Signed and sealed, and witnessed, and attested.

The White Deer by James Thurber is a treat to read.  There’s something about his simple ridiculousness that frees the soul to enjoy any strange thing he has to offer.  I love it.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I grew up on another of Thurber’s books.  That book informed my future in ways I’m not even sure I know the full extent of.  I discovered this book, which was written five years before The 13 Clocks, much later.  I was seventeen and about to go to college.  I quickly ran about the house, wondering why this book hadn’t taken it’s rightful place alongside The 13 Clocks.  In response, I got a resounding, “Meh.”

It was then that I confiscated this book from the unworthy library that housed it and put it in my library, where it would be appreciated.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t appreciate The White Deer for long before I went to college where the options were to let the book gather dust in my bookshelves where it would be isolated or let it gather dust in the family bookshelves where it would be under-appreciated, but visible.  It occurs to me now that I could have taken it with me to college and no one would have missed it, but I felt bad about completely stealing the book from my family (even if they didn’t really want it).

Soon after arriving at college, I discovered two things: Amazon.com has out-0f-print books for sale and I missed a certain three books (The Maze in the Heart of the Castle by Dorothy Gilman being one and the two Thurbers being the others) far more than I cared to admit.  So I hopped on Amazon and bought my own copy of each book.  Since then, I have refused to move anywhere without those three books, plus The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (and many’s the time they’ve come on vacation, too).  They are my lifelines to reality.

So what does this have to do with reviewing the book?  I suppose I wanted to share a bit of it’s power–after all, I was an “adult” when I realized I couldn’t live without it.  The White Deer, for all it’s quixotic silliness, is a book that I find I appreciate more as an adult than I ever could have as a child, or even as I did as a young(er) adult just going to college.

The title for this blog comes from the very last line.  The full quote (no spoilers, promise) is this:

I find no cause to doubt the [scroll’s account], for it is signed and sealed, and witnessed, and attested.

Considering that the Royal Scribe ran around the entire book claiming the magic that made the princess a deer couldn’t exist because a record of it didn’t exist, this little nod to the pedants of triplicate seems the perfect ending to this fractured faerie tale.  After all, could we really believe the account of some magic that was never properly recorded if the effects of it weren’t at least appropriately witnessed (in triplicate)?

I mentioned in my mid-book review of Saturday (posted yesterday due to an ID-10T error), this book has a vague Arthurian connection.  The witch who cast the spell is named Nagrom Yaf.  Spelled backwards, this is Fay Morgan.  Once I figured that out, which took an embarrassing amount of times, it intrigued me that Thurber used the witch from Arthurian tales.  I’ve never taken the time to really sit and think how this tale related or whether this was the one reference in the entire book.  So, that was my goal this time around.

What I found:

  • The tales of the brothers’ quests (Thag, Jorn, and Gallow) are set up in the middle of The White Deer very much like the knight’s quests are set up in Le Morte D’Arthur by Malory.  This is awesome!
  • The magical characters that inhibit these quests are men, rather than women, following the backwards (or opposite, if you like) pattern set up by Thurber with Nagrom Yaf.
  • King Clode (the father) has a round table of sons and servants, and–excepting his son, Jorn–they are inept bumblers.  It was quite the opposite with the knights: Arthur’s knights well trained and good men, his (illegitimate) son was the epitome of ineptitude.
  • Addressing the romancing of Guenivere (here the deer/princess), the danger was in the relationship for Arthur.  In The White Deer, the danger lay in NOT making the relationship happen.
  • The court magician is one of paltry tricks, not a sage advisor.  The sage advisor is a dwarf named Quondo (Italian for “when,” which proves to be particularly apt), who is neither purposeful in his advice, nor is he asked for it.  Also, he doesn’t disappear mid-story.  A very anti-Merlin.
  • There is a distinct separation of kingdoms with almost a friendly enmity to it–none of this unite or suffer the consequences stuff.
  • All the quests were for objects that were supposed to have value, but turned out to be falsely elevated.  I suppose the easiest way to put it is: the quests’ objectives were obtainable.

I’m sure there are more, but these are what occurred to me while reading this time around.  It seems to me that Thurber was trying to write a “what if Arthur hadn’t been so noble after all” tale.  Frankly, things turned out astonishingly well for this Anti-Arthur.  Maybe the hero should have left well enough alone.  It’s a thought.

