The Guardians: Book One
by William Joyce and Laura Geringer
“…and, best of all, the secrets of the imagination” (Joyce, 18).
From here, the story moves to eastern Siberia. In particular, to Santoff Claussen, a magically protected village created by the wizard Ombric Shalazar, the sole surviving inhabitant of the drowned Atlantis.
As the chapter opens, he is “in deep discussion with a number of nocturnal insects, especially a Lunar moth, several fireflies, and a glowworm” (15). Furthermore Ombric is “fluent in the dialects of all manner of bugs, birds, and beasts” (15).
I thought this was the loveliest idea ever; that insects have languages that can be learned (hey! James and the Giant Peach, anyone?) Also I love Lunar moths. ♥
This little detail of insect languages continues with the acknowledgement that there are “the easier insect languages (ant, worm, snail)” and that “moth and firefly were difficult (glowworm even more so)” (17). I just loved this little tidbit of worldbuilding. It’s cute and imaginative. Even if a lot of insects startle me easily. And then there’s spiders, of course.
What follows is a dense explanation of Ombric’s life up to this point, and in particular, the methods of his magic, the ideology of curiosity and imagination that fuels his teaching of the children in Santoff Claussen, and the history and barriers of Santoff Claussen itself.
To me, these subjects felt interwoven; Ombric’s history is the history of Santoff Claussen, and his reason for founding it was based on his desire to create a place for the imaginative and inventive.
In his lessons, the best ideas are the most improbable and impossible. The fun is finding a way to realize them. Which feeds right into the ideology of his magic and invention – which is exactly why he founded Santoff Claussen in the first place. It was to be
“an enlightened place where no one would laugh at anyone (young or old), who dreamed of what was possible…and impossible. And so inventors, scientists, artists, and visionaries from across the globe were drawn to his village” (21-2).
Doesn’t it sound wonderful? I’d live there.
The trouble comes because not everyone shares Ombric’s ideology about learning and imagination. So to protect Santoff Claussen from those who would harm his peaceful village, he creates three barriers around it.
The first is a thick hedge of briars, which reminded me of Sleeping Beauty.
But this proves problematic since rumors persist of priceless treasure to be found at Santoff Claussen (much like the Grimm variant that has a legend ready for the awaited prince when he arrives). So, treasure hunters and thieves began hacking their way past the barrier.
What’s interesting is what happens as a result, for
“when they were met by an enraged wizard, they stared new rumors. They called Ombric a heretic, a warlock, and worse. They said he had stolen the souls of the people of Santoff Claussen and should be burned at the stake” (23).
First, this transition from treasure-guarding briars to a soul-stealing warlock reminds me of the kind of story evolution I would expect in a Sleeping Beauty tale. There’s a phase of enticement where people believe there’s something positive behind the barrier. This is later transformed into something dangerous; whatever is behind the barrier takes on a sinister, cautionary tone.
Second, it reveals a stage in Ombric’s (and Santoff Claussen’s) life through the point of view of outsiders. This is how others at this time view him. He may be wise and have a great ideology for teaching and how people should live (at least I think so), but that doesn’t mean everyone thinks he’s good.
Third, the last line gives a sense of a time frame. I’m guessing the 1500s for the reference to burning.
To counter this changing point of view, Ombric adds the second barrier – a gigantic black bear – and the third barrier – a thick ring of oaks which will “block the advance of any who tried to enter with evil intent” (24). This is relevant later.
Additionally, he creates the Spirit of the Forest, a siren-like “ghostly temptress” who lures invaders with the illusionary glittery of jewels before turning them to stone. This is also relevant later.
All that done, Santoff Claussen settles into the status of a bewitched mystery, one better to leave alone.
And while the world leaves them alone, we learn that “[s]olving mysteries, however was a favorite pastime of the villagers, the children especially” (25). This is seriously the best place.
It ends with a little summation of Ombric’s workplace:
“…noisy gizmos and gadgets, bubbling vials of startling colors and shapes, globes of world’s know and unknown , clocks that could bend time, tools of bizarre and delightful functions, winged wind machines, weather manipulators, and magnifying lenses so powerful they could see the secret writings of germs and microbes” (26).
Isn’t that enchanting? The idea that even germs have writing. I just think that’s the cutest and loveliest idea.
Also, when I read this, I couldn’t help thinking of a character prototype of mine. He’s related to my Three Flowers idea and draws inspiration from Viśwákarma, the Sandman, and, probably most strongly, a mix of mechanical inventions/mindset and harvester/mixer of dream sand (which indicates some inspiration from The BFG). I think the character’s the best thing ever, so reading this made me like Ombric.
And can I just conclude that I really do love the idea of this village? (Would you?)
“And the books. Countless books. Mountains of books containing knowledge from the beginning of recorded time” (26). ❤️ 😊
Joyce, William and Laura Geringer. Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King. New York: Atheneum Books, 2011. Print.