May 27, 2022

Portal Fantasy

         Here’s another post for #WyrdAndWonder, where the prompt is to celebrate the subgenre Portal Fantasy.
        When it comes right down to it, there are two options in fantasy: either there’s magic in the world, or there isn’t.  If the world of our characters includes magic, either it’s a secondary world (ie, a completely different world, such as Middle Earth or Berk or the Five Kingdoms or Khelathra-Ven) or it’s our world that happens to have magic which may or may not be known to the general public (such as the settings of Artemis Fowl, Sorcery & Cecilia, Mary Poppins, or lots of fairy tales and urban fantasy.)  But what if you cross the two possibilities (no-magic in our world with secondary worlds containing magic)?  What if we know that our world doesn’t have magic, and yet we want to tell a story about ordinary-world characters who find their way to magical worlds?  That’s portal fantasy.
        Probably the most iconic portal fantasy is that of C.S. Lewis, wherein our characters go through a portal in the back of a wardrobe and come out in the world of NarniaThe Phantom Tollbooth, too, includes a very clear, literal portal: drive through the cardboard tollbooth and come out in the magical Lands Beyond.  In The Secrets of Droon series by Tony Abbott (deservedly less famous) the portal is a stairway in the basement of one of the characters.  In Jane’s Adventures In and Out of the Book by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy the portal is, as the name suggests, a book.  A rabbit hole is Alice’s portal to Wonderland.
        If you take a slightly broader look, however, you can include more stories in this category.  Ordinary-world characters always require some sort of special event to transport them from, say, Kansas to Oz.  Famously a cyclone does the trick in L. Frank Baum’s first book, but it’s a storm at sea in another, and an earthquake in another.  In many a classic fairy tale the role of portal is played by the enchanted forest.  Leave the known path and you cross into a world where wicked witches and fairies have power, animals can speak, and curses, blessings, and transformations change all the rules.
        Harry Potter’s Wizarding World is somewhat superimposed upon the Muggle world and not wholly separate as in a true portal fantasy, but in J.K. Rowling’s books the Hogwarts Express often serves as a sort of portal, marking the point at which Harry transitions between the ordinary world and the world of magic.  The bottom line is that there always has to be some moment of transition or discovery where people just like us are suddenly confronted with a world of magic.
        As for myself, I like secondary world fantasy where I’m immersed in a place where magic is part of the fabric of people’s lives, and I like portal fantasy where people living without magic are suddenly transported into a whole ‘nother world.  And I like that other variant, too, where our world does happen to have magic or other fantastical elements.  They all appeal to slightly different ideas for me, and they can all be good!  Do you have a preference?  Or what’s your favorite portal fantasy?

[Pictures: Through the wardrobe, illustration by Marco Soma for The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (Image from Marco Soma illustrator);

Jane entering the book, illustration by Nicolas Hill for Jane’s Adventures In and Out of the Book by Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, 1972;

The Cyclone, illustration by W.W. Denslow for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, 1900 (Image from Internet Archive);

Tree wolf image by chic2view on]

May 23, 2022

Hard at Work

         I got a lot of carving done during my shows over the past two weekends, and I now have one block complete, five more ready for a test print and then tweaking, and one that’s probably about three quarters of the way finished.  That’s a lot of printing coming up -- but I won’t be able to get to it this week.  No, instead this week I am hard at work catching up with all the tasks that got postponed while I was hard at work on art shows.  Today I mowed the lawn and did laundry, took care of a whole list of emails, updated my web site and my mailing list, sent off my giveaways from last week’s Strong Women-Strange Worlds author reading, carried most of my boxes of art show stuff back down to the basement, and still need to finish applications for a couple of shows, etc etc…  Blah blah blah.  So today I have for you a couple of cool relief block prints of people working much harder than me.
        First is The Builders by Gustave Baumann (USA, 1881-1971).  I’ve shared some of his work in previous posts, so I don’t need to rehash his biography or discuss his ouevre.  Suffice it to say that this seems a little simpler than most of his work, although it’s still got three layers of ink plus the white paper.  I love the layering and how the black makes the foreground pop against the silhouetted construction in the background in the lower left.  The bold simplicity of the clouds and sky also makes a great contrast behind the more detailed men.
        The second piece is by Lill Tschudi (Switzerland, 1911-2004), about whom you can also refresh your memory in previous posts.  Her dynamic style features diagonals where Baumann’s composition is on the square, geometry where Baumann is more naturalistic, a bold blue sky where Bauman has only greys and browns…  But both artists are celebrating the hard work, daring, and drama of the men whose work takes them right up into the sky to make our modern world possible.
        I really enjoy both these pieces, with their differences and similarities, and they can serve to represent my work this week (and the fact that my work is really not too tough!) until I get caught up and can play with all my new blocks.