I also mentioned in my mid-book review that the prose of Thurber was another reason I was so attracted to the book.  Once again, the rhythm of it is so incredibly melodious that it seems to jump off the page and whirl around you.  Since I’ve already introduced you to the book with the end, it seems only fitting that I should end with the beginning:

If you should walk and wind and wander far enough on one of those afternoons in April when smoke goes down instead of up, and nearby things sound far away and far things near, you are more than likely to come at last to the enchanted forest that lies between the Moonstone Mines and Centaurs Mountain.  You’ll know the woods when you are still a long way off by virtue of a fragrance you can never quite forget and never quite remember.  And there’ll be a distant bell that causes boys to run and laugh and girls to stand and tremble.  If you pluck one of the ten thousand toadstools that grow in the emerald grass at the edge of the wonderful woods, it will feel as heavy as a hammer in your hand, but if you let it go it will sail away over the trees like a tiny parachute, trailing black and purple stars.

There’s even a tale, first told by minstrels in the medieval time, that rabbits here can tip their heads as men now tip their hats, removing them with their paws and putting them back again.

I fully confess to looking for smoke that goes down every April.  Oh how I hope one day to find that enchanted forest somewhere.  Somewhere.

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Reasons this is challenging for me:

  • There are so many little clues about characters that I’m still discovering (ex: It was only this time around that I connected Quondo the character with the meaning of his name).
  • The book requires multiple looks and a not a few reviews of my studies to understand it’s frame as an Anti-Arthur tale (and I’m sure I haven’t found them all).

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Mid-Book: And then there are the days I feel stupid.

When I read The 13 Clocks a few weeks ago, I immediately got a hankering for The White Deer, James Thurber’s other brilliant children’s novel.

I remember when I first read this novel.  Thurber was still illustrating (they’re so charming!) and it was as whimsical as Clocks without being tiresome or repetitive.  It was also much like the fractured fairy tales of my youth (mostly provided by Rocky and Bullwinkle), which made it appeal all the more.

Unfortunately, it was not supposed to be this week’s book.  If you look at my updated Books page (which, by the way, has been a bear to update regularly, but I’ve done it!), it says this week was Heart of Darkness.  Unfortunately, the person I was borrowing the book from promised to get it to me on Monday, but didn’t get it to me until Thursday.  I couldn’t even do a mid-book review on Wednesday like I had so carefully planned!  I felt stupid–I should have known to switch over to a different book much earlier.

Now, could I read Heart of Darkness quickly and get it reviewed by tomorrow?  Yes.  Do I want to?  No.  I’ve heard so many good things about the book and the subject matter that it really does deserve a week.  So, I went to a different book.  Having delayed so long, I was unable to finish it tonight.  Hence the mid-book review today.  On Sunday, I’ll post the review.  I hope.

In re-reading this little piece of whimsy, I’ve remembered what it is I love about fairy tales (their enduring nature) and Thurber (his prose).  Each brother in this book has his own fairy tale within the fairy tale and there is a sense that, with enough time, the recursive tales would have been continued by Thurber forever.

There is a small Arthurian connection that’s always made me wonder if there’s more that I’m missing.  I cannot tell you how dumb I felt when I discovered the connection on my fifth or sixth reading.  This reading is dedicated to find the backwards connections.  I don’t know that there will be anything to find, but I’m going to go through with a fine-toothed comb (or just my normal reading eyes) to capture those connections.

Hope to see you Sunday!

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P.S.  I SWEAR I pushed post on this Saturday night!  I have NO IDEA why it didn’t post!  Now the title of this blog is particularly apt. *grumpgrumpgrump* Clearly I didn’t make the Sunday deadline, but I’m working on the review right now.

No saints among these fellows (with a twist of Arthur).

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck is advertised as an Arthurian tale.  At best it is an Arthurian community within the tale.  But it is quintessential Steinbeck.

I did not like The Grapes of Wrath when I read it in the second semester of my Junior year of high school.  I still can’t put my finger on why.  It took another six weeks, when the unit rolled over, for me to fall in love with Steinbeck’s prose.  I did so in reading Cannery Row.  Tortilla Flat falls somewhere in the middle of these two.  I see shades of both.  In many ways, Tortilla Flat feels like a dry run for Cannery Row.  The episodic nature of the books and the community of those just outside society while being central to it are important to both.  However, where Cannery Row balances that act, Tortilla Flat sometimes founders in it.

