BRATTLEBORO—Follow your dream. If you don’t, there are consequences, “especially if they’re dictated by the gods,” said author Willem Lange.
Lange will read from his new work, A Dream of Dragons, illustrated by Vermont artist and Caldecott medalist Mary Azarian on Thursday, June 9 at Everyone’s Books on Elliot Street.
Lange’s commentaries are heard regularly on Vermont Public Radio and he writes a column for the Rutland Herald. He has also authored eight books. including Favor Johnson: A Christmas Story.
The reading had originally been scheduled for The Book Cellar, which as been closed since the Brooks House fire on April 17.
A Dream of Dragons marks Lange’s first poetry book. It is a story of love, exploration, and the doom awaiting those who ignore their destiny.
“It was one of those to-die-for stories,” said Lange of the genesis of his eighth book, which was written in a canvas-walled tent 56 years ago,
Dragons grew out of a story the then-20-year-old Lange heard while working in a New York quarry in the summer of 1955.
Lange, who lives in East Montpelier, heard main character Martin’s story from Martin’s wife, Lottie.
Lottie told Lange how her young husband had been struck by lightning.
“Well, how do you let that go?” asked the writer.
He wrote Martin’s saga down and promptly stashed it in a drawer for over 50 years.
The “about 50-percent factual” story weaves the facts of Martin’s life with Norse mythology and Lange’s own “blurring of the characters’ lives.”
One of Lange’s favorite Norse gods, the one-eyed Odin, makes an appearance as an old beggar at the door of a Norwegian farm. The Norse fates, the Norns, which rule the destiny of gods and humans, hold tight the threads of the characters’ lives.
The epic poem Dragons, written in blank verse, begins in 1894 in Norway with Martin’s father, Olav Eriksson.
Olav dreamed of a life beyond the family farm.
“Olav the Dreamer” fancied he could hear voices beyond the horizon. Finally, he heeded the dragon’s call and sailed a small fisherman-built ship from Norway to Canada.
Olav’s fate soured when he ignored the dragon’s song to marry Marie in the French-Canadian village Lac St. Pierre.
Martin survived his father’s deadly mistake. A French-Canadian family took him in, renaming him Martin Gariepy.
At age 10, Martin saw something in the sky that “shimmered.” He stole a boat and navigated south beyond his boundaries.
The dragon’s song led a teenaged Martin to a dilapidated New York farm.
Lottie, 20 years his senior and then-wife to a drunken farmer, took Martin in. Martin grew into a man who could carry four bags of grain (400 pounds) twice around the village green.
Lottie and Martin eventually recognized love over their morning oatmeal.
Martin settled. The Norns sent lightning to settle the score.
A challenge to readers
“Everything is working its way to ultimate doom,” said Lange of the Viking sense of tragedy that infuses Dragons.
Lange said his favorite verse of the story is when Olav steers his boat toward the horizon and setting sun. Lange said that moment when a person commits to striking out is “exciting.”
Lange was nursing a broken heart emptied by the love he thought would last the rest of his life the summer he heard Martin’s story. He wrote the poem at their campsite on a homemade desk.
(His buddy wasn’t satisfied with a “simple campsite,” said Lange.)
Lange jokes that his wife, Ida, is holding out for the Dream of Dragons movie. He also says that Ida teases him by saying that early in their romance, she fell in love with Dragons before she fell in love with him. The couple married in 1959.
Ida has urged Lange for years to publish Dragons, he said.
Lange said he finally pulled the saga from the file cabinet because “it was time.”
Poetry, he said, has “always been there one way or another.”
Lange said he remembers writing “la, la, la” poetry as early as 1939 on prescription pads in the back of his grandfather’s pharmacy.
“Lange is a storyteller par excellence,” said Ib Bellew, publisher at Bunker Hill Publishing, an independent publishing house in New Hampshire that specializes in books on the arts, photography, science, and history, as well as children’s titles.
Bellew said Lange’s skill as a storyteller and local following contributed to Bunker Hill’s decision to step outside its normal subjects and publish an epic poem.
The challenge with publishing poetry is readers’ openness to reading it, said Bellew.
Also, Bellew said, Lange is not widely known as a poet.
Bunker Hill has sold about half of its 1,500-copy first printing , Bellew said.
Dragons marks Lange and Azarian’s first book collaboration. Azarian, of Plainfield, said she illustrated some of Lange’s columns for a newspaper in 1982.
“They were fun,” she said.
Azarian, who said her illustration of Odin as the old beggar is her favorite, creates her illustrations using woodcut prints. Her alphabet images graced the walls of many Vermont K-3 grade classrooms. She has also illustrated more than 50 books, including Snowflake Bentley, written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin, which won the the Caldecott Award for the best illustrated picture book of 1999.
Azarian said Dragons struck her as “such a compelling story” that it was hard for her to cut down the number of illustrations she wanted to make to the final six that appear in the book.
Living by impulse
Azarian and Lange shared their own responses to the times in their life where fate showed its hand.
Azarian said she has found it’s best for her not to force big life decisions.
“I slide my way through,” she said.
“I tend to be impetuous,” said Lange. “The longer you wait, the colder the water will be.”
In 1959, he said, he “impetuously” jumped out of a dirty work site to chase a passing woman. The woman was Ida.
Lange thinks following that impulse worked out well.