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When Jim Dallas was a child, he used to see a row of trees and wonder what was on the other side — maybe a house, maybe more trees. Then he read “The Hobbit” and a whole other world opened up in his mind. After that, whenever he saw a row of trees he wondered if there might be goblins or dragons on the other side.
“And I’ve never gotten over it,” he said.
A sickly kid, he spent his time creating detailed wood carvings and dreaming of a world of gnomes, elves and goblins.
He still loves to carve — World War I soldiers with exact details down to how they tied their shoelaces, tanks with interior detail, elves with personalized trinkets hanging from their hats. And he still loves to daydream of goblins and dragons.
He spends hours most days sitting in the La Grange McDonald’s dreaming in his mystical world, drawing pictures for a children’s fantasy novel he is working on. He sits with an unkempt look, world-weary eyes transformed by flashes of a giddy smile and tells anyone who will listen of his elaborate imaginary kingdoms in his high voice twinged with a Brooklyn accent.
He sits in relative anonymity. Most of the McDonald’s employees don’t know who he is, or they recognize him as just another regular. He does give drawing lessons to one employee’s daughter. Employee Barry Gajewski said he talks to Dallas a little bit, getting some drawing pointers, nothing much.
Sometimes kids come by and look at his detailed drawings of elves and gnomes and pirate ships. A captive audience at hand, he could detail for hours the twists and turns of the adventures his gnome hero, the beautiful elf who helps him and the brilliant but spacey grandfather who gets them all into all sorts of trouble. His book “Mist and Moonlight,” totals about 365 pages and it seems Dallas could, on the spot, gladly detail the whole story.
After all, the story has been bouncing around in his head for 50 years. Sitting down to write it in earnest has occupied the last five years. Details in the book come from a lifetime full of imagination, from his family’s old farm to years spent as a children’s librarian to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Watching that movie, he saw the witch paddle a canoe across a swamp then walk off.
“Where’d she go?” he thought. “Well, that was a pretty good swamp!”
So he explores that swamp, and a glacier, and the underground world of the gnomes in a fantasy world that rivals any of J.R.R. Tolkien in detail.
He said when he tells the story it passes the most infallible judge of all — kids.
You can’t fool a kid, he said. A kid knows whether a story is good or bad. And kids tell him it is good.
Douwe Blumberg has been hearing the story since he himself was a kid decades ago, and loved it as a child.
Blumberg’s mother hired Dallas to help him build models as a kid. They became good friends.
Blumberg said although Dallas may seem socially awkward, he is the most giving and creative person he knows.
“He has just the sweetest, sweetest heart,” Blumberg said.
Dallas’ creativity was formative in shaping Blumberg’s own artistic talent. Today, he is a respected bronze sculptor.
Dallas told Blumberg’s daughter the same stories as she was growing up. Now a high school English teacher, she thinks the writing is rough, but the story isincredible.
“It’s tremendously good,” he said. The concepts are creative and the research is rich, he said.
He said it is fantasy, but believable. There are dragons, but they are just left over dinosaurs. There are wizards, but their magic is really just chemistry and gun powder.
He just wishes Dallas would buckle down and finish the thing.
This is where his own story takes a tragic turn. The yellow suitcase containing all his final drawings — three and a half years’ worth of work — disappeared about a month ago. He thinks he was sitting at the Oldham County Public Library when someone lifted it.
Since then, he has posted hand-drawn signs around town offering a $500 no-questions-asked reward with his phone number — (805) 509-3530 and reported it stolen to the police.
He still has the draft drawings, but they aren’t up to his standards.
“I’m a perfectionist about everything, except myself,” he said.
He is worried that without the final drawings, his manuscript will end up in the overflowing trash bin of the publisher.
“The drawings are my salesmen,” he said.
With the drawings, a publisher has a greater chance of reading his story, he said. He is convinced if they read it, the story will become famous — maybe even made into a movie or two or three. He says it’s better than Harry Potter.
He is 77 years old and of questionable health and he wants to see his “magnus opus” become famous in his lifetime. Taking the time to redraw all his perfect drawings just pushes back that process all the more.
“I don’t have many years left,” he said.
He just wishes someone would return that suitcase.
“I want it back so bad, so bad,” he said. “I want it back so bad, I can taste it — vanilla.”
He has resigned to the fact he probably won’t get them back, so he has started drawing again — sitting at his booth in McDonald’s drawing out the intricate details of the world of “Mist and Moonlight.”
That world is Dallas’ escape. His life savings is gone on a bad investment, so he is living on social security. His closest friend in his apartment building is old enough to doze off in the middle of conversation. All of his relatives are deceased. His best friend — Blumberg — lives near Cincinnati, further than he usually can afford to drive. So he pours himself into this creation and the hope that one day it will be enjoyed by millions.
“It’s my reason for living,” he said.
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