#WitchWeek2019 Day 1: the White Witch of Narnia

Book cover illustration of Jadis with Edmund Pevensie

Laurie Welch goes on a ‘classic literature journey’ on her insightful blog Relevant Obscurity, and we’re so lucky that she here shares her thoughts on a memorable Narnian figure — one who’s cold as ice — in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, as well as helpfully listing four classic villainous traits for us.


Jadis, The White Witch of Narnia:
The Most High Villain

The White Witch of The Chronicles of Narnia, by C. S. Lewis, is the perfect villain of childhood nightmares. Her wickedness goes to the top of evil antagonists in fairy tales and books of fantasy. She is not even human, but the daughter of Lilith, Adam’s first wife and on the other side, of giants. She is physically large and powerful, cold-blooded and incredibly beautiful. Using all this to her favor as supreme ruler of Narnia, she is also known as The Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands, etc

Jadis is the ultimate manipulator of youthful weakness and vulnerability and delights in fear tactics, humiliation and physical punishment. She is the consummate lurer of sensitive, curious children with promises of power over others and worldly possessions. Her force is felt not only over the inhabitants of her realm, but the very environment in which they live. She is the White Witch of a hundred years of winter, “and never Christmas,” who keeps every animal, tree and fantastic beast in an iron grip of fear and submission. And would happily turn them into statues for her castle courtyard with her dreaded magic wand.

Jadis fears the prophecy that states when two Sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve find their way into Narnia and are crowned Kings and Queens, her rule will end and she will die. To prevent this her kingdom is full of spies instructed to turn them over to her immediately.

Why does Jadis have the whole of the Kingdom of Narnia in her thrall? What keeps the majority of creatures from banding together to fight against her rule? Why is it only when Aslan comes on the scene are the inhabitants of the land empowered to stop her?

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#WitchWeek2019 starts here

…Witch Week, when there is so much magic around in the world that all sorts of peculiar things happen…
Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

Welcome to the sixth Witch Week where, aided and abetted by Lizzie Ross, I’m hosting what Lory of Emerald City Book Review originally planned as an annual event celebrating our favourite fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme — you may already have spotted it — is

VILLAINS

Diana Wynne Jones’ Witch Week (1983) is a fantasy set between Halloween and November 5th — Bonfire Night — marking the day in 1604 when Guy Fawkes was caught preparing to blow up Parliament. We’ve used this time frame to set up eight days of magic and mayhem for Witch Week 2019, beginning today.

Our readalong this year is Diana Wynne Jones’ Cart & Cwidder. A few of us had an earlier discourse on this, but we hope that some of you will join in a general discussion later in the week.

Here then is the schedule:

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In the lion’s den

Anne Fine: The Devil Walks
Corgi 2012 (2011)

A spiral has but one path to the centre, and like a whirlpool it may seem to suck you into its depths. A maze, however, gives you options, a chance to follow a different way should you so choose.

Anne Fine’s Gothick novel, aimed at young adults but no less engaging for more senior readers, offers its protagonist Daniel similar chances to escape the spiralling path of his life, one which seems to have consigned him to the life of a recluse in a sick room, fated to a permanent limbo of existence.

Until a Doctor Marlow comes calling, and releases him into the world. But at what a cost, one that will mean pain and death for some, and pangs of misery for our Daniel: will he have been freed from one lion’s den only to find himself in another?

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Whale of a time

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In just a few days it’ll be time for Witch Week, but right now I want to look forward to a little beyond that. I’ve begun one particular classic a couple of times now, but was never quite in the right frame of mind for it.

But it’s a shame to let 2019 go without giving it another try. Why? Because its author was born exactly two hundred years ago, and because Moby-Dick is bruited to be more than a simple tale of a doomed quest. So, along with fellow blogger Lizzie Ross, I shall once again begin at the beginning.

But first, I shall now glance back at works I have read (links are to my reviews) that could almost have been preparations for this adventure, volumes that have owed a part of their existence to this great whale of a tale.

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A reprehensible rodent

The two Naughty Nancy picture books

John S Goodall:
Naughty Nancy, The Bad Bridesmaid
Macmillan 1975

John Goodall:
Naughty Nancy Goes to School
André Deutsch Ltd 1985

John Strickland Goodall (1908–1996) is an artist best known for his children’s picture books with Edwardian or Victorian themes, lovingly embellished with the paraphernalia of those eras, and all no doubt a nostalgic harking-back to the author’s own childhood straddling the reigns of Edward VII and George V.

The two Naughty Nancy books — both great favourites with our own children, and now their children — are typical of one of his approaches, that of using animals in period dress (mice, in this case).

These narratives, told entirely in images, without words, are laced liberally with the humour that comes from youngsters behaving badly but somehow getting away with it.

