Faith and a Good Horse

Playmobil Martin Luther Thuringian Forest Kingdom of the Birds Reformation Wr

In another scene inspired by the Playmobil Martin Luther, Seppel and his faithful horse Tintenfleck travel through the Thuringian Forest.

“Faith and a good horse will carry you far,” says Sir Gottfried to young Seppel during their journey to the Wartburg Castle. In certain aspects the scenes in Kingdom of the Birds involving Seppel and his little black horse Tintenfleck (which is German for “inkblot”) or red-haired Ilse von Berlepsch and her white mare Eisblume are the culmination of all the horse stories I wrote in seventh and eighth grade.

Unlike some horse-crazy young people, I could do more than daydream about riding. In the old barn on my family’s property were a black pony called Thunder, a pinto named Prince, and a chestnut known as Charlie Brown.

Sometimes I would ride a mile down the road to visit the Haas kids, another big family in an old farmhouse.  Jean was my age, Ann-Marie was two years older, and both of them were  horse-crazy too.  In their pasture were a pony named Dolly and a white horse called Cindy. None of us took riding lessons. Unlike Seppel and Ilse, we had no Captain von Berlepsch to school us in horsemanship. We just rode.  Jean and Ann-Marie were absolutely fearless. I can still picture them galloping bareback and barefoot, Jean’s blond ponytail bouncing and Ann-Marie’s red hair flying.

kb-high-res-cover1Having come far from those teen years, I have not ridden a horse in a long time. Ann-Marie, on the other hand, is still riding, and, just as Ilse von Berlepsch would have done, she and Jean have introduced their children to the joys of horsemanship.


My Pen Proves Mightier Than My Sword

Martin Luther, Playmobil, Wartburg Castle, Kingdom of the Birds, swordsmanship

In another Playmobil Reformation moment, Captain Hans von Berlepsch teaches Seppel the art of swordsmanship in the armory of the Wartburg Castle.

“Was sehrt, das lehrt.”
What hurts, teaches. Thus says Captain von Berlepsch in the armory of the Wartburg Castle as he schools fourteen-year-old Seppel in the art of swordsmanship. More than once in Kingdom of the Birds, Seppel is to learn the truth of the captain’s words.

My own childhood experiences with sword fighting were considerably less dramatic. After watching Errol Flynn movies on WGN’s Family Classics, my brothers and sisters and I would hurry out to the barn to reenact our favorite scenes by brandishing pointed sticks at one another in the hayloft.

After years of daydreaming about wielding a genuine blade, I signed up for fencing as a P.E. credit in college. The group instructor was a disinterested coach with a whistle around her neck. Clad in T-shirts and gym shorts, a dozen of us freshmen stood dutifully in two lines and stepped forward and back for forty-five tedious minutes. At the end of each session our weary instructor told us to put away the equipment and then disappeared in search of real athletes.

Her exit signaled our transformation into a melee of pirates and musketeers. Down two flights of stairs the twelve of us battled lustily, thrusting and parrying, metal clanging on metal, deep into the dungeon level of the old brick gymnasium.

Kingdom of the Birds, swordfighting

Swordsmen at the launch party for Kingdom of the Birds, March 2010.

Even the youngest guest at the Kingdom of the Birds launch party got to wield a sword.

Even the youngest guest at the Kingdom of the Birds launch party got to wield a sword.

I never did become a swordsman, but twenty-five years later I found myself studying a translation of a sixteenth-century Fechtbuch, or fight manual, looking up from my scribbled notes to brandish a pen and try to figure out the moves in Seppel’s first encounter with an actual opponent. And when Kingdom of the Birds was published in 2010, the launch party provided opportunities for guests of all ages to wield a sword.

swordfighting Kingdom of the Birds

A enthusiastic young swordswoman is schooled by the master.

The Great Reformer and His Sidekick

Unpacking my Playmobil Martin Luther

Unpacking my Playmobil Martin Luther

Today I finally dared to open the sealed box containing the hot-selling Playmobil figure of Martin Luther, a gift from sister author Emily. I was delighted to find the Great Reformer accessorized not only with quill pen and German Bible but also cap, cape, and scholarly white cuffs.

The Playmobil package includes a fold-out map of Germany marked with 35 places associated with Luther. On the reverse is a paragraph on Luther’s role in the Reformation, the 1528 Cranach portrait of Luther, a photograph of tourists in Nuremberg, and a travel website urging readers to “Discover the legacy of the Reformation–in Destination Germany.”

The Great Reformer and his trusty sidekick Seppel

The Great Reformer and his trusty sidekick Seppel

I intend to do my part to encourage readers to discover or rediscover that legacy. In my novel Kingdom of the Birds, Seppel’s adventures include journeys to Wittenberg, Erfurt, Leipzig, and Eisenach, notably in the nearby Wartburg Castle.

kb-high-res-cover1In future posts I will highlight some of the significant Reformation events featured in Kingdom of the Birds. Just now, however, I must return to enjoying
my new Playmobil toy.