The Kraken in Winter

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Avast and ahoy!

Snow is among the weather conditions to which we krakens, being creatures of the deep sea, are entirely unaccustomed. Before this weekend, I had seen snow only once before while visiting my great aunt Karmen, who lives near Antarctica. Kraken literature is likewise lacking in boreal imagery, which meant that I had to turn to Daisy for recommendations of books most suited to snowy days.

Now usually I find my dragon friend’s literary advice every bit as impeccable as my own. But in this case, her recommendations missed the mark. She has a taste for fantasy novels, as you may know if you have read her DragoNaNoWriMo contributions, and so it was understandable that she would have given me to read two of the most popular works of that genre. But though she intended nothing but diversion and entertainment, her selections brought me nothing but anxiety.

The first one seemed quite promising, as its cover indicated that it took place in a land of snow and mythological creatures. But this snow, I discovered, was the work of a villainous tyrant who used an endless winter to oppress the poor, innocent beasts of the land. Why, looking out the window, the sight of snow that I had considered beautiful now seemed a desolate and depressing. I opened the next book, hoping that it would brighten my mood. But here the approach of winter seemed to be an occasion for dire warnings and dynastic conflict.

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I returned to Daisy and voiced my distress at the books she had given me.

She looked a little bemused and told me, “But those are only books! Winter in the real world only lasts a few months, and it’s certainly nothing to be frightened of. There are other stories that delight in winter weather. Many children’s books portray snow as the most desirable form of precipitation there is! And anyway, just because it’s snowing outside doesn’t mean you have to read only about winter. You can read anything on a snow day! It just has to keep you entertained through the long hours you spend indoors sipping hot tea.”

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This came as a revelation to me. I soon had amassed a towering pile of tomes from every genre and corner of the bookstore. I sat down with Daisy by the window and began to read, while she watched snowflakes continue to fall past the window. By the time darkness fell outside, I had made my way through several hundred pages and counting. I understood what Daisy had meant when she’d extolled the pleasures of snow day reading.

Here are a few of the works I read, with my own personal ratings:

  • Beowulf – Appeared gratifyingly aquatic at first, but turned out to be very biased against sea monsters of all varieties. A product of its times, I suppose. Nevertheless, a good story. Four tentacles.

 

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt – Appealed to my love of the classics. Not good reading for a snow day, however, as it makes one realize how easily a murderer could hide a body in such weather. Five tentacles.

 

  • Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen – An excellent novel! The only thing that could have made it better would have been more kraken characters. Perhaps someone ought to write a revised version with sea monsters. Seven tentacles.

 

  • The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg – Perfect for a snow day. Daisy tells me she has ridden on the book’s titular steam engine, and says that the hot chocolate was every bit as good as its description suggests. Eight tentacles.

 

  • Murder in Mesopotamia by Agatha Christie – I have been a great fan of Hercule Poirot ever since I was introduced to his adventures shortly after coming on land. The setting of this particular book was slightly too dry for my taste. Six tentacles.

 

  • The Winters Tale by William Shakespeare – Deceptively titled. Much of the play takes place in springtime. Three tentacles.

 

  • The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams – One of the most accurate portrayals of dolphins ever written by a human. Forty-two tentacles.

As winter has barely begun, it looks like we have more days of snow reading to look forward to this season. I welcome any recommendations, and hope that you, dear readers, will take advantage of the warmth of the Bookmarks bookstore as the air outside grows ever colder.

With wintry wishes,

Karl the Kraken

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A Kraken Thanksgiving

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Avast and ahoy!

I must say, this holiday took me quite by surprise. When Daisy told me that we were preparing for another celebration at the bookstore so soon after Halloween, I could scarcely believe her. It seemed to me poor planning on the part of the human species to have scheduled all its holidays so close together. To top it all, these holidays seemed rather redundant! I had terrible trouble sorting books for the holiday displays, as both of the major autumn festivals seemed to call for cover illustrations of pumpkins, desserts, and costumed animals. Daisy explained that whereas the focus of Halloween was decorating pumpkins, on Thanksgiving one was more interested in their consumption. That helped me differentiate the two somewhat, but I still felt I was missing an important distinction.

