Guest post: Michael J. Bowler - 'The Dark Places We Run Through'
The Dark Places We Run Through
My Knight Cycle series of books is, first and foremost, a fable, a fantasy of “An America that could be” if only two simple precepts were actually fostered by all adults – “the best interests of children” should be the overreaching goal of a civil society, and a successful society is one that lives in balance. Sadly, neither of these principles exists in America today except within small enclaves. They are certainly not present in politics or public policy, education or the media, or in corporate offices. The end result has become a country of lost, mentally ill, or neurotic kids who have no real rights except the right to be sent to prison if they get involved in a crime. In some states, that right to prison has no age limit.
Adults used to understand that children and teens needed parenting and mentoring, and that kids needed good role models and positive examples. Adults used to know instinctively that kids never got things right all the time, that they needed second, third, maybe even fourth chances in life to get themselves together. Not anymore. Now when kids screw up, the adults give up on them immediately.
In Children of the Knight, readers meet a host of cast-off and marginalized kids in Los Angeles, kids discarded by society for not fitting into the very narrow niche adults today seem to insist upon. Readers also meet a resurrected King Arthur, fulfilling his once and future king status by returning to help the children of Britain’s most prosperous, but careless,child - America. He unites kids of all ethnicities and races and sexual orientations. He doesn’t focus on where they have been in life so much as where they could go. He believes in the power of redemption, of second chances, and these are overarching themes of the entire series.
Book II – Running Through A Dark Place continues the crusade to better the lot of children in America, to bring to the people those two precepts I articulated in the first sentence. This second book, and the third – There Is No Fear – illustrate clearly that children are not adults and should never be treated as such. They stumble, they fall, they make bad choices, they are impulsive. But they always deserve a second chance. Sadly, as depicted in The Knight Cycle, many kids have never had a first chance, let alone a second. The campaign Arthur and his Knights launch in Running to get kids fourteen and older adult rights exists not because Arthur and Jenny and the other adults really believe kids can think like adults. They understand the essential difference in the thinking processes of adults versus teens, even without all the scientific data on brain development at their fingertips. Such understanding did, after all, used to be called common sense.
Rather, the campaign is launched to force California voters – that means adults - to take a long hard look at Proposition 21 and other laws that put children as young as fourteen into adult court for the express purpose of sending them to prison, and in a broader sense the campaign exists to confront the unfairness, the idiocy, the fallacy that children can think like adults one minute, but not the next. And the stupid notion that, based on current law in California and America, the only time kids apparently can think as adults is when they do something wrong, never when they do something right. And further, when kids do something wrong, America’s answer is to throw them away into prison, out of sight, out of mind. Some solution, huh?
For those who have read the first book, and for those who have not, it’s difficult to discuss the plot of Running without giving away a major spoiler. But something so monumental happens in Chapter 1 that the whole world is fundamentally changed, and so is everyone in Arthur’s Round Table. This event precipitates great joy and great sorrow. Running Through A Dark Place is a tale of loss, happiness, courage, and fear. All of us as kids ran through some dark place or other. That’s part of growing up. For many of us, those dark places were internal. For too many children in America today, those places are both internal and external.
I’ve known kids who have gone through such dark times I am amazed they survived, let alone went forward to succeed at anything in life. As with Arthur’s kids, those I knew were mentored by good adults who helped them overcome the darkness and step into the light. Adults who really care about the future will always step up in some way to help kids who stumble. But we need more of them and less of the ones who want to do the throwaway routine. Human children are not trash. They are not something to recycle. They are forever in need of forgiveness and love and support.
For those who read Children of the Knight and perhaps thought it unfinished, that there were many aspects of society touched on, but not explored, in part that’s because it was never intended as a stand-alone book. For reasons unknown to me, I wasn’t allowed to indicate it was the beginning of a series. Hence, the seemingly bleak ending confounded many. Hopefully, some of you might give Running Through A Dark Place a chance. But even in Book II, the story remainsunfinished. Some elements that began in Children of the Knight, and those that begin inRunning, don’t get resolved until the final book. It’s a journey, an epic coming-of-age tale involving a lot of kids, and adults, who are given a second chance, and who make something worthwhile out of that chance. Despite what the conclusion to the first book might indicate, the tag line on the cover of Running is something I’ve learned from every kid I’ve ever known – hope endures.