Chapter One: Lute Meets Literary Ghosts in the Tragic Kingdom

 All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. [And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

Ephesians 4:31-32 (NABRE)

 

Several years before the Matterhorn finished its non-tectonic rise above the plains of Anaheim and even before the year the magic kingdom opened for business, Mr. and Mrs. Dodgson gave birth to their third child, their first boy, Lutwidge. Friends and family called him Lute (his sisters would call the infant, Cute Lute! More recently they’d simply say: cute, Lute). He was born in 1951, a year in which the kingdom’s creator possibly conceived of his grand plan.

The Dodgson’s first visit to the park took place in 1961. A year by which time the amusement park ran smoothly, happily exceeding all aspirational imitators with its Matterhorn Bobsleds, Monorail, and Submarine Voyage. Teenagers especially appreciated the addition of a thrill ride. Lute’s eldest sister was a teenager and the second eldest had ambitions in that direction. On the other hand, by the year of 1961 (its flip-ability Mad Magazine announced on a cover) ten year old Lute liked to read ghost stories and fantasy books (Lovecraft, for instance) and write original (not derivative) stories featuring his older sisters cast as ugly and evil witches. His teacher judged Lute to be a gifted daydreamer who put far too much effort into writing vivid descriptions (lots of adjectives and asides) of two wicked and appallingly ugly teenage witches meeting their excruciatingly painful but well deserved demise.

One smoggy summer morning, July 4th to be exact, the Dodgson family traveled in a station wagon to the magic kingdom – actually, to the kingdom’s parking lot – and parked in Peter Pan row.

“It’s going to be hot,” said his dad.

“And really crowded,” said his eldest sister.

“Here comes the tram!” shouted Lute.

“Remember: Peter Pan row,” said his second eldest sister.

The tram dropped them off at the main gates. They became the end of the ticket line. Dad bought six ticket books, and gave each child – except Lute’s youngest sister – a ticket book. His older sisters opened theirs to read aloud what rides each of the five alphabetic letters permitted a ticket holder. At the turnstile line, the children lined up in front of their parents and – except for the youngest – each handed an entry ticket to the uniformed ticket taker whose name badge stated, “J. M. Barrie”.

Lute’s older sisters led the family through the railroad underpass where Lute tried to read each travel-like poster: Matterhorn Bobsleds, Monorail, Submarines… quickly since his sisters were in a hurry to get in line for the Matterhorn. He barely had time to read the last poster’s title, “Ghosts of Authors Past”. From which, he glimpsed, out of the corner of his eye, one of the authors winking at him.

The morning, if we can skip the waiting in line parts, consisted of riding briefly an E-ticket ride, getting off or out, running to the next line for an E-ticket ride, eventually riding that, and then… Lute’s little sister demanded to board a Storybook Land Canal Boat.

“But that’s only a C-ticket ride,” protested Lute’s second eldest sister.

“All the cute boys are standing in line for the E-ticket rides,” argued his eldest sister.

Protests and self-serving arguments aside, it was time for lunch. Fritos and Mexican food became the two sisters’ new demand. So, the Dodgsons walked out of Fantasyland, across the central hub plaza, through the Frontier Fort gates, and into Frontierland where Lute partially ate, for the first time in his life, a taco. His sisters had dared him to put on three packets of taco sauce, and so he tore open four packets and disdainfully squirted the contents onto his taco.

“Look!” shouted his second eldest sister, “It’s Fess Parker!”

“Where?” exclaimed Lute who took his eyes off his taco to search the motley throng passing by the Casa de Taco. Too bad for him. His eldest sister, the teenager, had opened several more packets and quickly squirted as many as she could into the untouched food item. “Too slow, you missed him.”

While his parents continued to watch the Mexican dancer and musicians, his sisters closely watched Lute take his first bite, a small one, from one end of the folded tortilla. He chewed and his face made his “not bad” expression.

