My mom hates me. I know this because she got my four-year-old this for his birthday. He named it “Spatula.”
I keep wanting to shriek and throw a book at it. Which isn’t a very nice thing for a writer to do to a book. And speaking of arachnids in (or should I say under?) literature, Charlotte from E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web is the only spider I would never throw a book at.
Ms. C was as wise as Obi-Wan Kenobi and, if the movies had it right, only had two eyes and so looked way less freaky than regular spiders. Even though Charlotte’s beautifully written webs saved Wilber’s bacon, her self-described greatest work wasn’t a particular web she authored, but rather her egg sack of babies, her creation for which she gave her last life’s energy and through which she lived on. Charlotte called her babies her Magnum Opus.
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Magnum Opus. This is a Good Word. Wikipedia, which of course is never wrong, explains that “magnum opus” means “great work” and refers to the best, the greatest, the most popular, or the most renowned achievement of an author, artist, or composer.
For those of us writers who are parents, our Greatest Works must be our children, our flesh and blood babies. But what about in the context of our writing lives? Which of our stories, our books, our little mind-babies will be our Magnum Opus? How do we go about creating a Magnum Opus, anyway?
The term “magnum opus” originated in medieval European alchemy. And get this–it refers to the transmutation or “changing” of base matter into gold. This makes me think of Anne Lamott’s famous writing advice to let go of perfectionism and write that messy (yeah, that wasn’t the term she used, but this is a kidlit blog here!) first draft. Once that mess of a first draft is down we can get down to transmutation and shine up our word-babies until they are–to steal the word from Charlotte—RADIANT. And then hopefully someday our babies, like Charlotte’s, will spin tiny silk balloons and fly, fly, out into the world, into the hands of a child whose life is made better by our little message in a web.
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Originally published at Kidlit Central News, August 12, 2008, by Elizabeth Casteel