Friday, April 06, 2007

re-reading "The Return of Merlin"

[this is me at Stonehenge, in case you did not recognize it, in 1980]

i'm re-reading The Return of Merlin" by Depak Chopra which i first read in March of 1996; here is a short excerpt for your reading enjoyment:

"Chapter 3 - Dragonflying

Melchior woke up with a dim, darkened mind. He felt hazy -- or was it just a hazy day? Into his head a soft word entered like woodsmoke: Afire. He stirred sleepily, feeling too heavy to rouse himself. "This is a sleep I could sleep for ages," he half-spoke to himself. But the word-smoke seeped into another chamber of his brain: Afire.

Sudeenly he was wide-awake. Trembling with anxiety, the apprentice knew what the word meant. The tower is on fire. Where had he been? He became aware that he was lying alone in a moist grassy field. The morning sun was warm on his back. Brilliant points of light dazzled his eyes from a blue pond nearby.

How did he get there? Hastily he looked around for Arthur's castle, only to find that looking around didn't work. His neck felt rigid and stiff; it wouldn't bend in any direction by as much as an inch, and his back was as immobile as if he had been tied to the rack. He fought the impulse to panic; instead, the same urgent thought returned, this time clamoring in his head like a brass bell: The tower is on fire!

Using his stomach muscles, which seemed to be working, Melchoir jerked around as hard as he could. He felt a stab of pain as his body twisted perhaps ten degrees, but it was enough. He now saw, hovering in the hazy distance, that his clamoring thought was true. A tower half a league away belched furious black smoke against the sky like a dying dragon.

"Master!" he thought in anguish. He was overwhelmed by an impulse to fly to the wizard's side. To his amazement, his wish came true. He found himself flying through the air, and not with the clumsy hops he was used to from his flying lessons, which as often as not dumped him into a prickly hedge of may or upside down in a pig ditch. He was truly flying, about ten feet off the ground, aimed straight and steady toward the burning tower.

Wherever it came from, Melchiour was too anxious to appreciate the joy of his new accomplishment. "I must go to him or all is lost!" he told himself. "The battle must be over, since there are no soldiers in sight. But why is the tower standing all alone like that? There should be walls and buildings. Where are the pennants and guerdons to signal that the king is inside?"

Above all, however, he wondered why he felt so odd. His thoughts sounded uncommonly strange in his head. "What is this?" he wondered, and the s at the end of this thought turned into a long, droning zzzz. He began to wish that life wasn't full of so many emergencies piled one on top of the other. He could barely comprehend the last crisis before a new one pelted him on the head. Becoming a wizard required the passage of many trials, and he could confess moments when he only wanted to rejoin common mortals in their world.

"And do what?" Merlin would snort whenever he spotted Melchior in one of these sloughs. "Eat toast and get jam on your face? Remember, it's better to be afraid with me than o be happy with them." Melchior wasn't so sure. He had no time for reminiscence, yet in a flleeting image he recalled the face of his grandmohter years ago, smiling and crying at the same time, the day she had smuggled him to the coast disguised in his flowing blue robes. "These fold do not know what you are, magical boy," she whispered mysteriously. "It's not your family's fault. You are a strange wonderful creature, yet they will turn you into a donkey, enslaved in the fields. Even your mother would, but I will never allow it."

He recalled the looming masts of the barkentine at barbor, his grandmother's trembling hands as she released him to the captain, finally to be alone, rocking in the dark as he tried not to cry out for his mother or his soft bed at home.

The Irish sea captian who had taken his grandmother's bribe would not permit the boy to come on deck for fear that the sailors, who were little better than pirates, would attack him. Melchior lay in the hold day after day, suffocating beneath a pile of moldy straw and jute. Once the ship's cook, rummaging for a barrel of salt pork, almost stepped on him, and others must have heard him sob in his sleep, for the crew began to shisper darkly of a ghost that climbed the mainmast and threw burning pitch on the heads of unsuspecting tars.

The stowaway grew sick and soon delirious. The captain held a dirty piece of mirror up to his face. "Look!" he whispered hoarsely. To his horror, Melchior saw that his skin had turned bright yellow, even the whites of his eyes. "Ye're turnin' jaundice on me," the captain muttered, vexed that he might lose the second half of his bribe if the boy died. That night he permitted Melchior to stagger out of the hold so he could stand in the cool sea breeze. The sky was spangled with a banquet of stars, which he already knew by their liquid Arabic names -- Rigel, Betelgeuse, Althazzar -- but gazing upon the distant beacons only made him feel more alone, coldly alone on the wide sea.

The next morning frightened the captain within an inch of his life. He crept down to bring Melchior a flagon of stale water. The boy was on his knees, looking up with a rapturous smile. A faint flow of peach-gold light was ll around him. The captain turned as green as a sick parrot. "Gad! a mad faerie it is," he cried, throwing the flagon behind him as he rushed up the ladder. Melchior noticed nothing, for his grandmother had come to him in a vision. She smiled at him and blew the sacred breath, the baraka, gently in his face.

