They Found Loveliness Everywhere ~ Thoughts on Fiction, Real Life, and Escapism

Tolkien has an essay, On Fairy-Stories, in which he talks about, shockingly enough, fairy-stories. By which he doesn’t mean strictly stories that feature the Fair Folk, but rather stories in general that involve the Realm of Faerie – a secondary world where the art medium known as Enchantment exists and can be experienced.

If you’ve read this excellent essay, you doubtless know that Tolkien devotes a good bit of it to the topic of escapism. Fantasy is second only to science fiction, he says, in escapism value – which seems true to me – and is hence looked down on (along with the people who love it) by a bunch of snobs in high places who only value Real Literature (whatever that is).

I’m reminded first of the story (I don’t know if it’s true or not) of Henry James reading Stevenson’s Treasure Island and some other book about a little boy living a normal life, where he afterwards acknowledged that Treasure Island was exciting and by far the better-written of the two books but that, nevertheless, he was forced to conclude that the other book was a better book, because little boys don’t actually fall in with bloodthirsty pirates, sail to the Caribbean, and find buried treasure.

To which Robert Louis Stevenson retorted (more or less) that Henry James must not have met any little boys, or ever been one, if that was what he thought.

But more to the point, I’m also reminded of how eye-twitchingly irritated it used to make me when people, blathering on about the power of stories, put down escapism. They (“they” being my somewhat nebulous memories of various articles on the Internet) went far beyond the common-sense position that you must be careful not to immerse yourself in fiction to the point of avoiding dealing with real life and its problems. To them, the very word “escape” had a scent that made you wrinkle your nose. To them, it was essential that the surprising power stories have besides transporting us out of our here and now (powers of new perspective, clearer sight, awakened empathy, thematic exploration, and so on) be the only power stories exercised on them; for they, in their enlightenment, were above such shameful pleasures as reading for escape. (I’m sorry that I sound so bitter, but I am bitter.)

Here is what Tolkien has to say about this attitude:

I have claimed that Escape is one of the main functions of fairy-stories, and since I do not disapprove of them, it is plain that I do not accept the tone of scorn or pity with which “Escape” is now so often used: a tone for which the uses of the word outside literary criticism give no warrant at all. In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic–

(I here interrupt to remark that Tolkien and Colonel Crittendon appear to have been kindred spirits. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

In real life it is difficult to blame [escape], unless it fails; in criticism it would seem to be the worse the better it succeeds.

(For real though. The more “escapist” something is, the less claim it has to be considered Real Literature or even spoken of with a serious measure of respect.)

Evidently we are faced by a misuse of words and also by a confusion of thought. Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than gaolers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using Escape in this way, the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error–

(“Not always by sincere error” – I do love Tolkien. He’s just like a hobbit, mild and mannerly but with a habit of poking right at the uncomfortable truth of the matter, with passive-aggressive disregard for whom he offends in the process.)

–the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer’s or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery.

(He’s comparing literature-critic escapism snobs to Nazis, you guys. And he actually has a really good point even if it’s mildly hilarious. I do love Tolkien.)

… Not long ago – incredible though it may seem – I heard a clerk of Oxenford declare that he “welcomed” the proximity of mass-production robot factories and the roar of self-obstructive manual traffic, because it brought his university into “contact with real life.” He may have meant that the way men were living and working in the twentieth century was increasing in barbarity at an alarming rate, and that the loud demonstration of this in the streets of Oxford might serve as a warning that it is not possible to preserve for long an oasis of sanity in a desert of unreason by mere fences, without actual offensive action (practical and intellectual). I fear he did not.

(I fear so too.)

In any case the expression “real life” in this context seems to fall short of academic standards. The notion that motor-cars are more “alive” than, say, centaurs or dragons is curious; that they are more “real” than, say, horses is pathetically absurd. How real, how startlingly alive is a factory chimney compared with an elm-tree: poor obsolete thing, insubstantial dream of an escapist!

Okay, so I’ve been quoting Tolkien longer than I meant to (I so much enjoy how he phrases things), and he goes on to talk about the more profound forms of escapism that fairy-stories offer; but for my purpose here this is enough. The crux of the matter is: “Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than gaolers and prison-walls?”

For me (and Tolkien), that’s a rhetorical question. (If you have an actual answer, I don’t really know what to say?) Because my point here is, life may not be precisely a prison for most people, but on the other hand it isn’t a stay at a luxury resort for most of us either. There’s nothing cowardly, shameful, or weak about finding some solace in a book that transports you briefly to another realm.

In short: escapism? Totally valid reason to read. I don’t want to hear anyone saying differently, or I will sic Tolkien on them. (And like I said, Tolkien is basically a hobbit. Do not underestimate the hobbits.)

THAT SAID, I have been thinking recently about the other side of the coin. Mostly quotes like “Reality is a lovely place, but I wouldn’t want to live there,” and when people (especially kids) joke about how they pretty much live in a fictional world, all their best friends and crushes are in books, they have no life outside of fiction, they don’t like the real world nearly so well as the worlds they find in books, and so on.

Actually, it’s mostly the last one that bugs me.

It almost…concerns me.

It’s not really something I relate to – perhaps I ought to make that clear. I love stories; making them up is my favorite thing to do; I spent countless hours as a little kid curled up in corners with books. But at the same time, I think the real world is also beautiful. I have real-world ambitions and real-world friends. I also spent countless hours as a little kid playing outside with the neighbor kids, helping Dad in the garden, photographing birds (seriously, hours – I was a little bit obsessed with birds), and doing things. Real-life things. And one of the most valuable things books have done for me is show me the utter beauty in certain ordinary and real-world things.

Escapism is valid, but, as Tolkien said, let us not confuse the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Let us not turn our backs on this world entirely. Let us not use fiction to ignore the problems we face in it, or to live vicariously in place of really living. The real world is still there, and it’s still important. We don’t get to lavish all our love on fictional characters and have no charity left over for the real people in our lives. We don’t get to dream of adventures and never take risks in pursuit of lofty goals ourselves.

Fiction isn’t supposed to be a replacement for reality, and I think perhaps (I’m trying not to be a know-it-all since I’m personally pretty enamored already of the real world, but I really do think) we sometimes need to be careful about that.

As for what relationship fiction is supposed to have to reality…

Well, take L. M. Montgomery’s The Blue Castle.

Despite being a book I have wildly mixed feelings about, I read it avidly, almost greedily, because the writing is beautiful. I wrote down a lot of my favorite descriptions, but here’s my very, very favorite one:


They went for long tramps through the exquisite reticence of winter woods and the silver jungles of frosted trees, and found loveliness everywhere.


It’s my favorite, mainly, because of the utter perfection of that phrase, “exquisite reticence” (have you ever heard a more perfect description of what the woods are like in winter, early in the morning when the frost is thick, or maybe when there’s ice or a dusting of snow?), but the part I’m concerned with at the moment is “and found loveliness everywhere.”

That’s quite a good phrase.

It’s easy enough to get desensitized to beauty. To walk through it every day when you go out to feed the chickens, drive past it on your way to school, glance over it when the setting sun is pooling goldly in your window – and just never think.

But there’s a scene in Red Sails to Capri (a book I read a long time ago) where a character paints a flight of steps that the main character hates because they’re ugly – but in the guy’s painting, they aren’t ugly, they’re full of beautiful colors, and the painter tells him he didn’t make up those colors: he saw them in the steps. Why that struck me so strongly I don’t know, but I’ve never forgotten it.

There is loveliness everywhere. And the best kind of fiction is the kind that helps us find it.


Such are my thoughts, and I’m curious to hear yours. What do you think about escapism, finding loveliness everywhere, and the purpose of fiction in general? And have you read “On Fairy-Stories”? Because I really can’t recommend it enough.

The Fantasy Fandom Tag

Do you ever notice how just when everything fun is going on in the blogosphere and you have several posts you’re dying to write, life decides to explode with busyness?

*cough*

Anyway, I still have two posts that I’m determined to squeeze in here at the tail end of February, before Fantasy Month ends and March (SPRING!) begins. The first one is this really cool tag that the lovely Jenelle tagged me for (thank you, Jenelle!). It’s about fandoms, which I’m restricting strictly to spec-fic fandoms because…because.

And for my purposes we are defining fandom as “a fictional thing you like,” because I don’t really know the official definition and I’m not sure I would fit it a lot of the time. (Need merch? I’m in exactly one fandom, Winnie-the-Pooh, thanks to my mom and those assorted stuffed animals she got me as a tiny child. Need to own the books? Imagine Merry saying, “That rules you out,” to a number of my favorites. Need to have at least one person you shriek with about it? That also rules out some of my favorites, although not as many since I’ve started blogging, which is lovely.)

