Miss peregrines home for.., p.27
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       Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, p.27

         Part #1 of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series by Ransom Riggs
 
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  “Marvelous!” said Millard. “There’s your proof.”

  “Do you always keep this with you?” I asked, handing it back to her.

  “Yes. But I don’t need it anymore.” She went to the table and took my pen and began to write on the back of the photo. “What’s your father’s name?”

  “Franklin.”

  When she finished writing, she gave it to me. I looked at both sides and then fished my letter from the trash, smoothed it, and left it on the table with the photo.

  “Ready to go?” I said.

  My friends were standing in the doorway, waiting for me.

  “Only if you are,” Emma replied.

  We set out for the ridge. At the spot near the crest where I always stopped to see how far I’d come, this time I kept walking. Sometimes it’s better not to look back.

  When we reached the cairn, Olive patted the stones like a beloved old pet. “Goodbye, old loop,” she said. “You’ve been such a good loop, and we’ll miss you ever so much.” Emma squeezed her shoulder, and they both crouched down and went inside.

  In the rear chamber, Emma held her flame to the wall and showed me something I’d never noticed before: a long list of dates and initials carved into the rocks. “It’s all the other times people have used this loop,” she explained. “All the other days the loop’s been looped.”

  Peering at it, I made out a P.M. 3-2-1853 and a J.R.R. 1-4-1797 and a barely-legible X.J. 1580. Near the bottom were some strange markings I couldn’t decipher.

  “Runic inscriptions,” Emma said. “Quite ancient.”

  Millard searched through the gravel until he found a sharpened stone, and, using another stone as a hammer, he chipped an inscription of his own below the others. It read A.P. 3-9-1940.

  “Who’s AP?” asked Olive.

  “Alma Peregrine,” said Millard, and then he sighed. “It should be her carving this, not me.”

  Olive ran her hand over the rough markings. “Do you think another ymbryne will come along to make a loop here someday?”

  “I hope so,” he said. “I dearly hope so.”

  * * *

  We buried Victor. Bronwyn lifted his whole bed and carried it outside with Victor still in it, and with all the children assembled on the grass she pulled back the sheets and tucked him in, planting one last kiss on his forehead. We boys lifted the corners of his bed like pallbearers and walked him down into the crater that the bomb had made. Then all of us climbed out but Enoch, who took a clay man from his pocket and laid it gently on the boy’s chest.

  “This is my very best man,” he said. “To keep you company.” The clay man sat up and Enoch pushed it back down with his thumb. The man rolled over with one arm under his head and seemed to go to sleep.

  When the crater had been filled, Fiona dragged some shrubs and vines over the raw soil and began to grow them. By the time the rest of us had finished packing for the journey, Adam was back in his old spot, only now he was marking Victor’s grave.

  Once the children had said goodbye to their house, some taking chips of brick or flowers from the garden as forget-me-nots, we made one last trip across the island: through the smoking charred woods and the flat bog dug with bomb holes, over the ridge and down through the little town hung with peat smoke, where the townspeople lingered on porches and in doorways, so tired and numb with shock that they hardly seemed to notice the small parade of peculiar-looking children passing them by.

  We were quiet but excited. The children hadn’t slept, but you wouldn’t have known it to look at them. It was September fourth, and for the first time in a very long time, the days were moving again. Some of them claimed they could feel the difference; the air in their lungs was fuller, the race of blood through their veins faster. They felt more vital, more real.

  I did, too.

  * * *

  I used to dream about escaping my ordinary life, but my life was never ordinary. I had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was. Likewise, I never imagined that home might be something I would miss. Yet as we stood loading our boats in the breaking dawn, on a brand new precipice of Before and After, I thought of everything I was about to leave behind—my parents, my town, my once-best-and-only friend—and I realized that leaving wouldn’t be like I had imagined, like casting off a weight. Their memory was something tangible and heavy, and I would carry it with me.

  And yet my old life was as impossible to return to as the children’s bombed house. The doors had been blown off our cages.

