Category Archives: Fantasy

CXXXIX

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

In my lifelong quest to revive interest in form, I consider this experiment a great achievement because every audience for which I have read it has loved it.  In each stanza, the last line must be the same as the first line, though often with a new twist of meaning due to context.  Then, to repeat the pattern of the microcosmic stanzas on the macrocosmic level of the poem as a whole, the last stanza must be the same as the first stanza—but not seem merely redundant.  The result might be the most satisfying sense of closure I’ve ever achieved.

 

THE BALLADEER

 

The king unto his troubadour

Said, “Come, a ditty while we sup:

Some sample of your ancient lore

To lift the weary spirits up.

Some tale of hero true and brave

Who faced the dragon’s fire alone

A damsel or a town to save

And got for his reward a throne.

A lay of beauty and of dread,

Of starlit sky and distant shore,

A ballad of enchantment,” said

The king unto his troubadour.

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The minstrel took his lyre up,

His fingers poised upon the strings;

And motionless stood knife and cup

To watch the melody take wings.

So silence reigned throughout the hall,

And then the troubadour began

With notes like drops of rain that fall

Upon a parched and burning land.

First soft, then like a torrent down

It flowed, and swept them away,

Beyond the walls, beyond the town

Beneath the waning light of day.

They heard the western sky turn red,

Then fade away to black.  They heard

The stars glint silver overhead

Until the morning breezes stirred

A land where they had never been.

A lull came, and they drained the cup.

‘Twas e’re such like enchantment when

The minstrel took his lyre up.

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He stood; the words began to flow.

With them the sun rose bright and clear,

And then the knights beheld the foe–

And hand was clenched on hilt for fear.

They saw the green and glittering scales;

They heard the rumbling of his blaze;

They felt their hearts begin to quail

Beneath the venom in his gaze.

They felt the dragon’s baleful breath,

Surveyed the worm’s appalling length,

And knew why men could long for death

Rather than assay his strength.

They saw the ruined countryside,

They saw smoke rising in the sky,

They saw the serpent’s ramping stride,

And then the worm began to fly.

Then darkness came upon them all;

They flung them down to wait for woe,

Save one bold warrior, strong and tall,

Who stood; his words began to flow.

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“Come Death, Destruction, Flame, and Fire,

Come Malice, Madness, evil Spell,

Come Darkness, Doom, or Dragon’s Ire,

I still defy thee, Fiend of Hell!”

He took the flame upon his shield;

It melted fast onto his hand.

The sword his other arm did wield

Became a beaming fire-brand.

What no mere mortal blade could do,

Heat from the worm’s own evil heart

With one sword wielded fierce and true

Did: tore the gleaming scales apart.

The blood spurt scalding from his side;

The dragon roared and rose in pain;

A hundred tons of ravaged pride

Fell in a ruinating rain

Upon one still undaunted knight

Who scorned to raise his useless shield,

But lifted up with all his might

The sword, and thus his fate was sealed.

Down came the worm, the knight went down,

But drove his point into its heart.

Then came a blast and dinning sound

To split the very sky apart.

A searing blaze leapt in the air;

The worm was his own funeral pyre.

But also on that warrior fair

Came death, destruction, flame, and fire.

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The tear flowed freely down the cheek

Of comrades in that bitter glade;

They cursed their hearts, too slow, too weak

To stand and give their brother aid.

But then the flames began to part,

And, striding forth, the hero came:

For those who pierce the dragon’s heart

Become impervious to flame!

Then down as one upon the knee

They fell, and took him as their king.

He swore them there to fealty

Upon his sword, still glistening.

So courage rose within each heart,

And with their oaths they gave it breath:

Ne’er more from duty to depart

Come fire, flame, destruction, death.

“They kept those vows in many deeds,

But those come in another tale;

And now, my brothers, we must needs

Drink our lord’s health in frothy ale.”

Thus ended the good balladeer,

And none could find a word to speak:

The last note faded in the ear;

The tear flowed freely down the cheek.

