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In the 1960s(?), Harry Belafonte sang a nonsensical little ditty called (I think) “Man Piaba, Woman Piaba”. Or possibly it was a wry commentary on life and actually made a lot of sense, but I was a typical male teenager and too stupid to realize it at the time. One of the lines recently came to mind (funny how long-term memory works): “… your Rorschach shows you’re a Peripatetic…”.

Sometimes I think my daughter (and co-author) Leanne and I are student Peripatetics, itinerant wanderers down some winding road toward truth. Or maybe truthiness, it’s getting harder to tell the difference these days. (Lee is better at differentiating than I am, possibly because my kid wasn’t nearly as stupid a teenager… although, ahem… she did have her moments.) Anyway, two of the stones in that road that we recently stopped to ponder while casting our idea net wider (for metaphysical and philosophical input to our third book Splintered Light, now in draft) are discussed below — book reviews of Coelho’s Brida, and Cogan’s Winona’s Web.

But first, two items of recent news that may be of interest to CAPA:
(1) I created a book trailer video (mt-short-finalbooktrlr) for Monkey Trap (our first novel). It’s also on YouTube. We’d be very interested in your opinions on it.
(2) Hiding Hand (our second novel) was recently short-listed by ForeWord Magazine for its Book of the Year Award in the sci-fi category. Winner to be picked in May.

BRIDA by Paulo Coelho — A Review

Brida, the subject of this tale, is a young woman roughly the age of my daughter. She’s an embryonic witch and her story arc takes her through the stages of becoming one.

A quick disclaimer up front: this is not your classic adventure story; nothing is getting shot at or blown up, no witches are being hunted down, no heroes are at real physical risk. All Brida and her cohorts have to overcome is their own doubts. But those doubts have value, so they must be honored, and not overcome too easily. This complex — but very human — theme is a constant thread through what’s basically a spiritual or philosophical journey. So if that sort of journey doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, stop right here…

Story in a nutshell: Brida realizes she’s a different kind of being, searches for her true self, acquires a male mentor (the Magus, later a lover), acquires a female mentor (Wicca, the Magus’ ex, a nice plot touch), studies, meditates, gets initiated into witchcraft, and ultimately learns that when “…male knowledge joins with female transformation, then the great magical union is created, and its name is Wisdom. Wisdom means both to know and to transform.”

So… transformation. That’s this book’s major appeal for me, I think. Certainly it’s a fascinating story theme — especially the concept of transforming together, turning a duality (Brida and the Magus, after a few reversals and sidesteps to amp up the mystery and suspense) into a unity. Wrapped tightly around this theme, which is simultaneously spiritual and sexual, is the concept of a soul mate. Or two sides of the same coin. Or anaim cairdi, as the old pagan Celts would say. In Coelho’s telling, when you find your soul mate you see not only the light in their eyes, but also a point of light over their left shoulder. (Of course you have to be a trained witch or magus to have that kind of vision. But when you consider that a weak electromagnetic biofield does in fact surround the body, an interference pattern generating something that might be perceived as light by an eye that sees a broader spectrum is not too implausible; a willing suspension of disbelief isn’t too difficult.) Lovers may come and go, Coelho observes, but soul mates have real staying power, they last down through different incarnations. This is not a new idea in literature, but it is one that resonates on an emotional level, especially when couched in Coelho’s beautiful language. Full disclosure: my mind is analytical (mathematician, scientist, engineer) but my heart is romantic (I cry at sad country songs).

The book’s secondary appeal is toward my analytical side, and that’s actually what drew me to the book when thumbing through it in the local library — Coelho produces a detailed religious backdrop that is (I think) historically accurate, and then weaves it seamlessly into the story. He delves heavily into the past of the Catholic Church, and relies on its saints and its sinners to provide context around Brida’s journey. (In a prior incarnation, she was burned to death in 1244 when the Catholics exterminated the last of the Cathars, a heretical splinter group.) Coelho intersperses Christian religion and concepts with older pagan belief systems such as the Tradition of the Sun, the Tradition of the Moon, reincarnation, resolution of human dualism into divine unity. Analytically… how the story coheres so neatly, how all its parts fit… it’s just a nice job. An added benefit to my daughter and me… we’ve been steadily developing an off-spec Jesus for the culmination of our Nova sapiens trilogy, and so for us this tale is really interesting food for thought.

(aka Lee Denning, author of Monkey Trap and Hiding Hand)

WINONA’S WEB by Priscilla Cogan — A Review

In American Indian mythos the Spider Woman radiates the labyrinth of her thoughts. At the hub of this web resides the mind of Winona, an aged Lakota tribeswoman. The story finds its center in her, though the narrative comes through her therapist, Meggie. Meggie is hired by Winona’s daughter when the old woman announces her own death will come in two moons.

Meggie’s goal is to “figure out” why Winona believes she will die in a matter of months, but instead she finds herself wondering, right from the get-go, just who is helping whom.

During therapy sessions, Winona portrays not only her personal history, but the history of her people. For someone who doesn’t quite grasp the concept of “my people”, the closest account I can muster is the experience of going home. (I remember scanning the luggage reclaim area at LAX, thinking as I looked around at faces—so many different faces—“These are my people”—as if “my people” could include just about anyone.)

Let’s cut to the essentials: readability, captured interest, other components of a good story… all are certainly present in this book. But some stories have a scope beyond the written page. Take, as a rough example, The Never Ending Story. The boy, Bastien, sits curled up in a library attic reading. As Bastien reads the novel, lines between fantasy and reality become increasingly blurred until, right up at the end when it matters most, one of the characters actually materializes before him in the attic. (This becomes a nice, neatly wrapped metaphor with regard to how we become the story we are reading because it consumes our mind through our rapt attention and focus.) Bastien’s active participation is required for the story to reach its conclusion.

In my own life, Winona’s Web took on a transcendent quality akin to Bastien’s experience. Cogan includes short poems or quotations at the start of every chapter. These helped orient my thoughts so I could absorb the essential purpose contained within that chapter. Although Cogan does a nice job of keeping it light, a lot of the material is quite profound. More than once, I was blown away by the overlap between my immediate experience and the message conveyed in an introductory quote.

Winona’s Web circles around the powerful heritage and traditions of the Lakota tribes. It’s as though the earth on the North American continent carries their memories—or maybe all places emanate the energies of whoever came before—but strange things happen when one reads this book. It grabs hold of something ancient and magical, something that continues to resonate. There’s plenty of spirituality in the world, and yet what’s compelling about Lakota mythos is this loving connectivity with the earth, sky, and all forms of life. Lakota call the sky “Grandfather”, and the earth, “Grandmother”. When smoking the pipe they pay homage to all their relations. (And if you trace back far enough, that includes everyone. So maybe I wasn’t so far off with the LAX thing after all.)

(aka Lee Denning, co-author of Monkey Trap and Hiding Hand)

Your thoughts on these matters are, as always, welcome. The kid and I love a lot of grist for our writing mill…

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