Currently Reading: Forest Born

Forest Born (The Books of Bayern, #4)Ma felt [Rin’s] forehead, her cheeks, made her stick out her tongue, prodded her belly, listened to her elbows for creaks, pulled down her earflaps to look for rash. “Seem fine. You not feeling fine?”

Rin shrugged again. She’d never bothered anyone about the spiny things in her heart. It did not seem right to complain, especially not to Ma, who worked from the moment her eyes opened until she groaned as she lay down at night. Maybe everyone felt knotted like that but it just was not something spoken aloud. Or maybe only Rin was all wrong.

Author: Shannon Hale

Synopsis: The quiet one in a large, active Forest family, Rin has always run to the trees for peace—until the day she wanted something for herself too much, and the trees began whispering horror back at her. Terrified, Rin leaves the Forest for Bayern’s capital, where her brother Razo’s girl gets her a job helping care for the queen’s little son. But the boy is in danger, and Bayern faces deadly attack from the nearby kingdom of Kel. Despite the horror, Rin’s connection with the trees may help save lives.

Notes: I’ve now read all the Bayern books, and loved all the heroines. The Goose Girl is my favorite, both the book and the girl, but I felt a unique and strong connection with Rin as well.

After taking us through wind, fire and water in the three previous books, Hale leads us to the forest, a realm of quiet, ancient thoughts. The heroine she places there is silent and tormented with a sort of tree-rot inside herself, an overwhelming and inescapable sense of her own wrongdoing. Rin’s self-loathing comes from the sort of memories that healthy young people in good families regret—a moment of verbally bullying another child, a powerful lie, a stolen kiss—and the torment of those memories takes over her life and personality.

Having given her protagonist the burden of guilt, Hale sets about using the symbolism of trees and the methodology of courageous self-giving to set things right. Goose girl Isi serves as mentor, with Enna as comic relief and Dasha as stranger-becoming-sister. Among the “fire-sisters”, so called because all three of them can speak elemental languages including that of fire, young Rin learns to face her own strengths and weaknesses.

Hale has called this an incredibly difficult book to write, probably her hardest, and I could understand that, particularly if spunky Miri (Princess Academy) is the character most like Shannon herself. Rin spends much of the book absolutely frozen in fear, terrified to speak or act, and maintaining interest in a protagonist who will hardly say or do anything is an immense challenge. Rin’s fears and darkness permeate the story, and though the book has its funny moments, it doesn’t have the romance or the sparkling thrills of Hale’s others. Rin’s journey and victory are like Ents, like trees: slow, still and quiet, internal.

Which, of course, is why I loved Rin so much. I felt like I was her, like I knew all of a sudden why I fall in love with big old trees, and what was happening when I said mean things to my sisters when I was younger or when I’d set myself to get my own way no matter what. I understood the secret the trees finally gave Rin for dealing with herself, and thought I could sense some way to try applying it in my own life, through faith in which a tree is centrally symbolic. A book is like a mirror, said Georg Christoph Lichtenberg; I’m not sure I’ve ever found one so clear. Of course, the best mirroring books will be different for everyone; this one worked for me.

As always, Hale’s imagination is vivid, sensory, her magic and her settings and her characters all alive and tangible. The only thing I missed from this book was the sweet romance she portrays so brilliantly; I had hoped we’d get to actually see Rin right a certain wrong. The book was primarily about Rin finding herself, and I understood that; I also understood why the last scene in the book was what it was. It was still a happy ending. It was just the kind of happy ending that makes me itch to write a scene of fan fiction.

I also suspect the book was subtly alchemical, and there seemed to be some ring composition/symbolism going on. I’d like to study the tree symbolism in it a bit, too, as I think that aspect is the first and potentially the strongest relief from what might otherwise have been just a tale of self-actualization (besides outright tragedy, there are few things more lonely or disappointing than just self-actualization.) Between the ancient elm in which Rin meets transformation, and the even more ancient aspen grove, there’s some interesting thought to work with.

Recommendation: Read it under a tree, and then go hug your family.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books on My Winter To-Read List

Sometime in between writing three novels and attempting to get a finished one published, there actually are a few books I hope to read this winter. Fortunately for reading time, there's not much I can do in the garden these days.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Of course, I read only five of my ten Autumn to-reads. We'll see how I do with winter's.

1. Emily Climbs and Emily's Quest by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I just re-read Emily of New Moon and must, must, must read the sequels.