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Shirley’s neck of the woods

Gable of Gatehouse, Kirklees Priory (H P Kendall) 1937 © Calderdale Libraries

‘And that,’ asked Miss Keeldar, pointing to the forest—‘that is Nunnwood?’
‘It is.’
‘Was it not one of Robin Hood’s haunts?’
‘Yes, and there are mementos of him still existing.’
—Chapter XII ‘Shirley and Caroline’

Welcome to the most final post on Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley (the very last despite what I suggested in an earlier piece) and welcome, especially, to the greenwood that is Nunnely Forest.

Newly established friends Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar have walked from the parish of Briarfield and are now overlooking the treetops surrounding the Nunnely Priory estate. In this novel, set towards the end of the Napoleonic wars and during a period industrial unrest, the thing we might least expect to come across might be the legend of a medieval outlaw.

But perhaps this is not so unexpected. For the two have not long before been extolling the virtues of each being a native of Yorkshire, and an independent thinker at that. Given that some Robin Hood legends are set in Barnsdale (South Yorkshire, but formerly part of the West Riding) the mention of the outlaw’s baunts is not entirely outlandish.

And there’s more.

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An awful story

Illustration by John Dickson Batten from More English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs

William Mayne:
The Worm in the Well
Hodder Children’s Books 2003 (2002)

Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs,
Aa’ll tell ye’s aall an aaful story,
Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs,
Aa’ll tell ye ‘boot the worm.

The title of this children’s novel brought to mind a ballad a fellow student used to sing many decades ago. He was from County Durham and in amongst his faithful renditions of Dylan songs was a folksy doggerel about the Lambton Worm, a dreadful medieval creature eventually vanquished by the Heir of Lambton (though not before the Heir had brought down a curse on his descendants).

The traditional story is a familiar tale type in the mould of St George and the Dragon, and Perseus and the sea monster. What William Mayne did was to take elements from this and mix them with motifs from other myths, legends and fantasy, yet all in a fashion that can disconcert the unsuspecting reader, whether child or adult.

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An old aquatint and a sailor’s yarn

The Temple at Sunium

Jostein Gaarder:
The Solitaire Mystery
Phoenix 1997 (1990)

For nearly four decades I’ve had a hand-coloured aquatint by the Romantic artist Paul Sandby (after an original by William Pars). Dated 1780, it depicts ‘The Temple of Sunium’, the ruins of which edifice still lie at the last cape every sailor sees sailing south from Athens.

It’s not a very distinguished print (my copy is blemished by water marks) and I don’t know why I particularly liked it then, but I now treasure it for its classical associations: the site from which King Aegeus threw himself into the sea when he thought that his son Theseus had been killed by the Minotaur in the Cretan labyrinth, and a place of worship dedicated to Poseidon, Greek god of the ocean and of earthquakes.

I was reminded of this picture at a highpoint of The Solitaire Mystery, when Hans Thomas and his father hope to finally see his mother Anita, who left them back in Norway many years before in order ‘to find herself’. After a journey in an old Fiat from Norway via Germany, Switzerland, Italy, the Adriatic, Delphi and Athens, father and son learn that the mother can be found at a photo-shoot in the temple at Sounion. Why she has left them, why they have sought her after many years of waiting, and what then turns out to be the eventual outcome, all this forms the frame of the story, a metaphor for the philosophical quest that Hans Thomas and his father are simultaneously engaged in on their transcontinental trip.

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Real, cool and solid

Calm your expectations; reduce them to a lowly standard. Something real, cool and solid lies before you; something unromantic as Monday morning.

Reader, I promised one last post on Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and here it finally is. This discussion will attempt to tackle structure and history, so do please still your beating hearts if you’re hoping to read about unalloyed romance.

Historical background

First, a bit of history. 1848 had been a year of upheaval in Europe, with attempted revolutions in several countries — only that in France achieved anything — and including Chartist agitation in Britain. The Chartism movement sought to widen suffrage and reform representation in Parliament, and this year saw demonstrations in England and a monster petition delivered. In the wake of these events Charles Kingsley, best known now for his ‘fairytale’ The Water-Babies (1863), published Alton Locke in 1850, an early novel of his which underlined the clergyman’s sympathy for the working man, for Chartist principles and Christian socialism.

After the relative success of Jane Eyre (1847) Charlotte Brontë also contemplated a novel based on Chartist agitation, determined to produce something as “unromantic as Monday morning”. In the event she revised her plans which were ultimately to result in Shirley.

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Unwelcome guests

Diana Wynne Jones:
Stopping for a Spell
Illustrated by Chris Mould
CollinsVoyager 2002 (1993)

I patted the uncomfortable chairs and the poor ugly tables and stroked the piano.

“Chairs,” I said, “stand up for yourselves! He insults you all the time. Tables,” I said, “he said you ought to be burnt! Piano, he told Mum to sell you. Do something, all of you! Furniture of the world, unite!” I made them a very stirring speech, all about the rights of oppressed furniture, and it made me feel much better. Not that it would do any good.

— Candida Robbins, in ‘Who Got Rid of Angus Flint?’