[Pictures: The Builders (From My Studio Window), color woodcut by Gustave Baumann, 1909 (Image from Art Institute Chicago);

Fixing the Wires, color linocut by Lill Tschudi, 1932 (Image from The British Museum).]

May 18, 2022

Books Within a Book

         This post is for one of the prompts from #WyrdAndWonder, May’s celebration of all things fantastic.  There are actually two books within The Extraordinary Book of Doors, the middle grade fantasy adventure I published in 2014.  I thought it would be fun to write a little bit about these books within the book, and the roles they play in the story.
        We’ll start with the obvious one: Extraordinaire livre portes, the Extraordinary Book of Doors itself: the fictional book (inspired by a real book) for which my real book is named.  This Extraordinary Book of Doors was created in 1549 by Sebastian Serlio, renaissance architect and wizard.  The book is basically a collection of wood block prints of doors, each of which functions (to one who has the key) as a portal to its real-life location.  In the outer book Tobal Salceda explains the history of the inner book thus, “The story really begins before the Books themselves, in the winter of 1525 when French King Francis I was captured by his bitter rival Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain.  Francis’s sister Marguerite Queen of Navarre set off bravely on horseback through the snowy forests, desperately riding twelve hours a day for days on end in order to meet a critical deadline in the negotiations for her brother’s release.  She barely made it, but she saved him.  After that Francis was on the lookout for an easier, less perilous way to ensure his escape should he ever be captured again.  It wasn’t until 1540 that he saw his opportunity.  He hired Italian architect Sebastiano Serlio to help design his new palace at Fontainebleau.  You see, Serlio was not just an architect but a wizard.  Francis and Marguerite commissioned him to construct a magical doorway at Fontainebleau that would be capable of transporting Francis back to his own palace from any other location.  This Serlio did.  However, Marguerite, who was a poet and a great lover of books, came up with a further idea.  Some time after the original doorway, she set Serlio to work making an extraordinary Book of doors, each page of which would contain a portal.  Serlio was to make two copies of the Book, one for Marguerite and one for her brother Francis.  While he was at it, he made one for himself, too.”
        Within the story, these three copies of the magical book of portals are the entire driving force.  Finding them is what sets the adventures in motion for our characters, makes the adventures possible, and motivates the antagonist, who wants to get his hands on the books for his own nefarious purposes.  So basically, these books within the book are what drive the entire plot.
        Meanwhile, there’s another book, or series of books within the book.  The Laundry Basket Chronicles are a fantasy trilogy that all three of the main protagonists enjoy.  Their ability to talk about these fictional books together is part of what draws the characters together, while their different reactions to the books is part of how we see their differences.  We don’t actually know a ton about these books, except that the three main characters in them are Anneke the clever, sensible scullery maid,  Morrik the more impetuous wizard’s apprentice, and Basket, the friendly flying laundry basket.  These inner books are purely incidental within the outer book, serving only as a mirror to help reflect how our heroes react to them.  Any incidents within the Laundry Basket Chronicles are related almost more as throw-away lines than any actual plot summary.  We know that the three characters outwit Morrik’s master and reverse his evil spell.  And I did write the following exchange about the Laundry Basket Chronicles in a draft of a sequel (which may never be completed, although you never know):
            Matias grinned.  “What can I say?  I’m a sucker for romance.  Like the part in the Laundry Basket Trilogy when Morrik and Anneke finally realize they’re in love.”  Matias fluttered his hand against his chest and batted his eyelashes as if he were blinking back tears.  “That’s my favorite part.”

            “You like that better than the big showdown with Baron Skellgrim in the first book?”

            “Okay, it’s my second favorite part.”

            “And what about when Laundry Basket gets its flying back from the Gloaming at the end of the second book.”

            “Yeah, that’s pretty triumphant.  So maybe the romance is my third favorite part.”

            “And nothing can compare to Anneke and Morrik’s escape through the catacombs with the orb.”

            “Aha!  That’s the point, isn’t it?  They would never have been able to do all that if they hadn’t realized they loved each other!  So maybe it’s my favorite part after all!”

        I must say I had a lot of fun throwing these references into my book, and they were enticing enough to my daughter, at least, that she begged me to write the actual Laundry Basket Chronicles.  I will state right now that I have no intention of doing so, although I suppose there’s always the chance that inspiration could strike.  As for the other book within the book, however, I did actually have to make some portion of Serlio’s Extraordinary Book of Doors in the form of the illustrations of 21 of the doors which appear in the outer book.  I regret to say, however, that without Serlio’s magic, my illustrations do not become portals.
        It should come as no surprise that writers tend to love books and that therefore writers tend to write books about books, and books about characters who love books.  I very much enjoyed making books such an integral part of my own story The Extraordinary Book of Doors.  (If you’re curious about this book, you can, of course, always go to Amazon and check the “Look Inside” feature for a bit of a preview, plus you can see my quick presentation on The Extraordinary Book of Doors for Strong Women-Strange Worlds’s “Speed-Date a Book” event, plus a reading of an excerpt, below.)