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It seemed no time had passed at all;

It seemed eternity had run.

But as they left the banquet hall,

They saw the last light of the sun.

The night passed o’er them peacefully,

The day saw many a noble deed.

They gathered once more, gracefully,

For meat and drink and golden mead.

The king received them royally

And greeted warmly one and all.

Since last they’d bowed the grateful knee,

It seemed no time had passed at all.

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The king then to his troubadour

Said, “Come, a ditty while we sup:

Some sample of your ancient lore

To lift the weary spirits up.

Some tale of hero true and brave

Who faced the dragon’s fire alone

A damsel or a town to save,

And got for his reward a throne.

A lay of beauty and of dread,

Of starlit sky and distant shore,

A ballad of enchantment,” said

The king unto his troubadour.

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.

Donald T. Williams, PhD

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Susan Pevensie: Always a Queen of Narnia?

This month LHP is highlighting some of our readers’ favorite previous posts from our authors.  We hope you enjoy them!

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Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a picture of Susan that ISN’T Anna Popplewell?

When we think of The Chronicles of Narnia, Susan is not, perhaps, the first character that comes to mind.  She is robust and relatively well developed, but she also seems to be more of a supporting character.  After all, it is Lucy who leads the children into Narnia and seems to form the strongest bond with Aslan.  Edmund is the traitor redeemed, and Peter becomes the High King.  Susan’s most unique aspect is also one of the most controversial points of The Chronicles:  She is the only one of the four Pevensie children to fall away and not make it into Aslan’s country at the end of The Last Battle.  This has upset a couple of generations of readers now, and it has led to charges of sexism against her creator, C. S. Lewis.  For many people, Susan’s fall is one of the worst points of the books; it bothers them enough that they can’t let it go.  Fortunately, there is much more to Susan and her situation than what her critics imply.

As early as Prince Caspian, we see hints of something happening to Su.  When Lucy sees Aslan, Susan knows in her heart of hearts that she is telling the truth.  She refuses to admit it, even to herself, and later feels horribly guilty about it.  At the end of the book, Susan and Peter are returned to our world where they are expected to grow up and apply all of the lessons learned in Narnia.  By the time we meet them again in The Last Battle, their paths have diverged dramatically.

When the group meets inside the stable, in Aslan’s country, Susan is notably absent.  When that fact is brought up, Susan is described as “no longer a friend of Narnia.”  Jill notes that she pays attention to “nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations.  She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.”  Su has even gone so far as to deny Narnia’s very existence:  “Fancy your still thinking about all those funny games we used to play when we were children.”  As such, she isn’t on the train when the wreck occurs, and she isn’t granted entrance into Aslan’s country at that point. [1]

This subplot has provoked (and continues to provoke) howls of outrage.  J. K. Rowling made the comment to Time magazine that “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex. I have a big problem with that.” [2]  Phillip Pullman, who constructed an atheistic fantasy series that has been described as sort of the “anti-Narnia,” stated that,

In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.[3]

I would argue that Rowling and Pullman have misrepresented Lewis’s point entirely.  In fact, they may well have done so for the simple reason that they “got” it all too well.  Lewis is making a comment so pointed that it has made millions of people uncomfortable, which is something we aren’t used to seeing in Narnia.  It seems to come out of the proverbial blue, and people simply react to it with hostility rather than really trying to understand it. [4]

What the book is trying to say is that sex and the emergence of femininity aren’t sufficient ends in and of themselves.  Su isn’t kept out of Narnia because she discovered sex, she is kept out because she idolized it to the point that all other things–including Aslan and Narnia itself–were placed in subjection to it.  Growing up became not simply a natural process of maturation, but rather a stylized, exclusive state of being that precluded everything else.  Worse, the idealized state of anything has no existence in reality. [5]  Susan was chasing moonshine, when the real world around her could offer her much more. Polly noted this when she remarked,

“Grown-up indeed,” said the Lady Polly.  “I wish she would grow up!  She wasted all her school time wanting to be the age she is now, and she’ll waste the rest of her life trying to stay that age.  Her whole idea is to race to the silliest time of one’s life as quick as she can and then stop there as long as she can.”  [6]

Susan has not, in fact, grown up at all.  What she has done is take on an empty obsession, a false idealization of what being “grown-up” means, and that keeps her from experiencing life as a whole.  That obsession has led her away from Narnia, and not “lipstick” at all.  Lewis’s critics are mistaking a symptom for the disease.