Daisy then told me that Thanksgiving was an occasion for gathering together with friends and family and expressing one’s gratitude for the good things that have happened in the past year. “Ah!” said I. “Now I understand. We had a similar festival in the old Kraken Cove. The krakens would all gather together with their kin and share seaweed-based delicacies while offering a portion of the feast to the kraken divinity Krakonos. It served much the same function. I remember I always looked forward to my grandmother’s plankton pie.”

The more I became involved with preparations for the Thanksgiving festivities, the more I came to appreciate this holiday. I had so very much to be thankful for this year, from being hired as Kraken-in-Residence at Bookmarks to the astounding success of the bookstore in its first four months, to the opportunity to meet so many brilliant authors at this year’s festival. I attempted to write a speech that I could give during Saturday’s event at the bookstore, enumerating every way in which this year had been a  remarkable one both for myself and for the Bookmarks community, but no matter how I tried to trim it down it always came to well over an hour. Daisy told me that no one would want to wait that long for food and festivities, so I gave it up.

Reading over the schedule of events for the celebration on the website, you may have noticed that among the talented and acclaimed authors who are offering their present-wrapping and pleasant-chatting services at various points throughout the day, the name of aquatic litterateur extraordinaire Karl the Kraken was nowhere to be found! Fear not, dear readers. That merely indicates that I shall not be wrapping and chatting for a set period of time – rather, I shall be wrapping all throughout the day and into the night! Any time you wish to have your gift (or gifts, as I can manage up to eight at a time) wrapped as only a kraken can wrap it, bring it to my and Daisy’s reading nook in the children’s section. I can also offer my impeccable literary advice to those who do not know what sort of gift book to buy.

Do be sure to stay for Parapalooza at 7 PM, when authors and Bookmarks volunteers will  treat attendees to readings of passages from their favorite books. In order to make sure that everyone who wishes to present will have the time to do so, I have humbly declined to give a reading myself. But Daisy and I are always ready to do a staged reading of the shipwreck scene of The Tempest (my favorite passage in Shakespeare) or a chapter from Jules Verne, should anyone request it.

Happy Thanksgiving, dear readers! May you spend the day consuming books and mashed potatoes with equal enthusiasm.

Yours sincerely,

Karl the Kraken

 

The Queens of Dragoria – A Novel by Daisy the Dragon

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Hello, dear readers! Since I posted that I was participating in this year’s DragoNaNoWriMo, I have had dozens of messages from my clamoring public asking for a sneak preview of my work. Here is a brief excerpt from my current project, an epic fantasy adventure based partly on my personal experience, which I have titled The Queens of Dragoria.

Chapter Three

Return to the Castle

There could be no denying it: the ancient curse had come back to haunt the royal line of Dragoria. The oracle’s words rang through her ears and made her scales tremble. “Lord Krakenatus is returned!”

But how could it be true? How could the demonic sorcerer have made his way out of his eternal prison, freed his tentacles from the hardened lava, raised his head from the cinders that the fiery mountain had rained down upon it? How could this nightmare of generations past have returned to haunt Queen Maelyss?

So caught up was she in these dark thoughts that she hardly noticed that no warden had met her at the gates and no retainers had come to untie the traveling cape from her throat. Only once she had entered the great hall of the castle did it become clear to her that something was not right at all. The room was silent, empty, devoid of the partying gryphons and members of the royal family who usually shook the vaults with their noise. Gone were the lords and ladies roasting nuts and marshmallows with their breath, the singers of ancient dragon ballads, the flying acrobats.

Claws had rent the banners that hung above the high table. The old Dragorian coat of arms, which consisted of two dragons and an open book, was in tatters. The Queen stopped dead in her tracks.

This was not the work of any sorcerer. It was too slight, too petty. A new threat had arisen from among the castle’s own inhabitants.

“You have returned, I see,” remarked a voice behind her that made her jump and lose her royal composure. “It was most unwise to leave your realm so long without a queen!”

“I was not gone more than a fortnight,” she replied. “And what makes you think that you can address your ruler with such a familiar tone, Mirabelle?” 

The young retainer laughed wickedly. “Ah! You still do not realize who I am. Of course, your parents did their best to erase my name from the chronicles.”

“Whatever can you mean?” Queen Maelyss asked. “You have had too much pomegranate wine, surely. Go back to your chambers and sleep it off!”