All the pretty pictures are from Pinterest! The best thing about this tag is the excuse to look up ALL THE PRETTY FANART and share its beauty.

// the rules //

  1. Include the graphic somewhere in your post!
  2. Answer the questions!
  3. Tag two fangirls!

// the questions //

  • What’s the first fandom you remember becoming a part of?

Narnia! Which, incidentally, I just wrote a whole post about.

Narnia and I got off to a somewhat rocky start, actually – my mom started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to me several times but could never get past the moment when Edmund first stumbles into Narnia and the White Witch sweeps up to him in her sledge. I was terrified what she was going to do to him and refused to let Mom read any further.

When I finally read it for myself a few years later, it was almost a disappointment that she…doesn’t do anything to him. I could have just let Mom keep reading. Goodness.

  • What’s the newest fandom you’ve come to enjoy?

I have looked at dates and decided this is the Comic Space Opera, a delightfully un-serious mishmash of space opera and comic opera in which our protagonists (a charming thief, a coffee-and-Paul-Simon-loving senator’s daughter, a grumpy politician, an even grumpier mechanic girl, and a pizza man named Jeremy who is maniacal in the cause of justice, among them) romp across the galaxy getting into trouble. And making all sorts of pop culture references, intentional or unintentional.

Reading it out loud to my sisters is the best thing ever. My littlest sister ships Jude and Christina, and roots for Dar’s redemption, and lovingly cackles over Dick, with the kind of energy I aspire to create over my characters.

Actually, if that sounds fun (it is very fun) here’s a link to the first season! The second season is currently airing, one episode a week.

  • What’s a fandom guaranteed to give you feels?

Peter Pan. Or whatever the fandom is called. I wanted so badly to go to Neverland when I was a child, you don’t even know. And when Peter gives Wendy the kite when they’re stranded on the rock? And when Wendy grows up? And…

There could not have been a lovelier sight, but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be forever barred.

*sobbing*

  • What’s a guilty pleasure fandom of yours?

Why did I restrict this to speculative fiction? I could have answered “Georgette Heyer,” my only real guilty pleasure…

Oh, I guess Star Trek is a good enough answer. (The original series. That’s the only one I’ve seen much of.) I’m very aware of its flaws, and that sometimes the writing is just…bad. And yet I love it?

I have rather a deep attachment to several of the characters – Spock in particular. I love Spock. I get Spock. My sister went through a Vulcan phase – seriously. And the fun friendship between Spock and Kirk and Kirk and Bones…yeah.

Plus all the different planets they encounter, with the different aliens and cultures and stuff – the whole premise of they’re explorers in space, looking for new things that no one’s ever found before, always getting in over their heads and coming close to death but making incredible discoveries at the same time – I love that. Sometimes it’s impressively creative, and sometimes it’s impressively philosophical too. One of my favorite episodes remains that one where they meet this guy who’s being all 19th-century and playing a game with them, except they’re the toys in the game? Because his capabilities are so far beyond human capabilities that they are toys to him. Except it’s still wrong because humans deserve autonomy…but what is the standard by which we judge whether something deserves autonomy or not???

And The Search for Spock. Even Star Trek fans aren’t into that movie, but I really like it. (Which again is partly because of the philosophical issues it raises. But also partly because of Kirk’s and Spock’s friendship [I love me some angsty friendships]. And Saavik, because she’s awesome.)

The real reason this is any sort of guilty pleasure at all is that I remember someone asking, “Star Wars or Star Trek?” The second person answered, “Trek,” and the first person said, “Because…styrofoam rocks?”

so YES. I LIKE THE STYROFOAM ROCKS SHOW. Because I don’t care about those kinds of things. In books, prose can make it or break it for me, but in film literally ALL I care about is the story.

  • What’s the weirdest fandom you’ve heard of/are a part of?

Pretty sure that would be Alice (the books, not the movie. The movie tRaUMatIZed small Sarah). Wonderland is a weird place, but I LOVE it. The White Knight is my precious boi. ❤

  • Favorite popular/widely-known fandom?

The Lord of the Rings deserves every good thing anyone has ever said about it. So good. So morally complex. So beautiful.

Although again, not the movies…. I guess I’m just not a movie person. I like the first and second movies pretty well, but the books are infinitely better.

  • Favorite bookish fandom?

We are interpreting this question to mean “favorite fandom that hasn’t been mentioned in any of the other answers,” and…I dunno? 100 Cupboards? The Two Princesses of Bamarre?

Ooh, I actually really love The Two Princesses of Bamarre, so let’s talk about that one.

Because seriously, if I had to pick my top three fantasy worlds I want to live in? Middle-earth, Neverland, and the world of The Two Princesses of Bamarre.

It’s so atmospheric. The specters! The dragons! The gryphons! The FAIRIES!!!!! Everything about the story makes me so happy, not just the plot (I do love stories about people sacrificing for their siblings, and about finding courage, and this is both) but also the setting. It’s beautifully austere and medieval and adventurous, with just the right touch of danger, terror (the specters give me shivers), and MAGIC (again, the fairies. They have this remote quality that’s perfect).

Does anybody else like this story as much as I do??? Everybody else I know, besides the wonderful human who told me to read it in the first place, thinks it’s rather typical and far inferior to Ella Enchanted, and I…don’t get it. It’s so lovely. I like it every bit as much as Ella Enchanted (which is also a good answer for this question, I guess…)

  • What do you consider your ‘homebase’, a fandom you can always come back to?

Winnie-the-Pooh, for sure. Books and movies this time, though the books are of course the best. Particularly The House at Pooh Corner. That one is just a masterpiece. It is odd and hilarious and warm and sweet and homey. I love very few characters, and very few friendships, as much as I love Pooh and Piglet.

The Hundred-acre Wood is, like, not on my top three list of fictional places I want to live, but less because I don’t love it and more because I already almost feel like I can get there.

  • What’s a fandom you know all about…but aren’t actually into it?

Hmm…Harry Potter? I feel like I know a fair bit about that from cultural osmosis. I’ve never been interested in it, though. Even when I was little, and my mom didn’t want me to read the books, and you’d think the allure of the forbidden would have piqued my curiosity a little…no. I didn’t care at all, because I didn’t want to read them. The whole idea of a magical school just…no. I don’t like it. Magic needs to be wondrous and mysterious. Putting it into a school setting destroys that. And stories in school settings are unfailingly boring. (That’s my opinion, anyway. :P)

  • Which fandom has the best characters?

The Queen’s Thief fandom, of course.

Y’all.

I, um, can’t.

The fact that I love Attolia is impressive. Because I hated her. But now I love her…

I really can’t put this into words here. I can’t.

EDDIS.

EUGENIDES.

this scene tho. rip my heart

They’re incredible. I love them. Somebody PROTECT THEM.

  • Name your all-time favorite ship.

I have two (I’m such a romantic, you guys), but fortunately only one is fantasy. Faramir and Éowyn forever!

“Then, Éowyn of Rohan, I say to you that you are beautiful. In the valleys of our hills there are flowers fair and bright, and maidens fairer still; but neither flower nor lady have I seen till now in Gondor so lovely, and so sorrowful. It may be that only a few days are left ere darkness falls upon our world, and when it comes I hope to face it steadily; but it would ease my heart, if while the Sun yet shines, I could see you still.”

“Then must I leave my own people, man of Gondor?” she said. “And would you have your proud folk say of you: ‘There goes a lord who tamed a wild shieldmaiden of the North! Was there no woman of the race of Numenor to choose?'”

“I would,” said Faramir. And he took her in his arms and kissed her under the sunlit sky, and he cared not that they stood high upon the walls in the sight of many.

  • What’s a fandom you’re curious about joining?

Well, Robin Hobb’s assassin trilogy looks cool… And so far I’ve only read one book, Starflower, but I aspire to be initiated into the ranks of the Tales of Goldstone Wood fandom.


Well, that was fun! Which of these fandoms are you also into? What’s a fandom you know all about but aren’t interested in? Oh, and I tag any of y’all who still have a secret hankering to visit Neverland or are Two Princesses of Bamarre fans!

One Quirk Later #6 ~ A Linkup (ft. Children and Knives)

           Hello, my friends. It is nice to see you again so soon, and yes, I have no posting schedule. Don’t look like youre surprised.


Once upon a time, the illustrious Jem Jones started a flash fiction prompt linkup thingy. Wherein she provided a prompt and anybody who wanted wrote a small piece of fiction based on it. The prompts were super cool, and I always wanted to participate and always failed, but at last I have succeeded. To some degree.

