Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Local Coverage of _Like a Noise in Dreams_

Mr. Jeff Kenney, editor of the town paper back home, The Culver Citizen, has written a very kind piece about Like a Noise in Dreams. My thanks to Jeff and to Plymouth Pilot-News Managing Editor, Diona Eskew, for permission to reproduce here the article, which originally appeared in both the Citizen and the Pilot-News [Copyright (c) 2015 by The Pilot-News. All rights reserved.]

Houghton's New Novel Places Pieces of Culver in England
By Jeff Kenney
Citizen editor
It's been a decade since the Rev. Dr. John Houghton's first novel, which was set in a fictionalized version of Culver, and -- perhaps somewhat to his own surprise -- several characters from that book are back in "Like a Noise in Dreams," which was just released this fall.
A bit ironically, "Dreams" -- a novel featuring Culver characters set in England -- arrives the same year as a novel featuring English characters but set in Culver ("No Place to Hide," by British best-selling novelist Susan Lewis) was released to much fanfare.
Houghton, who was featured in a Culver Citizen article last year focusing on his editing work on a tribute book to the most preeminent scholar of the writings of "Lord of the Rings" novelist JRR Tolkien (and who has written many columns for this newspaper starting in the 1970s and picking up in the past eight years), grew up in Culver, attended Culver Military Academy, and earned degrees from Harvard, Yale, Indiana, and Notre Dame Universities, specializing among other areas, in Medieval history and Tolkien. When "Rough Magicke" was released, he was still fairly new to his role as an Episcopal priest (a role in which he serves at the Hill School in Pennsylvania, where he also teaches, a role he's been familiar with for decades).
"Magicke" was deeply steeped in Culver lore, past and present, from the fictional name of the town itself, Annandale, which was borrowed from a blockbuster novel set in Culver from 1905, "The House of a Thousand Candles," to a litany of familiar references to Culverites in location, people, and traditions (in fact, Houghton has, for the new novel, updated the fictional website for Annandale Military Academy he created during the "Magicke" days, at
"Rough Magicke," as was noted by some who reviewed it, was something of an "occult thriller" undergirded by an unusual blend of magic and Christianity and with a partial boarding school background (another part of it was set in Michigan City, then the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana).

From 'Magicke' to 'Dreams'
The new novel, "Like a Noise in Dreams," like its predecessor, draws heavily from Houghton's own experience, in this case most pointedly from his experiences teaching at American summer camps in Oxford, England.
Says Houghton: "What I've done is imagined Culver had a summer camp in England," which is not, on the surface, such an unusual idea since Culver Academies does indeed have summer camps, even if the England part is purely imaginary.
The author also weaves parts of Southern England, where his Houghton ancestors hail from, into the story as well. Michigan City turns up in a third part of a book he describes more as "three novellas than a single novel" proper.
"It was fun sort of trying to take the general experience of this camp I've worked at and reimagining it being an American military school in Oxford...and then sort of playing with the same kinds of concerns of schools and magic that we're playing with in earlier volumes. It's sort of contemporary world fantasy."
The core cast includes narrator Jonathan D. Mears (with enough real-life parallels not to see him as something akin to a fictionalized version of Houghton himself) and his niece and nephew by marriage (the nephew having been a principle character in "Rough Magicke," carried over) and another Culver (or, officially, "Annandale Military Academy") cadet from the same generation. There's also a new cast of cadets and English characters as well ("There are not quite as many background characters as a Dickens novel, but..." Houghton chuckles).
In the years since his first novel, the narrator has become the Episcopal bishop of Michigan City, attending what is actually a real-life every-decade meeting of bishops in England during the summer of 2000.
"The lead character has some of the magic things attached to him," adds Houghton. "There's a kid at the summer camp who has connections both to Annandale and this Oxford colony."
A key locale in the novel seems to be haunted by a great aunt, a connection made more intriguing by her connection with founding the college itself.
"In the 1920s to early `30s there were several new institutions founded at oxford that actually became colleges in the 1960s, so this is pictured there," Houghton explains. "There's a lot in it about the interest in spiritualism going on -- there was a time between 1900 and 1930 when otherwise orthodox Christians were involved in these ideas about spiritualism; even ideas like 'spiritual radio.'"
The novel gives considerable time to debates within Christianity about the role of magic, with undertones of the work of one of the best-known of Christian fiction writers, C.S. Lewis, whose characters engage in forms of magic, or something referred to as such within the context of some of his books.
"There's a certain influence of (Medieval-themed fantasy novelist) Katherine Kurtz novels," says Houghton, who adds there was some influence as well from Charles Williams, a novelist who formed part of the Oxford "club" of Christian novelists known as The Inklings, which included Lewis and Tolkien as well.
"Tolkien was notoriously reluctant to have magic used much in his stories," adds Houghton. "There's that whole discussion that happens at one point, or which things do we call magic that aren't, necessarily."
All of these matters might beg questions as to the moral framework of "Like a Noise in Dreams," something Houghton says is evident, "though I don't want to be too pretentious. Somebody has to respond to (an evil magician character in the novel) at some point, so that's another angle on it."