2. The Battle of the Labyrinth (Percy Jackson #4) by Rick Riordan. Book three was too hilarious to not keep going with the series.

3. Lilith by George MacDonald. If I keep this near the top of my reading list, someday I might just get around to it.

4. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. While I've never brought home her paranormal romance series, her writing is lovely and the plot of this story looks fascinating.

5. Crossed by Ally Condie. Out of love for Matched, and despite my general dislike of dystopians. I'm simultaneously hopeful and terrified.

6. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It keeps haunting me lately, reminding me that I meant to re-read it in autumn.

7. Something by Tolstoy. Considering that it took my getting the flu to finish the bulky, shadowy ramble that was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I think I'd better schedule a week of fever and sore throat and stuffy head for sometime after Christmas if I hope to get through Anna Karenina or War and Peace.

8. Something by Brandon Sanderson; maybe Mistborn. Recommendations, anyone?

9. At least begin Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. I keep telling myself I'm going to do this.

10. Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God. I haven't actually read it through in years, but blogging about it yesterday made me want to.

Also, I've entirely forgotten what my book club's winter books might be. Fortunately, we give over responsibility and have a party in December. No one has to read anything; we just gather around and admire Agnes' Yule log. It's like something out of a magazine.

What do you plan to read during the snows and freezes and flu season?


Sacred Time and Murderous Fairies

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

The holidays have arrived! Thanksgiving weekend closed with the first Sunday of Advent, in honor of which I caught the flu, unfortunately missing the first day of the new Mass translations and everything. But among the changes introduced by the season is the blogalectic's temporary shift into a discussion we can all more or less post freeform upon.

"Sacred time," said Mr. Pond, by way of topic suggestion. "In the quotidian," added Masha. And though we spoke of talking primarily as artists, as it turns out I can't think how to separate this idea from religion.
"O my God, since Thou art with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and prosper me with Thy assistance. Receive all my works, and possess all my affections."—Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God
If only I were close to making all my time sacred, to devoting the proper hours to work and prayer and not to futzing around on the Internet or marathoning through insanely creepy 800-page novels on the excuse that I have the flu. I confess I'm not. And it's hard to be sorry when I know that thanks to the novel-binge, I can now spend the hours before bedtime working on my own stories and not reading madly, convinced that I'm condemning myself to dream about murderous fairies.

But there's no time like Advent for remembering that I never regret having prayed morning prayer, that getting meals ready in reasonable time is a worthwhile act of love, that minimizing the Internet and maximizing Scrivener will nearly always leave me happier about my day. Or that all of these things can be done in devotion.
[Brother Lawrence] examined himself how he had discharged his duty; if he found well, he returned thanks to God; if otherwise, he asked pardon; and without being discouraged, he set his mind right again, and continued his exercise of the presence of God, as if he had never deviated from it. “Thus,” said he, “by rising after my falls, and by frequently renewed acts of faith and love, I am come to a state, wherein it would be as difficult for me not to think of God, as it was at first to accustom myself to it.”—from The Practice of the Presence of God
That book says some things better than I ever will. It's also short, and every bit as free and online as this blog.

There are, however, a few key things I'd love to talk about in regard to sacred time and the artist: silence and ritual, for instance. I'll save them for the next few weeks.... Masha, the floor's all yours.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Lou and I have a busy one planned: two family gatherings, two packed-out and well-surrounded dinner tables, a grand tour of our new house for all the relatives who haven't seen it yet... We're going to devote ourselves to enjoying family time. This blog returns Monday.

I hope your holiday is filled with good things!


Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'd Love to Invite to Thanksgiving

Have you ever spent a full day with your face and fists and chest pressed against a brick wall, your feet trying to drive you forward, nothing to show for your effort but sweat and scrapes and grit-filled eyes? That's what trying to get anything done yesterday felt like. Apologies for not getting to the blog.

It's a holiday week! And The Broke and The Bookish have given us a holiday theme to go with it. It'll be very hard to keep it to ten, but after all, I only have twelve plates. (And only five chairs. But oh, let's dream.)

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

While we're fantasizing, I’m allowing for authors who have already died. Hey, maybe someday we’ll sit around heaven and talk.

