Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Spoiler Space: "Beyond the Fields You Know"

Art by Michael Kutsche
 This is probably my most autobiographical story, not in the sense that anything like this ever happened to me but that most of the details come from my own life: my childhood bedroom had wallpaper with biplanes on it, we had a linen closet that you could climb up into and hide in (the one at our cottage was even better, since if you went to the very top it connected to the closet in the next room), and the treehouse at the end of the story is the one my Dad built in our back yard. The moment where Calx sees the lice crawling on Mrs. Marmalade's snout really did happen to me, except that it was an unusually brave groundhog that let me get close enough to see the bugs on him, with the result that I can no longer see groundhogs as being cute. Sometimes it's best to keep your distance and preserve the Disney IllusionTM.

The inspiration for Mrs. Marmalade is obviously the title character in “The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy Winkle,” the only Beatrix Potter book I remember reading as a child and, by chance, the only one that treats the human and talking-animal worlds as separate and has a human main character who crosses over between them. Mr. Jacoby is pretty plainly inspired by the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, though in fact he's more closely based on Mr. Herriman from “Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends.” (Anyone reading either of the Carroll books closely would see that they're pretty strong arguments against making forays into fantastic worlds, but the White Rabbit has become such a potent image of that kind of story that I couldn't pass it up.)

Rabbits really do have claws.

The place where Calx finds the sword is meant to evoke the lands on either side of the trenches in World War I. I'm not quite sure how World War I wound up being referenced twice in the book, never mind in two stories right next to each other, but I have to admit the timing worked out well.

Just one Canadian reference in this one, when Calx uses the word “steamboat” to count a second (“one steamboat, two steamboat...”) So far as I can tell this usage is found only in Canada and seems to have originated in CFL football, but it's common enough that it's often the method prescribed in government documents.

Calx's name is from the Latin word meaning “chalk” or “limestone” and is the origin of our words calculate and calculus (because small stones were used for keeping records.) I learned this bit of trivia almost twenty years ago when I was in teacher's college and it lurked around in my brain until the night I thought of this story (described in more detail here) when it presented itself, for whatever reason, as the protagonist's name. The moral of this story is to never throw anything away, which admittedly is better applied to ideas than to books.


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