But Mirabelle only laughed again, sparks flying from her open gullet. “Ha! Once I have explained you shall know all, and then you will be sorry you ever hired me to serve your banquets, attend your carriages, even rock your children to sleep at night! Oh, you have been a fool, Maelyss. All the more, because you have had not the faintest idea these many years that I was plotting revenge!”

“Who are you, you wicked serpent?” the Queen snarled.

“None other than Mirabelle, daughter of Maerwynn, cousin of Moribund, son of Mulric, heir to the throne of Dragoria!”

The Queen’s wings shook and bristled at this revelation. She was silent a moment, connecting the lines on her family tree. But now it was her turn to laugh. “Fool! The laws of the land state that only the first, second, or ninth children of the previous ruler can inherit the throne. Your claim is null!”

“Ah, but the rules of succession were not always so. It was only when your mother, Queen Muriel, took the throne that she twisted the laws of the realm to suit her own ambitions and silence my family’s right to the throne! When Moribund died, the charter clearly stated that if the first-born offspring of the king had died and could not succeed to the throne, as your uncle Melatonin had in the Battle of Draghorn Field, the closest living blood relation of the former monarch, be she sister or cousin, should take the throne before a second-born child!”

“Lies! I have never heard such a thing.” Even if Mirabelle’s claim was true, Maelyss could not bear the thought of a member of the Marvinian clan on the throne. The dragons of that side of the family lacked all literary taste! They could never be the keepers of the royal library. 

“Of course you haven’t! Your mother usurped the throne and banished everyone who disputed her claim, including my mother. She brought me up in exile, in a tiny village at the edge of the realm, yet she taught me the ways of a courtier and assured me that one day I would be Queen of Dragoria!”

“Why, you insolent, treasonous viper! I should have the sentries sever your wings for such a claim! Eric! Enobarbus! Seize this villain at once!” But the guards must have been driven out of the castle during the insurrection. 

“It is no use! Your court and your army have abandoned you! The kingdom is mine!”

But just as Mirabelle raised her snout to give a howl of victory the doors to the hall burst open, and another member of the court entered.

“Lord Merlon! Put this traitor in shackles! She is trying to depose me,” cried Queen Maelyss.

“Fool! Lord Merlon was the first of your court to recognize my claim,” said Mirabelle.

“Or so you thought!” said Lord Merlon with a wicked grin that showed his sharp white teeth. “In fact, I have merely been biding my time, waiting for the kingdom to sink into such a state of instability that I could take my rightful place on the throne! You are both fools for believing that I was ever a faithful courtier. Did you never recognize my true identity?”

“Surely you jest!” said Mirabelle, shocked by the treachery of her fellow traitor.

“No indeed,” said the old dragon. “For I am truly Merlon son of Milleflora, daughter of Moratorium, brother of Mitanni the mother of Mulric, father of Moribund, and the true heir to the throne of Dragoria! And if my seamless genealogy is not enough to convince you, perhaps this can!”

He raised a taloned hand to reveal a clear-blue crystal ball.

“But that’s -” Maelyss sputtered.

“The lost Magic Orb of Montgomery, father of Mitanni and Moratorium, progenitors of Marvin and Mulric and Milleflora, respectively. It is the only hope you have for saving the kingdom from the attack of the Many-Armed Sorcerer!”

***

I am afraid this is as much of the book as I am able and willing to release at the moment. You will have to wait, my dear, patient readers, for the full novel to be published to learn what becomes of our reptilian heroine. I am not sure yet when it will be available on the human market, but it is currently under contract with Tooth & Talon, the premiere publisher of dragon literature. It is to be the first of a planned trilogy. (Karl tells me I ought to make it eight books! I am seriously considering the idea. Apparently octolagies are standard among krakens.)

But I must return to my keyboard now to hammer out the next 1,667 words! The page awaits!

Yours suspensefully,

Daisy the Dragon

 

 

 

DraGoNaNoWriMo!

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Hello all!

This is Daisy the Dragon, writing to you in the midst of the flurry of inspiration and caffeination that is DraGoNaNoWriMo. What, you might well ask, does this clever but inexplicable acronym stand for? Allow me to explain.

Every November, dragons across the country decide to get in touch with their creative side and write 50,000 word novels in thirty days. This remarkable, exhilarating event is known as Dragon National Novel Writing Month, or DraGoNaNoWriMo, for short.

