Saturday, January 21, 2006

Chapter the Fifth

Auntie Woezzl made room beneath the canary bumbershoot—not out of place on a rainy day but somehow shocking amid the day’s gloom—and Jonathan joined her. Together they proceeded on a winding stroll through Wolmsley Wood. (Was it still a fruit orchard? Jonathan could no longer make up his mind on this point.) At last they came up to the largest tree Jonathan had ever seen. It was broad and tall and dark and covered with gnarly things and moss and was simply ENORMOUS. Auntie Woezzl closed her bumbershoot and used it to tap one of the tree’s many knotty appurtenances, whereupon a door swung open and Jonathan beheld a hallway within the tree, all warm and dry and lighted.

“Don’t gape, Grubbley, we’re only getting wet out here.”

Jonathan started slightly then entered the hallway. Auntie Woezzl followed and closed the door behind them. Jonathan began to recover from his surprise and proceeded to remove his raincoat and rubbers like a polite guest.

“Much better, dear. Just make yourself at home,” encouraged Auntie Woezzl.

“You have such a snug and friendly tree, I mean, home,” Jonathan responded.

“Why, thank you, Grubbley. It’s been in the family for centuries. And now for tea.”

It only took a few moments for the strange old lady to get tea ready. And, noted Jonathan, she had such delicious biscuits. One would never suspect that one was having tee in a tree, smack in the middle of a rainy wood. But Jonathan could not forget that he was, somehow, in the midst of Wolmsley Wood. He had, evidently, entered at his own peril, just as the sign had warned. He finally decided to ask this unusual woman called Cluggin and Auntie Woezzl and all those other funny names some questions.

“Excuse me, Auntie Woezzl, but I was wondering….”

“As well you might,” she interrupted. “Wolmsley Wood is such a strange place, and I suppose that I am one of its stranger inhabitants. No doubt you have all manner of questions,” she continued as she picked up after tea. “But there really isn’t time to answer them all, you see. There’s so much to do, and I’m sure you’ll want to finish before your mother should begin worrying about you.”

“Do what, Mum?” Jonathan was getting suspicious again.

Auntie Woezzl seemed not to hear him as she looked through the lace curtains at one of the windows in the tree, windows that Jonathan had not seen from outside the tree.

“Ah yes, it’s stopped raining. Excellent! Now then, you’ll need some kind of map,” she muttered, then looked about the room. Her already wrinkly face wrinkled some more as her eyes glanced from the plushy old sofa to the bookshelves, past the floor lamp and the hutch full of dishes and bizarre oddments, and beyond the slightly crooked paintings and plaques on the peeling walls. Perhaps the cozy room was a bit in need of renovation, thought Jonathan, given that it has been in her family for centuries.

“Perhaps in the kitchen,” the old woman added, more to herself than to Jonathan, and bustled out of the room.

She returned in a trice, beaming and proclaiming, “Just the thing!” In her hand she carried a crumpled sheet of paper, evidently retrieved just now from the dustbin. “Be a good sort, Grubbley, and fetch me that goose quill, would you?” she asked, indicating the small secretary in the corner. Jonathan did as he was bidden. As he handed her the dusty quill he opened his mouth to enquire as to the relationship of paper refuse to maps and to the relationship of both to himself. Once again, Auntie Woezzl responded before he had a chance to proceed further.

“Yes, it is rather a dusty thing. Cobwebs too. I really ought to clean house more often, but it never was my strong point. Don’t write much either. I visit friends and never correspond with my enemies. This wrapping sheet is the only paper in the house, I fear, but it will do splendidly. Now do pay attention, Grubbley. This if frightfully important.”

Chapter the Fourth

Jonathan decided that perhaps the best thing would be to turn around and recross the inland sea. He was certainly not afraid but he was concerned lest his mother discover his absence and fret herself unduly about his welfare. Then again, the trees behind him were at least as thick and dark and strange as those before him. He was not altogether certain which way he had come.

Being a purist in matters of navigation, Jonathan had always sailed and journeyed according to the stars without the assistance of artificial devices such as the compass. Now, of course, the stars were not visible since it was (a) daytime, (b) clouded over, and (c) generally obscure through the untimely intervention of numerous branches and as-yet-unfallen leaves. So he stiffened his upper lip and continued to explore.

Nor did he have to explore any great while ere he found something. Or rather something round him. Jonathan was in mid-stride when a screechy voice caught him and prevented his marching further. He wasn’t quite sure what the voice had said as it was at least partly nonsense. The best he could remember later ran somewhat as follows:
Gribbleda fingle
Warts on a shingle
What are you doing here
All drenched? And single?
“Banpa! That doesn’t make any sense,” objected Gwyn.

“Nothing I am telling you is going to make much sense, child,” Jonathan countered, resuming the tale.


