One of my favorite storytellers doesn’t write books. He doesn’t write songs, either. But his stories quicken my imagination and teach me about beauty and light and the mind of God. He’s an artist and illustrator named Justin Gerard, and I’m pleased to let you know that he’s our official artist-in-residence for Hutchmoot 2011.
I discovered Justin Gerard years ago via his involvement with Portland Studios, an art studio in Greenville, South Carolina. He painted the cover of my 2005 album The Far Country, the cover illustration for On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and has illustrated two of the three Wingfeather Saga books. Yes, ladies and germs, that makes me a fan.
It’s not just that his pictures are amazing. It’s that they flip on a light switch deep in my heart, in the room where the ten-year-old boy inside me sleeps. Justin’s pictures yank back that kid’s covers and tell him to get outside and play. More than once, I’ve looked at a new painting or sketch on his blog and had my mind flooded with unwritten stories, stories about wise old monsters and epic battles fought on the backs of giant, noble birds.
I’m pleased and proud to let you know that my dear friend Ben Shive‘s newest collection of songs is now available for pre-order and/or immediate download here in the Rabbit Room. These songs are quirky, brilliant, poetic, and joyful—and the lyrics are smack-your-forehead good. I’m being serious when I say that I don’t know of any songwriter on earth who could make an album like this—one with pop hooks, chamber strings, great sounds, intricate poetry, and on top of that, Scriptural allusions galore. As the proprietor of this establishment, I implore you to download this record (or pre-order the disc) and listen to it eighteen times in a row, as I did when I first heard it. Then sit back and thank God that there are true believers in the world who are using their gifts for the glory of the Giver.
When I introduce Ben at concerts I usually say that he’s a great poet and that he knows the Bible better than most people I know. Well, as you’re about to see, he’s also a great writer. Ben’s working in conjunction with a 14-year-old prodigy of an illustrator named Benji Anderson to produce a Shel Silverstein-meets-Tim Burton-esque book as a companion to The Cymbal Crashing Clouds and wrote the following about his writing process for the song “Listen!”. It’s a fascinating read, whether you’re a songwriter or not. (We’re putting the audio player at the top of the post so you can listen as you read along.)
Before this album was The Cymbal Crashing Clouds, I was calling it The Animist. (I called it this mostly to myself; no one else cares what I’m thinking of writing next.) The idea came to me one day when my brother remarked that my son, Jude, was “a little animist,” talking to his trains and plastic men as if they had eternal souls. I overheard this and thought that I would love to write an album of songs ascribing souls—or at least voices—to inanimate, everyday things. I later abandoned the title because of its pagan implications. But The Cymbal Crashing Clouds is really just another way of getting at the same idea.
Seconds after my brother’s comment, I also knew that if I were to write such an album I would like it to begin with a prelude much like the one to William Blake’s in Songs Of Innocence. In it, I would meet the muse in some form and be sent to write the songs that followed. You could think of it a prophetic vision of sorts, though I’m certainly not a prophet.
Last year at Hutchmoot 2010 an author named Jennifer Trafton showed up at the last minute and volunteered to help. I remember her walking in the room at the pre-moot meeting (redundant?) and introducing herself to the rest of the gang. I also remember seeing my brother Pete perk up and smile.
Now Jennifer’s dog [...]
N.D. Wilson is the author of the best-selling 100 Cupboards series, Notes from the Tilt-a-whirl, an Annie Dillard-esque theological thrill ride of a book, and is one of my favorite storytellers. There’s a flavor in his books that, if you’ve read the likes of Tolkien and Lewis and Dillard and MacDonald, you’ll find familiar—but it never feels like imitation. Wilson is developing a voice of his own, seasoned with just the right amount of beauty and truth and wonder. If you’re like me, and you’re a sucker for a good story about a kid on a perilous journey (inside and out), then get thee to the Rabbit Room and pick up The Dragon’s Tooth. Thank you, N.D. Wilson, for the stories.
I asked my friend Brian Wilhorn, an educator, book lover, and the brains behind the popular blog HelpReadersLoveReading.com, to read The Dragon’s Tooth and tell us what he thought. Check out his blog here, and follow him on Twitter here.