  Ten peculiar children and one peculiar bird were made to fit in just three stout rowboats, with much being jettisoned and left behind on the dock. When we’d finished, Emma suggested that one of us say something—make a speech to dedicate the journey ahead—but no one seemed ready with words. And so Enoch held up Miss Peregrine’s cage and she let out a great screeching cry. We answered with a cry of our own, both a victory yell and a lament, for everything lost and yet to be gained.

  Hugh and I rowed the first boat. Enoch sat watching us from the bow, ready to take his turn, while Emma in a sunhat studied the receding island. The sea was a pane of rippled glass spreading endlessly before us. The day was warm, but a cool breeze came off the water, and I could’ve happily rowed for hours. I wondered how such calm could belong to a world at war.

  In the next boat, I saw Bronwyn wave and raise Miss Peregrine’s camera to her eye. I smiled back. We’d brought none of the old photo albums with us; maybe this would be the first picture in a brand new one. It was strange to think that one day I might have my own stack of yellowed photos to show skeptical grandchildren—and my own fantastic stories to share.

  Then Bronwyn lowered the camera and raised her arm, pointing at something beyond us. In the distance, black against the rising sun, a silent procession of battleships punctuated the horizon.

  We rowed faster.

  All the pictures in this book are authentic, vintage found photographs, and with the exception of a few that have undergone minimal postprocessing, they are unaltered. They were lent from the personal archives of ten collectors, people who have spent years and countless hours hunting through giant bins of unsorted snapshots at flea markets and antiques malls and yard sales to find a transcendent few, rescuing images of historical significance and arresting beauty from obscurity—and, most likely, the dump. Their work is an unglamorous labor of love, and I think they are the unsung heroes of the photography world.

  What follows is a list of all the photographs and their respective collectors.

  The Invisible Boy (Robert Jackson)

  The Levitating Girl (Yefim Tovbis)

  Boy Lifting Boulder (Robert Jackson)

  The Painted Head (Robert Jackson)

  Abe Napping (Robert Jackson)

  The Girl in the Bottle (Robert Jackson)

  The Floating Baby (Peter Cohen)

  The Boy-Faced Dog (Robert Jackson)

  The Contortionist (Robert Jackson)

  The Masked Ballerinas (Robert Jackson)

  Miss Peregrine’s Silhouette (Robert Jackson)

  Boy in Bunny Costume (Robert Jackson)

  Girls at the Beach (The Thanatos Archive)

  The Reflecting Pool (Peter Cohen)

  A Boy and His Bees (Robert Jackson)

  The Snacking Ballerinas (Robert Jackson)

  Emma in the Dark (Muriel Moutet)

  The Cairn Tunnel (Martin Isaac)

  Fighter Planes (Robert Jackson)

  Miss Peregrine (The author)

  Miss Finch (Roselyn Leibowitz)

  Miss Avocet and Her Wards (Julia Lauren)

  Miss Finch’s Loop (Roselyn Leibowitz)

  Claire’s Golden Curls (David Bass)

  Our Beautiful Display (Robert Jackson)

  Bronwyn Bruntley (Robert Jackson)

  Girl with Chicken (John Van Noate)

  Jill and the Beanstalk (Robert Jackson)

  A Follower of Fashion (Robert Jackson)

  Miss Nightjar Takes All the Hard Cases (The
author)

  Enoch’s Dolls (David Bass)

  Victor (Robert Jackson)

  My Bombshell (Peter Cohen)

  Peeling Spuds (Robert Jackson)

  Emma’s Silhouette (Robert Jackson)

  This is Why (Robert Jackson)

  A Hunting Trip (The author)

  Department Store Santa (The author)

  Victorian Dentist (The Thanatos Archive)

  Marcie and the Wight (Robert Jackson)

  The Vision (Peter Cohen)

  Caw Caw Caw (Roselyn Leibowitz)

  Abe and Emma (Robert Jackson)

  We Rowed Faster (Robert Jackson)

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I would like to thank:

  Everyone at Quirk, especially Jason Rekulak, for his seemingly endless patience and many excellent ideas; Stephen Segal, for his close readings and sharp insights; and Doogie Horner, certainly the most talented book designer/stand-up comic working today.