Jonathan might have asked politely for a repetition of the question were the circumstances somewhat more ordinary. But they weren’t, and he knew the sound of a spell when he heard one and dared not risk offending the one who cast it. Besides, he realized he was frozen to the spot and was not sure he wanted to find out if he could still speak.

The person belonging to the voice, as Jonathan perceived when he turned his head to the left and slightly behind him, was an elderly woman, somewhat stooped and rather wrinkly but not altogether unkindly looking. She stood near a largish tree: an oak, thought Jonathan, except they do not grow in our fruit orchard. She wore a dress of coarse grey fabric with a black shawl and black shoes and held aloft a bright yellow bumbershoot to ward off the rain. Jonathan had no idea what to make of her but she seemed to be awaiting an answer and her eyes prompted him to reply.

“I do not care much for warts, thank you, Mum. The day, however, was such a fine one that I decided to go exploring. And here I am.”

The strange woman’s expression indicated satisfaction with this civil and rather honest response, which allayed Jonathan’s anxiety.

“It’s not often that we get such young visitors to Wolmsley Wood, lad. I do hope you can spare a few moments for tea.”

“That’s very kind of you, Mum, but wherever shall we have tea here in the orchard?”

“Why, we shan’t have it here in the Wood, child! Dear me, what is your name? I do dislike calling someone ‘child’ or ‘you there’ or ‘thingummy’.”

“Jonathan, Mum, Jonathan Grubbley.”

“Well, Grubbley, how about tea?”

“I should rather like it, thank you. And it it’s not too presumptuous, may I ask your name, Mum?”

“There are so many names by which I’m known, young Grubbley, that I find it difficult to choose. But you may call me Cluggin, or Isapheria, or Auntie Woezzl. Then again, I sometimes go by the formal title of Old Lady Dyrnmantle.”

“I should like to call you Auntie Woezzl, if I may. That seems like such a nice name.” (Jonathan decided she was rather a good sort after all. Once a chap met her it was silly to think she had cast a spell on him.)

“Marvelous, Grubbley. And now to tea.”

Chapter the Third

Splootching through the waters, Jonathan was having a jolly good time. Who knows what lay beyond this newly formed lake? Hadn’t old Columbus found a new world when he crossed the unknown waters? Or did Saint Brendan get there first? Or was it the Vikings? Well, it didn’t matter. Something was waiting to be discovered.

With thoughts so brave for a boy his age he trudged on through the ripply waters. Never had the back lawn seemed so broad, so vast, so utterly huge (nor half so fun) as it did when flooded. As he crossed the Great Inland Sea, our dripping and head-drenched mariner—well, he had forgotten his hat—set his course for the fruit orchard which was wont to find itself across the lawn at the end of the gravel path.

As he reached the first apple trees the ground rose slightly and Jonathan ascended from the sea to the “dry land.” He then shook the water from his legs before replanting them in the orchard mud and straightened his raincoat with an air of satisfied accomplishment. With the wide eyes of a boy Jonathan surveyed his surroundings as though he had just discovered a new world.

Indeed, Master Jonathan Grubbley did face a new world, for the old familiar orchard had somehow acquired a new aspect on this pluvious day. All the usual trees were there: the dozen or so apples, the pears, and two French prunes. Even the clearing where Grandfather Crutchett had tried in vain to raise an orange tree was in its customary spot. And yet, and yet…the trees looked somehow different. A touch more leafless, more gaunt, more grey, perhaps. Sinister? Not really. Jonathan rebuked himself for such silly thoughts and proceeded further into the orchard. When he came to the venerable walnut trees, however, he noticed a small hand-lettered sign which read:
Wolmsley Wood:
Enter at your own peril!

Now this was ridiculous. Jonathan had never heard of any Wolmsley Wood. This was the Grubbley fruit orchard and he had visited every furlong of it many times. He had never seen this sign before but was certain that it did not belong among his family’s walnut trees. Had he been older and more indignant, Jonathan would undoubtedly suspected the work of vandals and immediately turn the offending sign from the tree. As it was, however, he shrugged his shoulders, continued on his journey around and beyond that particular walnut tree, and merely thought to himself, “Most irregular!”

Hardly twenty paces beyond the queer sign, Jonathan had already made a rhyme of the whole matter and began singing to himself:

Wolmsley Wood, the Wolmsley Wood;
Don’t get caught in Wolmsley Wood.
No man ought and no one should
Dare to enter Wolmsley Wood.
Of course, making a rhyme of things always puts them in a better light, so Jonathan’s heart was already brighter and braver. For a minute of two anyway. Even a song cannot shake a goodly shadow and Jonathan was sure that the Wood—he was already wondering whether it was only a fruit orchard—was growing dark. He looked up, like a sensible lad, to see whether a passing rain cloud happened to be thicker and blacker than most. It wasn’t. In fact, he could see very little of the clouds. It was the trees which were growing thicker and blacker and altogether most unfamiliar. A less brave person than Jonathan might even have supposed himself lost.

