My favorite holiday is Solstice – both summer and winter. It’s the most astronomically interesting holiday. Winter solstice is mostly about darkness, but the dark nights are clear, filled with bright stars. Usually around winter solstice, some little thing happens that feels magical. This year was no exception.
For my coolly rational friends who read this blog, I will say that I am an open-minded sort and I am at least as willing to consider coincidence as magic; but only as willing.
After the farmers’ market today I stopped at the East West Café for breakfast. I was reading Rosemary and Rue, which I picked up used at Copperfield’s Books. This is an urban fantasy by Seanan
Maguire McGuire that comes highly recommended by several of my fantasy reading friends. More about the book another time. There was an older man eating at the table next to me. He was also alone. He was reading the Sonoma County Gazette, a free paper with lots of local news and opinions. He wore a light flannel shirt and a fleece jacket. I could see he had a hearing aid (I found out later he has two). He finished up his meal and I was drinking the last of my orange and carrot juice, and he said, “Is that a mystery you’re reading? You look so intent.”
I said it wasn’t mystery, although it appears there is a mystery in the book. I showed him the cover and said it was fantasy.
He said, “I just wrote a book with fantasy in it, but only a little bit. There’s time travel at the beginning, when four characters go back to medieval times.”
I asked what it was about. He started to explain by asking if I’d heard of the Chronicles of Narnia. I said yes, of course. Well, his YA novel is a response to Narnia. He is calling the first book “Tentacles of Marnia.”
He had me right there.
Jim McCormick’s his name. He started talking about how he never liked the Pevensey children in the Narnia books, and how surprised he was to find out that there were people who didn’t see the Christian allegory in the Narnia books. (Amazing, but apparently true.)
He knew a lot about Lewis; about his childhood, with his mother dying of cancer, him and his brother being sent to boarding school at a tender age – about his pact with a fellow soldier in World War I and Lewis’s subsequent support of the soldier’s mother and younger sister, and apparently a sexual relationship with the mother. (Debate rages to this day about whether Mrs Moore and Lewis did have a sexual relationship.) He started to tell me about the Inklings, but of course I already knew about them. We discussed the differences between Tolkien and Lewis. He was very focused on Lewis’s spiritual journey, but he thinks the Pevensey children were “stuffy” and “prissy.” He knew a lot about Lewis’s letters and non-fiction, and thought that with the exception of the Narnia books, Lewis’s fiction was pretty bad.
Then I asked him about his book. Four modern-day teenagers get thrown back in time, onto an island in the North Sea, in what sounds like the mid-thirteenth century. After the Norman invasion, a Norman knight was given this island as his demesne. The original ruler was quite progressive, but now his grandchildren rule, and they are awful. When the modern-day kids show up, they connect with local rebels, who tell them the tentacles of control must be severed: army, police force (I’m guessing more like espionage or secret police) the Church influence, etc. He didn’t list all the tentacles.
He has just finished the first book. He is in a writers’ group and they like it, he told me. He is getting ready to start the second book and market the first one. I made a couple of suggestions and told him he most likely would need an agent.(My main suggestion was that he do both start the second book and begin marketing the first one.)
He was very interested when he heard that I reviewed books. I pulled out a piece of paper and tore it in half—half for him and half for me to exchange e-jail addresses on. His ISP is rockisland.com.
“You are not from the San Juans!” I said.
“You knew that from the email address? I live on San Juan Island,” he said.
My parents retired to the San Juans and lived on Orcas, the second-biggest island in the archipelago. Their e-mail was also through rockisland.com. Jim is down visiting his two daughters who live in Santa Rosa. What are the odds, really, of me meeting someone who is writing a fantasy novel and lives 30 miles from where my step-mother does?
Even more strange is that East-West Café was not my first choice for breakfast today. The place I wanted to go to had no tables, and I didn’t feel like waiting. Coincidence? Or solstice magic? I’m voting for magic.