The idea originated in the third millennium B.C., when two rival dragons were competing for dominance over a vast empire. The two of them met with their dragon armies on the plains of Drakmesh, and a great battle ensued that lasted for nineteen days. On the twentieth day the dragons were exhausted. They both withdrew from the battle, and their messengers went out onto the field to negotiate a peace treaty.

However, neither dragon was prepared to go home vanquished and bear the shame and scorn of his royal subjects. Each of them claimed he had won the battle and had his own story of how it had played out. So the messengers arranged to settle the battle in a different way: each ruler would receive a giant stone tablet, the size of two hundred of our standard sheets of paper, on which each was to write his own account of the battle in Old Dragonic verse. Whoever could fill the tablet with the entire story of the battle within a month would be declared the winner.

So a month later they reconvened on the plains of Drakmesh, and a panel of impartial judges (two turtles and a pigeon) read the giant stone inscriptions. The two dragon emperors waited with bated breath for the verdict. In the end, the first turtle voted for the second dragon’s tale, and the pigeon voted for the first dragon’s tale. The second turtle, however, was indecisive. She declared that she found the two inscriptions equal in both length and quality, and that the two dragons must spend another month writing another inscription on another giant block of stone.

You may be able to guess what happened. Every thirty days, the dragons would produce an epic poem and submit it to be judged by the turtles and the pigeon, and every time this happened, the second turtle said that she could not decide between them. The consequence of all this was that while each dragon was obsessed with besting the other’s word count and filling every square inch of the tablet, neither of them had any time for fighting. When they died, leaving no heirs, the clever pacifist turtle herself was elected the new ruler, and a golden age of peace settled over the ancient dragon empire. And every year, in memory of the treaty of Drakmesh, all the dragons of the realm would gather to write an epic poem in thirty days.

The old ritual eventually became an occasion for celebrating creativity and literature in the dragon community, and it is alive and flourishing to this day. I have participated in DraGoNaNoWriMo several times, and this year I am putting claws to keyboard once again to hammer out a novel I’ve been brainstorming for a while. (It is, like most of my works, an epic fantasy quest with plenty of adventures and mythical creatures.)

Now I’m sure many of you readers will be thinking to yourselves, that all sounds very nice for a dragon, but how do I, mere human that I am, get in on the excitement of this special occasion?

Fear not! For many years now, human writers have been engaging in their own version of DraGo, which they have shortened to simply “NaNoWrimo.” And Bookmarks has pitched in to help those who are trying to reach 1,667 words a day by opening their space and their WiFi to writers on November eleventh and eighteenth! I will surely be there typing away, and I hope to see you there too and hear about your literary masterpieces-in-progress.

I am pleased to say that I am currently at double the word count necessary at this stage of the month. However, most of those words are describing the diets and colorings of the fifty-seven dragon breeds that populate the fantasy world I have created. I have been told by editors that most human readers lose interest after thirteen or fourteen dragon breeds, so most of those sections may have to be cut in the final draft. Ah, well.

Yours faithfully at the keyboard,

Daisy the Dragon

A Wonder-ful Return

Avast and ahoy!

How gratifying it is, after so long writing only indirectly to my dearest readers, to have my tentacles back on the computer keyboard. And better yet, that I should have this opportunity to recommend a book and an event that are bound to delight, instruct, and bring tears to the eyes of even the driest land animals.

The book of which I speak is none other than R. J. Palacio’s Wonder. You may be familiar with this novel, for our movie theaters shall shortly be graced with a film adaptation of the same title. Bookmarks has accordingly seen fit to celebrate both book and film with a most special event tomorrow (Sunday, November the Fifth). There will, I am told, be a book discussion, trivia with prizes, a photo booth in which one can take take selfies, and assorted other activities of an entertaining sort.

Yet this event is no mere frivolity. Its true purpose is to instruct children in the most important lesson of all: the necessity of always showing kindness to whomever they encounter, regardless of external appearance, species, grooming habits, or apparel.

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It is a lesson near and dear to my five kraken hearts, dear readers. For it pains me to say that even I, yes I, Karl the Kraken, even a creature of such skill and natural charm as I, have not been spared the cruelty of both human and kraken nature. I was in my youth quite misunderstood and at times taunted by those who could not see past the bulbousness of my cranium or the floppiness of my tentacles. I was, in kraken school, ridiculed most fiercely for these peculiarities of my appearance, as well as for my reluctance to join the reckless bands of adolescent krakens who roved about harassing innocent sailors at random.

