Jane Austen Novels, Ranked

So, a while back I wrote a post ranking Disney Princess movies. (I’d link to it but I’m writing this on my phone and it’s more trouble than it’s worth.) It was kind of just a random idea I had, but it was a lot of fun for me. It was especially fun for me to see y’all’s rankings (and general opinions) as well.

So the other day I thought, why not rank Jane Austen novels? That would be fun. I have some fairly unusual opinions. I’m curious what my readers’ opinions would be. Let’s do this.

So…let’s do this.

FIRST PLACE // PERSUASION

I think if you’re a Jane Austen snob, you say, “Pride and Prejudice is okay, but Jane Austen’s real masterpiece is Persuasion.”

I hope I’m not a Jane Austen snob, but I do think Persuasion is a masterpiece. It’s quiet and autumnal and ordinary, which is why it’s so good, I think. It feels like real life, and then it rings a joyous peal over you of second chances and redemption and forgiveness for foolish choices made and the slow blossoming of love born of deep mutual respect and affection and not, against expectation and probability, dead, even after eight years. Of all Austen’s stories, it strikes the deepest chord with me.

The characters, as usual, are impeccably drawn. I don’t know that Anne is my favorite of Austen’s heroines, but I also don’t know that she isn’t. She’s one of those characters, when I first read the book, I was surprised to learn that somebody actually wrote characters like that. I knew plenty of people like her – in some ways I was very like her myself – but I thought authors just never wrote about people like her. Gentle, dutiful, good – yet also overlooked and taken advantage of, even sometimes by the people who loved her, because they had a forceful personality and her best interests at heart but were a little bit stupid. It makes me mad sometimes, actually, how often people are stupid and can’t get it through their heads that this person you love is DIFFERENT than you. And you might be trying so hard to make her life better, but actually you’re making it worse, because she’s so gentle and conscientious that she’ll give in to you and blight her own future and you’re so STUPID you’ll never even realize what you’re guilty of. Because you’re STUPID.

I don’t know if it was obvious, but Lady Russell frustrates me. She’s painfully true to life. And she’s a good person who really loves Anne, which is what makes it so frustrating!

Anyway, Anne is lovely. Her character growth is lovely. Same for Captain Wentworth. Their story is beautiful.

And Captain Harville is an absolute dear.

SECOND PLACE // NORTHANGER ABBEY

Henry Tilney is my favorite Austen hero, so. He is witty and yet not careless of other people’s feelings. And he appreciates Catherine, who is such a darling.

Austen’s wit is, in general, on full display here. Her portraits of the Thorpes are absolutely merciless. I love the Gothic novel parody going on, and how Catherine is basically fiction’s first fangirl and lets her imagination get away from her with such regularity.

It’s just…a good time. And very smart. And has Henry Tilney in it.

THIRD PLACE // SENSE AND SENSIBILITY

Definitely one of the most actually romantic and romance-focused that Austen wrote, possibly because it was the first one she published? What makes this one for me is the characters. And also nostalgia, I suppose, since it was the first Jane Austen book I read. I was nine and quite enamored.

Which, in its turn, is quite possibly because of Elinor. As I said, I was nine. My reading this far had, I guess, led me to believe that fiction was entirely populated by hot-tempered heroines who were always saying things they shouldn’t and letting their feelings run away with them and getting into scrapes.

Which was all fine and good. I liked heroines like that. (Still do.) But what an odd sensation, to realize that people actually write books sometimes about characters who are like me! Who never lose their tempers or say what they think if it has the smallest chance of offending someone (and hence often become the confidante of both sides) or let their feelings run away with them. Who never, in fact, show their feelings. And who are reproached for it by the people who do, and who are assumed to not HAVE feelings because we don’t show them and…I didn’t know, when I reread this recently, if I’d still find Elinor so impossibly relatable, because maybe it was just the first time I’d read a quiet, calm, capable heroine and that was why I latched onto her so strongly…but no. HIGHLY RELATABLE. (I am much more blunt now than I was as a child and will say what I think to people if they ask – but they don’t usually, you know – and am not nearly as socially adept as Elinor. But still highly relatable.)

And so well-drawn? It’s all so accurate. How does Jane Austen capture people (like Elinor and Marianne and Mrs Dashwood) so very accurately?

I suppose that’s rather a personal reason for liking this one so much, but I really like Elinor, not just relate to her, and it was so awesome to me that she was the main heroine rather than Marianne, who, according to my experience, should without a doubt have been the heroine. And I love Marianne too, especially as more of a secondary character whose flaws aren’t excused but who is still a lovely girl, and I’m exceedingly fond of Colonel Brandon.

And Edward’s a pretty nice chap as well.

FOURTH PLACE // PRIDE AND PREJUDICE

It may come fourth in the list, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. Pride and Prejudice is rightfully iconic. Lizzie is a delight, Jane is a dear, the Bennet parents are a hoot, Darcy is a fascinating character study, and I wouldn’t object to marrying Bingley. And there’s lots of drama.

Wickham is one of my favorite Austen villains, too. So slimy and despicable. I wish he came to a worse end, honestly. I hope that’s not dreadfully vindictive of me, but what a…well, I kind of promised myself once I wouldn’t ever refer to any human being as trash because it bothers me so much when other people do it and I think it’s wrong? I won’t make an exception, but I did think about making one for Wickham. Just ugh.

FIFTH PLACE // EMMA

I haven’t read this one since I was little, but I definitely liked it! It reminds me of Persuasion with how real and ordinary it all is, and I like that. I find Harriet insipid, and Emma sometimes gets on my nerves a trifle though I’m fond of her, but Mr Knightley is a solid human being and We Approve.

Yeah…I like Mr Knightley, that’s most of my feelings on this one.

Oh, and Frank Churchill. I don’t know if I like him or not – I don’t think he’s an out-and-out villain – but he adds a spice to life, for sure.

The Eltons are delightfully awful.

Mainly this isn’t my favorite just because Emma gets on my nerves sometimes, which puts it lower than Pride and Prejudice whose heroine I am deeply fond of, and then I don’t have the same personal connection to it (or to Pride and Prejudice) that I do to Sense and Sensibility. Then it’s probably as funny as Pride and Prejudice, but not quite as witty, and even Pride and Prejudice falls short of the sparkling, clear-eyed brilliance of Northanger Abbey. And then none of them, of course, have quite the SOUL-STIRRING BEAUTY of Persuasion.

So hopefully that explained the ranking order a bit.

LAST PLACE // MANSFIELD PARK

Also haven’t read this one since I was little, which means perhaps I’m not being fair to it, but it’s going last because I don’t actually like it.

Fanny is a lovely character (Jane Austen writes strong women and, again, We Approve), but Edmund DOES NOT deserve her. Mary Crawford is annoying and it annoys me excessively that there’s some dramatic reason Edmund comes to realize she’s no good. It feels like an authorly cop-out, actually, in my opinion. I wanted Edmund to GROW to realize that she’s not the right one, but instead circumstances have to write it in letters of fire in front of his face that she isn’t, because nothing short of that is going to convince him, apparently.

Which, fine. Maybe men are that oblivious when infatuated. (They…totally are, actually, a lot of the time.) I still don’t like it. It feels unfair to Fanny that her goodness can only ever be perceived by contrast with someone else’s badness.

Fanny just…deserved better all around. And that’s how I feel about it.

BONUS // MOVIE ADAPTATION RANKING

I thought this would be fun to do real quick, too.

Fair warning that I’m not a big fan of period dramas and definitely have some unpopular opinions here, lol.

Starting with WORST, we have the Kate Beckinsale version of Emma. I actually only watched the beginning and couldn’t stand it – weirdly gloomy, stiff and wooden, weird music? They were going for something but I’m not sure what. My mom and sisters watched the whole thing and said it didn’t get any better. So that’ll be a no from me, thanks.

In NEXT WORST place we have that 1995 Persuasion movie. I thought it might be good at first, but then it was just…slow and did that period-drama thing where people stare at each other a lot. And also stare out windows a lot. Sometimes at the rain, to signify Bleak Sadness and Despairing Uncertainty As To What The Future Holds But It’s Probably Boring. Sometimes just…out the window. Also the proposal scene at the end was horrifically awkward. No thank you.

Coming in at THIRD WORST is the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries. Yes yes, don’t kill me. I liked it fine the first time I saw it (it was mildly cool to kind of see the book play out on screen word for word?), but my mom and I rewatched it recently and just…it’s so long. And boring. And did people really talk like that? Really? Like, with super proper diction but also always sounding like they’re out of breath because…conveying emotion through your voice is hard in a Regency piece, I guess? And why is EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION punctuated by awkward silences? And why do people do so much STARING? GET ON WITH THE MOVIE, WOULD YOU? *cough* so…that one’ll also be a no from me. (But Jennifer Ehle was lovely, that I will say. Very charming, very Lizzie.)

Coming in next at FOURTH WORST, or maybe THIRD BEST, I’m not sure, is the 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley. That’s right, I like it better than the long one. *ducks half-heartedly to avoid the rotten vegetables and occasional metal projectile* This one was actually fine the first TWO times I watched it. Keira Knightley does a nice, modern Lizzie, who’s not very Regency but who is at least feisty in a way modern people pick up on. It’s a pretty movie, if not a historically accurate one. It moves along at a good pace, has nice music, keeps the gist of a bunch of good lines from the book, doesn’t involve TOO much staring (but still plenty of rain), and gives Mrs Bennet depth. Which is awesome. But also Mr Bennet is no good, and it loses charm on rewatches, and the ending is truly painful to watch.

Getting to the end now, in SECOND BEST place I present to you the Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. I remember that it was good. Rather serious and dramatic, like the book, but I Felt Things when Elinor reached her breaking point and was like…well, I forget the line, but basically, “YES, Marianne, I DO have feelings! And it HASN’T BEEN EASY. And you haven’t helped!” Elinor and Marianne were superbly acted, although I totally forget Colonel Brandon, which is sad but possibly more my memory’s fault than the character’s memorability. Not sure what I’d think if I rewatched it (might be a little long and sad), but I quite enjoyed it the first time.

