Barron, T(homas) A(rchibald) 1952-(Tom Barron)
BARRON, T(homas) A(rchibald) 1952-(Tom Barron)
PERSONAL: Born March 26, 1952, in Boston, MA; son of Archibald (a hotel operator) and Gloria (a geologist and museum founder) Barron; married Currie Cabot; children: three boys, two girls. Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1974; attended Oxford University on a Rhodes scholarship, graduated, 1978; Harvard University, M.B.A. and J.D., both 1982. Hobbies and other interests: Reading, traveling, hiking, "playing any sports that my kids like to play."
ADDRESSES: Home and office—545 Pearl St., Boulder, CO 80302.
CAREER: Author and environmentalist. Businessman, c. 1979-89, positions included president of venture capital firm, New York, NY; general partner, Sierra Ventures; chairman, Swiss Army Corporation. Fulltime writer, 1989—. Princeton University, Princeton, NJ, founder of environmental studies program and former university trustee. Trustee of Nature Conservancy of Colorado; has led workshops in environmental preservation and restoration for Wilderness Society and other groups. Speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences on literature, education, and the environment.
MEMBER: Wilderness Society (member of board).
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Books of the Year designation, Parents magazine, and Voice of Youth Advocates, 1992, Best Books for the Teen Age, New York Public Library, 1993, and Young-Adult Choice, International Reading Association, 1994, all for The Ancient One; Colorado Book Award, 1995, Texas Lone Star Book Award, 1997, Utah Book Award, Children's Literature Association of Utah, 1998, and Best of the Texas Lone-Star reading lists, 2000, all for The Merlin Effect; Robert Marshall Award, Wilderness Society, 1997, for environmental work; "Not Just for Children Anymore" award, Children's Book Council, 1997, and Oppenheim Portfolio Gold Award, 2000, both for The Lost Years of Merlin; "Not Just for Children Anymore" award, 1998, for The Seven Songs of Merlin; Best Books of the Year designation, Voice of Youth Advocates, and Best Fantasy Books list, Booklist, both 1999, both for The Fires of Merlin; Colorado Book Award nominee, 2000, for The Mirror of Merlin and The Fires of Merlin.
To Walk in Wilderness: A Rocky Mountain Journal (adult nonfiction), photographs by John Fielder, Westcliffe Publishers (Englewood, CO), 1993.
(With Enos Mills and John Fiedler) Rocky Mountain National Park: A One-Hundred-Year Perspective (adult nonfiction), photographs by Enos Mills and John Fielder, Westcliffe Publishers (Englewood, CO), 1995.
Where Is Grandpa? (picture book), illustrated by Chris K. Soenpiet, Philomel (New York, NY), 2000.
Tree Girl (middle-grade fiction), Philomel (New York, NY), 2001.
The Hero's Trail: A Guide for a Heroic Life (essays), Philomel (New York, NY), 2002.
High as a Hawk: The Story of a Brave Young Girl and a Mountain Guide, illustrated by Ted Lewin, Philomel (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Book Links, Parents, and Voice of Youth Advocates. Some work also appears under the name Tom Barron. Barron's books have been translated into several languages, including German and Spanish.
"HEROIC ADVENTURES OF KATE" SERIES
Heartlight, Philomel New York, NY), 1990.
The Ancient One, Philomel (New York, NY), 1992.
The Merlin Effect, Philomel (New York, NY), 1994.
"LOST YEARS OF MERLIN" SERIES
The Lost Years of Merlin (also see below), Philomel (New York, NY), 1996.
The Seven Songs of Merlin (also see below), Philomel (New York, NY), 1997.
The Fires of Merlin (also see below), Philomel (New York, NY), 1998.
The Mirror of Merlin, Philomel (New York, NY), 1999.
The Wings of Merlin, Philomel (New York, NY), 2000.
A T. A. Barron Collection (omnibus; includes The Lost Years of Merlin, The Seven Songs of Merlin, and The Fires of Merlin), Philomel (New York, NY), 2001.
ADAPTATIONS: Listening Library has adapted several of Barron's novels for audiocassette, including The Lost Years of Merlin, 2001, and The Seven Songs of Merlin, 2002.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A fantasy for children; a nature book for adults; a book of essays for adults.