Still, looking back on those formative years, I remember I stayed strong in the face of adversity; for I always knew that those who mocked me were merely envious of my talent for prose composition and my impeccable literary taste. Like most bullies, they acted not out of simple cruelty but out of a deep insecurity, a fear that should I free myself from their taunting tentacles, I would rise far above them by virtue of the aforementioned talents.

And so I have, dear readers, as I write to you today, having attained my dream position of Kraken in Residence at an eminent literary arts organization, having just returned from a daring quest in which my courage and my ingenuity were equally tested, and having, I hope, moved the hearts and minds of many readers with my blog posts. Today I can hardly recall the insults leveled at me in my youth, for they no longer have any power to sting me.

Let my story be a comfort to any gentle reader who is undergoing such a trying time in their life. To you I say, hold on to your love of reading, and never be discouraged in your quest for learning, for books have the power to carry you to worlds beyond imagining and turn your most distant dreams into realities.

Who knows – perhaps you too will one day become a Kraken in Residence. Then you will laugh inwardly at every insult and purge from memory all the insecurities that plague you now.

Keep dreaming, my dear readers, for you are Wonders all.

 

With warmest regards,

Yours truly,

Karl the Kraken

The Kraken’s Quest: The Kraken of the Baskervilles

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(If you have just begun reading the saga of Karl’s quest, you have caught it just as it reaches its thrilling conclusion! You may wish to read parts one, two, three, and four first.)

Hello once more, dear readers!  I am delighted to report the wonderful news that Karl will be returning from his quest within the week! All is explained in his most recent letter, which I will not delay further in transcribing:

My dear Daisy,

I have described to you the circumstances that led to my growing dissatisfaction with Oxford, and in particular my anxiety for the life of my faithful messenger pigeon, Cecilia. In the end, I was forced to part ways with my generous host and quit the spired city. I took a train to London, where I intended to resume my search for the suspicious Waldo.

I soon became frustrated in my search, for so many were the city’s people, and so labyrinthine its streets, that I quickly became utterly disoriented. After too long wandering through the chilly night air, I caught a cold and was forced to check into a nearby hospital — only to find that they would treat neither head colds nor krakens!

Nevertheless, my venture into the hospital was not altogether in vain, for on my way out I encountered a doctor who had just finished work for the day and was heading home. When I told him of my predicament and explained that I was recently arrived in London and quite lost, he asked me how I had ended up in the city in the first place. I told him that I was searching for a mysterious and possibly sinister figure whom I had encountered once before.

“You are in luck,” said he, “for I know just the man to help you.”

I allowed him to escort me into a cab, which drove us through the heart of the city and finally came to a halt outside an inconspicuous-looking apartment on Baker Street. At this point I was beginning to recall reading something about a famous Baker Street resident, yet it was not until I was escorted upstairs and into a small, dim sitting room that I recognized the man sitting in the armchair before me.

Finally, someone who might be able to solve my mystery!

“Watson, who is this gentleman you have brought home with you?” asked the detective. “No – allow me to guess. From your tentacles, sir, I deduce that you are a sea-dwelling animal, yet I am familiar enough with the anatomy of both octopi and squids to say that you are neither of those. So we are left with legendary creatures. As you possess neither the tail of a mermaid nor the slitheriness of a sea serpent, I should venture to guess that you, my good sir, are a kraken.”

“Impossible, Holmes!” Watson interjected. “Krakens are a myth!”

“It strains credulity,” he admitted. “But however improbable, it must be true. Indeed, all that remains is to verify it with our guest himself. Are you indeed a kraken, sir?”

“You have identified my species with perfect accuracy, Mr. Holmes,” I replied. He looked pleased.

“Come, have a seat. I deduce from your sickly complexion and troubled stare that you have experienced some distress recently. The size of your bag indicates that you have been traveling for some time, and the scrapes and stains on its base show that you have had to do so in less than comfortable conditions.  I can also see from the outlines of books against the sides of your luggage that you travel not with mundane necessities, but rather with books. You are a literary creature, then!”

