Dance of the Planets

I woke up very early last Thursday morning and padded out to the kitchen for a drink of water. As I stood at the sink and looked out the window, I had to blink in disbelief. Three bright stars were clearly visible in a tiny triangle. What’s more, as I looked closely, I realised they weren’t twinkling. They were planets.

Thrilled, I looked even more closely: yes, there was Venus and Mars, and… was it Jupiter? And was there a very faint fourth planet? Mercury or Saturn?

I hadn’t been aware there was a conjunction of planets coming up, so to see them so unexpectedly was a marvellous and utterly serendipitous treat. I was reminded of the Chronicles of Narnia.  In Prince Caspian, Dr Cornelius takes Caspian up a tower to view the salutation of the stars Tarva and Alambil as they greet each other in the Great Dance.

Inevitably, my thoughts turned to Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of CS Lewis, a wonderfully compelling investigation into the hidden code that author Michael Ward believes he has discovered in CS Lewis’ most famous work. Ward contends that each of the seven stories in the Chronicles of Narnia focuses on one of the seven planets of the medieval cosmos. His thesis is that behind the eclectic, almost chaotic mix of folklore, myth and legend, there is a grand orderly dance—an extraordinary synthesis of astronomy and literary allusion.

Ward makes a persuasive case. During the twenty years I coordinated Camp Narnia, there were several times when the team raised suspicions there was a hidden secret embedded in the stories. I remember a lengthy discussion after our herald, Karen, made the point there was a curious mistake in Caspian’s flag in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. We all agreed that Lewis was too astute a scholar to have made the error of placing heraldic ‘metal’ on ‘metal’: a golden sun on a white background. It was obviously a clue—but it was beyond our ability to decode it.

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The prologue and epilogue to John’s gospel are clearly defined literary sections. The opening, sometimes called the Hymn to the Logos, is composed of 496 syllables while the ending is 496 words in length. So far we’ve looked at five reasons why John might have chosen to highlight this number in order to make a persuasive and compelling ‘numerical literary’ apologetic. It might not impress the average post-modern thinker who grew up in a world where arithmetic and language are completely different subjects. However, even two millennia after it was written, its word-number fusion still retains enough of the ‘wow!’ factor to stop more than a few skeptics in their tracks.

So far we’ve looked at five reasons why John might have chosen to feature 496:

(1)   It’s a ‘perfect’ number.

(2)   It’s a ‘triangular’ number.

(3)   The mathematical structure recalls that of the Immanuel prophecy.

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Rosanne Hawke

Windy Hollow Books

Illustrated by Elizabeth Stanley

On the stair-steppe far away in Pakistan lives a girl of the Kalasha people who yearns for a snow leopard. Shazia’s dream comes true when she finds a lost cub in the forest. She names it Yardil, friend of my heart. But the villagers are troubled. Will their goats be safe when Yardil grows up?

Shazia’s father defends her. The leopard, he says, has been sent for a special purpose. It’s not long before the villagers discover what that purpose is.

Elizabeth Stanley’s charcoal illustrations with their occasional splashes of bright colour deftly evoke the harshness of mountain life on the northern frontier of Pakistan. The slate grey colouring brings out the silence of the steppe and the wild isolation of the mountain beyond the walnut grove.

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Boyz ‘r’ us


Scott Monk

Random House Australia

Mitch is surprised, playing truant from school, to find himself alone in the takeaway where the Thunderjets usually hang out. He’s even more surprised to find that the reason he’s alone is that the gang is down the park, eager for a fight he hasn’t been told about—a challenge for his leadership of the Thunderjets.

Brutal and ambitious, Barry Wheeler is stunned when Mitch turns up and refuses to fight. Mitch may not want to be involved with the gang anymore but Wheeler wants two things: revenge and respect. He can’t get either if Mitch simply hands him the leadership and walks away, intent on getting his life back on track. With ruthless cunning, Wheeler indulges in a spree of violence, blackmail and bribery to try to coerce Mitch back into the twilight underworld where fear rules. The more Mitch tries to distance himself from the drugs, fighting and drinking, the further he is drawn back into a world he starts to realise is about lonely, insecure kids yearning for power.

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Where Arrows Fly

WHERE ARROWS FLY: The Barn Chronicles II

Rosie Boom

HSM Publishing

The ordinary wraps itself in shimmering enchantment on the Boom’s farm in the far north of New Zealand. This real-life story is alight with a captivating glow. The land of Narnia seems to have mysteriously broken through from another dimension and, like one of the Celtic otherworldly ‘thin places’, touched the Boom’s fields and home with a bright, majestic dreaming.

In Where Lions Roar at Night, the first book in the Barn Chronicles, Milly comes to live in a ninety-year old barn with her parents, brothers and sisters. In the middle of the night, savage roars echo over the hill. So begins a time of settling into a farm where adventures are just waiting to happen.

