Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Circle of Salt: The Platypus Reads Part CCLXXXIV

Several years ago, I had the pleasure to look at the first draft of a novel by a friend of mine.  I shared my thoughts along with a few spurious doodles and that was that.  Imagine my delight when I saw the book for sale on Amazon.  That book is A Circle of Salt by E.J. Weaver and I am pleased to say that it was worth every cent of the 12 dollars I paid to get a hard copy.

A Circle of Salt is not like any fantasy novel I have read.  The core of the book is a series of Russian fairy tales that have been reworked by Weaver to tell the story of Vasilissa, a fey from the Summer Realm who is exiled for her pride.  Over the course of her exile, Vasilissa crosses wits with Russian fairy tale villains Koschei the Deathless and the Baba Yaga who attempt to use Vasilissa's blood to enter the Realm and unleash the Dragon.  While this might sound like Shannon Hale meets Mike Mignola, Weaver's understated and deeply realist story-telling gives A Circle of Salt a feel and voice that is uniquely its own.  Weaver makes Vasilissa's world credible without the usual detours into "how everything works" that bog down similar novels.  This allows the interest of the story to compel us -and compel it does!  Indeed, when so much contemporary story-telling strikes me as ugly, shoddy, and over-blown, Weaver's commitment to beauty, craft, and authorial restraint are most welcome.  With such a strong showing out of the gate, I look forward to the release of E.J. Weaver's next novel.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest (cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXVI

The final curtain falls over a neo-classical funerary urn worthy of Eteocles.

The Sheltons, as befitted one of the first families of a Connecticut hill town, produced numerous "doctors of physik" over the years.  With epidemic disease being a common place, many of these doctors' ends were less than enviable.

This is the modestly-ornate grave of Doctor William Shelton (1767-1819).  Dr. Shelton graduated from Yale, a mere morning's ride away from home, in 1788 and took up the scalpel in 1790.  The official doctorate didn't come until 1817, two years before he was cut down by the typhus fever of 1819 at the age of 52.  An inscription at the base tells us that the stone was commissioned by his surviving children "to the memory of the best of fathers".  With a Yale degree, I am sure that there were other places William Shelton might have gone.  Instead, he chose a life of service to the community he was raised in and died as he lived.  That's worthy of a stone of remembrance.

Here I raise my ebeneezer, hither by Thy help I've come, and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home... 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXV

The Grave of Agur and Abigail Shelton

This is the grave of Agur and Abigail Shelton.  It can be found near the downtown area of the town that shares their family name.  This is, I believe, the oldest burial ground in the community and the bones of Lieutenant Daniel Shelton are laid to rest nearby.  Agur is a generation or two removed from Daniel as his death date testifies: June 24, 1845.  The style of Agur and Abigail's tomb, marble rather than slate with a weeping willow and urn instead of the winged death's head, show not only a change in date but a change in culture.  Gone is the stark Puritan reminder that death comes for us all and a more euphemistic Neo-Classicism has taken its place.  Along with added wealth and sophistication comes a few little flourishes that mark tomb stones from the early and mid-nineteenth century.  Abigail's inscription is enriched by the note that she was "the daughter of the late Rev. Mr. Newton" and that she "died as a Christian should die".  As she preceded her husband in death by sixteen years, this may very well be his verdict on the manner of her passing.  Beneath the scroll-work embellished inscription is a final epitaph for the pair that reads "the sweet remembrance of the just, shall flourish when they sleep in dust".  Years of winter snow and summer weed-wackers have taken their toll on this final note and it is beginning to fade.  I wonder how long memory of Agur and Abigail's lives "flourished" after they were laid to "sleep in dust."

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Grave Matters: Platypus Addendum

I've been posting quite a bit about graves and their tenants this past month.  For those who are interested in looking at the broader context of human interaction with the dead, there is an interesting article over at the Getty Iris on this topic, "Are Westerners Weird About Death".  Here is the link.

Friday, April 03, 2015

The Dead and Beautiful Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXIV

Aunt Mary's Grave

We all look for role models.  Sometimes we find them in a parent.  Other times it's an uncle or an aunt.  Jane DeForest Shelton, author of The Saltbox House, found her's in Marietta Smith, "Aunt Mary" for short.

Aunt Mary's mother, the beautiful and vivacious Glory-Anah Shelton, had been the talk of the town in her day.  She'd made a good, if belated, match in merchant James Smith.  Smith's connections brought Glory-Anah a stone house across the water in Derby and an imported China tea-set that was a nine-day wonder.  A sick mother brought both the Smiths back to the old Saltbox house in the White Hills of Huntington and Glory-Anah never really wanted to move back.  Her husband died and there she sat and aged with only her daughter, Marietta, to care for her.  Marietta, or "Aunt Mary", had one chance to get out that came in the form or a certain Southern gentleman.  The prospects for a happy marriage were strong, but when the young man returned home to make his fortune he fell ill and died.  So Mary swore off marriage and stayed by her mother's side until Glory-Anah passed away leaving her daughter a sizable fortune.  For the remainder of her life, Aunt Mary traveled staying at all the right places and meeting all the right people during the right seasons returning each year to the old house in Huntington.  There it seems she often took the younger scions of the family under her wing.  This was how Jane DeForest came to know her, the wise, feisty, and independent old lady who was always willing to lend an ear to someone who needed it.  When Aunt Mary died, they buried her next to her mother in the grand cemetery in Derby.  The family home, built by Daniel Shelton in the late 1600s fell into ruin.  Nothing of it now remains.

In the Resurrection, they will be like the angels in Heaven: neither marrying nor being given in marriage

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Fun With Maps: Creative Platypus


This is a map I made in college for an RPG campaign.  We only ran a few sessions in the world of Ventia, but I had fun developing the distinct cultures of Ventia, Annuvn, Prydain, Frisia and their histories.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Beautiful and the Dead Rest (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part LXIII

This is the grave of Reverend Jedidiah Mills and his wife, Abigail.

Revered Mills served for 32 years as "the first and faithful minister of the Gospel of Christ at Ripton" until his death at the age of 79 in the year 1776.  Though the graveyard Reverend Mills and his wife are buried in is now adjacent to Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Mills was a Congregationalist and served at the Puritan church that once occupied the spot where the gas station now stands until it was removed to the Victorian Gothic structure across the Green.  Mrs. Mills' epitaph as "the amiable consort" of her husband is darkened by the addition that she died "a lingering and painful death".  Though the final portion of the stone is obscured by weeds, it gives assurance to the reader that the "happy pair" are now united in heaven.

I helped lead a group of seniors on a trip to Italy a few years back and we visited one of the catacombs in Rome.  We were with two other groups and one of my students, a practicing Christian, fell in with students from another group who were not.  They asked my student why he was so happy to be in the catacombs when they found the tunnels fearful and oppressive.  He responded that for him it was a trip to visit family and explained the Christian belief in the Resurrection of the Dead and the unity of all believers as siblings in Christ.  Though it wasn't exactly a comfort for them, the other students admitted that they could see his perspective and that it made more sense of the experience.  I remembered what my student said because that's what it feels like for me when I go wandering through the old graveyards of New England.  At any point, I might discover family.

Rest in peace Reverend and Mrs. Mills.  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.