The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman
by Robin Gregory
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Having won a number of awards, Robin Gregory's The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman is being lauded as a classic. A haunting, visionary tale spun in the magical realist tradition of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time, the profoundly unique voice and heart-stirring narrative recall great works of fiction that explore the universal desire to belong.
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At a quarter past seven, the candelabras in the chapel stopped swaying. The nuns crossed themselves, went outside and found a wooden fishing bucket on the porch. Expecting the catch of the day, they were nothing short of horrified to see a baby boy bundled in fur and tucked inside it. He had bright black eyes, enormous ears, and his hair was the texture of caterpillar fuzz.
“He’s a Hostile, if I ever saw one,” said Mother Teagardin.
The word Moojie had been smudged across his forehead. And that was what they called him—a peculiar name for a peculiar boy, who wasn’t particularly welcome. Against her better judgment, Mother Teagardin, who always said the natives were ill-suited for local society, hadn’t the heart to surrender him to the local Bureau of Questionable Peoples. She appealed to the local families to adopt him. But the villagers were a superstitious lot. They believed the mysterious child to be, well, too mysterious.
It didn’t help that before he cut his first teeth, Moojie amused himself by magically snuffing out candles with the blink of an eye, and by sending objects into flight with the power of his mind. When he didn’t get his way, he caused the wind to rip off the nuns’ veils and flash their knickers. Like Odysseus, he was quick to act and slow to regret. Meanwhile, the sisters clicked their clickers, and swatted his bottom, and continued looking for a family for him.
Except for one early chapter of his childhood, Moojie was a virtuosic flop when it came to the only thing he cared about: finding and keeping a family.
This golden parenthesis began just before he was one year old, when Henry and Kate Littleman, a childless couple who had moved from the East Coast to San Miguel—along with hundreds of recent immigrants from Europe and the Far East, since America had opened her doors to the world—took him home to raise as their own. Mamma immediately left her post as a science and French teacher at the Charles Darwin Free School to look after him. Mornings, she tucked him into a knapsack
suspended from a tripod, and went about her housekeeping. He grinned and giggled as she baked bread, smoked little cigars, knitted hats and booties, and arranged his wet flannel diapers on a drying rack near the fireplace. She wheeled him to the beach in a wicker pram, where they collected spider crabs and napped in the salty sand; she rocked him before a glowing wood stove; she bathed and coddled him. He watched Papa, a mapmaker, spin his curta and level his transit, slurp scalding tea,
and leap out the door every morning in a pocketed vest. Sometimes, in the afternoon, Papa played piano for him or showed off his soccer moves in the backyard.
In those days, Moojie was a model child, the ambassador of lovability.
He delighted at being the center of attention, always looking intently into people’s eyes, always smiling, as if he were in on some cosmic joke. In those days—before San Miguel de las Gaviotas had gone the way of Atlantis, that is to say, before it fell out of favor with the gods—Moojie was passed around at church like a peace pipe. Warmed by his charm, suspicious villagers now lined up after the service to take turns holding him. Once Mrs. Littleman contrived a plot to put the smiling Moojie into
the arms of a miserable scrooge, and everyone sighed with awe as the long-suffering soul wept and sang praises to God in heaven.
“Have you noticed, my cupcake?” Mamma said to Papa as she pushed the pram home from church. “This is no ordinary child.”
“He’ll make a fine field hand, lovey,” Papa said.
At the time, San Miguel de las Gaviotas was a nick on the Pacific Coast of America, a clammy, cluttery mishmash of thatched rooftops, crumbling walls, and crooked towers surrounded by rugged mountains that rose out of fog like ancient pyramids. Moojie’s new home, Number 11 Wimbley Wood, a mildewy cottage with a drip line and assorted mushrooms growing in the basement, appealed to otherworldly visitors.
