Category Archives: Fantasy

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit, is a series of nine dragon stories. Each dragon is a different color or made of different stuff, and each one causes different problems. These stories for children are fun. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as some of her others — I loved The Psammead Trilogy and The Railway Children. But if you enjoy dragon stories, or know a young one who does, I definitely recommend books by Edith Nesbit. She’s terrific.

From the Back Cover:

Dragons — of all sorts — make for marvelous fun, and this collection of madcap tales is filled with them. Some of the legendary monsters are funny and mischievous, others are downright frightening, and a number of them are wild and unpredictable. There’s a dragon made of ice, another that takes refuge in the General Post Office, a scaly creature that carries off the largest elephant in a zoo, and even a dragon whose gentle purring comforts a tiny tot. And who challenges these amazing creatures? Why, daring heroes, of course, as well as a wicked prince, and even an entire soccer team — which, unfortunately, meets its fate with a fire-breathing brute that flies out of the pages of an enchanted book.

H.R. Millar, E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons, North-South Books, 1900

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a delightful children’s book written by Booker Prize winning author, Salman Rushdie.

from the publisher:

Set in an exotic Eastern landscape peopled by magicians and fantastic talking animals, Salman Rushdie’s classic children’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories inhabits the same imaginative space as The Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, and The Wizard of Oz. In this captivating work of fantasy from the author of Midnight’s Childrenand The Enchantress of Florence, Haroun sets out on an adventure to restore the poisoned source of the sea of stories. On the way, he encounters many foes, all intent on draining the sea of all its storytelling powers.

Haroun’s father, Rashid, was a master storyteller and his stories were much in demand by everyone, but especially by politicians. One day, however, his wife left him for a man with no imagination at all, and Haroun, angry and upset about his mother leaving them, shouted to his father, “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” From that moment on, Rashid’s stories disappeared.

Haroun wanted to get those words back, to pull them out of his father’s ears and shove them back into his own mouth; but of course he couldn’t do that. And that was why he blamed himself when, soon afterwards and in the most embarrassing circumstances imaginable, an Unthinkable Thing happened.

And from that moment on…Haroun seeks a way to find out what happened to those stories, and how to get them back from the Sea of Stories. Adventure after adventure follows.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like aliquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.

This book is a delight to read! The word play and the language of it all are brilliant and fun. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a story more and laughed out loud at so many puns and clever ways of describing things. I hope my son will read it aloud to our grandboy because I know they’d both love it.

Salman Rushdie dedicated this book to one of his sons after being apart for a long period of time. He also wrote Luka and the Fire of Life, and dedicated that book to his other son. I can’t wait to read that one next!

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

A Sad Loss

The world has lost a wonderful author today. I was saddened to hear the news of Ursula le Guin’s passing. I’ve enjoyed a number of her books, and I was so happy, when I was teaching second grade, to introduce my young students to her wonderful imagination by reading them the Catwings series. They loved those books, class after class, for many years! I’m sure a number of those former students are Ursula le Guin fans today and are also saddened by our loss.

Making Progress

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Illustration by Alan Lee — from The Two Towers.

I am slowly making progress on my rereading of The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R.Tolkien. It’s a very enjoyable reading project that I started in November as a retreat from the election stresses and strains. Perhaps I’m reading it slowly because those stresses and strains have gotten worse rather than better! But really I’m reading it slowly so that I can enjoy and savor the wonderful writing as well as the terrific adventure of it all. It’s been my evening read, just before I go to bed at night, and it’s a great way to end the day. I’m about 3/4 of the way through The Two Towers so at this time I am traveling with Frodo and Sam, and Gollum, getting closer to Mordor. I am very glad to spend time in their company.

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A Return to Middle Earth

In honor of J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday today, I’d like to share some memories of how his books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, touched my life almost 50 years ago and are still today something that I turn to and love to reread.

1968 was an incredibly powerful year in my life. In late January of that year, I returned from living for a year in Argentina as an exchange student, a life-changing experience.  On my return, I immediately started college, another life-changing experience. The Vietnam War was raging and some of my high school friends were already gone. In April, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In June we also lost Bobby Kennedy. And later that year, three astronauts orbited the moon. I remember the despondency I felt after the two assassinations and the awe I felt at the moon orbit. I remember vividly the overwhelming sense of the world spinning and life taking off at exponential speed, as indeed it did.

In the middle of that year of upheaval, I read a great book review in the New Yorker about a series I’d never heard of: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien. I immediately went out and bought the books and immersed myself in that world…and that experience was also life-changing in a way. The world that Tolkien created was so complete and so beautifully written. The books are an epic story of courage and dignity, of the power of goodness and friendship, and of the regular “little guys” being able to make an incredible difference in a world filled with darkness. It was a great tale, but I loved it especially for those nuggets of truth that spoke so eloquently to me and which are so often quoted now on the internet:

‘I wish it need not have happened in my time,’ said Frodo. ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

And I loved it, too, for the sense of nostalgia for times past and for home and the simple things in life. I’ve reread them numerous times now, and they capture me each time. So in early December, feeling overwhelmed by the state of the nation and the world, I realized that I wanted to read them again. I read The Fellowship of the Ring slowly, not wanting to miss a single word, song, or poem! And I am 1/2 way through The Two Towers now. Once again these books are helping me to put things in perspective, reminding me that “there is a seed of courage hidden (often deeply, it is true) in the heart of the fattest and most timid hobbit…” and giving me hope that each one of us can make a difference in the world today. There is always Hope.

