Summer of Faerie: “King Midas Chased Me This Morning” and “Summer of Invisible Dragons” by Rachel Donahue

My research methods for this Summer of Faerie project have been quick, messy plunges instead of the careful, methodical, deep dives of a professional scholar. However, I am finding treasures. J.R.R. Tolkien, George MacDonald, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alan Jacobs, Madeleine L’Engle, and many others have explored the mysteries of Faerie, including memory, imagination, wonder, and beauty. My latest pleasure was finally reading George MacDonald’s The Golden Key, which I had heard about but not read – a sparkling, mesmerizing tale with echoes of dreams, death, and eternity.

The other writers who have joined me in this quest of celebrating and adding to the Faerie canon continue to delight. Rachel Donahue returns with another poem that “strips the veil of familiarity from the world” to expose “its sleeping beauty” (stole that from Shelley). Rachel also contributed a story that reminded me of a hearthfire on a cool, misty day – atmospherically, somewhere between the Shire and the Misty Mountains. Enjoy!

King Midas Chased Me This Morning

King Midas chased me this morning.

I saw him coming in the rear view glass,
his broad reach spreading o’er field
and tree and man alike,
gilding everything in sight
until he reached my pane,
besmirched with dust,
and I could see no more
through the aurous wash.

As I fled, I turned to spy
him rising there behind a tree,
and when I least expected him,
his fingers reached
deliberately
and touched my eyes
till all I saw
was gold.

Summer of Invisible Dragons

by Rachel Donahue

3.5.42

Plowed the back pasture today. Tom Shepherd came down the lane with his flock and brought word that dragons have descended from the top of Mt. Summit. Strange news. He’s not one to believe in fairy tales. I’m afraid he may have the dropsy mind.

7.5.42

Successful day at market. Folks love Mae Ella’s rhubarb jam. Stopped by the inn for a brew and heard a traveler saying that Dunn Castle is under siege by invisible dragons. The other patrons laughed at his strange tale, but his story gave me a bad feeling. I told Mae Ella about it and what old Tom said the other day.

9.5.42

Helped Mae Ella prep her flower beds. Sowed the back pasture.

11.5.42

Cut hay in the meadow.

12.5.42

Figured out where the story of invisible dragons came from. They aren’t invisible at all—you just can’t see them. A messenger from Allendale said the eternal cloud at the top of Mt. Summit has descended upon Dunn Castle where it sits at the foot of the mountain. The castle is completely hidden from view. Said he could see flashes of fire inside the cloud all the way from Allendale.

13.5.42

Baled hay. Mae Ella helped.

14.5.42

Went to a meeting in the square this afternoon at Mae Ella’s urging. Rumor reached us this morning that the dragons have spread from Dunn Castle to Allendale. Some believe the dragons can smell crowds, so they refuse to go outside. That explains why the market was so slow. Wish I could’ve stayed home myself. There’s talk of canceling the lantern festival next week, though I don’t see the reason for such fuss. We’re a long way from Allendale.

15.5.42

Smithy says there’s an inventor coming to Redfield to teach all the smiths from surrounding villages how to make his contraption—a kind of metal parasol. Says it’ll protect from dragon fire. Smithy’s already asking folks to give up their swords and shields and any other scrap metal they can afford. Says once the dragons get here we won’t have much use for them anyway. Not sure that I’m ready to give up my weapons on a hunch. But I did check the roof over and patch a couple places.

16.5.42

Mended the fence in the south meadow.

17.5.42

Word came that the dragons seem to have a taste for elders and are sparing the children. Maybe they’re attracted to the smell of menthol and camphor, I don’t know. But there’s a cloud over Sweetdale now, so they’re one step closer. There’s another meeting in the square tomorrow morning—only one representative from each family. Guess it’s up to me to go.

18.5.42

We canceled the lantern festival. Who could have imagined. We’ve celebrated this festival on the same day for hundreds of years. But we can’t risk attracting the dragons with large crowds. Our elders are too valuable.

19.5.42

Planted the garden. Feels strange to be sowing with the threat of dragons. Wondering if we’ll even be here to harvest.

20.5.42

I took my shield and extra swords to Smithy today. Never thought I’d be protecting my family by surrendering my weapons. Nothing makes sense any more now that there are dragons. They’ve moved on to Birchwood, so it’s just a matter of time before they get here. People are celebrating the lantern festival by placing their lanterns in windows. It’s not the same, but it’s a mighty nice view from our end of town to see so many little lights aglow.

21.5.42

A traveling merchant in the market today was selling what he called “dragon repellent”—a stink cream guaranteed to keep them away. He made some sales, but I didn’t buy it. Mae Ella asked around and found it was something she could make herself. Now the kitchen stinks to high heaven. I sure hope she don’t expect me to smear that stuff on when I go out.

