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Monday, June 10, 2013

pop-we Reviews Clinton Festa's Ancient Canada

When Jorge Mario Bergoglio who is known for his humility and compassion chose the papal name Francis in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, I thought of my friend Clinton Festa. After all, he patterned the amiable and gentle Lichen with him in mind for his fantasy and paranormal novel, Ancient Canada

In addition to weaving philosophies of St. Francis of Assisi into his novel, Festa has seeds of other philosophies embedded throughout the book. This cerebral adventure where the flora, fauna and histories are vividly described is a real page-turner. As much as I wanted to see if everything would work out in the end, part of me did not want my journey to end. Rather than recycle plots and commonly used fantasy creatures, he developed all of his characters. Even their supernatural powers are straight from his imagination.  The format of the chapters is also unique but you have to read to almost the end to find out why this is significant. Festa is a pilot by profession and the influence of his trade is evident in the book. Each chapter is packed with information to ponder. Fortunately, the author is accessible by email to answer any questions. While I have enjoyed his willingness to explain the background and even symbolism of the novel, there are some aspects that I prefer just to speculate about at this time.

Festa has shared the following (shown in italics below) about the writing process of Ancient Canada and how he was influenced by St. Francis of Assisi.

If reading an epic is a journey, writing one is an Odyssey. There are countless directions to choose, research to do, and fates to decide. Lichen is a character that would teach the main characters of Ancient Canada, Marigold and Lavender, an entire worldview. Successful epic fiction creates its own immersive universe with original cultures, language, games, history, and geography. 

Shortly after moving to the capital of York, Lavender and Marigold are exiled by Polaris, the political and religious leader of their alternate Canada. They are thrown into the wilderness where they encounter a creature called the Lichen, a large hermit made up of a series of rocks and parched plants.  The Lichen serves an important role as the springboard to the epic. Sisters Lavender and Marigold don’t know where to go or what to do. They don’t yet know they’re about to begin their journey, but they know they've been rejected by the leader of the faith that formed them. From a writing standpoint, their encounter with the Lichen needed to replace old beliefs with new ones that they would rely on for their travels.

Initially, I thought the right thing to do as a fantasy writer would be to create an original set of beliefs.  Thankfully, I never even tried. While life was happening on the side, I was discovering Francis of Assisi through my church, St. Francis, run by Franciscans. Growing up I of course had heard of him, but thought of Francis as the guy who talked with furry animals. Those stories were perhaps good for a child, but obscured the level of voluntary suffering he endured for poverty and justice. I didn't realize he was a man who walked barefoot in the snow because not everyone could afford sandals, and he therefore considered owning them an offense to the poor. If the way you live your life is an art form, he was the one of the greatest artists in history. I found a world of inspiration, and the Lichen became based on Francis. I was very grateful it worked this way. The themes dovetailed perfectly with the rest of the story, and I became the one-trillionth writer or artist to be inspired by Francis.

If Ancient Canada withered on the vine and were read by none, I would have still been very fortunate to find a deep well of inspiration and wisdom through the writing process, which is a research process.  If one or more people read it and discover St. Francis through the story, they’ll enter a lineage that includes Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. among countless other men, women, and probably a few furry animals.

I was raised Catholic and attended parochial schools, yet St. Francis of Assisi is one of the few saints that I am familiar. It sounds like my initial impressions were similar to Festa's. I do feel an affinity towards St. Francis of Assisi especially since my grandfather lived for the last two years of his life in the welcoming environment of New Cassel Retirement Center in Omaha, which is affiliated with the School Sisters of St. Francis who embrace the saint’s teachings. I am grateful to Festa for opening my eyes to more of St. Francis of Assisi’s teachings and so much more.

In closing, I would like to share the following quotes by St. Francis of Assisi, which also embody his values.

1.  "For it is in giving that we receive."

2. "If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

3. "We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way."

4. "Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where these is hatred, let me sow love."

5. "It would be considered a theft on our part if we didn't give to someone in greater need than we are."

6. "Each one should confidently make known his need to the other, so that he might find what he needs and minister to him. And each one should love and care for his brother in all those things in which God will give him grace, as a mother loves and cares for her son."

7. "Even though I had committed but one little sin, I should have ample reason to repent of it all my life."

- population-we blog post by Barb Bohan
© 2013 population-we, LLC
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1 comment:

  1. Barb: Thanks for the book review! Sounds like an adventurous tale -- I’m a true sci-fi fan and can’t wait to sink my teeth into this book.