  My wonderful and tenacious agent, Kate Shafer Testerman.

  My wife Abbi, for cheerfully enduring long months of nervous pacing and beard growth on my part, and her parents, Barry and Phyllis, for their support, and Barry’s parents, Gladys and Abraham, whose story of survival inspired me.

  Mom, to whom I owe everything, obviously.

  All my photo collector friends: the very generous Peter Cohen; Leonard Lightfoot, who introduced me around; Roselyn Leibowitz; Jack Mord of the Thanatos Archive; Steve Bannos; John Van Noate; David Bass; Martin Isaac; Muriel Moutet; Julia Lauren; Yefim Tovbis; and especially Robert Jackson, in whose living room I spent many pleasant hours looking at peculiar photographs.

  Chris Higgins, whom I consider a leading authority on time travel, for always taking my calls.

  Laurie Porter, who took the photo of me that appears on the jacket of this book while we were exploring some weird abandoned shacks in the Mojave desert.

  A Conversation

  with Ransom Riggs

  Ransom Riggs grew up in Florida but now makes his home in the land of peculiar children—Los Angeles. Along the way he earned degrees from Kenyon College and the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television. His first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, debuted at #5 on the New York Times Best-Seller List. He recently sat down with Quirk Books’ creative director Jason Rekulak to discuss its peculiar origins.

  Can you tell us how you came to write this book? Which came first: the story or the photographs?

  I have no idea where most of my ideas come from, but Miss Peregrine has a very specific origin story. A few years ago, I started collecting vintage snapshots—the kind you can find in loose piles at most flea markets for fifty cents or a buck apiece. It was just a casual hobby, nothing serious, but I noticed that among the photos I found, the strangest and most intriguing ones were always of children. I began to wonder who some of these strange-looking children had been—what their stories were—but the photos were old and anonymous and there was no way to know. So I thought: If I can’t know their real stories, I’ll make them up.

  The photographs came first, but I never stopped collecting. Even as I was writing the story I was finding more photographs to work in. Ultimately, the photos and the story influenced each other. Sometimes I’d find a new photo that just demanded to be included in the story, and I’d find a way to work it in; other times I’d look for a certain type of photo to fit a story idea I had. It was a fun, strange, organic writing process, unlike anything I’d attempted before.

  Were there any great photographs you just couldn’t work into the narrative?

  Tons. Some will find their way into future books, whereas others are likely to remain orphans. For instance, I have this great picture of a little boy in suspenders standing in a doorway, and he’s dramatically lit and wears this dour expression, and he’s strangely immobile, despite supposedly being in the act of coming through a doorway. Why is he just standing there? He’s obviously about to deliver some terrible news—or maybe eat your brain. It looks like a still from a noir film. Unfortunately, I never found a use for it in the story.

  Somewhat more tragic is the story of the Santa that got away. There are many disturbing pictures of department store Santas in the world, but early on in the writing of this book, I found the ultimate creepy Santa a man with deep, black circles around his eyes, looking as if he’d just come off a three-day bender, and the eyes themselves— blank. I assume the man has pupils, which were somehow blurred when the exposure was made, but in this picture they’re invisible, his eyes a milky white. It was this photograph, in fact, that gave me the idea to make all the wights’ pupils blank. Unfortunately, the fellow who owned it was, understandably, pretty attached to the photo, and it took me over a year to convince him to sell it to me, by which time the book had already gone to press. So the wight-in-disguise department store Santa that appears in chapter 9 is only the second scariest department store Santa I’ve ever seen.

  Clowns are almost universally recognized as scary, and though I had a fairly good picture of a strange-looking clown and a little girl, I didn’t think the book needed any more photos of people in masks or heavy makeup, or little girls in close proximity to menacing shadows, Santas, and the like, so I passed it over. But there are so many strange things about this picture, I wanted to share it. Just look at the clown’s face. Is it just me, or is he terribly scarred?

