I'm currently finishing the final draft of the second of three contemporary fantasy novels. In these novels, our own world is one of six interlinked worlds through which magical power flows. Our world, which has the least magic, is called the Changing Land; and the reason that magic doesn't work so well here is because there's too much change going on. Magic, at least in this particular cosmology, needs a certain metaphysical stillness so that it can pool, ferment, and become potent.
Now, the idea of the Changing Land came about because I've seen, as who hasn't, so much change in my own life -- remember when everybody smoked? remember when the ice man brought blocks of ice into the kitchen and fitted it in the top of the ice box? remember when the ayrabs came down the alleyways, selling fruits and vegetables out of their horse-drawn carts? remember CPM computers? remember manual typewriters? remember parents telling kids that if they were lost or in trouble, all they had to do was ask an adult for help?
Yeah, those were simpler times.
But, the point is -- things do change. I know that. But sometimes, I forget just how much things have changed, until, oh, I read a book, or, in this case, a set of books.
Follow me below the squiggly thing, if you're interested in Miss Buncle.
(warning: possible spoilers for Miss Buncle's Book and Miss Buncle, Married.)
'way back in the dim mists of time, say between 1923 and 1970, a woman in Edinburgh, Scotland made her living writing books. Her name was D.E. Stevenson and she was a very successful writer, selling millions of copies of her books in England and in the U.S.
In 1923, she wrote a novel called Miss Buncle's Book. In it, we meet Barbara Buncle, spinster, who has turned to writing in desperation; she's running out of money, because the dividends have stopped coming in, and, well, it was either keep chickens or write a novel.
The problem being that Miss Buncle has no imagination, so she writes about her neighbors in the village of Silverstream, changing the names very slightly (Silverstream becomes Copperfield, for instance, and Mrs. Horsely Downs, a self-centered and disagreeable woman, becomes Mrs. Featherstone Hogg). Amazingly, the book is acquired, and published under a pseudonym; all the neighbors recognize themselves and hijinks ensue as they try to find who among them is the "traitor."
Miss Buncle in the meantime, and at the behest of her publisher, commences upon a sequel.
My husband and I read this novel out loud to each other (our habit at the end of the day, to sort of clear our heads, is to read someone else's book), and adored it. It's truly a writer's book, and everything in it is true, in precisely the way that The Unstrung Harp is true -- only much, much funnier.
We had so much fun with this book that when it came to our attention that there was a sequel, Miss Buncle, Married, we wasted no time ordering it in.
When we last saw Miss Buncle, in . . .Book, she was a bestselling author. In the new novel she is, as advertised, married. The book's adventures have to do with the bride locating the perfect house for her husband and herself, and the settling in to the village of Wandlebury. Her publisher wants another book from her, but she's written nothing for 18 months.
It's an amusing enough book, and about half-way through, Barbara does become inspired and (in a fortnight!) scrambles out the first draft of a novel, which is then locked away in a drawer. Her husband asks if she's going to publish it, but she puts him off, until, at the very end of the book -- the climax, in fact! -- she announces that she will not be going back to her book to get it into shape for publication, that she has, in fact, More Important Work, for. . .
. . .she's pregnant.
There's a little discussion after that of the blissful state of motherhood that awaits her, and so the book comes to an end.
Man, I wish I hadn't read that. And try as I might, remembering that the second novel (more than the first) is a Product of Its Time; I can't get the bad taste out of my mouth. I mean, honestly, second drafting a novel isn't that much work, and she's going to have nine whole months before the Blessed Event overtakes her. Surely, surely she could have finished the book? Why did it have to be either/or?
I haven't been so disappointed in a story since I sat down with my husband in much anticipation to share with him a movie I had absolutely adored as a young woman -- Bell, Book, and Candle. And what befell the heroine was so very terrible, and unjust and wrong, that I burst into tears.
And yet the story hadn't changed; I had changed.
What stories did you love, back years ago, that had changed when you came back to revisit them?