|Dwizzen on his way to the harvest festival with a friend.|
In the course of designing the scarecrows for my picture book, The Scarecrow Harvest Festival, I came up with basic backstory notes for each most of them. This was mainly to help direct the characters' designs, but I was also toying with the idea of creating a "companion" book- a sort of field guide to the scarecrow characters in the vein of The Goblin Companion by Brian Froud and Terry Jones, one of my absolute favorite books. I even briefly started a blog specifically to post more fleshed-out scarecrow biographies. While the blog fizzled, I still like the idea of fleshing out my scarecrows' backgrounds. Who knows, I might actually end up writing that field guide. Or maybe I'll even convert some of them into Dungeons & Dragons NPCs and post them on DriveThruRpg.
Anyway, he's my first scarecrow biography. Enjoy!
The story of Dwizzen is really the story of Elihu March and Thomas Steiner, two young men from farming families in the River Valley.
When Elihu was five years old, an accident left him paralyzed from the waist down. Though his father was compassionate, his brothers and children from neighboring farms mocked him relentlessly for his disability, calling him useless and a burden. But one boy did not. Since he first learned to talk, Thomas Steiner struggled with a severe stutter that made even simple sentences difficult. He felt a deep kinship with Elihu and the two became fast friends.
In Thomas’ father’s field was a grove of trees that the boys often used as a refuge. It was their secret island where they could get away from the day’s difficulties for a little while. Thomas would carry Elihu to the trees in the early morning where the latter would spend the day reading the books his father bought him. At night Elihu would regale Thomas- and eventually some of the other farm children- with the things he had learned. He told tales of the giant birds that had once roamed the Valley and left their fossilized footprints in the brownstone. He told of the preacher who had tried to build a metal messiah under the direction of ghosts. He told of the great city to the west that was the center of the world where every language was spoken. And many more tales. He also helped Thomas work on his stutter by giving him poems and speeches to read slowly out loud.
One day Thomas and Elihu went out to their landlocked island after a strong nor’easter had blown through. Several trees had been knocked down and Elihu noticed that an army of seedlings had sprung upon them. Having read many books on botany and ecology, he was keen to study the new sprouts and soon noticed that the plants formed micro-environments on different parts of the fallen trees. The flora growing on top of the root-ball was different from the flora growing in the pit, which was different from the mosses, lichens, and liverworts growing on the roots themselves, which were all different from the other plants in the grove. Elihu took careful notes on his findings and, with the encouragement of his father and Thomas, submitted them to a botanist at the nearby college. To his surprise the professor wrote back, impressed with his work, and invited Elihu to give a lecture on his findings. Word of the young man’s research soon spread to other members of the faculty and thence to other universities of the River Valley and beyond. He received more offers to speak about his discovery and was soon making a regular circuit of all the major colleges of the Northeast. At first, he was carried into the lecture halls on Thomas’ back, but a professor at the local college donated a wheelchair so he could get around easier.
|Dwizzen enjoying some grilled corn at the festival.|
Thomas and Elihu grew ever closer and soon their friendship developed into something more. When Elihu’s father passed away, the two of them moved into his old farmhouse together. They wed the next spring with a ceremony in the old grove of trees where they had spent so much time in their youth.
In time the expanding town bought up Elihu and Thomas’ land to make way for expansion. When the couple moved to a new farm, they took one of the old, tipped-over logs with them as a reminder of their home and of the natural curiosity that had brought them success. Weathering and cracking had given the stump the rough semblance of a face, so Thomas and Elihu thought it would be only appropriate to give it a body as well. And a name of course. For that, they chose Dwizzen, which means "having the appearance of a dried, wrinkled fruit". A playful reference to the thick, gnarled bark of the scarecrow’s head. Dwizzen’s log head was too heavy for the body to hold up, so they gave him Elihu’s old wheelchair.
Recently Dwizzen’s chair has been fitted with bicycle wheels to make it easier for him to navigate his fields. Like his human creators, he is very interested in the succession of plant communities. He has seen neighboring fields go fallow and give way to meadow, then savannah, then young forest. He often ponders what will happen when his own field is finally reclaimed by the land. Perhaps he himself will become the nursery for a new forest.
(The word Dwizzen, by the way, comes from The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk. This book is the source for most of my scarecrow names, as you'll see in future installments.)