With all this back-to-school stuff going on around here, with teachers sending home papers urgently stressing the importance of our kids reading every day, with my first-grader slowly moving down the road toward idependent reading, I came across this.
Sometimes (most of the time) I find that others have said what I’m thinking better than I could say it myself. So for today, I’m just going to bring you Madeleine L’Engle’s words, from her book Walking on Water, which is a wonderful reflection on faith and art.
We think because we have words, not the other way around. The more words we have, the better able we are to think conceptually. Yes another reason why Wrinkle was often rejected is that there are many words in it which would never be found in a controlled vocabulary list for the age-group of the ten-to-fourteen-year-old. Tesseract, for instance. It’s a real world, and one essential for the story.
As a child, when I came across a word I didn’t know, I didn’t stop reading the story to look it up, I just went on reading. And after I had come across the word in several books, I knew what it meant; it had been added to my vocabulary. This still happens. When I started to read Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, I was determined to understand it. I read diligently, with a dictionary beside me, stopping to look up the scientific words which were not familiar to me. And I bogged down. So I put aside the dictionary and read as though I were reading a story, and quickly I got drawn into the book, fascinated by his loving theology, and understood it far better, at a deeper level, than if I had stuck with the dictionary.
Is this a contradiction? I don’t think so. We played with my daughter’s vocabulary words during dinner. We kept a dictionary by the table just for fun. But when we read, we read. We were capable of absorbing far more vocabulary when we read straight on than when we stopped to look up every word. Sometimes I will jot down words to be looked up later. But we learn words in many ways, and much of my vocabulary has been absorbed by my subconscious mind, which then kindly blips it up to my conscious mind when it is needed
True, isn’t it?
So much learning is there for the taking, if only we won’t take all the fun out of the process.
Just a little something for us to think about as we conscientiously help our kids plow through homework this year.
Carry on, Mom and Dad. You’re doing good work.
What? Is The Poisoned Cure all I can talk about these days? YES. Yes, it is.
This is the book I was dying to write while I wrote all the other books in this series. True story.
I’m determined not to give too much away, but I do want to give you a few of my favorite lines. Because I’m excited to let everyone into this private little world I’ve been living in, and I can’t do the whole thing quite, quite yet. So let’s just open the door a crack.
Adam grinned. “You asked about the stupid way to do it. Don’t worry. There’s a way that’s only half stupid.”
“Great!” said Eve. “Half stupid is our specialty.”
“Humans are the most dangerous creatures I have yet encountered. But unlike my sisters and I, you were made for battle. You were made to defend. So it is that those who are near you have never been in more danger nor have they have been safer.”
“How do we get down there?” Alex asked.
“We climb,” Adam said.
“You mean like exactly what that sign says not to do?” Eve asked, pointing at a sign that said: DANGER: ROCK MAY CRUMBLE. CLIMBING PROHIBITED.
“You have a better idea?” Adam retorted.
“Me? No. You know I love ignoring danger signs.”
None of that meant that the creatures were real. It was easy to look at a certain arrangment of leaves and bark and imagine a face. It was easy to spend so much time with a made-up world that it started to seem real to you. He should know.
Still, here he was.
September 8, people.
Just 18 more days and I can show you the whole thing!
I think I can hold out that long without slipping up and just telling you what happens, but no promises.
At least I have one final proof to keep me occupied. (Yes, that’s the actual book in my actual hand!)
This is my favorite hour of the day. I woke up at dawn. I dressed for work in the half-light so I wouldn’t wake my mother. I went out onto the street, stepping out briskly, matching my speed to that of those around me so as not to be crushed by the crowds. I taught the children all day, correcting their errors and reminding them of the rules they had memorized. I ate lunch with my fellow teachers, listening to their chatter. At the final bell, I put on my sweater and stepped into the crowds again. Four blocks to home, my mother’s voice, the smell of dinner cooking. We watched her favorite program after eating. It always makes her fall asleep, but she will not go to bed until it is over. At last the credits roll, the theme song plays, my mother’s snores stop and she bids me good-night. I am alone with these pages and the brown lamp in the corner. I can feel the quiet as I gently open the covers and slip into the magic.