“Remarkable!” I exclaimed. “Indeed, I am a kraken of impeccable literary taste. I work in a bookstore, you see.”

“I do see,” Holmes continued. “What, then, could have induced you to travel so long and far away from your place of employment? For it is obvious that few things could have induced a creature so devoted to the literary arts to leave a bookstore to which he has devoted all his working hours. I can only guess that you have perceived some threat to the safety of your beloved bookstore, which you could only counter by a quest of sorts. Yet this threat must be ambiguous to some extent, or the motives of its perpetrator unclear. Why else would you have sought the advice of a detective?”

“You are, I have read, a specialist in strange and unusual cases,” I told him. 

“Ah, you read The Strand, do you?” Dr. Watson asked me. “Then you know, too, that you need only describe your case to Mr. Holmes, and he shall have it sorted for you within the hour, isn’t that right, Holmes?”

The detective merely leaned back in his chair and pressed his fingertips together, indicating that I should begin my story. I told him, to the best of my memory, the tale of my encounter with the mysterious person who called himself “Waldo,” my causes for concern, and my attempts so far at tracking this man down. When I had finished, Holmes sat silently, staring just below my tentacles at the carpet. 

“Well, Holmes?” the doctor prompted. “The solution seems quite clear to me. This Waldo fellow was a criminal in disguise, and his lurid clothing was a signal to his accomplices.”

“Indeed, Watson?”

“I’m sure of it. No self-respecting man goes about in a crimson-striped shirt and cap without some hidden motive. I should not be surprised if this scoundrel turned out to be a member of some secret society.”

“I wonder, my dear Watson,” said Mr. Holmes, “if you might assist Mrs. Hudson with the tea. I can hear her clattering about downstairs, and I would prefer not to have another cup broken on the landing.”

The doctor looked slightly perplexed for a moment, then said, “Very well,” and left the room.

“Tell me, my dear kraken,” said Holmes, once his companion was gone, “what deductions you yourself have made regarding this mysterious character?”

I was completely taken aback. “Why should you ask me for my reasoning, when you are widely acknowledged as superior to every other person alive in the solving of mysteries?”

“A great mind,” said he, “knows its limits. And I am afraid my mind is focused on the world of reality, on bloodstains, footprints, and the distinctions between various types of ash and ink and paper. My reasoning leads me to believe that the solution to this case rests firmly in the realm of fiction, in which you, not I, are the expert.”

I was tremendously flattered, yet at the same time most surprised, for I had not expected I should have had any knowledge surpassing that of the legendary genius sitting before me.

“Let us take Mr. Waldo’s claim to be a beloved book character as true, for I see, as yet, no evidence to refute it,” he continued. “We should then be led to wonder, from what type of book might such a character have come?”

I sat in silence, pondering this for some time. “I suppose,” I said at last, “that his gaudy clothing would be more suited to an illustrated book than to one without pictures. He seemed to have taken great care to be recognizable, even in a large crowd.”

“A fact which, unfortunately, belies my dear friend Watson’s theory that he was part of a secret society, for any secret organization would know to keep its signifiers less conspicuous.”

“Quite so,” I agreed. “And yet I cannot help but be perplexed by his secretive behavior, for he seemed to be attempting to remain hidden or to camouflage himself within a crowd.”

“Indeed, there is the sticking point,” said Holmes. “How can one reconcile these two facts: that of his distinctive dress, and that of his apparent desire to remain hidden? It is a difficult contradiction. Nevertheless, both facts must be accounted for in a solution. I wonder if you have any ideas regarding this matter?”

Here I was forced to think again for some time.

“Why, I think I’ve got it!” I exclaimed suddenly. “I can only surmise that this Waldo character wished to make himself difficult to find, but also to be sure that once he was found, he would be easily recognized. But what, then, could his motives be in such contradictory behaviors?”

“What indeed? I confess, that is the point on which my reasoning can take me no further.”

“That is because his actions serve no tangible purpose, but rather a literary one,” I said. “For if we suppose that there are books in which this Waldo appears, hidden in large crowds or camouflaged by myriad distractions, yet identifiable by his characteristic outfit, then we must suppose, too, that there are readers who find the very act of searching for Waldo enjoyable for its own sake!”

Holmes frowned. “I am afraid I do not follow. Do you mean that people would endure the frustrations of searching for hours in confusing illustrations merely for the satisfaction of identifying a strange man in a red-striped shirt?”

