Thursday, July 3, 2014

Wisdom and Whimsy in A Wizard of Dreams by Robin Chambers

Among my favorite books in my library are the tales that put a unique and often modern spin on the Arthurian legends, most notably Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series. Imagine my delight to find a new series from a fellow indie author and medievalist who crafts a tale about a special boy who is the "heir" of Merlin himself!

In Myrddin's Heir, Book 1: A Wizard of Dreams we follow the tale of the early years of Gordon, a boy with extraordinary powers and a legendary destiny, on a journey of self-discovery through several fascinating adventures that had me eagerly turning the pages. From antics in school to a (quite literally) haunting family vacation in the British countryside, to Avalon itself where he meets Merlin and Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table (to name but a few journeys!), this book weaves a magical, heartfelt tale with beautiful themes and life lessons, perfect for young readers as well as older and wiser ones.

Merlin takes Arthur to the safety of his foster home.

A Wizard of Dreams emphasizes the power and magic of our imaginations, as many of Gordon's adventures take place in a dream-state with his "imaginary" friend Zach. However, there is much more to Zach than meets the eye! Also, I especially appreciated the grandeur and spirit with which Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were portrayed as they answered Merlin's summons.
In many stories, such as T.H. White's The Once and Future King, Merlin was Arthur's teacher as well.
 As a former teacher, I wish I had this book in my classroom years ago, for after each chapter is a list of themes, events, and metaphors to be discussed, and there is a wonderful glossary at the end with more information on each of these items.  The author, Robin Chambers, a former teacher himself, infuses his book seamlessly with wisdom as well as historical and literary knowledge. I was overjoyed at the number of Shakespearean references hidden in the narrative! "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." (Hamlet) There is also a large section of plot in which Gordon faces and counteracts bullying with wit and aplomb (and "magic," of course). It is simply amazing how much whimsy and wisdom is packed into the pages of A Wizard of Dreams!

Merlin the Enchanter by Howard Pyle

And yes, that is Robin himself on the cover, in costume when he performed a dramatic reading of A Wizard of Dreams for a classroom of schoolchildren. Isn't that fantastic? He has a mesmerizing voice, like a wizard himself, which you can hear at his website Myrddin's Heir. His website is the treasure trove in Mabon's cairn (read the book and you'll see!) for teachers and students as well, for there are activities based on the books and a page where students can even submit their own writing!

I am privileged to have gotten to know Robin through various email exchanges. He is truly a wise gentleman and a knowledgeable teacher and medievalist. I find his autobiography simply fascinating and inspiring, a testament to "trouthe," the medieval word for integrity and seeking one's best self:

Once upon a time –a long time ago – I was born in Bootle (Liverpool 20).  There was a war on.  Later, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis but instead was plunged into the maelstrom of inner city education.  In the 1970s I wrote some stories for children to see if I could, and Penguin published them.  I thought I would write something really good when I retired from teaching…

After fourteen years of headship in Hackney I came back up north in 1993 and met my wonderful wife Amy.  We looked after my increasingly ill parents full-time until they didn’t need us to do it anymore, by which time the first of our two daughters was ready to go off to University and on to the first rung of the housing ladder.  We did the sums and I went back to teaching…

In 2008 Amy and I set off for a life by the western shores of the Caribbean.  It was only after I survived a murder attempt by three local thugs in November 2010 (skull crushed in two places, seventeen stitches in head wounds) that I realised how easy it is to die without accomplishing a cherished ambition.


So we came back to the UK and I set to work on “Myrddin’s Heir”: the epic story I will leave behind.  It took three years to write the first four books - now in the Kindle Store at 99p each.  Self-publishing means self-marketing, so here I am.  Book 5 is just out…

This is a story for bright children from 10–110 years of age.  It’s longer than The L of the R, longer even than HP &…  To finish it I need to live another 15 years.  I’d like to finish it, because I know how it ends.

I want to know how it ends too! Which is why I am so thrilled there are other books in the series available so I can continue along this magical reading adventure.
Robin is definitely worth following on Twitter @myrddinsheir and on Facebook.