I don’t dare move. As long as I look like just one more girl in the library, studying hard for exams, I ought to be safe. I can’t understand a word of this book, though. The words seem to dance around on the page. It’s hard to breath. I can hear the boots of the men walking up and down. Their steps sound angry. The stolen documents press against my back, itching at the corners. I must ignore the irritation, as I ignore the sweat that trickles down the back of my neck. Keep my hands steady on the book. Keep my face impassive. The heavy tread approaches. Two voices confer in angry mutters. The men are right behind me now. Can the outline of the papers be seen through my dress? Am I breathing too quickly, too slowly, at all? Does my fear give off a scent that they can detect? Now they pass the table. Now they continue down the rows of shelves. Now they are gone. I grip my book tightly and breath. The first stage is done.
It’s hard not to laugh. When the artist posed me on the stage, she didn’t say how long she would need me to stay. She is the great Madame Clairot. It seemed presumptious of me to ask, as if I didn’t value the honor of being her model, but now, four hours later, I wish I hadn’t been so delicate. At first there was plenty to think about. Several visitors stopped by. There were indecipherable mutters and clearly heard comments on the tidiness of my hair, the size of my nose and ears. I wanted to lift my head and remind them that I am a living person and not actually a painting yet, but I didn’t. I kept my eyes on my book, read the same three lines over and over again, tried to ignore the voices. Then Madame kicked the all out. I was glad at first, but after a while the silence was even worse. I can’t even hear Madame painting or breathing or existing at all. I’m pretty sure she’s fallen asleep. She is very old now. Was that…? Did she just fart? She did. She farted. Twice. It’s so quiet in here I can hear her farts. She must be sleeping then, but at least I know she’s alive. I must not laugh. If I start, I’ll never stop, and this job pays too well to lose it. I think my ribs might crack from holding it in, though. If she farts again, I’ll lose it for sure. How much longer should I wait?
That title is completely misleading, of course. We NEVER have to choose between a book and its movie. The answer is always, “Both, please.”
That said, now that my kids are old enough (in our world, at least) to have tried out plenty of both, I conducted a little interview with them to get their take on books that have been adapted into movies. First their answers, then my comments.
Note: I asked them these questions separately, so no one knew anyone else’s answers. I have no idea if this is important to my oh-so-very-scientific findings, but I thought you should know.
1. What do you usually like better….book or movie?
Ellie: Mostly the book basically because they actually can talk about their emotion without having to act it out
Scott: both the same
Lucy: Normally the movie because I can see what’s happening
2. What is better about a book?
Ellie: They can do a lot more details
Scott: Books generally have more details than movies do.
Lucy: Because sometimes I imagine what it looks like and then when I watch the movie it looks totally different.
3. What is better about a movie?
Ellie: I usually get a better idea of what people look like
Scott: I think that movies are more exciting because you actually get to see the picture.
Lucy: Because you can see what’s happening
4. Let’s talk specific book movie combos:
First, which book is your favorite?
Ellie: Last one…eeeeehhhh….yeah
Lucy: The one where they all drink the potion that makes them look like Harry 
Then, which movie is your favorite?
Ellie: Honestly, that’s hard but my least favorite is the sixth movie. Maybe the fourth is my favorite, but I’m not sure.
Scott: Seven (Part 1)
Lucy: Eight, and my favortie part is when they go to rescue Luna and get trapped themselves [which I think may be in 7?]
Last, books or movies?
Series of Unfortunate Events (Book or movie?)
Lord of the Rings/Hobbit [Note: We have not fully read The Return of The King or watched the movie)
Which book is best?
Ellie: The Hobbit
Scott: The Two Towers
Lucy: I don’t know
Which movie is best?
