunderstandings, loneliness, and frustrations that I know personally
– Give the family, or specific members, some creative or magical ability that makes up for their poverty
Send the family on an adventure

Like Roald Dahl’s BFG mixing dreams, I can “steal” (not plagiarize) the qualities of the stories I treasure and stir them into my own tales. My dreams, and my joy, could resonate as continuing echoes in the tradition of world-makers.

The Magic of the Ordinary

New York City skyline in the glow of sunset.

Nurtured by books like The Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings, I used to believe that modern technology has no place in literature. Medieval technology such as swords and ploughs, and maybe even Industrial Revolution technology like trains and mills, were acceptable, but nothing later than 1920s-era technology belonged in books.

My logic for this assumption ran deep into my beliefs about stories. I believed that stories were the exclusive realm of the mythical and the wonderful: ancient forests, splendid castles, beautiful princesses, and so on. As an avenue of the imagination, stories should be above the minor, ugly details of life, like technology.

This subconscious assumption ignored the wonderful details of ordinary life which Lewis, Tolkien, Lloyd Alexander, Edward Eager, Edward Ormondroyd, E. Nesbit, and others use. In Lewis’s Prince Caspian, Edmund remarks that being summoned from England by a spell without warning is “worse than what father says about being at the mercy of the telephone.” Ormondroyd uses an elevator as a key part of his Time at the Top

Mentioning current technology also gives stories the precious stamp of regionalism – memorializing a certain place and time so readers can visit it. Now, I love tasting the flavor of past decades through references to slates and record albums.

My assumption also glossed over the very real fact that swords and ploughs, trains and mills were just as boring and ordinary to our predecessors as subways and cell phones are to us. For all their mythology, swords are really just romanticized pieces of metal.

G.K. Chesterton explains this phenomenon of ignoring the romance of the present with reference to modern-day detective stories. He praised detective stories for capturing

. . . some sense of the poetry of modern life. Men lived among mighty mountains and eternal forests for ages before they realized that they were poetical; it may reasonably be inferred that some of our descendants may see the chimney-pots as rich a purple as the mountain-peaks, and find the lamp-posts as old and natural as the trees. (from here)

The storytellers from whom the Grimm brothers gleaned their material wove their tales with commonplace objects. Spindles are immortal because of Sleeping Beauty, but they were as normal as cars or coffee pots to the people who used them daily.

Chesterton’s perspective reveals the amazing possibilities of our world. We don’t need to reuse crowns and Gothic castles to spice up our stories (at least, not all the time). Why not mythologize Brooklyn apartments and Iphones? 

The technology of our day has near-magical capabilities. Google puts a world of knowledge at our fingertips; planes let us fly over thousands of miles in a single day.

With that in mind, I’ve put some story ideas below which realize a few possibilities of modern technology, the way fairy tales used magic rings or carpets:

  • Glitch in one particular Iphone which lets the user call other dimensions
  • Car (specific make and model) with a radio which begins receiving messages for help from another world/time
  • Computer virus which spreads a real, biological virus via the Internet
  • Windmills which were made not to generate clean energy, but to guard against holes in Earth’s magical atmospheric shield
  • Subway train which gets lost and discovers a network of caves full of secrets (treasure, ancient warnings about disasters, lost civilizations, etc.)
  • Stopwatch which begins to count down the days/hours/minutes until the next terrorist attack
  • Energy beings (aliens?) which communicate with the entire country using the powerlines