        What’s your favorite book within a book?

[Pictures: Title Page of the outer Extraordinary Book of Doors, in the style of the inner Extraordinaire livre portes, by AEGN, 2014;

Tree wolf image by chic2view on]

May 13, 2022


         Today’s hashtag and post are a celebration of the fantastic which is supposed to last the whole month of May.  You can find out more at There’s Always Room for One More.  Well, I’m always keen to celebrate the fantastic, but with so many other things going on in May, I certainly can’t devote all my blogging and Instagram and everything to this particular theme all month, (for goodness sake, Needham Open Studios starts tomorrow!  I just spent all afternoon setting up my display!)  
        But then, I’ve already got a whole lot of content that fits with the daily themes.  So my plan is to use this post to put all the links in one place to celebrate the daily Wyrd & Wonder prompts that are most enticing to me.  I will continue to update this post throughout the month to add links for the topics as they come up.  Here's what we've got...
     May 3 - Enchanted Wood: Feathers to Light the Way
     May 4 - Woodland Creatures: How to pick just one?  But I’m going to go with
                  Baba Yaga Village
     May 7 - Say What? Fictional Languages: Character Names in Fantasy
     May 8 - Undergods: Outlaws by Robert Graves
     May 9 - #MapMonday: Cartography and Mapping the Fantastic
     May 10 - Don’t Leave the Path: Trap Door
     May 11 - Weapon of Choice: Magic Swords
     May 14 - A Book within a Book: Books Within a Book
     May 16 - Current Read: The King of Next Week by E.C. Ambrose
     May 17 - Spirit of Nature: N is for Nature
     May 18 - Fantasy Landscapes: Basically the entire A to Z Challenge 2021
     May 19 - More Than Meets the Eye: T is for Transforming

     May 24 - Forest Guardian: quite a few mentioned back at N is for Nature again

     May 27 - Portal Fantasy (celebrate a subgenre): Portal Fantasy

     May 28 - Imaginary Verse: So much!  Try Poetry for Worldbuilding, S is for Skoven

           Poems of Middle Earth, There's No Knowing What We Shall See!and of course 

           The Jabberwocky

        Now we've reached the end of the month, but there are 264 posts on this blog tagged “Fantasy” in the Labels section over in the sidebar (and more being added with some frequency), so feel free to poke around and see whether you discover anything else of interest!

[Picture: Beyond the Thorns, rubber block print (two blocks) by AEGN, 2017;

Tree wolf image by chic2view on]

May 7, 2022


         Today is Print Day in May, when printmakers around the world celebrate and share the joy of printmaking.  It’s always the first Saturday in May, which means that most years I spend it at Needham Open Studios, which is certainly appropriate, but it means I never get a chance to do any actual social media stuff for it.  This year, however, NOS is next weekend, so I am doing a blog post today instead of Monday, in order to observe this international holiday.
        So, what printmaking am I up to today?  Well, actually, not as much printing and more preparing - see Needham Open Studios, above.  Next weekend I will be carving blocks from pretty much 11:00-4:00 on both Saturday and Sunday, so I need to have a lot of carving to work on.  That means I’m saving up all my blocks for carving next weekend and don’t want to use up any work this weekend!  However, I am preparing those blocks.  I have three things in progress.
        1.  This is a block I have been carving, shown along with the sketch, and a progress test print.  I actually very seldom do progress tests until I’m basically done and have nothing left but a little tweaking.  This is because I really enjoy the surprise of seeing how the whole thing comes out, all at once.  But I was a little dubious about this particular piece, feeling very unsure how it would read, and whether the main focus (a minor building at Chichen Itza, based on a photograph I took back in 2004) would emerge from its very busy surroundings.  You can see in the sketch that I scanned it and then filled in some areas in grey just to give myself a sense of where the whites and blacks would be dominant, something else I seldom need to do.  So anyway, I did print the unfinished block to see how it was going, and I must say I’m very pleasantly surprised - and all excited to get back to work carving the rest of it next weekend.
        2. I finished another design and transferred it to rubber, ready to carve.  This one is going to be ambitious because each of the different mountain areas needs to have a different texture for a different value of dark and light.  It’s also on Speedball brand rubber #SpeedbalPD2022 (whereas the first piece is Dick Blick brand rubber #blickPD2022).  The difference between the two brands is primarily that the Speedball is more crumbly and the Dick Blick is more rubbery.  I thought the friable Speedball consistency might make some of those textures easier to carve - but I’ll have to be careful, since I’m more used to the Dick Blick consistency.
        3.  The next design is not yet transferred to rubber.  It will probably end up being carved at Newton Open Studios, which is the very next weekend after Needham Open Studios, May 21-22.  (Both these designs are illustrations for a fairy tale retelling by a friend of mine.)
        I’ll be posting a number of pieces on Instagram today, as well, as part of the Print Day in May festivities.  So get out your carving tools and brayers, and get printing!