“My dear Mr. Holmes,” said I, “I am afraid the rest of the human race is far less rational  in its behavior than you give it credit for.”

“Speaking of which,” he said, leaning towards me, “I wonder if I might ask you to remain in London for some time, perhaps to accompany me on some of my cases?”

“Why, I was under the impression that that was Dr. Watson’s role,” I replied.

“Indeed, I have worked closely with Dr. Watson for many years, yet I fear he has learned little of my methods. No matter how I try to teach him, he is confounded and surprised whenever I explain even the simplest of cases to him. It has often made me wonder why I keep him around. But you, my dear kraken, have a mind to match my own, and a talent for writing short-form episodic narrative. You could fulfill all the same functions as dear Dr. Watson and give him more time to concentrate on medicine, where his true talents lie.”

“I am afraid I cannot do any such thing,” said I. “You see, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are destined to become iconic figures in literary history, whereas Sherlock Holmes and Karl the Kraken will never capture the imagination of readers to quite the same degree.”

He sighed. “Again, I must acquiesce to your impeccable literary sensibilities.”

“Besides,” I continued, “now that I am convinced that Waldo meant no harm to Bookmarks, I must return to the bookstore. I am sure there are many customers who are clamoring for my literary recommendations and regular recaps of events.”

And fear not, dear dragon, return I shall, as soon as Cecilia gets back from her trip to Paris. Evidently she has family members who congregate around the courtyard of the Louvre, and as I have asked her to accompany me on such a long and strenuous journey, I could not deny her request to pay them a visit. She has been posting a constant stream of photos to her Facebeak page (pigeons’ preferred social network), so she seems to be enjoying herself.

With high hopes of seeing you soon,

Yours truly,

Karl the Kraken

The Kraken’s Quest: Karl in Wonderland

(Part four of the continuing saga. If you are not caught up on Karl’s adventures, here are links to part one, part two, and part three.)

Good day, my dear readers!

If you have been waiting as anxiously and as eagerly as I have for Karl’s latest letter, you need stretch your patience no longer! Here it is in full.

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My dearest dragon,

To begin with, Cecilia, my messenger pigeon, has described to me at length how much care you lavished on her while she was recuperating from her ordeal with the amateur naturalists. As an expression of my gratitude, please find enclosed two slices of treacle tart, provided they have not been damaged in transit or eaten by Cecilia herself.

I am, as you may have gathered from my previous letter, at Oxford. What a remarkable place, as perfectly suited to my inner temperament as saltwater is to my outer membranes. I am staying at the house of the professor I encountered in the pond at the end of my last letter. What a comfortable and delightful place it is! I have been granted full use of the professor’s private library of classical literature, which is one of the most extensive I have ever seen. I am tempted to bring some of the volumes back to Bookmarks to fill our already burgeoning history and philosophy shelves. 

Yet I must not allow myself to become too comfortable, lest I fall into complacency. I shall, as soon as I have rested my tentacles and determined the best next course of action, resume my quest to find the dangerous and mysterious Waldo.

In the meantime, I have taken up a new employment as the minder to the professor’s children. He has several, though I cannot recall their names or number, for they all rather blend together in my mind. I have been reading to them, for they are woefully behind in their literary knowledge. Not a single one of them has even heard of Harry Potter! This is not their fault, to be clear, for I could find no trace of any of the classics of children’s literature on the shelves of this house. I was forced to read to them some of the books that were readily available, mostly selections from Thucydides and Diogenes Laertius. 

We were all seated on the college lawn, the children and I, when one of the girls spoke protested that the chapter of Aristotle I was reading had neither pictures nor conversations. 

“My dear young minnow,” said I, breaking off my reading, “though both illustrations and dialogue do greatly enhance the experience of a book, they are by no means necessary to the enjoyment of reading. There are a great many books that have attained the status of classics, and justly so, though they are lacking color plates and quotation marks.”

“But I don’t see the use of having a book without pictures or conversation!” she replied.

“The use? The use of a book? Why, one ought not to ask a book to be useful! Books are not screwdrivers or pasta makers or parachutes! They are not meant to be useful, merely to – ” 

But here I broke off my passionate explanation of the benefits of literature, for I had just spotted a strange figure running past, across the lawn. It appeared to be a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat and a pocket watch – which was nothing out of the ordinary, of course, for most rabbits I know are very attentive to fashion. But this particular rabbit appeared to be in a great hurry. Indeed, he showed every sign of being under great stress of arriving late (where to I could not say).

