Morris, Gerald 1963- (Gerald Paul Morris)

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Morris, Gerald 1963- (Gerald Paul Morris)

PERSONAL:

Born October 29, 1963, in Riverside, WI; son of Russell A. (a missionary) and Lena May (a missionary) Morris; married Rebecca Hughes (a registered nurse), August 2, 1986; children: William, Ethan, Grace. Education: Oklahoma Baptist University, B.A., 1985; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, M.Div., 1989, Ph.D., 1994. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Baptist.

ADDRESSES:

Home—Wausau, WI. Office—P.O. Box 2014, Wausau, WI 54401-2014. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

Writer, educator, pastor. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, adjunct professor of Hebrew and biblical interpretation, 1994-95; Ouachita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, AR, assistant professor of biblical studies, 1995-96; teacher at Christian school in Arkadelphia, 1997; HortCo Landscaping, Norman, OK, contract laborer, 1997-98; First Baptist Church, Wausau, WI, pastor, 1998—.

MEMBER:

Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention.

WRITINGS:

(As Gerald Paul Morris) Prophecy, Poetry, and Hosea, Sheffield Academic Press (Sheffield, England), 1996.

(Old Testament editor) Life and Times Historical Reference Bible, Thomas Nelson (Nashville, TN), 1998.

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot the Great, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2008.

The Adventures of Givret the Short, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2008.

"SQUIRE'S TALE" SERIES; NOVELS

The Squire's Tale, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1998.

The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1999.

The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2000.

Parsifal's Page, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2001.

The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2003.

The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2004.

The Lioness & Her Knight, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.

The Quest of the Fair Unknown, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Gerald Morris once commented: "I began my first novel when I was in the eighth grade. It was a perfectly dreadful western in which sharp-eyed gunslingers squinted into the sun and tough-as-boot-leather old-timers called people ‘young 'un’ and spat into the dust. The early chapters were, providentially, lost.

"I returned to writing novels when I went to graduate school. Writing fiction was an antidote to the gaseous prose I was churning out for my professors. Maybe because I wrote as a sort of simplifying exercise, I chose to write for children and adolescents. A child's world is no simpler than an adult's, but children often see their world with clearer eyes. These first attempts at children's novels received some very fine, preprinted rejection cards in a variety of pretty colors. Pastels were big in the late 1980s. Then my first child, William, was born, to be followed two years later by Ethan, then Grace. Life was busier then, so I put the novels aside.

"Then, for a while, I was an academic. I finished my doctorate and became a professor of Hebrew and biblical interpretation for a couple of years. When my last academic contract ended, I was rather at loose ends, and so I decided to rework some of those old novels. This time, one was accepted—The Squire's Tale. Encouraged, I kept writing. Meanwhile, I tutored Greek, taught middle schoolers, taught English as a second language, did some substitute teaching, and worked for a landscaper. At the end of that time, I became the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Wausau, Wisconsin. So now, I suppose, I write children's novels as an antidote to my own sermons."

Morris has now written a series of rollicking novels based on the old Arthurian legends of Thomas Mallory and other writers. Where these older sources seek seriousness of purpose and embroil their tales in allegory, Morris's versions concentrate on the humanity of secondary characters and the way in which great quests sometimes boil down to small moments of self-discovery. Booklist reviewer Sally Estes noted that in his works, Morris puts "a humorous spin on Camelot and its denizens while still providing plenty of adventure, dimensional characters, and fresh, modern dialogue."

In his first book for children, The Squire's Tale, Morris uses the Arthurian legend as inspiration for his story about a young lad who serves as squire for Sir Gawain. Uncertain of his parentage, fourteen-year-old Terence decides to leave the wizard who raised him and join Sir Gawain on his quest to become The Maiden's Knight. As he follows the adventures of the future Knight of the Round Table, Terence discovers not only who his real parents are but also what his destiny will be. The novel offers a different view of Sir Gawain as he is seen through the eyes of Terence, a perspective that School Library Journal reviewer Helen Gregory claimed was "both original and true to the legend of Gawain." She went on to suggest that "readers who savor swashbuckling tales of knighthood will enjoy this adventure." Horn Book critic Ann A. Flowers praised Morris's characters, saying: "Both Sir Gawain and Terence are remarkably engaging figures, holding our attention and affection." Shelle Rosenfeld noted in a Booklist review that in addition to being a "well-written, fast read," The Squire's Tale also offers readers "well-drawn characters, excellent, snappy dialogue, detailed descriptions of medieval life, and a dry wit."

