Backstory

Authors tell you what inspired their work

Maureen McQuerry, author of "Wolfproof"

When I was in Oxford, England, visiting my daughter who was studying there, I looked up into the beams of Merton Chapel and there was a face peering down at me. It was a face with leaves sprouting as hair, vines and tendrils springing from his mouth and nose. I had come to face to with an ancient carving of a Greenman. Greenman have been found in churches in the British Isles since the 12th century and they've been in existence in different forms in many countries for much longer than that. My response as a writer was to ask what if? What would it be like if my hair suddenly turned to leaves, my skin became as rough and fluted as sycamore bark, and vines pushed their way up my throat? My musings turned into a poem, The Greenman, which was published in several journals and anthologies.

And still the character of the Greenman wouldn't quite disappear. I knew I would have to do more with him. I've always been a fan of fantasy, especially the kind of fantasy that comes right to the door of the ordinary person and demands entrance; think of Neil Gaiman's Richard Mayhew from Neverwhere, Lucy Pevinse walking through a wardrobe and having tea with a faun, or Gandalf leaving a mark on Bilbo's door. I knew I had my first character for that type of fantasy story, a story that became Wolfproof. The Greenman led me down a fascinating path of researching British and Celtic mythology and other characters, both good and evil, sprang to life. Because I teach middle school students, my ordinary protagonists became a trio of gifted middle school kids who never quite fit into the culture of school.

G. K. Chesterton wrote: "Fairy tales are more than true, not because they tell us there are dragons, but because they tell us dragons can be defeated." All children know that the world is full of dragons, they all want to know that sometimes they can be the hero, no matter how unlikely, that defeats the dragon. They want to know that the dragon isn't all there is, that even though the path through the woods is dark, the story doesn't end in despair. Like Timothy James in my novel, they want to know that when the wolf is at the door, all hot breath and bloody clawed, they are Wolfproof. And that's at the very heart of fantasy's appeal -- the everyday person who really is more than they appear. And of course that's a message that we as educators try to get across to students all the time, everyone has value, we are all more than we seem. Sometimes, we need to step back and let fantasy tell that story. As Neil Gaiman said in his speech to the Mythopoeic Society, "Sometimes the best way to show people true things is from a direction they had not imagined truth coming."

And that's why I think fantasy matters, why it resonates. And the title, Wolfproof? Well, that came from a poem as well. Serendipitously, just as Wolfproof hit the shelves, my poems, Greenman and Wolfproof were selected as honorable mentions for The Year's Best Fantasy, Sci Fi and Horror anthology. You can read them on my website maureenmcquerry.com.


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Sunday December 17th 2006, 7:34 PM
Comment by: www. I.
I've just subscribed to VT and this is the first article I've read. Look forward to reading many more and making use of all of the VT features.
Tuesday December 19th 2006, 5:44 PM
Comment by: Callie B.
Nice communication topic.

Callie
Tuesday December 26th 2006, 5:33 AM
Comment by: donald S.
This post put me in mind of Herbert Read's extraordinary novel 'The Green Child' and Joseph Losey's movie 'The Boy With Green Hair'. The Read would probably to be the item closer to McQuerry's heart.

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