I’ll admit, a good storytelling voice is my ticket to happiness. Garret Weyr’s middle grade novel, The Language of Spells, had me firmly in the grip of its dragon paws from the start. Read this little passage:
By the time Grisha’s shape had been rudely shifted, I was a willing collaborator in the business of creating mental images that we call reading. No wonder the Kirkus reviewer called this book “extraordinary–not to be missed.”
So I asked Garret if she’d “explain the Where, the When, the How Come, and the How Long” behind the narrative voice that drives, modulates, lifts, whispers, sings, and quickens this elegantly crafted, yet completely child-aware story. Here is her reply:
Well, you have asked the question that sings my song. As a writer, point of view is everything to me. Who is telling the story, why are they telling it, when are they telling it, and where are they as they tell it?
Normally the process of answering those questions can take me half a draft and/or many many months.
But this novel was always a story being told by a voice that knew about magic, dragons, and the cost of knowing both. There are two reasons for this.
The easiest comes from the rainy afternoon when I ducked into a junk shop and encountered a small china teapot in the shape of a dragon. The dragon and I looked at each other. I wondered how the dragon had gotten in there and the dragon, I suspect, wondered if I could figure it out. So, I bought the little teapot and took it home.
I should confess that my history with dragons goes all the way back to my childhood. Perhaps even to my father’s childhood. He grew up in Austria, specifically the city of Vienna and had to flee the city when he was eleven and the Nazis were about to march in.
He spent the second world war in England and the US and although he eventually became a US citizen, Vienna still beckoned. As children, we went with him to visit every year and he kept an apartment there that seemed like our second home.
My sisters and I liked a bedtime story and he liked to tell them. Our favorite was about a dragon who lived in a castle on the Danube. Now my father likes a sword fight, and so his dragon was forever running into battle with mayhem in his wake.
Inside scoop: Garret’s late beloved dog Henry inspired Grisha the dragon in The Language of Spells.
To this day, my sisters and I are uneasy sleepers. But we know dragons. And Vienna. More importantly, we know how refugees cling to stories of the world they once lived in but no longer do.
And her imperious cat Dorcas inspired the magical cats
And that is my second reason for this novel being a story told. My dragons had lost their home. Like large numbers of people who survived WWII, the dragons were refugees. They had stories to tell.
Uma: Maybe this is why I found this story so compelling. Because the dragons. struggling to live outside their lost homes, echo the feelings of so many millions of people who are forcibly displaced in our all-too-real world. The UNHCR puts the number at 70.8 million this year, one person forcibly displaced every 2 seconds. Garret continues:
I should add that I thought this would be a picture book. It turns out, I am not a picture book writer. I should have known that a book largely set in a hotel bar was not going to loan itself to that format.
Live and learn.
Indeed. Thank you, Garret Weyr. I wish you a richness of warm courtesies and the best dragon magic.