Ellie: The first LOTR movie [The Fellowship of the Ring]
Scott: Second half of The Two Towers movie
Lucy: Not sure
Book or movie?
Lucy: Movies, because it is taking a long time for us to finish the last book
The Hunger Games (Which book is best? Which movie is best? Book or movie?) [Note: She hasn’t quite finished Mockingjay or watched the movie.]
Ellie: Mockingjay is the best book, but Catching Fire is a close second, Catching Fire is the best movie, I don’t know about book or movie…they’re both so good…I can’t tell
5. What book that you’ve read would you like to see a movie of?
Ellie: The Sisters Grimm and…Do your books count? Can I say that?
Scott: The Phantom Tollbooth
Lucy: Not sure
6. Do you feel like watching the movie before reading the book ruins it?
Ellie: Yes, but just because the book is usually a lot different from the movie
7. Does reading the book first ruin the movie
Ellie: Not really
There are several things of interest in their answers, and the most important of all is: I HAVE TOTALLY NERDED OUT MY CHILDREN!! I’m so proud.
What you see most of all here (other than the nerdiness) is how much the environment you raise them in, your values and opinions and how you spend your time, totally molds their own view of things. My kids may eventually change their minds, but right now, they have totally bought in to our love of books and words and powerful stories of all kinds.
My other observations:
1. Tyranical as it often seemed to them at the time, I have succeeded in convincing them it is always the right thing to do to read the book BEFORE you watch the movie. Victory is mine.
2. Ellie is way less decisive than her younger siblings. Picking one favorite was very difficult for her. A girl after my own heart.
3. It takes half of forever to read The Lord of the Rings out loud. We have literally been working on it for a year and a half and are only on the first chapter of The Return of the King. And yet, somehow, my older kids still like the books better than the movies. This shocked me. I would think they were only saying that to please me, but I can’t remember the last time they expressed an opinion just because I wanted them to.
4. My books totally count.
5. Lucy is a testament to the power of reading out loud. She LOVES the HP movies and can’t read to herself beyond simple beginner books, but still she prefers the books over the movies. And she is right. Those movies are delightful, but nothing can touch the books.
6. I agree with Scott. There should be a much better movie of The Phantom Tollbooth. The one that exists is awful. I didn’t even tell him about it.
7. Narnia! I knew there was something I was forgetting to ask them about. Ah well. Another day.
Can you even believe we are here again?
We’re just 26 short days away from holding the actual book in our hands!
You want to see what it looks like?
Hint: It’s awesome.
Created, as were all the other covers, by the incomparable Matt Hasenbalg.
Are you ready?
Book Four in the The Book of Sight series.
(Possibly my favorite book yet.)
Definitely my favorite cover yet.
And that is really saying something.
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Poisoned Cure.
I don’t squeal often. I’m not much of a squealer. But come on.
Want to see what the back looks like? Good, because I want to show you.
Only one more to go!
Speaking of which, I have some work to do. Book Five isn’t going to write itself.
Thanks for being on this journey with me, guys.
Squealing alone isn’t nearly as much fun.
The slide is empty, the swings hang limp
No shouts of laughter, no taunts of “wimp!”
The bench holds nothing but some dried-up drool
The children all have gone back to school
The quiet seems sad to those passing by
We imagine the lonely park wanting to cry
Though such sudden stillness to us speaks of grief
In truth all of the playground breathes a sigh of…relief
“At last I’ve a break from my sick dizzy spinning!”
Says the merry-go-round to the slide, who is grinning
“Oh yes, and sweet rest,” slide says, kissing the ground
“No more feet climbing up when they should just slide down!”
“And we don’t have to hear our chains rattle and squeak,”
Sigh the swings in a whisper, too tired to speak.
“Let’s be still for a while,” says the seesaw in turn.
“An end to the ups and the downs has been earned!”