“Take a bigger bite, you little chicken,” said the eldest.

Lute put the taco well into his mouth and took a fearsome bite. He chewed his mouthful two chews. His eyes grew wide and with an audible gulp he swallowed. But the fire remained burning in his mouth.

“Ulp.”

“He’s going to barf!” shouted his second eldest sister.

Lute jumped up. Unfortunately, the air space just above his head was occupied by a Hasselblad movie camera a park visitor was trying to maneuver between the crowded tables. Lute collapsed, unconscious.

“He’s okay.” A man’s voice – kind of like a television doctor from the show his parents watched – sounded above his shut-eyed head. Lute opened his eyes. It wasn’t Ben Casey. It was a man dressed in pure white ancient Greek style robes. “Can you stand up?”

Lute said, “I think so.” He sat up and then stood. He shook his head because that’s what he’d seen people do on TV after they came to. He looked around. Panic rising, his eyes searched for his family. They were nowhere in sight; not lost in the crowd because there was no crowd. The nearly deserted Casa de Fritos held an eerie silence. Surrounding him were three boys and three girls, each beautiful even beyond a child’s natural beauty. Like the man, they each wore a pure white robe. Lute, though still worried about the whereabouts of his family, couldn’t help but wonder what land they came from.

“He’s fine, Dr. Asclepius,” said a man standing behind him. Lute turned around and was relieved to see that the voice belonged to the ticket taker, J. M. Barrie, who at least wore a recognizable ticket taker costume.

“Here, you little gods and goddesses,” Mr. Barrie said to the six in white robes, “Walt never bought your story. Run along now and play with the other character ghosts.”

“Where’s my family?” asked Lute who was also a bit curious about where all the other leisure wearing park visitors had disappeared to, and why was it twilight when he’d just finished lunch.

“Let me assure you they’re fine,” said Mr. Barrie. “They’re waiting for you in another dimension. For the time being, you’re stuck in our realm, the kingdom of authorial ghosts.”

Lute was old enough to know when a classmate was telling a… a tall tale to put it politely, and he was just old enough to know that some grownups told untruths. His scrunched-up face plainly expressed his doubt. Mr. Barrie sighed and said, “Okay, do you want the Tomorrowland explanation or do you want the Fantasyland one?”

“I don’t want either. I want my family.”

“Like I said, they’re fine and you’re fine. You just have to figure out a way to get back to them.”

“Like in The Wizard of Oz?”

“Shh, old Baum’s story wasn’t bought by Walt – it’s a MGM flick, you know. But I think Mr. Baum is hanging out around here anyway, somewhere. Maybe we’ll run into him.”

Lute thought to himself, “Okay, it’s a dream and I’ll wake up sooner or later.” He looked around and thought with pleasure, “It’s kind of nice without so many people crowding up the place.” Not wishing to be impolite, but determined to do something useful in the effort to reunite with his family, Lute began walking away from the two costumed men.

“Hey! Where’re you going?” asked Mr. Barrie.

“To the aid-station, it’s near the entrance. Dad said to go there if I get lost or something.”

“Under ordinary circumstances, that would be good advice. Hang on, I’ll accompany you and explain the inexplicable.”

They walked in silence. Not just theirs, but also the silence of so few park visitors haunting the place. Even the rides operated soundlessly. Not a single rider screamed as the bobsleds sped down the mountain. The twilight added to the eerily calm. When they had reached the central plaza of the magical kingdom, Mr. Barrie halted and looked down at little Lute.

“So which explanation do you want?” asked Mr. Barrie. “The Tomorrowland one or the Fantasyland one?”

“The Fantasyland one, I guess.”

“You know how supermarkets give out prizes to the ten-thousandth person to walk into the store? Well, when your father bought your ticket book, he just happened to give you the umpteenth one and you won the magical prize.”

“That’s silly,” said Lute rather crossly.