None of this involves a denigration of women or  real, meaningful sex.  In fact, it is a very positive portrayal of a  broader, deeper form of femininity where the value of one’s soul isn’t determined by one’s social circle or sex appeal.  Those things have their places, but cannot be ends in and of themselves.

This is made doubly clear in Lewis’s depiction of Susan in The Horse and His Boy.  While far from perfect, she is shown to be completely confident in her own beauty and sexuality.  During the story, she is even considering marriage–which obviously implies an approval of sex.  So, it is clear that the Susan we see referenced in The Last Battle isn’t an inevitability; she could and in fact had taken another, better path before.

Very well, if I must. Not that she isn’t pretty cute…

Of course, much of that level of nuance is obviously lost on Lewis’s critics.  They simply see a criticism of modern conceptions of sex and maturity.  They assume that Lewis’s criticism must fit into a certain sort of mold and, if it doesn’t, they are determined to forcibly conform it to their strawman assumptions.

I think that is a normal, human reaction, by the way.  We all want to be told that “We’re OK.”  We all want to know that our wants, our desires are indeed good, right, and normal.   What Lewis is getting at is a philosophy that is directly antagonistic to modern definitions of feminism, especially its glorification of sex and female sexuality as an ultimate arbiter of meaning.  When that point is challenged, especially in a way that implies that there is something more, something greater, the reactions are naturally instinctual and visceral.  We don’t want to understand the details because, perhaps, the details may just prove us wrong. I can’t say I would necessarily respond differently were the tables turned on me– “There but for the grace of God go I!”

One final point:  Most of Lewis’s critics assign a finality to Susan’s position that simply isn’t justified.  Susan isn’t turned away at the door of the stable–she simply isn’t there when it was closed on Narnia.   There are other doors into Aslan’s country from many other worlds, including our own.  Susan did not die in the train wreck that sent the others into Aslan’s country.   As Lewis noted, “there is still plenty of time for her to mend, and perhaps she will get into Aslan’s country in the end–in her own way.” [7]

What’s more, since Lewis did not consider Narnia to be his own private domain–he regularly encouraged his younger correspondents to write Narnia stories of their own–perhaps the final word has yet to be written on Susan.  While I doubt the Lewis estate would tolerate the publication of such a story these days, perhaps someone who understands what really happened to Susan should write it nonetheless.  Lewis left the door open to Susan.  It is now up to our own imaginations–not his–to take her through it.

And so, “Further up and further in!”

 

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle, (New York:  Harper-trophy, 2004), 154.
[2] http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1083935,00.html
[3] http://www.crlamppost.org/darkside.htm
[4] Of course, applying Pullman’s own method to his own statements, I might ask why he himself is so biased against “ugly” women that he apparently objects to them “winning” on occasion.  In fact, I am quite disturbed by his use of bigoted visual stereotypes regarding facial structure and arbitrary gravitational measurement, when he should be celebrating the empowerment of a traditionally downtrodden and forgotten underclass.
[5] To illustrate this tendency, just think of Christmas Day (or some other event that you hold dear).  The time we are in never seems to be “as real” or “as perfect” as times past. Worse, our idealized memory often distracts us from our enjoyment of a perfectly good present.
[6] Lewis, The Last Battle, 2004.
[7]  Letter to Martin, 22 January 1957, Letters to Children, (New York:  Touchstone, 1995), 67.

https://lanternhollow.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/newrule5.gif?w=239&h=27&h=27

 

Laughter – It’s all about timing

I have learned a few things about myself…

  1. My legs bounce when I laugh
  2. Laughing while eating eggs is a very good way to choke
  3. My laugh apparently sounds just like a whooping crane
  4. No matter how many times my friends have heard me snort…they still think it’s funny.

