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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Guest Post: 1978 by Robert Louis Smith

I don't remember much about 1978; I was only in fifth grade. Much of what I do remember is spotty, like the fact that our TV set was a bulky piece of oak furniture with a bulbous gray screen in the middle. Back then, there were no remote controls, no cable or satellite television, and we got exactly three channels. We selected among them by turning a big silver dial on the front of the set, just above the shiny, gold fabric speaker covers. My dad always made one of the kids get up to turn the dial when he wanted to look for a different show. I remember other things from that long ago year, too. Like rotary-dial telephones, bell-bottom jeans (they always got caught in my bike chain), disco music, and my fifth grade library period with Mrs. Smith.

I really wasn't much of a student in those years, and, sadly, I made frequent trips to the principal's office. In 1978, there were few concerns about protecting a child's privacy. Whenever one's name was called for a trip to the office, the announcement came over the school's antiquated intercom system, and to the sadistic delight of virtually every child in the building. Those of us unlucky enough to have drawn the principal's ire were always called directly by name, for all to bear witness. These were somber affairs (I recognize it now as an effective form of intimidation). I remember these instances as utterly terrifying because, back then, a call to the principal's office meant only one thing: swats. And I must have gotten more than any kid in the whole school. I was such an unruly kid, in fact, that no one could ever figure out how Mrs. Smith, our withered, osteoporotic library teacher, always kept me so thoroughly leashed.

Mrs. Smith had curly, snow-white hair, pointy silver-rimmed spectacles, and shuffled along with a wooden cane. For a grade school librarian of the 1970's, she was straight out of central casting. She wore a different color polyester pantsuit every day of the week, and she rarely uttered a kind word. The walls of her library (which also doubled as the school cafeteria) were lined with children's books from ceiling to floor. Our job was to peruse the titles, choose one quickly, then shut up and read for an hour. For many of the children in my class, this was the longest, most miserable period of the day. For me, it was wonderful. The truth is that Mrs. Smith never had to say a word to me. I could've sat at that formica-covered table reading all day. 

Many, many golden nuggets lay hidden among the collection of dusty spines on those public school shelves: Encyclopedia Brown, The Hardy Boys, and Johnny Tremaine are among the titles I remember consuming that year. But these were not destined to stay with me like another I spotted one rainy afternoon. Though I found the title and cover of this new discovery quite strange, it intrigued me. Soon, I found myself mesmerized by a book that I would read over and over throughout the years of my life, and one that I remain fond of more than three decades later. It was called The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis, and it was the best introduction to the modern fantasy genre that a rambunctious, imaginative kid could ever hope for. For weeks, my mind danced with thoughts of fawns, Turkish delight, talking beavers, and creatures turned to stone by an evil white witch. A few years later, following the suggestion of a friend, I picked up a copy of the strange cousin to that Narnia tale, and began a new love affair with Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. These are the books that shaped my impression of what a fantasy story should be. Quite a high watermark. Over the years, I strayed from these tales, experimenting with new authors and genres. I even tried to recapture some of the magic by reading countless other fantasy tales (many of which I now regard as knock-offs). But like any true love, my heart always led back to Narnia and Middle Earth.

Somewhere in the middle of all this -- perhaps around the age of twelve -- I decided the course my life would take. I was going to be a writer. I wrote my first story in junior high, completing most of it during my English class while the other, more disciplined students fastidiously worked on whatever assignment the teacher had given that day. My debut story was about an old woman who captures the boy living next door to her, locks him in a pit, terrifies him, and later reveals that his whole life has been a sham, and that she is his real mother. I've no doubt that the story was just awful, but for me, it seemed somehow powerful. I wanted to get really good at the writing thing and give it a shot.

In time, perhaps thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. I turned out to be a capable student, after all, and eventually followed a long path that led me to medical school, and then into cardiology. Even so, I never abandoned the notion that someday I would write. When the time for me came, it was with those impactful memories of Narnia and Middle Earth still swirling in my head, and with hopes that I could create something wonderful, but not just another knock-off of those great writers of yore. This is how Antiquitas Lost was born. Please understand that I have no illusions of greatness. For a variety of reasons, the writings of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien will not be -- cannot be -- duplicated. And I really am no different than thousands of other fantasy writers who have aspired to create something as big as those novels were. I realize this very well. I only hope that, if you have the opportunity to make your way into Pangrelor (the fantasy world in Antiquitas Lost), you might find some escape from the stresses of life, enjoy meeting the fresh cast of characters, and experience a fraction of the magic that I first experienced back in 1978.


Robert Louis Smith, author of Antiquitas Lost: The Last of the Shamalans, has numerous degrees, including psychology (B.A.), applied microbiology (B.S.), anaerobic microbiology (M.Sc.), and a Medical Doctorate (M.D.). He serves as an interventional cardiologist at the Oklahoma Heart Institute. He is married and the father of two young children. He began writing Antiquitas Lost in 2003 while studying at Tulane University in New Orleans.

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