Terence and Gawain continue their adventures in The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, a sequel to The Squire's Tale. A Kirkus Reviews critic dubbed the work "an ideal follow-up to the first book and just as full of characters who are brave, loyal, and admirably human." In this story, Sir Gawain accepts a challenge in King Arthur's stead to meet the Knight of the Green Chapel, and he sets out to find him with the assistance of his young squire, Terence. The two are joined in their quest by Lady Eileen, after rescuing her from her evil uncle. Together, the trio encounter a cannibal hag, a sea monster, the treacherous Marquis of Alva, and the Green Knight in disguise at an enchanted castle. "Laced with magic, humor, and chivalry," noted Horn Book reviewer Anne St. John, "this reworking of ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’ … provides an engaging introduction to the original tale." A Publishers Weekly commentator asserted: "Morris retells various medieval legends with plenty of action, tongue-in-cheek humor and moments of keen perception."

Another episode from Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur forms the basis for The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf. Sixteen-year-old Lady Lynet travels to Camelot in the company of a wise dwarf, in the hopes that some knight will come to the aid of her besieged home. Lynet finds little sympathy at Arthur's court beyond a ragged kitchen servant named Beaumains. Beaumains is actually a brash knight in disguise, however, and if Lynet can keep him from picking quarrels with every other knight he meets on the way, he might actually be the hero she needs to defeat the villain. In Horn Book, Morris is quoted as having said: "It is a pure pleasure and an honor to retell this story … to fill in some of the gaps, and maybe turn a few things upside down." Beth Wright in the School Library Journal found The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf to be "great fun" that "will be enjoyed by fans of the genre."

Parsifal's Page offers a new spin on another Arthurian hero, again from the point of view of his servant. The son of a blacksmith, Piers longs for a more noble life and thinks he has found his chance when he becomes page to the ignorant and backward Parsifal. When Piers's attempts to educate Parsifal backfire and cause Piers to be fired, he joins forces with Gawain and Terence. Together they try to locate Parsifal, who is missing and presumed to be in danger. In her Horn Book review of the work, Anne St. John noted that readers already familiar with Morris's series would enjoy reencountering familiar characters, but "this newest adventure also stands on its own." St. John added that the legendary but believable figures in the tale "provide a perfect backdrop for Piers's growing understanding of his role in the world."

Sir Dinadan, hero of The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, has been described by several reviewers as one of Morris's most engaging characters. With a quick wit and the ability to see humor in every situation, Dinadan is an artist at heart—specifically a musician. His martial-minded father has other ideas, however, and Dinadan is knighted against his will and sent off to make his way as a soldier. Among his varied tasks, Dinadan helps his cloddish brother Tristram deal with a decidedly unlikable Iseult, as well as helping a deposed king win back his throne. Throughout, young Dinadan continues to mature while still maintaining his individuality as an artist and a thinker. Booklist correspondent Carolyn Phelan described The Ballad of Sir Dinadan as "a witty tale of adventure and reflection," and Steven Engelfried praised the book in School Library Journal for Morris's "skilled storytelling" that provides "a lighthearted introduction to the period."

