I had been hard at work for hours on end, composing my next blog post, and I may have dozed off at my computer. The next thing I knew, my elven cleric was shaking me, as if to wake me from a deep slumber.
“Huh?” I tried to focus. “What time is it?”
“It is about 2 o’clock, Mistress,” she replied, ever so politely.
“Two in the morning?” I tried to figure where the time could have gone. It hadn’t even been lunchtime when I had started working on my blog.
“No, Mistress,” my cleric replied, trying to suppress a giggle. “Two hours past noonday.”
“Huh? Two in the afternoon? Then what are you doing here? You rarely visit in the daylight hours.” I shook my head, trying to clear the cobwebs. “And why are you calling me Mistress?”
“I thought it fitting to engage more formal comportment, Mistress, as we have company.”
“Company?” I started to sweat, remembering the company we had entertained the previous week.
“Oh, do not fret, Mistress,” my cleric replied. “Today’s company will be most welcome, I am sure.” As she spoke, she nodded toward the doorway. “Mistress, may I present Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm. Sir Oliver, this is my mistress, whom you may address as Marge.”
I looked toward the doorway, and was pleasantly surprised to see a large, elegant Old English Sheepdog standing there.
“Sir Oliver? Would you be author James Stack’s companion, Ollie?” I smiled broadly.
“Indeed, I would!” my visitor replied. “And you would be the fantasy writer who is regularly plagued by her own characters?”
I nodded in response. My elven cleric blushed furiously.
“If you have no further need of me, Mistress, I will leave you with your guest.” She flounced out of the room without waiting for a reply. I snickered at her retreating back.
“So, Ollie, what brings you to my humble abode?” I motioned him into the room, and offered him my best chair.
“If it’s all the same to you, Marge, could we take a walk in your garden while we talk?”
“Of course!” I showed Ollie the way to the French doors to the garden, then allowed him to take the lead, both in the walk and in the conversation.
He took his time sniffing around. He quivered as he caught the scent of the numerous rabbits, squirrels and chipmunks that scampered through my yard every day. “I need to visit here more often!” he said, with a goofy Sheepdog grin.
After exploring the garden, Ollie sat down and gave me a serious look. “Marge, may I ask you about your characters?”
“Of course, what would you like to know?”
“Well, James said something strange the other day about your characters. He said that someone was batting your dragon around, bouncing him off walls like a handball. He said he couldn’t imagine a dragon being used as a ball, and, quite frankly, neither can I. Can you explain that?”
I considered his question.
“Well, Ollie, first of all, do you believe in dragons?”
He looked at me with his soulful puppy-dog eyes, as if trying to decide what I wanted him to say. “I don’t think so, Marge. I think they are what James would call fic…fict…er, make-believe.” He wiggled his backside and his little bobbed tail tentatively, hoping, I suppose, that he had not offended me.
“You’re right, Ollie,” I reassured him. “Dragons are make-believe.”
“Then, no one was really bouncing a dragon around like a ball?”
“Yes, someone was.”
Ollie woofed in frustration. “But you said dragons don’t exist.”
“They don’t, Ollie. Not really.”
“Then…then…how could anyone bounce one around like a ball?”
“It involves something called suspended disbelief, Ollie.”
The dog cocked his magnificent head and looked at me as if I were speaking human.
I explained. “When you read non-fiction – that is, something that is real, like a newspaper article, or a biography – you trust that the people and situations in the story are as real as you are. When you read fiction – that is, something that is make-believe – you have to treat the story as if it could be real. You put away your disbelief for a time, and accept the characters and situations in the book as being real.”
“But that does not make them real.” Ollie looked totally confused.
“No, but it makes the story more enjoyable.”
The poor dog almost whimpered in his effort to understand.
I tried again. “How could you enjoy a story if you were constantly saying, ‘That can’t be true. People can’t fly! Unicorns don’t exist. Dragons can’t become small enough to be used as a ball.’?”
“I think I understand, Marge. I will have to try to explain it to James. I know he will be interested. Can you give me more information on this…this…”
“Suspension of disbelief,” I prompted him.
“Yes,” he replied with a grateful sigh.
“Well, the term was coined by a writer and poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in reference to drama. Coleridge called drama ‘that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith …’”
“Drama?” Ollie asked, scratching behind his ear.
“Plays. Stage productions. But the term is relevant to any creative work. My writing involves a medieval world where magic exists. The world I created is populated by many make-believe creatures, such as my shape-shifting dragon. But, in that world, in the pages of my books, they are real. And when you read my books, you need to approach them as if they were, truly, real. You need to suspend your disbelief.”
“I understand now!” Ollie yipped for joy, and ran in circles for a few seconds. Then he became serious again. “Marge?”
“Can I meet your dragon? I think I’d like to play ball with him.”
We heard an indignant snort coming from behind the lilac bush. Ollie raced toward the sound, mouth open and tongue lolling in a big puppy-dog grin. I raced after him, hoping to avert a tragedy. I did not want to have to explain to James how my imaginary shape-shifting dragon had incinerated his beloved Ollie.
I would like to thank author and #platchal friend James Stack for the loan of his wonderful Old English Sheepdog, Sir Oliver of Skygate Farm, or Ollie, as he prefers to be called. Be sure to check out their excellent blog here: http://siroliverofskygatefarm.com/
James Stack’s memoir, WORLD’S FAIR, was serialized on The Huffington Post in 2012, and his blog, “Postcards From Lebanon,” about his experience with chemotherapy, appeared on The Huffington Post during 2013/2014. Published in 2013, his memoir and a collection of poetry, PLEASURES & SEASONS OF VERMONT, are available on Amazon.com. His poems have appeared in the Maine Review (Grand Prize winner), Ash & Bones and as part of the 22nd Annual Artists Embassy International’s Dancing Poetry Festival. One of his short stories was a semifinalist in the New Millennium Writings.
You can follow James Stack on social media: https://twitter.com/SkygateStack and https://www.facebook.com/JamesStackAuthor/?fref=ts