“Okay, how about the Tomorrowland one? Occasionally there are rips in the fabric of the space-time continuum and one just happened to form outside of the Casa de Fritos. Now, if we could just find a flux capacitor we might be able to…”

“Ce n’est pas croyable,” said man dressed in Belle Epoch clothes. “Who, in the future, is going to believe that pseudo-scientific goobly-gook?”

“Jules!” shouted Mr. Barrie. “Just the man. Lute, I want you to meet Mr. Verne.”

“Hello,” said Lute while wondering why the man’s name rang familiar.

“Enchanté,” replied Mr. Verne. “So, enlighten me, little boy: You’re not a ghost?”

Lute shook his head and silently hoped he was right.

“And you’ve magically appeared in our kingdom of authorial ghosts.”

“What’s ‘authorial’?” asked Lute.

“Most of the ghosts here were authors,” answered Mr. Barrie. “The ones that aren’t ghosts are figments of our imaginations. Some of the authors hate running into them.”

“Quel dommage!” said Mr. Verne. “Too bad for them, I say. They shouldn’t have invented a character they don’t want to socialize with.”

“I’m not a ghost, and I’m not imaginary. I just want to go home.”

A man sitting on a nearby bench, his downcast face in his hands, looked up, looked at Lute and said, “Try clicking your heels together three times and saying…”

“He’s wearing Keds, Frank,” said Mr. Barrie. “Gum shoes don’t click.”

“Well, I’m going to the lost kid place. They’ll help me.”

“Afraid not, that facility, a lost and found, doesn’t exist in our realm. Because – and I quote my esteemed friend, Charles – ghosts by definition can’t be lost, because, quite simply, they can’t be found.” Mr. Barrie said this and Mr. Verne nodded his head in agreement.

Lute sat on the bench next to the head hanging down Mr. Baum, and he, too, leaned well forward to put his discouraged head into his hands. Mr. Verne and Mr. Barrie stood in front of him, the latter deep in thought as he pulled on his moustache.

“I know!” said Mr. Barrie. “Let’s retrace your steps! Let’s walk back in time down Main Street.”

“What good would that do?” asked Lute not looking up.

“A trip down memory lane,” said Mr. Barrie. “It’ll be like going back in time. Maybe if you go back far enough you’ll find an identical rip in the space-time fabric floating about like a time traveling fairy.”

“Incroyable,” muttered Mr. Verne. “I take my leave.”

“Where’s he going?” asked Lute.

“Oh, probably to the Twenty-thousand Leagues under the Sea Exhibit to cheer up Captain Nemo,” replied Mr. Barrie. “The old salt has been feeling a bit left out ever since the Submarine rides opened and he wasn’t invited to skipper one of the boats. Come on, let us begin our stroll. The storefront lights always look so cheery in the twilight.”

Lute left the bench and the inconsolable Mr. Baum and began walking abreast of the author who, somehow and for some unknown reason, now appeared dressed in Edwardian formal evening wear. Mr. Barrie halted and looked back. Lute did too. There was nothing to be seen except the tiny white lights that decorated the plaza trees and beyond that the colored spotlights on Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Puzzled, Lute looked up at Mr. Barrie who after a moment felt the boy’s stare and said, “Oh, beg your pardon. I was hoping that a creation of mine might be of a mood to join us. She’s a tiny thing, almost impossible to see. Wait a minute, there she is. See her?”

Lute stared in the direction that Mr. Barrie pointed, but couldn’t see anything but the tiny lights in the trees – except one of the lights appeared to be moving toward them. Then like a miniature hummingbird it flitted overhead.

“Perfect, I’m glad you’ve showed up,” said Mr. Barrie. “Okay, now, do the boy a favor, and sprinkle some of your pixie dust on his head.”

Tiny sparkles descended on Lute’s head. He felt nothing different, but upon looking down, discovered that he was floating two inches above the ground. Mr. Barrie stroked his chin and looked doubtful.

