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Cantercon

The tall, armored woman let out a breath. Her sturdy frame relaxed. The magic-user studied her expression.

“What’s your name, fighting-woman?”

“Thrace.”

Her eyes didn’t narrow; her brow remained uncreased. By these signs, he knew the spell he cast on entering had been successful. It made her predisposed to friendliness toward him.

“Thrace,” he repeated, trying the name on her. He admired how she held herself, straight and confident. “Call me Cantercon. I search these rooms for a book. I invite you to join me.”

“How do you know there’s nothing under the statue, Cantercon?”

“Nothing of value,” he said. “The runes on the pedestal indicate it represents the wizard Ardendred Faerthoht, Doommaker, builder of this elaborate complex. In the early phases of construction, he hid great treasures beneath representations of himself.”

Deep Dungeon Doom“Great treasures?”

“All his wealth secured, in later phases he hid deadly traps instead.”

Her eyes shifted to the pedestal beneath the stone-robed figure. Cantercon pointed behind to the archway with the monster-head keystone. Its one eye stared down at them. “Faerthoht favored the cyclops motif in later phases.”

The conjurer allowed a moment for his new friend to assimilate the information.

“Come.” Motioning for her to follow, he stepped toward the corridor beyond the statue. “We’ll divide treasure evenly.”

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Preface to The First Story of Littlelot

The First Story of Littlelot on AmazonThe First Story of Littlelot is an Arthurian legend with knights and damsels and other action figures.

In his game of make-believe, a boy must make a choice—break his oath to the king or break the heart of the woman who gave him the most meaningful gift.

 

Preface

The valiant knight in shining armor rides a resplendent steed on dangerous adventures. He surmounts overwhelming obstacles, rights terrible wrongs, and rescues the damsel in distress…

That’s what I want to be when I grow up!

Alas, I was born centuries too late. As were you, Young Reader, if such might be your own grown-up ambition. Left to us in our times are stories of those chivalric heroes, models that we may yet apply to our modern lives.

The quintessential tale of noble knights is that of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table as told by Sir Thomas Malory in Le Morte d’Arthur. Reputedly a knight himself, Malory compiled his fifteenth-century rendering from various sources, among them, the Vulgate Cycle, the Prose Tristan, and the Stanzaic Morte Arthur. Each of which drew on earlier works, including Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain and a collection of stories by the French troubadour Chrétien de Troyes. In turn, Malory’s work has inspired a profusion of novels, narrative poetry, films, and other forms, collectively known as “Arthurian legend.”

The First Story of Littlelot recounts the adventure of the most renowned of all the Round Table knights, Lancelot, and his rescue of Gwenevere, drawn from Book VII of Le Morte d’Arthur. My own retelling differs from Malory’s in length as well as in certain details.

Stephen Wendell
December 14, 2016
Paris, France

 

The First Story of Littlelot

The First Story of
Littlelot

An Arthurian legend with knights and damsels and other action figures

In his game of make-believe, a boy must make a choice—break his oath to the king or break the heart of the woman who gave him the most meaningful gift.

Paperback
Available on Amazon

Ebook
Available on Amazon

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The First Story of Littlelot: Full-Color Illustrated Edition

The First Story of
Littlelot

Full-Color Illustrated Edition

An Arthurian legend with knights and damsels and other action figures

In his game of make-believe, a boy must make a choice—break his oath to the king or break the heart of the woman who gave him the most meaningful gift.

Paperback
Available on Amazon

 

Littlelot and the Real Monster

Littlelot
and the
Real Monster

Littlelot must overcome his fear to confront the monster that threatens to eat him and his family too!

Paperback
Available on Amazon

Ebook
Available on Amazon

Available on kobo

 

 

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Hanami, Ancient Japanese Tradition

The way opens between two hedge rows. Birds chitter within. Entering by a narrow lane, the world blooms into rosy hues. A soft breeze through branches carries the delicate scent of cherry blossoms. Cherry tree in bloom  Parc de SceauxCheckered blankets spread beneath them, well dressed men and women clink glasses. Laughing children roll in lush green grass. Tiny birds flit from branch to branch, tree to tree, twittering the news: “Spring, spring! Springtime is here!”

I walked into a cherry orchard at the Parc de Sceaux. All the trees were in full bloom, all the people were there to see them, and everyone brought a picnic.

Cherry blossoms  pink and white  dazzle in sunlightA Japanese guy set up a camera on a tripod. Its lens, as long as my forearm, extended toward pink and white blossoms, dazzling in the sunlight. The hollow pop of a cork leaving a Champagne bottle turned heads and made a girl giggle.

“Is there a party?” I asked the guy, my American accent coming through the French.

“Hanami,” he said with a Japanese accent, “ancient Japanese custom, big spring celebration.”

We chatted for a few minutes while he lined up a shot with the camera. I took a few photos as well and made a note to look up this custom when I got home. This is what I’ve found so far:

In eighth-century Japan, neighboring Chinese culture was considered more sophisticated. Such was its influence that the Japanese capital, Nara, was modeled after its Chinese counterpart, including numerous plum trees imported from China. Plum trees bloom in late February and mark the end of winter.

Tranquility beneath a cherry tree

Emperor Saga in the early ninth century is credited as the first to throw a party in a blooming orchard. Thus Hanami, “flower viewing” in Japanese, began among the elite of the imperial court.

