A tale with a heart

snowscape

Neil Gaiman Odd and the Frost Giants Bloomsbury 2008

Published for World Book Day in April 2008, Odd and the Frost Giants was designed with youngsters in mind but can be enjoyed by oldsters as well. Part fable, part fairytale, with a dash of mythology, it features the resourceful Odd, son of a Norwegian Viking and a Scottish mother. Lamed when a tree trunk falls on his leg he is bullied — particularly, after the death of his own father, by his new stepfather. So in the midst of a prolonged winter which shows no sign of ending he heads off to the lone cabin in the woods where his woodcutter father stayed when he was out chopping down trees. And it is then that he is plunged into an adventure which begins to uncover the explanation of Winter’s continued grip.

Continue reading “A tale with a heart”

The lore of the ring

Buckingham Palace, with the Victoria Memorial (1911), from an old postcard
Buckingham Palace, with the Victoria Memorial (1911), from an old postcard

Kiki Hamilton The Faerie Ring Tor Teen 2011

Eighteen seventy-one was an eventful year, by many accounts. There was the disaster that was the Paris Commune, when thousands — maybe as many as twenty thousand — communards were massacred during ‘Bloody Week’ in May. But there were positives too, such as Queen Victoria opening the Albert Hall in memory of her late husband. In literature Edward Bulwer-Lytton published The Coming Race, a novel about the Vril-ya, winged super-humans who lived under the surface of the earth. This was the year too that Lewis Carroll published Alice Through the Looking Glass. 1871 is also the year in which Kiki Hamilton’s novel is set, the action taking place in a Dickensian London (Dickens had died the year before) of toffs and pickpockets. But this isn’t really a novel where social realism is to the fore, as the title strongly suggests.

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No fooling

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“What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore it knows it’s not fooling a soul.”

This quote from Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is currently displayed prominently in the window of our local town’s bookshop. There’s a good reason for this to be here, very pertinent to my last post about the threat to the existence of the local library.

Crickhowell is a small town of around three thousand souls in the Brecon Beacons National Park.  Continue reading “No fooling”

Philistines at the gates

<div xmlns:cc="http://creativecommons.org/ns#" xmlns:dct="http://purl.org/dc/terms/" about="http://s0.geograph.org.uk/geophotos/03/03/75/3037515_93fcbc74.jpg"><span property="dct:title">Crickhowell public library</span> (<a rel="cc:attributionURL" property="cc:attributionName" href="http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/39302">Jaggery</a>) / <a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/">CC BY-SA 2.0</a></div>
Crickhowell Public Library by Jagger, licensed under Creative Commons licence

To my mind the litmus test of a civilised community is the presence of either a bookshop or a library, preferably both. Whenever I visit a new town or city I can’t help but keep an eye out for a bookshop or, failing that, a local library, because that suggests that the locals value the life of the mind at least as much as branded clothing, a sofa outlet or a supermarket chain.

So I was horrified at rumours that the small town we’ve just moved to, which boasts a small but lively bookshop as well as a branch library, was in danger of losing the latter. “337 libraries have closed in the United Kingdom in the last 5 years,” I read. The county council, needing to make cuts in what continues to be the deepest, longest period of austerity in peace time, eventually opted to cut all branch library times (and therefore staff salaries) by 20%, safeguarding this branch library.

Long term, however, the future is not good: Continue reading “Philistines at the gates”

The photographer and the beggar maid

Simon Winchester The Alice behind Wonderland
Oxford University Press 2011

A century and a half ago, in July 1865, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was published in a limited edition by Oxford University Press — and then immediately withdrawn because Tenniel was dissatisfied with the reproduction of his illustrations. Although it wasn’t until November 1865 that the second edition appeared (approved by both author and illustrator, this time under the Macmillan imprint which had published Charles Kingsley’s The Water-Babies two years before) be prepared for a slew of media trumpeting and Wonderland brouhaha this summer. Nevertheless, it’s an opportune moment to review this short study of Alice Liddell, the inspiration behind Lewis Carroll’s two most famous fantasies.

Continue reading “The photographer and the beggar maid”