Forests A Little More Enchanted

I explored light last week, one form of which was the light that filters through trees in the woods. I love woods.  I like the illusion (just the illusion, mind you) of getting lost in the woods.

A forest is a perfect setting for a scene or even a whole book.  A tree is a place or a creature or a character.  How many times does a scene begin with a character lost, running, creeping, hiding, exploring in the woods?  And now, as the trees begin to change color with the new season, I’m sure we’re all noticing them a little more.

What do the woods mean to a story?  I’ll let others explain for me (I’m lazy like that).

“[Treebeard] led the way in under the huge branches of the trees. Old beyond guessing, they seemed. Great trailing beards of lichen hung from them, blowing and swaying in the breeze. Out of the shadows, the hobbits peeped, gazing back down the slope: little furtive figures that in the dim light looked like elf-children in the deeps of time peering out of the Wild Wood in wonder at their first Dawn.” ~ Tolkien, Two Towers

‘When Spring unfolds the beechen leaf, 
      and sap is in the bough; 
When light is on the wild-wood stream, 
      and wind is on the brow; 

When stride is long, and breath is deep, 
      and keen on the mountain-air, 
Come back to me! come back to me, 
      and say my land is fair!’

~ Song to the Lost Entwives

“Awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Magician’s Nephew

“She stepped out from among their shifting confusion of lovely lights and shadows. A circle of grass, smooth as a lawn, met her eyes, with dark trees dancing all around it. And then –Oh Joy! For he was there: the huge Lion, shining white in the moonlight, with his huge black shadow underneath him.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

“The trees bathed their great heads in the waves of the morning, while their roots were planted deep in gloom; save where on the borders of the sunshine broke against their stems, or swept in long streams through their avenues, washing with brighter hue all the leaves over which it flowed; revealing the rich brown of the decayed leaves and fallen pine-cones, and the delicate greens of the long grasses and tiny forests of moss that covered the channel over which it passed in the motionless rivers of light.”  ~ George MacDonald, Phantastes

The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves: but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals, and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. ~ C.S. Lewis, Magician’s Nephew

“Always watch where you are going. Otherwise, you may step on a piece of the Forest that was left out by mistake.” ~ A A Milne 

“She looked at a silver birch: it would have a soft, showery voice and would look like a slender girl, with hair blown all about her face and fond of dancing. She looked at the oak: he would be a wizened, but hearty, old man with a frizzled beard and warts on his fact and hands, with hair growing out of the warts. She looked at the beech under which she was standing. Ah! –she would be the best of all. She would be a gracious goddess, smooth and stately, the Lady of the Wood.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian

“You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.” ~ Milne, Winnie the Pooh

“Great stems rose about me, uplifting a thick multitudinous roof above me of branches, and twigs, and leaves– the bird and insect world uplifted over mine, with its own landscapes, its own thickets, and paths, and glades, and dwellings; its own bird-ways and insect-delights. Great boughs crossed my path; great roots based the tree-columns, and mightily clasped the earth, strong to lift and strong to uphold. It seemed an old, old forest, perfect in forest ways and pleasure.” ~ MacDonald Phantastes

“[The fairy tale] stirs and troubles him (to his life-long enrichment) with the dim sense of something beyond his reach and, far from dulling or emptying the actual world, gives it a new dimension of depth. He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: The reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.” —C. S. Lewis, in Of Other Worlds”

I know I’ve read so many more quotes about forests and trees and woods, but now that I’m trying to come up with them, they elude me.  Perhaps you have one that you are attached to and would like to share?

For now, I will leave you with one last quote about a magical forest… of a slightly different mien:

“Be grateful you’re not in the forest in France
Where the average young person just hasn’t a chance

To escape from the perilous pants eating plants
But your pants are safe, you’re a fortunate guy
You ought to be shouting how lucky am I” ~ Dr. Seuss

Many Wondrous Kinds of Light

We looked through doorways, we ambled along beautiful, mysterious paths.  Now, I’d like to talk about atmosphere.  What makes any place feel more magical is just the right quality of light.

I think I brought up sunrise and sunset in my post on doorways – the time between times.  Photographers love it because the quality of light is both soft and rich, quiet and striking.  

Different kinds of light take you different places.  Those warm, perfect sunsets (I’ll be honest, I can’t really tell you much about sunrises as I am rarely awake enough of in the early mornings to appreciate them) are breathtaking.  It’s hard to look away from the sky when the sun, normally too bright to see, is swathed in a hundred layers of brilliant color as it falls into seas or mountains.  Half the world goes dark as shadows creep up from underneath, but the top layer holds onto that glorious golden color until the last lights fade.

But the time between times isn’t the only beautiful kind of light.  A noonday sun that casts rays directly down can burn and blind, but on a good day, when the light is filtered through the right amount of cloud, the world is bright and dim at once.  The sky has texture.

Or takes on a new color entirely.

And then there is the bright light that we find coming through a layer of multi-colored greens in a forest.  This is one of my favorites.  Gaps in the wood allow arrows of brightness to find the forest floor.  Thin, pale green leaves are like stained glass aglow as the sun hits them from above.  The forest floor is dappled, like the stones of a cathedral across from a green-themed window.

The thing about the sun is, we don’t love it for itself, exactly, but for what its light and warmth do to our world, especially after long, gray days of sunlessness.  I think of Puddleglum under the earth as the witch tries to drive all memory and belief of the Overworld and its sun from their minds.  But Puddleglum, one of the saddest but truest of all heroes, says,

“Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.” (Silver Chair, CS Lewis)

Days without the sun certainly drove me to doubt whether I’d ever see it again, but when the light finally did touch grass and tree and stone, it was as though the whole world had been born again.

