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Rockin' and Rollin' in the Magical Forest

Some people listen to songs for the sheer enjoyment of them, paying little to no attention to the actual words. The fact that politicians have made use of songs like Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" or Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" tells me that listening to and analyzing the lyrics is often an afterthought. (Take my word for it or check for yourself, they are not the patriotic songs some people have mistaken them for.)

That is not the case for me.

Long before I changed gears to become a high school English teacher, I poured over the lyric sheets of the countless albums, cassettes, and CDs (unfortunately eight-track tapes didn't include lyrics) that I spent my hard-earned money on. As a teenager, I recall being upset when an album did not include lyrics, as that meant it would take multiple listenings to figure out what words the singers were delivering. There were also those times, too numerous to mention here, when I went so far as to write out the lyrics of my favorites, sometimes at the cost of a scratched record. I will never forget the first time I saw the actual lyrics to the classic album Quadrophenia, by the Who at a friend's house, and how the entire concept came into focus once I knew the words to the songs.

Along the way I have been introduced to many new ideas, concepts, and possibilities thanks to music. I was never much for poetry as a kid, largely because none of the English classes I took in high school delved into the structure, meaning or beauty of poems. Instead, I read the poetry of my favorite bands including the bizarre wordings of Peter Gabriel's early Genesis work, the mystical phrases of Jon Anderson and Yes, and the brilliant lyrics of the late Neil Peart of Rush.

More times than I could possibly count, a few simple words from an advertisement, television show or random conversation have pulled out links to the thousands of song lyrics bouncing around inside my head. Every time I drive through a round-about during our skiing trips to Colorado (and there are lots of them) the classic Yes song jumps to the forefront of my thoughts. A poster at a thruway rest stop warning about the dangers of the dreaded Giant Hogweed plant brought forth lines from Gabriel's Return of the Giant Hogweed and, well, you get the picture.

So how does all of this relate to Mr. Tout's Magical Forest?

I offer no apologies for the fact that my books have been influenced by the music I listen to. Likewise, I will readily admit to borrowing words, lines, and concepts from my favorite bands. One need only look at the cover of the Genesis album, Nursery Cryme, for a prime example of this. Back when I first created the Dungeons and Dragons world that would eventually become an integral part of Mr. Tout's Magical Forest, the idea of a croquet match using human heads instead of croquet balls came from that unusual album cover. Steve Hogarth, singer and lyricist for the British band Marillion has also provided plenty of stimulus, including the title of the first book of the series, The Uninvited Guest, which is a Marillion song. Hogarth's podcast mention of a band called The Violet Hour put my mind into overdrive and provided the title of Book IV of the series as well as a major plot point, and Into the Mystic is the name of a wonderful song by Van Morrison.

I gladly acknowledge J.R.R. Tolkien as the inspiration for the inclusion of the many songs/poems in the series, but when it comes to the poems themselves, several are rooted in the melodies of favored songs. A great example of this can be seen in Fall to the Forest, when Owen found himself fixated on the siren-like song at the temple. The words can be read in any number of ways, (you can hear me reciting them elsewhere on this website), but in my mind they follow the opening lines of the song Deliverance by the Swedish metal band, Opeth. (Warning-Opeth is a death-metal band, so that song might be a bit frightening to younger readers of the series). Marillion's wonderful Happiness is the Road provided the inspiration, and some lyrics, for the Aspen song to Beth in Marsh Mayhem, and there are several others.

And then there is the Grateful Dead.

I was late to the party, late to "get on the bus" so to speak, but thanks to my friends Eric and Frank and my brother-in-law, Bryan, I quickly became immersed in all things grateful some 30 years ago. My affinity toward the band has only grown from there. The brilliant lyrics of their songs have found their way into the series on many occasions, sometimes directly, and other times as the inspiration for concepts contained within Mr. Tout's world. Mariah's reference to the song "Morning Dew," and the line "Roll away the dew" (from the aptly named 'Franklin' spell-as in the song "Franklin's Tower,") loom large in The Violet Hour, and her recitation that "I need a miracle" is a standard catch-phrase to many a Deadhead. Likewise the fountain that "was not made by the hands of men," and several other key references come right out of one of my favorite GD songs, "Ripples." It's also pretty obvious in the names of the most prominent Brewers. While many of the characters are named for friends and relatives, Jerry, Bobby and Phil weren't just random monikers I picked out of a hat.

I would like to take credit for coming up with the concepts of purple haze and purple rain, but as most people know, Jimi Hendrix and Prince were decades ahead of me. Thomas Dolby may not be the household name of either of the aforementioned greats, but his simple line mentioning "a river of space, a river of time," sent my imagination on a quest that was not satisfied until the final chapter of the series, The Big Show.

It might just be a phrase, a few lines, or even some dialogue, but the musical influences are there to be discovered. And if you're feeling inspired to hunt them down, let me know at and I'll mention you in a future blog post.

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