And finally, for BEST OF ALL, I give you…the 2009 Emma miniseries!!!! I’ve watched this three times and enjoyed it immensely every time. It’s bright and funny. Romola Garai’s facial expressions are truly inimitable. The costuming and set is gorgeous, Mr Knightley is the Knightleyest, Frank Churchill the Churchillyest, Mr Elton is suitably horrid (and his wife SO vulgar) and it’s just a good time.

Okay! That’s all that! I hope it was mildly interesting! And I do hope you will tell me how you’d rank Jane Austen’s novels! (Movie opinions welcome too but PLEASE don’t kill me about my P&P opinions, I’m sorryyyy XD)

A List of Reasons Why The Two Towers Is Splendiferous

Howdy, folks, ’tis I, returned from my latest unannounced hiatus, which shouldn’t really be called a hiatus because hiatuses are when you take a break and if you don’t say to yourself “I’m gonna take a break from blogging,” then it doesn’t really feel like a break. It just feels like you went an entire month and a half without posting, shame on you. But I guess it was sort of a break because I’ve barely thought about the Internet in a month and a half because…work. And friends. And summer. I like summer very much.

Anyway, hello, I hope y’all’s summer is going well, I totally missed two of the blog events I wanted to participate in, but I’m back now to bring you a completely random post about the middle of The Lord of the Rings.

I’m currently rereading that particular book, which is one of my favorite books, and do notice I said books, not trilogies. That’s my stand on this issue. 😛

I mean, I always have thought of it as one book, since the days when I first cracked open the library copy of Fellowship (with the other two volumes lined up on my desk), knowing nothing more than that it was one of my aunt’s favorite books and a sequel to that really cool book I’d read last Christmas, The Hobbit. And when personal inclination lines up with the stated intent and desire of the author…well. Why Not, Jeeves, is all I have to say, Why Bally Not.

Nonetheless, though it be but one book, it do be divided into three volumes, and I do have a favorite volume. That would be The Two Towers. Which is an unimportant fact, really, but I mention it as justification for this post, which is going to be a helter-skelter, gushy, incomplete ramble about things that I love that occur specifically in The Two Towers. Which is mainly just because doing it for the whole story would take too long.

And I guess I also mention it because a number of people seem to like The Two Towers the least, and while they are of course welcome to their opinions, it seems odd to me because I don’t think Towers suffers from middle-of-the-story slump at all. In fact, while picking a favorite volume should be hard because each one has things in it that I love to death (and Fellowship and Return of the King both have the Shire in them, I mean come on), it actually isn’t because Two Towers has SO MANY of my very favorite things in it.

So hey. I’m just gonna talk about them. Show the neglected middle child some love. (Spoilers, I need hardly say, abound.)

FARAMIR

Reason numero uno I love this volume: Faramir is so awesome.

I know how awesome he is, but every time I actually get to him in the book the awesomeness is not diluted by knowing it beforehand and, in fact, it’s almost like I’m surprised. Even though I’m not.

Because that’s how awesome Faramir is, you see.

I just read his chapters recently*, and I’m thinking I actually kind of see what the movies were going for when they changed his character. I’ve never agreed with the choice, but I’ve always held that the movies didn’t completely ruin Faramir or the integrity of his character. I still disagree with the choice (book Faramir is way more awesome than movie Faramir, so obviously it wasn’t a good choice), but I really do think I see what they were going for, even in terms of book accuracy.

See, I tend to focus on Faramir’s gentleness. How he does not love the bright sword for its sharpness nor the arrow for its swiftness but only that which they defend. How he has no jealousy for Aragorn. His quietness, his kindness, the way he speaks to Éowyn.

But…it’s not Return of the King where the roots of my love for him lie. It’s in that chapter, “The Window on the West.” Faramir is indeed gentle, kind, and quiet. But he’s also a warrior. His country is at war, his brother has died, and he sees no possible chance of victory. So he’s very serious. And he’s also very stern. “Kind” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I read his conversation with Frodo in Ithilien, questioning Frodo, plainly not believing him.

Gentleness is not synonymous with weakness, and I don’t think it is. Mercy is not synonymous with foolishness, and I don’t think it is. But Faramir is an example that it really, really isn’t.

Faramir questioning Frodo, and doubting Frodo, and pressing Frodo further, is not Southern hospitality at its finest. The way he deals with Frodo when Gollum has come fishing in the pool, and with Gollum through Frodo, is also not Southern hospitality at its finest. It’s shrewd and, frankly, a little ruthless. He basically forces Frodo to confide in him by acting as if he’s going to have Gollum shot (and maybe actually being about to do it, I’m not sure – what I am sure of, though, is that he knows very well what kind of person Frodo is and that he’s not going to let him shoot Gollum, and he trades on that).

When I think of mercy, I think of something a little softer. A little more “there, there, dear” and hesitant. A little more…well…nice.

But Faramir is very merciful. It’s perhaps his defining characteristic.

And I love that. I love the contradiction, in which there is no contradiction. Mercy isn’t soft – it can actually be rather hard – and Faramir isn’t soft either. But he still shows his quality, which is the very highest. And when he and Frodo exchange courtesies in one of my favorite lines, you know he MEANS it.

Frodo bowed low. “I am answered,” he said, “and I place myself at your service, if that is of any worth to one so high and honorable.”

“It is of great worth,” said Faramir.

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

*I had just read his chapters recently when I originally typed this, that is. Now I’m almost done with Return of the King, because pretty much all I’ve been doing with my spare time lately is inhaling Lord of the Rings. It’s been great, if you were wondering.

THE DEATH OF BOROMIR

It took me a bit to appreciate Boromir. I didn’t not like him the first time, but I like him so much now, where I used to overlook him a bit.

A well-done fall arc is one of the rarest things in the world. But also one of the coolest, because FEELINGS. So naturally I’m very fond of Boromir’s character in general. But I’m even fonder of it because of the epilogue.

First of all, he literally gives his life trying to protect Merry and Pippin. And second, he tells Aragorn everything. He’s so sorry. And so Aragorn says to him:

“No!” said Aragorn, taking his hand and kissing his brow. “You have conquered. Few have gained such a victory. Be at peace. Minas Tirith shall not fall!”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

Which is just so gracious.

I greatly appreciate how much time the narrative spends mourning him, too. Three whole songs and an entire chapter named after him. Not to mention Faramir’s vision way later on. Like, thank you, Tolkien. Thank you for being perfect.

TEAM PIPPIN & MERRY

They turned and walked side by side slowly along the line of the river. Behind them the light grew in the east. As they walked they compared notes, talking lightly in hobbit-fashion of the things that had happened since their capture. No listener would have guessed from their words that they had suffered cruelly, and been in dire peril, going without hope towards torment and death; or that even now, as they knew well, they had little chance of ever finding friend or safety again.

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

I get weirdly emotional about that paragraph, which is probably because it follows a rather intense chapter and oh the relief now that Merry and Pippin are walking along tiredly through the woods, being their precious hobbit selves and not in imminent danger from Saruman or Sauron or the cruelty of Orcs or the hooves of battle horses or stray arrows.

But seriously. I love the way Pippin and Merry work together when they’re not even supposed to talk to each other and no one could blame them if they just sort of gave up on life. But of course they don’t. (That deeply buried tough streak in hobbits. Gotta love.)

Pippin is always thinking how useless he is, but he’s NOT. He’s tenacious, won’t let go of his hobbitish hopes even when grim circumstances make them seem absurd, and he is VERY, VERY clever. He gets his hands untied and keeps the Orcs from knowing it, he tricks Grishnákh…and Merry plays along with him and they’re both so LITTLE and BRAVE and I love their friendship so much.

Team Frodo & Sam is rightfully iconic, but The Two Towers highlights Team Pippin & Merry as well, which is so much more than just a mischief-making partnership.

I mean. Just LOOK at them. Escaped from deadly danger and an unthinkable future in Orthanc, teasing each other, lightly commending each other’s contributions, and enjoying each other’s company like two old gaffers taking an evening walk in a quiet country park. There’s something so dear and admirable about it. I love my precious hobbits. ❤

ÉOMER

Éomer is one of my favorite characters; I love him nearly as much as his sister. This line is actually from Return of the King, but it’s one of my favorites:

“As for myself,” said Éomer, “I have little knowledge of these deep matters; but I need it not. This I know, and it is enough, that as my friend Aragorn succoured me and my people, so I will aid him when he calls. I will go.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

And that’s how Éomer is.

Straightforward, just a simple guy who rides horses and swings swords, all this fancy elvish stuff is beyond him, but he loves his king and his country, protects his sister, cherishes beauty and hates evil, and stands by his friends.

He’s just smashing.

I’m also everlastingly fond of the bit where he first meets Aragron, Legolas, and Gimli. Everyone’s highly suspicious of each other, even though they’re all the good guys actually, and it’s a tense conversation and at the end, though still a little doubtful, Éomer makes a wise and generous decision and just. Y’all. He’s great. The complete opposite of Faramir in a lot of ways, but equally good.

(Also the part where Treebeard and Merry and Pippin are kind of skeptical of each other at first, there’s no immediate relief where Merry and Pippin know they’re safe now the moment they meet him. Even though there is a very good feeling beginning to steal in. And where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn think Gandalf is Saruman. The good-guys-are-initially-skeptical-of-each-other trope is kind of the best.)

ALSO THE RIDERS OF ROHAN

On a similar note to Éomer, the Rohirrim in general are the BEST. I love their culture and everything – and how the Gondorians really respect them even though you’d think they’d look down on them because they’re uneducated or not Númenórean or whatever.

They’re warlike enough, so they’re not completely similar to the hobbits, but they give me a bit of the same vibe. They have their own unique, tight-knit culture, and they just want to be left in peace to live their lives and take care of their families and train their horses, but nope, nobody will leave them alone. Well, okay, maybe they’re ignorant, but they’re not stupid and they’re not cowards, and they’re not planning on knuckling under to evil wizards, and they have a resilience and a strength and a capacity for courageous deeds beyond what anyone might reasonably have expected. The evil creatures that attacked them didn’t know what they were getting themselves into. There’s that, kind of down-home resilience, that they share with the hobbits.