In no particular order:

1. Jane Austen. Wouldn’t that be a night of hilarity?

2. Orson Scott Card. My literary hero.

3. C.S. Lewis. I’d love to call him Jack, but doubt very much I could get past a stammered “Professor Lewis”.

4. JRR Tolkien. He can teach me some Quenya.

5. J.K. Rowling. Not that I’d be able to open my mouth and talk sensibly.

6. George MacDonald. A gruff old gentleman who likes to talk mysticism and fairies. Sounds like fun.

7. Shannon Hale. Whose humor might rival Austen’s, and who could talk to me about publishing high fantasy for young adults.

8. Stephenie Meyer. I just think I’d like her.

9. L.M. Montgomery. Her Anne books have been part of my existence for as long as I can remember. And I think her Emily books may be part of my future.

10. Madeleine L’Engle. She sounds like a lovely person.

Who would you invite?


Endless Devotion and other stories

Five years ago this afternoon, I sat in a coffee shop across from a reserved young man, sipping a mocha and hoping my green cowl-necked shirt looked cute enough. Lou seemed, like me, to be enjoying the fact that we'd progressed from his answering my questions about the Catholic Church—my ostensible reason for being there—to spilling life stories and talking over common experiences with sparkling warm eyes, which had much more to do with the real reason.

That day, I caught my first glimpse of happily-ever-after.

* * *

As of yesterday, I'm approximately halfway through my little novella—right on track to finish in early December.

Currently distracting me: my finished novel. It seemed wise to read through it again, since I worked on it for eighteen months without stopping, and golly... there's something about that story that makes me want to forget about food and sleep and the Internet and everything that makes demands on my time and devote myself to making every line perfect.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: Mike Duran on making the necessary sacrifices. On account of which, I have been thinking about deleting Tweetdeck from my computer. I tend to go to Twitter when I get stuck for ideas, and that's a dangerous wormhole straight to procrastination.

But that's another whole post, in which I go on debating whether Twitter is really worth my time as an aspiring author.

* * *

Music of the week: There's a free download of a Danny Schmidt song, all acoustic and poetic, over at the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity site. I don't know how long it will be up, but it's there as I write. H/T Mark Shea.

* * *

Funny of the week: If you watch more television than I do (shouldn't take much—I don't have a TV), you'll get more of these pairings of literature and pop culture than I did. But I still found some that made me laugh.

* * *

Now I've got a thousand words to write, more novel to read through, a house to clean and dinner to make and a bunch of cooked pumpkin to freeze.... that ought to fill the rest of my day.

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: The Princess and Curdie

The Princess and Curdie (Puffin Classics)“Have you ever heard what some philosophers say--that men were all animals once?”

“No, ma’am.”

“It is of no consequence. But there is another thing that is of the greatest consequence—this: that all men, if they do not take care, go down the hill to the animals’ country; that many men are actually, all their lives, going to be beasts. People knew it once, but it is long since they forgot it.”

Author: George MacDonald

Synopsis: With Princess Irene gone from the country, Curdie finds himself becoming rather dull and ordinary till he nearly kills one of Irene's great-great-grandmother's pigeons. Under instruction from the old Princess, he journeys to rescue Irene and the king from a city grown beastly with corruption.

Notes: All my readerly friends told me that this book, the sequel to The Princess and the Goblin, is better than its predecessor. I’m going to have to agree. The story reads more clearly, with a more straightforward progression of events, and I found it much easier to get into.

I loved the symbolism of growing toward humanity versus beastliness. It’s very obvious, but then, this is a children’s story. Irene’s great-great grandmother (whom, I suspect, is the Princess in the title; Irene herself doesn’t show up till late in the tale) carries on her role of guide and protector in the fight against corruption, both internal and external. Between she and Curdie and the creature Lina and Princess Irene, there is strength to rid the world of much evil.

Curdie, of course, is all kinds of heroic, which makes him quite lovable. He has some downright loathsome enemies to deal with, and does so with the same spirit we remember from the first book.

Irene is a little older, a little sadder and more womanly, and she does well in the little we see from her. I would have taken more from her character, but such was the nature of the story.

I delighted in this book all the way to the last page, and then, in my opinion, it was three paragraphs too long. MacDonald gives us more of this tale’s future than I thought we needed to know. I suppose he thought we needed to know, and it’s his book, but still. Overall, though, the book was a joy to read and two hours well spent.

Recommendation: Read it with the wonder of childhood, and maybe chocolate chip cookies.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Own But Haven't Read Yet

They're on my shelf. They're ready and waiting. And yet I keep going to the library or the bookstore, and reading something else instead.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

To be honest, unless you count a lot of old family books I inherited, I don't have that many.