I know you are probably wondering why I am musing over laughter: I promise you I have a point.  It was somewhere in the middle of that fit of laughter…timing and that well placed phrase or word.  These are the elements of comedy.

A haunted toilet has some many mysteries…

And I am sure if my friends tried to stage an intervention for me and my problems, it would be something like this…

I fear that I have tried many wardrobes…and I will not give up.

But I digress, I was talking about humor, well actually about laughter…my laughter.  There are some things that just make me laugh, more specifically quotes that just strike me… funny.

Quick Niles kill five eels! – Frasier

Looks like somebody just lost the Elf vote – Andrew Peterson

I hope you enjoyed this little jaunt in all this random and funny…

What are some of your favorite funny quotes?

Tough Guide to Fantasy Clichés: The Fuzzies

Here is one of my posts from my Tough Guide to Clichés series!  Because we can never have enough fuzzies…

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I’ve really been enjoying my month in Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland and all of the marvelous clichés that she has brought to my attention.  What I think I have learned while writing these (and perhaps, you have, by reading them) is that while there are always cliché ways to present your world and characters, there also just as many ways to avoid or even to utilize those clichés to make our fantasylands better.  An awareness of the stereotypes gives us greater power over our worlds.

And what megalomaniacal, world-building author does not want greater power?

So we’ve covered names, colour-coding, and villains thus far.  I want to touch on something a little smaller, a detail that might not even come into consideration when we are writing.  But when you think about it, it is a little strange.

pangur ban cat rabbit friends

Pangur Ban is a magic cat and Bella is a soulless, power-hungry, would-be villain. I think they both merit a story or two.

The question that Jones presents in one of her entries is this: Where are all the fuzzies?

Specifically, how do animals figure into your storytelling?

First, let’s see what Diana Wynne Jones has to say:

Animals. See Enemy Spies, Food, and Transport.  Apart from creatures expressly designed for one of these three purpose, there appear to be almost no animals in Fantasyland.  Any other animals you meet will be the result either of Wizard’s Breeding Programme or of Shapeshifting.  You may on the other hand hear things, such as roaring, trampling, and frequently the hooting of owls, but these are strongly suspected to be sound effects only, laid on by the Management when it feels the need for a little local colour.

Domestic Animals are as rare as wild Animals.  In most cases their existence can be proved only by deduction.  Thus, sheep must exist, because people wear wool, and so must cattle, as there is usually cheese to eat.  Cats are seen in company with Witches and Crones, often in large numbers, but seldom elsewhere, and there have been sightings also of solitary pigs; possibly in Fantasyland cats are herd animals whereas pigs are not.  Goats are seen oftener (and may even provide the cheese) and dogs are frequent but often rather feral – the arrival of a Tour party at a Village is usually greeted by barking dogs.  Dogs are also kept in numbers by Kings and nobles, where their job is to be scavengers: you throw bones on the floor and the dogs fight for them.  These hounds cannot be kept for hunting (except perhaps for hunting men and Mutant Nasties), as there are no Animals to hunt.

The thoughtful Tourist might like to pause here and consider, since Animals are so rare, what exactly the meat is that the Management puts in its Stew.

Another use for animals: as desks.

My brother demonstrates another use for animals: as desks.

Now, then, let’s talk about the animals.  When I read this, I remember feeling a very twingy sense of concern because my fantasy serial The Holder Wars has fallen prey to exactly this description of animals.  There are horses for “Transportation” and then there are plenty of shapeshifters.  But my land has been peculiarly lacking in pretty much anything else.

Oops.