Due to a rebellion in China, that country’s exports to Japan halted. This intercultural rupture is marked by the 894 abolition of Japan’s official delegations to China, which required an arduous crossing of the Sea of Japan. Reduced influence from the mainland allowed an independent Japanese culture to flourish, and the native cherry tree gained in popularity over the old plum tree. Blooming at the end of March, cherry blossoms mark the arrival of spring.

Curious margin note: The popularity of plum and cherry blossoms is measured by the number of mentions each receives throughout history in various writings, such as chronicles, diaries, and poetry, including waka and haiku. So many mentions for plums in this century versus only this many for cherries. The next couple centuries see an increase in cherry mentions and a decrease in plums. Vote for your favorite thing in writing!

Yayoi or Sangatsu  Asukayama Hanami
Yayoi or Sangatsu, Asukayama Hanami (Third Lunar Month, Blossom Viewing at Asuka Hill) by Kitao Shigemasa (1739–1820), from the series Jūnikagetsu (Twelve Months), between 1772 and 1776. Color woodblock print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Hanami remained a practice of the elite until the eighteenth century. His people suffering from poverty, Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune invited local subjects into a private cherry orchard to share in the springtime festival, which included a feast as well as cherry blossoms. The event was well received. The shogun then ordered the planting of cherry trees along rivers and lanes and encouraged the people to participate in the annual event.

Today, Hanami is as popular as ever in Japan, and the custom has spread around the world. In April of each year, some 200 Japanese cherry trees attract members of the local Japanese community and Parisians to two orchards in the Parc de Sceaux, south of Paris.

I’m still hunting down the provenance of these particular trees. I’ll update this article when I find out. Meanwhile, if you want to see the spectacle, it’s happening this week!

 

Stephen Wendell lives near the Parc de Sceaux, where he goes for a daily run. He is the author of the Littlelot series of children’s books and The Way to Vict’ry, a book of three haiku inspired by Sun Tzu, Matthieu Ricard, and a magpie flight instructor.

Northern cherry orchard  west of the Grand Canal

View of the northern (pink) cherry tree orchard, west of the Grand Canal, Parc de Sceaux

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Mouchel and Langlois, Cherbourg Tutors

Bon Dumoucel dit Mouchel
Self-portrait, Bon Dumoucel “dit” Mouchel

“You don’t mean to tell me that this young man made those drawings by himself!” said Mouchel.

The elder Millet defended his affirmation, saying he watched his son draw them. He had brought Jean-François to see this Cherbourg artist who was also a tutor. They showed him two drawings the boy had made, hoping Mouchel would take him on as pupil.

The younger Millet insisted on his sole authorship, and Mouchel was eventually convinced.

“Well, then,” he said to the father, “all I can say is, you will be damned for having kept him so long at the plough, for your boy has the making of a great painter in him.” (Cartwright 32)

Thus, Jean-François Millet went to study painting in Cherbourg. Of his first tutors, history records little. Alfred Sensier devotes a few pages to these two characters in his Millet biography. Those pages, including footnotes added by the editor Paul Mantz, may well have saved the names of Bon Dumoucel, called “Mouchel,” and Lucien-Théophile Langlois from history’s oubliette. Though my research is far from exhaustive, Sensier’s work is the source of every other reference to them I’ve so far found.

Poissonnerie de la Grande-Rue à Cherbourg - Mouchel
Poissonnerie de la Grande-Rue de Cherbourg, Mouchel, 1836; currently at the Thomas Henry Museum

Sensier describes Mouchel as a curious character. A self-taught artist, he followed the neoclassical School of Jacques-Louis David. He began many large canvases but didn’t always finish them. On request of local clergy, he painted alter-pieces, which he then donated to the church.

Mouchel taught at his home-studio in a small valley on the edge of town, where he lived with his wife. He worked a garden beside a mill and had a pet pig whose language he understood and could speak. Sensier, less bold, writes, “pretended to understand” (emphasis mine).

As Millet’s tutor, he recognized genius in the young man and gave him free rein: “Draw what you like; choose anything of mine that you like to copy; follow your own inclination, and above all go to the Museum.” (Cartwright 33)

It was at the Thomas Henry Museum where a messenger found Jean-François to inform him of his father’s illness.

Months later, Millet returned to Cherbourg under another tutor. Théophile Langlois de Chévreville was a trained artist, student of Antoine-Jean Gros, also neoclassical. During his own studies, Langlois had traveled to Greece and Italy, a fact he made sure everyone knew. He was considered as Cherbourg’s best painter. Some years later, he would become a drawing professor at the town college.

Like Mouchel, seeing that he didn’t have much to teach the young man, Langlois gave his student much the same treatment as his predecessor. “Go to the Museum,” was a common refrain.

After less than a year, Langlois penned a letter to the Cherbourg town council to make Millet’s case. In the letter, he suggested that the town provide the promising artist with a scholarship to study in Paris. So confident was he in Millet’s talent, he dared to predict the future:

“Allow me, gentlemen, for once, to lift the veil of the future, and to promise you a place in the memory of mankind, if you help in this manner to endow our country with another great man.”

In January of 1837 with a Cherbourg scholarship of 600 francs, Jean-François Millet bid farewell to his mother and grandmother at Gruchy and rode by carriage to Paris.


Quoted dialog from Jean-François Millet, His Life and Letters by Julia Cartwright (London: Swan Sonnenshein & Co., 1896).

Biographical information from La vie et l’oeuvre de Jean-François Millet by Alfred Sensier (Paris: A. Quantin, 1881).

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