1. On Walden Pond (Henry David Thoreau). A book of unknown, uncertain interest.

2. Most of Mark Twain’s works. These are some of the old family books; I’ve read a few, but by no means all.

3. King Arthur and His Knights (Sir James Knowles). I’ve read half of it. One of these days, I'll make it all the way through... as a fantasy fan, I'm ashamed of myself for never having read an Arthur legend from start to finish. I've also bought, started, and not finished Tennyson's Idylls of the King.

4. Evelina (Fanny Burney). Every now and then I remember that I own this book, but I'm always in the middle of something else.

5. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (Susanna Clarke). The first few pages of this book captured my attention in spectacular form. The next hundred completely lost it. I don't know whether I'll make it to the end or not.

6. Linnets and Valerians (Elizabeth Goudge). After loving The Little White Horse, I couldn't resist this recent find at a book sale. But I made the mistake of picking up Jonathan Strange first (see above).

7. Chaucer's Poetry. This was Lou’s purchase, and he only just bought it, but I’ve been meaning to read Chaucer forever. After taking three years to get through Dante for the first time, I'm a little afraid of Geoffrey.

8. Cowper's Poetical Works. Another old family book, one I've only flipped through.

9. Some of Lewis' nonfiction: The Abolition of Man, The Pilgrim's Regress, and a couple of others.

10. Lilith (George MacDonald). I keep getting distracted, but this is definitely on my to-read list.

What books are sitting unread on your shelves?



So, Masha got her post in, but Mr. Pond had too many other deadlines going on. As for me, I've spent the last few days enjoying family time, which was totally fun—lots of niece and nephew time—but now Auntie Jen is ready to collapse on the couch and not move or think for a while. :)

As it happens, we three blogfriends also need a week or two to catch up and figure out what we're going to do with our long-running discussion over the next several weeks. Especially since those weeks take in the holiday season.

Pardon the blip in the blogalectic, if you will, and we'll be back.


A Plethora of Elevens and other stories

11.11.11. I considered turning lunch into elevensies to celebrate, but forgot.

* * *

Also, Veterans' Day.
"We must dread it for a little while yet, I suppose," said Rilla. "Peace won't come—can't come—for some weeks yet. And in those weeks dreadful things may happen. My excitement is over. We have won the victory—but oh, what a price we have paid!"

"Not too high a price for freedom," said Gertrude softly. "Do you think it was, Rilla?"

"No," said Rilla under her breath. She was seeing a little white cross on a battlefield of France. "No—not if those of us who live will show ourselves worthy of it—if we 'keep faith.'"—L.M. Montgomery, Rilla of Ingleside
Love, prayers and thanks to all those who serve and have served in our armed forces!

* * *

Oddly enough, I just looked at my word count for the chapter I'm writing, and it was 1,111. Haha.

This little re-tale is shaping up, uncertainly but continuously, and I'm delighted to see the progress bar hit one-third. Between Thanksgiving festivities, a trip out of town this weekend, and various minor distractions, it's going to be a challenge to stay on pace from here on. But I intend to do my best.

* * *

Last weekend, I pulled down the tomato plants, and wound up with these:

Which I had to hide from Maia, who thinks they're cat toys.
I had no intention of battering and frying that many cherry tomatoes. Hence, salsa verde, which apparently you can make with green tomatoes instead of tomatillos.

Well, salsa verde y naranja.

It took me two hours to chop all that.

Needs beer.

Final verdict: sour, but good. And we have lots.

* * *

Writers' link of the week: We all hear about the Big Six publishing houses; have you ever wondered who they are? Steve Laube explains. Straightforward, simple, and informational.

* * *

Music of the week: I believe I put up a Kina Grannis video months ago, but she keeps moving up in the world. I like this song a lot. Also, this looks like a really hard way to make a video.

* * *

Funny of the week: The man who taught his cat to text message. Occasionally dirty, and it weirds me out a bit that the cat has the same name as my husband, but it's still funny.

* * *

I'm off to get down some more words, sew up a pair of socks, and chill with my husband and cat. Hurrah for Friday night. Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering HeightsWhat were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here?  My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself.  If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.—My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees.  My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.  Nelly, I am Heathcliff!  He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.  So don’t talk of our separation again: it is impracticable; and—’

She paused, and hid her face in the folds of my gown; but I jerked it forcibly away.