SIDELIGHTS: A popular, prolific author of fiction for children and young adults as well as informational books for general readers, T. A. Barron is regarded as both a master storyteller and a gifted nature writer. Writing in School Library Journal, Connie Tyrell Burns praised him as "a wonderful storyteller, a maker of myths and fables who creates magical places where characters learn wisdom and power." Barron is perhaps best known as the author of two series of comingof-age fantasies for young adults, the "Heroic Adventures of Kate" trilogy and "The Lost Years of Merlin" series. The "Kate" series blends such elements as science fiction, history, mythology, metaphysics, and ecology in contemporary adventures that feature Kate Prancer Gordon, a courageous, resourceful teenager. The "Merlin" series focuses on the adolescent years of the legendary magician, a period that is not represented in traditional Arthurian literature. In addition, the author has been lauded his contributions to To Walk in Wilderness: A Rocky Mountain Journal, and Rocky Mountain National Park: A One-Hundred-Year Perspective.
Thematically, Barron is noted for addressing issues that relate directly to both his young audience and to the universal human condition. He explores such themes as the connections among people, cultures, and other forms of life; the ultimate meaning of existence; the power of love; death as part of a grand design; the bond between generations; the need to preserve the environment; and the acceptance of the light and darkness within ourselves. In the "Kate" and "Merlin" series, Barron takes his protagonists on both literal and figurative journeys. The teens face enormous—and often dangerous—obstacles that force Kate and Merlin to make difficult, sometimes life-threatening decisions which lead them to a greater degree of self-confidence and maturity as well as to a deeper sense of how they can contribute to the world. As a writer, Barron characteristically favors a clear, lyrical prose style. He is commended for his use of descriptive language; for his creation of exciting plots, which often include twists at the end; and for his inclusion of strong female and sensitive male characters. Although some observers have criticized Barron for overwriting, most critics applaud him as a talented author whose well crafted blend of adventure, fantasy, and spirituality has led to the creation of insightful, moving books.
Writing on the Web site for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Barron stated, "My childhood was spent in two places: a New England town full of apple orchards, Native American lore, and Shaker craftspeople, and a ranch in Colorado where I learned to yip and yap like a coyote and hoot like a great horned owl." Barron credits his parents and several of his teachers with fostering his innate love and nature and interest in traditional cultures. His earliest memory is of being carried on his father's shoulders to an old chestnut tree near his home. In an article for Book Links, the author wrote, "I remember him lifting me up to peer into a dark hole in the trunk. To my surprise, a family of baby raccoons, their eyes as bright as lanterns, peered back at me. Whenever I think of that man, I think of all the places that we shared. And the memories, like the eyes of those raccoons, are lantern-bright. Small wonder that, for me, place is far more than landscape." Barron eventually used his father, and the man's passing, as the basis for Where Is Grandpa?
After the youngest of Barron's six brothers and sisters started school, his mother, Gloria Barron, returned to college to study geology. Later, she founded the Touch Museum, a hands-on nature museum for children, at the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind. "By word and example," Barron recalled in a media piece titled "Colorado's Heroic Kids," Gloria Barron "instilled in each of her seven children the idea that one individual can make a lasting difference in the lives of others." In 2001 Barron established the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a national award that celebrates young people who make a major contribution to their community or to the world at large.
In an article in Voice of Youth Advocates, Barron stated, "My own background as a writer is rooted in nature, having grown up reading Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, and John Muir long before I ever dipped into Madeleine L'Engle, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula Le Guin, E. B. White, or J. R. R. Tolkien." After winning a national speech competition sponsored by the Scouts, he was sent to Washington, D.C., to meet the president of the United States. After high school, he attended Princeton University, where he founded two literary magazines and discovered Tolkien. During his senior year he won the Pyne Prize, the university's highest honor for an undergraduate, which honors outstanding service to Princeton by one of its students. Receiving a Rhodes scholarship, he then set off for Oxford University in England.
At Oxford, Barron studied, but also continued to write. He took a year off from school to travel, exploring theBritish Isles, riding the Trans-Siberian railway, and traveling to the Arctic, Africa, India, Nepal, and Japan. Returning to Oxford, he wrote his first novel, and collected more than forty rejection letters for it. Once back in the United States, he enrolled at Harvard University Law School, hoping to become an environmental lawyer. He changed his mind, got his MBA, and went to New York City to work as a venture capitalist, acquiring small and medium-size businesses for his firm.
While working in New York, Barron married Currie Cabot, a woman whom he had met while cross-country skiing in the Catskill Mountains, and with whom he has raised their five children. After he sent a manuscript of his first novel for young people, Heartlight, to author Madeleine L'Engle, she passed it on to her agent, whereupon Currie suggested that the fledgling author quit his day job. In 1989 Barron resigned from his firm and moved his family to a Colorado ranch so that he could become a full-time writer. Heartlight was published the following year, beginning the "Heroic Adventures of Kate" series.