Thankfully, one place in which Tortilla Flat succeeds is the descriptions.  I could spend all day reading Steinbeck’s descriptions of Monterey Bay and the surrounding area.  His intimate knowledge of the town and the workings of it is truly that of a lover.  Considering I feel much the same way about Monterey (it helps that I spent some time there as a young child and teen), it’s difficult not to curl up with these books and just revel in the beauty and lover-like caresses in the words.  Here is one of my favorites from the book:

The afternoon came down as imperceptibly as age comes to a happy man.  A little gold entered into the sunlight.  The bay became bluer and dimpled with shore-wind ripples.  Those lonely fisherman who believe that the fish bite at high tide left their rocks, and their places were taken by others, who were convinced that the fish bite at low tide.

At three o’clock the wind veered around and blew softly in from the bay, bringing in all manner of fine kelp odors.  The menders of nets in the vacant lots of Monterey put down their spindles and rolled cigarettes.  Through the streets of the town, fat ladies, in whose eyes lay the weariness and the wisdom one sees so often in the eyes of pigs, were trundled in overpowered motorcars toward tea and gin fizzes at the Hotel Del Monte.  On Alvarado Street, Hugo Machado, the tailor, put a sign in his shop door, “Back in Five Minutes,” and went home for the day.  The pines waved slowly and voluptuously.  The hens in a hundred hen yards complained in placid voices of their evil lot.

Steinbeck’s descriptions of the town are beyond compare.  I have yet to find another author who has so accurately captured a scene and then placed the picture in my head.  However, he outshines himself in his descriptions of people.  Danny and the boys (the Round Table of Tortilla Flat) are so very alive.

Jesus Maria Corcoran was a pathway for the humanities.  Suffering he tried to relieve; sorrow he tried to assuage; happiness he shared.  No hard nor haunted Jesus Maria existed.  His heart was free for the use of anyone who had a use for it.  His resources and wits were at the disposal of anyone who had less of either than had Jesus Maria.

He it was who carried José de la Nariz four miles when José’s leg was broken.  When Mrs. Palochico lost the goat of her heart, the good goat of milk and cheese, it was Jesus Maria who traced that goat to Big Joe Portagee and halted the murder and made Big Joe give it back.  It was Jesus Maria who once picked Charlie Marsh out of a ditch where he lay in his own filth, a deed which required not only a warm heart, but a strong stomach.

Together with his capacity for doing good, Jesus Maria had a gift for coming in contact with situations where good wanted doing.

Such was his reputation that Pilon had once said, “If that Jesus Maria had gone into the Church, Monterey would have had a saint for the calendar, I tell you.”

This is something I love about Steinbeck.  Even though Jesus Maria is one of the best, he is still simple and does not aspire to much.  He’s also a drunken lout like the rest of the boys.  There are no saints in Steinbeck’s books, but in the same manner, neither are there sinners.  Or at the very least, they are all sinners who are doing their best to get by.  Even the innocent and the beautiful have fault.  The worst and the greatest stand proudly together saying, “We’re trying the best we can.  No one can ask for more.”  And they’re right.  No one can ask for more, not rightly.

The main character, Danny, is not an Arthur figure.  The men are the knights without an Arthur.  They follow Danny at first, but each man has his time to shine.  The Pirate leads them to a better, less sinful and more industrious life for a while.  Pilon always leads to ridiculous schemes.  Often times they lead each other to jail.  Danny is slightly elevated because he owns the house he lives in, but this is all that really sets him apart.  There is an equality in their brotherhood.

The tragedy of this particular book is that it feels as if it isn’t fully realized.  There is so much that could be done and should be done, but isn’t.  The most beautiful scene is at the end, when the boys throw a party for Danny to pull him out of a chapters long funk.  It’s a sweet gesture, and Danny becomes otherworldly in his beauty and might.  The reader knows, long before those who are present at the scene, what will happen come morning.  And yet, it doesn’t feel like Steinbeck made a mistake or was too obvious in his foreshadowing.  It just seems that the outcome is inevitable.  However, it takes the whole book to fall into the wonderful rhythm of this scene.  While the other vignettes (for this is truly a book of related vignettes, hardly plot-filled) are good, and establish histories that are important and come together in this last scene, I feel as if I could read the last few chapters and be just fine.

As I said, this almost feels like a dry run for Cannery Row, which is written in a very similar style (the interconnected episodes) as well as housing a similar community.  Some of the events of this book may even be obliquely referenced in Cannery Row (I’m not positive, though I’m pretty sure).  It’s a beautiful book of love and brotherhood, of men how are neither devils nor angels.  They’re just men who try their best to eke out a mostly happy existence.  Though this may not be what I aspire to, in many ways it is what I hope for–to do my best and find that it’s been enough.  Steinbeck expresses this hope, as well as the beauty of nature and people, so very eloquently.  This is not my favorite of his works.  But it is ever good.

