You may notice that I haven’t blogged since March. For that, I deserve a resounding slap on the wrist. Life got in the way, and it was interesting and good and all, but I haven’t been taking time to write anything that isn’t required for work.
To fix that, I signed up for a MOOC. I’m taking a course on The Future of Storytelling, offered by faculty at Fachhochschule Potsdam in Germany. The course consists of video content and there is a creative task for each week. I’m using this blog to host my creative tasks. I should have one writing assignment each week through the week before Christmas. So, without further ado, here’s my first creative task:
Please think about which story you have read, seen, listened to, played or experienced has impressed you most in your life. … Which story can you still very well remember? Write down both, the summary of this story (what you remember of the story, not what Wikipedia says.. 🙂 and – on the other hand: – what made it so special to you that you can still remember it.
- Retell this story by giving a short summary of what you can remember of it. (in less than 400 words)
- Think about (try to remember) and write down what fascinated you most about this story. What can you remember best? What impressed you most? … Its characters? The locations? The plot? The style and voice of the story? Or maybe even the surroundings of how this story was told, maybe by your parents, grandparents, or maybe in your first self-read book? Tell us the story OF the story so-to-speak. (less than 500 words)
Your answer could be a simple text/essay … or maybe you prefer creating a story in itself, a poem, an info graphic,… about it. — Whatever suits you best!
The story that has most affected me is the novel The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White. It tells the story of a young boy who has a very special learning experience. Wart grows up the ward of a knight, Sir Ector. He is close to his foster brother Kay, but it is clear that he will not enjoy the same privileges and responsibilities that Ector’s biological son will as he grows up. Wart gets lost in the woods one day and meets Merlin, a wizard. Merlin is a scary guy. He’s a grizzled old man who lives alone in the woods. His pet owl, Archimedes, talks, but also leaves shit in his hair. Merlin packs up and follows Wart home, where he helps Wart learn important things. Most pieces of learning focus on Wart transforming into a creature. He becomes a fish and talks to the biggest fish in the castle moat about power. He becomes a hedgehog and talks to a badger about the ways that different animals are special. He converses with trees and stones about how to exist at a slower pace than animals do. These vignettes are interspersed with more normal, boyish experiences: an argument with his brother, meeting an idiosyncratic neighbor-knight and becoming friends, or traveling with his family to a tournament. The tournament in question is held to determine the next king, as the most recent king, Uther Pendragon, has died with no heir. At the tournament, Wart accidentally leaves some of Kay’s equipment at the inn (Wart is not allowed to participate – he is too young and has been informed by his foster-father that he is not of noble birth). Every door in the city is locked, so the only sword Wart can find is stuck in a stone in a churchyard. He pulls it out, and everyone realizes the magnitude of what has happened. There is a prophecy that states that only the king can pull the sword from the stone. As it turns out out, Wart is the only son of the dead king. Everyone begins calling him by his given name, Arthur.
The Sword in the Stone is one of the first books that I remember reading with my father. We would read before bed every night, and we often read things he remembered fondly from his own childhood. This meant that I got a weird balance of military history, science fiction, and fantasy. I would have read the book for the first time (or rather, it would have been read to me) when I was about three years old, and we re-read it together several times throughout my childhood. During college, when I needed a break from readings in Kant or Hegel, I would take a break with The Sword in the Stone. I still crack open a chapter here and there when I find the real world too weighty.
I particularly loved the scope of the narration. White pays attention to the world around Wart in a way that I really enjoy. It’s a fantasy novel, so there is magic, and people turn into fish and chase the mythical Beast Glatisant, and do so many things that would never happen in real life, but White lingers on normal things. I most vividly remember a description of how the castle where the bulk of the book is set would look in modern times to a modern tourist, and comparing how we might experience it to how a child who knew it as home might see things. Whenever I visit a castle when I’m traveling, I think of this and try to imagine myself as a person growing up there. White uses techniques like this to make the fantasy, and by extension its characters, relatable and real.
We see several minor characters who are somewhat scary when introduced: the mysterious King Pellinor (whom I found somewhat scary as a child) turns out to be a friendly old gentleman engaged in an Sisyphean quest to find a beast that may or may not really exist. We eventually learn that it does. Pellinor finds the beast near death, nurses it back to health, and lets it go so that he can keep questing after it. It’s probably one of my favorite subplots of the novel, because though it seems less consequential, you can see how Wart might learn about things like dedication and remaining true to one’s responsibilities and passions by watching Pellinor quest for the beast. Wat, an old man who lives in the woods, is terrifying at the beginning of the book because he has no nose and is rumored to bite the noses off children. Over the course of the story, Wat is rescued by Wart and Kay and comes back to live in the village. Watching characters like this evolve leads me to believe that one of the novel’s main themes is a reminder that people are often better than our first impression would lead us to believe.
One thing that strikes me is that though The Sword in the Stone is the beginning of a series, The Once and Future King, I’ve never been interested to read the next books. I don’t want to see Wart grow up and solve adult problems. It’s the learning and growth that fascinates me. I think this ties in eerily well to my work as an educator. I just can’t stand adult problems. Adults pay bills and argue about insurance. Young people aren’t afraid to learn new things.