Castles at The Hog's Head

My first piece over at The Hog's Head Pub just got posted! If so inclined, you may check out my thoughts on Hogwarts as a Gothic castle:

"Apart from Jane Eyre, Dracula, and the lighthearted mockery that is Northanger Abbey, I have read little Gothic-inspired fiction–even Heathcliff and Cathy are still on my I-suppose-I-ought-to-read-that list. The sense I get, however, from Jonathan Harker’s fearful stay at Dracula’s, and even more so from Jane Eyre’s haunting descriptions of the loved-and-feared Thornfield Hall, is that a good Gothic novel has to have its mysterious ancient building full of secrets."

(read more)


#4. Pride and Prejudice

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Come here, child," cried her father as she appeared. "I have sent for you on an affair of importance. I understand that Mr. Collins has made you an offer of marriage. Is it true?" Elizabeth replied that it was. "Very well--and this offer of marriage you have refused?"

"I have, Sir."

"Very well. We now come to the point. Your mother insists upon your accepting it. Is it not so, Mrs. Bennet?"

"Yes, or I will never see her again."

"An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents.--Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will never see you again if you do."

Author: Jane Austen

Synopsis: Elizabeth Bennet is the second of five daughters born to a mismatched couple: her father is brilliant and quick-witted; her mother is silly and ignorant. Of the entire family, only she and her elder sister Jane manage to conduct themselves in such a way as to appear truly respectable in society. When a rich young man moves to their town, bringing with him two arrogant sisters and a likewise proud and even richer friend, every mother with marriageable daughters begins to scheme. Good-natured Mr. Bingley takes to Jane right away, and before long the reserved and somewhat conceited Mr. Darcy finds himself attracted to Elizabeth. In "a family so deranged", however, there are many obstacles to the potential marriages, and an appealing young man connected with the Darcy family tells appalling stories about Mr. Darcy's character. To make matters worse, Mr. Bingley, his sisters and his friend disappear very suddenly to London without much explanation and apparently without intent of returning. Elizabeth, lively and intelligent, finds her emotions and her information more and more confused.

* * *

Every time I read this book it gets funnier. Jane Austen's wit is subtle and dry and can be found in perfectly casual sentences, and it just never gets old. The above passage made me giggle for several minutes as I hunted for it and typed it, and that's after many, many reads of the book and many watches of the 6-hour A&E movie (which in my opinion is the only movie interpretation that really captures the spirit of the book.)

For complex characters and a solid love story in which the principals grow personally as they learn to love, this book has no superior as far as I know. I also adore quiet plots that take place in the minds and conversations of the characters, and again, Austen masters the genre.

Did I mention that I love this book? I read it about once a year.


#5. C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy

[For the Rules, click here.]

He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him--had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? He began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed to have momentarily vanished.

Author: C.S. Lewis

Synopsis: Two scheming scientists kidnap Dr. Ransom and take him as a gift to the inhabitants of the planet Malacandra (otherwise known as Mars). Ransom manages to escape Weston and Devine, meets sentient creatures of several species, and after learning their language is taken to meet the Oyarsa, guardian spirit of the planet. From there, Ransom must protect Malacandra and later Perelandra (Venus) especially from Weston, who becomes possessed by an evil power and attempts to destroy the innocence of the newly-created first couple of Perelandra (Venus). After returning from Perelandra, Ransom has become Pendragon (a succession from King Arthur), and leads a little band of people and animals in the hunt for the still-alive wizard Merlin, working against a great evil on Earth.

* * *

Lewis's interplanetary fantasy takes a ripping good tale and supports it with theology, morality, history and imagination and alchemical structuring. Over the last couple of years I've started learning about what really makes layered literature, and if there's anything out there more richly mine-able than this series, I don't know about it. But hey--it's Lewis. What else would anyone expect?

I have read Out of the Silent Planet once, Perelandra twice, and That Hideous Strength over and over. All of the books are fascinating, but I particularly identify with the characters, the ideas and struggles, of that final book.


Kanashibari ... and other stories

New article up at Silhouette! Enjoy. It's on the reason I'm afraid to take naps or sleep in.

* * *

We're down to the Top 5 in my Fifty Favorite Books! It makes me feel like celebrating, even though it means I'll shortly have to work up a lot more new content.

I meant to have the list complete by the end of summer, and here we are already four days into fall.... Ah well. The final five will get posted over the next week and a half or so.