(But also, they’re just super cool.)

THE REUNION OF HOBBITS AND HUNTERS

I distinctly remember, my first time reading The Lord of the Rings, the moment I became a hopeless fan and there was no turning back. It was the chapter “Flotsam and Jetsam.” Where Gimli, Legolas, and Aragorn, after having pursued Merry and Pippin across the country, been mildly hopeful of their escape, got rid of a traitor in Meduseld, ridden to war, seen astonishing marvels, and won against all odds a desperate victory, get to sit down in the victorious ruin of Isengard and chit-chat with the hobbits who have given them such trouble. It’s just…….perfection?!??!!?

I mean. There’s the poetic profundity of “The Departure of Boromir.” There’s the ancient-epic-ish feeling of the meeting of the Three Hunters and Éomer. There’s the folkloric amazingness of the hobbits’ partnership with the Ents. Which is all grand and beautiful and I love it but THEN. Then, there is the reprieve, the comfort, the break, the hanging-out-mostly-quiet-with-your-friends-around-the-bonfire-at-the-end-of-a-long-day peace, of this reunion.

And Tolkien gives it to you. He doesn’t hurry through it, or mention it in passing, or cut it short so we can get to the more important, high-stakes matters. No. We want this. We have spent over a hundred pages wanting this, wanting to enjoy the reunion, the catching-each-other-up, the jokes, the camaraderie. And we get it.

And…I am happy. The dynamic of the Three Hunters is lovely, and that of Team Pippin & Merry is iconic, and together they are perfect and I would read about them for multiple chapters.

HELM’S DEEP

As truly great as the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is, I think Helm’s Deep is my favorite.

(I’m a fan of how Tolkien writes battles in general. They’re…not boring. And not only are they not boring, they make sense and are some of the most emotionally intense parts of the book. Which you would think battles naturally would be, but for some reason, to me, as a general rule they’re not.)

Helm’s Deep is just the first battle of the war, but it’s super important because if it had been lost Pelennor Fields wouldn’t have been won, and then there would have been no chance to march on the Morannon, and then Frodo and Sam wouldn’t have succeeded either. (I love how even though the Fellowship gets split apart their separate adventures continue to be related in really, really important ways. It’s so cool.)

And, plus, there’s this hopeful surge where the King of Rohan has recovered and is finally going to lead his people in battle again, and then it’s very grim but they keep holding off the Orcs and disasters happen but they still stave off defeat and then comes dawn and the White Rider with it, and there’s a sortie and the Trees are there and the eucatastrophic beauty of it takes one’s breath away.

MERRY AS DOORWARDEN

The third volume is where Merry REALLY gets to shine, but he has his moments here too. Like when he greets Theoden and the Riders and doesn’t speak to his companions until Gimli explodes and promises to tell Theoden about the history of pipeweed someday at Theoden’s hall. (Which last is doubly poignant once you’re rereading and know that promise is never fulfilled.) Merry is this delightful, lowkey mixture of maturity, courtesy, and sly mischief, and I love him.

“I will come with you,” said Theoden. “Farewell, my hobbits! May we meet again in my house! There you shall sit beside me and tell me all that your hearts desire: the deeds of your grandsires, as far as you can reckon them; and we will speak also of Tobold the Old and his herb-lore. Farewell!”

The hobbits bowed low. “So that is the King of Rohan!” said Pippin in an undertone. “A fine old fellow. Very polite.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

BROMANCE: LEGOLAS & GIMLI EDITION

I suppose the very beginning of the legendary Legolas-Gimli friendship lies in Lothlorien, but it’s this book where you start to pick up on it and just…be amused and endeared. There’s the Helm’s Deep body count competition, there’s Gimli trying to get the beauty of the Caves of Aglarond through Legolas’s somewhere-off-in-the-treetops brain, and there’s also Gimli trying to stop Legolas from checking out the Huorns because hey, this Elf is crazy and he’s gonna get himself killed and he’s also gonna get ME killed, HEY LEGOLAS WHAT ARE YOU DOING LET ME GET OFF THE HORSE.

And just. Yeah. I don’t have much to say. I just love their friendship and wanted to mention it.

THE ENTS

Of all the reasons The Two Towers is my favorite, the Ents are I think the biggest. If they were the only reason, they might still be enough. You can’t overstate my love for the Ents. (…Am I weird? Does anyone else feel this way? I never hear people rave over the Ents. But I LOVE THEM.)

Middle-earth is alive. It’s not just the people, it’s the trees and the mountains. And if you have any particular love for forests or mountains, you probably understand the appeal of this. For the trees to walk and talk, to meet the shepherd of their shepherds, ancienter than even the hills he strides over with his rooty toes, is so…how can I express this?

My mom asked why I like Treebeard so much, and I tried to explain thusly: “He’s gentle and wise and slow and kind and unhasty and unbelievably ancient and none of that is actually why.” He’s so HIMSELF. He’s a shepherd of the trees, he’s Fangorn. He just…is.

He’s all the beauty, benevolence, stillness, age, neutrality, and danger of the woods. And now the woods have been tamed, in Tolkien’s England and in my Missouri, and there’s nothing of the wild left. And so Treebeard is, more even than the Elves, the remnant of a time doomed to fade and be forgotten. The story of the Entwives is…it’s sad, y’all.

“I remember it was long ago – in the time of the war between Sauron and the Men of the Sea – desire came over me to see Fimbrethil again. Very fair she was still in my eyes, when I had last seen her, though little like the Entmaiden of old. For the Entwives were bent and browned by their labour; their hair parched by the sun to the hue of ripe corn and their cheeks like red apples. Yet their eyes were still the eyes of our own people. We crossed over Anduin and came to their land; but we found a desert: it was all burned and uprooted, for war had passed over it. But the Entwives were not there. Long we called, and long we searched; and we asked all folk that we met which way the Entwives had gone. Some said they had never seen them; and some said that they had seen them walking away west, and some said east, and others south. But nowhere that we went could we find them. Our sorrow was very great. Yet the wild wood called, and we returned to it. For many years we used to go out every now and again and look for the Entwives, walking far and wide and calling them by their beautiful names. But as time passed we went more seldom and wandered less far. And now the Entwives are only a memory for us, and our beards are long and grey.”

-J. R. R. Tolkien, The Two Towers

And that brings this lengthy post to a close. If you finished it (or if you didn’t), tell me! What’s your favorite volume of Lord of the Rings? Is it one book or three? Do you love the Ents? Did the movies ruin Faramir? Are hobbits the best???? (You’d better say yes to that one.) and, hey. *waves awkwardly* Maybe I’m actually back for real this time.

Angst in April, Murder in May // (in book form of course)

Hey, kids! It’s June, it’s summer (in the Northern Hemisphere), and I’m back!

I’m sure you were all very worried, to the point of sending out search parties and inquiring where the checks for funeral contributions could be sent, but I am not, in fact, dead or even missing, and if you had no fear of either and are in fact surprised to hear it’s been over a month since I last posted…mate, same.

It’s good to be back, though, catch up on some of y’all’s lovely posts (at least reading, maybe not commenting – query: why does commenting take so much mental energy?), and talk about the books that I read this past April and May!


// Orbiting Jupiter // Gary D. Schmidt

So…I have really complicated thoughts on this one.

Actually, really, they’re not complicated. They’re just confused. Really, really confused.

For starters, probably not good timing on my part reading this? There was a thing that made me sad, and if I had read it at some time in the past or some time in the future it maybe wouldn’t have made me so sad, but as it was I finished it, set it down, stared at the sunset out my window, and screamed (mentally), “WHAT WAS THE POINT?!”

(Please don’t explain about theme & symbolism &c. I got that. I just don’t care. I don’t normally feel this way, but, like, you know what love and self-sacrifice and all those noble things don’t fix? THE FACT THAT – well, spoilers. But I’m still angry about this.)

However, to actually talk about the book and not just my unreasonable feelings thereupon, it was…I don’t know. It didn’t enrapture me like Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars (or even Pay Attention, Carter Jones). There wasn’t that same delightful narrative voice. There wasn’t that same level of realness – real characters, real settings, real problems with real humans struggling through them.

I mean, I guess the problems were pretty real – child abuse, prejudice, loneliness, being a father when you are 100% Not Ready. But the way the book approached them just wasn’t the same??

Books about Issues do this a lot, I think. The problem takes the spotlight. All character moments are either intensely sad or heartwarming – there’s no in-between space for that reminder of the regular part of life. Laughing. Kidding around. Being scared of stupid things. Just doing stupid stuff because you’re a kid and you’re discovering life in all its sweet, mundane unimportance. Leave out that stuff and you leave out the real flavor of the thing – and hence the possibility for the heartbreak you seem so anxious to induce. I can’t break my heart over something that isn’t quite solid to my touch.

What I’m trying to say is, Orbiting Jupiter is a very sweet and sad story about a thirteen-year-old who’s experienced things no thirteen-year-old should, his quest to find his baby daughter Jupiter, and foster siblings to, as an excellent sponge once put it, melt your heart. Except that I personally found it rather dry. And then the ending made me mad. So.

But then I’m confused, because I talked about it with the lovely lady who told me to read it, and although she felt just as betrayed by the ending as I did (imagine staying up late to finish it one night when your husband and kids aren’t home and getting to THAT at ONE IN THE MORNING and then the book being OVER), and while explaining what she loved so much about it, she said something along the lines of, “I’m not saying what they did was right. I mean, it wasn’t right. It was wrong. But before, I would have scoffed. I would have thought, ‘You’re thirteen. What do you know about love? You don’t know anything about love.’ But they did know. They got it. Better than so many of us, who are adults, and think we know.”

Sadly that is not her actual words, which were better, but what I remember of the gist of what she said. Which…kind of made me appreciate the book a lot more. So.

I’m still mad and I’d still recommend Okay for Now instead.


// On Stories // C. S. Lewis

Some critics seem to confuse growth with the cost of growth and also to wish to make that cost far higher than, in nature, it need be.