A hint of Culver across the pond
The Culver and Lake Maxinkuckee area, of course, have arguably inspired more than their fair share of novels, from the higher profile entries mentioned above, to lesser-known regional works, and while this book perhaps does not properly fall into the same category as Culver-set fiction such as recent novels by Richard Davies, Marcia Adams, and David Girard, to name a few, it "has a flavor of Culver," says Houghton.
"There's a lot of (Culver) Academy stuff -- an officer in charge, teenagers in uniform running around Oxford."
That, and those important Houghton ancestors from Southern England who formed part of the cadre of settlers who first arrived here in 1836, something Houghton managed to allude to in the novel as well.
That said, Houghton actually hadn't conceived "Rough Magicke" as having a sequel when he first penned it, though there is the possibility now hanging in the air of a third entry in the ongoing adventures of both novels' characters ("It may turn out there's some human instinct towards doing things in threes," he smiles).
"Like a Noise in Dreams" is instead the result of "fiddling around with the idea of whether I could set anything in England (and) under what pretext could I get these people to Oxford."
And that idea in fact came about during Houghton's faculty days at Culver Academies when, in the winter of 1975-76 he was sitting around a dining hall table at the school with the faculty's then-resident Brit, John Chadwick, and other faculty "with a high-end British real estate magazine...and the idea was kicked around that Culver could have an overseas camp and Oxford was the logical place to put it. So in a sense that nearly half-century old idea, as well as my experiences in England (were an inspiration)."

"Like a Noise in Dreams," published by Unlimited Publishing, is available online at

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A sonnet from last winter

Frost in February

It’s winter, still, outside, the sullen snow
Still draining all the world I see of warmth.
I wonder, in these frigid shortened days,
When darkling sentiments begin almost
To crowd aside the memory of light,
What depth of frozen ground has overlain
The insubstantial seeds of hope, what frost
Now inches downward toward still hidden life.
              The sleeping groundhog underneath my porch
Might stir to promise Spring, some early burst of green,
An easy resurrection: but we know
Enough of hate to say this icy death
Will not pass quickly, that it never does,
But lingers in the heart where love has blazed.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Where credit is due

In the course of posting some snapshots of locations from Like a Noise in Dreams over at the Annandale Facebook page (about 35 of them, in all),  I noticed that the photographer who took the picture of the bust of Serapis used on the cover, had, in the process of releasing the image to the public domain, asked nonetheless to be identified, as a matter of courtesy. So I hasten to do so: the photographer is Marie-Lan Nguyen, and the image is posted on Wikimedia.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Paperback Writer"

The paperback version of Like a Noise in Dreams appeared on (  a week ago tomorrow (October 22), and attracted a kind review from John David Cofield the next day. So it is off and running. An e-book version will follow in a couple of weeks, though for various technical reasons it will reflect the state of the text immediately before the last few revisions--which feels like a very medieval-manuscript development for a digital text. I'll post a list of corrigenda on the AMA website,, which already has various other bits and pieces that might be of interest (including, self-referentially, a copy of this blog).

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Well, Like a Noise in Dreams did not make it as a Kindle Scout selection, so Amazon will not be sending out free Kindle copies of the book to those who voted for it. Danny O. Snow's company, Unlimited Publishing, is, however, going to offer a 20% discount on the paperback edition, which should be out in a few weeks, as well as on the paperback of Rough Magicke. If you're interested, use the form at Annandale's QM store ( ) to send me your e-mail, and I'll send you the discount codes and instructions on how to use them.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Characters in Like a Noise

One of the bits of front matter that doesn't show up in the Kindle Scout campaign page (here) is a list of the main characters: so I am reproducing it here.

The Rt. Rev. Jonathan D. Mears, D.D., Bishop of Michigan City
Annandale Military Academy, 1970; Harvard College, A.B., 1973; Indiana University, M.A., 1974; Cloyne Divinity School, M.A.R., 1976; Chaplain, Annandale Military Academy, 1976-1994; elected Bishop of Michigan City, 1994

Daniel Mears
AMA, 1973; brother of Jonathan; University of the South, A.B., 1977

Caroline Lee Mears (“Car,” rhyming with “bear”)
Walsingham University, A.B. 1998; University of Chicago, M.A., 2000; daughter of Daniel, god-daughter of Jonathan

Rhys David Evans (“Otto”)
AMA, 1995; Walsingham University, A.B. 1998; University of Chicago, M.A., 2000

Geoffrey Thomas Adams (“Tomboy”)
AMA, 1995; Princeton University, B.A. 1999

At Walsingham College, New Inn Hall Street, Oxford:

