Friday, April 25

The Storyteller

 Peter S. Beagle is full of stories.

That shouldn't come as a surprise as he happens to be an exquisite author and screenwriter and has written such classics as A Fine and Private Place (his first novel written at 22!) and yes, The Last Unicorn. If you grew up in the nineties you may have seen the animated film version of the novel that informed not only much of my ideology but also my dreams of becoming an author. Currently, the film is on a Canadian tour with Peter in attendance.

There are only three novels that I consider my absolute favorites, The Princess Bride, Firelord, and The Last Unicorn. Of course when I speak of how these novels have defined and informed my life I have to also mention The Lord of the Rings series. There's something all of these books have in common, and that is fantasy. What is it about fantasy that can reach to the soul and touch the deepest parts of our still transforming hearts? Fantasy is a story set in a new world, an alternate world or a dream world, and like science fiction there is the potential for that world to be a reflection of something in our own.

Much of Tolkiens world building was a mirror of Christianity, many consider  his writing to be allegorical, something he blatantly denied. That being said, his creation mythos certainly has parallels with that of the Christian and Catholic faiths. Firelord is perhaps my favorite novel of all time, it takes the story of King Arthur and paints it in a new light. Arthur and his knights are real, given flaws and feats, some now fatal. Trystan is a romantic drunk who can't see past his own heart, he is the source of my blog title: "Better to light a candle then curse the dark. Who mined that gem? Someone with gods gift for platitude. I mean, I'll light your bloody candle but someone's damn well going to hear about the dark." Firelord boils down the idea that immortality comes through the retelling of ones own story, and storytelling is subjective and therefore unreliable. William Goldmans world of The Princess Bride is focused on the central idea of true love, true purpose. He interjects as the author throughout the novel with a kind of annotation, but all of his personal stories are also a poor reflection of real life and an extension of his fantasy.  The Last Unicorn is also about immortality at it's core. My favorite quote is from Schmendrick the magician who states "Whatever can die is beautiful — more beautiful than a unicorn, who lives forever, and who is the most beautiful creature in the world." Tolkien has a similar idea about immortality, his god figure, Il├║vatar, and his gift to his children, humanity, is the gift of death. All other creatures including the Elves and Valar are immortal and are cursed to take on the sorrows of the world while men can live freely.

In this way, all of my favorite books have shaped my ideas about death and living and what we are meant to get out of life. True love. Happiness. Adventure. Friendship. Regret. Connection.
Anyway, this wasn't meant to be an essay on immortality or death (although I would gladly write one), this was meant to show the impact that authors like Peter have had on  me. I credit these books not only with having a small hand in the shaping of my moral values and beliefs, but also with defining why I want to write, what I see as the purpose of my life.

On Wednesday I was privileged to attend a screening of The Last Unicorn at my local movie theater. The film is on a Canadian tour with Peter S. Beagle in attendance and earlier in the night there was a question period. Peter talked about how he had gone on a 'working vacation' with a friend, a painter, and his friend was out every day painting and Peter was trying to write his follow up novel and he wasn't very inspired and constantly getting stuck but he continued because he didn't want his friend to be more productive then him. Later, his friend admitted he hated painting that same landscape every day but continued because he didn't want Peter to be more productive then him. Peter also admitted, when asked about naming his characters, that he settled on the name "Prince Lir" without ever considering that the prince would one day be King Lir, or that Lir means sea and is the name of the Irish sea god (weirdly relevant/not relevant to the novels plot). Peter was a very charming, sweet man, and enjoyable to listen to. He speaks in the same lyrical way that he writes, his voice having the cadence of a poem being read aloud.

I suffer from a major case of the star struck stage fright heebie jeebies. I stood in line for two and a half hours after the movie to get Peters autograph. When my turn came I was pretty tired, past my bedtime, my feet hurt, and I had nothing to say. Peter was gracious and adorable. He tells a tiny personal story to each person, he told me my name was Irish and at one time he only knew of one Caitlin, the widow of Dylan Thomas.

I didn't have much to say to that, but I thanked him for my autograph and didn't blurt out SIR YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE IN THIS TINY WAY and I will forever be thankful for the influence your words have had on me. Your words have freed me from the fear of death, they've made me accept the world when the world has been ugly, they've made me understand people better and understand myself more completely. I aspire to one day write a sentence that does a tiny fraction of what your sentence has done to me.

I'm sure he hears that all the time.

Parke Godwins King Arthur intones that your story depends on who is writing it, that if you leave it up to someone else you might find yourself down the ages a completely different person. I want to write something that captures who I am as crisply as The Last Unicorn seems to capture Peter S. Beagle. Funny, introspective, sorrowful, poetic, occasionally silly.

It's through our stories that we live forever. 

Happy weekend friends. ;)


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