All my ideas for the other ones were fun and banter-y, and this one is…not fun and bantery-y. In fact, it probably makes no sense. It’s about a minor character in the novel I’m working on right now, and takes place about seven years prior to the story…if that helps at all. It probably doesn’t.

Look, it’s not very good, but writing hasn’t been going so well, and this just kind of happened and I really enjoyed writing it, so I hope y’all enjoy reading it at least a little? And thanks so much to Jem for hosting this amazing linkup! Go check out her post and make sure to read her story and the other participants’!

The prompt:

My story (in which I kind of don’t follow any of the prompts, but…they’re what gave me the idea and it’s complicated, okay):


Finn perched, perfectly still, on the branch. The overhanging spruce needles shielded her in every direction but straight ahead, where she held two young limbs aside with her left hand. Her right hand rested on the hilt of her new knife—smooth, shining wood red as her hair. It would stay that way, she hoped. She’d kept her other knives smooth, and the blades still shone in even the weakest light, but the color of the wood had dulled to the color of her father’s hair.

Her father had knives too, but he did not hold them the way Finn did. An uncanny child, he had called her, because she could be so still, and her fingers didn’t sweat and didn’t move against the knife while she waited.

Finn didn’t think it was uncanny. To be ready at every moment.

You had to be ready at every moment. Father knew that.

It was not blowing hard, even outside, but a thread of wind found its way into the heart of the tree. It left its touch like a bead of ice on the back of her neck. After the wind came voices, and Finn smiled.

Finn did not smile with her mouth—hence the belief of many harmless ladies in Innscarn that she never smiled and hence (had she known it) the second part of the reason her father called her an uncanny child. But it was from her father Finn had learned to smile. She had seen how, while the rest of his face became quite still, faint lines appeared around his eyes and in them a faint light bloomed. Faint only until you met it straight on—then the intensity of its joy was hard and suffocating as rock.

Finn had seen other people smile, of course—false, nervous, true; but she thought none of these smiles the equal of her father’s. Half-hearted, all of them, next to the brilliance of knife-edge danger in his.

The voices were coming closer, and Finn caught a glimpse of the two men approaching. They spoke Tuleski, she noted, but she didn’t know enough to understand what they were saying. She often did not understand even when they spoke Odhori or Ardin—but that didn’t matter. To understand was her father’s job. To be perfectly accurate (and impossible to catch) was hers.

Now the voices were right beside her, the men invisible behind the frosted mass of blue and green. Still Finn didn’t move; the smile was carved into her eyes as into diamond; and the other man came first into view, reaching forward to move the limb aside. Shifting her weight ever so slightly, Finn threw.

Her father caught the man’s other hand and held it to the tree, above his head. The man didn’t even try to free the first hand, the leather sleeve pinned by Finn’s knife. He didn’t look at her father’s knife either. Instead, he looked up in her father’s face and said something.

The only thing Finn understood was “Cormic.” Then she had dropped to the brown, spice-scented ground and crawled out on the opposite side of the tree. She ran swiftly through the bright winter shadows of the woods.

Her father joined her at the campfire before it was dark. Where the shadows were deepest, patches of snow reflected the blue-tinted light of evening, but it was too warm: they wouldn’t last till morning. Still, Finn’s cloak felt light on her shoulders, and she loved the fierce warmth of the fire on her fingers as she cooked the rabbit, though it was so fierce she had to periodically switch hands.

Her father walked as if his cloak weighed lightly on him too, and he seated himself lightly beside her.

Because she was curious, Finn said, “I thought the Rangers were your friends.”

He turned his head to her and smiled. “I thought everybody missed sometimes.”

“Most everybody,” Finn corrected. Maybe her too. She didn’t know.

“Most of the Rangers are my friends.”

Finn nodded. She turned the rabbit and switched hands again. Her father reached into his boot and came up with her knife. Finn took it.

“Perfect as always. Didn’t even scratch him. Are you ever afraid you’ll miss?”

Finn shook her head as she rubbed her thumb over the smooth red grains. “Does Jem Macneil ever miss?”

“Never saw it if he did.”

“Could he see the future, do you think?”

“Jem?” Her father laughed.

Finn shook her head.

“Oh—”

“He knew your name.”

“Yes.”

“You wish that you could see the future, like them?” Her words were not a question, but Finn had the strange feeling that her father did not wish for this at all.

“No,” he said. “No, I don’t wish to see the future.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier?” He didn’t always walk so lightly.

“Harder, I think.” He looked at her. Shadow shielded his eyes, but the fire shone bright in hers. “I don’t want to know what will happen.”

Silence, in the flames and the branches overhead, and in the small space between them. Uncertainty, suddenly, trembling at the left corner of Finn’s mouth. “To me?”

“To you.”

“But you don’t know.” Finn didn’t see how you could say this if you didn’t know. “And besides—” Jem Macneil never missed. “I’ll never miss.”

This was true. He thought it was, at least, and she thought it was, and in darker, colder, bloodier places it had proven to be. This was the third reason he called her an uncanny child.

More even than he feared it, Cormic Aden loved the uncanny.


February Is Fantasy Month and Guess Who Needs to Reread Narnia (ft: the Narnia tag!)

Well, chaps, it’s February.

February is known primarily as the month of chocolate and True Wuv by those in cheerful or derisive moods, and as the Wednesday of the Year by those in despondent moods, but February is also Fantasy Month. For which we have the lovely Jenelle to thank. As the theme of this year’s Fantasy Month is fandoms, and as I was recently(ish) tagged for the Narnia tag, and as Narnia is one of my favorite fandoms, and as…well…timing, etc…it seemed appropriate, don’t you know.

rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you (In the words of Bilbo Baggins, thag you very buch, Maya!)
  • Describe the rate of your Narnia fanatic (nostalgic, serious, maniacal)
  • Answer the questions below
  • Tag 5+ bloggers
  • Have fun!

[note: none of these pictures are mine. I copied the beautiful graphic above from Maya’s post, and the pictures, unless otherwise noted, I found on Pinterest.]


rate of Narnia fanatics:

  •  Nostalgic Fanatic — you read the book and/or watched the movies as a child and the word Narnia gives you a warm feeling
  •  Serious Fanatic — you rediscovered the wonder of Narnia after you were older and have read the books and watched the movies
  •  Maniacal Fanatic — you have lived Narnia from childhood, hid in closets on more occasions than is healthy, have read and watched all the movies including the BBC version

I (quite frankly) don’t like this rating system. According to it I’m a Nostalgic Fanatic (never saw any of the movies, never really wanted to either, and yes, the word Narnia does give me a warm fuzzy feeling), but I really think I ought to be considered at least a Serious, and perhaps even a Maniacal, Fanatic.

I literally read my mom’s one-volume paperback Narnia collection till it literally fell apart. Literally. The other day I found a chunk of The Horse and His Boy under the ping-pong table. Finding such chunks, which range from 4 pages’ to 4 chapters’ worth of material, is not an unfamiliar experience either. (My mom did buy my littlest sister the series. So we do still have a readable Narnia, thank goodness.)

I read Narnia assiduously as a small child. It was my go-to. If I noticed it had been a while since my last reread, I started a new one. I actually haven’t reread all of them as an adult, but the ones I have I still love. And I really want to reread the others sometime soon (except The Last Battle, because…no).

So, I self-assess myself as a hybrid, a Nostalgic Serious Fanatic Who Ought to Take Better Care of Her Mom’s Books (Shame on You, Child).


// who’s your favorite Pevensie sibling? //

Edmund, I think.

Lucy has beautiful faith and the best retort to that “why don’t girls carry this-or-that in their heads?” question: “Because our heads have something inside them.” But Edmund is such a solid kid, after he gets over being a brat. I like dependable characters like that.

And, y’know, his redemption arc. Everybody else heard “redemption arc” and thought Zuko; I heard “redemption arc” and thought “Edmund.”

And I love him in The Horse and His Boy. (I love Susan a lot in The Horse and His Boy too, but…Edmund. We’re sticking with Edmund as favorite Pevensie.)


// what is the most underrated Narnia book? //

We are going to go with The Silver Chair here. It’s my favorite book, and it gets somewhat overlooked in favor of the two most popular ones (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian). The Horse and His Boy resides, like, a forty-seventh of a millimeter away from The Silver Chair in my affections, but people seem to properly appreciate it for the fabulous book that it is. And while The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Magician’s Nephew (my next-most favorites) are a little underrated (especially The Magician’s Nephew), I don’t think they’re as underrated as The Silver Chair. (And we’re just not talking about The Last Battle, because I don’t like that one.)