-from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children,” Lewis talking about why you don’t need to “grow out of” things like fairy tales and optimism and happy endings

He does not despise real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little enchanted.

-also from “On Three Ways of Writing for Children”; beautiful, isn’t it? talking about why adults needn’t worry unduly that reading fantasy will make kids discontented with their ordinary mortal lot

“But why,” (some ask) “why, if you have a serious comment to make on the real life of men, must you do it by talking about a phantasmagoric never-never land of your own?” Because, I take it, one of the main things the author wants to say is that the real life of men is of that mythical and heroic quality.

-from Lewis’s review of The Lord of the Rings, the entirety of which is fabulous

Those are, alas, the only quotes I wrote down, but also included is a tribute to Dorothy Sayers, written soon after her death, through which her personality, and Lewis’s respect and affection, shine. And an essay about criticizing what you don’t like and why you really mostly shouldn’t, about which Sam wrote a whole glorious post that you should read. And the titular essay, which is interesting and well-expressed and YES, that is the indefinable element I look for in certain stories, beyond even deep character or beautiful writing, and YES, there is another type of reader who just…doesn’t and we will never quite understand each other. And so, so much more! Call now to get 30% off your first –

Just read it.


// Detection Unlimited // Georgette Heyer

Not since The Murder of Roger Ackroyd have I been so utterly BETRAYED by a mystery writer.

(This is even worse, really, because Georgette Heyer’s characters are better than Agatha Christie’s.)

Have you ever noticed, and wondered about, the way the murder victim in murder mysteries is almost always a thoroughly nasty person that nobody is really sad to see dead?

I’ve wondered this a lot. There are some possible reasons, like that this gives more people motives, which is nice for the mystery writer trying to bamboozle readers, and that it’s probably just realistic for nasty people to get murdered more often than nice people, but I have come up with a theory that I like better. I think the reason is so that the story can’t get bogged down in grief. Because grief is going to be focused on the dead person, but what the mystery writer actually wants to focus on is the person who did the killing.

Since nobody’s overwhelming grief over the little “pocket Hitler” who died in this book was clouding the atmosphere, you had no particular rancor toward his murderer – though, of course, one really shouldn’t go around murdering people – and so there was nothing in the way of your regarding the murderer as a person rather than a monster.

And because I happened to get attached to the murderer, I really thought about what it means for a person to be a murderer. And it was really sad.

For the murderer.

Like. I’m not explaining this well. But Father Brown showed me that a murder mystery can be a really cool vehicle for exploring a question of morality, and this was similar to that except…different.

UGH.

You know how it’s pretty easy for us to be heartbroken over human suffering? But not so easy to be heartbroken over human sin? (When we say we’re heartbroken over sin, we actually mostly mean we’re heartbroken over the suffering caused by sin. Which is still the first type of heartbreak.) We tend to get angry over sin a lot more than heartbroken.

And it’s not wrong to be angry about sin. But also, it’s right to be heartbroken. Like God is.

And that’s what this book made me think – how sad, to be a sinner. How sad, to commit a sin. Quite apart from the consequences of it, you know? How very sad, how horrifying, to take another human life, not just because it was taken, but because you were the one who reached out and took it.

It’s like something Chesterton would make you think, except it was Georgette Heyer.

(So kudos to Georgette Heyer.)

As to the actual story, it was quite good. Clever. A man was shot in a small English country village, in his garden, at a time of day when a number of people who didn’t like him could conceivably have been out and about shooting people. There are altogether too many suspects, and the weapon is altogether too common: a .22 rifle.

Personalities clash, young people fall in love, the village’s oldest inhabitant is a nuisance, the murdered man’s niece is unbearably (suspiciously?) saintly, and Gavin Plenmeller, the town’s resident myster writer, goes around being nastily sarcastic to everyone and overjoyed to find himself a suspect in a real mystery case.

Meanwhile Inspectors Hemingway and Harbottle have got to narrow down their suspects somehow. Which sha’n’t be a problem, because Hemingway (as he will not scruple to remind you) has flair.


// A Matter of Days // Hugh Ross

Not much to say about this one except that it’s about creation, including why the author considers the “days” of creation long periods of time rather than regular 24-hour days (and why the beginning of Genesis shouldn’t be regarded as the only Scriptural passage that talks authoritatively about creation) and the evidence, both scientific and Biblical, for this point of view.

And just, wow astronomy is cool. Creation is cool. It’s…so cool. I can’t.


// Duplicate Death// Georgette Heyer

‘Tis Chief Inspector Hemingway again, this time investigating a scandalous high-society London strangling with the help of Inspector Grant, an excellent detective save for his annoying Highland habit of spouting Gaelic at his superior. There is blackmail, there is drugs, there is Terrible Timothy all grown up, what a surprise!

Terrible Timothy, if you don’t know, is from a much earlier Heyer mystery, They Found Him Dead, which used to be my favorite one, not because of the mystery itself which frankly wasn’t good at all, but because…well, because of Alicia and Jim mostly, and Rosemary being entertainingly awful. And also Terrible Timothy, a fourteen-year-old with a conniving mind and a fascination with American gangster films (this was written in the 1920s by the way) who wanted very much to help the poor harassed Sergeant Hemingway solve the murder. So it was pretty fun to see him again.

Also he’s now fallen in love with a girl named Beulah, the surprisingly awesome possessor of a whole lot of spunk and sourness, not to mention a mysterious past and current status of Prime Suspect.

I enjoyed this book, but I would’ve enjoyed it even more if it had just been Timothy and Beulah arguing about whether he should marry her since he doesn’t know anything about her (his opinion being that he totally definitely should).


// Message from Málaga // Helen MacInnes

I adore Helen MacInnes so much.

She’s such a good writer????

Like, you should have seen me devouring this book. I don’t devour books any more. I’m a busy adult with a fractured attention span (it depresses me every time I think about it) who usually only reads at night and who needs her sleep because she has much stuff that needs doing. And who nevertheless spent her entire day (while she wasn’t at work) reading this.

Because I was so worried, you guys. I was so worried.

So do you need a Cold War spy thriller set in Andalusia with Cuban defectors, KGB agents, secret assassination societies, and flamenco dancers in your life? Do you need Tavita, who is melodramatic and ridiculously intelligent and helps Communist defectors for her brother’s sake, because remember Spain had a civil war and it wasn’t pretty? Do you need a sweet, rational, disillusioned American college student who’s decided to go do something worthwhile (and highly dangerous) with her life? Do you need a soft-spoken police captain trying to get a handle on all this spy chicanery going on in his jurisdiction? Do you need a pretty average main character who’s selfish and judgmental but at least he’s also intelligent and skeptical, and ooh, hey, look, he actually admitted he was selfish, and oh, look, he’s capable of appreciating others and being compassionate and okay, he’s not actually that bad by the end?

Do you need a plot that involves ancient secret passages between houses in Granada and double agents and cyanide spray-guns and will give you a heart attack from prolonged stress over are these characters gonna make it? are they gonna be okay?

DO YOU NEED A HOUSEKEEPER NAMED CONCEPCIÓN WHO JUST INVITES HER WHOLE FAMILY TO COME STAY AT HER EMPLOYER’S HOUSE WHENEVER THEY LIKE AND SHE’LL COOK FOR THEM AND IT’S RATHER A LARGE FAMILY BUT IT’S ALL TOTALLY AWESOME AND FINE AND JAIME IS A DARLING, AND THERE’S ALSO A GRUMPY EX-BULLFIGHTER NAMED ESTEBAN WHO JUST WANTS PEOPLE TO LEAVE HIS FRIENDS ALONE?

You do! You know you do!

Helen MacInnes has this…way of capturing the people of a particular place, their culture, their prejudice, their flavor. I wouldn’t know if it’s true, since I’ve never been to Andalusia, or Greece, or Brittany, but it feels so true. It feels so respectful because it feels so appreciative. Like she loves these people, like they’re her friends and she thinks their culture beautiful and their history important.

So I really like that. I think it’s the final touch that makes her books not just fun spy thrillers for me, but also really good books.


Wow, there was a real dearth of fantasy and classics these last two months. Which I often think are my most-read genres?? I guess breaks are good, though. And I’ve been craving murder mysteries. Do y’all ever just…really really want to read a good murder mystery and nothing else, for like no reason whatsoever? What good (and not-so-good) books have you been reading this spring?

Tennis Balls, Sentient Books, and Bean Pots // Bookish Adventures of Winter 2021

Happy Easter, my friends! He is risen!

Also it’s spring and books got read this winter and I am going to talk about them. I’m actually going to steal The Temperamental Writer’s mini-reviewing format, because it’s cool and I feel like it. Prosecute me if you wish, blogosphere police: I defy you.


Henry V

William Shakespeare

My very informative summary: Henry is the King of England, but technically should also be the King of France. Only the French Dauphin isn’t taking him seriously, which makes Henry very angry indeed, how dare someone not give him the throne of a whole entire country when he asks for it, just because he was a little indiscreet and headstrong in his younger days –

So he invades France, runs around in disguise (for fun, I guess?), wins the day at Agincourt, and marries a very odd French lady.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • The St. Crispin’s Day speech, naturally
  • The Dauphin sending Henry…tennis balls??? It was funny. I like the Dauphin. (This is the problem with getting invested in medieval history, though, as I discovered in fourth grade and shall not soon forget. Your favorites always lose or die or somehow or other get the short end of the stick.)
  • The reverse Haman trope (or whatever it’s called; that’s just my unofficial name for it) – where you ask the traitors what we should do to traitors, and then do that to them.

