To celebrate the October 13th release of my forthcoming debut novel, King of Shards, beginning next week I will be featuring one new blog entry a day about a different Judaic myth for 36 days*. In my research for King of Shards I delved into the folklore and mythology of a people with a long and fascinating history, and what I discovered always surprised me. Woven into the ancient Jewish fabric of life is an intertextual analysis worthy of any graduate thesis in literature. It’s not so often what is written in the sacred texts, but what is interpreted as happening between the lines of Torah and Talmud, Zohar and Mishnah. It is in these gaps of knowledge and in the imagination of a bookish people that these folktales and myths germinated and eventually blossomed. Sometimes the myths were borrowed from other cultures and reshaped to fit the Jewish cosmology, while leaving remnants of their former origin. Other times the tales arose from the collective fears of a people who were suffering through violent and murderous periods, silently awaiting the promised days of redemption. At times it could be one extra word in a Torah phrase, contradicting a passage a dozen pages later, which forced the ancient rabbis to construct elaborate stories to explain the discrepancy.
This, for example, is exactly how the myth of Lilith was born. She shall be the subject of my first blog entry, which I will begin a week from today. I hope you’ll join me for this adventure!
* Why 36 days? Because there are 36 Lamed Vav in the world, the anonymous saints who uphold the world. I’ll talk more about the Lamed Vav in a future post.
We had just arrived in sleepy Kandersteg the night after a long journey from crowded Vernazza. After the baking Mediterranean Italian sun, the cool mountain air of Swizterland was welcome and refreshing. Our hotel, built in the late 19th century, sat across from a racing brook (which the Swiss call bachs) along a gently winding street that was sparsely filled with Swiss-style hotels, chalets, and farmhouses. We were here for a hiking tour, and since the group wasn’t set to arrive until that evening, we decided to venture out on our own that morning. The woman at our hotel’s reception desk told us we could walk up to Oeschinensee, a lake some 5100 feet above sea level. “It’s an easy walk,” she said.
What I later came to understand, is that a Swiss person’s “easy” is what I might call “strenuous.” And when a Swiss person says, “That hike was interesting,” what they really mean is that on said hike they feared for their life. (We did not fear for our life this day. That came later.)
View from our hotel balcony
We found the trailhead not far from the hotel. Swiss trails are marked well with yellow signs and red and white trail “blazes” or painted markers. At first the trail led up a paved road. Easy, we thought. But soon the trail diverted us onto a gravel and dirt path alongside a river. We looked up, between breaks in the clouds, to see a waterfall streaming down the tremendous mountainside. Are we going up there? we wondered. Even higher, on the uppermost peaks, were snow, ice, and glaciers.
Looking down at Kandersteg from the trail to Oeschinensee
The path swerved back toward the mountain, and it was up over rock and root, stone and shrub, switching back here and there. We passed other hikers, who said, “Bonjour,” and “Buona sera,” and “Guten Tag,” and “Grüezi,” as the fog grew thicker and the air colder. Soon we had to don our rain jackets and sweaters, which felt strange, since we had just come from the hot climate of the Italian Ligurian coast. Up we went, climbing higher and higher, past dormant ski lifts and wide pastures, and through thick alpine forest, for about two hours, until the fog was so thick we could barely see ten feet in front of us. But we kept going, troupers that we were.
In the thick fog
Soon, we began to hear a faint jangling, like those of wind chimes in a breeze. We seemed to reach a plateau, a grassy pasture scattered with stone. Suddenly, we were surrounded by cows. Dozens of them, grazing in this strange, misty pasture, their bells jangling from their necks, with no one else around. Just yesterday we were sweating on a beach, and now we are here, on a foggy mountain surrounded by cows. The moment was surreal, and we both paused, mesmerized by the sound. The cows, wagging their frayed tails, seemed unconcerned by our presence, almost as if we weren’t even there.
Cows in the mist
It was a supremely mystical moment. The air smelled of manure and cow and rain and grass, was cool and wet, and all was quiet except for the sound of the bells ringing. You can listen for yourself.
Eventually, we broke ourselves free of the entrancing and mystical sound of the cows to make our way to Lake Oeschinen. The fog hung low and thick over the water, like a blanketing shroud. A few people hung around the lake, but it was too cold to swim.
Fog over Oeschinensee
Eventually, we headed back down, passing the mystical cows, the wet and gnarled tree roots and dripping pines, back to the hotel to meet our hiking group. It was our first day in Switzerland, we hadn’t even gone on our first full hike yet, and already we had found magic. The next day, we would hike up to the same lake, where the clouds would parted to reveal the sun. Imagine our surprise, when we climbed up higher than we had the day before, looked down to the valley below, and saw this:
The fog had burned away by the next day’s morning sun, and the full glory of the mountains were revealed. And this was but one of dozens of such vistas we would have on our hikes across the mountains of Switzerland. The journey had just begun.
Yesterday in the mail I received the ARCs (Advance Review Copies) of King of Shards. And while this is of course not the finished book, it’s pretty cool to hold the book in my hands. I’ve seen the other great titles Resurrection House has put out, so I know I’m in good hands with them. This is also that weird interstitial period, where my book is out with reviewers and I don’t know how it will be received. I think it’s a damn great book. But, of course, I’m biased. Anyway, it’s exciting to see the novel slowly come to fruition. The book will be available to buy on October 13, but you can preorder a copy now from most booksellers.
I’ve just found out that “The Meeker and the All-Seeing Eye” (from May 2014 Clarkesworld Magazine) has made the BookTubeSFF Awards shortlist for Best Short Work. Some pretty great company to be in, with my work listed alongside Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Haruki Murakami. There’s a read along taking place with all the categories from now until November, when the winners will be announced.
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