22.5.42

Yep, she did. I smell so bad I can hardly stand myself. But I sure do love that woman. She makes so few demands of me, if she feels better with me stinking, I reckon I’ll do it. Good thing is, I’m not the only one. There’s enough of us wearing the stink that you can’t tell who it is that smells so bad. It might or might not keep the dragons away, but it’ll sure work on everything else. Even Bo and Bess won’t come near me. Glad the planting’s all done.

24.5.42

Well I never. I’m so cross I can’t see straight. Heard that our neighbors over in Greenfield are pushing their elders out of town, sending them out as a kind of offering to the dragons. Said they won’t be caught stinking or using funny parasols—they have the right to go about their lives like normal. Said if the dragons want the elders they can have ‘em, that way they’ll leave the rest of the village alone. Folks tried to tell ‘em it don’t work that way, but they won’t listen. We here in Redfield been taking those elders in for safekeeping. It may put us at higher risk, but with the stink cream and the parasols and everyone staying indoors, we suspect to be OK.

27.5.42

Got a nasty splinter while making stakes for the tomatoes. Mae Ella got most of it, but couldn’t get the last sliver. Elder Roy made up a paste to draw it out. I wonder what other useful things he’s got stored up in that head of his.

28.5.42

No market this week. Working the land with my parasol contraption close by. It’s a bit unnerving, having to watch and listen so close while I work, but I got to keep the farm going.

30.5.42

Folks is growing restless, what with being cooped up with the stink and all. The inn’s closed, and the taverns, too, and no one’s meeting in the square. I only leave to tend to my animals, and poor Mae Ella hardly leaves at all. It’s hard to see that sweet blossom withering on the vine, but she’s determined to take good care of the three elders we got staying with us. To pass the time we all tell stories of an evening. I’ve been amazed to hear what they’ve seen in their day, but it’s nothing like the dragons. They’ve never lived anything like this.

2.6.42

The dragons are at Greenfield. Maker have mercy. Some from town went to see if they could help, to carry them some cream and a few extra parasols, but it was too late. The cloud had already covered the village. We could see flashes of fire out west in the early morning hours before the sun was up. It’s eerily quiet here—no birds or chitterin, no wagons or talking. Everyone’s locked up tight now, just waiting.

4.6.42

The dragons passed us by. I’ve never been so scared in my life. We been spread out in the house, not more than two together, and all of us under parasols as much as possible. Only sound I heard for two days was a baby crying down the street and the animals restless in the barn. No one knows when they’ll be back or exactly why they kept going, but we’re all breathing careful tonight.

5.6.42

Still no sign of dragons here, but no one goes outside unless they need to. Taking every precaution. Got word from Greenfield today—the whole village is in mourning, hardly a family untouched. Some dead, some suffering burns, a couple houses charred to a crisp. Someone sent word thanking us for saving their elders from such a fate. The elders are mourning, though. They’ve lost more than most.

8.6.42

Been at Greenfield for two days, helping to clean up the remains. Mae Ella sent me off with baskets of food and all the extra stink cream she could spare. Only seven of us made the trip from Redfield, but we didn’t walk together for fear of drawing the dragons back. It was a lonely journey. I’ve worked so hard the last two days I ache in places I’d forgotten about, but I was determined to get home to my sweet Mae Ella soon as I could.

11.6.42

The elders have decided to return home. Greenfielders are staying indoors now and using all the stink cream and parasols they can get, and they’re in sore need of their elders. I’m mighty proud of the folks from our village who are stepping up to help and donating what they can. A few old misers in town are more interested in being right and teaching them a lesson, but I say that that poor village has suffered their folly enough without anybody else heaping coal on the fire. The ones of us who went to help the other day saw that plain enough.

12.6.42

Weeded the garden. Caught a glimpse of the firstfruits.

15.6.42

There’s a new normal around here. We live every day with the threat of dragons (word still comes of villages hit near and far) but we’ve been fortunate. Hard not to let our guard down when the skies are so clear. But we all care about each other too much to be careless. Even the ones that was skeptical are taking up parasols now that it’s hit so close to home. Some of the ladies done gone to painting theirs, making it a new kind of fashionable thing. I got to say I don’t mind it so much. Those little spots of color—like the zinnias that popped up in Mae Ella’s flower bed—just brighten up the place and help it not to feel so dark and dreary. Eventually the dragons will come—I can feel it in my bones—but that don’t mean we can’t take care of what’s here right now. If Mae Ella’s taught me anything in all my years with her, it’s that. We got work to do.

