Modern Arthuriana: a bibliography

Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society
Original artwork by Simon Rouse for the Journal of the Pendragon Society

Ann F Howey and Stephen R Reimer editors
A Bibliography of Modern Arthuriana (1500-2000)
D S Brewer 2006

What is Arthuriana? The authors choose to define it as “the Arthurian legend in modern English-language fiction”, and include such manifestations as literary (but not non-fictional) texts, audio-visual media (film, television, radio, audio-books) and aspects of popular culture such as graphic novels and games. Aimed at students (the general public as well as scholars), collectors and librarians, this compilation is ideal both as a reference work and as a treasure chest to dip into. Continue reading “Modern Arthuriana: a bibliography”

A secret never to be told

San Vitale mosaics
Justinian and his court, San Vitale, Ravenna (Wikipedia Commons)

Procopius The Secret History
Translated and introduced by G A Williamson
Penguin Classics 1981 (1966)

I’ve never yet been to Istanbul — formerly Constantinople and before that Byzantium — but I have been to Ravenna on Italy’s east coast. Here the visitor can glimpse some of the glory that was Byzantium of old in the form of the magnificent mosaics, located in various surviving structures such as the Arian Baptistry, the Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo and the Basilica of San Vitale. Amidst splendid religious mosaics of Christ’s baptism and the Adoration of the Magi are more secular images, in particular of the 6th-century Emperor Justinian I, his Empress Theodora and possibly the general Belisarius. These are icons meant to impress, and it’s noteworthy that the heads of the two imperial figures are each surrounded by a nimbus — what we recognise as the halo associated with Christ and the saints but which was also, as here, applied to rulers or heroes. To see these figures so bedecked with jewels and crowns and aureoles one would be rightly suspect a measure of self-glorification; but in truth, if their contemporary the writer Procopius is to be believed, no two individuals were less suited to being portrayed thus in a Christian context.

Justinian, Theodora
Justinian and Theodora, San Vitale, Ravenna (Wikipedia Commons)

Continue reading “A secret never to be told”

“It isn’t fair!”

babayaga
Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Diana Wynne Jones Wilkins’ Tooth
Collins Voyager 2002 (1973)
Published 1974 as Witch’s Business in the USA

Is it possible for there to be too many ideas in a novel? Especially in a children’s story of barely two hundred pages? In Diana Wynne Jones’ very first children’s novel images and themes and borrowings and emotions all come out fizzing and popping, like fireworks that one can gasp at while scarcely having time to reflect before the next effect bursts into view.

The book is dedicated to one Jessica Frances, and what better compliment can an author pay to a dedicatee than including them, however obliquely, in the story. Jess and Frank are twins who, bitter at being stopped their pocket money, set up what they hope is a money-making scheme that will simultaneously feed their need for cash while getting a sort of revenge for their economic disempowerment. Jones has written about youngsters’ constant cries of “It isn’t fair!” as not being an adequate response to their situation (Reflections 52-3). A better response, she says, is humour and by the end of the book humour is what wins the day rather than pure revenge, because, as Juvenal in his Satires said, “Revenge is sweet, sweeter than life itself — so say fools.” Continue reading ““It isn’t fair!””

Haiku summaries | bewitch, befuddle and bug: | serious humour?

gateway

A haiku is a traditional Japanese poem with some aspect of the seasons as a theme. In English it has sometimes, for better or worse, developed beyond the original concept of a seasonal link, and occasionally is found in the form of three lines of up to seventeen syllables in total with no reference to the time of year:

The conceit is this: / five, seven, five syllables? / Summative poem!

The book-cataloguing and social networking site Library Thing has provision in their listings for what they call a ‘haiku summary’ of literary works. I thought I might try to amuse readers (as I may have entertained with the Twitter hashtag #bookcheat) by inviting you to identify books by the following summaries. If you’re stuck, follow the links! Continue reading “Haiku summaries | bewitch, befuddle and bug: | serious humour?”