A pervasive effervescent delight bubbles through both books, creating an atmosphere where simple pleasures become learning adventures and where accidents and disappointments are dealt with so sensitively that they have an air of mere light and momentary troubles.

Where Lions Roar at Night and Where Arrows Fly have been compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic Little House on the Prairie but that is to underestimate their sparkle, vivacity and contemporary relevance.

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With My Knife


Andrew Lansdown


The day before his birthday, Colyn finds a knife in a potato patch. The blade is black and the handle has a design of a circle with a tapering triangle inside.  His dad remembers losing it when he was a boy. But it looks as if it has been regularly polished. And the cutting edge—well, there’s something mysterious about it. Why do potatoes turn to stone as Colyn finishes peeling them? And did the piece of wood he whittled really bark when he threw his failed carving of a dog into the fire?

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BORDERLAND ~ A Trilogy: Re–entry —  Jihad —  Cameleer

Rosanne Hawke

Lothian Books

The thread stitching these three stories together is the character of Jaime Richards, an Australian girl brought up in Pakistan. In Re-entry, she experiences an unexpected homesickness for her adopted country and a deep sense of dislocation as her family relocate back to Australia. Everything is strange and she feels both confusion and loss as the awkwardness of adolescence vies with the awkwardness that comes from cultural ignorance.

To express her feelings, Jaime begins to write a journal but it soon becomes a flight of romantic fancy. Her teacher astutely identifies the mysterious stranger in it as an idealised personification of Pakistan itself.

As she slowly begins to unravel the mysterious language cues of her own culture, real friendships start to develop. Danny and Blake both come from a background of colliding cultures and are able to help her come to terms with her mixture of feelings.

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Potato Music


Christina Booth

Omnibus Books

Illustrated by Pete Groves

Luminous, lyrical, soul-warming, heart-gladdening.

The colour of music dances from the piano keys to Mama’s fingers and twirls out into the front room. ‘It helps keep our dreams and hopes alive,’ says Pa, as he dances me off to bed on his shoes.

War comes but the music doesn’t cease. Pa dances ever more slowly, however. Food grows scarce. The music goes on, covering the scream of planes overhead. Boots tramp by outside. Ma and Pa skip meals as food becomes an increasing rarity. Pa’s dance is slower still.

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Red Alert


Dale Harcombe  

Wendy Pye Publishing

Illustrated by Jennifer Cooper


Cassandra just loves camping.  Her mum doesn’t.  

Cassandra just loves challenges.  Her mum doesn’t.  

Cassandra’s just dying to go on the mother-daughter three-day camp.  Her mother isn’t.  

A-tishoo! Red Alert is a truly delightful tickle of a story about a reluctant mum willing to put up with all the things she hates for her daughter’s sake. A-tishoo! It’s the story of a girl with spunk and a raring-to-go attitude. A-tishoo! But mainly it’s the story of a girl whose mum can’t stop sneezing or reaching for the tissues. A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

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Traditionally the last words of John the beloved disciple were ‘Little children, love one another.’ It seems a likely story because, after all, he says just that so often in his epistles.

However, it’s worth remembering that Jesus gave him and his brother James the nickname Boanerges, usually translated Sons of Thunder, but perhaps more correctly rendered sons of rage.  So the story that he grabbed his clothes and fled the public baths when he realised the Gnostic teacher Cerinthus was in the same building, just in case God’s wrath was about the turn the place to a cinder, is not altogether far-fetched.

The gospel of John was, in the second century, of uncertain status. Helms points out that some Christians believed it had been written by the apostle as an anti-gnostic anti-Cerinthian work while others considered it had been written by Cerinthus himself!

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How Sweet the Sound


Meredith Resce

Golden Grain Publishing

Parable, fantasy, romance, allegory: How Sweet the Sound defies categorisation into any tidy or specific box. It is light without being frothy, tender without being syrupy, otherworldly without being unnatural, symbolic without being incomprehensible. Its footprints touch the ground nimbly in a number of genres without planting themselves firmly in any of them.

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It’s not particularly difficult to write in numerical literary style. The last three posts in this series were about the significance of the number 496, so naturally they were all 496 words long. It’s as simple as that to make a start.

One day, I’d like to emulate my hero—the author of the fourteenth century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight—but I’ve a very long way to go before I reach the exalted heights of numerical artifice he achieved.

Numerical literary style has its detractors. They come in various ilks. Some critics agree that some ancient texts show a mathematical architecture, but think the motive is numerological. Others simply deny outright that any premeditated arithmetic design exists, preferring to explain away structural details as scribal error. ‘Why would anyone,’ they scoff, ‘mix words and numbers?  Why would anyone restrict the creative impulse by confining themselves to a rigid mathematical framework?’

I’d like to try these questions on a Japanese master of haiku, the 17-syllable poem of three lines in a 5-7-5 pattern. Behind the blank inscrutable stare I’d get, I’m sure there’d be the incredulous thought: ‘Don’t you get it? A true craftsman doesn’t find strict form a restraint, but freedom.’

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