On Journeys

I first read Thoreau as a high school student, and while I have heard the teaching of Walden to high school students criticized (as the text is apparently un-relatable for teenagers), I found, being slightly off-center myself, that I related to his odes to nonconformity, and many have made a lasting impression.

“The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men,” he writes, “and so with the paths which the mind travels.  How worn and dusty, then must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!”  I think I often find that my mind tends to travel the same rutted paths, and that occasionally I need opportunities to step out of them.

Recently, I made a weekend trip to Salt Lake City to attend an author dinner hosted by my publisher.  It was a short, pleasant trip and afforded me an opportunity to enjoy the familiar faces of family and friends, as well as to make new acquaintances.  I returned to Chicago feeling refreshed, especially in my perspectives, and have spent a few days thinking about the value of a journey.

I can think of several times in my life when a change of locale—the actually physical walking in different places—has offered a release from my usual thought patterns and perceptions, and I would assert that sometimes if not always, in order to change as a person, a journey of some kind is required.

Journeys in fantasy novels are nothing new; a “noble quest,” is something of a standard, and the genre is rife with examples.  In fact the greater “archetypal pattern”—as illustrated by Plato’s allegory of the cave—suggests that in order to gain a new view and see what the world really is, you have to leave your current position.  The characters in Journey to the Fringe, in order to see the true nature of their land and of themselves, have to leave the kingdom behind.  When they ultimately return to face what threatens Lyria, they come armed with the new knowledge and power.

So, this week as I am getting “back in the Chicago groove,” I am feeling glad of a chance to return with new eyes, and find that while I don’t believe that a “journey” necessitates a plane ticket or a perilous sea voyage, I do believe that I just might need one on occasion.  For the earth, as always, “is soft and impressible by the feet of men.”


Not too long ago, a friend asked me if the wave scene at the end of Journey to the Fringe was inspired by the tsunami in Japan in 2011.  And, while I actually wrote that portion before the tsunami occurred, it’s not difficult to see where she got that idea.  The recent destructive and tragic effects of storm Sandy, and all the footage we see from these events, definitely reinforces the power of the elements, and our own relative helplessness in the face of them.

As a child I don’t recall being afraid of ghosts, monsters, snakes, or spiders, but I had a very real fear of natural disasters.  I had a series of nightmares and premonitions about winds, fires, storms and earthquakes that kept me awake at night with a pit in my stomach.  Of course, childhood fears tend to loose their potency as we age, and yet while my childhood fears have gradually lost their edge, they have not altogether disappeared.

When I wrote about the waves in the end of Journey to the Fringe, I liked the idea of the power of the water coming from the hands of our desperate heroes, while simultaneously recognizing that they could not completely control them.