The thing with The Silver Chair is that it’s a little…dark. Comparatively. I guess Prince Caspian involves necromancy (so that’s family-friendly), but The Silver Chair has cannibal giants, enchantments that mess with your mind, a land that’s as shut in darkness spiritually as it is physically, and kids who, unlike the Pevensies, don’t have a super wholesome, normal, happy home and school life. It’s full of rain and caves* and deserted landscapes and a general sense of dreariness. I can see how people wouldn’t like that so much. In a way I’m surprised it’s my favorite book.

But I like the way Jill and Eustace have to deal with some really hard stuff. I like how their friendship develops. I like how Eustace, now a Reformed Character, has to suddenly be the one who Knows What He’s Doing (which he doesn’t), and you really get to see him shine. He’s…probably my favorite of the kids, to be honest. His life at home is probably the least awesome, and it kind of only makes sense that his Narnian adventure reflects that a bit?

I mean, have you ever thought about the fact (I just thought of this) that the Green Lady’s whole thing is stripping reality of its inherent magic – all lamplight, no sun; all cavern roof, no sky; all dreary circumscribed practicality, no idealism and no belief in something higher or more beautiful – and that’s almost the exact same background Eustace comes from in his real life? At the beginning of The Voyage of the Dawn-Treader, he takes pleasure in pricking holes in every bubble of imagination…in being realistic and sensible and smarter than everybody…and clearly that’s because that’s what his parents (and schoolmasters too, probably) taught him.

That’s very dreary. It’s a very dreary outlook to have on life, and it’s where Eustace comes from. And The Silver Chair deals with that in….a really, really profound way. I mean, for a children’s book and everything, too. So yes, it’s drearier than the other books, but it has to be. And I think it’s the best/most powerful (to me anyway) philosophically of all the books…

Also, Jill is great, and the book with Puddleglum in it is automatically going to be the best one, I mean come on now.


*Note: not that caves are necessarily dreary. Caves can be REALLY REALLY cool. If you have a flashlight to see the formations and a thirst to explore and, mostly, a way out.


// who is your favorite Narnian king? //

Tirian.

Tirian, with his head against Jewel’s flank, slept as soundly as if he were in his royal bed at Cair Paravel, till the sound of a gong beating awoke him and he sat up and saw that there was firelight on the far side of the stable and knew that the hour had come. “Kiss me, Jewel,” he said. “For certainly this is our last night on earth. And if ever I offended against you in any matter great or small, forgive me now.”

I freaking adore Tirian and quite frankly don’t think he gets nearly enough love.

Then he fixed his eyes upon Tirian, and Tirian came near, trembling, and flung himself at the Lion’s feet, and the Lion kissed him and said, “Well done, last of the Kings of Narnia who stood firm at the darkest hour.”


// who is your favorite Narnian queen? //

I about typed Aravis – does she count? I know she’s the queen of Archenland, not Narnia, but she is a Narnian queen in the sense that she’s a queen who appears in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” And she’s so very much my favorite.

I quite distinctly remember reading The Horse and His Boy for the first time, and how much I didn’t like Aravis. Then, when she told her story, I began to like her better. Then she kept being really annoying and snooty to my precious Shasta, and I didn’t like her again. And then…well, we don’t have to go through all the fluctuations. I ended up liking her very much. Rereading her story now is pretty awesome too, because she’s awesome from the beginning, in hindsight. Not to mention a natural-born queen.


// which non-human Narnian do you like best? //

Why do the non-human Narnians only get one question? There are too many of them for this to be fair.

That said…totally Puddleglum.

He’s so full of wisdom and…cheer.

“And you must always remember there’s one good thing about being trapped down here: it’ll save funeral expenses.”

-Puddleglum

“Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s a small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.”

-Puddleglum

“Puddleglum!” said Jill. “You’re a regular old humbug. You sound as doleful as a funeral and I believe you’re perfectly happy. And you talk as if you were afraid of everything, when you’re really as brave as – as a lion.”

Jill is quite right.


// which book deserves a movie? //

The Magician’s Nephew. I direct you to Katie’s awesome idea about an ethereal watercolor sort of animated Narnia – and then ask you do you not long to see the first sunrise and the creation of Narnia in that format? And to hear in the darkness, beforehand, the singing of the Great Lion? And to walk through the dead mists of Charn and the noisy streets of London and the impossible colorful cacophony of the newly awoken animals? I ask you.


// what is the one thing you did as a Narnia fan that you do not regret? //

I don’t at all regret the lengths to which I went to see what was behind any door in any wall or hedge I ever came across, and I do not regret the (surprisingly rare) trouble I may have gotten into due to this compulsion.

A lot of kids viewed wardrobes differently after reading Narnia. I didn’t really do that, but I did view doors in walls and hedges differently. (Whether this is because The Silver Chair was my favorite or because I didn’t encounter many wardrobes, I do not know.)

My fascination with seeing – nay, my need to see – what lies behind doors in hedges is with me still, in fact. And I always get a thrill when I go through one, even though I’ve yet to be transported to Aslan’s country. One of these days, maybe!



I now desperately want to reread Narnia. This tag has done its work well, I guess. Thank you so much for tagging me, Maya! Narnia is one of my absolute favorite stories, and I enjoyed doing this so much. I’ll tag five people, but feel free to do it or not as you are inclined!

Emily@E. K. Seaver

Mlle. Tomato@Project Pursue Wisdom

Blue@To Be a Shennachie

Movie Critic

Samantha@Bookshire

Writer’s Block: A Sonnet

I look at others’ tireless dedication –

Aesthetic boards and playlists for their cast,

Twisty plot-related innovation –

How do they write so well and how so fast?

While I am muddling with electric fields

And Gauss’s Law and dipoles and the rest,

I wonder what my meager words will yield;

I wrote a hundred yesterday, at best.

While I file papers, invoice, make a meal,

They snap their fingers; out cavorts a book.

And when I do sit down to write, I feel

As if I’m dragging words in with a hook.*

So kindly teach me, please, to stop the clock

And valiantly to smash this writer’s block.


*A fishing hook, specifically; the meter did not allow me to clarify. And I’m not very good at fishing, which is part of the metaphor.

Too Many Guns and Robots, Not Enough Hobbits ~ December’s Bookish Adventures

The last post that has anything to do with 2020, I do believe.


The Daybreakers

Louis L’Amour

The sheer love of the land in this book, especially the oft-maligned beauty of Kansas (I’m a Kansan by birth, you know, and very fond of the state), would’ve made it a new favorite even if it weren’t for the characters. Tyrell says: “Have you seen those Kansas plains? Have you seen the grass stretch away from you to the horizon? Grass and nothing but grass except for flowers here and there and maybe the white of buffalo bones, but grass moving gentle under the long wind, moving like a restless sea with the hand of God upon it” where most folks say: “Ugh, so much grass. So flat. So boring” and this is why I like Tyrell and not them.

Because, Tye. Let’s talk about Tye. I thought Tell was my favorite Sackett brother, but I’m no longer so sure. Tye is this nineteen-year-old kid, a hard worker and a fast gun, but a kid, a kid who’s competent and dangerous and who knows it. But who’s also a little scared of that side of himself, who is gentle because he’s capable of being so much the opposite. (It’s such a weirdly attractive quality to me.)

He says things like: “There would be trouble, but man is born to trouble, and it is best to meet it when it comes and not lose sleep until it does.” And he’s non-confrontational. He isn’t your stereotypical Western hero with a snarky reply ready for every bad guy. Instead he’s just very calm and cool and in his head he goes: “You stick your finger in the water and you pull it out, and that’s how much of a hole you leave when you’re gone.”

Like, you just got burned, son. If only you knew it.

Tye’s not a talker, see. He’s an observer. He says: “Right then I felt sorry for Martin Brady, although his kind would last longer than my kind because people have a greater tolerance for evil than for violence.” And if that’s not the most true thing I’ve ever heard…

Plus, he’s loyal. He’s friends with everyone, though close friends with almost no one. He doesn’t mind staying in the shadows while other people get all the attention – in fact, he prefers it that way. He’s completely secure.

I love him and I love this book.

The showdown at the end is so good, too. I’m sure many Westerns end with similar showdowns, but this one’s just GOOD. I think I don’t care if stories are original. I just care if they’re good. Which this one really, really was.

Illuminae

Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Nowadays, besides the occasional paragraphs snatched between classes or in line at the grocery store, I mostly only read at night. Right before bed. Which is what I tried to do with this book, and which I regretted very much.

…I was up till two a.m., you guys. Most of that time was not spent reading. Most of it my brain was just too freaked out to sleep.