"You will learn many spells," she said, smiling, "but none greater than this, the spell of faith. Only the wisest know that it is no spell but life itself." From that moment the jaundice disappeared, and Melchior knew that he came from a sorcerer's line.

These recollectionf of the long-ago past were struggling slowly to rise in Melchior's brain, like bubbles caught in honey, when a horrible shudder shook his body. An irrestible terror flooded him, and in an instant, with the life-or-death reflexes of a rabbit feeling the fox's incisors raking his back, Melchior dove to his left in a sharp swoop. He was just in time. A huge, dark mass zoomed past him. Monstrous claws grazed his right side. Melchior expected to feel his heart bound out of his chest in fear, except for some reason he felt as if he didn't have a heart. Strange.
"Safety! I must find safety," he thought. With incredible speed he turned a somersault in midair, hovered for a second like a doubtful helicopter, then dove straight for a round green landing field immediately to his right. The shadow passed overhead. His ears were filled with a loud angry "Kraw!" that almost deafened him. Then as quickly as it had come the danger disappeared. The air fell quiet, and Melchior was clinging to a green landing field with all his might.

Terrified as he was, it began to dawn on the apprentice that he wasn't in human form. The buzzing in his head, his stiff neck, the feats of acrobatic flying that came by instinct -- no, this wasn't him. What was he, then? If the village children had been there, they could have told him immediately -- he was a devel's darning needle, the swift menage of all smaller midges, moths, bees, bluebottles, damselflies, yellow jackets, and the rest of the buzzing clan.

[baby dragonfly - i took this photo last year]

[so i taped a dime to the window to give an idea of the size of the wee insect]

In plainer words, he was the first dragonfly of May. His brilliant bronze-green body dangled airily from a sycamore leaf as he slowly realized his strange predicament. The buzzing clan are not endowed with intellect, so it is no surprise that Melchior could not recall that this day was his birthday, the very morning he was born. He had crawled out of the small blue pond when the dawn light first slanted on it, wrapped in crumpled moist wings that feebly unfolded to dry in the breeze. (Before then, he had spent considerable time underwater as a ferocious dragonfly nymph, one of the terrors of pond life, hiding in the ooze amog the reeds waiting with a greedy pincer mouth to gobble up a passing minnow, tadpole, or anything else. But of this Melchior remembered nothing.)

The apprentice had no way of guessing that he had been put under a protective spell by Merlin after the battle for Arthur's kingdom was lost, transforming him into a minute dragonfly egg with its seed of life sleeping inside. Heedful to kill all magic and smash it to ruins, Mordred had blasted the castle to rubble and wasted the surrounding fileds with fire, yet the infinitesimal egg was borne safely over the terror on a breeze toward the river Severn, where it washed for miles downstream (narrowly missing being eaten by a hungry hook-jawed trout) landing in the murky swamps that then circled in all directions.
And there Melchior slept through history. Sleep is a risky business: whe first you crak your eyelids to wake up again, you can't tell for certain how long you've been alseep. It could be twelve hours or twelve minutes or twelve years. In Melchior's case, the spell had lasted twelve full centuries, and two more, until he woke up in a different world, where even the ruins of magic left by Mordred had turned to unremembered dust. What he had spied as Merlin's burning tower was the smokestack of an iron-smelting plant, and the reason he couldn't see the battlements of Arthur's castle was that they had long ago crumbled to mossy rubble that peasants had gathered and taken away to build sheep pens.

At present, now that his maiden flight was over, he was still quite confused. Exhaustion filled his body, and although he hardly felt safe swaying on the underside of a leaf, the gentle rocking, added to the heat of the sun, soon put him to sleep. He had no idea what time it was when he cam around, but long shafts of afternoon light reached under the foliage where he had hidden. Again the imppulse to take off gripped him. I must go to my master. And despite his fear of the giant shadow, which was in point of fact an ordinary hungry crow, he took wing. Only this time he didn't get anywhere. The burning tower was still straight ahead, due east. Yet as hard as he beat his crips, veined wings, he made no headway. If anything, he found himself alling backward, bounced hear over heels by the hard air.

"I've got a beaut!" a thunderous voice calle dout. Melchior fought against what felt like an invisible stone wall. It did not good. With a deafening clap the lid of a jelly jar slammed down over his head, and in two seconds he was a bottled insect, trapped by a gigantic little boy who peered at hi curiously. "Yeah, you are a beaut," the boy murmured, drawing his monstrous face right up to the side of the jar. "Do you fancy coming home with me?" The gigantic little boy who was Melchior's captor started to turn the jar over, admiring the bold black bars on Melchior's wings, whose tracery was as intricate as a cathedral window. The boy's huge pink face was so terrifying that the apprentice was sure he had dropped back in time, to the age of the giants that Merlin had vanquished as a boon to humans." ...