As I had been on the lookout for curious and suspicious behavior since my run-in with the enigmatic Waldo, I knew that I must pursue this rabbit and attempt to learn what had spurred him to such haste. Abandoning both Aristotle and the children, I ran after him across the meadow.

“Stop, my good latecoming lagomorph!” I called to him, but he suddenly disappeared below the grass. I found that he had leapt headfirst into a deep hole whose bottom was enveloped in darkness.

Being the sensible and safety-conscious kraken that I am, I was reluctant to follow him down there, so I turned and with a sigh trudged back toward the children. Though it was by every measure the most sensible decision, I cannot help thinking that not pursuing that rabbit further might have kept from me some adventure or revelation that could further my quest. But it is too late now – I cannot find the hole again in the endless lawn.

I have had one further adventure worthy of note during my stay here, yet it is one that pains me greatly to describe, for it involves a threat to the life of our dear Cecilia the pigeon. You see, the professor and his children insist on keeping a cat in their house, who they inform me is called Dinah, and who has recently become the mother of two kittens. I am sad to say that one of the kittens is a great menace to society and insists on getting caught up in all sorts of trouble, and Dinah refuses to raise a paw to discipline him. 

I put up with the kitten’s constant belligerence for several days without remark, for I am above all a tolerant and patient kraken. But after Cecilia returned from her latest voyage, Kitty (for such is the only name I have heard this creature called) began to look at her with a most malicious expression and would not let her land anywhere in the house. When I heard that the kitten had made a leap at poor Cecilia while the latter was pecking at her afternoon tea, and that the young feline’s claws came so close as to dislodge several feathers from her wing. 

Here I drew the line. I strode up to the mother one day to demand that she intervene in her offspring’s misbehavior. She gave me a look of annoyance, then suggested that we resolve our disagreements over a game of chess. I know I should not have assented to such a ridiculous request, but at the time I was so indignant at this mother’s inattentiveness that I could think of nothing more satisfying than to best her in a game of chess (a game at which we krakens excel).

I had underestimated her skill. She did not beat me, but we ended in a stalemate. I suggested that we settle our score with a contest of poetical composition. Her tale was quite tangled and rather fuzzy, and I will not repeat it here, but I do believe my own had an interesting formal complexity. I have transcribed a portion of it below:

Said I to the dragon,      Said the dragon to me,     Said I once again,
I fear that your talons,     my dear beast of          my dear purple-winged
when opening                        the sea, you                      friend, I am sorry
    pages of                                  should know                           to make such
        books, will                                that my claws                         assumptions.
           tear and will                               are quite blunt.                    Indeed, to my
        rend, and                                I polish and file,                       mind the 
   whenever we                        it’s not worth                                words are  
send in new                     
my while to                                           hard to find
        orders we’ll                         keep them                                         to express my
   get funny                                        so sharp                                                    sincerest
looks                                                 for the                                                       compunc-
!                                                    hunt!                                                                    tion!

I went on in this style for five more stanzas, at which point I decided that the poem had reached its logical conclusion. I had, I believed, won a stunning triumph over the old housecat, yet she refused to concede to me. She is still allowing her pesky progeny to terrorize my poor pigeon. 

I suppose this may be the incentive I need to throw off the comforts of this domestic interlude and recommence my quest for that striped-shirted man of mystery. I have had a very pleasant time here, but I cannot justify staying if it means risking the safety of dear, faithful Cecilia.

Until next I write,

Yours truly,

Karl the Kraken

I wrote back almost immediately:

 Karl–

I am surprised at you! Though your knowledge of the human literary canon is recently acquired, surely you are familiar with one of the greatest classics of children’s literature? I am tempted to send you an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland along with this letter, but I fear poor Cecilia is not up to carrying such a weight on a trans-Atlantic flight. What’s more, the Bookmarks store seem to be straight out of Alice at the moment – a testament, I suppose, to the book’s enduring popularity. Perhaps I might be able to find someone else involved with Bookmarks who has a copy or two at their house.

Yours sincerely,

Daisy the Dragon