* * *

Funny line of the week: "Dear car driving right next to me on the Interstate, Let me get this straight. You’re driving forward and yet your wheels appear to be spinning backwards. I think I deserve an explanation."--Tyler Stanton

* * *

Best new link: Zinger Sandwich. This blog was also eligible for Funny Line of the Week, but there were so many great ones that it was difficult to choose. Besides, I did like that line of Tyler's--I've always wondered about that.

* * *

Most disturbing thing of the week: School kids singing the praises of Obama. How communist can we possibly sound? Don't answer that. I can't even bring myself to watch that video, but I read the lyrics of the song and shuddered. Hat tip to CMR & The Knight Shift.

* * *

Something I need to get done in the next week: Clean a big box of plums and preserve them somehow; this freezer compote looks like the best option. First, however, I am making Hungarian plum dumplings.

* * *

Weather report: What, sun? In late September? I'll take it. I'd be worried that we're going to pay for this, except that we did ... all last year.


Butterbeers for Everyone!

Hand them round, Aberforth ... it's on me!

Travis "The Half-Blood" Prinzi, headmaster of the discussions at The Hog's Head Pub, has asked me and three others to join the Blogengamot. What this means, for those who are unacquainted with the Pub, is that I'm now a contributing writer to one of the greatest sites for serious literary analysis of the Harry Potter series.

Yes, that's right: over two years since we all stayed up all night laughing and crying and getting goosebumps over Deathly Hallows, business at The Hog's Head is still going strong. Travis instituted the Blogengamot awhile back to keep up with the party, and the numbers continue to grow.

Pub patrons keep busy with intelligent discussion of Harry Potter and its connections and influence; we range from downright academic study to read-throughs to geekfests. We deconstruct and point out links to other texts, unearth the mechanics of plot and foreshadowing, and search for the best understandings of controversial matters like Dumbledore's motivations and feminine representation in the books. We talk over writers whose work influences or relates to Rowling's: C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald, H.P. Lovecraft, and others.

Do come by, meet the other "funny folk", and join the debates and discussions! Bring your own glass as Aberforth's may be suspect; he'll pour the firewhisky (and mead or gillywater for those of us who don't like whisky), and we'll talk Potter.


#6. The Ender Wiggin Stories

[For the Rules, click here.]

"It was the miracle of the wafer, changed into flesh in his hands. How suddenly we find the breath of God within us after all, when we thought we were only made of dust."

Author: Orson Scott Card

Synopsis: In Ender's Game, Andrew Wiggin is a Third--a government-permitted child beyond the acceptable two per couple. His sister called him Ender as she learned to pronounce, and the name stuck. He becomes a Chosen One, raised in a Battle School designed to teach interspace military technique to children in anticipation of the third Bugger war. Ender is pushed to and beyond his limits in the school, and after triumphing in all the war games is taken to another station where he practices tactics as a general in a game--a game with deadly consequences.

In Speaker for the Dead, after several thousand years of traveling at relativistic speeds, Ender is an adult of approximately 35. He lives temporarily on an icy planet with his sister Valentine when he gets a call for a Speaker for the Dead--a position inspired by a book he wrote all those years before. Accepting will take him away from his sister, but he cannot resist the tormented heart of the young girl who placed the call. Besides, the Hive Queen thinks the girl's planet, Lusitania, will be a good place to live. Ender travels to Lusitania and finds much more than a simple need for a Speaker: a dread disease that is merely controlled, a sentient species with the habit of murdering their top citizens by evisceration, and a family in great turmoil all await the understanding of Andrew Wiggin, who would be universally hated if he were known by the name of Ender.

* * *

I have only read the first two of this series, and Speaker for the Dead brings the set to the top. That book works on my heart every single time I read it--even when, as I once did, I read it straight through twice in a month.

Ender's Game I have read twice, and it is fantastic and powerful. Speaker is even better. Fascinating character psychology, true love of many kinds, intricate plot, imaginative scientific fantasy, and strong meanings on the allegorical and anagogical levels are all present in both. They should be read in order--Ender's Game first--to get the full impact.


#7. Jane Eyre

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Is it better to drive a fellow-creature to despair than to transgress a mere human law, no man being injured by the breach?--for you have neither relatives nor acquaintances whom you need fear to offend by living with me?"