It’s only the sandbox who feels sentimental
Who imagines sweet baby hands, chubby and gentle
But perhaps children screaming just cannot quite grieve her
Compared to the cats and the gifts they now leave her
I know, we passed the second quarter mark over a month ago. But it was summer, which is a time for breaking rules, so we’re going with it.
The important thing here is the books!
- The Shadow Prince by Bree Despain
Very fluffy sort of YA fantasy fiction. This makes use of Greek mythology to weave together a love story around a boy from the underworld and a girl who has mythical powers and doesn’t know it. Sound pretty formulaic? It is. But the writing isn’t terrible, which means if you’re a fan of the genre, you’d probably enjoy this one. Not much more to be said about it. I read the whole thing and didn’t feel regretful, so that’s something. I also didn’t bother to read the sequels, so that’s something else.
- We are Called to Rise by Laura McBride
This is not my usual sort of book, and after the first two short chapters, I almost put it down, but something wouldn’t quite let me. I’m so glad. It was lovely. Just really, really, warm and compassionate and lovely. In the beginning it seems like a book about random people with depressing lives (my LEAST favorite kind of book), and it is. And yet. It’s not depressing. It deals with each one from his or her own perspective and drops you down into their lives in a very deft way. It is real and honest and yet hopeful, a combination you just don’t find much. A view of life that is optimistic with out being naive is exactly my cup of tea, though I know others might disagree.
- Tiny, Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
I just had to check out what all the fuss was about. And I enjoyed it. I didn’t love it or agree with all of it, but I definitely enjoyed it. Her voice is just wonderful.
- I am Number Four by Pittacus Lore (Also The Power of Six and The Rise of Nine)
Remember the movie from a few years ago? I think maybe I watched it on DVD or something. That kind of vagueness? That’s a pretty good description. Basically, this is a really fun sci-fi premise for a YA audience. It’s not very well executed. As you can see, I read three whole books of it, which shows you where I stand on the importance of interesting ideas/plots. Also how much I really was in the mood for this genre. The writing is fairly iffy, but the worst part is that the characters are weak. That’s what eventually made me give up on the series. They start off flat, but you can kind of ignore that for a while…until they take being a teenager and therefore doing stupid things to a level that become unbearable. Eventually this completely undermines the plot and the whole premise, so…blech.
- Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
Modern YA and it involves cancer, but I swear it’s not a ripoff of The Fault in Our Stars. It’s actually pretty wonderful. Great voice, great geeky boy stuff, and great family dynamics. Tear-jerker in places, but that’s not it’s essence, really. I enjoyed this one enough to read the sequel and look up other books by the author. He’s got some talent.
- After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
The sequel to Dangerous Pie but stands alone because it has a different main character. Quick and enjoyable read.
- Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill
I should have hated this book. I wanted to. It’s Lit Fic. It’s about a woman dealing with her husband’s affair. Ugh and ugh. But the style is so original. And it’s got such great lines thrown in here and there. It has these little moments where you suddenly think, “Yes. I recognize that right there.” And it doesn’t do exactly what you expect. And it falls just short of being too full of itself. And it’s short. And in the end, completely unexpectedly, I found that I liked it, that I was thinking about it later, that I felt like it was worth my time. So there you go.
- A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
Another “not what I typically read” but in this case it’s because it’s higher and better than my usual plebian taste. This book is truly wonderful. Full of deep thoughts and reflections on love and God and death and eternity. It has altered the way I think. This is not fiction, but it IS a story, a true story of a true love and of what happened when that true love came into contact with a Truer love. If you haven’t read it, you should. And take your time with it. It’s short, but not a quick read. It’s meant to be sipped, not gulped, but you won’t be wasting your time on it, I promise.