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And so I read on.

I cannot believe I’ve made it through fourteen weeks of this.  That comes out to just over a quarter of the year.  I have discovered a few things:

I hate saying I don’t like a book.  Every book is such a personal experience.  It’s natural that there are books that I just won’t like.  Yet, for some reason, I just hate to publish to the interweb that I merely dislike a book.  I can’t imagine what’ll happen if I hate one!  This is what hung me up on What Alice Knew and  Water for Elephants.  Both reviews were late, both for pretty much the same reason.  I hated to say that I didn’t really like the books.

I cannot stand writing mid-book reviews.  This is mostly because I’m always sooooo close to the end of the book when Friday comes along.  Also, it just feels like cheating.  So, to prevent more delayed Fridays so I can review one day later, I’m going to start doing a mid-week check-in.  If I’ve not gotten far enough to finish, I’ll do the mid-book review then.  I have Wednesdays off on the blogging schedule, so that should enable me to do a little better with the Friday/Saturday “I’malmosttherebutnotquite” delays.

Pretty much any book that is “for adults” and/or “not fantasy” is challenging for me right now.  Not in the reading sense, but my brain got into this mode for pleasure reading during college.  Breaking out of it has been . . . not so fun.  Yet, at the same time, I’m having a BLAST with it!  I’m loving reading all this non-fiction and historical fiction.  I will have to be careful, though, not to get into another mode on the other end of the pendulum swing.  That’s part of why I added in some YA/Children’s lit in the past few weeks.  Just because it is YA/C doesn’t make it not challenging and I need not to get in these ruts ever again.

I need to find a way to get recommendations!  NY Times best sellers list only gets me so far, internet searches are only slightly less than useless, I’ve yet to be successful with Goodreads, and my family’s scope is feeling a bit narrow these days.  That’s something I’m going to have to figure out soon.  I’ve got about 40 books on the list of books to read (including the past few months).  I am nowhere near out of ideas, but I may have to start combing library shelves.  Gee darn.

Plutarch’s Lives is much too big a project for this blog.  So, naturally, I’ve made another.  Each volume of Lives is at least 600 pages (one is more than 700).  I don’t feel that it’s right to split a book on this blog, the point is a book a week (also, that would not be some simple two-way split . . . more like four – that’s two months to finish both volumes, not acceptable at all).  However, I really do want to read the Lives this year.  I’m missing my Classics classes something fierce, as well as just missing that kind of intellectual stimulation.  So, I’m going to do a “live-blogging” project inspired by my friend, Flann, and this desperate desire to spend some time with ancient voices.  Flann started live-blogging LOTR recently and it’s been wonderful to read.  Somehow I doubt I’ll be quite as funny as Flann (my wit burns low and slow), but Plutarch is plenty hilarious on his own . . . at least he is to me.  Enough about the cross-over project, though.  I’ll post a detailed working of the blog for my first post there, just as I did here.

After writing my first couple Weeds Reviews, I was surprised at how . . . unenthusiastic I was.  I really wanted to review these books!  There were things about them that merited mention.  I definitely won’t be doing those often.  They just feel like they gum up the works, even though I know that I reviewed them for a reason and don’t regret doing so.  Maybe it’ll feel different when I actually do it in time with the review and not all scrunched in with something like six reviews.  Never getting that behind again.  And though I feel less than enthusiastic about them, there is an author whose books I feel like deserve a mention.  After I read her third book, I’ll decide which one I want to review, so expect a Heather Tomlinson Weeds Review in a couple/few weeks.

I like being able to pick up books now and say, “Wow, I bet I could read that one of these weeks,” instead of saying, “Ugh, I won’t be able to read that for a long time.”  It’s been such a positive experience, doing this.  Thank heaven for random people inspiring you to effect change in your life.  I’ll check in again in a few weeks, I’m sure.  Later this week: Tortilla Flat by Steinbeck!

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Such pretty weeds.

This week has been a pretty exhausting week when it comes to blogging.  I upped my schedule to include two personal blog updates, added a Saturday update (I can’t be lazy with this blog anymore, oh noes!), and did five book reviews just to get me back on schedule.  I am ashamed I let it get that behind.

Thankfully, I had a light at the end of the tunnel: Slathbog’s Gold (Adventurers Wanted series) by M.L. Forman.