This was true: and while he spoke my very conscience and reason turned traitors against me, and charged me with crime in resisting him. They spoke almost as loud as Feeling: and that clamoured wildly. "Oh, comply!" it said. "Think of his misery; think of his danger--look at his state when left alone; remember his headlong nature; consider the recklessness following on despair--soothe him; save him; love him; tell him you love him and will be his. Who in the world cares for
you? or who will be injured by what you do?"

Still indomitably was the reply--"
I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God, sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad--as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour: stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth--so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane--quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot."

Author: Charlotte Brontë

Synopsis: Orphaned Jane was taken in as a baby by her uncle, who loved her; after his untimely death, she was raised by her aunt, who hated her. When confrontation with her aunt and cousins reaches a head, Jane is sent off to school, where she eventually becomes a teacher; from teacher to governess, at age eighteen she travels to a lonely country manor to manage the education of the little French ward of a rough and temperamental gentleman. Despite the inequality of situation, Jane learns to love Mr. Rochester, who is her match in looks and personality. He recognizes her as his match and beloved, but his unexplained past stands between them--far more thoroughly than Jane could ever have realized.

* * *

I have called this my favorite book in the past. It is dark, mysterious, full of shadowy ideas and strange visions and wanderings in the night; Jane is plain and straightforward and Mr. Rochester brusque and unhandsome, but their romance is perhaps stronger for their sense of personal deficiencies.

The first read was difficult, but now I get through the long and painful Lowood days easily and move into the more interesting times that begin, for me, when Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love. From thenceforward the tale of justice and mercy--of unyielding law and ultimate grace--moves with speed and passion and fascination. I don't often like modern-day romance, where shock value and sexual description provide the primary hooks; no, thank you. Give me a tale of restraint, where virtues and feelings work their natural tensions upon their subjects and true love wins in the end. Jane Eyre is such a tale--none better.


#8. Persuasion

[For the Rules, click here.]

"If I could explain to you all this, and all that a man can bear and do, and glories to do, for the sake of these treasures of his existence! I speak, you know, only of such men as have hearts!" pressing his own with emotion.

"Oh!" cried Anne eagerly, "I hope I do justice to all that is felt by you, and by those who resemble you. God forbid that I should undervalue the warm and faithful feelings of any of my fellow-creatures. I should deserve utter contempt if I dared to suppose that true attachment and constancy were known only by woman. No, I believe you capable of everything great and good in your married lives. I believe you equal to every important exertion, and to every domestic forbearance, so long as--if I may be allowed the expression, so long as you have an object. I mean, while the woman you love lives, and lives for you. All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one, you need not covet it) is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."

Author: Jane Austen

Synopsis: At nineteen, Anne Elliot fell in love and became engaged. Her baronet father thought the match beneath her, and her best friend thought she risked too much in marrying so young to a man with "nothing but himself to recommend him." Her best friend being almost in the role of a mother, Anne gave up the engagement, and still regrets it eight years later when her ex-fiancé reappears suddenly in her life. Captain Wentworth, determined not to forgive her for the past, is ready to marry any suitable woman, her excepted.

A serious accident, a highly eligible relative interested in Anne, and reverses in fortune play a part in the revival of their romance.

* * *

As the love story here is between a couple in their late twenties--Anne is much older than any of Austen's other heroines--the sympathies are natural for someone who likewise married "late". I have read this book over and over, and the ending is just as perfect every time I read it.

I also have a lot of admiration for Anne, who, despite so many years of things not working out well for her, went about her days faithfully doing her duty. She pulled that off without grousing or bitterness, and that made her likeable. Props to Jane Austen for writing a complex character who makes her readers want to be better people.


Movie Rant ... and other stories

I shouldn't let it get to me so much.

Last night, at a (hilarious and wonderful, by the way!) girls' night with friends, we watched the movie A Walk to Remember, which is based on one of my favorite books, and which is also one of only a handful of movies for which I own the soundtrack. In fact, there are only two movies for which I own both movie and soundtrack; the other one is Phantom of the Opera. In other words, it's a pretty great soundtrack. Mandy Moore's rendition of Jon Foreman's Only Hope still gives me chills.

But the portrayal of Reverend Sullivan in that movie drove me nuts. It didn't help that I'd just been involved in a debate over the basic meanings and worth of sex and virginity and male protectiveness.