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • There were a lot of boring parts.
  • Like, a lot.
  • When I was a kid it always made total sense to me when kings would go undercover to find stuff out and stir up trouble and hand down somewhat arbitrary attempts at justice, but now I’m just like….why, though. Why are you doing this? Is there a point? It wasn’t as egregious as Agamemnon telling all the Greeks that Zeus had told him they were destined to fail and causing a huge panic when Zeus had actually told him they were destined to succeed gloriously….but still. Kings lying to their soldiers for no reason makes no sense to me.
  • All the aggression makes no sense to me, either. Chill, Henry. Who cares if your mother something something descended from someone someone something something makes you the rightful King of France? You have England, ya know. Why so greedy, pray? I love the St. Crispin’s Day speech, but I’d love it more if, like, y’all weren’t the aggressors here. rip my modern sensibilities I guess

The Saga of the Volsungs

Anonymous; translated by Jesse L. Byock

My very informative summary: Soap opera meets Viking myth in this Norse…prose…story…thing…where no one ever marries the right person. Or if they do, their happiness is short-lived. Sometimes there are actual reasons for this, sometimes it is “oops, I drank a magic potion that made me forget my true love” or “but that’s what the birds told me.” Revenge is more important than anything else. Everybody dies, usually painfully.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • COOL DRAGON
  • COOL DRAGON’S HEART CAN BE COOKED AND EATEN AND THEN YOU WILL BE WISE AND FELL AND GRIM AND ALSO UNDERSTAND BIRD LANGUAGE
  • Gudrun. She is a really cool character. She is smart and courageous and practical, and she’s imperfect and causes some of her own problems, but at the same time she’s kind of dealt a rotten hand in life and does her best with it (except for killing her children; that was Too Far, of course), and she’s one of the only characters I actually feel bad for, because everyone else so got what was coming to them (except Sigurd, kind of), and she’s very tragic and I like her.

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • Moms killing their kids. So many moms killing their kids…
  • Kind-of-incest??? Ew???
  • Seriously, what is with Nordic mythology and sewing people?
  • There’s not much of a morality structure. Basically, breaking an oath is pretty bad, but you know what’s really bad? NOT BEING ABLE TO HANDLE PAIN.

Pay Attention, Carter Jones

Gary D. Schmidt

My very informative summary: A British butler enters the life of Carter and his mom and his little sisters, while his dad’s deployed in Germany. He teaches Carter to play cricket and drive a car named the Eggplant. It’s a Gary D. Schmidt book, so we are sad.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • The Blue Mountains of Australia (even though I wish I wasn’t here for them because gosh you didn’t warn me what HAPPENED in the Blue Mountains of Australia)
  • Sibling content. Maybe not as perfect as in Okay for Now, but hey, what is? Look at Carter being a good big brother! I’m so proud of him!
  • Teaching kids to drive way before they’re old enough to get a permit. This is how I was brought up and I stand by the method. (The mom having a death grip on her seat the whole time is so real, too. She will still have the same death grip when Carter is twenty and driving her places.)
  • Adults looking out for kids when other adults, who should’ve been looking out for them, did a lousy job of it
  • That hint I think I interpreted correctly, about the fate of a certain character from Okay for Now. I am happy.

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • Mr. Mary Poppins. If I’d known I was getting into a book with Mr. Mary Poppins in it, it would’ve been different, I think. But as it was, I expected something more along the lines of Okay for Now and The Wednesday Wars with plausibility, and Mr. Mary Poppins threw me off.
  • It was a mildly interesting element, but in the end I just don’t care about cricket. I’m sorry. I may like British history and British classics, but I fear I’m pure uncultured American at bottom.
  • I like Carter’s narrative voice, but it sometimes didn’t feel modern enough, almost? I’d often slip into thinking the book was set earlier than it was.

Knights of the Air

Ezra Bowen

My very informative summary: A year-by-year history of the air war, focusing on the aces, in WWI. Lots of awesome photographs.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • All the photographs. Spend a good while looking over all these guys’ faces if you want to be horribly depressed for three days because almost all of them died. And most of them were really, really young when they did.
  • All the biplanes
  • The description of the Red Baron’s funeral. That was cool.
  • Lanoe Hawker. I loved that boy, and…and… *cries*
  • Guynemer is my SON (turns out it feels weirder to say this about actual historical people than fictional characters…)
  • Nungesser (I think it was Nungesser…maybe Navarre) getting out of his plane, driving at high speeds all the way to Paris to party till it was time to drive back and take off on another run. It amused me. Even though, at the same time, kids. Try not to kill yourselves. You literally have to be helped into your cockpit, you have so many injuries.

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • More my fault than the book’s, but my WWI chronology is so rusty (I say as if it was ever that good to start with), and sometimes it would mention this or that event as if it was supposed to convey something to me, and I’m like…I got nothing.
  • Why wasn’t it an in-depth biography of every single one of them, with all their letters and diaries reprinted, and detailed schematics of all the planes and guns they flew and shot, though?
  • I have few complaints to make. It taught me stuff. It broke my heart. What more can you ask of a book?

Sorcery of Thorns

Margaret Rogerson

My very informative summary: Sixteen-year-old orphan Elizabeth is always getting into trouble, but her accident with a Malefict (damaged magical book turned raging monster) is more than just trouble. She must leave her beloved library and travel to the great capitol city, guarded by an altogether-too-perceptive sorcerer and his unnerving servant. But this Malefict is just one pawn in a great plan that Elizabeth soon finds herself caught up in…a plan that, if it succeeds, will doom the whole human world.

So, naturally, Elizabeth has to stop it. Good thing she has a sword and no conception of what “give up” means.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • Elizabeth being a holy terror and also a naive child and just, like…an interesting person in general who’s quiet and unconventional and tall (tall girl rep for the win) and what is this??? People know how to write interesting female characters???? I am all the heart eyes.
  • Nathaniel being all mysterious and broody and witty and sarcastic but not rude, just…witty and sarcastic. And mysterious. And sad. And lonely. And in need of hugs.
  • Nathaniel being simultaneously alarmed, impressed, and highly amused by Elizabeth
  • Silas. So kind, so fastidious…yet so chilling at times.
  • The grimy Victorian world – carriages! Balls! Dresses! Strict librarians in dusty robes! Slums! Lunatic asylums! Gossipy rich people at gossipy rich people parties in gossipy rich people houses! True delight to a Dickens fan, really.
  • Stuff actually happens. It’s a welcome change from all the really slow-paced books I’ve read or tried to read recently. Once I looked and I was only halfway done and so much had already happened. It was awesome.
  • Like many another fantasy heroine, Elizabeth is Special. But in kind of an unexpected and fun and lowkey way…and I liked that a lot.
  • There are sentient books
  • I repeat, THERE ARE SENTIENT BOOKS

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • The magic in general is ihhherhhchh (ihhherhhchh being an adjective expressing a very particular sort of feeling; look it up in the dictionary if you want the full definition) and kinda made me uncomfortable? Not enough to really bother me, but…ihhherhhchh.
  • It starts off amazing, but toward the end it loses a little of its freshness and becomes more Generic Heroine and Generic Hero team up to generically save the world from Generic Villain. Nathaniel got more boring, and Elizabeth, who started out so interesting, got more boring too. It was kind of sad. But not enough to ruin the book.
  • That one scene…children, please, not so much kissing. Restrain yourselves.

Exit Strategy

Martha Wells

My very informative summary: Murderbot was planning to rejoin its old friends with the evidence it has gathered, but now it appears Dr. Mensah has been kidnapped. So Murderbot joins up with only some of its old friends to rescue her. Things do not go as planned. There is fighting. There is Murderbot being snarky. There is Murderbot being very worried about its humans and disguising it by being snarky. There is Unhealth.

So much Unhealth.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • Murderbot’s whole attitude toward humans
  • Murderbot not liking to look at people’s faces if they’re looking at it
  • Murderbot just wanting to win
  • Pin Lee being a grouch – I forgot I actually kind of like her
  • Ratthi being a ridiculously excited puppy (he’s a human, he’s just a human with the personality of a ridiculously excited puppy) – Ratthi was the only one besides Murderbot I cared about in Book 1. He’s fun.
  • Gurathin being a pretty great person even if Murderbot is stupid and doesn’t agree
  • Action scenes that I can…actually…follow???
  • Kind of a happy ending for my precious Murderbot

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • The occasional not-read-aloudable language
  • I hate how almost…not science fiction a lot of the most depressing aspects of the world-building feel, heh.

Macbeth

William Shakespeare

My very informative summary: Some witches tell this guy he’ll get promoted, and then they also say he’ll be king. He gets promoted, so his wife decides he has to be king too. So he murders the actual king. Then he and his wife both get really paranoid and insane and kill people, and Macduff is awesome. (Is it just me or are these summaries going downhill as we go?)

I AM HERE FOR:

  • Macduff. I like this guy. He has great lines when he’s talking about his family, and when he’s confronting Macbeth, and when Malcolm is being weird…he’s awesome.
  • The true smallness of evil, as exemplified by Macbeth
  • All the DRAMA
  • Holling Hoodhood was onto something; would this play be nearly as fun to read without insults like “thou cream-faced loon” peppered throughout?
  • Banquo’s ghost! Really, what a scene (because, as I said before, the DRAMA)
  • “Haha! You think I can’t hurt you, but I CAN! Because my mom had a C-SECTION!!!” (It was just funny to me, is all…)

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • The witches were kind of boring and cheap and I feel like actually undermined the theme a bit? There was really no reason to have fantasy elements in the play, and it would’ve been better if they’d definitively not actually had the power of prediction, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth just wholly and completely deceived themselves.

