Archive for category Fantasy
Sometimes we read to improve ourselves. Sometimes, to learn from others’ mistakes. Maybe we read to pretend we’re smart and know things. And then sometimes, we read for the sole purpose of playing make-believe.
Wolves of Willoughby Chase is one of the latter. If you have ever wanted to be a rich 12-year-old girl wandering through secret passageways, wearing pelisses (whatever they are, it sounds like luxury), and going on adventures with the goose-boy—then this book is for you. For the rest of you, I deeply apologize. You may want to keep your smelling salts nearby in case you get queasy.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is a fun book! Here’s the plot: Bonnie is the aforementioned girl with oodles of money and few cares in the world. Cousin Sylvia comes to live with Bonnie just as Bonnie’s parents are leaving on a long voyage. The cousins’ adventures begin, however, when an evil governess takesover the estate in absence of parents. The girls are sent to a boarding school in conditions worthy of a Dickens novel, and all is surely in despair—what will they do??
Seriously, I don’t want to ruin it for you. I liked the solution. (It involves Simon the goose-boy.)
Wolves of Willoughby Chase is part fairy-tale, part social novel, and a little scaryness thrown in. The wolves from the title would have frightened me badly as a kid (heck, we watched “Pinocchio” when I was three and I dreamed about giant man-eating whales for years—so maybe I’m a bad judge). For the overall feel, think Series of Unfortunate Events, minus the doom and despair. But that’d be a whole different book series, wouldn’t it?
Willoughby Chase‘s only major life lesson is that one should always check the evil governess’ references before leaving on vacation. But author Joan Aiken wrote about things she liked, which can be a good deal better than pleasing an audience. And in this case, she did both.
If you liked this book, you might also like:
other books by Joan Aiken
The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
and, if you’re willing to wade through long sentences (which you obviously are if you read this blog…) any books by Charles Dickens
(Speaking of Charles Dickens, Oprah has recently discovered him. Good to know his existence has been validated.)
What do you guys think? Aiken’s plot seems rather unoriginal to me—but maybe that’s overrated. Do authors need to be original–or should they just write about whatever they like?
[click on photos for photo credits.]
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass are so well known to children that it may come as a surprise, for adults, that these books are about a lot more than a dreamy land. We remember the frazzled rabbit, the crazy Hatter’s tea party, the disappearing cat with the creepy grin, the Tweedle brothers, and the bloodthirsty queen. And most of us, if we were young enough, (or brave enough to watch the Tim Burton movie), had nightmares about at least a few in that list.
But both books also contain political and social commentary, logic and math problems, and linguistic jokes galore. Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a lecturer, teacher, and mathematician at Christ Church in Oxford. His cleverness has lots of dialogue that goes right over kids’ heads, but lots of playfulness with words that kids love (at the time, it seemed like really good advice for life):
The Red Queen tells Alice,
The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked.
And when Alice is falling down the rabbit hole:
And then, sometimes, Charles Dodgson just gets a little weird. When you were a kid, did you know the caterpillar was smoking a hookah? I sure didn’t.
“–No, it’s a hookah.”
“Can I get you a tissue?”)
And I went on with my sheltered life. Ya gotta wonder, sometimes, if the author got a little desperate for writing material and tried some drastic new methods:
Lewis Carroll tells his whole long haranguing, trippy story to a friend, rabbits and scary queens and kittens and all, “…and then she woke up.”
Friend, after a long pause, “Um, you been snacking on the mushrooms again, Charles?”
And that is why it became a kids’ story.
Well, in honor of Alice’s Trippy Adventures, today’s post has some riddles, straight out of the books. The first person with the right answer–you can tell us in the comments section–wins that fabulous glow of pride that comes from the knowledge that you were right. Blind your friends with it. And no fair googling the answers!
1. Why is a raven like a writing desk? (the Hatter asks this to Alice at his Tea Party)
That is easy: a baby, I think, could have caught it.
“Next, the fish must be bought.”
That is easy: a penny, I think, would have bought it.
“Now cook me the fish!”
That is easy, and will not take more than a minute.
“Let it lie in a dish!”
That is easy, because it already is in it.
“Bring it here! Let me sup!”
It is easy to set such a dish on the table.
“Take the dish-cover up!”
Ah, THAT is so hard that I fear I’m unable!
For it holds it like glue—
Holds the lid to the dish, while it lies in the middle:
Which is easiest to do,
Un-dish-cover the fish, or dishcover the riddle?’
(The Red Queen recites this to Alice in Through the Looking Glass)
And finally, just for fun, a short short version. We’ve never seen it so quick. Don’t blink. (Actually it does the blinking for you.)
At the end, all I can think is, “Look out! Here come the Boy Scouts!”
What did you think of the Alice books, as a kid or an adult? Tell us your guess to the riddles!