In the book, Rev. Sullivan, despite being incredibly awkward looking and a bit of a pulpit-pounder, is a truly good man who loves his daughter. In the movie--well, it's like the scriptwriters thought "Maybe that idea would have been believable in the Fifties, but nowadays we all know that any Christian father who tries to protect his daughter from the bad boys is a control freak who demeans his daughter and dehumanizes her boyfriend. We'll make him look fierce and he just won't have any subtlety. People will believe that." The sad thing is, people apparently do believe that.

Getting defensive is admittedly one of my biggest faults. I shouldn't let this stuff get to me. But they shouldn't talk about my people like that.

Anyway, I signed onto Facebook this morning and it proved relaxing. Travis had linked this article from the Front Porch Republic; I read it and it was just too brilliant not to pass on.

Logos had linked to Starfield, and I had forgotten about Starfield. Their song "Reign in Us" (the third track on their site right now) is my favorite song to come from popular Christian music since Switchfoot's album with "Dare You to Move" and "Only Hope". Or at least since Third Day's "Cry Out to Jesus". Admittedly, I haven't listened to much, but still.


#9. Emma

[For the Rules, click here.]

"I shall not scold you. I leave you to your own reflections."

"Can you trust me with such flatterers? Does my vain spirit ever tell me I am wrong?"

Author: Jane Austen

Synopsis: Emma Woodhouse has the position--lucky or otherwise--of being richer and cleverer than almost everyone else she knows. Her father is too aged, shallow, and sedentary to keep up with her; her governess is more like a chum; the other well-educated girl in town is reserved and cool with her; and only Mr. Knightley, her friend and neighbor, ever offers her anything like straightforward correction. She does well enough till she makes a project of a pretty school-girl, however, and when her governess's new stepson comes to town with much charm and flirtation, she is high-spirited enough to play his games. Matchmaking and flirting nearly prevent Emma from gaining knowledge of her own heart and the one man who could hold it well.

* * *

Emma did not start off as my favorite Austen novel, but it has grown on me a lot in the last few years. Perhaps the lead character's growth in understanding the vital importance of honour, both in self and in the person chosen as a spouse, have raised it in my esteem. Is it weird that I like "the moral of the story" so much? I don't know. Morals work in story only if the story takes precedence in both author's and readers' minds, and nobody did this better than Miss "Manners and Morals" herself, Jane Austen.

Mr. Knightley is right up at the top of my "Great Fictional Heroes" list. He is honest, good-natured (most of the time), and has solid opinions which he is not afraid to voice when necessary. He also has the invaluable skills of being a gentleman when others are fools and jerks and of drawing boundaries and making sure they are not crossed.

I enjoyed the Kate Beckinsale movie adaptation and have seen it several times, but did not so much like the Gwyneth Paltrow one (though I don't really remember why).


#10. The Chronicles of Narnia

[For the Rules, click here.]

"One word, Ma'am," he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. "One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

Author: C.S. Lewis

Synopsis: Sent to a magnificent old house in the country to escape the air raids in London, the four Pevensie children discover a path through a wardrobe into a different world--a world of magic and danger, where even children must be heroes. Throughout the seven books, the Pevensies turn out to be neither the first nor the last of Adam's sons and Eve's daughters to visit the world; the Seven Friends of Narnia (and the eighth) between them see its beginning, explore its farthest reaches, and witness its end.

* * *

The first time I read Narnia was in the back seat of the family car as we moved from Florida to Montana when I was seven. I got through six and a half of the books on that six-day trip. Since then, I've read all of those books multiple times again, taken one seven-week class on their meanings, and seen two different partial sets of movie adaptations. Now I just need to read Michael Ward's Planet Narnia, and I'll be all set.

Few writers match C.S. Lewis in ability to communicate through their chosen medium. I'll be pretty happy if I do half as well. Lewis understood mythology and Christianity, logic and imagination, and had mastered the tricky art of communicating great complexity with real simplicity. I call that genius.

The Horse and His Boy is probably my favorite of the Chronicles; I've certainly read it the most times. But The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe is powerful, too, and The Silver Chair speaks to me very personally. The quote above is from The Silver Chair.


#11. The Twilight Saga

[For the Rules, click here.]

I'd had more than my fair share of near-death experiences; it wasn't something you ever really got used to.

It seemed oddly inevitable, though, facing death again. Like I really was marked for disaster. I'd escaped time and time again, but it kept coming back for me.

Still, this time was so different from the others.

