Owen R. Minter. The Shrouded Sword. 2019.
Some of you may be staying at home with the young and the restless---tweens and teens. You may be struggling to find ways to grab their attention other than the ubiquitous screens. I see you. In fact, I know those challenges myself, and that’s why I want to recommend a book that will engage the younger members of your self-quarantined unit. The Shrouded Sword is Owen Minter’s first book. He grew up in Martinsville, and lives with his family in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Set in the fictional southwestern Virginia town of Deadmoor, this is the story of the adventures two young people, Ethan Mosely and his sister, Jynx, have when they spend their Christmas break with their eccentric uncle, Socrates Maupin. Their pompous, selfish parents usually park them with relatives for the holidays, but never have they been left at Maupin’s rundown mansion, Gramarye. Facing weeks with no Internet or TV, the children believe this will be the worst Christmas break they have ever experienced. But they soon learn that eliminating access to media has the unexpected effect of opening new experiences.
For one thing, Gramarye presents a veritable world itself. Only one place is off-limits, and that is Socrates’s hangout, called the Solar. Of course, as forbidden fruit, it has allure, especially for Ethan. But there are plenty of other intrigues within the walls of Gramarye to engage any young, curious explorer. The place is home to Mrs. Gooch, the housekeeper and maker of delicious cookies; Fergus Bugg, the butler; and the malevolent Scafell Crag, the groundskeeper. Then there are the mansion’s grounds which include a vast maze that figures prominently in the plot.
Ethan, his new friend from Deadmoor, Amos Sprunt, and Jynx have dangerous adventures in this story, and yet the peril is mitigated by the forces for good that seem to align to help them, including a raven named Admiral Benbow, and Gramarye itself. Minter’s story refers to other legends, adventure books, and mysteries to build a plot line. The story works on its own without full knowledge of all those references, but gains layers of meaning when the reader takes the time to learn about the Arthurian legends, pirate adventures like Treasure Island, or Edgar Allen Poe. In this, it is not unlike other books with which young people may be familiar---Tolkein’s work being just one example. Read aloud by an adult, those references can be pointed out to younger members of the family, too.
An adventuresome tween, his sister, a sidekick, riddles, a maze, pirates, time-travel----all of these add up to a book that will captivate the younger members of your quarantined family, and perhaps help the adults revive the tradition of the read-aloud. This is the first installment of a planned three-book series, and I’m looking forward to the next adventure already.
Diane S. Adkins is a retired Director of the Pittsylvania County Library System.
The topic of a recent podcast was the prevalence of moral and social issues in middle grade fantasy literature. The hosts complained that “in your face” morality and social issues had drained all the fun out of a once enjoyable genre. One can no longer escape into the story. Many condemn escapist stories. I considered the gold standard, Harry Potter.
J.K. Rowling’s masterpiece is fun. It is wonderfully escapist. It’s also profoundly moral and addresses social issues honestly. It’s not “in your face”. It’s perfect story telling. I agree with the hosts of the podcast. As writers, do we respect the reader’s intelligence? Are middle grade kids intellectually capable of discovering the moral of the story without it smacking them in the face? I know they are. I don’t see anything wrong with trusting them and letting them escape into another world. Who knows, they might become life long readers.
Is magic real? Are there actually wizards? Great musicians have the power to make us feel beauty. Feel joy. Forget our troubles. They conjure tones and colors and textures from wood, steel, air, finger tips, muscle, electricity, wires, soul. How do they do it? What’s the formula, recipe, diagram, how to book or rule? No scientist has the genuine explanation. They theorize this synapse, that nerve ending, that brain wave. They can’t put it in a bottle. It’s power.
As a guitar player, and not a particularly good one, I’m drawn to guitar players that do what I can’t. I’m drawn to expressive, lyrical, original, authentic, beautiful players who transport me to a better place. They do it seemingly effortlessly, blending in unity with the music around them. They create a fresh new world and share it with us mere mortals.
Jerry Garcia was that beautiful player. He didn’t play to show off with dexterity and flash. How would I know? I never met him. Just listen, it’s that simple. His music will explain it all. It’s as if his soul controlled levers and wires that ran through his body to his arms and out of his fingers to touch and strum the steel strings of his guitar. Bending, plucking, summoning the exquisite sound and releasing it into the air. Lyrical, real, intentional. Is magic real? Are there actually wizards? Yes.
I feel under the spell of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous bloodhound during my short bachelor days in Virginia. I’d graduated from college and was working my first gig at a bank. Newly engaged to my now wife, I thought a bit of reading would keep me out of trouble. While thumbing through a bookstore, I happened upon The Complete Sherlock Holmes. I had never read or been interested in reading any of the Holmes canon. Finding nothing else and attracted to the bargain bin low price, I figured I’d give it a try. The game was afoot!
I read the tome cover to cover(1,122 pages), becoming a Holmes nerd. With any storytelling, I’m drawn to character, place, atmosphere, and weirdness. Doyle checks all the boxes. Victorian London, gothic alleyways filled with pea soup fog, the weird crimes and friendship between Holmes and Watson, I was hooked. Even the rooms at 221 B. Baker Street are a little weird, even by twenty first century standards. I would even love to be a member of the Diogenes Club! My fav story has to be The Musgrave Ritual. A riddle, ancient manor, British Royal History, and a grisly murder. Give me an icy winter night, a fire, dim lighting, and a delicious beverage, and I’m fat and happy! What other Sherlock Holmes fans are lurking in the London shadows?
Why write a book? For me, it all started with my son. I say started, because when we read the Harry Potter books to him, his reaction was well, magical. He was a little guy of five years old. As we read, he fell deeper and deeper into J.K. Rowling’s spell. So did I. Our mutual love of this world made me return to an earlier dream.
I came to books and writing late. I’d loved writing stories with a friend while I was in middle school, but as it happens, my interests turned to other things.
In junior high school, my friend, Mike Paris, recommended I read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I enjoyed it, but no fireworks went off.
I became a serious reader in college. My English classes fascinated me, and during a study abroad program at Oxford University, the seeds for classic fantasy stories were planted.
Oxford is the birthplace of the modern fantasy story. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien penned their monumental adventures there. The atmosphere reminded me of The Once and Future King, and interested in finding an earlier source for the book, I discovered Le Morte d’Arthur.
I bought a copy at Blackwell’s, and the fifteenth-century text brought the Arthur legend into focus. Now, I had my bricks and mortar. I knew one day I’d attempt to write a novel.
The writing cliché is to write what you know. Well, I didn’t know much. I thought, what if I write what I love? My son’s love of the Harry Potter adventures inspired me. If I could write a story that gave someone joy, gave them a break from the stress we all face, that would be a wonderful gift.
If anything, my kids would have something to read to their children.
How to begin? Do I write an outline? Yuck, I hated writing outlines in school. I needed a guide, a plan. I decided to have fun with this project. I’ve loved to draw and paint since I was a kid. A painting would be my outline.
A few months later, the artwork was complete. I included elements I’ve loved from history and literature:
-Pirates and treasure
-Merlin from the King Arthur legend ( a much more interesting character than Arthur)
-Puzzles, ciphers and cryptic symbols
I now had my skeleton, and all I needed to do was flesh it out. I took pen in hand and wrote a horrible first sentence.
Owen R. Minter was inspired to write The Shrouded Sword, a fantasy story filled with ancient magic and time travel, after creating a drawing based on Arthurian legend. The Shrouded Sword is the first book in the Gramarye Cycle series. When he’s not writing, Owen makes paintings with a leaf blower, reads, and enjoys coaching Special Olympics Athletics.
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