I read this book about a month ago and decided it was going to be the first OP book I was going to review.  But, when it came time to do my first Weeds Review this past week, it didn’t feel right.  This book definitely deserved its own spot–not a book squished in the middle of four other reviews.  So, even though this was the first OP book that screamed for a review, I decided that it could, would, and should wait until the end of the week.

When I sat down to read Slathbog’s Gold, I was still in the bookstore.  I was looking for something good to read and I stumbled across this one.  I have this silly rule that I have to be engaged by a book by the end of ten pages or the first chapter in order to buy it unread.   It makes for a good weeding out process.  I read one and a half chapters of Slathbog’s Gold without realizing it.  When I did pull my nose out of the book long enough to realize I was over thirty pages in (triple my usual allotment), I figured this was a good book to buy.

It was torture waiting to read it, but I got this book when I was in the middle of Atlantic by Simon Winchester, which was good but giving me enough trouble that I felt it was a good idea to concentrate on it alone.  When I finally got back to Slathbog’s Gold, I was very happy to curl up with an OP book.  Atlantic had been wonderful, but I needed something light.  I needed a break.

Thankfully, said break was not so “fluffy” that I felt like my brain was rotting.  In fact, the book kept me guessing.  I wondered how on earth this was going to turn out.  I knew, somehow, that Slathbog (the evil dragon who guarded his hoard) would be defeated–otherwise, what was the point?–but that was about all I knew for sure.  It was all about the journey, not the destination.  That’s the kind of book I like to read.

One of the most impressive things about Slathbog’s Gold was its treatment of magic.  Magic and its treatment is kind of a pet peeve for me.  I’ve grown up surrounded by faerie tales from all different countries and cultures (French and German, like most, but Swedish, Celtic, and Italian, too–I sought out even more as a teen and adult), and all of them have different attitudes about magic.  It is annoying, to say the least, that in mainstream literature there are two approaches to magic: 1) It freaks the character out and takes them a long time to acknowledge this power, or 2) The character has always known about it and never takes a second thought to their attitude towards it (whether devotion or suspicion).

M.L. Forman throws both approaches out the window with this main character, Alex Taylor.  Alex is quite suddenly thrown into a magical world from this one.  Rather than be immediately suspicious, he reacts in this way:

“I still don’t understand,” said Alex.

“What’s not to understand? A magic bag lets you carry all your gear in a very small space.  And believe me, it makes life a lot easier.”

“I’m sure it does, but how does it work?” Alex questioned.

“It’s magic,” laughed Andy.  “It’s like Arconn always says, ‘If you’re willing to accept the fact that there’s magic involved, everything else is easy.'”

Alex had never really thought about magic, or at least not real magic, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.  He had seen the table at Mr. Clutter’s [bookshop] move and change shape, but that wasn’t really the same as [these rooms inside a bag], was it?  Looking around the stone room, however, he had to believe there was magic.

The character approaches things logically, but hesitantly.  He accepts the magic, because he knows there’s no other choice, but he also doesn’t jump in with both feet.  It takes Alex some more time to accept magic in general, as well as his magic specifically (and what a discovery that was), but he doesn’t shun it.  He learns about it.  And there is no crisis! in which he all of a sudden needs to tap into his magic NOW.  He learns at a good pace and applies what he knows.  It’s marvelous.

There are eight adventurers on the trip and, despite all those names that begin with “A” in the quote, they’re easy to keep track of.  Forman does very well defining his large cast of side characters, giving them enough individuality to be distinct without over-taking Alex.

I was very impressed by the over-all quality of this book.  I’m anxiously awaiting the second one to come in at the library and are they ever being poky about it.  I was most impressed because there were so many things that weren’t the norm, but it didn’t feel like the author was trying to BE DIFFERENT in his writing.  This book felt natural in its differences, I am excited to see if they are maintained in the next installment.

Reasons I chose this book above all others:

  • Treatment of magic.
  • Large cast of characters, all distinct.
  • Unforced self-discovery in the main character.  Crises happen, but they don’t require the main character to suddenly change.
  • This book surprised me.

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P.S.  There has been an influx of writers from Utah/Idaho in the YA/C industry in the past few years.  Off the top of my head, I can name Brandon Mull (Fablehaven, Candy Shop Wars, The Beyonders), James Dashner (The Maze Runner, The Jimmie Fincher Saga), N.D. Wilson (100 Cupboards), and now M.L. Forman (Adventurers Wanted Series).  I don’t know if they’re all LDS (commonly know as Mormons), though it certainly wouldn’t surprise me, but I know at least three of them are.  I am sure there are more LDS authors (I have a sneaky suspicion about Obert Skye (Leven Thumps series, Pillage Trilogy), but that’s all that is).

