“If you want to change the world, pick up a pen,” Martin Luther said—and did. Thirty-two years ago, as a young wife and mother in the (almost) godforsaken Islands of Chiloé, I decided I wanted to change the strangely delusional world I lived in. So I picked up a pen and began to write some new legends of Chiloé.
The Archipelago of Chiloé in southern Chile abounds with legends spun to explain their insulated world, generate fertility in earth and seas, and, uh, conceal rape, abuse, and adultery. Chilotes have their creation and flood mythologies, too. Do they believe their own stories? Debatable. But the old tales do provide a “convenient” barrier to new ideas.
Still, in a place where the winds of change blow rarely, I admire their clinging to a unique cultural heritage…except where it justifies the deep-rooted sins more than it preserves the traditional pastimes. And I’m all for the fun of a story…unless it’s a story that ends in death, or shackles people in fear and darkness and mental stagnation.
As the character Nicolás Serrano declares in Destiny at Dolphin Bay, “We’ve been redeemed from this futile way of life…” (I Pet. 1:18). Today I’m sharing the opening of Hope Chest, the first in a new series of Legends of Chiloé featuring Nicolás’s mother, María Angélica De la Cruz.
Angie’s Story Begins: December 1968
“Even for South America, I grew up on the fringes of modern society, at the border of turmoil and terror. We Chileans are people of countless contradictions, but that year I turned sixteen, the hairline between magic and reality widened from a crack to a chasm.
“The illustrious Don Eduardo Frei Montalba, leader of the Christian Democrats, presided over our country then, yet instead of his speeches, we young people listened to the Beatles and the Beach Boys on the radio whenever we chanced out to civilization on the Big Island of Grand Chiloé. News of the space race and the endless war in Vietnam trickled down to us from the north too, of course, camouflaged in song.
“Our naval hospital in Viña del Mar attempted a heart transplant before Dr. Barnard of South Africa, and in Santiago the university students marched and sat-down ahead of the Americans—though with less hope and even less success. Great events might re-shape the world outside, but for us it all shimmered like a mirage, a distant dream beyond our reach. No substance grounded our wishful optimism.”
Effects of the 1960 Earthquake
“More than eight years had passed since the greatest earthquake in recorded history rocked our island province, but it might as well have been eighty for all we remembered. Our neighbors continued to perch their palafitos, homes-on-stilts, at the ocean’s precarious edge. Never mind the Great Wave that might dash away in a moment everything they had built over a lifetime.
“And still we ran to God only when the storm winds swelled to such proportions that the church-tower bell rang on its own.
“More than eighty years had passed since Chilean politicians, in a panic to ferret out spies during our War of the Pacific, held the last of the world’s witch trials and forced the Righteous Province—our whispered name for the mystic guild of covens in Chiloé—deeper underground than ever. Compared to the rumored goings-on in the cave of Quicaví, the cinema scandal of Rosemary’s Baby sounded almost as innocent as the Christ Child. We were slow to learn there too.
“So instead of sweeping the cobwebs from our gloomy corners and breathing the pure air of ‘life and hope’, as President Frei put it, we cowered in the shadows, mired in the sludge of an occult underbelly.”
Freed from Fear
“Fear not. Those words I memorized for the Christmas pageant that year saved me from the brewing storm. From the chains that bound me to my fate, from the crate of vain hopes I clung to, built of sand and sawdust. The deeds of our Righteous Province became for me filthy rags and withered leaves and rudderless ships, driven before the wind.
“Once I feared them. Then, dressed in the Righteous One, I feared them no more.”
“…God has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness … as a bride adorns herself…” (Isaiah 61:10)
Angie De la Cruz’s escape to a better hope makes up the plot of my new Work-in-Progress. While Melissa Travis describes “Señora Angélica” as a Chilote mermaid, in Hope Chest we read the first installment of her transformation from timid teenager to icon of courage—an island legend.
And in this way, I offer my grain of sand, my drop of ink, to changing the world. One simple tale at a time.