Sunday, March 13, 2016

“The Boy From The Mountains Beyond”

Lynn Elliott, playwright and Professor Emeritus of English and Creative Writing at Chico State University, published a sweet tale in 2010 that only recently came to my attention. With illustrations by former Chico State student Luis A. Santos, the book is the story of Roye, “the master toymaker,” who finds a most unlikely protégé.

In “The Boy From The Mountains Beyond” ($10.95 in paperback from Stansbury Publishing), Roye remembers when travelers would stop and marvel at the toys: “Wooden rocking horses, … puzzles that covered the floor, and puppets of all shapes and sizes—all were bought in my toyshop and placed in the wagons that followed the carriages.”

And more memories: “After evening prayers in the Carmelite Convent on the hill, some of nuns stole down to the village and peeked through the window of my shop. They giggled as the flickering candles danced over the wooden spinning tops. … Then, while the children of the village slept on Christmas Eve, I stopped at every home and placed a special toy for each child beneath the Christmas tree.”

Now, though, the shop is empty. Roye’s fingers have become unusable since he threw a village child to safety as a wagon hurled down a hill and ran over his hands. Roye and his daughter Claire, cared for by the nuns after Claire’s mother died in childbirth, face an uncertain future--though Claire’s exquisite singing brightens the hearts of everyone.

But one November day Claire disappears into the woods and Roye sets out to find her. He sees her half-empty basket. “Beside it I saw Claire’s footprints in the snow. Then my heart froze. Next to Claire’s footprints were the unmistakable paw prints of a wolf forcing her forward into the forest.”

But the yellow-eyed wolf is a guardian, shielding a small boy who had run into the woods to escape a war that had taken his parents. The boy, Trystan by name, is carried into town, and, as time passes, wouldn’t you know it? He shows great dexterity with his hands, cutting and chiseling wood as Roye guides him. You can practically feel the joy, and the gift of the wolf.

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