While I am not complaining by any stretch of the imagination, it has been an interesting phenomenon to see.  All these nationally acclaimed books for young adults and children that I don’t have to worry about a single bit.  I know if I pick up books by those five authors, I am always in for a good, clean read without being preached at (which can be something of a problem in LDS authors, or any religious author).  Some, admittedly, are better than others.  But all are good enough that I would re-read any of them.  Thankfully, without exception, I suspected the religious connection after I read and liked at least one of the books by each author. That fact does make me feel better about supporting them.  (Oh, I guess Stephanie Meyer (Twilight, The Host) belongs on this list, but I really don’t like her half so much as these men.  Also, she can be a little preachy, so she sort of falls in the “Mormon author, but not that great” category.)  So, if you notice more LDS authors on this blog (no plans in that direction as yet), I beg you not to assume bias.  There have been a couple in the past week, but this is not because I feel I “have to” support them by any means. They get in on their merit alone.

North, you dummy!

I fell in love with Beauty and the Beast when I was a young girl.  It was the first movie I remember going to with my dad (actually, it’s just the first movie I remember being in the theatre for).  I remember grabbing his hand and clutching it tight when the beast came in a frightened Belle’s father.

It took me quite some time to realize the most popular version, the one Disney based their’s off of, was boring and dull.

Thankfully, I realized in time to be saved from a long life of the drab version of one of the most varied and distinct faerie tales on this earth.  Nearly every culture has at least one Beauty and the Beast story, some multiple versions.  East by Edith Pattou, is a novelization of the Norwegian version, called “East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon.”  Truly, my favorite version of them all.  And let me tell you, there are some phenomenal contenders.

Pattou went about writing this book because she felt the original tale had plot-holes.  I don’t see them myself (if you want a great version of the tale, by the way, get the book illustrated by P.J. Lynch), but I can understand the urge.

Because she felt so much of the story was untold, especially in the sense of motivations, Pattou wrote East from multiple points of view: Rose (our Beauty), the White Bear (our Beast), Rose’s Father, Rose’s brother, and the Troll Queen (our enchantress).  At first, the constant switching got a little tiresome.  However, as I got used to the style, I realised this book was much like a rose itself, slowly opening petal by petal.  Yes, the multiple points of view make the chapters almost too short, but when considered an individual petal, the small chapters seem to make more sense.  All the outer petals must open before you can get to the large bud in the center.

Okay, done with that metaphor.  Apt, but felt stupid writing it all the same.

As much as I hate the Troll Queen for believing for a moment she had the right to own a human life, much less steal it, I think she is my favorite narrator in the entire book.  Perhaps it is because she’s an infrequent narrator at best that these looks into a mind so selfish, but so in love, are completely fascinating.  I also think it’s partially due to Pattou’s care.  She explains in her author’s note that that was one of the character’s motivations she understood the least in the original tale.  I believe this is another reason why she is the best.

Thankfully, even though the Troll Queen is clearly superior, the narrators are all good.  And, better yet, they are all distinct.  Neddy (the brother) is gentle and sweet, Father is constantly worried, the White Bear can barely string a few words together (which was quite the effect), and Rose is head-strong yet not so much as to be a brat.  Just marching to the beat of her own drummer.  I can say, with confidence, that had the author switched voices without labeling who was speaking at the beginning of each chapter, I would have been able to recognize each in their turn.  That was very well done.

Not only is the book split into five narrators, it is split into five sections, each titled after a cardinal point on the compass.  East, as one might suspect, is repeated.  These sections are well placed, and not even.  I like that.  Though there is much to be told for each phase of Rose’s life, some are more significant than others.  I think each section is connected to a narrator, the one who is most significant at the time.  I would assign them like so:

  • East: Neddy
  • South: The White Bear
  • West: Rose
  • North: The Troll Queen
  • East: Father

That is a matter of some opinion, though.  I think many people would see Father in the first East, and the White Bear in the second East.  This is merely my reckoning of the form and shape of book.  I’ve been known to be wrong many times before, and will be again for certain.  However, it is interesting to me that the section I like best is also the one that I feel belongs to my favorite narrator.

Technically, I suppose, there is a sixth narrator, the anonymous narrator who finds the manuscript in the Prologue.  Usually I am a fastidious reader of Prologues, but this one I somehow missed all three times I read the book.  I just found it tonight, and am somewhat glad of the fact.  The Prologue is good.  I think I would have preferred it as an Epilogue.  I recommend reading it that way, there is no vital information in it (as befits a good Prologue).