“Hmm, that’s it? Well, it’s not a science.”

Lute regarded the man for several seconds, a realization slowly building in his mind, one that crowded out his abject longing to go home. He blurted out, “You’re the guy who wrote…”

“Yes, it’s yours truly, J. M. Barrie, author of Sentimental Tommy, The Admirable Crichton, and The Little White Bird.” Not seeing on Lute’s blank face delighted recognition, he sighed and said, “Very well, Peter Pan. Now, come along, laddie, we need to find something that answers better than pixie dust.”

Lute moved one foot forward – the way people unthinkingly do when they start to walk – but his foot only slipped back. Mr. Barrie looked down at the dismayed boy. “But of course, you’ve no traction. However, even though you float so low, can you fly?”

“I don’t think so.” Lute moved his arms through the air as if he were swimming through water, but his body remained in one place.

“Are you thinking happy thoughts?”

“Not really,” said Lute.

“Doesn’t matter, Peter was just trifling with the Darling children when he told them that.” Mr. Barrie took out his chained pocket watch and handed the watch to Lute while he held on to the other end of the chain. In this fashion, he towed Lute along the street. “Don’t worry, the pixie dust will wear off in a little while.”

Main Street, though charmingly pretty with all the stores outlined by strings of white light bulbs and its store windows lit up with colorful displays and dioramas, didn’t buzz with excited activity. Quite the opposite. A few dark figures walked along the sidewalks. The horse, slowly and steadily drawing the trolley along the rails in the street, made no clip-clopping sound with its large hooves. A block away a train noiselessly pulled into the train station at the head of the street. No speaker announced its arrival.

After going through the railroad track underpass tunnel, they continued onto the long row of turnstiles.

“That is where I first noticed you,” said Mr. Barrie pointing to an empty turnstile.

“Aren’t they going to let in more ghosts?” asked Lute.

“Not that many authors die every day, that is to say, not successful ones, precious few. All the ones who were my friends have long since died and come across. But, goodbye to all that, for now we shall retrace your steps.”

“We walked through that left tunnel,” said Lute as Mr. Barrie pulled him like a balloon in that direction. “And there was a weird poster on the tunnel wall, and you were in it, and you winked at me, but it’s not here now.”

“Understandably.”

Outside of the tunnel Mr. Barrie pulled Lute onto the deserted street encircling the flagpole plaza. At the other end of Main Street, Sleeping Beauty’s castle basked in its colored lights. Main Street glowed in its white light outlines. But over to their left, by the fire engine house, the street lights dimmed, flickered, and gave little illumination. A shadowy figure wearing a trench coat leaned against the red brick wall of the firehouse.

“Psst, over here.”

They turned to face him. Lute felt apprehensive about being pulled closer to the mysterious figure.

“The word on the street says you eggs is looking for a special exit.”

“Yes, we are. That is to say, the lad here doesn’t belong in our ghostly realm and would like to return to his family, his living flesh and blood family.”

“What’s the matter, kid? You don’t want to hobnob with us spooks? Can’t say as I blame you. Anyways, here’s the lowdown. Kid, you gots to get on three rides in Fantasyland. See? First, give Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride a gander. You’ll wise up to something. Then someone or something in that ride will give you the next clue. Got it?”

Lute nodded his head. Mr. Barrie said, “Thank you, you’ve been an immense help.”

“It ain’t nothing. Say, Jim, you ever come down with writer’s block, you know who to call.”

“If that tragic day should ever arise, sir, I will be ever so grateful for whatever assistance you may be able to provide.”

As Mr. Barrie towed the boy away, the mysterious stranger muttered, “And I won’t be so tootsy-fruitsy with da verbiage.”

When the two had gone a block up Main Street Lute asked, “Who was that man?”

“Nobody knows, or more precisely, no author here will admit to knowing him. He’s a ghost writer.”