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
What I read in between sips of A Severe Mercy. It couldn’t be more different. This book is hard to explain. It’s basically Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the digital age, and if you are fan of pop culture from the ’80s or if you grew up playing Nintendo, you’d find a lot of enjoyment in it. I’ll be honest, it’s not very well-written. It’s got a lot of clunky parts and a couple of unnecessary rants about how God isn’t real and people suck and how we need to accept everyone. These subjects are sometimes interesting in books, but they are so poorly done here that they stand out like a sore thumb. Setting all that aside, though, the contest itself (which is the main portion of the book) is so intricately plotted and excellently detailed that it’s entertaining to read. In other words, this is the book version of an ’80s video game: low quality graphics on a solid game concept that is just plain fun.
I’m looking over this list, and it looks small and bizarrely eclectic. To be honest, I went through a serious reading slump there for a month or two. Let’s just say that lots of early episodes of Downton Abbey were watched (and also the first two seasons of Falling Skies because even when I’m watching TV I like to mix up my genres).
But! There are a couple of great books on this list, so the time wasn’t totally wasted. (Plus, let’s face it, those are really good shows.)
Also, my To Read pile is plump and enticing right now, so I should have some more nice additions in another couple of months. I’m reading Cinder at the moment, on the recommendation of my nephew. Next up: Go Set a Watchman and then The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, followed by about eight more. And frankly, the longer the list is, the better. I have a horrible fear of running out of good things to read.
So. What are you reading? What should I add to my list?
For one thing, tight ranks of enormous trees grew on all four sides of the place like some kind of living fence, pierced only by a single wrought-iron gate with a lightening bolt marked in the middle. For another thing, Jack had actually seen the man on that very first night, slipping out of the gate just as darkness fell, wearing a hood that covered his face but not the long grey beard that fell from his chin. The man had been carrying some sort of rod with a metal tip, probably a wand or magic staff, but in the darkness, Jack hadn’t been able to make out the particulars.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Jack’s father the next day as they set up the tools in the new blacksmith shop. “There are no such thing as wizards.”
“But his gate has a lightening bolt right on it,” Jack argued. “Did you see it?”
“I did,” said his father. “It was a very fine gate, high quality materials and workmanship. Rich folk like fancy decorations of that sort, and if this neighbor is as rich as he seems, I expect he’ll be a regular customer, so see to it that you don’t say anything impertinent.”
“He’s just an old man, out for his evening walk,” said Jack’s mother when he tried the subject again with her after dinner.
“But he had a hood and a wand and a beard longer than Opa’s!” said Jack stubbornly.
“Lots of old men have beards and most lean on staffs, too. And as for the hood, it’s getting chilly enough these nights, it’s about time you brought out your own winter cloak.”
Jack hated his winter cloak, made of a scratchy wool that itched his neck, so he quickly dropped the subject.
He didn’t stop thinking of it, though, or keeping his eyes open for another glimpse of his new neighbor. Through constant vigilance, he was able to discover that the old man went out his gate each night at the exact moment the light disappeared from the sky. Jack tried several times to stay up late enough to see the man return, but he always fell asleep without seeing a thing.
It wasn’t until his father asked him to come into the blacksmith shop early one day to help that Jack finally saw why he had been missing the old man’s return. Jack’s mother had woken him up while it was still dark, and he was standing by his window splashing water on his sleepy face just as the sun peeked up over the horizon. Just then, he saw his neighbor, hood still drawn approach the lightening bolt gate. Something sparked from his hand and the gates opened. Jack’s jaw dropped and water dripped off his chin. Had he just seen a spell being cast? Quickly he rubbed his eyes, and when he looked again, the old man disappeared behind the trees. The gate was closed again.
He couldn’t help but mention it to his father later as he pumped the bellows for the roaring fire.
“Like as not he was just out for a morning walk and not all night as your imagination is telling you,” said his father between blows of the enormous hammer onto the anvil in front of him. “And even if he was, it’s no business of ours. You’re best served focusing on your work and learning your trade. There’s no good goggling at every oddity you see, for you’ll find that life is full of them and it takes no magic to make it so.”
