I had a delightful and unexpected “Mary Stewart" moment this week—a perfect way to celebrate the author’s birthday anniversary on September 17th. In my previous blog post here, I’d named Mary Stewart as my favorite author to reread.
Hiking along a trail a few days ago, I stopped to admire a butterfly. Fortunately, I had my camera with me and the butterfly obligingly posed for a series of pictures.
Returning home, I meant to do some research and see what kind of butterfly I’d encountered. I failed to investigate right away, however, becoming caught up in writing a Mary Stewart tribute post.
When I finished my blog, I did embark on an internet search for a butterfly—the namesake of one of Mary's characters, Vanessa March. This is what I found:
And this is my own picture—the butterfly I saw sunning herself on the trail:
A red admiral butterfly, of the genus Vanessa, making a cameo appearance in honor of Mary Stewart’s birthday!
Mary Stewart Moment #2
Here is how I came to read Vanessa March's story for the first time:
With a comforting creak, I opened the glass doors guarding the bookcase in my childhood home. The lovely bookshelf, built by my grandfather, held all of my mother’s special books. I had her permission to open the doors and release these stories for myself at any time.
On that particular Friday evening, at the age of thirteen, I reached for an author new to me. I needed a story to get lost in, and I needed it right away! Navigating the stormy social waters of high school, for a shy new teenager, was difficult at best. Tucked at the end of the hallway, this bookshelf held the remedy I needed after a hard week of school.
As a child, I’d always loved stories focused on animals. The book in my hand, with the rearing horse, made it an easy transition to read fiction written for adults.
With the book in my arms, I crawled into bed and drew up the covers. It took perhaps one minute to become completely immersed in the story.
Here was a young, confident woman—and a veterinarian!—who faced the world with wry humor, intelligence and compassion. I felt as if I experienced each scene and emotion along with Vanessa March.
I liked her sometimes bitingly honest observations of the world and people she encountered. Mary Stewart also makes Vanessa a very sympathetic character; honest, but with empathy for others. This concern leads her to help an animal others deem "useless."
Reading Mary Stewart
Along with writing memorable characters, Mary Stewart is the master of scenes. Whether knitting together words evoking intense danger or a description from nature, each part of her stories come alive:
It was all the scene needed, I thought, looking up where, on my left, the turrets rose dark and faintly lit against the stars...the silence, the stars pricking out, the charmed hush of the trees, and now the slow sound of the approaching horse.
One almost expected De la Mare's Traveller or some wandering knight in armour to emerge from the pinewoods into the starlight.
In the spring of my thirteenth year, Airs Above the Ground became the first novel I stayed up all night to read from start to finish. As I became caught up in the long, suspenseful ending, my window stood open to the fresh night air. I read on, only half-aware of pale light now filtering through the curtains. The scent of orange blossoms drifted in from our small grove outside my bedroom.
I finished the book with the dawn breeze coming through the window. I felt comforted and the possessor of a different perspective on how to face the world. At least, I could now enjoy the weekend! The story gave me a wonderful feeling of belonging and comfort—of danger faced and conquered.
Now, whenever I pick up a Mary Stewart book to reread, I always remember finishing the story at dawn, with the scent of orange blossoms in the air.
...the whole surface of the field seemed moving with butterflies—meadow browns, blues...and a few of my own Vanessas...