A list of the ways this book hits altogether too close to home (note: all of this is minorly spoilery, so caution is urged):


  • Super contagious virus (this is even freakier in the present context BECAUSE of the fact that COVID has such low fatality rates – because so does the Phobos virus! At first! Then it mutates and oh you guys *clutches nearest human* it’s so creepy, it’s so so creepy, it’s so so so so so creepy oh my gosh)
  • Terrifyingly effective information censoring from people in authority who refuse to tell the masses what’s going on, are hiding something big and bad, and will go to literally any length to enforce their censorship. *shudders in 2021*
  • AI that’s capable of mimicking an actual human well enough to fool someone who knows that person well…….

And a list of (also minorly infested by spoilers) things I didn’t like so much:


  • All the cussing. Yes it was mostly blacked out and yes I still knew exactly what was being said.
  • All the, erm, content. Seriously. Could you STOP.
  • My favorite character died, so thanks for THAT, authors.
  • There’s this thing authors seem to ALWAYS feel the need to do, and I’m so tired of it, where if there’s a tense situation where hard decisions must be made and leadership must be assumed, people make the wrong decision at least once. Like, the good people. The good people who were previously mad at the bad people for doing the exact same thing they’re now doing themselves. I had a doubt and can’t go back to check, that actually the new commander of the Hypatia didn’t do what Kady thought she did, that maybe it was all part of AIDAN’s plan to manipulate what Kady saw going on, but I don’t think that’s what happened and I’m just SO ANNOYED. Writing it off as “panic, and the stress of assuming a leadership role you weren’t planning on having to take” is dumb, because she literally could have done the PROPER thing without endangering ANYONE. Morally grey character? Okay, I can deal. Character who randomly acts like an idiot so the book can score mOrAL CoMPLExitY points? aarGRGGHHGHH STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT /rant

In short: this book is Star Trek for the modern teenager. I love Star Trek and I’m not a teenager, but I love Star Trek very much. Hence my feelings for this book.

The Quiet Gentleman

Georgette Heyer

I like Georgette Heyer but only occasionally do I love her. This is a rare case where the heroine is better than the hero (ridiculously sensible and prosaic; it’s quite fun) and a sadly normal case where I was not satisfied by the fate meted out to the villain of the mystery. (I feel like we shouldn’t just turn murderers loose on the world, you know?)

Rogue Protocol

Martha Wells

Possibly my favorite of the three Murderbot novellas I’ve read so far. Set on a remote planet outside Corporation Rim, in an abandoned terraforming facility, where humans are actually sometimes used for security (our favorite curmudgeonly SecUnit is aghast at their inefficiency and once again reluctantly ends up looking out for them) and the company is up to no good (OF COURSE) and the ending kind of rips your heart out a little bit because wow, Murderbot. Maybe you aren’t quite as smart as you think you are. Maybe you could stand to be a little kinder. And maybe you need a very big hug.

Celtic Tales

The illustrations in this are so pretty. I meant to take some pictures before I gave it back to the friend who kindly lent it to me, but…I forgot.

Anyway, it’s a collection of folk tales from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany, and I actually hadn’t read most of them! The Witch of Lok Island is a new favorite story of mine, though. Two peasants want to marry but they want to have money when they marry, so the guy goes off to seek his fortune first. Unfortunately, he gets turned into a fish.

The girl, being sensible, knew something like this would happen and goes off to rescue him.

I just…yes.

Brideshead Revisited

Evelyn Waugh

It’s so…decadent. And sad. (Just like the interwar period in which it’s set, I guess.) At least, the first two sections are sad. The last section is more just sordid. I actually think I would’ve liked the book if not for the last section, but that completely ruined it for me. It’s all so messed up and awful and adulterous.

Sebastian, though. Sebastian grew on me slowly (I was…about as enchanted by him and his teddy bear as Anthony Blanche was), but I really, REALLY loved him by the end. He said some very thought-provoking things. And his ending was pretty much perfect, even if getting there was a thoroughly heart-wrenching affair.

Guns of the Timberlands

Louis L’Amour

In which a bunch of guys who work on a ranch don’t appreciate some city slicker trying to come in and take all their timber. But mostly, if you hurt any of their friends, they will fight you.

This is my sister’s favorite Louis L’Amour novel, so I’ve been meaning to read it for quite a while now, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The Lord of the Rings

J. R. R. Tolkien

I love this book and cannot really talk about it without sort of…gushing. For a long time. Because it’s a long book with lots of stuff in it.

I think it’s really cool, though, how it blends the old, mythic form of storytelling with the modern form of the novel. Tolkien calls it a romance, but it’s a romance written as a novel rather than an epic poem or a fairy-tale. The two things are blended so well, and I actually think that’s what gives The Lord of the Rings so much of its power and timelessness: in old myths you can miss the depth of character achieved by going inside someone’s head and the level of immersion achieved by descriptive prose, and in a novel you can miss the poetry of soaring words to describe heroism – the gravity and full glory of a tale can be lost, I mean, in the somewhat mundane way you must tell it – but The Lord of the Rings blends the two storytelling styles such that you don’t really lose any of the elements. It’s almost the perfect book, you could say, at least for someone who likes the things in stories that I do.

Plus…hobbits, y’all.

The Gift of the Magi

O. Henry

Read this at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve in order to make my Goodreads challenge (I’m never setting it at 80 ever again), but I’d been wanting to reread it anyway, so that was nice! It’s a perfect little story about “two foolish children in a flat” on Christmas, and between it and The Ransom of Red Chief, I’m excited to read the collection of O. Henry stories I found recently at Half Price Books.


I find I have a great desire to blog but little time. Also WordPress won’t let me insert images all of a sudden, idk what’s going on. I would like to make things more professional-looking roundabout here, but we’ll see if that day comes. For now, tell me how your reading life has been! Any good books, any annoying elements that crop up a lot, any opinions on these books?

Forging the Fellowship – A Tag, in Which I, and Assorted Fictional Persons, Set Out for Mordor (wish us luck)

[I had this post all written up and then for some reason didn’t post it. But I’m keeping the now-outdated intro. Because I like it and intros are hard.]

Guess who got eaten alive by finals? NOT ME!

They tried, but I am writing this post and that is evidence they failed. And so, today we return with another tag! This particular tag, bestowed upon me most graciously by the Story Sponge (thank you, Story Sponge – and to everyone else, go read her delightful, if now rather old, post, in which Puddleglum is a cheery companion on the road to Mordor and we narrowly miss being accompanied by an axe-murderer), is particularly fun because, as the title implies, it’s about forging a fellowship. Of book characters. To help you take the Ring to Mordor. And being in the midst of The Return of the King, my mind is naturally much taken up with this question. It’s a good question to ponder, in case one is ever called upon to destroy an evil magical Ring.

Anyway, there are rules to this tag, like including the tag banner (which I’m not doing not because it’s not a very nice tag banner that I would be honored to use, but because WordPress has decided I don’t get to insert any images into my posts right now), linking back to the creator of the tag (created by the illustrious Julia), tagging other people (which I would do, but this tag made the rounds a while ago and I don’t remember who did it and who didn’t – so if you want to do it, please make like a Bandersnatch without further ado!), etc. I’m adding my own self-imposed rule of choosing only non-fantasy characters. I figure I, the Ring-bearer, am from the real world where we don’t generally have to deal with such things, so why shouldn’t all my companions be?

That way we can all be equally clueless about the ways of magical folk and stand absolutely no chance whatsoever.

It’s a good idea. You know it is. Have you ever read a fantasy novel where the disparate and ridiculously under-prepared group of teenagers didn’t take down the Dark Lord when nobody else could?

Hmm?

Didn’t think so.


The Ring-Bearer: If you could choose, which of the four races would you be: Elf, Dwarf, Human, or Hobbit?

Candor compels me to say there’s no way I’d be anything but an Elf. I have long blonde hair (I guess…this makes me more of a warrior of Rohan, but they have really long hair – mine is, alas, just a normal sort of long), am much more interested in times gone by than in the semi-depressing present, and am often to be found (or not found, probably, considering the circumstances) off in my own world. In addition, I was once told I look like Galadriel. This was manifest flattery, but I’m still pleased about it.

I was also, many more times than once, told I look like Legolas, which is far nearer the truth but also far less pleasing.

Though to be honest, if it was my choice, I wouldn’t be an Elf at all. I would definitely be a hobbit. Hobbits have good sense, they appreciate good food, and they tend to be underestimated by their enemies. I can’t tell you how handy it is to be underestimated by your enemies.

Gandalf the Grey: A wise/powerful elder/mentor character:

Mr. Batchlett, from Man of the Family and The Home Ranch, isn’t really that old – but old enough to have a family and many skills and to be a mentor to Ralph. A pretty hands-off mentor, but, you know. Gandalf isn’t exactly a mother hen, himself.