Jack did focus on his work. He loved the smithy, with its roaring fire radiating heat and the sparks flying up from his father’s hammer. He wanted to be just like his father, to have strong arms and skilled hands. Jack already knew how to fashion simple things like nails. He was eager to learn more.
Still, he didn’t stop watching the wizard’s house closely. He was sure something mysterious and wonderful was going on there, and he wanted to know more. He worked hard but his mind wandered to that shadowed place across the street. Of course he would finish his apprenticeship, but he would not let this mystery go unsolved. He didn’t see any reason why he couldn’t do both.
Jack started waking up early in the morning. From his bedroom window, he saw his neighbor return home each morning just as the sun came up. Always that little flash caused the gate to open, but Jack could never see what caused the little flash. Finally, one day he determined to get a closer look.
Just before sunrise, Jack crept across the town square and found a convenient shrub to hide behind. He pushed deep into the leaves to be sure he couldn’t be seen. Then he waited. It didn’t take long.
Soon the old man came up the street, carrying his dark staff. He paused as he approached the lightening bolt gates and took a large silver key out of his robes. The sun peeked over the horizon just as he slipped the key into the lock. The light reflected off the silver, flaming out for just a second, and then the old man tucked the key away again into some inner pocket.
Jack was disappointed. There was no magic here after all. Just a key glimmering in the sunlight. His mother and father had been right. He had let his imagination run away with him.
Just as he was about to turn and creep home, though, something caught Jack’s eye. The old man had now stepped through the gate and was passing under the trees down a path that presumeably led to his front door. As he walked past, each tree bent its trunk, leaning forward in a most unnatural manner, as if bowing to their returning master.
A spurt of excitement coursed through Jack. The trees were enchanted! The old man truly must be a wizard!
Over the course of the next week, Jack couldn’t stop thinking about the wizard and his magical trees. Jack’s father kept him so busy at the smithy that he couldn’t stay awake at night or get up early enough in the morning to continue his spying, but that didn’t stop Jack from imagining what other wonders might be inside that house or from dreaming at night of walking through the gate and having those forbidding trees bow in greeting.
At last, Jack could take it no longer. He asked his father for a day off from the smithy to go fishing, and his father, pleased at how hard Jack had been working, agreed. Jack rose early the next day, gathered his fishing gear and slipped out of the house. It didn’t take long to find a good spot in the square for hiding his fishing pole, and then Jack slipped across the road and approached the lightening bolt gates.
Cautiously, he reached out a hand and touched the iron lightening bolt. Nothing happened.
Braver now, Jack grabbed hold of the bars. He only had a few minutes before the sun would come up and the old man would return with his shining key. Jack intended to be inside the gate before then. With a burst of terrified energy, Jack scrambled up the bars and threw himself over the top and onto the path on the other side.
He landed with a crunch of dried leaves and looked around. The giant trees that lined the fence also stretched in long rows up toward to the house. Jack stepped forward on the path, holding his breath.
The trees bent. Their tops dipped toward the earth.
They were bowing!
But instead of bending low and then straightening again, the tree tops ducked down and and down. The branches stretched out. They reached Jack and wrapped around him. Jack struggled in terror as they lifted him off the ground, completely enmeshed in their limbs and suspended him high in the air. No amount of writhing could free Jack. He was well and truly trapped.
A glimmer of light and a clanging of metal. The crunch of footsteps. Jack stopped his struggling and looked down into the upturned face of the old man on the path below.
“Hello, neighbor,” said the man.
“Help me, please!” Jack squeaked. “Make them put me down! I’m sorry I sneaked in! I’ll never do it again!”
“I will help you, of course,” the old man said calmly, “but I’m afraid I cannot make the trees to do anything they don’t wish to do.”
“But you’re a wizard!” Jack cried. “They bow down to you!”
The old man smiled. “I’m no wizard,” he said. “And as for the bowing, if they do it is only from common courtesy. After all, I live here. This is where I belong, and even trees know a man deserves courtesy in his own home.” He raised his eyebrows at where Jack hung tangled. “You, on the other hand, are not where you belong.”
