Titles by Gary Schmidt HON, Calvin English professor:
The Great Stone
of Donal O’Donnell
Straw into Gold
Gary Schmidt believes that fairy tales have a lot to say to us. “Folk tales or fairy tales speak to the deepest part of us,” he said. “They often address the spiritual concerns in our life.”
Because of his interest in these tales, Schmidt has incorporated them into the writing of three of his most recent books, The Great Stone Face, The Wonders of Donal O’Donnell and Straw into Gold.
He chose these particular tales because of their underlying messages, he said.
The Wonders of Donal O’Donnell is based on four Irish fairy tales, each about loss and recovery. Schmidt crafts the four tales into one story focusing on a husband and wife whose young son has died. Both deal with the grief by not talking about their son and eventually end up in a closed and unhappy world.
Their eyes are opened to the recovery of their young son’s memory through the tales of three peddlers who stop by on a cold evening.
“Because of these stories, they regain the ability to talk about their son and through their own stories are able to express their grief,” said Schmidt.
“What intrigued me so much about the Rumplestiltskin story is, why is he so eager to get that kid?” said Schmidt. “That question is never answered in the story.”
In Straw into Gold, Schmidt answers that question. “I take the gaps in a story and explore them,” he said.
Schmidt’s interpretation of that tale brings to light the desperation of a mother to protect her child. “It asks, ‘What would you do to protect your child? Would you do anything? Would you give up everything?’” he said.
A third tale, this time in picture book form, is a retelling of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Great Stone Face. “What really interested me about this story is the question of what makes a noble person. In this story none of the things that we are impressed by — money, military prowess, eloquence — are the things that make a person noble. In the end, it is simply a man who tends his fields, who is gentle and caring and raises his family well. That is the sign of the noblest man of the age,” said Schmidt.
This tale is based on legends surrounding the Old Man of the Mountain, the enduring symbol of the State of New Hampshire.
The natural rock formation, featured on the New Hampshire state quarter, collapsed on May 3, 2003, about a year after the release of Schmidt’s book.
Sales of the book went “through the roof” in the New England area immediately after the collapse, said Schmidt. “People wanted a way to hold on to it,” he said.
While fairy tales have drawn Schmidt’s attention in the past, he is now back to writing historical fiction. A young adult novel, Lizzie Bright and Buckminster Boy, based on the true story of an African-American community located on a island off the coast of Maine, is due to be released in June 2004.
Schmidt, an English professor and father of six, finds time to write because it’s what he loves. “I am so blessed because my writing ties so directly into my teaching,” he said. “It’s so easy to bring the writing into the classroom and vice versa. That really is a joy.”
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Religion as Social Capital:
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