And welcome to my newsletter for March, 2012! Please feel free to forward this to anyone you think would be interested in keeping up with me! To receive these newsletters regularly, please drop me an email or subscribe online from my website (http://www.JefMurray.com ) or at: http://groups.google.com/group/Mystical_Realms . Notices of events and items of interest are at the bottom of this email.
I have posted three new painting images on my website. These include “Home Again”, “Healing Waters”, and “The Tryst”. All three of these are in three different places within the Tolkien gallery (The Hobbit, The First Age, and The Lord of the Rings, respectively). However, you can see all three of these by going to http://www.JefMurray.com and clicking on the “Newest Works” icon (the dragon!) at the top of the page.
As always, these and all of the images in my online galleries are available as signed and numbered limited-edition Giclee prints. See my webpage for details.
And, do let me know how these new works strike you!
Sam poked his head into the attic. The air was acrid and stifling. Through the gloom, he could barely discern dusky shadows beneath the eaves. A moth fluttered, shifting the afternoon light and stirring the dust.
Sam pulled himself up and sat on the edge of the hatchway. Cool air flowed from the floors beneath him. He looked down and saw the bag of Mardi Gras beads on the top of the stepladder. His uncle had sent him to pack them away until next year.
“I’m getting too creaky in the joints to get up there if I don’t have to,” uncle had told him. “Besides, you’re nearly thirteen; an auspicious age! And, it’s the perfect time for you to begin your career as an adventurer!” His uncle had winked at him.
This was the season of Lent. Ordinarily, the garret would still be chilled in early March, even so late in the afternoon. But spring had come early, it seemed. Sam reached for the beads and got to his feet, breathing the thick air with difficulty. His eyes slowly attuned to the twilight.
That’s when he saw the chest: oblong, dark, and featureless. It brooded in the farthest recesses of the eaves, beneath heavy wooden beams stained with age. Unlike the rafters, floor, and ceiling, it was free of the ubiquitous dust. Sam scratched the back of his head, and then sneezed violently. Motes swirled crazily in the light from below.
He walked across the attic floor, whirlwinds spinning in his wake. The chest was smooth featureless, but oddly cold to the touch. Sam felt for a latch but could find none. He tugged at its lid, but it wouldn’t budge. He dropped the beads to the floor and thought for a moment.
It suddenly occurred to him that the chest was just the size for a grown man to lie in. The thought made him uneasy.
“Better leave well enough alone,” he said, and his voice sounded strange and hollow in the thick air. “Never know what might be living in an old trunk like that.” He stooped to pick up the beads, pressing down on the lid of the chest.
Sam started back, and then froze. The sound had come from the chest; he was sure of that. But now all was silent.
“Alright, you come on out of there!” he said in a loud voice. He half expected his best friend, Jimmy, to fling open the lid and sit up, grinning at him. But nothing happened.
“Would be just like him,” Sam muttered, “Trying to scare me to death….”
He returned to the chest and felt around its edge. Still no latch. But this time, when he tugged at the lid, it moved.
Sam took a deep breath. He clenched his eyes shut, still more than half expecting Jimmy to pop out and give a blood-curdling scream. But, he put his fingers under the lid’s edge and opened the trunk.
Sam cracked his eyelids and looked down. There was no dead body to be seen. But other than that, he couldn’t tell what, precisely, the chest did harbour. He put out his hands, and felt rough cloth, then something else…a metal rod, it seemed…then something else entirely. He grasped this new thing and removed it. It felt like a notebook. He took it to the attic hatchway and sat down in the light.
The book was leather bound with faded designs on the cover. It had a metal clasp that held it shut, but wasn’t locked. Sam opened it. It was a journal of some sort, written in a thin hand. He flipped forward and found, along with the writing, many hand-drawn sketches of odd things: one was of a ring, one of a raven. Another showed an ancient stone tower, and yet another was of a ship sailing stormy seas.
Sam suddenly thought of Indiana Jones. Visions of ancient Egyptian tombs and mummies wafted through his head. His uncle had taken him to an exhibit at the Carlos museum once when a field book of a famous archeologist had been on display. He had looked longingly at the archeologist’s sketches from the mysterious Valley of the Kings.