It’s funny, but it was only this last time around reading that I began to dislike the Beauty character, and not just in East, but in all versions of Beauty and the Beast.  I don’t know if this book revealed it to me, but the beauty strikes me as incredibly selfish.  She’s offered a choice to join the Beast to spare her family from poverty and certain death, but then acts as if her decision was somehow forced.  She then requires the Beast to take her back to her family, breaking his trust the first time, and when she returns from her family, she breaks his trust a second time.  I’ve always felt bad for the Beast, but now I really hate the situation he’s in!

I like that this book put that new perspective on for me.  I’ve written my own novella version of the tale, and my Beauty has the same problem.  I think it’s inherent to the role.  But, unlike The Little Mermaid (Disney version), she overcomes that selfishness to be a better person and to think more of others.  This is the important role of Rose, to show the capacity of the human spirit to be genuinely good against all odds.

Of course, there were things I did not like, but they were few and far between.  I felt that taking the setting from the Norwegian land (where it begins) to France was an unnecessary homage to what is considered to be “the original.”

Rose can be a real idiot sometimes.  She’s the daughter of a mapmaker, grand-daughter of a famous explorer and it takes her forever to figure out that “east of the sun, west of the moon” (her directions to the Troll Queen’s castle) could mean North.  Of course there’s no such place!  But, if you meet in the middle of the sun and the moon (which rise and fall as clear opposites of each other), but still need to keep moving away from them, how do you do that?  Well, I’m about as directionally challenged as they come, but even I know when the sun is at her height in the sky (noon), it is positioned due south in the Northern hemisphere.  So, to continue away from the sun, you would have to move North.  It seems to silly to me that Rose, who is much more the adventurer and acutely aware of her background, would not have at least tried some basic logic, even if it seemed like grasping at straws.

I also didn’t like that the personified winds of the tale were replaced with characters.  I like that part of the tale–it makes getting to the palace “East o’ the sun and West o’ the moon” even more impossible.  I still can’t figure out the fourth character who was supposed to be one of the winds, unless it was Rose herself.  That seems…unlikely.

However, these are small details.  I truly feel that this is a standout among novelizations of a faerie tale.  It’s well-paced, not forced, and if it doesn’t fix plot holes for me, it gives an interesting perspective on the original.

Reasons this is challenging for me:

  • It challenges my very strong notions of my favorite faerie tale.
  • It requires me to invest separately, by the two five-way splits, in parts that become a whole.
  • It requires self-examination on how I approach my own faerie tale telling.

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P.S.  This gets me up to date!  Huzzah!  I have one more Weeds Review to do, but as that is supposed to be after the weekly review, I am finally okay with going to bed and not feeling guilty!  YAY!

Old Mother Hubbard would have a field day.

I was that child who was forever looking for a secret passage and ever being disappointed.  I still want a huge, but hidden slide that starts in my closet and ends on the ground floor, designed to be super-fast so my children never know when I might show up or from where.  Yes, that is a vital component in my dream house (unless I get to live in a library, then I would make the slide from ceiling to floor with exits on each floor for the patrons–still a vital component).

With this in mind, were I to find myself in the situation that young Henry and Henrietta do in 100 Cupboards by N.D. Wilson, I would have died from hyperventilation, or at least given myself a severe concussion from when I fainted to the floor from standing on my bed.  You see, behind the plaster of Henry’s wall in his aunt and uncle’s house is a wall of 100 cupboards leading to different worlds. This way trumps my hidden slide (but I still want it).

The concept is really fun, but I’ll admit, reading 100 Cupboards was an odd experience.  I couldn’t ever really tell if I enjoyed the book or not.  Sure, fascinating, but enjoyable?  Not so sure.

I chose this book to read for the blog as part of the YA/C literature component I wanted to mix back into my reading, lest I get into a rut with non-fiction (more about the whys in Monday’s “Journey” post).  I chose it based on nothing but Amazon.com reviews and plot summaries.  Not an easy way to determine whether the book is challenging, but I had a good idea that the world creation was pretty unique, and that was enough for me.  I always find created worlds challenging to absorb; it’s  a wonder I got into fantasy at all.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the movie Treasure Planet (and if you haven’t, what ARE you waiting for?!), but 100 Cupboards has a similar concept to Jim’s treasure map.   For those of you uninitiated, I’ll explain:

Jim’s super-awesome, high-tech map gizmo thingy (technical term right there) projects an interactive, room-sized hologram of the solar system when NOT connected to the planet itself.  When connected to Treasure Planet (which is an amazing self-sustaining machine), it projects a much smaller version of the interactive star/planet map and a ginormous door.  Each planet, if touched, can activate a door to said planet’s airspace.  It’s pretty freaking awesome.

