Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fresh off the VINE With Michael Williams

                 First Acquaintance

Imagine a park high above the city of Wellington, New Zealand, a hemisphere and two seasons away from home.  There was a place where I stood as a traveler on a woodland trail and looked up through a canopy of trees.  

It is the spot where, in the Peter Jackson Fellowship, Frodo looks down the path, sees the air buckle and blur, and urges his companions to get off the road.  It was a moment in the film, and consequently, a moment on that hill,  that took me back to another  occasion, many years before and much closer to home.

A moment that, like so many good moments, had begun with a gift.  Bed fast for a summer because of a baseball back injury, I was lucky to have a pair of cousins both wiser and more hip than I could hope to be; they set before me a copy of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—a long book, they told me, to shorten the summer boredom.  And shorten the boredom it did: I read the trilogy three times that summer.  But during that first reading, there was an instant of awareness that sealed a summer’s (and a lifetime’s) devotion to that book, to fantasy literature, and to reading itself.

       In chapter 3 of the Fellowship, at perhaps the first iconic moment in the trilogy, the hobbits are leaving the Shire on a mission that none of them truly understand yet.  They encounter the first of the Black Riders, the reconnaissance of the Dark Lord of Mordor.  That moment I remember distinctly, as the hobbits slide off the road into cover, as the Rider paces above them, sniffing for them in country forever transformed for them.

And for me.

My eyes lifted from the page, and I emerged from that world knowing that this story meant business.  

It was not the first serious story I had ever read, I am certain; however, it was the first time I had understood the seriousness of a story.  All of a sudden, the elements of the fantastic that had offered escape in the other books I had read no longer offered the same refuges.  They were no longer a departure from reality—not even merely a commentary on reality—but a reality unto themselves, thresholds to a way of apprehending things that transformed me forever and entirely. 

I gave myself to that story at that moment.  To fantasy fiction.  To story in general.  It was life-changing, and I hope all of you have or have had a moment like it, the start of an adventure that tells you who you are.

Thirty-five years later, I would find out some interesting things about that scene while reading Tolkien’s correspondence.  In a 1938 letter to his publisher, Tolkien maintained that in this very chapter, the story had “taken an unpremeditated turn”.  I can’t imagine that the turn did not lie in this moment,  that it surprised him just as much as it surprised me.  Just as much as it surprised and drew in two of our New Zealand guides, who had both worked on the movie, and who both told us that this was the moment in the film that sold the story to them, that drew them into Jackson’s world and Tolkien’s behind it.

That the world of a story changes our daily life as much as our daily lives shape the stories we tell—well, that has interested me for years.  I’m no philosopher, so I hope it’s more subtle than a simple you are what you read, but maybe it isn’t. We look for story—for our stories—perhaps because they organize experience for us, perhaps because when you see your life as story, it gathers meaning through its arrangement.  A student of mine clued me in to a very cool thing the German film director, Wim Wenders, said.  Wenders said that the very basis of story is

That it reassures you that there is a sense to things.  Like the fact that children want to hear stories when they go to sleep…the story creates a form, and the form reassures us.

But I think it is more than shape, than form.  It’s partly about metaphor: about that reckless dive into the blending of ideas and images and having the backbone not to say “It’s like” or “It’s as though”—to say “it is” instead, and venture forth, and live or die in the connection.  You emerge from it deepened, knowing things you might not have noticed before, reading the world around you like the poetry it is, with its rhythms, associations, shadows and dreams. And in the best of metaphors we look at many things at once, because metaphor tells us to, metaphor continues to reveal and deepen after your eye and your mind have told you what they can tell you.  We learn when we make stories, when we read stories, because they create meaning as they go, and create other meanings when we return to them, like the memory palaces of the old Renaissance magicians.

       And the meanings breathe through the world as we imagine it.  And they involve us.


Vine: An Urban Legend by Michael Williams
 Genre: Mythic Fiction

Amateur theatre director Stephen Thorne plots a sensational production of a Greek tragedy in order to ruffle feathers in the small city where he lives. Accompanied by an eccentric and fly-by-night cast and crew, he prepares for opening night, unaware that as he unleashes the play, he has drawn the attention of ancient and powerful forces.
 Michael Williams’ Vine weds Greek Tragedy and urban legend with dangerous intoxication, as the drama rushes to its dark and inevitable conclusion.

Michael Williams was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Much of his childhood was spent in the south central part of the state, amid red dirt, tobacco farms, and murky legends of Confederate guerillas. He has spent a dozen years in various parts of the world, Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, with stopovers in Ireland and England, and emerged from the experience surprisingly unscathed.

Upon returning to the Ohio River Valley, he has published a series of novels of increasing oddness,combinations of what he characterizes as “gothic/historical fiction/fantasy/sf/redneck magical realism” beginning with Weasel’s Luck (1988) and Galen Beknighted (1990), the critically acclaimed Arcady (1996) and Allamanda (1997), and, most recently, Trajan’s Arch (2010). His new novel Vine will be released this summer.

He lives in Corydon, Indiana with his wife, Rhonda, and a clowder of cats.


Michael Williams Blog:

Thank you so much for visiting Michael.  I can't wait to read this!


  1. Thanks for having Michael visit today! :)

  2. Wonderful post! Thanks Alexx, and thanks, Michael!