But here’s the conundrum: We want to create a world that is realistic and immersive and natural.  On the other hand, we want to tell a story and relate action and dialogue and characterization.  This means we do have to make some choices about what is important to describe and what isn’t.  If I were to write a chase scene through the woods, I wouldn’t stop the narrative for a moment to point out some bluebirds nesting in one of the trees my characters is frantically riding past.  I don’t need to tell the reader everything on Old MacDonald’s farm when my character passes by or stops in, do I?  We do need to have boundaries, and in many ways, it does make sense to only bring up things like animals when they are actually integral in some way to the plot.  Otherwise, the book becomes a ponderous tome of details.

chicken food

Dogs are desks… and chickens are cuddly snacks. This child lives in an interesting world.

And fuzzies just aren’t worth it.

So what do we do with animals?  Of course, we continue to use them in our stories in various ways, whether it is the usual horse transportation or as game to be shot or as magical changelings.  Otherwise, I think we would do well to be aware of any significant gap in our description, such as of a forest or farmland, and where we might add some animals.

It might do us some good to read what Jones has to say about horses as well:

Horses are a breed unique to Fantasyland.  They are capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest.  Sometimes they do not require food or water.  They never cast shoes, go lame, or put their hooves down holes, except when Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  They never otherwise stumble … But for some reason you cannot hold a conversation while riding them.  If you want to say anything to another Tourist (or vice versa), both of you will have to rein to a stop and stand staring out over a Valley while you talk.  Apart from this inexplicable quirk, Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.  Much research into how these exemplary animals come to exist has resulted in the following: no mare ever comes into season on the Tour and no Stallion ever shows an interest in a mare; and few Horses are described as geldings.  It therefore seems probably that they breed by pollination.  This theory seems to account for everything, since it is clear that the creatures do behave more like vegetables than mammals.

The same issues apply with horses,  I think, when it comes to description in stories.  If we were to be completely and utterly realistic, we would also be completely and utterly boring.  However, I do like Jones’ point about horses needing rest and the issue of stallions, mares, and geldings.  These are small practicalities that might be worth bringing into consideration.

Unless, of course, your horses do in fact breed by means of pollination, which is another matter entirely.  And I would like to read that story.

belted gallowy

Cow is sad because she is not in a story.

So, what are your thoughts on fuzzies in fantasyland?  Do you think that novels tend to dismiss them too easily or do you think that it is generally a matter of space and practicality?  Do fuzzies matter to you?

Coming Soon: Encountering Otherworlds, Revised Edition

From “Oh, Deer! A Tiger!”

Gretchen’s cousin Hans was a fourth-year botany student at Grimmsworld University and for his senior project he decided to visit her in the Big, Scary Forest to collect leaf samples.

On the day of his arrival, Gretchen watched from inside her step-mother’s cottage’s window as he stepped off Big Scary Forest Bus #71.  With a bearish growl, the bus drove off into the trees, leaving behind a heavy cloud of exhaust.

Gretchen watched as Hans took stock of his luggage.  He had his suitcase, his knapsack, a small fanny pack, and–most importantly–his leaf book and magnifying glass, both of which he kept in his front shirt pocket.

Gretchen laughed.  He was paler than the underbelly of a fish.  He wore circle-rimmed glasses and a neat bow tie.  He wore a safari hat that in an odd way complemented his comfortable, new hiking shoes.

Halfway to the cottage door, the student spotted a leaf.  He set down his luggage, picked up the leaf, studied it with his magnifying glass, and then pressed it into his book.

For a moment, Gretchen wavered between running outside and waiting for Hans to knock.  But she couldn’t help herself.  The cottage door flew open and she ran out, her brown hair trailing behind her.  She threw her arms around Hans and shouted, “You’re here!  You’re here!”

Hans dropped his magnifying glass and hugged her back.  “Greetings, Cousin!  It’s good to see you!”

Gretchen pulled stray hairs out of her mouth and as she set them back behind her neck, she said, “You’re tall!”

“I suppose I am!  It’s been a time since I left for school after the family reunion.”

At the reunion several years ago, Gretchen had been eleven–six years younger than Hans.  That had all been before Gretchen and her father had moved into the Big, Scary Forest.  Since then, her father had married Aggy, bringing her and her daughter Ethel into the family.  Then he had died fourteen months ago leaving Gretchen alone with those two.