I don’t know if I’d call Mr. Batchlett wise. I’d call him shrewd. And I don’t know if I’d say he’s precisely powerful, but you definitely don’t want to see him angry.

Oh, and I just realized Mr. Batchlett is a real-live person – Edward Batschelet was his real name – but I don’t think this disqualifies him from the post of Gandalf the Grey. I, the Ring-bearer, am also a real-live person, after all.

Well, technically Mr. Batchlett is a real-dead person, but this was the hardest question to think of an answer for and he had BETTER COUNT because I literally cannot think of anyone else.

Aragorn: A character with good survival skills.

Pierre, from Calico Captive. Pierre is a French trapper and trader and general frontier-guy in frontier Canada during the last French-and-Indian War. Which the French probably called something more like the British-and-Pesky-Settlers War, but whatever.

Pierre clearly knows all about surviving in the wilderness, because he’s always going off and doing it. He’s fun, intelligent, and a little ruthless. I imagine he’ll be quite useful on the way to Mordor.

As long as we keep him out of any pubs.

Boromir: A character who makes mistakes, but has a good heart

Betsy Ray, from the Betsy-Tacy books. If she doesn’t fit this definition, I don’t know who does. She’s always making mistakes. Like falling in love with the wrong boy (multiple times), losing all sense of balance when it comes to hanging out with the Crowd vs. studying and pursuing her writing, and always always saying the wrong thing to Joe. And misjudging people. And caring too much what other people think of her and trying to change for them. And getting swept up in the moment thinking she’s a little better than she is. And the list goes on. But despite that, she has such a warm heart, seeing the good in everyone, wanting to make everyone happy, wanting to be friends with everyone, eternally loyal to Tacy.

And as every Lord of the Rings fan knows, it’s loyalty that counts.

And kindness and a healthy dose of pluck don’t hurt either.

Gimli: A stubborn character.

Andre-Louis Moreau, from Scaramouche. He probably thinks he isn’t stubborn and would say something like, “You only mean that I have principles and stick to them; it is because they happen to be in your way that you denounce them as stubbornness.”

Which is true enough, I guess, but…he’s still stubborn.

Legolas: A character who is talented

Shane, from Shane.

His talents include: hacking at tree stumps, shooting faster than anybody else, and riding mysteriously off into the night.

Mordor is done for.

Peregrin Took: A character who at first seems useless, but ends up surprising you.

Claud, from The Unknown Ajax. Claud ended up surprising me for two reasons: 1) He’s actually nice. 2) He (kind of willingly) goes along with being made ridiculous for the sake of Richmond and the Family Name.

Plus, the reaction of the Rye townsfolk proves that, if nothing else, he’s useful as a distraction.

Meriadoc Brandybuck: A character who is small/not very strong, but has great courage.

Marguerite St. Just, from The Scarlet Pimpernel. Say what you will about her, say whoever called her “the cleverest woman in Europe” was clearly foxed at the time and everyone who took up that designation was apparently foxed all the time – and – well, I guess that isn’t too hard to believe about all those Georgian aristocrats and intelligentsia, but, say also that the woman has courage.

Samwise Gamgee: A character who is extremely loyal and doesn’t give up.

Cottia, from The Eagle of the Ninth. She…really doesn’t give up. And she’s really loyal. And she would bite Sauron and honestly she’s a lot like Sam. I never thought of that before.


Okay, so we have three (ish) Westerners, two teenagers (a social butterfly of a writer and a fierce little Celtic maiden), one actor/orator/swordsman, one nobleman’s wife, and one utter fop. And me.

This is going to turn out just swell.

Let’s see – once we get out of the Shire, if we ever do – I’m not sure how possible it will be to separate Pierre and the Green Dragon? – Mr. Batchlett and Pierre can take care of the trolls while Andre-Louis stuffs a bunch of the gold into his pockets (just in case we need it later) and Betsy writes a commemorative poem about the occasion.

In the long walking parts of the journey, though, fighting will break out when Pierre bullies Claud and Cottia rushes to his defense (not because she likes Claud; she doesn’t; but because she really doesn’t like Pierre). Andre-Louis will just watch, and it will be up to Shane to save them when danger strikes. But he’s Shane, so that won’t be a problem.

Claud will hate the Dead Marshes. “Look what this swampy water has done to my breeches! It’s even ruined my cravat, and why can’t the dashed ground stay where it’s put? And my boots!” Oh yes, the boots. Polyphant’s heart will be broken.

Marguerite will probably make it all the way to Mount Doom (she’s tough), but faint on the way up. At which point I don’t know what will happen anymore and I think I’m done with this tag now.

It will be an interesting journey, that’s all I can say.

And with that, I must leave you to pack, so that we can leave. Before the Ringwraiths get here and all.

I Read Some Stuff in November

And am talking about it in this post. I usually put two months together but I didn’t want a monster post this time, just a smol little post. Just a smol little post with a smol little intro.

A pox upon intros. They drive me mad, the little buggers.

I GIVE UP. THIS DREADFUL THING IS THE INTRO, AND NOW WE CAN MOVE ON TO THE BOOKS. THANK YOU.


Tregaron’s Daughter

Madeleine Brent

I don’t really like this book that much, but I’ve reread it a concerning number of times. Like every now and then when I’m bored I just pick it up and don’t put it back down till I finish it. I’ve stayed up late on its account a lot, too. It made sense the first time, but it has long ceased to make sense that I feel compelled to stay up late finding out what happens in a story where I already know what happens…

I have no explanation for this. It’s just…addictive? And I like the idea of it? An old-fashioned, improbable romantic adventure where a fisherman’s daughter saves some rich guy’s life and later, when her father dies, he adopts her. But her grandmother had a mysterious past and it all comes back to haunt her…in Venice, with crooked noblemen and cashiered ex-soldiers, mercenary schemes and betrayal and midnight escapes by gondola.

But the romance is awful, Cadi herself is annoyingly perfect (and so different! and admirable! like, yes, being kind to Lucian is admirable. but being sensible and not fainting at the sight of blood is just…how you are. it’s not any special virtue in Cadi that she’s this way, but the book tries to pretend it is.), and the writing style is…fine. Not great. I do like the development Sarah gets. I do not like the awkwardly tossed-in references about how women have been oppressed long enough and are starting to stand up! and things will never go back to the way they were! and automobiles are here to stay! I just hate when historical fiction does this. It’s so obvious. And stupid. And un-subtle.

And Lucian’s and Paddy’s backstories (with the Boer War and all) were, like, so cool? But I wished Lucian and Paddy had been more in the story or something, I don’t know; somehow it didn’t feel like these cool characters with cool backstories were as well utilized as they could have been. Lucian especially. (But I would read a whole book from Paddy’s perspective.)

ALSO. How is Lorna Doone a “very interesting book”? It’s, like, the most boring classic I’ve ever read. (I’m just saying.)

Treasure Island

Robert Louis Stevenson

Robert Louis Stevenson is just tops. I wish there were more bloodthirsty pirate stories and more heroes like Jim Hawkins in the world. Oh, and more bad guys like Silver. I was so scared of him as a little kid. Took me forever to put it together that he was the seaman with one leg, but the chill that ran down my spine was not less chilly for being delayed.

Okay for Now

Gary D. Schmidt

This book is basically everything I ever wanted in a book, and THANK YOU, SPONGE, FOR TELLING ME OF ITS BEAUTY.

Basically, there’s a boy named Doug who’s just moved to a little town in the middle of nowhere. He’s keeping several secrets, both from his classmates and from the reader. His oldest brother is somewhere in Vietnam, his father is abusive, and his other brother is the leader of what is known (in another book) the Penitentiary Crowd. And he’s mean to Doug. (And I love him.)

Also I love Doug, who is not a skinny thug. And who once met Joe Pepitone and Joe Pepitone gave him his cap. (This is how I’m going to get my sister to read this book, by harping on the baseball element.) And who loves Audubon. Seriously, that was the coolest thing ever. The first time I heard of Audubon, I was completely enchanted. I started painting birds too. Only I’m not a talented artist like Doug so I didn’t get very far. But still. The bird content in this book is the best.

And the people content is just as good. The sibling content, the almost-everybody-is-struggling-and-you-can’t-necessarily-judge-people-by-their-first-impressions-and-harsh-exteriors content.

The only thing I don’t like is – oh, yes, I guess I’m also not a fan of the Broadway subplot. But whatever, man, whatever. The part that actually bugs me is the note things end on with Doug’s father. Because, um…I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but I am saying it’s probably not permanent. It’s probably just a Moment. And ending it on that note just feels false.