Today we’re continuing with a review of a book better known by its movie counterpart–but it’s a book first and forever. If you’ve seen the movie, “The Princess Bride” you’ll still want to read this book. For those of you who haven’t seen it or read it (do these people even exist?), here’s a little teaser:
Buttercup, who has risen to the title of most beautiful woman in the history of the world, waits for her true love, Westley, only to hear he has been lost at sea. She vows to never love again, and keeps her vow, but agrees to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (evil, but ridiculously smart and wants her for low-handed political reasons). But when the Prince’s plans go slightly awry, and the Dread Pirate Roberts comes on the scene, it’s only the beginning of scores of adventures and interesting characters. The prologue says it best:
[Young William Goldman] “Has it got any sports in it?”
[Father] “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
[Young William Goldman] “Sounds okay,” I said, and I kind of closed my eyes. “I’ll do my best to stay awake…but I’m awful sleepy, Daddy…”
Do you ever find an author that makes you want to keep reading, and you’re fifteen or twenty pages in before you realize the author has said nothing of significance? And you don’t care? The Princess Bride does that for me. And it happens while I’m reading the preface, for pity’s sake. (Side note: I’ve done this with other books too–once I read a whole 432-page kid’s thriller novel like the outcome of World Peace, and possibly the World Cup, depended on my finishing it in under half an hour. (And it took me longer than that–now we know why the world is the way it is. Sorry, folks.) Anyway, I read the last page, shut the book, gasping like a marathon runner, and thought to myself, “That was dumb.” Ah, the power of thriller novels. I was powerless to do anything until it was read cover to cover, and then I realized I didn’t even like the book. And then I read the second one! (It was very persuasive.) And this wasn’t even a full blown ax-murderer story! It was about some genetically altered kids with wings. I don’t know if I should link to it, since this wasn’t an entirely positive description, but if you’re interested, you can find it here. Just cancel your life beforehand.) Warning warning warning we are now returning to our previous altitude in the above-parentheses stratosphere. Thank you.
They say that readers have to like the narrator to like the story–and the narrator of The Princess Bride is both charming and snarky. I know it’s hard to imagine both of those together, so I’ve mined some examples for you skeptics:
The land of Florin was set between where Sweden and Germany would eventually settle. (This was before Europe). In theory, it was ruled by King Lotharon and his second wife, the Queen. But in fact, the King was barely hanging on, could only rarely tell day from night, and basically spent his time in muttering. He was very old, every organ in his body had long since betrayed him, and most of his important decisions regarding Florin had a certain arbitrary quality that bothered many of the leading citizens. (Chp. 1)
In what must be an attempt to ground the story in history, the narrator tells us whether things have been invented or not. After mentioning stew, he says,
This was after stew, but so is everything. When the first man first clambered from the slime and made his first home on land, what he had for supper that first night was stew.
and then has a small fight between the parents:
“What exactly is it dumpling?” Buttercup’s mother wanted to know.
“You look; you know how” was all he replied. (This was their thirty-third spat of the day–this was long after spats–and he was behind, thirteen to twenty, but he had made up a lot of distance since lunch, when it was seventeen to two against him.)
Tell us what you think! Have you ever read this book? Why, after all this time, has nobody been able to locate the original, unabridged S. Morgenstern version?
Next week’s book: Alice in Wonderland…
Ella of Frell loses her mother at a young age and grows up under the thumb of her stepmother and two stepsisters. Her one great difficulty in life is not getting to the ball–it’s getting her way. She’s been “blessed” with obedience by a meddling fairy: If someone commands her to tie her shoe, bake a cake, fail an exam, even cut off her own head, she must do it. She cannot stop herself. In the midst of trying to break this curse and save her friendships, she begins a correspondence friendship with the prince of her country. But she can’t possibly be involved in a kingdom–her curse would make her a weapon in enemy hands. Ella has to fight against a curse nobody can fight for her–or the results will be even worse than she imagined.
This treasure by Gail Carson Levine is such a clever retelling that I was three quarters of the way through it before I realized it was the story of Cinderella. No more figurehead beautiful princess here–Ella is smart, thoughtful, resourceful and insightful. She’s not a perfect person because she wants to be–it’s because she has no choice. She must eat her peas and make tiny stitches, because she’s been told to; if she had her choice, she’d slurp and yell and play in the mud a lot more often. She’s not a snappy feminist rebel, (which, if you’ve seen the movie retelling, is Anne Hathaway’s character–more on that in a second) but she sure would rather make her own choices. Ella is gentle with her friends and determined against her enemies, and an inspiration to us all. *sniff* Pass the Kleenex…
And now we come to the problems everyone has when a story is told in multiple media: If you saw the movie, you either thought Oh, okay, fine, and maybe went out and read the book–or else declared it a sacrilegious outrage and spent the entire movie calling down ancient curses upon it–which, loosely translated, go, “What? WHAT??? Noooo… That’s not how it–What?!?”–because you’d already read the book. (If you’ve never done this to a movie experience, you know you’ve had to sit through someone else doing it. Joy.) It was because the book was your favorite ever, and your hopes have been dashed upon the rocks of Hollywood, and your disappointment has ruined the weekend and possibly your entire life…
Snap out of it! (Haha, sorry that’s unkind. I feel your pain… okay, that’s enough. Snap out of it!) Even author Levine said, “To fans of the book, I’d suggest regarding the movie as a separate creative act. You might want to think about the choices the screenwriters made and why they may have gone in the direction they did. But I hope you have the breadth and sense of humor to encompass both movie and book.”