You could run from someone you feared, you could try to fight someone you hated. All my reactions were geared toward those kinds of killers--the monsters, the enemies.

When you loved the one who was killing you, it left you no options. How could you run, how could you fight, when doing so would hurt that beloved one? If your life was all you had to give your beloved, how could you not give it?

If it was someone you truly loved?

Author: Stephenie Meyer

Synopsis: Bella Swan has exiled herself to the tiny peninsula town of Forks, WA, which gets as much rainfall as anywhere in the continental U.S. She expects a quiet life with her reserved father, along with a frustrating but hopefully unexceptional last year and a half of high school. On her first day, however, she is confronted by the open and clearly personal hatred of Edward Cullen, who is inhumanly beautiful and somehow set apart from his classmates. Not long afterward, he saves her life under impossible circumstances. Determined to know his secret, Bella finds herself caught up into a strange existence that is half horror story and half fairy tale--a tale that before long she could not escape, even if she wanted to.

* * *

I've written about Twilight before, at some length. But to sum up: I had to be talked into reading the series, after laughing out loud at the excerpt on the back cover of the first book (it was meant to be romantic, not funny); once I got going, though, I read all four books four times in five months. How did a teen vampire romance wind up in my top 50? The short answer is that it proved far more than a teen book or a vampire genre story or a romance.

The books are outselling almost everything else for reasons: They are speaking to people on a deeper heart-level than most of what's out there is managing. Without overt religious content, Twilight--like Harry Potter, Narnia, and other great fantasies--offers something to starving souls. Starting with a return of the concepts of mystery and restraint in things that could be called sacred. Then there's a scene in New Moon that expresses what battling agnosticism was like for me so perfectly--but there, I'm getting ahead of myself.

RRR: The Forks High School Professor website. John Granger made a name for himself writing about the Christian hermetic meanings of Harry Potter, and now he's working on (the Mormon-themed) Twilight as well.


Abide with Me

This morning I walked along the beach with one of my sisters. It was gray and chilly at first, and we drank almond mochas and laughed over old movies that we'd watched together and ranted about nationalized health care.

There, with clouds overhead and wet grass underfoot, I had one of those strange timeless moments--the kind where you look at a family member and remember the way you both were so many years long past. Twenty years ago, we played games together and tattled on each other and bickered. Ten years ago, we played more sophisticated games together and talked over everything and were inseparable. Now I look at her and see a person whose world is rather bigger than her big sister, whose ideas are sometimes quite different from mine, and I felt the change of life and the relative insignificance of my own.

Again and again I've been drawn back to re-watch the Hayley Westenra video I posted a few weeks ago, almost always finding myself moved to tears by the end. My hymnal, always open on an antique music stand in the study, is now open to #419. Miss Westenra's lovely version of that splendid old hymn has run through my head--without wearing out its welcome--off and on for over two weeks.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day
Earth's joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

That comforts me, even when it makes me cry.

* * *

The sun came out. We both took off our sweaters. Autumn has a way of going from almost-winter to almost-summer in minutes. My mood lifts with the sunlight, and my sister is my friend and my novel-world still needs some serious plotting and Lou and I have a date with Beethoven. Change in life can be good as well as weird or hard. And for all my fumbling praises and complicated intercessions, my comfort and my ultimate prayer for myself--and, changing the pronouns, for my loved ones--is this simple request:

In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.


#12. Ben-Hur

[For the Rules, click here.]

"Fair Egyptian," the merchant replied, nodding with grave politeness, "your father is a good man who would not be offended if he knew I told you his Persian lore is the least part of his wisdom."

Iras's lip curled slightly.

"To speak like a philosopher, as you invite me," she said, "the least part always implies a greater. Let me ask what you esteem the greater part of the rare quality you are pleased to attribute to him."

Simonides turned upon her somewhat sternly.

"Pure wisdom always directs itself toward God; the purest wisdom is knowledge of God; and no man of my acquaintance has it in higher degree, or makes it more manifest in speech and act, than the good Balthasar."

Author: Lew Wallace

Synopsis: Judah Ben-Hur lives with his mother and sister in a beautiful home, proud to be a Jew but interested in becoming a soldier. When his childhood friend betrays him, throwing mother and sister into a leprous prison cell and putting Ben-Hur himself into chained service at the oars of warships, Ben-Hur develops a desire for revenge. During a great battle, Ben-Hur saves Arrius the duumvir's life and is adopted as his son, becoming a Roman, but his heart is still full of zeal for the Jewish people and bitterness at the wrongs done him. Encounters with one of the Magi--Balthasar--and daughter Iras, with a Sheikh from the desert, and with family servant Simonides and daughter Esther, prepare him for the greatest encounter of all: finding the Messiah.