”Sam, did you get lost up there?” It was his uncle.
“No, sir!” He closed the journal and tucked it under his shirt. It was a strange thing to do, since Sam was not secretive, nor dishonest. But, for some reason, he felt he just had to read what was in the journal, and he feared his uncle might forbid it.
o o o
Sam wasn’t able to look at the book again until he was back in his parents’ home that evening. He closed his bedroom door securely, pushing a chair up against it so that he would be warned if anyone tried to enter unannounced.
He sat down to read. The handwriting was difficult to decipher at first; and often there were words he didn’t know, like “descry” and “saturnine” and “seraphic” and “glistering”. But he soon lost himself in the tales and poems and sketches. There were tales of monks and of maidens, of ravens and ringwraiths. Each one was different, yet all of them seemed connected somehow. Images floated through his brain as he read, and he never noticed that midnight had soon come and gone and that morning was fast approaching….
Sam awoke to the sound of a wood thrush singing in the front yard. His head had fallen onto his arms. For a moment, he didn’t know where he was; images of forests and ancient stone havens lingered in the eaves of his mind. Then he recalled the journal, and he sat up, shaking sleep from his eyes. He looked at his desk, but the journal was nowhere to be seen.
He started up in a panic, searching wildly around at his room. Bedclothes were tossed, bookshelves scanned, and dresser drawers rifled, but to no avail. The journal had disappeared.
After ten minutes, he stopped. “Now I’m in for it,” he muttered. “Uncle’s gonna kill me….”
o o o
Sam knocked at the door. His uncle opened it and led him into the kitchen. They sat down at the breakfast table.
“Now, what’s so important that you just had to come right over?”
Sam looked down and shuffled his feet. “Uncle, you remember when I was putting away the Mardi Gras beads for you, up in the attic?”
“Well, what I didn’t tell you was that, while I was there, I saw that big chest in the corner.”
“And, well, I opened it up because I was wondering what might be inside. And there was this book, see? Kind of like a journal? And I looked through it and it was full of stuff about magic rings and sailing ships…”
“Well, I really wanted to read it, but I was afraid you wouldn’t let me. So, I took it home without telling you….”
His uncle looked at him with a bemused smile on his face. “And, let me guess. You got it home, started to read it, and the next morning it was gone.”
Sam looked up at him, dumbfounded. “How’d you know that?! Did my dad tell on me?”
“No, Sam. I doubt if you told him about the journal, did you?”
“Well, no sir, I didn’t. But I’m the only one that knew I had it…”
“Well, that’s only partly true, isn’t it?” said his uncle, leaning back in his chair. He sighed. “See, you knew you had it, but the journal knew it, too.”
“You didn’t pick up just any book, Sam. Fact is, I’ll show you how strange a book it is. Come on; let’s go upstairs.”
The two went to the second floor, set up the stepladder, and climbed into the attic together. The garret was just as before: stiflingly hot, but silent and mote-filled. His uncle led Sam to the chest.
“Now, you’re sure you had the book with you at your house?”
“Well then, take a look here.” The old man lifted the lid, reached inside, and handed Sam something. Sam returned to the hatchway so that he could see better. It was the journal.
“But, I don’t understand, uncle. How could it have gotten back here all by itself?”
“Years ago, Sam, that journal, the chest, and everything else in it were put in my keeping by a very unusual person. His name was Azarius. He and I were close friends, and one day he came to me and said ‘Charles, you and I have known each other since the day I arrived on these shores. But I have a journey to take, and I may not return for some time, if at all. I need you to look after some things of mine, if you’re willing.’”
“Well, I said sure, since we were old friends. But, he was an odd fellow; I don’t know the right word to use to describe him, but he could do amazing things, and sometimes he seemed to know everything that was going on inside of folks’ heads, if you take my meaning. But I asked him whether there was anything I should know about the chest, so as to keep it and those around me safe.”
“‘Not a thing,’ he told me. ‘In fact, the chest will look after itself. It will open for you, but not for anyone else unless they can be trusted with its secrets.’”