What impressed you most about this book? Did you hold a DVD-burning ceremony? If you’ve seen both, are there any strong points the movie has that the book did not?
The third Harry Potter movie has just ended, and a birthday party of sugar-stoked eleven-year-old boys begins laying waste to the movie theater lobby. One boy separates from the group with a bright idea. He runs, full tilt (I am not making this up), straight at the movie theater’s brick wall. The result is a staggering, completely unforeseen display of the laws of physics, in which the brick emerges victorious. (Who knew?) After regaining consciousness, the boy’s mother asks him why, if he wanted to deprive himself of his senses, he didn’t just leap into oncoming traffic. He wails, “But Harry Potter can do it!…” The rest of the birthday party watches eagerly while sucking down cans of Red Bull. Other moviegoers begin backing away before the other boys start impersonating the hamsters from a preview.
The above is a true story with an important moral: Never, never combine sugar and eleven-year-old boys. Or at least let them wear helmets. But the second moral, only slightly less important, is that stories move us. (Literally, in this case.) Stories shape our motives and enlarge the world we live in, for kids even more so. (Just ask the hundred or so children who flushed their own goldfish down the toilet after “Finding Nemo,” only to find out Guppy was taking the Long Swim to the water treatment plant.)
It was an intense discussion for a while there, whether Harry Potter was the devil or just his apprentice. It went something like this:
Person 1: Harry Potter will turn your child into a Satanist!
Person 2: No, Harry Potter will help kids to read!
Person 1: About evil!
Person 2: No, about being a kid! It isn’t real anyway.
Person 1: YOU’RE a Satanist!…
and so on, until both are so worked up they’ve got to sit down and sort out which one of them was 1 and which was 2 all over again. Here’s the deal, folks: If, one morning after reading Harry Potter, you wake up and think that, by waving a stick, you can turn your mother into a lampshade, you have other problems. Get help now! Operators are standing by! What Birthday Boy above needed was a good dose of reality (and let me tell you, he sure got it).
On the other hand, J. K. Rowling’s “magic” is a cousin to some very dangerous stuff that doesn’t belong in quotes or children’s books, and readers better be discerning enough to know the difference. The question becomes, what are you willing to be desensitized to? I’m personally not concerned about Harry’s brand of magic unless it leads to other things.
Stories may not turn us to the Dark Side, but they influence us. So what’s more dangerous than Harry’s magic? Well, real life.
We learn about human relationships from books too, and, though I hate to say it, Rowling’s characterization is lacking. Rowling’s characters, while they feel complete and believable, don’t develop like real people. (Come to think of it, that is like some people.) Harry, Ron and Hermione barely change throughout the series. They don’t learn from their mistakes, and they interact in excessively predictible ways–Hermione nags, Ron sulks, Harry turns narcissistic. It gets a bit irritating. I find that, after I read this series I’m crabby and irritable and selfish with the people around me. I swear it’s the characters in the books rubbing off on me. This never works for an excuse (“Harry made me do it!”)–but it reminds me how much I learn from the books I read. Harry’s relationships are just as significant as his magical fantasy world, and they will be to readers too.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, if she can get this way over a kid’s series, keep her away from the serial-killer novels…
Yeah, I know, it sounds paranoid; I’d just rather read books with my eyes wide open. (As opposed to the other way, where it gets real dark and it’s hard to find your spot…)
I love these books and will end by applauding J. K. Rowling, who excels at (at least) two things: creating a world and spinning a plot. The wizarding world is incredibly well-imagined, from a bureaucratic Ministry to a highly original sport (where in the world of sports do we have a Snitch?) down to the candy names like Fizzing Whizbees and Toothflossing Stringmints. Rowling picks the kinds of details that not only sound true, but make me wish it were.
Rowling also spun a vast story that kept readers guessing, weeping, and up all night. (Um, not that I would know…) The seventh book is brilliant, really brilliant, in the way events pull together. I was thoroughly engrossed–a live hippogriff in my room could not have made me look up. Great books. But not because of character development. I can still enjoy Rowling’s fantastical plot in spite of her rather flat characters. I just wish that Harry had grown up as much as he thinks he has.
Books are meant to be shared–what was your experience of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the series as a whole? Did you find the books irritating and inspiring? And have you ever tried to reach Platform 9 ¾ ? (Would you admit it if you had?)