What’s Wrong With the World

G. K. Chesterton

My very informative summary: Brief answer to the question the title poses: socialists, conservatives, feminists, the Industrial Revolution, definitely eugenicists, and human greed in general.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • Learning why Chesterton didn’t support female suffrage! I was so curious to see what he’d say, because I kind of just…didn’t know what kind of argument you could possibly advance against it that wasn’t, at the very least, rather patronizing and, well, dated in the bad sense. But Chesterton, true to form, had actually thought it through, wasn’t clinging blindly to tradition or prejudice, and though I don’t agree with his position, I can not only respect it, I can somewhat understand it too. It’s…a cool feeling, actually.
  • Hudge and Gudge. I love the names Chesterton came up with for the over-the-top Socialist and Tory. Ever since I read this, I keep seeing people being either irrationally reactionary or irrationally stick-in-the-mud, and I always think, “ah, you must be friends with Hudge,” or “dear me, how Gudgian of you.” It’s provided me with a great deal of private amusement.
  • Chesterton’s view of women. Not exactly my own, but he has such good insight. He’s impossibly conservative, yet he has more actual respect for women (as women) than the most obnoxious “AREN’T WOMEN SO AWESOME, LOOK AT ME, I’M SO COOL BECAUSE I AM A WOMAN AND WOMEN ARE GODDESSES SO WHY AREN’T YOU WORSHIPPING US YET” feminist I’ve come across. Because, like…he gets what we’re actually like? He’s not praising us on false grounds? It’s refreshing. “He must manage to endure somehow the idea of a woman being womanly, which does not mean soft and yielding, but handy, thrifty, rather hard, and very humorous.”
  • Chesterton’s view on the family and the purpose thereof
  • “If a house is so built as to knock a man’s head off when he enters it, it is built wrong.”
  • His good humor combined with his deep sincerity
  • The way he just, like, respects people. Because they’re people. And they’re made in God’s image. And you can’t put a price on them or put them in a box or in any way diminish their immeasurable value.

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • I genuinely don’t know what to put here. I disagree with Chesterton on a number of points, some of them even rather important points, but I feel like that’s the fun of reading sometimes – engaging with a well-constructed challenge to your own beliefs, getting to see what other people think and why they think it while at the same getting it more solidly settled what you think.

The Sherwood Ring

Elizabeth Marie Pope

My very informative summary: Uh….Revolutionary War-era New York countryside! Sabotage and codes and gentlemen and ladies and elegant banter and ploys to outwit the enemy (with whom you might actually have fallen in love, oops). Highly plot-relevant bean pots and punch bowls. Robin Hood is inexplicably absent, but I don’t even care because I loved this so much.

I AM HERE FOR:

  • The proposal scene. I was told in advance that the gentleman in question’s proposal included him falling flat on his face, and indeed it did, but it didn’t go how I expected it to, somehow? And it was so infinitely good. So good. That whole scene. I loved Dick and Eleanor’s scenes, but then we got to Peacable and Barbara’s scenes and it was somehow even better and AGGHHH. I love all these characters so much.
  • Really enjoyed Dick’s character. His…boyish dignity and manly sense of responsibility and cockiness and grit and pluck…I love him a lot. (I love all four of them a lot, frankly. But I guess Dick was my favorite? Not that I want to pick a favorite.) My favorite Dick quote: “‘Well, I don’t suppose Peacable is just going to walk up and say, “Here I am, boys, and which is the best room in the Goshen county jail?”‘ Dick retorted, cheerfully. ‘Dear me, how unheroic I sound. I ought to be saying, “We will conquer or die on the field!” as I give you a stern but tender look and bend down from my saddle to kiss you farewell.”
  • Also, my favorite Peacable quote: “How marvellous a thing is the exact truth, properly manipulated!”
  • Also, Barbara. What a lovely, lovely character. She’s what makes the proposal scene (and that whole chapter) what it is. I love her, her cool, intelligent courage and her ladylikeness. (I know it’s not a real word. But she’s so ladylike.)
  • I am a devoted fan of Elizabeth Marie Pope’s writing style. You’ve heard, I imagine, that brevity is the soul of wit? Well, it’s also the soul of pathos, of excitement, of atmospheric description, of character delineation…or at least, because we mustn’t act as if Dickens and Dostoyevsky don’t exist, it can be. And it is, the way Miss Pope writes. I love her characters and get invested in her stories and never once do I feel any of it is too much. Which is a rare gift, actually, for an author to never cross the line of too much.
  • The Revolutionary War vibes. I was thinking I like Miss Pope’s other book, The Perilous Gard, better, and there are reasons for that, but also, like…the whole atmosphere of this is my thing. I love colonial and Revolutionary War-era America, I’m just in love (much more so than with Tudor England), and reading this was kind of like the first time I read Johnny Tremain and just absolutely lost myself in Revolutionary-War New England. (I guess this isn’t as big a deal to someone who’s less in love with the time period than me, though? Or even who’s read a decent amount of books set in it – if you have recs for this area, please let me know, I’m dying for some.)
  • The perfect, New England, summer peace of the ending paragraphs ❤

NOT SO HERE FOR:

  • I guess I don’t care about the present-day storyline much? Not much happens, etc, etc, and the characters aren’t as fascinating. I do understand the use of the framing device for letting each of the historical characters tell their own stories, and it doesn’t detract from the book because Miss Pope doesn’t ever spend too long on the present-day characters (who are nice enough in their way) without getting us back to the exciting stuff, but I still think the story would’ve been stronger without it.
  • The ghost element didn’t bother me like I was afraid it would (that’s why it took me so long to read this, actually, even after loving The Perilous Gard so much, because for whatever reason I just really don’t like ghosts in stories), but it still wasn’t my favorite.
  • These are both nitpicks, one of them highly personal. This book is pretty much perfect and I love it and I’m here for all of it, okay? If you take one thing away from this post, let it be: go read The Sherwood Ring. (And then come back and tell me whatcha think.)

Well, that was a lot. Did you make it through?? Have you read any of these? Opinions??? Do you love Revolutionary-War era America or Elizabeth Marie Pope’s books??? Do you purposefully make yourself sad about doomed WWI flyboys??? Does mythology ever surprise you with just how messed-up it is?

The This or That Tag

What’s up, guys, I’m doing a tag. (Also can you say this post title five times fast)

The wonderful C. M. (or as I like to call her, Mademoiselle Tomato) over at Project Pursue Wisdom tagged me for this not too long ago, and y’all should go check out her post (and her lovely blog in general) if you haven’t already, because it was a really fun post to read. (All the Red Rising quotes. I’m dying to read Red Rising now.)

Anyway, rules! Or…not, since I don’t plan to follow them. So, questions!

Fantasy or sci-fi?

Fantasy, my dear sirs and madams, fantasy!

I can tolerate certain types of sci-fi, particularly if they are particularly excellent, but the trappings of the genre are just not my favorite.

Sci-fi is a very philosophical genre, where for her setting the author has to create a possible future. Sometimes that future is bleak and sometimes it’s supposed to be optimistic, but there’s a certain horror that steals into the back of my mind when I have to imagine any of these worlds; the optimistic ones are just as bad as the bleak ones, because if that’s your idea of a good future…I’d hate to see your idea of a bad one.

Whereas fantasy doesn’t have disturbing connections to the real world – not like that. Fantasy is about the Other – our half-forgotten desire to see what’s invisible, to communicate across barriers, to enter a world that’s different from ours, and to encounter both beauty and peril more intense than the kind we run into here. Really good fantasy is an Experience (the exhilarating kind).

Fantasy feeds my sense of wonder, while sci-fi feeds my sense of despair.

Plus fantasy has the sub-genres of, like, fairy tales and whimsical middle grade and mythology and magical quests. It’s just my thing.

Tragedy or comedy?

What’s wrong with you, asking this question? I don’t know.

I would think comedy (happy endings are the best kind), but I have no faith in modern people’s ability to write comedy. (Modern people as in the modern people writing well-known stuff, not as in every writer I’ve ever met – some of y’all, I know, write excellent comedy. An example might be… oh, Friends, for instance. Can’t stand that show. Or any modern action-comedy I’ve ever tried to watch. So plastic.) They’re better at tragedy, because you can write effective tragedy even if your understanding of redemption is lacking, so long as your understanding of sin isn’t.

In an ideal world full of ideal stories, though, comedy. They have happy endings and laughter, my two favorite things.

Fiction or nonfiction?

If I had to only ever read one or the other…….

I hate this question…….

I think I’d go with nonfiction, though? I love fiction, I do, but no more history, no more science, no more philosophy? No. I couldn’t deal with that.

One still has one’s imagination. I need to be able to feed my curiosity about the world and its workings more than I need imagination help. (Much more, actually. :P)

Snow or rain?

Oh, but I love both.

I…really love both.

Snow makes me happier, just because it’s rarer. I have a lovely memory from high school, actually, involving snow.
See, I’d been sick. For a week. And this was in the middle of the hours-every-night rehearsal season of the musical I was in. (I was just ensemble, but you still have to be there all the time at this point.) And so obviously I went back as soon as I could, but I was not really well yet, and for…several weeks afterward, I had no energy, no joy, no anything. I was a shell of a person. It was actually rather odd.

But, two nights before the first performance, as I was driving the two of us – my sister and I – to rehearsal, just as we turned into the parking lot, snow started falling. These little flurries hit my windshield, one after the other after the other…and remembering it still gives me this pang of joy at how beautiful and worth living life is.

Rain has never had quite that effect…so snow it is.

Orange juice or apple juice?

They’re both good in moderation, and I don’t drink either very often. I think orange juice elevates a breakfast to an extent apple juice doesn’t. But a glass of apple juice floating with ice cubes to be sipped at leisurely on a hot summer afternoon (or at your right hand doing its best to impersonate whiskey while you play poker with your sisters and the neighbors)…well, that’s exceedingly pleasant too.

I might like the taste of orange juice a smidge better?

Christmas or Easter?

They’re inextricably connected, obviously. Rather like the beginning and the ending of a book. And I prefer beginnings, in a way. Not because wonderful endings aren’t the best thing in the world, but because beginnings promise that ending to come and are cozy to boot. Christmas is a very cozy hearthside holiday, while Easter is more like being on the lake in a high September wind. You can’t pick between them, it’s not like that. But if I’ve got to pick, Christmas.

Middle-earth or Narnia?

NOT A FAIR QUESTION.

But Middle-earth. Middle-earth has the Ents. There are other reasons too, not that you need them. Because Ents.

Marvel or DC?

Uh…Marvel? I don’t know that that’s fair, considering I’ve never seen anything DC (not that I’ve wanted to either – even Marvel I was forced into).

Well, that’s not true. I did once see the tail end of a TV show episode where a tied-up and unconscious Batman was being slowly conveyor-belted into a huge flaming oven…? And then there was dramatic music and the episode was over.

So, Marvel.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Star Trek.