  How many photos did you collect before settling on the final fifty that appear in the book?

  In addition to combing through bins of old photos at flea markets and antiques shops, I spent many hours in the homes of a few very patient and generous collectors, searching boxes and folders and albums overflowing with amazing images. Given that most collectors own ten thousand photos at a minimum—and often many more than that—I’d guess that more than one hundred thousand snapshots passed through my hands while creating this book.

  You attended film school at the University of Southern California, and you’ve worked in the film and television industries. How did these experiences inform the creation of Miss Peregrine? Many critics have remarked on the book’s cinematic qualities.

  It’s difficult to quantify, because this is my first novel; if I’d written one before film school and another afterward, I’d have a more scientific answer. But I do think that writing screenplays and making films trained me to think in pictures, and sequences of pictures, in a way I didn’t before. Perhaps as a result I tend to visualize scenes in a way I wouldn’t have five years ago. Sometimes when I’m writing, I imagine that I’m directing the scene—which I am, inasmuch as readers’ minds conjure pictures of what they’re reading. For instance: They walked into the room. That’s a wide shot. Her lip trembled is a close-up.

  The book begins with a passage by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882), and of course Jacob receives a book of Emerson’s work from his grandfather. Can you discuss how Emerson’s philosophy informed this story?

  Emerson figured much more heavily into the first draft of Miss Peregrine, but his involvement was whittled down quite a bit. Part of that had to do with the story changing direction. In the old version, Jacob met the peculiar children gradually, and it took him several chapters to finally and fully believe they were real. Emerson often speaks about the possibility of fantastic things that exist just out of view, and manyof his most famous quotes almost seem to refer directly to the peculiar children. “The power which resides in him is new in nature,” he writes in Self-Reliance (1841), “and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.” That’s certainly true of the children, and of Jacob, too. Then there’s this line, from Nature (1836): “In the woods, too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life is always a child. In the woods is perpetual youth.” It’s not hard to imagine that Emerson is describing the deep woods surrounding Miss Peregrine’s house and its strangely youthful inhabitants.

  One of the themes of Miss Peregrine, a
nd I think of any novel that involves the discovery of a secret world, is awakening—the protagonist’s awakening to an awesome and wonderful and, in some ways, terrible reality he scarcely could’ve imagined before, but that was right under his nose all along. At the end of Miss Peregrine, Jacob writes that his life was never ordinary, but he “had simply failed to notice how extraordinary it was.” Noticing the extraordinariness of the world is one of Emerson’s major themes. Again, from Nature: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!”

  Are there other writers whom you find particularly influential or inspiring?

  Many, though it’s hard to draw a direct line between their work and mine. Reading John Green showed me how ambitious and engaging young adult literature could be—it’s so much better than most of the kiddie stuff I read as a teenager. While I’m writing, I like to read books by masters whose technique I can’t hope to match, just to keep the bar high. Cormac McCarthy. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried—his prose has such power and economy. I read a lot of nonfiction while I’m writing, too, to help give the historical bits convincing texture. The Likes of Us and Barnardo Boy are first-person accounts of what life was like in British orphanages in the first half of the twentieth century, and they were very helpful. And the poems of Seamus Heaney were an inspiration when it came to writing about mucky peat bogs and the strange things they contain.

  Would you like to see those mucky peat bogs firsthand? If you could time-travel to any loop in history, where and when would you want to go?

  Amazingly, I’ve never been asked this question! I’m not sure if there are loops in these places (and, anyway, I couldn’t get inside them because I’m not peculiar), but I’d love to see New York City in the midto late nineteenth century. Or some of Europe’s great cities before they were bombed during World War II. A real Roman city—that would be interesting. The opulence and multicultural energy of Venice in its heyday, in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The Silk Road as traveled by Marco Polo. The list goes on!

 
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