Now, take the same concept and apply it to a wall of cupboards.  The wall is the planet, acting as both power source and main gateway hub.  Cupboard Prime (as I like to call it, as it is the only cupboard unnumbered) is the interactive map controlling the door, with two dials creating combinations to unlock the doorways.  The door is in another room.  Unsurprisingly, it is also a cupboard.  The reason the cupboard wall is so much cooler than an interactive holographic star map is that the wall offers previews to each world through the cupboards.  That is, if you can get them open.  Most are locked.  Those that aren’t probably should be (creepy voyeuristic letter-sending cretins).

Part of me could spend all day thinking about the physics off this.  But, of course, it’s all very undetermined as of the end of the book.  I cannot tell if these cupboard portals are supposed to be portals to different worlds, parallel worlds, worlds hidden in ours, or a mixture of all three.  I think the last case would be sloppy, if a little more interesting than the first option.  Once I feel more confident in the worlds, I’ll contemplate the physics.  Because I like doing that sort of thing.

One of the things I liked best was, despite all those worlds to discover, the sheer amount of time spent in this world.  I love fantasy adventures that require the characters and the reader to keep one foot in this world.  The crazy uncle (and cousins, to some extent) put me strongly in mind of a crazy character named Joe from The Jimmy Fincher Saga by James Dashner.  Since Joe was my favorite character, that made me glad.  There’s just something charming about a man who sells tumbleweeds on Ebay.  Henry, the main character, spends quite a bit of time learning simple things like baseball, the taste of soda (as well as the after-effects of caffeine), and what it is to be in a family.

This is because Henry’s parents seem to know nothing but “the real world” and expect the same of their child.  Cupboards feels less like a fantasy adventure novel and more like a plain ol’ adventure novel.  With the sheltered and, frankly, soul-killing boring existence he lived in before, this kid was liable to find any trouble possible.

There was a journal that guided and gave directions on the operating of the cupboards that had labels and illustrations.  Thankfully, said illustration was included as the cover piece.  As I have said before, I LOVE maps and appendices and all those wonderful things that make up the visual of the book.  I just wish this one was a little more accurate.  The map in the book is dated 1691 (this is not at all accurate with the timeline of the novel) and is clearly a pencil drawing.  Before you get in a huff, I know graphite and pencils have been around in art for a long time–this is not that kind of graphite drawing, the lines are waaaaaaayyy too neat.  If the drawing had simply been inked, I would not have a word against it … other than the weird date.

I did like the cousins.  Henry’s cousins are all females, all complete conundrums, and only one is clearly frivolous (and that has more to do with age than innate light-mindedness).  I like sibling relationships and seeing Henry fall into one is nice, since even surrounded by company he still acts like a lonely boy.  Henrietta is especially wonderful, but then again, she is the one we see the most of.  I have to believe that Penelope and Anastasia would be similarly good if given some book-time.

Unfortunately, there were some parts that just felt contrived.  There’s nothing to be done for it, they just did.  I appreciate how hard it must be to create so many distinct worlds in such a short time, but there is something to be said for setting up far-fetched situations believeably.  Certainly, I was disappointed that finding the wall of cupboards had less to do with natural curiosity at an uneven wall or a loose patch of plaster and more to do with the fact that the knobs of Cupboard Prime POPPED out of the plaster while Henry slept. What kind of schlep is that?  It’s lazy schlep, that’s what.  (I know I complain about lazy authors and editors here plenty.  I might mention now that I am also guilty of this at times and it’s something I castigate myself for frequently.  I hate lazy writing from any quarter.)

I think I’d rather read further into the series before I make a recommendation or judgement.  I did read this book in the course of one night.  Part of not knowing whether I liked it or not very well could be how fast I gobbled this book down added with the amount of times I fell asleep (from exhaustion, no comment on the book’s quality there) in the middle of it that night.  I will say that it’s worth looking at to see if it’s something you’d like.

Reasons this is challenging for me:

  • Dealing with world creation that felt against the norm.  Normal’s hard enough for me.
  • The amount of real-world crossover, which makes it simultaneously harder to follow, but also better.

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