In Heartlight, thirteen-year-old Kate and her grandfather, an astrophysicist researching the nature of light and its relationship to the human soul, travel to a distant galaxy by liberating their souls (or "heartlights") to find out why the Earth's sun is losing power. Their discoveries there force them to battle a demonic force seeking eternal life. Kate's adventures continue in The Ancient One, as she and her great-aunt Melanie work to save a forest of redwood trees on Native American holy ground from being cut down. Transported five hundred years into the past, Kate encounters the Halamis, a tribe of Native Americans threatened with annihilation by a volcanic eruption caused by an evil being that wants to rule the world. Kate enlists the help of the Ancient One, the oldest living tree in the forest, to save the tribe. In the final book of the series, The Merlin Effect, Kate accompanies her Arthurian scholar father to the coast of Baja California. Here, he hopes to discover one of Merlin's lost treasures, a drinking horn that grants immortality that was supposedly aboard a sunken Spanish galleon. While rescuing a whale tangled in the expedition's equipment, Kate is caught in a whirlpool and dragged to the ocean floor, where she battles the enchantress Nimue and her demon army, who also seek the horn. In order to save her companions, Kate must find a way to shake Nimue's magic and return the horn to its rightful place.
Noted for its perceptive exploration of complex ideas, difficult choices, and adult/child relationships, the "Heroic Adventures of Kate" interweave mythological imagery, metaphysical philosophy, scientific theories, and environmental issues with the adventures—and personal growth—of its heroine. Reviewers generally lauded the series, a critic in Publishers Weekly writing that Heartlight "shines as a bold, original effort worthy of repeat readings."
Doing research for The Merlin Effect, Barron became intrigued, and planned a story covering the missing teen years of Merlin's life. Originally planned as a trilogy, the success of the first volumes prompted the author to add more books to the series, each covering one year of the teen's life. In the "Lost Years of Merlin" series readers meet Merlin before he realizes his calling as a sorcerer, following him in a series of adventures that prepare Merlin to become the greatest magician of all time. Merlin comes of age and gains humility and compassion while battling his own insecurities and shortcomings, and is aided on his quests by both natural and supernatural creatures.
In the first volume of the series, The Lost Years of Merlin, twelve-year-old Emerys has lost his memory but discovers he has magical powers; his mother, the witch Branwen, refuses to tell him about his past. When Branwen is about to be burned at the stake by a mob, Emerys saves her but is blinded in the process. Recovering in an abbey, he vows never to use his powers in anger, and after developing second sight to replace his lost eyesight he sets off on a journey to find out who he really is. On this quest, which takes him to Fincayra, an enchanted island between Heaven and the Otherworld, Emerys learns about his parents and his sister, Rhia, and discovers that he is Merlin. The Seven Songs of Merlin finds the thirteen-year-old magician appointed to heal the barren lands of Fincayra. When he uses his powers irresponsibly to bring Branwen to the island, she is threatened with death by the evil Rhita Gawr, and Merlin must find the potion that will save her. On his quest he finds the magical sword Excalibur that one day will belong to King Arthur.
In The Fires of Merlin, fourteen-year-old Merlin is learning wizardry, although his powers are still new. Through a plot to harm him, he is made the target of an angry dragon emperor, Valdearg, while Rhita Gawr conspires to gain Merlin's powers and steal Excalibur. The fourth volume of the series, The Mirror of Merlin, finds fifteen-year-old Merlin searching for his stolen sword, now in the possession of the sorceress Nimue. She infects the teen with a deadly, condition, but a meeting with Ector—the boy destined to become King Arthur—sets Merlin on the path to a cure, a path that takes him into the future. There he meets his older self, trapped in the Crystal Cave by Nimue, and envisions the Round Table and the creation of a society based on justice. The Wings of Merlin finds Rhita Gawr preparing to invade Fincayra, forcing Merlin to arrange a defense of the island. Merlin and his followers are forced to flee to the Forgotten Island, a place considered fearsome by Fincayrans, although after a series of battles they prove victorious and the Forgotten Island is transformed into Avalon. Now Merlin must make the decision to leave his beloved Fincayra for the earthly island of Britannia, where he will become mentor to King Arthur as well as the celebrated wizard of story and song.
Barron's "Merlin" books have been praised for providing young readers with a unique depiction of the legendary character. In the NAPRA Review, Annette Botsford wrote, "Through the adventures of young Merlin and his fellow travelers, Barron—more than any other on my sagging shelf of Merlin books, helps readers of all ages confront . . . vital topics with renewed vigor and deepened insight." Writing about the series in Newspapers in Education, Laura Farrell maintained that "Barron has an extraordinary way with words that can be described as no less than magical," while Sara Pearce of the Cincinnati Enquirer urged young readers: "I know this is asking a lot, but I want you to set aside Harry Potter and pick up Merlin." Writing on his Web site, Barron explained that, for him, Merlin's story is a metaphor "for the idea that all of us, no matter how weak or confused, have a magical person down inside, just waiting to be discovered."
