You never know where you’re going to find inspiration . . .

Just before spring break, I gave my creative writing students a task to find, build, or cannibalize an object that they could use to inspire them for the novels they are writing. Just to be fair, I gave myself the same homework.

Of course, I love props and already have my very own Een museum:

A good book cafe.

But I didn’t want to use any of my existing props for my homework assignment (wouldn’t that be cheating?). I made a plan to visit one of the local antique shops, which always are brimming with inspiration. However, before I could get there, I found myself stuck on the latest version of my Kendra Kandlestar 5 manuscript.

I needed something to provide a warning for Kendra and her crew as they journey through a dangerous jungle. And then I remembered my recent trip to Korea and the interesting “guardians” I found at the entrance to a folk village. Called “jangseungs,” these totems are usually made of wood (though you can see one made of stone, below) and were meant to ward off demons.

Wooden totem.

Stone totem.

I was reminded of that great scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones is trekking through the jungle with his guides and the bats swarm out of a similar stone guardian. And anyone who has read Joseph Campbell’s writings on the hero’s mythological journey will be familiar with the term “Threshold Guardian.” A threshold guardian serves as that marker between worlds—the world the hero is leaving behind, and the strange, unfamiliar one he is about to enter. Of course, you see these threshold guardians all the time in western culture in the form of lions, dragons, or unicorns. They “guard” important or official buildings, or even homes.

With all this in mind, I decided that Kendra needed to encounter a type of jangseung in her own journey. I produced this sketch:

Sketch of stone guardian.

I decided that I would then build my prop. It’s not quite done, but I’ve done all the heavy lifting, carving it from foam and giving it a few coats of paint:

Sculpture in progress of stone guardian.

I may try to add some vines encircling its body, or growing from its crevices. But otherwise, it’s pretty much complete and I can say that my homework is done! (How about you, my dear students—is YOURS?)

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