A surreal world came to life when Jonathan Edwards College Master Penelope Luarans, Slifka Rabbi James Ponet and other members of JE gathered in the JE art space and theater last Saturday for the launch of “Alexander and the Moon,” a storybook about concentric spheres and octopuses in a surrealistic world dominated by war. The 43-page book was written by Max Ritvo ’13 and illustrated by Ellen Su ’13, Autumn Von Plinsky ’13 and Ngozi Ukazu ’13.
“Alexander and the Moon” is set in a visual world and explores the themes of love, science and creation. The main character, Alexander, is a young boy who sacrifices everything to bring love to the world. The moon, also referred to as the “leaking moon,” plays an integral part in Alexander’s life, and as the story suggests, it has the ability to cause both love and death. The story does not attempt to exaggerate the power of love — instead, the author reasons that in order to be able to love fully, one must be willing to love death.
The story was born three years ago just before Ritvo, then 16, suffered illness. He had been thinking about a world where war is cured by cosmic octopuses but never really knew how such a visual world could ever be represent verbally.
A year later, Ritvo developed Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer characterized by malignant tumor in the bone. Ritvo explains that his reaction to ifosfamide, a type of chemotherapy, caused him to have episodes of hallucination.
“I really didn’t know if I was ever going to come around from that,” he said.
At the time, his idea was to write about a boy who believed in everything at once without giving any thought to the source of his beliefs. The boy’s eagerness to believe reflects Ritvo’s own feelings while he struggled through treatment. He had been a writer before the diagnosis, and so he was consumed by the constant worry that he might lose his ability to articulate ideas, he said. This led him to become attached to thinking, in the effort of trying to maintain his passion for writing and poetry. He said that although the experience has changed the way he writes, he still believes it was for the better.
Ritvo said it was not until later on in his illness that he realized that the boy who likes to believe could be the one to save the visual world he had thought of a year ago.
The story sat for a while and was rekindled this year when he made friends with other freshmen who would later turn out to be his illustrators. Su, Ukazu and Von Plinsky, Ritvo’s ART 114 classmates, started working on a project this year and were looking for a writer to work with when they met Ritvo and he shared “Alexander and the Moon” with them.
Correction: April 23, 2010
An earlier version of this article, as well as the credit line for the accompanying illustration, misspelled the last name of Ellen Su ’13. The earlier version also misspelled the last name of Ngozi Ukazu ’13 in one instance.