Jack nodded miserably. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “I was just curious, and my curiosity got the better of me.”
The old man smiled. “Curiosity can do that. It’s always wise to get the better of our curiosity before it leads us into trouble. I confess, though, I have often been unwise in this myself.”
The trees slowly began to lower Jack toward the ground.
“And as you can see,” said the old man, “trees also understand curiosity. I don’t think they’ll hold your discourtesy against you this one time. But you might want to be on your best manners from here on out.”
Jack gasped with relief as his feet touched the ground and the branches slowly pulled away and left him free.
The old man cleared his throat and nodded significantly upward.
Jack turned red. “Thank you for letting me go,” he said very politely to the trees. “I’m sorry I broke in so rudely.”
The treetops rustled gently. Jack couldn’t help but feel that his apology had been accepted.
“Well done!” said the old man. “And now, as your curiosity has brought you here, perhaps it might also induce you to come inside and share my morning cup of tea.”
Jack followed his neighbor up the path, each tree bowing to its master as he passed. From up close, the house did not look so forbidding. Large, of course, and shaded by many branches, but also very clean and with many flowers growing in baskets and barrels.
The old man boiled water in an ordinary kitchen and made tea in a simple white teapot. He served it to Jack with little raisin buns on the back porch looking out at the lawn. It was all so unmagical that Jack began to be rather disappointed, even though the raisin buns were delicious.
After tea, the old man yawned, and Jack realized that after being out all night, he must be ready to sleep now. Jack wanted to ask what the man did all night, but now that he had seen the consequences of rudeness, he worried it might be impolite to ask.
“It’s nearly time for my morning nap,” the old man said.
Jack swallowed his questions and nodded. “Thank you for the breakfast,” he said. “I can find my own way out.”
Jack shook the old man’s hand and turned to go.
“You’ve learned your lesson well,” the old man said.
Jack turned around with a question on his face.
“You’ve mastered your curiosity and remembered your manners. I think that deserves a small reward.”
Jack’s heart began to beat as the old man drew out his metal-tipped staff.
“You are a wizard,” he said before he could stop himself.
The old man laughed. “No, at least not in the sense that you mean it. I am only a man with as much curiosity as a boy. Come with me.”
The man led the way into the house and up several flights of stairs to a locked door. He unlocked it with his shining silver key and opened it up to a tiny attic room.
Inside was giant telescope, pointed up through a window in the roof toward the sky.
“You won’t be able to see as much in the light of the sun,” said the man, “but perhaps it will be enough to be worth the effort.”
He fitted the metal tip of his staff into a hole in the telescope and began to make adjustments. “Come look,” he said when he had finished.
Jack stepped forward and put his eye to the tiny hole.
What he saw, dimly, through a slight haze of sunlight, was a star. A star in all its glory, brought close enough that he could almost touch it.
Jack lifted his head in wonder.
The old many’s eyes twinkled at him. “Not magic, but perhaps just as good?”
Jack pressed his eye to the glass again. The universe within reach. He didn’t care what the old man said, this was magic and the man was a wizard.
“Your next lesson must be in the night,” said the wizard as Jack left. “Bring your father. I’m in need of new fittings for my telescope.”
So Jack did. He and his father and his mother went often to the old wizards house, sometimes to drink tea and sometimes to work and more often to look at the universe beyond. Jack’s father showed him how to use a smith’s tools to make delicate instruments and the wizard showed Jack what those intruments could do.
Jack was very careful to always knock politely at the gates, though, and wait to be let in. He was very careful to whisper a thank-you to the trees each time he left.
And in time, when Jack had spent so many hours at the wizard’s house that he, too, belonged, there came a day when he received his own silver key. It glinted in the sunlight as he unlocked the gate and went in all alone..
And the trees bowed to greet him.