Three ‘magical fantasies’ make up this short story collection: ‘Chair Person’ (1989), ‘The Four Grannies’ (1980) and ‘Who Got Rid of Angus Flint?’ (1975). They all concern unwelcome guests who seemingly can only be persuaded to depart through magic inadvertently conjured up by young protagonists.

At one level these are merely slight tales of humorous mayhem familiar from much children’s literature and from Hollywood films like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; and yet on another they are rather more what the awful Angus Flint might term ‘profound’.

I propose to mainly consider the profound aspects in this review.

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Open locks, whoever knocks

Witch Week 2019

By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.

[Knocking]

Open locks,
Whoever knocks!

—Macbeth, Act IV Scene 1

Thus speaks the Second Witch to her sisters, who have sensed the arrival of a certain ne’er-do-well. Macbeth swaggers into their cave: “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!
What is’t you do?” he declares. Dramatic irony, of course, for he is guilty of what he accuses them of being. (We know a few politicians who do this, don’t we?)

Running from Halloween to Bonfire Night, Witch Week 2019 is imminent. You may still have time to acquire and read Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy Cart and Cwidder, our featured book for discussion, but if that doesn’t appeal then do sit back and enjoy the guest posts to come. Our focus is on villains, and fellow bloggers will be discussing them in

  • graphic novels
  • plays by Shakespeare
  • a Diana Wynne Jones novel
  • a series by Joan Aiken
  • and the first volume of the Chronicles of Narnia.

So, not long now to wait: this is your final reminder!

Open locks, whoever knocks.

Entrance doors, Town Hall, Leeds, West Yorkshire

City break

Edinburgh Castle, from Prince’s Street

We’ve just returned from a mini-break in The Athens of the North, also known as Edinburgh! This second visit gave us a little more time to not just revisit what we enjoyed before but to seek out some more delights — Holyrood House, Arthur’s Seat and the Botanical Gardens, for example.

As is our wont we walked everywhere, all the better to see the architectural highlights and quirks of the city’s built environment.

Literature wasn’t neglected either. I began racing (well, probably strolling leisurely) through Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, a title I’ve had on my radar for a while thinking this would be an ideal occasion to get stuck into it, seeing as it’s set here. What an unexpected surprise then to see that Scotland Street actually exists! No Number 44, however… More on this later.

I also devoured a mini-collection of short stories by Diana Wynne Jones called Stopping for a Spell, an apposite title for the witching month of October. More too on this for another post.

And I polished off and posted a review of Nina Bawden’s The Witch’s Daughter, as you will have seen, which because set in Scotland (on the east coast, though, not the west) was an apt choice too for reasons both seasonal and sojourn-related.

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Little things are important

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Nina Bawden: The Witch’s Daughter
Puffin Books 1969 (1966)

… little things are important. Even if they don’t always seem it. It’s like doing a jigsaw puzzle. All the little bits don’t mean much on their own, till you fit them together to make a pattern.
—Tim, chapter 14

Makng a pattern. This is what the human brain is trying to do all the time in order to make sense of experiences. And that’s what the reader, in common with Tim in The Witch’s Daughter, is attempting with the seemingly random facts presented in its pages.

But life isn’t nice and ordered, is it? Sometimes the occasional facts refuse to fit the pattern, like odd socks in a drawer, or a misplaced piece in a jigsaw puzzle; and this novel, though it gives us a satisfying conclusion, doesn’t attempt to resolve all the loose ends. It a strange way, this gives it an authenticity and a realism rare in much children’s literature of this period.

And from the title you might be expecting a surfeit or at least a sufficiency of the supernatural but contrary to expectations this aspect is so muted as to cause you to doubt that it’s actually present. Nevertheless I think an underlying theme is sensitivity, a sensitivity which may include feelings and perceptions that everyday folk can be unaware of.

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CrickLit 2019

CrickLit (2018 dates) advertising, Dragon Inn, Crickhowell

Five years on the Crickhowell Literary Festival goes from strength to strength, buoyed up by the small market town voted having the Best High Street in the UK and also rated the best place to live in Wales by The Sunday Times.

As usual the programme had a judicious mix of UK and Welsh authors and their books, some of which I volunteered to steward at, and all were curated by festival directors Emma Corfield-Walters of Book-ish and Anne Rowe, Visiting Professor at the University of Chichester and Emeritus Research at the University of Kingston.

Just to give a flavour of proceedings, these are the talks I was present at, along with brief summaries.

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Life of Python

mpfoot

Graham Chapman (Estate), John Cleese, Terry Gilliam,
Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Bob McCabe:
The Pythons’ Autobiography By The Pythons
Orion Books 2005 (2003)

All the Pythons (one from his grave) give a collective account of the career of the owner of one Flying Circus, an account made up of extracts from interviews and extracts from diaries and published memoirs.

The late Graham Chapman is represented by his own surreal recollections and comments from family members and partner, while the rest discourse freely on their early lives, education, university experiences (principally Oxbridge) and occupations as comedy writers, actors and (in the case of Terry Gilliam) cartoonist, before fame, fortune, frustration and infamy beckoned.

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