For an extra treat, read what Robin Chambers has to say about the creation of Gordon's character in his imagination:
Some ‘Inside Story’ Facts about Gordon
He first came to me when he was 9½. I was daydreaming in Belize; which was quite appropriate really: because Gordon is an Aisling wizard...
If you haven't read Book 1 yet, it is likely that you won't have come across the word 'aisling' or 'aislinn' before. Dream is the nearest one-word in the language we now speak; but it falls short of all that 'aisling' means.
According to Gordon's sixteen greats grandmother, "an Aisling wizard finds and tames wild things that wander through the tangled world of dreams. He travels in the wonderland of wishing. He goes wherever truth has found a cunning place to hide..."
Of course, the same can be said of an Aisling witch. You meet one of those towards the end of Book 1...
Early one morning in the spring of 2010, I was out walking my dogs - Bamford and Cookie - through the savannah woodland near our house at 14½ Miles Western Highway (now renamed George Price Highway) when I came across Gordon and his alter-ego Zack engaged in earnest conversation. Gordon had just asked Zack an important question:
"Where did I come from?"
He seemed to take it for granted that Zack would know. I got the impression that Zack knew things like that; but I was amazed when he casually let slip the fact that he'd been with Will when he wrote those astounding plays and poems around 400 years ago. Obviously he meant Shakespeare: he'd just quoted him...
The dogs had gone haring off after an agouti (which is a kind of Belizean jack-rabbit), so while I waited for them to charge back and find me I tuned in to the rest of what Gordon and Zack were saying; and I realised a number of things:
Zack could not be "human" in the normally accepted sense: because human beings live for a finite amount of what we casually refer to as "time". I didn't think Zack could have been around for ALL of it (common sense told me he couldn't be 13.75 (to the nearest 0.11) billion years old); but could he have been around when language was evolving among the apes we used to be? Might he in fact have had a part to play, even then, in the honing of that immensely powerful tool we casually refer to as "language"?
Was he bound up in those beginnings? Was he was some sort of manifestation of genius...?
He'd been with Gordon from Gordon's beginning (at any rate on this planet) - as you will know if you have read the opening chapter of this very long story; and that had to mean that Gordon was no ordinary boy.
I left them talking in the woods, and turned for home with my alert, panting dogs. We were all looking forward to breakfast. It had been an intriguing, apparently chance encounter, but nothing more than that...
However, that remarkable boy - whose name, I now know, is Gordon Bennett - began to turn up more and more regularly: sometimes during the day when I was out walking, or letting my senses drift for a while just after lunch. Quite often, in the middle of the night, I would wake to find him wandering through my wonderland of wishing. He was looking for truth, I suppose, which often finds a cunning place to hide...
Zack was always with him: which was how I first found out that Zack could bend time. On one occasion I found myself watching Gordon's teddy doing the can-can when he was only five months old. He'd just amazed his mother with his first three words: MA-MA, DA-DA and ZACK...
I wasn't completely surprised when at the age of 2½ he told his mum he wanted to be a palaeontologist. My grandson had told me the exact same thing when he was that age. He had also corrected my pronunciation of the word diplodocus:  "A lot of older people say diploDOCus, Grandad, but it's pronounced dipLODocus nowadays."
(He's at Imperial College London at the moment, reading Theoretical Physics, and has assured me that it won't stop him writing his first novel. But that's another story...)
I am pleased that Gordon is good at dealing with bullies, because I wasn't good at dealing with them when I was at Gray Street Primary School in Bootle, or at first even at Bootle Grammar School for Boys (I got better at it after my dad took me to Boxing Club…).
I admire Gordon's love of learning and the wide open windows in his mind. I thoroughly approve of his positive mental attitude. His mother told me he'd never been bored, and she was sure he never would be.
But things got really serious when I heard Myrddin (English people know him as Merlin) tell Gordon that he was his heir, and that he had been born to make the world a better place. That was when I began to think that maybe I too had been chosen: to tell Gordon's story to the world.
Maybe telling his story was somehow part of the overarching plan - to make the world a better place? - because if the world IS to be made a better place, it has to know how, and why.
Here's a bit of good news about all the problems that stand in our way. They're all man-made. That's a sexist remark, and I stand by it.
Of course: you don't make the world a better place in a week. Rome wasn't built in a day. It takes me a day, when I even it out, to write a thousand fairly careful words...
The things that Gordon's already done (worth telling you about) have filled four books, and I'm only two days past his twelfth birthday. I suspect the things he has yet to do will fill a fair few more...
I fear for him sometimes; but I know he is never alone...

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