They traveled the evening street in silence, the sky above neither night nor day. By the time they reached the hub plaza, Lute wished that Mr. Barrie would say something, anything. As if he’d read the boy’s mind, Mr. Barrie looked down and said, “Our realm must seem a frightful bore to you.”

“Yeah, I sort of thought that being around ghosts would be a lot more exciting.”

“Far from it. Death is boring, or rather, our afterlife is. On the other hand, being forgotten soon after one dies is far worse: forgotten by the living world, then poof! You’re off to…” Here Mr. Barrie paused to reflect upon something that evidently worried him, but after a moment, he brightened and said, “Be sure to leave something important behind before you forever sleep in the arms of Morpheus.”

“I write stories, about killing evil witches and stuff.”

“Er, yes, so you have. I’ve read some of them. It was in preparation for this assignment.”

Shouts coming from several men on the drawbridge distracted Lute from asking Mr. Barrie to explain several things about his last statement. Seeing as how they had to pass by these incensed arm-waving men alarmed him into asking, “Who are they?”

“We call them the Sleeping Beauty brigade. Undoubtedly, you know the story of Sleeping Beauty, but do you know who actually wrote it?”

“Walt Disney?”

“No, he was the creative genius behind the animated movie. But he has never written a story the way an author does. In fact, I think he doesn’t, in particular, like us who actually wrote the storybooks. But be that as it may, these arguing men bring up an important point we should discuss. His animated Sleeping Beauty, written by several script-writers, was based on a Grimm’s fairytale written by the brothers Grimm who might’ve heard or actually read the version written by Charles Perrault who in turn most certainly based his story on an even earlier version by an Italian poet who in his turn based his version on a commonly told folktale.”

“So, nobody knows who really wrote the story?”

“Hmm.” Mr. Barrie moved his head slightly side to side as if trying to decide something. “I would argue that the first author to write down the majority of the story should get the credit. Still, one is left trying to determine if a newer telling of the story makes it an altogether different story.”

They’d passed by the arguing men unnoticed, walked through the castle gate, and entered Fantasyland. Ahead lay the carousel, and across from its brightly lit circle of horses stood the entrance of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. No ghosts waited in line to board the little automobiles which weren’t there anyway. Two men, their arms crossed, leaned against the line fence near to the turnstile. Mr. Barrie stopped pulling Lute; the boy drifted a little past him. The man indicated the two men with a nod of his head. “Mr. Grahame, Mr. Milne, just the fellows. Time enough for them in just one minute. Let’s get on the carousel for a quiet word.”

There was no ghost working the ride, no one to slow the revolving carousel to a halt so that riders might board. But it moved slowly enough for Mr. Barrie, running, to match its speed and then hop on, all the while pulling an arm waving Lute along. The boy calmed down after Mr. Barrie hauled him above the carousel floor, picked him up with his cold hands, and set him on a non-moving horse.

“Lute, you’ve familiar with, The Wind in the Willows are you not? And I mean read the book and not just seen the cartoon?”

“Yep, I read it. My teacher said I was reading beyond my age. But I’ve also seen the cartoon.”

“Yes, well, the cartoon was mostly based on a play which in turn owes its origin to the book. That play was written by Mr. Milne. Now, the question is: which version of the ride do you want to enter?”

“There’s more than one?”

“Ah, well, in this authorial kingdom of spirits, the authors are permitted to imagineer the ride from the heartfelt emotions that gave birth to the book or play script. Mr. Milne created his play from what in the original story touched his soul. But Mr. Grahame created his book from his life’s experiences. The two creative impulses are quite different.”

“I think the ride should stick to the spirit of the book.”

“Well said, young man. Though I should warn you, peering into the heart and soul of any writer, even and maybe especially, a writer of children’s fiction might cause one discomfort and perhaps even, disillusionment.”

Next, Part Two: Not Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, But Kenneth Graham’s Search for Pan and Mouse; and Lewis Carroll Escorts Lute Through Tulgey Wood