Category Archives: books

Family Mythology No. 1: Exiles from The Shire

About Family Mythology: It’s good for families to inhabit common psychic terrain. We do, but sometimes I think it stops at the boundaries of our property … maybe extends to the park a few blocks away, certainly to the kids’ schools … but there’s a whole lot of “TBD” out there, owing, in part, to the various life experiences and viewpoints we hold. (I was thinking “To Be Determined” when I typed TBD, but let’s change that to “There Be Dragons.”) For instance, I like church, and he likes football (both kinds, American and what the rest of the world means).

So anyway, about The Shire: Back when I first read The Lord of the Rings I longed for the mythological terrain of Middle Earth, with the cozy rightness of The Shire, and the epic landscapes beyond its borders. Somehow (that’s a quick gloss over of a lot of literary criticism) Tolkien created a world that seemed realer than regular old life. And all that place-based magic and meaning – how did we lose that?

Fast forward a decade, and I’m married. A couple more decades, and I’ve realized that he, too, is an exile from The Shire, and really wants little more than to hunker down in a hobbit hole with a cup of tea in a rocker by a fire. In his case it’s more personal. Economic forces uprooted his family when he was 15 from his home in Oxfordshire, and swept them across the Atlantic, inland, to the remote and barren terrain of West Texas.

We’ve had some lovely trips back over the pond, in which many of our country rambles on footpaths trod by Romans and earlier inhabitants of the isle lead to country churches that were there when William the Conqueror did his inventory way back when. Luckily no village is complete without a pub, as all that tramping builds up a thirst.

Now we live on the edge of the Great Plains of North America. It’s not as green as The Shire, but it’s got that ever-so-humble homey quality, low-key but tightly woven community — to quote nerdily from LOTR, “deep roots are not touched by the frost.”

Other truths “we” hold to be self-evident: The Sex Pistols have redeeming qualities. James Bond is a minor deity.

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Gulf Coast Gothic

I just finished reading Duma Key by Stephen King, mostly in one obsessed Saturday. It was good. I’d have to call the genre “Gulf Coast Gothic,” and the setting is reminiscent of Candles Burning, by Tabitha King, a revision of someone else’s not-quite-finished novel.

It reminded me of reading The Shining, probably in high school, down at my aunt’s house in Beaumont, Texas. She said it was one of the scariest books she’d ever read, and I should give it a try. Another year I read The Stand at my grandmother’s house, also in southeast Texas, mostly curled up in a big red chair for a few immobile days. I should reread The Stand, which to this day I recall as a great read, to see 1) whether King has changed over the years and 2) whether I have changed over the years.

King also has interesting Nebraska threads running through his work. It’s where one of the lead good guys is from in Duma Key. In The Stand, I believe it’s where the forces of good rally. The baddies are from Vegas.

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