Fantasy novels are sneaky. At first they whisk readers away to a foreign land with an honorable family determined to rule justly or where hardworking folk live under some tyrannical ruler. Next come the fantastical creatures, great flying beasts and beings with mystical powers. Then there’s the tense build to the epic battle where good triumphs over evil.
Readers know what to expect. Or rather I know what to expect. Rather, I think I know what to expect when it comes to fantasy novels. But just as I’m prepared to escape into a world where dragons breathe fire or fairies cast spells or inexperienced youngsters unexpectedly save the kingdom, that’s when fantasy novels get sneaky. Suddenly, amidst all the fires and spells and rescues, I find characters facing the very issues I thought I was escaping.
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
I just stumbled on this poem last night and I couldn’t stop thinking about it all day. This collection of Hopkins’s poems is on my night stand, so I looked it up again as soon as I got into bed. I read it again just now, then forced it on Jamie (a professed poetry hater, unless that poem is about her, by me). She said, when I finished, “What–in–the–world was all that about?”
Folks, this is going to be cool. Blackbird Theater company here in Nashville is reviving one of the Rabbit Room’s favorite author’s only plays, and we get to be a small part of it. The guys behind Blackbird Theater are talented, intelligent, and passionate about telling stories this way–I know because I’ve attended each of their productions so far and have come away each time enriched and grateful. (I also felt like my brain was going to split open. In a good way.)
So we’re partnering with Blackbird to offer you Rabbit Roomers a special night. On Saturday, August 13, at 7:30 p.m., at Shamblin Theater on Lipscomb University campus, we’re going, by Jove. Not only will we get discount tickets, we’ll have a block of seats reserved. Then, if you’re up for it, we’ll convene somewhere afterward to talk about Chesterton, Magic, and cheese. (Pipes are optional.) It should be a great night.
In case you’re wondering who the heck G.K. Chesterton is, the following piece by Wes Driver, the director of the play, will acquaint you with the jolly Englishman whose fierce wit, intelligence, and faith planted some of the seeds that blossomed into C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.
I’m a fan of the Harry Potter books. There. I said it. Whenever I visit a bookstore I can’t resist a walk through the Young Readers section, where my heart flutters at cover illustrations of dragons and detectives and ghosts and kids dashing across fantastic landscapes. I’ve always loved those stories, and many times I take the books from the shelves and, with chills running up and down my arms, thumb through them. Sometimes I even smell them. (There. I said that, too.)
Years ago, on one of my trips through the kids’ section I noticed a book called Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It looked cool, and the jacket indicated that it had won a few awards. A year or so later I saw the second book, this one on display. By the time I spotted Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on the shelves the buzz was loud enough that I decided to buy the first book. I read it, and although it had some great moments, I wasn’t hooked. But at the time I was writing On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and was learning so much so quickly about writing, I already knew North! Or Be Eaten would be a better book. I desperately hoped my readers would stick with me through my first faltering attempt at fiction because I had a much bigger story to tell.
[Update: Chapter Seven is now available for download. Check your app.]
The Rabbit Room has always been about stories. More than that, it’s about what’s behind the stories. That great and loving Mystery moves behind the veil and speaks every once in a while through artists, poets, and starry-eyed priests.
Just in time for Father’s Day, the latest episode of the Rabbit Room podcast is up, in which A.S. “Pete” Peterson talks about gladiators, George of the Bush, and his dad. Click here to listen.
First of all, I spent the last four hours or so reading all your reviews, and I’ve cried about four times. That’s partly because I’m a crybaby, and partly because I prayed almost every day of the writing of The Monster in the Hollows that the book would connect with you, the Dear Readers. What a joy it is to see that, in at least your cases, it did.
Second of all, it was HARD to choose a winner. There were so many well-written and thoughtful posts to read, and even after I narrowed it down to five reviews it wasn’t easy. At the bottom of this post you’ll find a list of all the blogs, and I encourage you to visit them when you get a chance. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for telling your friends and relations about these books.