I like Star Wars, I do, but I didn’t see it till I was a teenager. It was that movie my parents really liked that they were always saying we should watch, but then we never did because we didn’t own it and we didn’t watch movies much anyway. When we finally did watch it, my sisters were young enough to get obsessed with Luke Skywalker, but I…wasn’t. Sadly.

I wasn’t even young enough to get obsessed with Han. I have no idea why my middle sister liked Luke better than Han, actually…wisecracking scoundrels are sort of her thing.

I still like Star Wars, quite a lot, but I grew up on Star Trek and I’m ridiculously fond of several of the ridiculous characters. (And the premise appeals to me more.)

Old movies or new movies?

So, I think when it comes to movies, I’m like those people who don’t care about prose in books. Because sure, color and sound quality and editing techniques and such things are much better in new movies (I guess), but I genuinely don’t care. The story and the dialogue are all that matter.

Plus, I like the black-and-white aesthetic. And even when old movies aren’t in black and white, they have a style of dialogue that I like much better than modern movies. I like dialogue that’s not just clever, but smart. Quips that require you to know something, or have paid attention to something, to get. Dialogue in modern movies often feels sloppy and lazy to me, at least in comparison to dialogue from Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Also I tend to prefer older acting styles, I think. They’re maybe less realistic, but they’re somehow more convincing. To me.

I don’t know why, really. I just know I tend to like old movies better.

Old books or new books?

Well, I hate to be predictable, but old again. There are new books I love, but…while my reading life would be a little poorer without them, it’d be way, way, way poorer without all the old books I have read. Seriously, no Tolkien, no Rosemary Sutcliff, no Chesterton, no Robert Louis Stevenson, no Helen MacInnes, no Song of Roland, no myths, no fairy tales, no Charles Dickens, no Sabatini, no Lucy Maud Montgomery, no James Herriot, no A. A. Milne? Horrible thought.

(I could go on. I just stopped myself there because I really could go on and on.)

And that’s not even to mention all the old books I’m still dying to read. There are a few new books I’m mildly interested in (okay, MORE THAN MILDLY when it comes to The Silent Bells and Boys of Blur and Return of the Thief and West of Yesterday), but…old books are where it’s at, my friends. The history, the depth, the…the vast swaths of time across which books have been written, wherein you can dig for manifold treasures! I want to read all the old books. All of them.

So much I cannot say for the new ones.


Thank you again for tagging me, C.M.! This was a very fun, if painful, post to write up. And…am I allowed to just tag all of y’all in the comments? Because that’s what I’m doing.

Don’t Bleed on the Floor // One Quirk Later #7

Just so you know, I’m posting this at all because I dared myself to and you can’t back down from a dare.

If it doesn’t make sense, sorry. The idea is that it’s an audio transcript. (And the recording mic seems to have been way closer to not-Andre than to Andre.)

We can also blame Jem for this little monstrosity of a short story…thing?, because she has once again posted one of her One Quirk Later flash fiction prompts…which inspired me so much that I immediately sat down and dashed this off instead of studying for that statics exam that I probably just failed. (I hope you’re happy, Jem.) Here’s a link to the post with all the info!

And, uh, I hope any of you who decide to read it enjoy the story! I will not be mad if you don’t, though. You’re probably a much more sane and balanced and healthy person than I am (or than these poor brothers are), so yeah.



Don’t Bleed on the Floor

~an audio transcript, acquired under dubious circumstances~

She is an odd girl. You know the sort, I imagine – you’re so much more experienced than me. (That, Andre, was what they call a double-entendre.) She is an odd girl, though. She asks questions not out of politeness but out of barely-bridled curiosity. She wears all sorts of styles – whatever she feels like on a particular day – sky-blue dress with a skirt made for swing-dancing – black skinny jeans, Converse hi-tops, ratty T-shirt, old baseball cap she probably got from a rummage sale. We were in a flea market, and she was staring at this set of old flower-painted porcelain dishes for four and a half minutes (I counted). I offered to buy them for her. She said thank you (she says that a lot, always in this surprised way), but she wouldn’t ever use them really. She asked if I knew what she meant that, sometimes, something is so pretty you have to look at it for a while. And then longer than a while, because a while isn’t long enough after all. That was how I felt about her (remember how much more experienced you are than me, Andre, and don’t laugh), but I suggested sunsets. “Yes!” she said. “Like that.” She was pleased.  She never talked about herself, actually. Do you realize how much more you learn about someone when she doesn’t talk about herself? I found out – not because she said so, of course – she thinks she’s boring. You know the type, I’m sure.

[indistinct]

But you get it, don’t you? I thought so. I wasn’t calling her when they dragged me out of the phone booth, by the way. I was calling her mother. I saw your guys before they got there; that’s why I hung up. You might have dragged her into it too, for all I know. I’m laughing because it was the exact same words. You’ll be amused too when I tell you. No, I know you will. You like irony, don’t you? I was chopping the salad for her mother. Cut my finger. And she said, “Don’t bleed on my floor!” Like that. And wrapped it all up for me, washed it and everything. Don’t bleed on my floor. It is funny.

[indistinct]

All right. Isn’t this floor yours too, though? I’m so sorry; I do appear to have gotten blood on it. Quite a lot of blood, actually. Well, it’s my floor too, I guess. I admit, the bloodstains wouldn’t go with the rest of the kitchen décor. It might go with the broken window pane, but that’s all behind us now, isn’t it? Your tie’s crooked. Yeah, that’s better. You shouldn’t do these things yourself, you know; it’s messy. All the great backstabbers and crime bosses have people to do their dirty work for them. That’s why their ties are so straight.

[indistinct]

Right, the girl. Well, she would have appreciated it – you’re so boring when you’re angry, Andre. “Don’t bleed on my floor” – in that voice you do so well. You look like – oh, a frat boy, the hair and the teeth and the sculpted jaw. Only a frat boy can’t be really intimidating, and you are. Truly intimidating, I mean. It isn’t one of those B-movie villain affairs – you sneer but you don’t snarl, and you don’t overdo it. And there’s just a hint – I could just suspect –

[silence]

Well, I knew it, didn’t I? Or I wouldn’t have –

[coughing]

[indistinct]

Right, the girl. Right. You know, I’m not really planning to tell you anything useful. I just like this part, where I do less unmanly shrieking and you get to practice your budding skill of patience. It’s coming along nicely, by the way. That tic in your right jaw, I can barely see it. Of course, I can barely see anything at the moment, I think I’m – I think – going to –

[coughing]

[indistinct]

I protest. I can’t talk about true love when I feel like I’m going to puke my guts out. It’s indecent.

[indistinct]

Okay, okay, okay. I can try. Let’s see. She is an odd girl. I don’t think she’d be surprised if she walked in that door – over there – there’s a door over there, isn’t there? I can’t see it. She – she won’t walk through it, because – because why the hell else are we here, like this? – but if she did she wouldn’t be surprised. Did I tell you how she always said “thank you”? Like she was so surprised. I told her about you – no, not like that. Not like that. I mean I told her about growing up. Baseball and things. Mr. Kramer’s window. So she thinks you’re a bleeding saint of a big brother. But she still wouldn’t be surprised, that’s what I mean. I was surprised. And I was an idiot, too. I’ve known you all my life, and – and I was an idiot. It wouldn’t have changed anything, probably – oh, and sentiment, sure, auld lang syne – but I’m supposed to be smart, aren’t I?

[indistinct]

Yeah. Yeah, you’re never going to find her, are you? You’re never going to find her.

[indistinct]

Don’t do that, Andre. There’s not any point. I know it doesn’t feel good to be beaten by your little brother, but consider – it doesn’t feel good to be beaten by your older brother either. (Another double-entendre. That was a pretty good one, wasn’t it?)

[indistinct]

You think I’d rather be in your place?

[coughing]

[indistinct]

No, no, I’m fine, I was just – I was just laughing – because –

[coughing]

Mr. Kramer’s window – I told her about Mr. Kramer’s window. Did I tell you that? That’s what I mean. Maybe I’d have turned into…into…well, I haven’t, though, have I? You’d face Mr. Kramer’s wrath for your little brother, but not Ferlinghetti’s. Well, maybe you would have back then. But I got her away from all of you. All of you. You won’t be able to find her, and Ferlinghetti won’t be able to find her, and you – well, you still have Ferlinghetti’s good opinion, at least, right? He has probably has a better opinion of you than ever. Business first, then family. What’s left of it.


THE END


Well. Glad that’s over with. Now I can go read everybody else’s stories, which I’ve been wild to do! (Didn’t want to before, because that usually drains me of all inspiration, and would definitely have drained me of the courage to actually post this…which I’m still not 100% sure I’m going to do…)

Oh, and this is the prompt:



It is a very cool prompt. The blood, the phone. I like.

Sunshine Liebster ~ creative baby name gone wrong? or post smashing two tags together? you decide!!!

Actually you don’t have to decide, for I will tell you. It is a tag post! The lovely Samantha over at Bookshire tagged me for the Sunshine Blogger award, so I’m doing that, and then the lovely Emily over at E. K. Seaver tagged me for the Liebster award, so I’m doing that.

And by “doing,” I mean I’m answering the questions. I have exams to study for and applications to write, so I fear you’ll have to excuse me from writing new questions or tagging people. Steal these people’s questions if you are so inclined, though – we’re all socialists here and I daresay they don’t mind anyway.

Because I’m breaking half of them anyway, I can’t be bothered to list the rules, so let’s get to Sam’s questions without further ado!


What is a genre that you didn’t think you would enjoy when you first started reading (or watching) it, but now really do?

The only semi-answer I can come up with here (because my tastes really don’t change) is Marvel. I always said I’m not a superhero person, but I’ve enjoyed the majority (three out of five!) of the Marvel movies I’ve seen. And not just enjoyed; I really loved Captain Americas 1 & 2.