[Pictures: Photos of pieces in progress, AEGN, 2022]

May 4, 2022

#AtoZChallenge 2022 Reflections

         My A to Z Challenge theme this year was How to Make a Fantastical Creature, in which I explored 26 traits that are widely shared among the monsters and marvels of fantasy and folklore.  I learned about a lot of new creatures myself in the course of putting together my posts, and I hope you were entertained and learned something new, as well.  I certainly appreciate everyone who came by, left comments, shared your responses, and helped make this month feel like a community endeavor.  In this Reflection post, I’ll share some bonus material that I hope may be of interest to anyone who enjoyed my theme throughout April.
        First, I would like to present an award.  My point with all the “flashbacks” and “foreshadowings” in all the posts was to show just how many of these mythical creatures involve multiple magical traits.  Without bothering to go through and confirm, my guess is that the winner of Most A-Z Traits is the dragon.  “Dragon” can sometimes be a broad 
category, but even confining ourselves to a pretty standard western dragon, we’ve got Anthropophagus, Breathing Fire, Chimeric, Demonic (especially in medieval lore), Extremes, Flight, Glowing, Hoarding, Jewelled, Knowledge, Language, Magic, Gigantism, Sentience, Transforming, and X variables.
  That’s a pretty darn magical beast!  But there were certainly plenty of other creatures who exemplified 3 or 4, or even more traits.
        Second, this blog is usually about both fantasy and block printing, but of course this year’s theme gave the block printing short shrift.  I also didn’t feature very much of my own work.  So for anyone who’s curious about my work as an artist, here’s a guide to where you can find some of my block prints of magical creatures through the course of this year’s alphabet.

     B - dragon

     C - yali, (plus links to malacomorphs, ypotryll, umbrellaphant)

     E - (links to xana, isnashi)

     F - Pegasus, (plus link to malacorana)

     G - will o’ the wisp, (plus link to hercinia, qilin)

     J - unicorn

     K - (link to ouroboros)

     N - season fairies, (plus link to cherufe)

     P - fairy village, (plus links to pussy willows, ziz, aspidochelone)

     S - gargoyles

     Y - yale

     Z - wapaloosie, capybureau (plus links to fur-bearing trout, ypotryll, musical beasts)

        As for my author hat, I’ve written stories featuring lots of these wonderful creatures.
On the Virtues of Beasts of the Realms of Imagination has more than 45 magical beasts, and you can see most of them here, or revisit my 2019 A to Z Challenge to find out much more.
The Kate and Sam Adventures is a read-aloud or elementary-age trilogy that features sentient/talking animals, fairies, dragons, jinn, a griffin, a shape-shifting rabbit, a will o’ the wisp, a golem, plus bit parts for giant spiders, a skunk ape, a weewilmek, and a descendent of Grendel.
The Otherworld Series is a 6-book high fantasy series (high school through adult) involving dragons, wizards, sulchym, and a lylit.
• I’ve also had a couple of short stories published: one about the wild ape-leprechauns of Borneo and another featuring a slimy, tentacled Old One.  In addition, my recent spate of short stories (a number of which are currently out on submission - fingers crossed!) includes a siren, a unicorn, a ghost, a gigantic underground beast called the 
Horn, and some small feathered spirits.  I hope someday to be able to share some of these with you, as well.  In the meantime, you can always find all my art and books at my web site
        Third, I would like to direct you to some prior posts that include fun creature-themed interactive games that may amuse you:
     • Explore the wonderful world of mythical millinery with Monsters in Hats
     • Pit your wits against the odd artistic visions of medieval illuminators with Guess that Medieval Beast  (These creatures are all 100% real animals, but definitely not as you know them!)
        The moral of all this is: the magical creature fun never ends around here!  My Pro Tip for everyone is always to keep your eyes (and heart) open for magic and wonder - broadly defined and encompassing our own real world as well as the worlds of the imagination.  Feel free to visit my Instagram for a dose of Daily Delight, in the form of one picture a day of something that brings me joy.  (Mostly it’s nature, but some other Interesting Stuff, as well.)
        I will end with the words of G.K. Chesterton: "Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."

[Pictures: Portrait of the Artist, rubber block print by AEGN, 2019;
Dragon, wood block print by Jost Amman from Thierbuch, 1592 (Image from Library of Congress);
Assorted books by AEGN, featuring magical creatures;
Dracula in a Mae West hat, photoshop adaptation from movie posters, by AEGN, 2011;
The Dragon of Wantley, engraving by John June from the comic opera of the same name by Henry Carey, 1770 (Image from Google Books).]