Other books by Barron include the stand-alone fantasy novel Tree Girl and the picture book Where Is Grandpa? In Tree Girl, nine-year-old orphan Rowanna fights her fear of the dark forest in order to learn about her mysterious past, and discovers a world inhabited by spirits from nature. While a Publishers Weekly contributor found the story "anticlimactic" and somewhat confusing, in School Library Journal Connie Tyrell Burns praised the book as a "stylistically rich and lyrical.... imaginative tale." Where Is Grandpa? explains the cycle of life through the perceptions of a young boy, sitting with his family on the day that his grandfather has passed away. Each member of the family shares a memory of Grandpa: at the tree house, at the waterfall, and at the door, ready to carve Halloween pumpkins. The boy realizes that his grandfather can be with him in all of the places they have shared, that Grandpa is everywhere. A critic in Kirkus Reviews stated that Barron creates "a heartfelt tribute" to family, while in School Library Journal Virginia Golodetz called Where Is Grandpa? a "helpful introduction to death and the grieving process."
In The Hero's Trail: A Guide for a Heroic Life, Barron collects both real-life stories of individuals of accomplishment and fictional tales of personal heroism, and helps young readers differentiate between the five types of true heroism and "celebrity." Featuring people as diverse as Prometheus, Helen Keller, Lance Armstrong, and young Rubie Bridges, the author "likens the journey through life to a hike on a trail," explained School Library Journal contributor Wendy Lukehart, and posits that heros help all people realize that they are not "walking alone." Noting that Barron "makes his points in a lucid, direct way," a Kirkus reviewer praised The Hero's Trail as "compelling motivational reading."
On his Web site, Barron explained: "I write books I would like to read. That means each story must have a character, a relationship, a place, a dilemma, and an idea that I care about. A lot. I like a story where an individual must deal with personal issues as well as overarching issues. The mythic quest—call it fantasy if you prefer—allows me to incorporate all of these qualities" in an entertaining format. In his Booklist interview, Barron told Estes that, since he became a full-time writer, "I haven't had a moment of regret. I feel very, very lucky to get to follow my deepest passion in life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Barron, T. A., The Hero's Trail: A Guide for a Heroic Life, Philomel (New York, NY), 2002.
Booklist, April 15, 2001, Sally Estes, "The Booklist Interview: T. A. Barron," p. 1560.
Chicago Parent, March, 1999, Ken Trainer, "Teaching the Difference between Celebrities and Heroes."
Cincinnati Enquirer, October 29, 1999, Sara Pearce, "Youngsters Can Find Magic in Merlin."
Denver Post, October 28, 1998, Claire Martin, "Colorado Author Is Living His Dream."
Emergency Librarian, Volume 24, number 4, 1997, Kylene Beers, "Where Fantasy Flies: An Interview with T. A. Barron," pp. 61-63.
Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 1999, review of Where Is Grandpa? p. 1880; August 15, 2002, review of The Hero's Trail, p. 1215.
NAPRA Review, April, 1997, Antoinette Botsford, "Merlin in Our Midst."
Parents, November, 1998, T. A. Barron, "Merlin's Message."
Publishers Weekly, June 29, 1990, review of Heartlight, p. 102; January 11, 2000, review of Where Is Grandpa? p. 103; October 15, 2001, review of Tree Girl, p. 72.
School Library Journal, February, 2000, Virginia Golodetz, review of Where Is Grandpa? p. 91; October, 2001, Connie Tyrell Burns, review of Tree Girl, p. 148; December, 2002, Wendy Lukehart, review of The Hero's Trail, p. 153.
Voice of Youth Advocates, April, 1999, T. A. Barron, "Vision, Voice and the Power of Creation: A Young Adult Author Speaks Out."
Book Links,http://www.tabarron.com/ (July 24, 2001), T. A. Barron, "A Place for Love: The Story behind Where Is Grandpa?."
Children's Book Page,http://www.bookpage.com/ (July 24, 2001), "Meet the Kids' Author: T. A. Barron."
NAPRA—ALA Web site,http://www.napra.com/ (July 21, 2001), Antoinette Botsford, "To Think As a Tree, to Act As a Man."
Natural Resources Defense Council Web site,http://www.ndrc.org/ (July 24, 2001), "Profile—T. A. Barron."
The Worlds of T. A. Barron (T. A. Barron's official Web site), http://www.tabarron.com (July 24, 2001).
Young Heroes Prize,http://www.youngheroesprize.org/ (July 24, 2001), T. A. Barron, "Colorado's Heroic Kids."*