Millions of Worlds Sitting on the Shelf by M.A. Larson
From Dr. Seuss to Flannery O’Connor, from Bunnicula to One Hundred Years of Solitude, I’ve always loved going into writers’ fictional lands. Seeing someone’s imagination laid out in words (and sometimes pictures) can be a magical experience. My own daughter, when I can tear her away from Arendelle, loves going to a tidy cottage in the woods where a grumpy bear and a persistent mouse form an unlikely friendship over tea in A Visitor for Bear.
When I was her age, it was the world of Sweet Pickles for me. I knew the map inside the back cover better than my own neighborhood. I could tell you who lived next to whom and what they were doing between the stories told in the books. I suppose you could call it a form of “toddler fanfic.”
As I got older, I discovered the world of Richard Adams’ Watership Down, which is still my most frequented fictional land. In it, entire chapters are dedicated to the stories of a rabbit hero called El-Ahrairah. Adams’ characters revered these myths and gained wisdom from them. His world-building wasn’t just spatial, but included depth of time as well.
In my early teens, my brother exposed me to the vast world of Stephen King. This world, a bucolic New England beset with monsters and murderers, transcended King’s writings. It was sharp enough yet fluid enough that it could house a horrific short story like “Gramma” and also a sprawling novel like ‘Salems Lot.
But I’d never put much thought into how these worlds were built until I started writing Pennyroyal Academy.
I wanted the Academy to exist in the dark, rich world of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, so I headed off to Germany to drive the Brothers Grimm Trail. On my first night there, I stayed in a medieval castle that had been converted into a hotel, where a chorus of wolves howled in the forest below. I couldn’t believe it. I was actually IN a Grimms’ Fairy Tale, immersed in the world where so many of those stories were born. And just as I used to create adventures for the background characters in Sweet Pickles, those wolves were a potent reminder that life is always busy doing interesting and important things outside the walls of the castle. So when Pennyroyal Academy opens, that’s where the story begins—in the world outside the castle, where a girl with a past and a frame of mind that are very different from her peers is running through a dark, scary forest with no idea what her future holds.
As I roamed the primeval forests of Germany, I tried to imagine how it must have felt for my characters. They were adolescents trying to figure out their place in the world. It occurred to me that they might have looked to their own heroes for wisdom, just as the rabbits of Watership Down had looked to El-Ahrairah. I wrote my own Grimms’-style fairy tales and added them to my book. They didn’t survive the editing process, but the connection between my characters and their heroes of the past did. Instead of looking to El-Ahrairah for guidance, my characters looked to Cinderella and Rapunzel.
And just as King’s world lived beyond the pages of his books, I wanted Pennyroyal Academy to exist in a place that held more stories than the one I was going to tell—so I put it directly in the middle of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales themselves. Instead of creating an entirely new world, I would join together all those stories into one unified land, where the princesses we loved would live alongside others we knew nothing about. My characters would walk into the Academy’s dining hall and be in awe at finding Snow-White’s initials carved into the table.
I was fortunate in devising the world of Pennyroyal Academy that I was able to spend some time in the land the Grimms had once called home. But it wasn’t until I really started writing that I realized the importance of all those other worlds I had visited when I was younger. World-building requires a strange mix of rules and wild imagination. Just as Bear makes an unexpected friend when he opens the door to Mouse, you can often find unexpected inspiration just by opening the cover of a book and disappearing into the Seussian land of Solla Sollew or the sweaty, sinister American South of Flannery O’Connor. There are millions of worlds sitting on the shelf just waiting to be studied.
M.A. Larson (www.malarson.com) is a film and television writer who lives with his wife, daughter, and two dogs in a canyon in California. Larson has written for Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney UK, Discovery Kids Channel, The Hub, and Nickelodeon. As a writer on the cult sensation “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic”, he has been a guest at “brony” fan conventions from Paris, France to Dallas, Texas. Pennyroyal Academy is his first novel.
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Blog Tour Schedule:
October 15, 2014: The Hiding Spot
October 17, 2014: The Book Cellar
October 20, 2014: Alice Marvels
October 23, 2014: Icey Books
October 27, 2014: Novel Novice
October 29, 2014: Literary Rambles
Nov. 4, 2014: Nerdy Book Club