Six degrees

It’s the start of October tomorrow and thus apparently time for Six Degrees of Separation (#6degrees), a meme posted by many bloggers I follow, run by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best.

The idea is to start at the same place as other readers, then add six books to see where one ends up. It’s not a meme I normally do — I think I’ve only attempted it once before, and that was by liberally interpreting the rules — but I fancy a go now.

In October we start with a novella by Henry James, The Turn of the Screw,* a good choice for this time of year as it’s a classic ghost story. (Or is it?) Here starteth the chain of connections.

1. I took the notion of turning from the title of James’s story and thought next of the twists and turns detailed in Jeff Saward’s Magical Paths: labyrinths and mazes in the 21st century. Essentially the paths in the manifestations of this ancient symbol are devious routes towards a central goal, or to a hoped-for exit; Saward’s illustrated coffee table tome explores the varieties of mazes and labyrinths through the ages and throughout the world.

2. I took the next link from the subtitle of J R R Tolkien’s The Hobbit which, as the subtitle There and Back Again suggests, perfectly encapsulates the idea of a unicursal maze, in which the path to the centre has to be retraced in order to return to the start. Whether read in its original format or as a graphic novel, hobbitomanes will recognise in this return trip the same model as Tolkien was later to re-use for the journeyings in The Lord of the Rings.

3. Tolkien also retold The Story of Kullervo: this was his early attempt to versify a story from the Finnish national epic The Kalevala, first compiled by Elias Lönnrot using traditional legends and myths.

4. Finland is the next link and takes us to the Swedish-speaking Finnish author Tove Jansson and her exquisite The Summer Book, a semi-fictional account of idyllic times on an island in the Gulf of Finland.

5. Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave is set in multiple locations in a not so idyllic summer. Part of the narrative features the sighting of a dobhar-chú or ‘water-hound’ in an Irish lough — is it real or is it only the result of an excitable imagination?

6. We end with another book including ghostly sightings — Joan Aiken’s The Haunting of Lamb House, which, spanning multiple time periods in a mansion in Rye, also includes a sequence with Henry James.

Which is where we started: Henry James and ghosts, thence twisting and turning through labyrinthine paths first to a mythic Finland, then through summers and back to ghosts and Henry James.

Where might your journeying have taken you, somewhere exotic, or there and back again?


* Links are to my reviews.

26 thoughts on “Six degrees

    1. Thanks, Lisa, I wrote this straight after I saw what the next starting point was — having read The Turn of the Screw I easily worked out what the links in the literary daisy chain might be, and was pleased to be able to return to the starting point!

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    1. I’d have to be fired up by the starting point, Annabel, as I was in this case, to do this more regularly, but thanks! This may well not be a blue moon occasion however… 😁

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  1. A quick game of literary connections to see if I’ve grasped the rules. The TV adaptation of Turn of the Screw (2009) starred Michelle Dockery. I saw her the following year as Ophelia in Hamlet (Sheffield Crucible). Nutshell is Ian McEwan’s re-telling of Hamlet which brings me to Chesil Beach, his novel about unconsummated marriage. J Meade Faulkner’s Moonfleet is set on Chesil Beach (or near to it) and in this John Trenchard and Elzevir Block play backgammon a game also played by Dr Manette in A Tale of Two Cities. The Two cities are London and Paris and this leads me finally to Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell.

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    1. That’s pretty much how to do it, Simon, the books (or adaptations, or scripts) as the beads or gems, the links of course the connections. And that’s a great chain you’ve created! I also like to see if I can find a way back to the starting point, but however satisfying isn’t part of the rules.

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    1. I think I may have jumped the gun a bit but I couldn’t resist the starting point! And the title was clearly chosen to lead into the season of ghosts and things that go bump in the night…

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    1. The Kullervo book is one of the many cobbled together by his son Christopher; I borrowed the copy I read from the library rather than owning one, as it’s a bit of a curiosity. Thanks for the link to your post, which I’ve now commented on!

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