More Arthurian adventures are presented in The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight, which features the poor orphan girl Sarah as she seeks to free Queen Guinevere and Sir Kai (with the help of Sir Lancelot and others) from the wicked Lord Meliagant. "Sarah's character has everything that makes for a thrilling story," wrote Eliza Kirby in Stone Soup. "She is smart enough to outwit those much bigger and stronger than she and has the bravery within her to fight even the most skilled swordsmen." Similar praise came from Kliatt contributor Claire Rosser, who wrote: "The plot is filled with action, with enchantments, battles, hidden identities, faeries, magic, and above all fun." Another strong, young female character is at the center of The Lioness & Her Knight, adapted from an Arthurian tale by the twelfth-century French writer, Chretien de Troyes. Luneta is the young woman in question, and she goes out into life to find her fortune. Soon enough she meets up with two knights, Ywain and Rhience, and together the trio have numerous adventures in this "clever, funny and wise" tale, as a Publishers Weekly critic termed the book. The reviewer further commented: "Once again, Morris brilliantly re-animates an old story." Carolyn Phelan described this novel as a "fine romance" in her Booklist review. Claire E. Gross of Horn Book also had a positive assessment of The Lioness & Her Knight, noting that "Morris balances farce and drama with ease, and his main characters are memorable, sympathetic, and frequently hilarious." Further praise came from School Library Journal writer Kristen Oravec, who concluded: "This romp through the land of King Arthur is a gem"

Featuring the young Beaufils, who goes in search of adventure and honor at the court of Arthur, The Quest of the Fair Unknown offers a "heartwarming and thought-provoking tale," according to School Library Journal contributor Nicki Clausen-Grace. Beaufils is, as a Kirkus Reviews critic observed, "so innocent of the world that he makes Candide look like Casanova." His quest to discover his father and his real name becomes enmeshed with the quest for the grail once he arrives at Camelot. In the company of knights such as Sir Galahad, Beaufils finds more adventure than he has expected. The Kirkus Reviews writer went on to comment that the author "creates another immensely likable character" in young Beaufils. GraceAnne A. DeCandido, writing in Booklist, found that the "theme of finding and recognizing real goodness runs like a bright gold thread through this tapestry of unholy hermits, stodgy knights, and devious ladies."

Morris once discussed his inspirations: "My faith is important to me. (This is good. We pastors are encouraged to believe something, after all.) All the same, I don't see myself as a ‘Christian novelist.’ I am, rather, a novelist who is a Christian, and a pastor, and a teacher, and a landscaper."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, April 15, 1998, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Squire's Tale, pp. 1436-1437; May 1, 1999, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, p. 1587; March 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, p. 1244; April 15, 2000, Sally Estes, "The Denizens of Camelot Series," p. 1544; April 15, 2001, Carolyn Phelan, review of Parsifal's Page, p. 1558; May 1, 2003, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, p. 1589; September 15, 2005, Carolyn Phelan, review of The Lioness & Her Knight, p. 77; October 15, 2006, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p. 49.

Horn Book, July-August, 1998, Ann A. Flowers, review of The Squire's Tale, p. 492; March-April, 1999, Anne St. John, review of The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, p. 210; May, 2000, review of The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, p. 317; May, 2001, Anne St. John, review of Parsifal's Page, p. 333; May-June, 2003, Peter D. Sieruta, review of The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, p. 353; November 1, 2005, Claire E. Gross, review of The Lioness & Her Knight, p. 721; November 1, 2006, Claire E. Gross, review of The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p. 720.

Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 1999, review of The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, p. 536; September 1, 2005, review of The Lioness & Her Knight, p. 979; October 15, 2006, review of The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p. 1075.

Kliatt, September 1, 2005, Claire Rosser, review of The Lioness & Her Knight, p. 11; January 1, 2007, Claire Rosser, review of The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung Cart Knight, p. 28.

Publishers Weekly, March 15, 1999, review of The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady, p. 60.

School Library Journal, July, 1998, Helen Gregory, review of The Squire's Tale, p. 97; May, 2000, Beth Wright, review of The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, p. 174; April, 2001, Cheri Estes, review of Parsifal's Page, p. 146; April, 2003, Steven Engelfried, review of The Ballad of Sir Dinadan, p. 166; September 1, 2005, Kristen Oravec, review of The Lioness & Her Knight, p. 208; November 1, 2006, Nicki Clausen-Grace, review of The Quest of the Fair Unknown, p. 142.

Stone Soup, January 1, 2006, Eliza Kirby, review of The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight, p. 28.

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