* * *

I love this book. It took me a long time to pick a quote; there were at least three that I thought worthy of inclusion, not counting my favorite part (where Ben-Hur figures out which of the beautiful young women he really loves).

There is an awful lot of focus on revenge in the story, and the portrayal of Christ is certainly subjective, but it is an interesting tale drawn from history and tradition and told with all the grand old glories of love and war.


#13. L.M. Montgomery's Anne Books

[For the Rules, click here.]

"When I left Queen's my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road. I thought I could see along it for many a milestone. Now there is a bend in it. I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does. It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla. I wonder how the road beyond it goes--what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows--what new landscapes--what new beauties--what curves and hills and valleys further on."

Author: Lucy Maud Montgomery

Synopsis: Orphaned Anne Shirley is brought by mistake from the orphanage to brother-and-sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who had planned on taking in a boy. The mistake proves a turning point for all their lives, and Anne brings new life and love to Green Gables. Her talkative nature, her sensitivity, and her imagination get her in trouble from time to time, but she makes many a true friend and becomes particularly loved by one of them.

* * *

I loved all the Anne books--but if the truth be told, Rilla of Ingleside is probably my favorite. It tells the story of Anne's youngest daughter, who grows up during World War I, and L.M. Montgomery's capacity for humor and pathos are thoroughly developed in that book. Still, I've read and re-read the lot; Anne of the Island and Rainbow Valley are two others I particularly enjoy.

Like Fanny Price, Anne appeals to me through her love of books and nature. Her starry-eyed delight in life and her imagination have been a strong influence over my mind, and I tend to see the world almost as much a magical place as she does.


#14. The Little Princess

[For the Rules, click here.]

Here was Lavinia's opportunity.

"Ah, yes, your royal highness," she said. "We are princesses, I believe. At least one of us is. The school ought to be very fashionable now Miss Minchin has a princess for a pupil."

Sara started toward her. She looked as if she were going to box her ears. Perhaps she was. Her trick of pretending things was the joy of her life. She never spoke of it to girls she was not fond of. Her new 'pretend' about being a princess was very near to her heart, and she was shy and sensitive about it. She had meant it to be rather a secret, and here was Lavinia deriding it before nearly all the school. She felt the blood rush up into her face and tingle in her ears. She only just saved herself. If you were a princess, you did not fly into rages. Her hand dropped, and she stood quite still a moment. When she spoke it was in a quiet, steady voice; she held her head up, and everybody listened to her.

"It's true," she said. "Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one."

Author: Frances Hodgson Burnett

Synopsis: Sara Crewe, the only child of her rich, widowed father, had everything a little girl could ever want until her father's ruin and death left her a pauper on the hands of her boarding school. The cruel headmistress, Miss Minchin, puts her to work in the scullery, but Sara continues to pretend she is a princess in rags. Meanwhile, her father's close friend searches the world over for her.

* * *

I've enjoyed all three of Francis Hodgson Burnett's most popular books--Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Secret Garden, and The Little Princess--but this one is my favorite by far.

I'm not a big fan of the author's "Beautiful Thought" (a variant on the unhealthy "New Thought" philosophy), which shows up most clearly in The Secret Garden; on the surface and moral levels, however, I found The Little Princess an engaging tale and one I have emulated to some extent all my life.


#15. Madeleine L'Engle's Time Series

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"It's much too wild a night to travel in."

"Wild nights are my glory," Mrs. Whatsit said. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course."

"Well, at least till your socks are dry--"

"Wet socks don't bother me. I just didn't like the water squishing around in my boots. Now don't worry about me, lamb." (Lamb was not a word one would ordinarily think of calling Mrs. Murry.) "I shall just sit down for a moment and pop on my boots and then I'll be on my way. Speaking of ways, pet, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract."

Author: Madeleine L'Engle

Synopsis: Meg Murry doesn't fit in at school. She can ace any math work but doesn't care much about other subjects; she also spends a lot of time in the principal's office, and is always ready to physically defend her little brother, prodigy Charles Wallace. Her father has disappeared. When Charles Wallace introduces her to three unusual women, and fellow genius Calvin O'Keefe joins the adventure, Meg finds herself on many-dimensional journeys to save her father and brother, in which she must learn to move beyond herself through love.