But it’s still not the best answer, because one of the reasons Civil War didn’t do it for me (there were other reasons too, for sure, but this was probably a fairly big one) was that it was too superhero-y. The First Avenger was character-driven in a way superhero stories often try to be but aren’t – and definitely a cliché, but a cliché done with heart and style. My friend said it had a fairy-tale feel, which…sounds weird, but the more I think about it the more I think he’s right. And Winter Soldier felt, to me, like a Helen MacInnes novel, except modern-day and with a few weird sci-fi trappings. Whereas Civil War was much more generic superheroes-whizzing-around-blowing-things-up fare.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, I once upon a time thought I would never be interested in a superhero story. But I have since discovered that I can enjoy superhero stories if they’re not too…superhero-y.

(Like, Steelheart. I loved that one. Because all the superheroes were bad.)

(Oh, and as of when I’m actually posting this, I’ve also seen The Avengers, and…yeah. The whole time I was watching it, I was like, “This is so stupid,” and my brain was like, “but are you entertained?” and I was like, “no, yeah, I’m a little too entertained.”)

What is the best piece of advice someone has ever given you?

Well, I once saw a chalkboard on which was scrawled in white chalk: “What you do today is important, because you just exchanged a day of your life for it.”

I think about that a lot.

I also think a lot about Gandalf’s similar statement: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

So yes. I think the best advice I was ever given (well, besides this thing my violin teacher once told me, but that’s, like, super specific to second movements of Baroque violin concertos, so yeah :-P) was given to me by a fictional wizard and a chalkboard.

What is something that you like to eat that your family (or housemates) think is weird?

My roommate thought my deep and abiding love for cream-cheese-and-olive sandwiches was weird, I think. Apparently no one outside my family eats these things???

Y’all are missing out. They’re really good. You take a loaf of fluffy bread (like, Italian or French or whatever that stuff at the grocery store is that’s fluffy—or you can bake it yourself, I guess, which I don’t do because every time I try to bake bread I fail miserably), slice it in half down its length, smear one side thick with cream cheese, pack the cream-cheesed surface with black olives, and put the top half back down on top of it. And voila, a delicious sandwich.

What is your favorite book to reread, and how many times have you reread it?

There are a select few books I’ve reread so many times I’ve literally lost count. But my favorite among all the excellent and well-beloved contenders has to be…a toss-up. A toss-up between The House at Pooh Corner and Assignment in Brittany. As aforementioned, I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve read either. Because they just…don’t get old.

Pooh bothering (or not bothering), Piglet holding carelessly courageous conversations with Heffalumps (but unfortunately, only in his head), Rabbit being officious, Eeyore being…Eeyore. Never gets old.

And HEARNE. Hearne never gets old. Never never never. I love Hearne. I think I need to go reread Assignment in Brittany again, actually…

Oh, wait. I completely forgot about The Home Ranch. That is my dad’s favorite book and quite possibly mine and definitely my favorite book to reread (again, no idea how many times I’ve read it).

I’m long due for a reread there too, actually. I was feeling physically homesick for it the other day.

Who is your favorite artist? What’s your favorite piece of art by them?

Um, I know nothing about art.

Like, really. I’m blanking on famous painters here, besides the impressionists, who aren’t my favorite anyway.

Sorry.

Have you ever travelled out of your home country? Where did you go?

Nope. Only time I ever even saw the edge of my home country (a.k.a. the ocean) was two years ago, and it was for one day. One very beautiful day of lighthouse-stair-climbing, floppy hats, jumping off sandbanks, mosquito attacks, dolphin sightings, body surfing, and Adventures in Not Getting Sucked Away by the Riptide…but anyway. No.

Who are your favorite and least favorite authors?

Some of my less cliché favorites include:

  • A. A. Milne (because of course)
  • Helen MacInnes
  • James Herriot
  • Ralph Moody
  • E. B. White
  • Megan Whalen Turner
  • Rudyard Kipling

And I’ll just cut it off there even though it’s painful and get on to some of my least favorites.

  • Alexandre Dumas. Maybe that isn’t fair, and I do intend to read The Count of Monte Christo one of these days – I have high hopes for it, in fact – but I feel like I hated The Three Musketeers enough to say this.
  • John Green. Okay. He’s smart and talented and all, but I disagree with his worldview so much. And obviously you can love works by authors with whose worldview you disagree, but John Green’s worldview is what makes his books depressing and nihilistic and I personally don’t like depressing and nihilistic books. (I also don’t like contemporary YA romances, but that’s semi-irrelevant.) Also, his male love interests are as terrible as they can get without being abusive – at least in Turtles All the Way Down and The Fault in Our Stars they are. At least I think in The Fault in Our Stars they are. I managed about a page once the male love interest showed up and then shut the book forever.
  • Terry Pratchett. This is probably also unfair. He’s a really good writer and very funny, but his nihilistic worldview just poisons his books, for me.
  • I’ve never read a story by William Faulkner that I don’t hate, so…?

What is the best book you’ve had to read for a class?

Maybe On Writing Well, by William Zinsser? It really, really helped me, especially with my essay writing. In fiction I’ve always understood the principle that character voice is king, but in my nonfiction I had no such restraints, and I tended to not use one word where twenty would do, or “strong” where “puissant” also appeared in the dictionary. I still don’t usually err on the side of simplicity, but On Writing Well demonstrated the value of simplicity in a way that just really clicked for me and helped my writing a lot.

What is your favorite season (or month)?

October.

Why did you choose your blog name?

Ahem.

Why is this so embarrassing to actually explain?

I didn’t want my blog to be official or grown-up. Just a sort of “enchanted place” – a cozy, companionable spot where we talk a little about Kings and Factors but mostly about stories and Bears of Little Brain. A little serious, but mostly silly. You know?

Who is a blogger that you think everyone should follow? (You’re not allowed to say me, even if you want to, which you probably don’t. XD)

I think all y’all should follow…Samantha over at Bookshire.

#that’srightibroketherules

#idowhatiwant

#hairflip

I actually don’t want to answer this question for real, because that involves picking someone out of the many bloggers I love and…I hate picking.

So I’m not going to do it.

Sorry.

(Sam writes lovely book reviews, though. So you should follow her. And if you are Sam—since I’m answering this question for your benefit after all—go follow yourself. There.)


And now on to the Liebster award and Emily’s fascinating questions!

What is the hardest part about writing for you?

The action.

I don’t get how anybody writes it, keeps the pacing at a realistic level, and manages to make it not sound stupid. I truly don’t.

How much sleep do you get on average?

Hmm. Probably my full eight hours? I like my sleep and make sure I get it. Grades and social life are secondary considerations. But at the same time, I hate sleeping in. It’s like a miserable experience and I never do it. So probably right around eight. Maybe seven if I’m doing anything particularly awesome in my life that I would rather do than sleep.

What is your favorite quote? Why?

For the sincere controversialist is above all things a good listener; he listens to the enemy’s arguments as eagerly as a spy would listen to the enemy’s arrangements. – G. K. Chesterton

That’s one of them, at least.

What’s your MBTI, Ennegram, and Hogwarts House?

ISTJ. One. No idea. I’m going by SortingHatChats’s descriptions of the Hogwarts Houses, which basically sort you by how you “do” morality. And I can’t for the life of me decide which type I am. The only one I don’t think I am is Slytherin, but even then I’m not sure because loyalty is a really, really, really important value to me? To the point that I hate when other people don’t display it, or rate it lower than I think it deserves? (But is that just me being a Ravenclaw who’s put loyalty high in her structure of morality??? Or a Hufflepuff who believes you should never let someone down because people matter most??? Or a Gryffindor who has made humanity her Cause??? You see my problem?)

What is something that can make you laugh every time you read it?

That scene in Frederica where Charles is explaining about the elopement and the part he played in it and…I can’t be more specific without spoilers. But with Frederica being frantic and Alverstoke making sarcastic remarks and Charles maintaining a carefully neutral tone while he narrates these absolutely ridiculous events…I laugh every single time.

Also the Baluchistan hound scene, and also the part in The House at Pooh Corner where Piglet thinks Christopher Robin is a Heffalump and tries to hold a very Brave and Daring conversation with it.

Also Calvin and Hobbes.

What’s the weirdest dream you’ve had?

When I was five, I dreamed that my parents had dropped me off at a friend’s house, but only the friend’s mom was there, and she had gone inside the house for a second. While she was gone, a tiger came out of the woods and started chasing me up and down this stone staircase that was just sitting there on the lawn, leading to nowhere.

Then Deborah (the friend’s mom) came back outside and the tiger ran away.

Then Deborah went back inside, and the tiger came waddling out of the woods in a plastic yellow suit that was supposed to be a disguise that made it look like a bird, but I knew perfectly well it was still the tiger and he still wanted to eat me. So I screamed for Deborah. She appeared, with a grim expression on her face, packing a shotgun.

The tiger knew it was outmatched and scuttled away into the woods.

What is your sense of humor? (Share with us something you find funny)

My sense of humor is very simple. I think all the following memes are hilarious (like the counting rests one? The ACCURACY, you guys).

What is something you do that you get annoyed with yourself about?

Get really literal? To take a rather trivial matter that has caused me an outsized amount of annoyance. Sometimes when somebody says something normal, but slightly idiomatic, to me, my brain decides to interpret it completely literally, which results in me having no idea what they said even though I know I should know what they said (does that make sense??), and it’s really, really awkward.

Fight or flight? Why?

I genuinely don’t know. My instincts are more like, Freeze Until I Decide Whether Fighting Or Fleeing Is A Better Option, But Mostly, Don’t Do Anything Rash.

Would you rather remain locked in a cozy room with good snacks and a computer for the rest of your life or be at a party with tons of people and loud music and good food and a notebook and pencil for the rest of your life?

As much as I would hate being locked in a room and having to write by word processor rather than by hand…being stuck at a party with loud music (it’s not even the people, it’s the loud music) would drive me absolutely insane. And also I’d be completely exhausted. For the rest of my life. So, cozy room. At least I can sing and turn a cramped cartwheel or two and fail spectacularly at tap dancing, for variety. And I imagine I’d get to have my violin, so…yeah.

What is your greatest fear?

Either being stuck or being not myself.


Many thanks to Sam and Emily for the tags! I had fun! I hope you guys did too, heh. Tell me, were you an orchestra kid?? Do you like the music memes?? What was your rationale behind your blog name??

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.


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