The Rev. Canon Janet Laughlin, Ph.D., Warden
The Rev. Timothy Laughlin, Ph.D.
Brigadier Dalton Hinton, Domestic Bursar
Cedric Cope, M.A. (Oxon.), Fellow

In the Annandale Military Academy Oxford Summer Program:

Ms. Andrea Brownstein, Director
Ms. Jane Erdenberger, Associate Director
Cadet Captain Clement Austin Talbot (“Tex”), AMA 2001, Senior Captain
Cadet Lieutenant Weston Smith (“Colt”), AMA 2001
Cadet Lieutenant John Henry Holliday (“Doc”), AMA 2001, Co-chair of the Honor Council
Cadet Lieutenant Emily Shanley-Roberts, AMA 2001
Cadet Lieutenant Rachel Hunnewell, AMA 2001, Co-chair of the Honor Council

Cadet Jason Everett Watson (“Sherlock”), AMA 2004  

Thursday, September 3, 2015

I've already posted this on my personal Facebook page, but perhaps it will hold up to a little more exposure. The Latin at the beginning is from the last part of a hymn, "Pange Lingua Gloriosa," by St. Thomas Aquinas sung as part of the liturgy of Benediction; the italicized lines further down are my translation. (Here's a YoutTube video of the full hymn: )

Benediction: An Ode

Tantum ergo sacramentum
Veneremur cernui,
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.


While lightning bugs begin to spark the dusk
(As thick now as they were when we would pierce
The lids of rinsed-out jars in childish hope
That we could keep the cold enticing fire
Alive beyond the moment of its pulsed
Allure), and Deneb, Vega, Altair first
Appear against the gray blue of the sky,
A shadow on the trail in front of me
Becomes a doe, and stops, and stamps a hoof,
And snorts a warning, half to me and half
To near-invisible twin fawns who know
Enough to stay behind her, but not yet
Enough to be afraid of such as I.
One step: a flash of white, and they are gone.


Merton warned against the dream of
Reaching to the hearts of things--
God, he said, will let us touch them
Only long enough to feel
How the fire of being blazes
More than we can bear to hold.

Yet if all around us passes,
Fleeting, from our mortal grasp,
Still the stars above us circle
Where we would not think to reach,
Signs (despite their trepidations)
Showing sempiternity.

All our nostoi seek a fixed home,
Firm as that Odyssean bed
Built around the living olive:
Only God transcends all change,
In himself the unmoved center
Crucified in human flesh.

Swan of summer, Cygnus hovers
Stretched along the Milky Way,
Spreads imagined wings out, cross-like
Spanning all the galaxy.
Ambrose would have seen salvation
Figured in those distant lights.

I would think of some lost summer
When I knew our souls were one
Like the legs of Donne's twinned compass
Drawing one another home—
Some night when I gazed up wondering
Deep into the well of stars.

Here below, the gleaming monstrance,
Rayed to be both cross and star,
Holds enthroned the wholly other
Where the consecrated Host
Shows, still hid, that highest power
Veiled once in the Virgin's womb.

More than figure, unseen Presence
Calls, though silent, to the heart:
As an undamped string will tremble
When the master chord rings out,
So all being resonates with
This insistent source of song.

Love is strong as death, and many
Waters cannot quench it—yet
Love itself has shared our dying,
All the loss that you and I
Never then imagined feeling,
Never knew we ought to fear.

Such a sacrament we, therefore,
Prostrate worship and revere,
Where the sacrifice once ordered
Yields to this new ritual:
Faith comes forth to show in shadows
What the senses cannot know.


Before we must sleep through that one perduring night
The hungry shadows strive to wrap us in such gloom
As we cannot remove by memories of light.

Too young, we come to know the evanescent bloom
Of life, the once-played tune, escapes our hold:
That all we love or own is forfeit to the tomb.

With time, we learn to fear as well the growing old:
The dulling mind, the hopes outlived, the humbling need
For help, the pain we see in hearts where love's gone cold.

So living leaves its mark on us. Soon others read
The graying hair, the weakened eyes, the lines, the scars,
As if these were the chart of age: yet they mislead.

Beyond all life can do, all time destroys or mars,
Remains the love that moves the sun and other stars.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Here's a sonnet I wrote back in 2007 to be part of an exhibition of photographs by my friend, William Ames Bascom (who did the photographs in Falconry and Other Poems). The photos were all in black and white; the title is an allusion to the formal title of  "Whistler's Mother."

Arrangement in Grey and Black

It must be rare, at least, in that great deep
And mystery of heart and mind, that we
Conceive a new idea: as rare as if
One were to fall in love by willing it.

Ideas dawn on us, they come to us,
Rise up from silent and unfathomed pools
Like ancient fish, or fall down from the Light
To cast the shadows of the world we know.

The skills of logic and of science give
What even love, in love, provides: some means
By which we can assess, connect, arrange,
On their own terms, the givens of each art.
Our creativity must lie in what
We make of them, as we compose our lives.