But I don’t even care because the book is so beautiful. Please go read it, guys? You won’t regret it.

An Enchantment of Ravens

Margaret Rogerson

A terrifying rollercoaster could be made, I think, by following the template “Evolution of Sarah’s View of Gadfly.”

The autumn vibes in this book are everywhere. Also the dead, dead, rotten, dead summer vibes. This summer, my dad and I cut down a big oak on our property that had died. The inside was partly hollow and partly soft and rotted and partly just in the early damp sawdusty stages of rotting, and the descriptions of the Alder King really reminded me of it.

Overall, a very atmospheric book, with beautiful descriptions of seasons, cool fairies (their immortality gives them so much and yet so little and they’re so very un-human), and too much romance.

The Wednesday Wars

Gary D. Schmidt

I still don’t like Shakespeare, and Holling Hoodhood needs to GROW a SPINE (which he did – good for you, kid. and it was so well written I almost didn’t notice it.), and wow this book recognized the merits of Eleanor Rigby as a song and that sure made me happy.

Also the sibling content. I don’t think you can write siblings better than Gary D. Schmidt does. I don’t think it’s possible.

Our Mutual Friend

Charles Dickens

I’m having a really hard time summing this up. It’s by Dickens, see.

Um, well, there’s a big inheritance and a lot of terrible people and two couples. In one of them, the girl is nice but mercenary and the male is perfect. I mean, besides keeping some secrets from his bride, which isn’t very nice, but whatever. And in the other one, it’s the girl who’s perfect and the guy is…Eugene Wrayburn. Whom I adore.

All y’all need to read this so you can feel my pain on Eugene’s account.

There’s a really nice ending, though. And Mrs. Lammle is a wonderful character. And Twemlow is very pathetic but I like him. And Jenny Wren is the best! She’s kind of like Toph.

It takes a while to get started, but all the threads come together and make a wonderful story in the end. Sure, maybe it’s a little bloated (Dickens, remember), but it’s worth it.

I love Dickens.

Artificial Condition

Martha Wells

They were right, all those annoying people who said I could like sci-fi, I just had to find the right kind.

It’s so annoying when those annoying people are right.

In this instalment, Murderbot makes friends with an AI named ART (well…Murderbot names it ART. for reasons.) and investigates its mysterious past and has to keep humans safe. Humans are so hard to keep safe, bother them.

The Scorpio Races

Maggie Stiefvater

One of my favorite quotes from this book is: “It wasn’t that we were unfriendly with the island. We were just friendlier with ourselves.”

One of my favorite characters is George Holly, the chipper American stable owner visiting Thisby on business. Comes to buy horses, stays to make friends with lonely boys and vinegar girls.

The lonely boys (Sean, Finn) and vinegar girls (Puck) are also my favorite characters. And Dove and Corr and the island. The island is terrible, actually, but also wonderful.


Probably should have waited to write this. I fear to look back at it, lest need of sleep be writ large across the paragraphs. But those are the books I wrote in November and – wait, no, read. Those are books I read in November. You should – thoughts. If you have thoughts, you should talk them in the comments. No pressure. Goodnight.

The Smashing and Dashing Character Awards of 2020!

It is a new year, my friends, a time for new Goodreads goals, hastily dropped resolutions, and meaningful reflection. Or, if you’re not into meaningful reflection, you can talk about books instead. (That’s what we do around here.)

Cait, also known as Paper Fury, also known as Cake-Making Grandma of the Book Blogging Community, once upon a time began the Smashing and Dashing Character Awards, wherein awards are handed out to the characters who newly won your heart in the previous year. Tremendous fun they were. Seasons change and time flies, however, and now it is Katie Hanna who keeps the tradition alive and from her I have politely pilfered these questions.

And without further ado…let the red carpet be rolled out, the trumpets sounded, the mics turned on, and the awarding of the awards begun.


THE SMASHING AND DASHING

CHARACTER AWARDS

~2020~


Most Relatable Character

Murderbot!!!! (From All Systems Red and at least the next two books in the series.) Murderbot is a…not really robot; it has organic parts and also Feelings, which it hates and doesn’t want to talk about. It’s an extremely skilled combat unit (not the part I relate to) who’s been treated like an expendable object all its life and then suddenly encounters humans who find this treatment horrifying. And then they are nice to it and want it to talk about its Feelings and obviously Murderbot has never been more traumatized in its entire life. Not even by that mysterious and terrible event in its past.

Also, its thoughts are so sarcastic, and it feels so much more emotionally secure when it’s in opaque armor so people can’t see its shape or facial expressions, and it skips the romance parts in shows.

Do you see why it’s so relatable???

(Also, I’m calling it “it,” but it has skin and I’m pretty sure your entire genome is in your skin cells, and so I’m pretty sure Murderbot has a gender, and I’m guessing male, but the books don’t actually tell you what it is. Which is really interesting! Because it’s kind of irrelevant to the story and themes, you know?)

Most Pure Animal Companion

First I wanted to say Gollum (from The Lord of the Rings), then Sycorax and Caliban (from The Wednesday Wars). Then I thought maybe I oughtn’t behave like a two-year-old possessed of a demon of contrariety, so I hereby give this award to Sea-cow, from the Breton fairy-tale Little White-thorn.

Fiercest Fighter

Hector of Troy.

And if you dare to say that perhaps, all things considered, I should give this reward to Achilles instead –

First of all, no.

And second of all, I will smite you in oddly specific places with my spear, right as your patron deity is sneezing so I know he or she won’t interfere, and cause a mist to come before your eyes and your life to leave you and your ancient father in far-away lands to be left grieving, heirless, and childless in his old age, before stripping you of your armor and making a speech in which self-aggrandizing boasts and insults to the dead are mingled in very bad taste.

And THIRD OF ALL, Hector *bursts into weeping* is my SON and nobody’s a fiercer fighter than him because he’s fighting for his wife and his child and his HOMELAND and has been for SO LONG.

Am Surprised That I Loved You??

Death, from Hogfather (and Terry Pratchett’s books in general, I think?). (You see by his name why I’m surprised.) He talks in all caps, which would, you’d think, be scary, but no. He’s actually fond of humans, enjoys philosophical discussions, practices his “Ho-ho-ho” (he’s impersonating Santa), and is on a mission to save Santa Claus from evil assassins.

Best Sassmaster

Eugene Wrayburn, from Our Mutual Friend.

Eugene is my favorite can’t-stop-being-sarcastic-to-save-his-life young man since Eugenides. (Who was my favorite since Eugene Fitzherbert, aka Flynn Rider. Clearly it’s something about the name.) He’s very clever and absolutely incapable of being serious, and he first won my heart when he took poor bewildered Mr. Boffin to task for some reference to the exemplary diligence of honeybees and explained why he did not appreciate being compared to those thrice-accursed insects.

All to amuse himself, of course. Eugene is far too flippant (on top) and far too good-natured (at bottom) to be offended by anything Mr. Boffin could say.

Also can you tell that I love Eugene? Because I love him. And the things Dickens did to me with that love were Not Very Nice.

Best Antihero

Sakr-el-Bahr, from The Sea-Hawk.

As awful as he is, I like him. He’s tragic, sardonic, faithful for years to one woman (whom he can never marry nor even see again) with his pick of the beauties of Algeria, and almost completely eaten up with bitterness.

The Best Friends of All

Father Brown and Flambeau.

This does not need explaining.

Best Villain TO HATE

Doug’s dad (and Ernie Eco), from Okay for Now. What he did to his sons (all three of them) is inexcusable.

Award for Best vs Worst YA Parents

Worst: Ezra’s mom in Illuminae. Lady is a creep.

Best: Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. I’m aware that they’re not technically Anne’s parents, that calling Anne of Green Gables YA might not be completely accurate, and that I’m cheating anyway because it’s a reread, but Matthew and Marilla do an actually excellent job of parenting their little red-headed orphan, and I love them both SO MUCH.

Ship of All Ships in 2020

I wasn’t sure how to answer this (did I even read any romances? were any of them not annoying?), but then I remembered: Eanrin and Imraldera, from Starflower. The mortal maiden who can’t speak and the cat-poet-fairy-man who simply does not tire of the sound of his own voice (at least at the beginning of his character arc) make a precious (if unusual) couple.