Author: Emily Bronte

Synopsis: When Catherine Earnshaw’s father brings home an abandoned gypsy child, she doesn’t start off liking it. Before long, though, she and the boy—christened Heathcliff—become fast in a bond of crazed affection that dominates their lives, their separate marriages, the lives of everyone around them. Their passion will subdue everything but their own self-interests.

Alternate synopsis: A young pair fall madly in love, prove exceptionally selfish, and then go crazy and die.

Notes: After dragging my heels for years, and after numerous recommendations from George, I happened upon the right time and mood to read this book. It proved utterly perfect for a windy Halloween weekend. Heathcliff was the most terrifying human monster I’ve ever read in a book, perhaps excepting Achilles from Ender’s Shadow.

I’ve heard it said that the reader winds up not liking any of the characters in the story, but that must have been an exaggeration. A few weak moments aside, I wound up liking Edgar Linton rather well overall. His daughter and Hareton showed some decency in the end, too.

It never came clear to me whether I was meant to like Nelly Dean or not. For the most part she made good sense, but her harshness occasionally took me by surprise. But then, she grew up in a house with Hindley and Heathcliff around; who wouldn’t learn harshness?

Cathy Earnshaw mystified me a little. In Eclipse, Bella Swan calls her the real monster and the cause of all the trouble. I saw moments where such an accusation was perhaps justified, but for the most part she simply seemed like a common child who’d learned to dominate her authorities and was therefore used to getting her way. Not a good thing, but not entirely without redemptive possibilities, and certainly not entirely to blame for Heathcliff's sins.

Maybe I ought to read the book again once the main horror at Heathcliff wears off, so I can give her due consideration.

Actually, I probably won’t. I didn’t like it that much.

I didn’t hate it as much as I expected to, either. For a story so bent on portraying humanity working hard to become as awful as it could be, I found it tolerably readable. It dragged on a bit at the end, but I cared enough about the Cathys and Edgar and even Linton Heathcliff to stay engrossed throughout the bulk of the tale. Linton was despicable, but he was also suffering cruelly. And I’m just not confident enough of my own potential saintliness in similar circumstances to criticize.

As a matter of fact, Bronte’s strength in this novel lies at least partly in showing How They Got This Way. Even Heathcliff, who has segments of past that are ultimately mysterious and whose obsession with Cathy I found as heartless as everything else about him, has some early moments in which I really felt for him. Despite the darkness of his nature, his character was human and not caricature. Which is probably what made him so terrifying.

In Gothic ghost-story aspect, Emily Bronte reminded me perforce of her sister Charlotte. The air of the supernatural was as present in Wuthering Heights as in Jane Eyre. There are similarities between the two bitter and brooding leading men, as well. Rochester was only half monster, though, and had the fortune to love a good strong woman. Apparently these things make a difference.

Recommendation: If you want a spooky tale to read on a windy Halloween, you probably won’t find one more suited.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books I've Read that were Outside My Comfort Zone

The great thing about books read from outside our comfort zones is that they can broaden our range of ease. Of course, they can also define the lines more firmly. I've got some of both on my list.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Sometime around the end of high school, I decided to make a point of reading classics. Austen and Dickens proved a delight beyond words, but some authors gave me more of a challenge. Hence, about half this list. The other half is a bit more random.

1. Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). Hugo tried hard to bore me to death with about 900 of the 1200 pages, but I kept going; I had to know what happened to Valjean and Cosette and Marius.

2. For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway). I knew Hemingway would be depressing in places, but I felt like I ought to face up and read him anyway. The point of this work seemed to be that a little romance and a lot of... er, getting the earth to move... is what makes this horrific life worth living, but I'm sure Masha can point out the more worthwhile aspects of the story. :)

3. The Brothers Karamazov (Fyodor Dostoevsky). This was an intentional stretch of personal taste. I liked it, or at least I liked Alyosha, but I had a hard time making much sense of it at the time and should probably re-read it. When I later read Crime and Punishment, though, I loved that.

4. The Divine Comedy (Dante). Shakespeare excepted, I find poetry extraordinarily difficult to read, but I've loved this work enough to read it more than once.

5. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë). George finally talked me into reading it. :) That's tomorrow's review post, so I'll maintain my silence for now.

6. The Hunger Games books (Suzanne Collins). I usually prefer to avoid books that are very violent, and while I saw some good in especially the first of this series, the third in particular was a devastating read. 