Chapter the Second

It was one of those grungy days, full of clouds and puddles (and sniffles if you weren’t careful), when you would normally stay inside and think of all the things you could be doing if only the rain would stop. But not Jonathan Grubbley. While others stayed in from breakfast to tea, minded their nannies, and read books by the fireplace, Jonathan could be counted on to brave the tempest and get his person most thoroughly drenched. And so he did.

Donning his raincoat and rubbers—Jonathan was not a totally perverse lad and certainly not stupid—he proceeded down the back steps, though the kitchen and drying room, and out into the yard. The first task which confronted him was circumnavigating a large pool of water that had assembled itself where the gravel path normally lay. Jonathan’s eyes scanned first to the left where they encountered the hedge, then to the right where the water seemed not to vanish any sooner than the horizon met the sky. Since his eyes were managing so poorly, Jonathan next employed his feet. They worked magnificently! Of course, as they boldly forged forward they also plunged into the horrendous pool, but adventures do not always begin auspiciously. Jonathan, being a very bright youth, was aware of this profound truth and consoled himself therewith. After all, he know this was going to develop into some sort of adventure. Besides, this was a splashy good beginning, come to think of it, and a bloody bit better than doing sums or just sitting around the house all day.

Adventure time....

Chapter the First

“Father! You’re not going to fill their heads with that nonsense, are you?”

Jonathan noticed the edge in her voice and thought once again that daughters can be very annoying when they become responsible mothers. The steady tattoo of rain on the roof provided the ostinato for the fraying of nerves. This was the fourth day of weeping skies and the grandchildren were restless. Jonathan had hoped to see less rain when he left his native England to live near his daughter in California, but this particular winter was not encouraging.

“I’m just trying to brighten spirits, dear,” her replied to be countered with a sharp harrumph from the other room.

“Please, Banpa,” pleaded five-year-old Stefan.

“Yes, please,” added Gwyn who wanted to hear about her grandfather’s rainy day adventure.

“Well, since you children are the lights of my life and you insist,” the old man replied, pretending to reluctance, “it happened something like this….”

With that, one and all were transported to another rainy day decades earlier.

Children, it's time for a bedtime story

I had barely launched into my brief career as a graduate student in history when creativity and playfulness won out over scholarship. Two fellow students, the “Budwomen,” asked for a bedtime story. I departed from their dorm room and returned shortly thereafter with Chapter the First of the following tale. It was only the launch of a month-long adventure story, what I called a bedtime tale for grownups. At first I had no idea where it would take us all. For an organizing mythology I turned to a major in folklore and mythology. Others contributed ideas along the way. Since this was clearly going to be a serial, I sought to end each chapter with some sort of cliffhanger. Silly as the whole thing was, we all agreed it ended too soon.

The tale of Jonathan’s time in Mithernesse led to a request for more information on Hermann of Bjupaž. That biographical note mentioned “the wasting of the Gardens fourteen centuries later” and from that throwaway line sprung a longer sequel: “Isenwaste” (featuring Jonathan’s granddaughter Gwyn). With the inspiration of Tolkien in the background, I pondered histories, maps, languages, cultures, and genealogies. Thus my first year at UCLA was spent mostly living in a parallel universe—without the aid of drugs, I might add.

The entire creative endeavor found its way into my therapy sessions this last year and I have wanted to revisit the magic and mystery of these adventures with a deeper perspective.

To the sorrow of many, my high school humanities teacher, Alan Amend, died in 2005. He is the Cap’n Poseidon mentioned in the original preface. As the initial tale was dedicated to him, I had given him a photocopy long ago. Gay Amend, his widow, graciously offered to return it to me, thus providing the opportunity to go back once again. This revision and expansion, adapted to the serial style of the modern weblog, I now dedicate to both of them.

To Uncle Al and Gay,
May you ever continue to see kindled the imagination of
your students.

Paul E Strid
Hercules, California
January 2006

Brace yourselves for an adventure

It was a grungy night shift with hysteria flooding the dishroom and occasional vacuums forming in the thought-warp when Jonathan Grubbley sprang half-grown from the author’s cloven mind. From thence a thousand streams flowed into the Isa River and the Mither grew from a teardrop into a mighty mere. The author am thanking some of those many tributaries which watered the Wolmsley Wood. His appreciation goes to Lesley for the opportunity, to John and Clives and Pooh for nourishment, to Mira for asylum, to Megan for obstacles, to Liz for a myth, to Carolyn for the inspired pigshed, to el and JMC for names, to Ed and the Regents for use of the Selectric II, to the Budwomen for bedtimes, and to so many others for flattery, encouragement, and the willing suspension of disbelief. And finally he am expressing his gratitude (for so many wondrous things) to his early and ever faithful inspirers to whom he am now dedicating this, his first major prose attempt—for the Faerie Queene Gloriana and Cap’n Poseidon.

Paul E Strid
November 1972