That’s a pretty amazing experience/connection to have with a story, with any book! But, that is exactly why I love. to. read.

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Once Upon a Time, IX

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(Beautiful art by Kim Kincaid. Visit her site at http://www.artbykimkincaid.com)

Spring has arrived and with it comes my favorite reading event of the year: Carl V’s Once Upon a Time challenge. This is the 9th year he has hosted this fun event. I’m very fond of it because it was the first reading challenge I participated in when I first started blogging, and it inspired me to expand my reading choices to genres I’d seldom tried. Each time I participate, I find new reading friends, new favorite authors, and many new favorite books. Now it has become a rite of Spring for me and the year doesn’t seem right unless anchored by Carl’s wonderful OUaT.

If you haven’t tried a reading challenge before, this is an enjoyable way to start. Choose books from four different genres, read short stories, watch films, or play a game. No pressure, just fun and celebration of the fanciful!

The Once Upon a Time IX Challenge has a few rules:

Rule #1: Have fun.

Rule #2: HAVE FUN.

Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!

Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.

Set goals that fit your reading wish list and available time. Carl has many different options to choose from. This year I’m keeping my choice simple and choosing “The Journey” for my goal. I will read [at least] one book from any of the four genres between now and June 21st. I will write a post for each book I read and will update my list in the Challenges tab on my menu bar.

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Thank you, once again, Carl, for hosting this delightful reading event! I know I’m going to love my reading in the next few months and enjoy reading the posts of the other participants!

Completely Immersed

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I am completely immersed in this book: The Golden Compass, the first book of Philip Pullman‘s His Dark Materials series. I read it long ago, (in 1996 to be exact) and remember liking it, but not loving it, and I didn’t continue with the series when the other books were published. What was I thinking? Where was I at that time in my life? Reading it this time, I can’t put the book down! And I can’t wait to read the other books that follow! It just goes to show that “timing” is a very important part of one’s reading.

Once Upon a Time VIII: The Joy of the Genre

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Carl V’s Once Upon a Time reading challenges always end too soon! I enjoyed reading a number of books this time around, but didn’t post about each of them. For me, this time, my participation in this challenge was simply all about the joy of the genre. So here are the books I read, or re-read, and thoroughly enjoyed for Once Upon a Time VIII.  Thank you, Carl, for hosting this special annual celebration of the magical!

And some wise words from one of my favorites, Roald Dahl, as a fond farewell to this year’s Once Upon a Time…

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The Once and Future King, part 1

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Painting by Alan Lee…

The stories of King Arthur have long captured my imagination. I’ve read many different versions and enjoyed each one. Many years ago, (to be truthful, it’s been 41 years!), I read T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. I loved it! So for Carl V’s annual Once Upon a Time reading challenge this year, I decided to listen to the audiobook version of this wonderful classic, and revisit an old friend, so to speak.

It’s a very long book, divided into four parts which were written and published at different times. The Sword in the Stone tells of the boyhood of Arthur, called “Wart” by his family, and of his education by the wizard, Merlin. And what a wonderful education! –full of nature and folklore and imagination! It was a very enjoyable “listen,” and, if I were still teaching 6th grade, I would consider reading it aloud to my students as a stand-alone book.

The Sword in the Stone is very much about learning and about the relationship between this special student and his teacher. I retired last year after 27 years of teaching, and one reason I chose to become a teacher in the first place was because I love to learn, so this quote from the book speaks a particular truth for me about the joy of becoming a lifelong learner.

“The best thing for disturbances of the spirit is to learn. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love and lose your moneys to a monster, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then–to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the poor mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”

Other hidden pleasures in this section of the book were the many quotes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and also the inclusion of Robin Hood in the story. What fun! This part of The Once and Future King was written for the child in all of us.

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Painting by N.C. Wyeth…

Reading Mary Stewart

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She is “a born storyteller” according to her unofficial fan site, and I agree! Mary Stewart is an author I have enjoyed for many many years. I loved her Merlin trilogy, an interesting look at the Arthurian legend.  And years ago I read 7 of her other books of fiction, and enjoyed each one. So when I found one of her books that I hadn’t read yet on the shelf in our little library down the street, I grabbed it, knowing it would be a good read.

cover_thornyholdThornyhold is what I would call a “quiet” book. There’s not a lot of action or drama. It’s the story of a young girl who lives a bleak and lonely life, quite neglected by her busy and non-involved parents.  A cousin of her mother comes into her life sporadically as she is growing up, but each of those encounters was a breath of life for this young girl. Thornyhold is that cousin’s house, and when she dies, she leaves it to Gilly, now a young woman. Moving into Thornyhold is a precious gift of both freedom and independence, and as Gilly explores the house and garden, she finds mysterious and unexplained things about her cousin’s life. Was her cousin a witch?

The house, itself, is a major character in the book, and I loved the descriptions of the house and the garden. I also enjoyed the journey of self-discovery of this main character, and I thought it was a sweet story, nothing dramatic, just interesting and life-affirming.