We are such light-loving creatures that we seek it long into the night.  The soft, silent kind of light that we find in the moon provides an eery imitation of the sun.

Whenever I think about moonlight, I always hear the sound of Loreena McKennitt singing “The Highwayman” where “the moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas” and “the road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moors.”  That is what I feel when I see a moon like the one I saw behind St Giles in this photo.

Firelight, starlight, moonlight – we are certainly drawn to light after the sun disappears.

When the natural world is too dark, we capture our own light – torches and candles, silmarils and lamp posts, we bring small flames with us into the darkness and make our own suns and stars.

I always notice the lamp posts that I pass in a street or a park.  They seem so lonely, secretive, and (of course) a little magical as well.  We know whose fault that is.

Photography is light-writing, and how light touches and transforms the world is an endless study.  Take a moment to notice how light touches, colors, and translates what you see into something better than it otherwise might be.

The Never-Ending Road: Hidden Paths that Run

Last week I wandered through doorways and thought about the neither-here-nor-there magic of doors.  But going through the door is only the first step.  Then comes the actual journey.  I love finding secret paths.  I love walking on a road and realizing that I’m all alone – the road is mine, for the moment.  I love seeing a bend in the road ahead and pretending that something exciting will happen as soon as I turn the corner.  This is nothing new, of course, to the imaginative soul, but I think we could all benefit from appreciating a good, winding road every now and again.

Looking through my photographs over the past year or so, I realized how many pictures I have of roads, leading somewhere or nowhere in particular, that stretch out in front of me.  

I cannot be more profound than Tolkien, of course, when it comes to the winding road, so may his words and my pictures take you on a sitting-down journey and perhaps inspire you to go out and enjoy the walking kind.

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Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;

.

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Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains of the moon.

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Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,

Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.

Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,

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Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

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The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!

Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run…

West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

*For another song about journeys, listen to Loreena McKennitt’s restful, yet searching piece “Never-Ending Road.”*

A Door in a Wall: Neither Here Nor There

A garden at Aberdour Castle, Scotland

This month, I’m being a bit random, but I think that will be okay because I will use pretty pictures to support my randomosity.  Today’s blog is about the neither-here-nor-there kind of magic.  Luckily for us, it’s a kind of magic that we can all access.

It’s a truth generally acknowledged that every wardrobe could lead to Narnia; every locked gate might one day – mysteriously – be unlocked; every dark forest path holds some fantastic secret just out of sight.

A sunset in Edinburgh

You might also get that feeling that certain times of day are more special.  Photographers do a lot of their best work at sunrise or sunset.  Dawn and twilight produce the best light, a light that makes everything look more wonderful.  That’s a kind of magic, too.  It’s a time-between-times, neither day nor night.

A lost door in the Scottish Highlands

Doors, too, are an in-between.  They are places between places, neither inside nor outside – the connection between the two.  I think that’s why a “door to another world” makes so much sense.  We know the door is meant to take us somewhere.  We know, somehow, that a door is not quite anywhere (unless you count “in the wall” which is just as mysterious and non-place-y as “not quite anywhere”, in my opinion) and so it could lead just about anywhere.

A bendy gate in Prague

And, most importantly, we know that we have to make the choice to open that door, step through, and see what happens.  If you accept the possibility that the door might take you somewhere you didn’t expect to go, that choice is a thrilling one.

Lost in the streets of Edinburgh

I suppose I could get all metaphorical and literary and say that a book is a type of door, and a magical one, at that.  You open it and it takes you somewhere outside of your place and time, all the while acting as a connection between you and both worlds.  But never mind that.  I’m more interested in actual doors.  Because those, to me, are an oft overlooked bit of magic.

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The question, I suppose, is what sort of place do you think each of these doors would lead to?  Each one has a personality, so what kind of world ought to be waiting on the other side?

In St Stephen’s Cathedral, Vienna
A bright door in Dublin
An ivy-grown gate near Dunfermline Abbey
Digory stands outside his wardrobe in Belfast, Northern Ireland, ready to try one more time…

Fantasy, Dragons, and a Longing This World Cannot Satisfy

I am hiking somewhere on the magical Isle of Skye, so today’s post is about this world and our search for something beyond it.

If we discover a desire within us that nothing in this world can satisfy, also we should begin to wonder if perhaps we were created for another world.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

I have always loved the idea of being created for another world.  It’s not that this world does not satisfy me.  This world is meant to be satisfying to a degree.  If we spent our days dissatisfied, we would be missing out on what this world has to offer.

A tree stump carved into a dragon in Wales.

But sometimes I think about what makes a fantasy novel so enthralling, at least for me.  I read them and I write them.  I enjoy some film versions as well (though tragically few of any worthWhy are fantasy films often so cheesy?).

I think, too, about why dragons are my favorite animal.  A creature that no one living has seen (who will admit it – I will neither confirm nor deny…) is the one I love the most.  What made me graduate from horses, my childhood favorite, to fire-breathing, flying creatures of fantasy?

I think that it has a lot to do with what Lewis is saying, though his quote goes a lot further and a lot deeper.  Many of us are supremely aware of a world beyond this world, the ultimate satisfaction at the end of this life.  That, of course, is the world he is talking about.

But there are other worlds to pursue in the meantime, worlds that I feel we are meant to pursue and create and explore and enjoy.  This world may not satisfy my love of dragons, mystery, and magic on the surface, but I can fall into the pages of a book or step through the looking glass of my camera lens.  Somewhere between the pages, around a secret corner, after a sunset, that’s where my longing drives me and where I find some measure of otherworldly satisfaction.

Why do I love fantasy?  Because there is a longing that nothing in this world can satisfy.  And while there is a greater world, the ultimate, perfect fantasy, that will someday replace this one, until then, there are also stories.

Why else did the Creator make us sub-creators if not to create worlds of our own?