“‘But what if something happens to me before you come back?’ I’d asked him.”
“‘Then the chest will pick someone new to take care of it,’ was his answer.”
His uncle looked pointedly at him. “So now, it seems, the chest has decided that you can be trusted.”
Sam scratched his head. “But, uncle, what about the fact that I didn’t tell you about the journal? That was wrong, wasn’t it?”
“Certainly it was wrong! And I don’t ever want to hear of you doing anything like that again, understand?”
“But, if the journal let you to take it with you, then there was a reason.”
His uncle paused for a moment. “By the way…what did you think of the stories?”
Sam looked at his uncle, and it seemed to him at that moment that he wasn’t looking at an old man anymore, but rather at another boy of his own age: eager, excited by thoughts of adventure.
“They were swell!” he said. “But, did those things really happen? Were the stories true?”
His uncle smiled. “Of course they were true! But, they’re only the tip of the iceberg. Ah, the tales I could tell you of Azarias….” He shook his head and sighed.
They stood for a moment in silence. Then Sam asked “Uncle, are there any other things in the chest that are…well…interesting?”
His uncle smiled. “Oh my, yes, Sam, many things! Many things indeed….”
• I am delighted to announce that I will be appearing as a guest speaker and presenter at the Bram Stoker Centenary Conference at the University of Hull and in Whitby, England, April 12-14. Whitby, as many of you may know, features prominently in Stoker’s classic horror novel, Dracula. The conference theme is “Bram Stoker and Gothic Transformations”. I was invited as a guest of the university to present on my illustration work for Gothic novels, particularly “The Magic Ring” by Fouque, as well as on two new republished Gothic works including one by Bram Stoker himself. More information can be found at: http://www2.hull.ac.uk/fass/english/events/conferences/bram_stoker.aspx
• I wanted to thank the many folk who participated in the sale of my Tolkien-themed works in the UK during the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras! We received overwhelming support, and some 14 canvases and 21 framed sketches were sold over the course of the four weeks. This was very gratifying, and I’m so happy to have been able to offer these works to my European patrons one last time before bringing them all back to the States!
• The Middle-earth Network ( http://middleearthnetwork.com ) continues to be the “Go To” place for news about Middle-earth-related and Narnia-related events and for discussions on its social network, http://mymiddle-earth.com/ . Plus, the site has just been revamped with improved functionality and the opportunity to create your own Blog webpage, absolutely free! Along with podcasts with folks of interest to Middle-earth and Narnia fans, there are contests, articles of interest, pointers to intriguing websites, etc. If you’re not a member yet, you’re missing out on a great community of artists, musicians, and general lovers of Tolkien and Lewis!
• The Return of the Ring 2012 (see http://www.returnofthering.org/) will be a huge Tolkien-themed conference and gathering at Loughborough University on 16-20th August, 2012. I am an invited guest at the event and am looking forward not only to sharing my paintings and sketches, but also to participating in panels and presentations. You can book reservations now online.
• Tolkien biographer Joseph Pearce and I collaborated on an EWTN TV special on J.R.R. Tolkien that is now available on DVD. The production includes dozens of my illustrations of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, and it focuses on the Catholicity of Tolkien’s magnum opus. You can order the a DVD of the show at: http://www.ewtnreligiouscatalogue.com/TOLKIEN+S+LORD+OF+THE+RINGS+A+CATHOLIC+WORLD+VIEW/shop.axd/ProductDetails?x=0&y=0&keywords=Pearce+Tolkien&edp_no=22609
spent Saturday in the tidal marshes, south of the River Shribble. I rafted along the waterways in late afternoon under an immense sky, and anchored in a peaceful spot near a lone wigwam. Setting up my easel, I painted the pocked purple clouds that peppered the heavens. Then, just before sunset, a Marsh-wiggle emerged from the wigwam to angle for eels. Violet skies blended with cadmium reds, and the muddy greens of spartina and needlerush faded as the sun touched the distant horizon. Clapper rails rang out, and the peace of eventide crept upon all of the wetland prairies.