Most Precious

Abdullah, from Castle in the Air. He didn’t ask to be magically transported to the garden where the beautiful Flower-in-the-night dwelt (but falling in love with her was nice), and hence he is somewhat grumpy at being obliged to rescue her (but you can’t just let evil djinns carry off your lady love, y’know), and also Very, Very Done with all his nagging relatives and the flying carpet that requires a steady diet of flattery and the disgruntled genie that turns his every wish awry. And so he is magnificently passive-aggressive and spends most of his days bewildered at the unfortunate things that keep happening to him, and he does not trust cats.

Basically, he’s the best.

Must Be Protected

DOUG. SWIETECK. (From Okay for Now.)

My precious son who totally doesn’t do art and knows every baseball stat in existence and loves his mom and just wants to return all the Audubons to the big bird book in the library and get through the school year like he has every other school year. He must be protected from his father and from the cruel world.

Honestly Surprised You're Still Alive

Huon, from The Great and Terrible Quest. Not because he’s reckless, just…I’m surprised.

Award for Making the Worst Decisions

Don Pedro, from The Hounds of God.

Don Pedro, my buddy, my bro.

Why.

I still love you. But try not to kidnap ladies, would you? Even if you are desperately in love with them and they’re being bafflingly stubborn about returning your affections.

Most in Need of a Nap

Tye Sackett, from The Daybreakers.

Look, y’all. All Tye wants is for people to behave themselves, stop getting into gunfights, and just generally be as pleasant and self-effacing as he is himself. But will they? No, they will not. A marshal’s work is never done. A fond brother’s work is never done. Seriously, Tom Sunday, what’s your problem. Could Tye just get a day off so he can get married? Is that too much to ask?

(And in one sentence I have made a shoot-em-up Western sound like a rom-com. Oops.)

Want to Read More About You

Uncle Bawley, from Giant. HE CRIES ALL THE TIME FROM ALLERGIES AND IS SCARED OF WOMEN. And he wanted to play the piano.

I wish there was a whole book about him.


So ends 2020, a year in which I read a fair number of good books and met a fair number of fine fellows and fair ladies. (It didn’t compare to 2019, which was an amazing reading year, but whatever.) How did you fare on your readerly adventures? Are you going to participate in the Smashing and Dashing Character Awards? (You shooould, it’s lots of fuuuuun.) Do you find that “Most in Need of a Nap” applies to a lot of characters?

Twelve Delights of Christmas (a tag)

Merry Christmas, friends! And hold on to your hats, for the new year is nearly upon us. I momentarily knew the impulse to wax reflective and write a 2020 wrap-up post. But I decided, instead, I would do this. Christmas has been unwontedly busy but also unwontedly nice this year, and I was a little bummed thinking it’d go completely unmarked here on the blog – when lo and behold, like the best of bloggerly chums, Samantha tagged me.

Eternal gratitude, etc, etc, and please steal this tag if you feel like celebrating. Before or after the Christmas season is over. Heidi over at Along the Brandywine created it, and she made it wonderfully cozy and cheery. It gets you in the Christmas spirit just filling it out.

(Also, I can’t stand how out-of-order I do my tags these days. We’re going to fix that once the new year rolls in. We are.)


1) A favorite Christmas tradition?

Christmas stories! Granted, mine was terrible, random, and dashed off in fifteen minutes this year…but I love this tradition. My dad started it. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve we all write a short story that involves Christmas and whatever other arbitrary requirement we decide to force on everyone. There is much procrastination and groaning and tearing of hair and bewailing lack of creativity, but on Christmas Eve (or Christmas Day, this year), when we read them all out loud to each other, it’s so worth it.

Seriously. It’s really cool to see what people come up with. My family has great comedic talent.

2) Say it snowed at your domicile, would you prefer to go out or stay curled up inside?

Well, it snowed this morning, and I was in great haste to accoutre myself to sally forth. I had to anyway, because I had to feed the chickens, but you don’t hasten to feed chickens.

And it was falling in such beautiful, thick flakes. You can’t stay inside for that. Like, yes, it’s wonderful to sit by the window and scribble in your notebook and sip your tea, but only after you’ve gone sledding and tramped through the woods a bit and maybe built a snow fort. (I think…I’m still a ten-year-old on the inside.)

Also, most winters don’t see that much snow where I live. Ice, sure. Sleet, sure. But you have to make the most of the few days you are vouchsafed where it actually SNOWS. If I lived in northern Ohio, where the lake gives my lucky relatives regular snowfalls, maybe my answer would be different.

3) Tea or hot chocolate?

Tea all the way. It’s such a relaxing drink, plus I don’t actually like hot chocolate.

4) Favorite Christmas colors (i.e. white, blue, silver, gold, red and green etc)?

I suppose I must say white and green! Nothing beats that snow-on-the-cedars look.

5) Favorite kind of Christmas cookie?

Do jam thumbprints count as Christmas cookies? They seem very Christmassy to me, and I did make them for Christmas this year. But I also make them throughout the year, because they are simply the best cookies ever.

If they don’t count, I must go with gingerbread. I love gingerbread cookies, the soft, spicy kind with no icing.

6) How soon before Christmas do you decorate (more specifically, when does your tree go up)?

Ha-ha. It varies year to year. If we’re cutting down a real tree, though, we often do it Thanksgiving weekend, because my aunt will be there to help pick it out. That’s what happened this year.

7) Three favorite traditional Christmas carols?

What? I have to pick three? I love traditional Christmas carols too much for that, I fear…

Okay, fine.

“Let All Mortal Flesh”

“O Come Emanuel”

“What Child Is This”

Those are my three. And if you’ve never heard “Let All Mortal Flesh,” I recommend looking up a choral version. It’s absolutely beautiful. It was in high school I first heard of it; the music director at church arranged it for our small girls’ ensemble to sing a cappella and made me sing the first verse. I don’t know that it was my best performance ever, because I was having trouble with my voice at that point, but it’s my favorite solo I’ve ever sung. And I’m really glad he wanted me to sing it, even if somebody else might have done a better job. It’s a beautiful song with beautiful lyrics.

Also, there’s this piano accompaniment for “What Child Is This” I learned this year, and it is…so??? gorgeous??? It’s a-ripple with motion from the beginning, with sort of chiming chords in the right hand and a pulse in the left hand, and then it grows to these sixteenth-note spurts in the right hand, and then all of a sudden it’s intensely minor, crashing dissonance which never loses its intensity even when the dissonance goes away, till the very end, and it’s just…just…breathtaking. You feel actually short of breath after hearing a particularly good performance of it. It’s beautiful. I wish I could play it for y’all. You’d see.

Also, we tried to get our friend who was singing “O Come Emanuel” with us to sing it in Latin and that…did not go well. Sometimes when people say they don’t do Latin, they really don’t do Latin.

Okay, story-time’s over now. Onward.

8) A favorite Christmas song (i.e. something you might hear on the radio)?

Hmm. I’m not fond of most non-carol Christmas songs, but I do like “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas.” Oh! And “Do You Hear What I Hear?” I’ve heard that on the radio before. It’s grand.

9) A favorite Christmas movie?

Haven’t seen very many, but this really has to go to White Christmas. We don’t watch it every year anymore, but it is inextricably linked with the idea of Christmas, for me. You know those movies your parents watched all the time when you were tiny, so that you knew the whole story-line but also simultaneously had no idea what was going on because you were too tiny to know what it meant? Yeah, that’s White Christmas.

As I grew up, I figured out more and more of what was actually going on in it, and now when I watch it and actually get it, it’s just…so fun. And has great music and a great Christmas vibe and people doing nice things for people without letting the people know…yes. All my favorite things.

10) Have you ever gone caroling?

Yes!!!! Last year and this year I finally got to go caroling, which is something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. It was properly chilly, we had dragon-breath, there were Christmas lights strung all along the main street of downtown and the harbor, and we went to restaurants and people’s houses and even a couple intersections (and lots of people would roll down their car windows), and it was just…glorious. Last year it snowed, too. Caroling is the best.

11) Ice skating, sledding, skiing, or snow boarding?

I’ve never been ice skating or snowboarding. I do like ice sliding, but I presume it’s not the same. Sledding is really really fun, and I’ve only been skiing once years ago, but I have to say skiing. Once you get the hang of it it’s just so exhilarating.

12) Favorite Christmas feast dish?

Green bean casserole. Regular is good, the fancy-schmancy paleo version my aunt came up with is good (if you get it right, that is: don’t put in too much salt or it’s awful, don’t put in too little or it’s unbearably tangy, and coconut milk is not an acceptable substitute for almond milk), and the version I made this year was possibly my favorite. (Homemade cream-of-mushroom soup, so as to be gluten-free, plus bacon, so as to be scrumptious.)


Thanks, Sam, for the tag, and Heidi for creating it! And merry Christmas to all of y’all! Tell me your favorite carols, with associated stories, in the comments!

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