Out of my temporary obsession to consume everything Gregory Maguire has written comes a need to one day visit Mont Saint-Michel. Two or three novels later, the need becomes a passive urge. And maybe another year or two after, Mont Saint-Michel is now a vague collection of French words I would have to google to remember. Until we end up in a festival in St. Lo and the treat is a bus trip to the edge of Normandy.
The rocky islet has an 8th century monastery on its tip which pretty much gave birth to a village that looks like the medieval section of any Disneyland theme park (I have a couple of medieval hobbyist friends in Chicago who would have a grand time here). I walk through the snaking alleys that physically declare a ban on motorized vehicles while I give my calves a good workout and jog my memory on the last few chapters of Lost and how Gervasa, which I suspect has something to do with a nearby town named after St. Gervais, re-died in the body of our protagonist. I get confused and instead enjoy the memory of how Wicked was written so brilliantly, skirting around the already established assumptions of Frank L. Baum’s genius. Much like I skirt around the throngs of people trying to make it up to the top of the hill. I remember how I’ve had to convince myself to pick up the unfinished Lost three times after I got completely bored by it.
In the abbey, I hear mass and enjoy both the echoes of spiritual desperation and hopefulness incited by the human need to believe in something, to hold on to something. I hold on to a rock wall, look up at the vaulted ceiling and imagine how it was like during the French Revolution, when the abbey was transformed into a prison and lives were abruptly concluded in the name of political dissonance. I see an interesting human hamster wheel supposedly used to bring in supplies from the bottom of the hill, and try to run in it when no one is looking.
I look out over the ramparts and see the ocean regaining ground. Or is the ground losing ground? The tide is coming back in, engulfing this rock into an island once again, covering the infamous quicksand that had once swallowed escaped prisoners from stories I read on steel plates, markers, brochures and yes, wikipedia.
It may not be a resounding click, but some things are starting to make sense now. The reason why I may not have appreciated Maguire’s Lost is because I did not know enough of Mont Saint-Michel to reference his metaphors with, relative to my familiarity with the Wizard of Oz. I did not know the history, did not know the symbolism of everything I am seeing now, did not know the perils of having lived here centuries ago, when commerce was practiced only by the blacksmith and the town whore.
I did not know that this tiny outcropping, cloudy again and sunny again, mainland again and island again, a prison again and a place of freedom and worship again, is a little allegory to his story of death, life and freedom in death.
But I may be over-interpreting the book as I am wont to do in defense of my clever heroes’ bad hair day. It may just as well have been an awful, awful year for Greg with the publisher breathing down his neck.
I walk back to the bus completely convinced I have confused myself again.