Rachel Donahue

Rachel Donahue

Rachel S. Donahue holds a B.A. in English and Bible from Welch College in Nashville, TN, and has more than eleven years’ experience changing diapers. She and her husband, Mick, previously lived and worked in Spain serving people groups at risk of marginalization. They now live near Charlotte, North Carolina, where they’re both involved in the family greenhouse business while raising three sprightly boys and a sweet-as-pie little girl. Visit her website/blog at www.thedonahuedaily.com.

Her book, 
Real Poems for Real Moms: from a Mother in the Trenches to Another, can also be found on Amazon or bookshop.org.

Presenting a Conference Paper – and Rose Gardens

Pink roses.

A week ago, a new email in my inbox lit me up: the committee accepted my paper proposal for the 2020 L.M. Montgomery Conference. I’ll be presenting it at the University of Prince Edward Island next June.

This paper has been my intellectual rose garden for three years: a joy, and a challenge that cultivated me as I cultivated it. It officially started as my independent study the last semester of college – but really, it began when I was ten.

We were visiting family in California. Through sun-soaked days of biking past gardens of red roses and avocado trees and creating a slip-n-slide in the backyard, I’d read through the books I brought in my blue backpack. I started L.M. Montgomery’s Emily of New Moon series, a stack of three paperback books my grandma left on the wooden desk in the den.

I read through the first two books quickly, enjoying the rich natural scenery, humor, and drama, but feeling from the start that Emily’s story was different from Anne’s (I’d read Anne of Green Gables already). Anne of Green Gables starts out like a morning in spring, rich with the promise of a new family and a new home. Emily’s beginning is autumnal, dusky: she comes home from an evening walk to learn that her beloved father is dying. Emily’s love for writing, more pronounced than Anne’s, resonated with me – but her anger and pride, bitterer and deeper than Anne’s fiery temper, felt too close to my own for comfort.

The third book felt like a dry and weary land where there is no water (though there are some oases). Emily is unhappy and uncertain, falling in and out of love, deserted by her childhood sweetheart, often unsuccessful in writing…and discouraged. I pushed through knowing that there must be a marriage and happy ending – I thought all books had those. Finally, I shut the book with a sigh of relief. Finishing Anne of the Island, the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and other favorite books filled me like a feast, but this story weighed on me. 

For twelve years, I thought about the Anne and Emily books, wondering, what happened to L.M. Montgomery between writing the two series? Why is Anne so bright, and Emily so dark? And where is God in the Emily books – the God who always gives hope and life, who is always our happy ending?

In my last semester of college, I set up an independent study on children’s literature, starting with a comparison of the Anne and Emily series. I examined their views of God and threw in a light comparison/contrast between Anne and the Romantic poet William Wordsworth, Emily and another Romantic poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley.

My professor liked this contrast, and encouraged me to explore it further. She also encouraged me to try to publish the paper. I hoped to go to graduate school for literature, so I took her advice and dug deeper. 

When I went home that winter, I split my time between applying to every possible job within 50 miles and researching the paper. On days too cold and snow-smothered to go outside, I sat in front of the gas fireplace with my laptop. My purring cat crawled all over me and wrote gibberish on my resumes and research notes by stepping on the keyboard. 

Over the next three years, in bright mornings while sipping my coffee and dark evenings after running, three jobs in three states, and other writing projects, I worked on the paper. I submitted it to possible literary journals and received rejections that hurt a little, but came with the excellent scholarly criticism: names of books and articles to read, thoughtful analyses of weak points and oversimplifications, and suggestions for new directions for research. 

I delved into L.M. Montgomery’s emotional and intellectual life as expressed in her journals, her Scottish Presbyterian faith and heritage, rich knowledge of 19th century literature, religious and spiritual perspective, as well as the wealth of resources created by scholars before me like Mary Henley Rubio, Elizabeth Epperly, Irene Gammel, and Monika B. Hilder. I combed the surface of Wordsworth’s poetry and scholarship: golden daffodils dancing on a hill, souls moving inland with age, cliffs looming out of the darkness. I ran my fingers across Shelley’s work: dark pines on a mountainside, beauty moving among mankind like an unseen ghost, a boy running through a starlit wood hoping to speak with the dead.

Finally, I submitted a proposal to the conference – and was accepted. This year, I plan to dig deeper than ever before into the roots of the paper – L.M. Montgomery’s work, the Bible, Scottish Presbyterian theology, Wordsworth, and Shelley – to cut away the weaknesses in my argument and replace oversimplifications with comprehensive analyses. Next June, I’m excited to learn the insights of other scholars and hear the labor, and the rewards, of their rose gardens.