Chicken feed

ceramic hen
Glazed look from ceramic hen

Martin Gurdon Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance:
reflections on raising chickens
The Lyons Press 2005 (2004)

Having travelled from the west coast of Britain all the way to the west coast of the United States, it seemed a little odd to have picked up this arresting title in Seattle’s University Book Store only to find it was written by a fellow Brit. But that’s not the only coincidence surrounding our acquisition of this book, a witty parody of a famous work on tinkering with motorcycles, and this review therefore is split into two unequal halves, the first a gentle appreciation, the second a mild rant. Continue reading “Chicken feed”

Neither a true nor a final discovery

King_Arthur

Chris Barber and David Pykitt
Journey to Avalon: the Final Discovery of King Arthur
Blorenge Books 1993

Many years ago F T Wainwright wrote an illuminating essay* about the relationship between the disciplines of history, archaeology and place-name studies; and when I first read Barber and Pykitt’s Arthurian theory I found it informative to use some of Wainwright’s criteria by which to judge its success.

Journey to Avalon is a handsome book co-authored by David Pykitt (who provided the bulk of the text) and Chris Barber (who supplied the copious monochrome photographs and published the book under his own imprint Blorenge Books), filled with plentiful line illustrations — mostly uncredited — and attractive maps. There is an extensive bibliography, several appendices and generous acknowledgement of sources of information and general help (including from this reviewer). The main theme of the book is the identification of Arthur as not only a 7th-century Welshman, one Athrwys ap Meurig, but also the 6th-century Breton saint Armel. The result is nearly 200 pages of close-packed argument in which the authors present the conclusions of years of research.

However, when we come to examine the details of the their hypothesis (with its title deliberately contradicting Geoffrey Ashe’s 1985 The Discovery of King Arthur) we find that the scaffolding surrounding their construct is decidedly rickety. Continue reading “Neither a true nor a final discovery”

What’s the use of a book without pictures?

skyline

Tolkien: The Illustrated Encyclopædia
by David Day.
Mitchell Beazley 1993 (1991)

This is a work that attempts to live up to its title: it includes an introduction to Tolkien’s published works (not just related to Middle Earth), then rushes straight into chapters on history, geography, peoples and nations (pretentiously called sociology here), natural history and a Who’s Who in Middle Earth, finally ending with indices and acknowledgements.

Because David Day doesn’t just limit himself to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, there are charts and maps that help to place the War of the Ring in context, and the whole is profusely illustrated by nearly a score of artists.

Continue reading “What’s the use of a book without pictures?”

Through tinted specs, colourfully

pane

Diana Wynne Jones Enchanted Glass
HarperCollins Children’s Books 2010

As a boy, he had spent fascinated hours looking at the garden through each differently coloured pane. Depending, you got a rose pink sunset garden, hushed and windless; a stormy orange garden, where it was suddenly autumn; a tropical green garden, where there seemed likely to be parrots and monkeys any second. And so on. As an adult now, Andrew valued that glass even more. Magic apart, it was old old old. The glass had all sorts of internal wrinkles and trapped bubbles, and the long-dead maker had somehow managed to make the colours both intense and misty at once.

When Andrew’s grandfather Jocelyn Brandon Hope dies, Andrew Hope inherits Melstone House and land. However, all is not what it seems — Jocelyn Hope was in fact a magician and the surrounding land is deemed a ‘field of care’, meaning that Andrew has to ‘beat the bounds’ in order to retain its magical power. Andrew’s childhood fondness for Melstone House now becomes complicated by its infusion with magic, especially the strangely coloured glass on an inside door and a counterpart he discovers in the grounds. More confusion reigns with the presence of a stern housekeeper and a stubborn gardener and the arrival of a twelve-year-old orphan called Aidan Cain needing protection from stalkers. Then there is neighbour Mr Brown, who seems intent on trespassing on Andrew’s field of care. Luckily he has an ally in the gardener’s niece Stashe to counteract all the events conspiring against him.

Like many Diana Wynne Jones titles, half the fun of Enchanted Glass for adult readers comes not just in being pulled along by the storytelling but in attempting to read between the lines. Continue reading “Through tinted specs, colourfully”