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Monday, July 20, 2015

Avalon Calling

Art can infiltrate a season of life until it becomes impossible to think of that time without associating a certain song or book. 

My junior year of high school rushes back when I hear One Republic's song "Apologize." Senior year was tinged with the melancholy of Josh Groban's "Awake." My fellow Higher Ground camp kitchen staffers from 2010 will remember Janice's "Pilgrim Song." I appreciate how music transports me to the past, even if I didn't listen to the song intentionally. ("Apologize" played rambunctiously in every store and waiting room the entire calendar year. It couldn't be escaped.) If music has had that affect, the books I read have been more galvanizing still in producing nostalgia.  

The winter of my 11th year marked an important turning point for my literary life. I'd loved reading before that, but something changed that year. I'd read Anne of Green Gables the previous summer and had spent the fall devouring the rest of the series. I chewed through them one book at a time and halfway through Christmas break I closed the cover of Anne of Ingleside with marked satisfaction. The only way I could describe the feeling is elation. I'd lived Anne's life with her. Though it was, admittedly, idyllic, I felt connected to her world, and I had seen her through to the end. The end. Suddenly, realization crashed down on me. I had finished the series. It was over. Unless I reread them, I would not be returning to Prince Edward Island. The sense of loss I felt was very real and powerful. Especially since this was the first time I'd felt it over book characters. 

Having read many books of even better quality since then, I have, of course, experienced these feelings often. That I have come to expect them has made them only more cherished. This past weekend, I completed Gerald Morris's stunning young adult series The Squire's Tales, which were written with the intent of making Arthurian legend more accessible to a modern audience. Having a predisposition to everything involving my favorite Pendragon, I was thrilled when a friend recommended them, and I binge read all 10 of them in two and a half weeks. (The best part of having surgery is an excuse to read excessively without being questioned.) The effect of having a doctor's orders not to drive in the same week that I discovered the series was chain reading them as if they were going to be torn from my hands in an act of undue violence. 

I do not want to give away any spoilers because I'm commanding all my blog readers to drop everything else and enjoy them immediately. Every book passes the tests of good literature. They satisfy Lewis's demand for windows. They made me love good, hate evil, and long for the opening of the real Avalon, the return of the true Pendragon, and the restoration of the Kingdom glory. (The last book is absolutely devastating!)

I would be far amiss if I did not applaud Morris's preference for real over accurate. He also manages to combine humor and gravity in a clever, thoughtful, beautiful way, and his subtle, but careful gathering of the final darkness artfully intensifies dread and hope. Lastly, his characters both borrowed and invented reveal the complexity of real people. Indeed, I cannot decide if I loved best Gawain or Terence, but Terence gets all the points for wit and charm. However, I can credit Gawain with the most poignant line, "No one understands love, but understanding is much overrated."

In short, the entire series hangs on a truth spoken in conversation between Gawain and Terence that The Word affirms and my soul thrills to remember. 

"Everything falls apart."
"But nothing is ever lost." 

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