Hans smiled at her. “How have you been, Cousin?  Have you been brushing your teeth?”

“Of course, I have!  Have you been getting good grades?”

“Well…”

“Hans!”

“Of course I have–indubitably.  Where should I put my things?”

“I’ll show you your room.”

Gretchen grabbed the suitcase and led Hans into the cottage.  Inside they found Ethel and Aggy sitting in the living room.  When they saw Hans, Aggy sprang up and gave Hans a singularly motherly hug.

“Gretchen’s told me so much about you.  I’m Agatha but you can call me Aggy.  It’s so good to finally meet you.  How was your trip?”  The woman had dark hair and a marble-sized wart on the right side of her nose.  She was about fifteen pounds over “comfortably plump” and wore pointed shoes.

Gretchen hurried further into the house and set Hans’s suitcase in his room and then came back.

When she returned, she heard Agatha say, “Oh, Ethel, get up, girl, and come meet your step-cousin, Hans.”

Ethel did so, television remote still in her right hand.  She stood by her mother and said to Hans’s shoes, “Nice to meet you, Step-Cousin Hans.”  She was miserably thin and had no wart, but her hair was blacker than her mother’s.

“It’s a delight to meet you too, Ethel.”

“Her friends call her Ethy.  You can call her Ethy too,” Aggy said smiling.

Ethel rolled her eyes, turned around, and went back to her couch.  She turned the volume up on the TV.

Gretchen interrupted, “Come on, Hans.  I’ll show you your room.”

“I’ll come too,” said Aggy.  “Come on Ethy.  You come too.  You can show Hans our humble home.”

As Ethel sighed and pulled herself up from the couch, Gretchen led them on to Hans’s room.  Agatha and Ethel crowded in to help him order his things. . . .

 

 

Finally, Agatha asked him if he needed a few minutes to finish unpacking by himself and before he could answer, she ordered both the other two girls out and she herself left.

 

As they left, Hans called after them, “Thank you for your beneficent help.  I shall finish here and rejoin you presently.”

 

As the three females were leaving, Hans barely heard Aggy say to Gretchen, “Girl!  Does he always speak like that?”

 

“Sometimes worse, Mrs. Aggy,” Gretchen murmured.

 

“I see…”

 

While Gretchen began preparing dinner, Aggy kept talking to Hans in the living room and asking him questions.  “You know, Ethy wants to go to Grimmsworld University too.  She’s very smart.  I’m thinking she’d do best in nuclear physics.  What do you think?”

 

“It’s a good program,” Hans said.  “Though I don’t quite have the patience for that sort of thing myself.  My GPA would take ‘a-tomble’ if I tried that major.”

 

Gretchen noticed what Hans had done and smiled at Hans, but Agatha continued talking and Ethel continued being silent.

 

“So how were you able to afford it, Hans?  You see, that’s my worry mainly.  I know my dear is quite intelligent enough to learn on that level.  She started reading when she was five, you know.  But I just don’t know how we’ll afford it.  I suppose there are scholarships and things like that but it’s always so difficult to find them.  And I’m sure they’re made to favor richer families.  Could you give her some tips on essay writing?  Maybe show her some scholarships she could win?”

 

“I received several scholarships myself and I’ve been working as a research assistant for approximately six months now.”  Hans unzipped his fanny pack revealing insulin and a blood sugar monitor.  He listened as he checked his blood sugar.

 

“But do you know of any scholarships that would suit Ethy here?”
Gretchen listened with horror as the talk continued.  She saw that Agatha was doing something to the already prepared pot of spaghetti sauce and she was worried for her cousin.  But she could say nothing at that point.  Agatha would get very angry if she interfered.

Simple family drama? I’m a frayed knot! Find out what’s really going on in Lantern Hollow Press’s short story anthology, Encountering Otherworlds and the Coming of Age, arriving to online bookshelves July 15. Read stories of children entering worlds of imagination–and find out if they can make it out alive! We cannot wait to share these wonderful tales, written by our very own Lantern Hollow Press staff. Mark you calendar today!