7. Phyllis Whitney's books. My grandmother loved these, so I read a couple. Murder mysteries creep me out. Psychopathic murder mysteries really creep me out.

8. And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie). Along the same lines as the above murder mysteries. Possibly worse.

9. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien). I read them after seeing the first movie, and found them occasionally dull, often wandering, and generally difficult to get through. A couple of years ago, I read them again and loved them. Some things just take time.

10. Jurassic Park and its sequel (Michael Crichton). I know so many people who have loved those books and the movies, but quite frankly, they're two of the books I'm most sorry I ever read. Horrifying. :P

What books have you read from outside your comfort zone?


Arches, Bells, and Supernatural Story

A blogalectic with Masha and Mr. Pond.

Masha's latest installment, a celebration of comforting mythologies, contained this lovely statement:
The essence of myth is not something that can be studied, it can only be experienced. The stories and characters can be written down, studied, and known, but the essence is elusive, like a half-remembered dream.
Which tells me she doesn't entirely disagree with Mr. Pond, who wrote one of the more important posts that has yet come out of this conversation:
Mythology grabs us round the throat and tells us the way the world is. It demands from us sacrifices and rituals and prayers and traditions. If we accept mythology, we don’t have the luxury of choice. The world is in some way set. The stories are there. We can embellish them if we want. We can question them. We can, of course, walk away from them. But at that point we are no longer within the mythology. We have stepped outside of that story. This is laudable, or foolhardy, or despairing—it depends.
Mr. Pond quite fairly questions a certain sensibility in the way both Masha and I presented the word mythology; that is, the suggestion that we get to pick and choose which supernatural narrative we want, and how much of it. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Pond here. My use of the words "sampler platter" was meant (if rather opaquely) as a subtle jibe, not as support for the Western treatment of mythology as a giant free-for-all buffet. It's one thing to live in peace with beliefs other than our own; it's quite another to treat all belief with so much attempted scientific objectivity that we forget, ultimately, that it holds the right over us, not we over it.

This week's word is mythos, defined by the Oxford as (1) “a myth or mythology” or (2) “(in literature) a traditional or recurrent narrative theme or plot structure” or (3) “a set of beliefs or assumptions about something.”

Not so different from the words we've already discussed, really. But it emphasizes the narrative aspect. I tend to think of mythos as the overarching (usually supernatural) story or stories that define and shape a culture.

In the post that Masha and Mr. Pond were responding to, I spoke of fantasy fiction as a way to deal with big questions outside the clash of polarized modern mythologies. But there's another reason for loving fantasy fiction, and that's because it's a place where mythos is still allowed to exist and flourish.

Under a magical mythos, the beauties and the horrors are both greater than we often meet here. It's not just your life in danger; it's your soul—the dementors may suck it from your body, or the magic ring may waste it away, or the Myrddraal and the Black Ajah may come in thirteens to turn you to the Shadow.

But there are the feasts and songs of Elrond's house and the flowers of Lorien, and the magic and wonder of Hogwarts, and shepherd-boys may marry royalty. And at the end, there is light and the hope of salvation in Going On.

And all of it echoes against a bell inside of us, something that was made for more than lattes and ten-hour workdays, parties and television and stress and sickness and grief.

If I disagree with any part of Mr. Pond's rejoinder from last week, it's the plain (and quite possibly hyperbolic) statement that mythology is dead. I suggest, rather, that it has gone into hiding:
It is one of the ironies of history that classical models and pagan myths were so intricately intermingled with Christian themes that when the elite rejected Christian civilization, they implicitly rejected Classical paganism as well....

For all their fine talk of freedom and of dictatorships of the proletarian, the elite wished nothing other than to bar talk of modesty, decency, fortitude, honor, and self-sacrifice from the public square. They wanted to replace all reasoning about the nature of virtue with rhetoric and oration on feelings about values. To do so, not only Nuns and Knights had to be banished from the public imaginations, but also Vestal Virgins and Homeric Hoplites.

Whence, then, scourged and half-stripped of the golden plumes of their wings, did the trembling muses flee, when they fled from the scornful lashes of modernity?

Why, to the only ghetto that held no love for modernity: to us, we happy few, the sons of fantasy whose eyes were fixed with dreamy nostalgia on the things long past (including pasts that never were) and to the sons of science fiction whose eyes were fixed with mingled hope and fear on things to come. —John C. Wright, Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians, Part II: Baptizing Dumbledore
But there is one realm outside speculative fiction where mythoi still exist, for those who long for such things. I trust Mr. Wright, Mr. Pond, and Masha will all gladly agree that some of us still willingly live under great narrative arches, where the bell that echoes at the words of Harry Potter rings clear and true at sacred words and mysteries.

