How his education in the hometown of Ernest Hemingway and architect Frank Lloyd Wright impacted his choice of writing.
Bringing Legends to Life
By Arthur Cola,
author of The Shamrock Crown and the Legend of Excalibur,
The Stone Cutter Genius and Papa and the Leprechaun King
Growing up in the mid-west, I suppose, is not unlike experiencing one’s youth in other parts of the country. However in my case that maturation process took place in the home town of Ernest Hemingway and Frank Lloyd Wright. And perhaps that has made all the difference. Somehow those fantastic imaginations, one with the pen and the other in drawing and architecture seemed to effuse into the students of Oak Park River Forest High School. It may have helped that those who attended classes were never for a moment allowed to forget the legacy which sprung forth as from the loins of Jupiter, Zeus or Thor depending on the mythological connection one favors.
The literary giant and master architect eventually seemed to be demi-gods of sorts along the line of a Hercules, at least in their fields, to us mortals struggling to find their way through tunnels leading to gyms and multi-storied hallways leading to classes which dealt with those very classics from Mythology and ancient Legend. No one left those hallowed halls without at least a cursory knowledge of those legendary tales which have survived centuries, indeed millennia. Somewhere within our being those tales and images of gods up on Olympus, Knights fighting jousts to save the kingdom of Camelot, Caesar crossing the Rubicon or Michelangelo chiseling off that first chip from the block of Carrara marble which would become his Giant David, receded until one day when they might be needed to bring forth new stories which are twists on the legendary tale. And so one goes off to college (Loyola University), establishes a career (teaching), perhaps raises a family (husband and father of five), and then suddenly without realizing it, those very legends so revered in one’s youth become vividly alive once again.
For me, the awakening came at the threshold of retirement from school administration and teaching history classes while on a self-guided tour of Ireland, Wales and England. It began simply enough in the Vale of Glamorgan in Wales. My wife and I, along with several friends, were staying in the 400 year old Tudor style Manor House turned Inn called Crossways Manor. The building simply oozed history but what really sparked that internalized legend gene was a visit to 5th century ruins. The Innkeeper mentioned that if we took a certain route through Cowbridge we would pass the ruins of Ogmore Castle. She went on to say that legend had it that it was there that King Arthur himself was born. Her husband gave little note to the legend, calling the ruins nothing but a pile of rocks. But the spark was ignited and nothing could put it out. So off we went to that pile of rocks which turned out to be the most magnificently arranged rocks I could imagine set along a crystal clear running stream.
I was a youth once again as I ran down the dirt path and across the wooden bridge leading into the ruins. Pausing briefly to take note of sheep grazing within these most hallowed of ruins where himself, the legendary Arthur Pendragon and boy king of Britain was said to be born. It mattered not if the legend was based on historical findings. What was really significant was that all legends contain elements of truth passed down in oral tradition over the centuries. I knew that and because of such knowledge felt confident that we had stumbled upon a little known truth. And so I scaled up the walls of the castle keep to an area where a perfectly preserved 5th century stone window frame was still intact. Peering through it, one could see a large faded wooden barn and to the right that glistening stream rushing across polished rocks. Suddenly a group of horses came galloping across the stream. Each rider dressed in brilliantly colored tunics. I called down to them, saying that they appear to be modern Knights of the Round Table. And so began the creation of a legendary tale which would be turned into a novel.
Inspired though one might be, falling back on classes long forgotten to help add substance to what one is envisioning, and calling forth that spirit of youth and dreams, does not in itself assure one that what is about to be written would bring forth a legend yet living again.
So then how does one make a legend come to life? In my case, how to introduce King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table into the 21st Century was the challenge.
Writing about ancient legends does require a certain amount of background, that is somewhere along the line it helps if one was introduced to the classics and legends. Such exposure at least gives one a resource, a foundation upon which to build. Even if that experience comes from movies or TV, it still serves as a resource from which to gather building blocks of thought and imagination.
Next one does need that inspiration and excitement from which to start the thinking process as I described above. Not all of us are a budding Hemingway or Shakespeare. Thus the next step is research and that’s not to say that Ernest or The Bard didn’t do plenty of it for their own masterpieces. That research comes in two phases. 1. The review of other work done on the legend with which you are dealing. In my case that would be Mark Twain’s “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” and Sir Thomas Mallory’s 15th century work of “Morte de Arthur.” 2. Read what has been written about the legend and has been accepted as authoritative.
This research step gives you a literary perspective as well as a historical and authoritative one. Since this article is about bringing legends to life one needs both. One will have to decide if the characters of the Legend are all that is needed or if they are to interact in another setting as Mark Twain did by taking an American back to the 5th century. The former would result in the retelling of the legend in some manner unique to its presentation. The latter would bring in other characters besides the legendary ones which many would have preconceived notions about because of the research and/or their formation and educational background.
Now that one knows something of the legend, one has to choose the characters from that legend which will have a role in the story being created. It would be virtually impossible to include every Knight of the Round Table in one’s story for instance since there were at least 120 of them. Thus one chooses a few and gives them the personality which adds a human essence to which one of the 21st century could relate. This personality creation is also necessary for the modern characters which are to interact with the legendary characters.
Okay, now we are on a roll. We have the desire, the knowledge, and the characters. Now we need the environment. For me that was easy. I just took the environment in which I was traveling. In my case that was Ireland, Wales and England. Related to that would be the time period in which you intend to bring the legend to life. I chose contemporary time in the 21st century.
Our last step is the creation of the plot. That is, what takes place in the legend or how does that legend impact the lives of those who live today. Questions need to be answered as the story line is planned. Are there to be good guys and villains? Who will be the main characters through which the action and theme of the tale is seen through? Who are the heroes of the legend and how are they to be represented? Will there be secondary characters as well as sub-plots around which the tale unfolds?
Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to create the tale in which the legend is brought to life whether that is through the ancient legendary characters performing roles in the story or the message of the legend being given life in the action of the heroes of the tale. Perhaps, as in my case, both aspects will be used.
How this weaving of legendary message and characters into a story reflecting your intent will require going back to that creative energy, imagination and instinctive knowledge which stimulates one to write of legends in the first place. Good Luck!
The author, Arthur Cola, through Bon Voyage Cruise Vacations, (kari.bonvoyagecruisevacations.com) accompanies tours to the very places which inspired his tales. Participants will not only be able to visit but also learn how they were woven into his stories. The Michelangelo Tour of Italy will take place in September of 2012. Or gather 20 of your friends and relatives and form your own group. Then choose dates and one of the tours: The Leprechaun King tour of Ireland, The Excalibur tour of Britain or The Michelangelo tour of Italy.
The high school of which he writes is located in Oak Park, Illinois just outside of Chicago. You may view his new books and other work on his web site at: www.arthurcolalegendarytales.com and e-mail him at arthurcola.yahoo.com.