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I've only read the first three of the Time quintet, but loved those. A Wind in the Door is my favorite, probably due to the concept of Naming. It has been years since I read the third installment--like, probably 20 years--so I ought to read that again, and I should probably look up the last two, but A Wrinkle in Time and A Wind in the Door are so good that the series had to make this list.



First: The sweetest phone solicitor conversation I've ever heard. Ever.

Also, for the readers and writers among us:

“We may never know what lies behind a certain turn of phrase, a choice of image, a decision about a character. But we can be sure that such writerly choices are not made in isolation, even if a writer thinks they're working completely "on their own." There's really no such thing as "on your own" when you join in the long conversation of creativity that flows down through the ages. When you step up to the pot to create your "own" recipe, you never really start from scratch.”--Beth the Bookworm on literary influence

Hat tips to CMR for the first, The Hog's Head for the second.

I'll try to get back to Fifty Favorite Books tomorrow.


Late Summer Thoughts

September first always feels a little like the end of summer, despite the almost three weeks left until the equinox. Though I've seen little red and yellow in the trees yet, the leaves have the dry, battered look of late summer. The nights fall earlier, we have clouds and rain more often, and everything is back-to-school in the stores.

(I love back-to-school sales. I cannot walk through WalMart right now without admiring the colors on the notebooks—only fifteen cents for a single-subject spiral-bound!—and checking the patterns on the Trapper Keepers to see if they have anything with unicorns. It takes a lot of self-control to walk out of that store with no more than the items I came in to buy.)

The ending of summer troubles me, though the season has usually worn me down a little with its routine-busting spontaneity and special projects. A walk outside without shivering, a long glance at the bright green and blue of the weeping willow down the street silhouetted against the sky—these charms will shortly go away and will not return for long months. We'll have the short and fantastically lovely spell in October where the willow turns golden and the oak turns red; then the entire world goes gray until late March.

I like color and contrast and light. Gray overwhelms me. In some winter days around here, the clouds are so heavy that at the height of day the brightness may hardly surpass twilight.

With more than four months of cold and rain and gray and other doldrum-inducers, I have to look for things to be happy about. Here, then, are notes from my consolation list; reasons, as it were, for happiness after the end of summer.

Autumn color. I do love it so much. It can be so beautiful around here—last year we had fire and glory in the trees, the only really lovely thing the weather did all year excepting sunshine on my wedding day.

Holidays. Halloween, All Saints' Day, Thanksgiving, Advent, Christmas, New Years' … I love the holiday season. My birthday being in January helps to break up the endlessness of the post-holiday winter months.

Wrapping up in a blanket and reading. The best way to beat winter is to make a cozy home, keep warm food and drink around, and read ripping good tales amongst the comforts. Flannel sheets are another great cold-banisher, though when spring comes back I'll be excited about the cool cotton ones.

Candles and lamps. I hate giving up sunlight, but when I have to, soft light is the sweetest substitute.

Routine. Lou and I thrive on it, individually and as a couple. I like having orderly days and weeks. We don't depend on school for scheduling any more, but enough of society does that social life seems to fall into something nearer calm regularity.

NaNoWriMo. I have finally decided which story to write for my first NaNo adventure, though two of my other potential plots still sometimes wave at me shouting “Pick me! Pick me! It's not November first yet!” It's not going to be easy, but I have a lot of thoughts about this theme now; another time, that might not hold true.

This year: Rome. I have spent a lot of time on Rick Steves' site. After reading his suggestions several times, I've run a practice pack and discovered that I should not have any trouble packing for the entire fortnight in, as he recommends, a 21”x13”x9” backpack (limited to 20lb). Sweet freedom! Lou and I are also studying Italian in preparation. This is challenging, as I'm a know-it-all who doesn't like being regularly bested by anyone, even the best man in the world. (Lou has years of Latin and a previous attempt on Italian in his favor, not to mention the fact that he's smarter than I am.) Remember Hermione in Potions class, when Harry scores better than she does thanks to the Half-Blood Prince? That's me getting beat in a language study, frizzing hair and all.

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Should it please God, I have much worth anticipating in fall and winter. I'll look further in January.