P.S. If you haven't read John C. Wright's treatise on paganism in literature, 'Harry Potter and the Christian Magicians', I highly recommend it. It took me 45 minutes to read, and was worth every second. The links: Part I, Part II and Part III. Enjoy.


For 'Tis November and other stories

The frost came hard last night, almost certainly destroying the tomato plants beyond hope of recovery.

I hope it also destroyed the aphids. We got one lovely head of broccoli some weeks ago, which appeared to be aphid-free, but the stalks I cut this last week... suffice it to say that I put them in the freezer before throwing them in the compost. I hate aphids.

This weekend, I intend to clean out the vegetable garden. That's an enjoyable process in its own right. I can't wait to replant it in the spring.

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Four days into November and I'm still a little jealous of those doing NaNoWriMo, but not totally, because a group of writerly friends are attempting to achieve serious writing goals alongside me. (Want to be one of them? Email me or leave me a comment with your email address.)

Also, because as much as I loved NaNoWriMo in 2009, in Rome, with a bright-and-beautiful new idea—last year, it was death by monstrosity.

Thus far, as per my own challenge, I'm 869 words ahead! Of course, if I want a thousand words out of today, I've got 500 to go.

Oh, and I got the progress meter I'm using in my sidebar from honorless.net.

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Speaking of the sidebar, I have removed the Google Followers widget for these reasons. Natalie Whipple recently did likewise, which inspired me in the first place.

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Writers' link of the week: authors don't usually have control over the cover art on their published book, but I probably spent half an hour or better on The Cover Girl's blog. This was my favorite post. Controllable or not, a good cover is beyond price.

You can also read Tina Francis' post about Dreamers who Do, which is not about writing, but still highly appropriate for those of us trying to accomplish big goals right now.

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Music of the week: I'm short on ideas. But we can always use a little more Mozart.

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Funny of the week: the speaker on the green side is a snarker after my own, er, heart.

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Time to go see if I can salvage any of the half-ripe tomatoes, clean house, and write another 500 words. But first, don't forget: if you're in the US, daylight savings time ends this week!

Happy weekend!


Currently Reading: Circle of Friends

Circle of FriendsClodagh fiddled and draped and pinned.

“Put your shoulders back, Benny,” she ordered. “Stick your chest out.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I look like the prow of a ship,” said Benny in alarm.

“I know. Isn’t it great?”

“Fellows love the prows of ships,” Eve said. “They’re always saying it.”

“Shut up, Eve Malone. I’ll stick the scissors in you.”

“You will not. Those are my expensive pinking shears. Now, isn’t that something?” Clodagh looked pleased.

Even in its rough and ready state they could see what she had in mind for Benny. And it looked very good indeed.

Author: Maeve Binchy

Synopsis: Mary Bernadette “Benny” Hogan has been best friends with Eve Malone since they were ten, despite being little alike: Benny is tall, stocky, gentle, the only daughter of loving but confining parents; Eve is small and wiry and ferocious and was raised by nuns after her parents' mysterious deaths.

When they leave the little town of Knockglen for university at Dublin, they’re immediately swept up into a social life that includes class clown Aidan Lynch, good-looking charmer Jack Foley, and stunning, calculating Nan Mahon. The boys and Nan will wreak havoc for Benny and Eve, testing and proving their friendship.

Notes: My friend Elizabeth bought this book for me, saying that Binchy’s writing is peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable to read. It is that. But I also had to stay up reading it till three A.M. in desperate suspense.

It wasn’t due to relentless pacing or swift-moving prose. Binchy’s writing career apparently began before the modern outcry against things like the passive verb and the third person omniscient voice. Her brief sentences and snappy dialogue generally kept the scenes from dragging, though, and I appreciated the easygoing nature of the tale.

The characters delighted me. Taking the secondary cast for now, I particularly loved Mother Francis, Kit Hegarty, Heather, Aidan, Clodagh and Fonsie. I wound up liking Bill a good bit, too. He could be a touch tactless, but he seemed like a solid, good-natured guy. I rather wish we’d gotten more of him.

