Sunday, December 19, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: The Holly and the Ivy

I think we all go through phases of being in love with certain songs and wanting to dig out a story that makes sense of them. When I was in high school, I became haunted by the carol "The Holly and the Ivy," and the fact that though the ivy is part of the title, the holly got all the lines; in fact, it seems to be deliberately dissed in the opening verse:

The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.

So what is the ivy - chopped liver? Why'd you even bring it up if you were just going to rant on about how cool the holly is?

So I started blocking out a story, in which Holly and Ivy were fraternal twins, born on Christmas Eve. Holly was the dominant twin - the bright, pretty, popular one. Ivy was the one who trailed along after her cleaning up her messes. So Holly is the one who experiments with the grimoire and turns herself into a deer; and Ivy is the one who has to figure out how to break the spell, without making things worse.

And there's a lot of worse to get. To begin with, magic is a tricky thing, and they live in West Texas, where they're surrounded by people who believe in magic and that it is all of the devil. Ivy has no friendly neighborhood Wiccan to turn to, but can find plenty of people who think that by even asking questions about magic she's inviting the devil into her soul. I never solved the question of where the grimoire came from, but I did have a vague idea of a trickster figure who appeared in various guises - including attractive young man (hey, I was 15 or 16, and I wasn't Twilight fan material but I was human) - and who could steer her in the right direction if she could learn the delicate art of handling him for maximum benefit.

Another thing about the West Texas setting - it's getting on for Christmas, and that's hunting season. Holly is running around the ranch looking like a deer. Normally hunters prefer bucks, of course, but Holly makes a particularly clueless deer. She's too human to interpret what her animal senses tell her and make good decisions for her situation, but too animal to use her human knowledge base properly. And she's being destructive. If a doe is breaking into your barn and eating up your feed, knocking down your fences, and trampling the garden, and it's hunting season, yes, you're going to shoot her and eat her. If the city guys on the deer lease don't kill her, her own father and brothers will.

This strikes me now as the most interesting portion of the story, allowing me to deal realistically, through fantasy, with both interfamily politics and hunting culture. Nobody in my family hunts, but I've lived among too many hunters to buy into either the pro- or anti-hunting extremist rhetoric that is all one generally sees in media. Back when I originally conceived the story, though, this was a side thought, a way of generating time pressure for solving the main problem of how to turn Holly back. The spell reversal would involved the rising of the sun, the running of the deer, the playing of the merry organ, and sweet singing in the choir, but I never quite worked out how.

Nor - and this is why I never got far with it - could I figure out the ending. All right, Ivy turns Holly back into herself. How does this change their relationship? How did being a deer change Holly; how did rescuing her sister change Ivy? How much does Holly remember? What about that young handsome trickster? I have to know the end of a story before I start it, or I'll never finish it.

It also partook of that "November" feeling I mentioned last month; that cold and vaguely mystical feeling I had in West Texas winter. I think I lost my capacity to experience that sensation fully when my temporal lobes finished growing in; at least, I can't seem to recapture it now. So the time, if there ever was one, when I could have written this story would seem to be past.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

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