I recently had the pleasure of having coffee with Chris Dowgin, author and illustrator of the book A Walk Through Salem. A resident of Salem for 18 years, he is as fascinating as his book, with an approachable personality, bohemian dress and hair, and a wide breadth of knowledge of Salem, history and psychology. (He also has a penchant for Cadbury bars and milk, like A Walk Through Salem's narrator, Mr. Zac).
A Walk Through Salem features recognizable buildings, people, and places in Salem, rendered in a whimsical, sketchy style. It is a genuine walking tour guidebook, and you can follow the trail and see the sites and sights on the tour.
However, this is not your ordinary guidebook. For Dowgin has created an alternative Salem that operates on many levels: physical, symbolic, archetypal. It lends itself to reading more than once to follow Dowgin's take on the classic fairytale structure, which as defined by professor Jack Zipes of the University of Michigan, “awaken(s) our regard for the miraculous condition of life and evoke(s) profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed to compensate for the lack of power, wealth, and pleasure that most people experience".
We begin our tour at the Unzipping Tree, in Salem Commons, and urged on by our gnome-like tour guide, Mr. Zac, we are encouraged to enter through the tree into another world. In this world, we meet the denizens of Salem we may have never noticed before: squirrels that talk, fish and pigs that fly...(what, you've never noticed them before? That's why you need this book. You're not paying attention.) Then getting back home proves to be the hardest part of all...
We visit some of Salem's most famous locations, such as the Lyceum, where Alexander Graham Bell gave his first public display of the telephone, but is now struggling to use his cell phone. Duke Ellington is playing at the Salem Willows, and the onion domes of the Saint Nicholas Church double as soft serve ice cream, when in season.
What I enjoyed most about this book was Dowgin's sense of wordplay and ironic humor. As the mom of two little would-be-sugar-addicts-if-I-let-them, this was my favorite page:
Chris will be giving a book signing at Spring Fling at Old Town Hall. There will be music, wine, beer, and food from merchants all over Salem. 6-9 PM; tickets $25 in advance, $30 at the door.
The book is also for sale at Pamplemousse, The Salem Inn, the Witch Museum, the Cat and the Fiddle, Remember Salem, the Awakening Guild, and can be purchased online at http://www.mr-zac.com/Buy.html.