Benny is an incredibly sympathetic protagonist. Most women know the feeling of having some physical flaw that we fear will turn men away, and when that flaw is noticeable enough to be pointed out again and again and again by everyone, it turns to torment. Benny’s humor and grace throughout make her lovable, someone I couldn't help wanting to be like.

Eve is just as likable in her own way, primarily for her intense loyalty and sharp wit. She and Aidan share quite a few hilarious little dialogues; they and Clodagh and Fonsie provide much of the comedy in the story. And I’ve got to admit, I’ve made numerous re-reads of the scene where Eve confronts Nan, just for the satisfaction of her fierce defense of her friend and her home. Even though part of that defense was rather indefensible.

The friendship between Eve and Benny carries the tale, beneath the numerous perspectives and the sweet but doomed romance. Yeah, I suppose that’s a little spoilerific. But that “sweet but doomed” bit is exactly why I stayed up till three—it was all so tender, and I really wanted it to work out, but I had myself braced for an explosion.

I didn’t brace hard enough.

The ending itself was beautiful and admirable and exactly what it should have been, if you’ll grant me the nitpicky writerly whim of disliking the last two lines as used together. I knew just why Binchy ended it the way she did, and the reasonable half of me cheers.

Now, spoiler.

The unreasonable half of me—the half that took three watches each through the movies Sabrina and While You Were Sleeping to accept that the setup romances were not the payoff romances—had a hard time with it. When a heroine falls in love with someone who turns out to be a rake, there’s admittedly no good way to resolve that. Rakes are notoriously difficult to reform; it’s a case of powerful addiction. But like any fool girl, I always hope that just once, the one in this or that story will change.

And Jack Foley didn't strike me quite as a classic rake. At least, not at first. Binchy does an exceptional job at making the reader care about nearly every character, even the weak ones, and I really, really wanted to love the young charmer. Jack is handsome, lighthearted, very capable of being sweet, and falls in love with Benny for reals. He’s not messing around. Until, of course, he is. Benny can’t be there whenever he wants her, won’t go all the way in the back of the car, and along comes the temptress, and he’s toast.

But Nan played Jack, too. He deserved nearly everything he got, but a part of me still hopes he learned his lesson and proved reformable.

This book has been made into a movie—Minnie Driver’s first lead role, I believe, and with improvements enough to Jack’s character to pull off a classic happy ending. Both of which interest me in watching it; I am rather fond of happy endings and Minnie Driver. I like Chris O’Donnell, who plays Jack, too. On the other hand, the trailer makes it sound as if the movie’s theme is more “Catholic girls and sex” than friendship, which is unfortunate. Binchy does give an interesting and nuanced depiction of the former, but it’s a subservient theme and anyway, I’m not sure I trust the film industry to treat it quite so fairly.

Recommendation: It’s an ideal autumnal read—thought-provoking, funny and bittersweet, and soothing. Go for it.


Top Ten Tuesday: Books that Elicited Great Emotion

I like this topic. Ten, though? That will require me to limit things.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Do come join the fun...

Great Emotion covers a vast range of happy, sad and infuriated response. I've organized the list from most-hated to most-loved.

1. Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy). I have never in my life felt so cheated by a story.

2. The Hunger Games series (Suzanne Collins). Reading these books was, for me at least, an exercise in masochism. Not an entirely unredeemed one, but still.

3. Animal Farm (George Orwell). I went in the kitchen after finishing this book and cried angry tears for a while. Stupid pigs.

4. The Betrothed (Alessandro Manzoni). It took a lot of suffering to get to the happy ending, some of which was occasioned by the abysmal lack of sense the young pair sometimes displayed.

5. Circle of Friends (Maeve Binchy). This week's review book, actually, so I'll try not to spoil it. To summarize: it hurts a lot to love a character so much and watch them do something so horrible. I adored the book, though.

6. Bambi (Felix Salten). Not the cartoon version. I read this a thousand times as a kid, every time aching over the deep sorrow of it.

7. Because of Winn-Dixie (Kate DiCamillo). I didn't expect to find this book particularly interesting. It swept me up from the first page and left me all aglow at the end.

8. Little White Horse (Elizabeth Goudge). A lovely little story that makes me cry good tears every time I read it.

9. The Ender books (Orson Scott Card). Every one I've read has affected me powerfully. I've never come across more empathy from any other author.

10. The Harry Potter books (J.K. Rowling). These deserve to win just for covering the entire spectrum of emotion. Hilarity, weeping, fury, supreme joy....

What books elicited Great Emotion from you?