Reflection #4: Origins
I promised some of you a while ago that I would write at more length later about the origins of the series. Here it goes.
In the summer of 1992, I was a senior at Wheaton College on a summer study program called "Wheaton in England." We spent two weeks on campus and then about five weeks in England, most of that time in Oxford. While there and while traveling for a week or so afterward, I came across two things that collided in my imagination to start the ball rolling that would eventually become Kirthanin and "The Binding of the Blade."
The first was the image in Isaiah 2:4 of swords and spears being remade into plowshares and pruning hooks, and of nations not taking up swords against nations or training for war anymore. It occurred to me then as it has many times since, that many men who desire peace are compelled to fight in order to preserve or achieve it. So, I started thinking about a story where a warrior strives to win the peace so long desired by himself and his world, and I began to wonder what it would be like for him if he was successful. If you had been a warrior your whole life, living by the sword, and now you have won the peace you've fought for, what would you do then? Would it be hard to lay the sword down? Having had your identity tied to your sword for so long, would you know who you were? Could you become a farmer, just like that?
That idea started swirling around and eventually combined with the second, which was a series of reflections based on, of all things, a footnote in the back of a book of poetry. I took a collection of W.B. Yeats poems with me as I traveled after the study program, and in the back, I came across a footnote discussing the archetypal associations that various geographic regions have. The footnote quoted Yeats himself who somewhere had written that he associated "the North with night and sleep, and the East -- with hope, and the South -- with passion and desire, and the West -- with fading and dreaming things." There are even more archetypal associations than these, and as I pursued this thought further I found the four geographic regions associated with seasons, times of the day, literary structures and themes, etc. For instance, the "West" is often associated with Autumn, with twilight, with tragic stories, ie, things "falling," and so forth. Taken in turn, each geographic region has its own host of associations. It occurred to me then that it would be interesting to tell a story which progressed geographically from region to region, and as it did, moved seasonally and thematically as well.
These two ideas merged into one, an idea for a book with the working title, "Of Pruning Hooks and Plowshares." The book was to have five sections, the first four of which represented specific regions and specific seasons, and the last of which represented movement toward the center of all things geographically and thematically. This was the essential structure of the idea, and so it remained for many years.
After college came seminary and then teaching, marriage, family and so forth. The idea never disappeared entirely, but it took a back seat to the more pressing issues of life. In the summer of 2000, though, I dusted it off and began to work conceptually on it in detail, which I had never done before. The three former students I have mentioned elsewhere in these reflections came on board as unofficial consultants and the book quickly became a series. The structure of the series has endured from those early days as has the importance of weaponry to the world as a sign of what has gone wrong and a symbol of our great hope for restoration, when they will no longer be needed.
For those who are wondering, then, "Beyond the Summerland" is of course the book of "summer," the book of the south. It is where the story begins, and on May 6th, we'll all see where the story goes from there.