Only Moojie could see the celestial bodies spinning and whirling all about him. And he sometimes heard voices beyond the range of normal hearing —gifts, of course, that he did not yet understand. In the witching hours, lights floated down through the ceiling over his crib. He giggled and tried to grasp them as they bobbed playfully into and out of his hands. Mamma came in and held him in the rocker, while moths and flower flies haunted the spirit lamp—like all that is born, seeking to return to light.
Having landed in the nucleus of love, charming, handsome Moojie surpassed his parents’ every expectation, blessing them with unmitigated joy.
But all of that was soon to change.
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Not everybody likes award-winning movies. Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water won four Oscars: best picture, best director, best original score, and best production design, but some critics called it pedantic, shallow, unoriginal, and manipulative. It is no surprise that a film that plunges into stark contrasts is also eliciting polarized reviews. Controversy seems to badger great works. The novel of the same title, co-authored by del Toro and Daniel Kraus, hasn’t won nearly the same acclaim as the film. But here’s why I’m happy: magical realism has finally found a toehold in mainstream America. If the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has a finger on the national pulse, it seems America is ready for stories that treat supernatural and mythic themes as a natural part of life.
I've been drawn to mysticism and spirituality most of my adult life. During this time, I've witnessed a number of healings (my own and others’)—from the common cold to terminal cancer—without the aid of medical science. So-called miracles have become a natural part of my life. As a writer, I am excited to build stories on this premise. With a little help from Charles Dickens, I follow a tradition of subverting expectations and use irony to call into question social and religious traditions. For example, in The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman, I address Pappy's bigotry in a historic (and personal) context while showing him also as protective of biracial, disabled, troublesome Moojie. On the other hand, Moojie, who is developmentally challenged, is often wiser than Pappy and the adults around him. Another example can be found in The Whale Rider. Paikea, the protagonist, is excluded from her grandfather’s search for the next tribal chief because she is a girl, but she is more capable than any of his male candidates. My greatest wish as a writer is to create stories that show characters subverting human expectations by awakening to their divine nature. For the past year I’ve been working on the film adaptation of Moojie Littleman, Book 1. Adaptation and screenwriting are completely different from novel writing so there are a number of changes to the story, but the basic themes and premise remain true to the book. My mentor, John Crye—writer, actor, producer, editor, and former CEO of Newmarket Films (produced The Whale Rider)—is as excited about magical realism as I am. While my screenplay is still in development, I credit John’s magnificent
oversight for this pre-production review:
“The Improbable Wonders of Moojie Littleman” is an emotionally powerful and viscerally stunning fantasy with a fascinating and hard-hitting family drama not overshadowed by all the spectacle. We are, with Moojie, entering a strange new world here where the incredible seems possible. At the heart of the story is always his quest for belonging, a universal human drive that resonates even in such extraordinary circumstances. The Light-Eaters are intriguing and
capable of holding our interest with both their capabilities and thematic nature. Nahzi is a particularly breathtaking and memorable element. They are inspirational as well, and we can see that it is Moojie's time with them that helps him mature in the way that he does, whether it is taking responsibility for starting the trouble, or telling Babylonia he loves her with the stirring speech, "The day I met you, it was like I fell asleep and woke up in a better world.”
—THE BLACK LIST, Hollywood (Aug/2018)
Europe, Australia, and South America have long-embraced magical realism in art, literature, and film. It is thrilling to see it finally recognized in America. Thanks to David Lynch's legacy, and other commercially successful films, like Being John Malkovich, Donnie Darko, and Edward Scissorhands, the road has been paved for stories that normalize mythical, spiritual, and mystical experiences. If you are drawn to films like this, you're going to love the Moojie film!
Here are some magical realist films worth seeing: The Whale Rider, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amélie, Micmacs, The Delicatessen, The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, and Pan’s Labyrinth.
So it’s onward and upward! Time to get back to work. Just finishing the fifth revision of the screenplay. Two more books in the works will complete a Moojie Littleman trilogy. I love hearing from you. Whether you are parenting or writing or being the CEO of a national corporation, I want to hear how you are following your dreams!
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