Marvellous March

‘Hare on the Run’: engraving by Kay Leverton

The third month of the year marks the start of Spring – March, named after the god Mars in his agrarian guise, when hares madly box before mating, during which the vernal equinox takes place which is when some cultures chose to start the new year.

March also marks another round of literary events on the bookish blogosphere, inspired by patron saints, author anniversaries and continuing prompts or challenges.

For any bloggers who might be interested, I’m hoping to join in some of these events with at least one title as a way of shaping my reading for the next few weeks. Curious? Here is some of my intended reading.

Continue reading “Marvellous March”

Knight time

Ivanhoe by Walter Scott (1819),
illustrated by Norman Nodel.
Classics Illustrated Replica No 29,
CCS Books, 2018 (1958).

I first read Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe in one of the cheap hardcover UK editions in the early 60s – possibly from Blackie & Sons, Thomas Nelson or Dean & Sons – but not since, and though I retained some memories of the key figures and the final outcome both the sequence and the writing itself remained hazy.

So it was with some curiosity that I picked up this graphic novel version. First published in 1958, I don’t remember ever reading this offering from the Classics Illustrated stable even though this was a series which formed a lot of my pre-teen reading; however not all issues were truly classic then – for example, the comics adaptation I read of Frank Buck’s Bring ‘Em Back Alive was brought out not long after his death in 1950.

This being a reissue the colours are a lot brighter and fresher than I remember, perhaps the result of it being printed on better quality paper. If, as a result, Merrie England comes across as more technicolor than we thought, on the plus side it makes following the story a distraction-free experience.

Continue reading “Knight time”

#LoveHain: Planet of Exile

WordPress Free Photo Library

Following Rocannon’s World, the second of Ursula K Le Guin’s published Hainish novels was Planet of Exile (1966), and it’s the second title up for discussion in the series of posts with the #LoveHain tag.

You may well know the drill by now: three questions follow which you’re free to answer but which you can also ignore and go freestyle with your commentary on the novel.

And when you’ve commented, and maybe linked to your own (or somebody else’s!) review or discussion, remember the third of the trio of early Hainish novels, City of Illusions, is the read for March, with a  discussion post up on Friday 31st March.

Continue reading “#LoveHain: Planet of Exile”

Imaginary biologists

Dragon, Miskin Manor Hotel © C A Lovegrove

Dewi the Dragon by Christie Davies.
Y Lolfa, 2006.

“Ah, yes, the invention of the bus-eating dragon,” said Professor Russell unperturbed. “You see, in nature, imaginary animals spring into existence spontaneously, but only when a number of people think about them intensely at the same time. That is why there are dragons in Wales and China but not in Chad or Tasmania.”


Touted as “a book for children and adults of all ages, who enjoy a good laugh, a good adventure story and the imaginary real,” Dewi the Dragon is a slim volume of four related stories featuring young Mair Jenkins from Pentrediwaith¹ near Swansea, a Professor of Imaginary Biology called Bill Russell, Dr Mabel Wong who runs a sanctuary in Cardiff for imaginary animals, and of course the said imaginary animal.

Yet much as I enjoyed this reread of a book gifted to me in 2006 for its broad approachability, its humour, its storytelling and its fantasy, it was nevertheless tinged for me with sadness: one of the characters on whom it was based – the one who’d presented me with this copy – unfortunately died suddenly, just a matter of a few weeks after I’d received it.

But it’s with a degree of pleasure that revisiting this work of fiction has brought back to mind the ebullient nature of a former correspondent, reminding me of his stupendous erudition, sparkling wit and magpie nature even as I follow the adventures of Mair and her pet dragon.

Continue reading “Imaginary biologists”

Confound their language

Vintage GWR LMS poster of Christ Church, Oxford

Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence:
An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution
by Rebecca F Kuang.
Harper Voyager, 2022.

And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.

Genesis 11:4

The geographical centre of England. Dreaming spires. Ivory towers. But violence? Revolution? But then this is also subtitled “an arcane history” in the chronology of the University of Oxford, so we may take the violence and the revolt with a pinch of salt: such things as are described can never happen, we may assume. Or can they?

Babel is epic, in all senses of the word.  It’s a story, sure enough, from the Greek ἔπος, epos, a speech, a song, demonstrating its love of language and literature; it’s composed to be on a grand scale, ranging to and fro from Guangzhou to Oxford and covering many years; it’s also epic in the modern sense of awesome, impressing through its ambition and sheer imaginative creativity; and it’s also epic in that it’s over five hundred pages long, which for some may be too much and for others deliciously intense.

In focusing on a quartet of language students in the 1830s it encourages us – successfully, I think – to invest in their personal and collective histories. But it also invites us to contemplate ethics, colonialism, racism, loyalty, and privilege; and above all we are asked to consider the necessity of violence in attempting to break the obduracy of those who rule while disregarding the needs of all in society.

Continue reading “Confound their language”

Do unto others

© C A Lovegrove

The Golden Rule by Amanda Craig.
Abacus, 2021 (2020).

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Luke 6:31

A little way into this modern morality tale Hannah – poverty-stricken, downtrodden, and en route to see her dying mother in Cornwall – is invited into a first-class carriage by Jinni. To Hannah’s surprise she finds herself making a pact with Jinni for each to murder the other’s husband, consciously echoing the central concept in Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train. All that remains is, apparently, to see how this plays out.

I see, however, that I’m not the only reader to find this mix of mystery thriller and misery memoir hard going, primarily because anyone familiar with domestic abuse – personally or through a family member or acquaintance – will recognise all the classic signs: the physical and psychological abuse, the bullying and the financial strictures, the control exerted through coercion and threats, made especially unbearable when there are children involved.

So, if it weren’t for the murder mystery element in the novel and the literary parallels which the author referenced the sheer misery of proceedings would’ve been enough to have depressed this reader immeasurably. However, Amanda Craig raises hopes here that guilty parties will get their just desserts, not just echoing the Sermon on the Mount but also, as some may know, Charles Kingsley’s fairy Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, the counterpart of Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby in The Water-Babies. Will Hannah – her name in Hebrew means ‘grace’ or ‘favoured one’ – conform to the hypothesis of nominative determinism?

Continue reading “Do unto others”

#TDiRS22: The Lost Land

Susan Cooper,

What happens in fantasy has come out of the universe of truth.

Susan Cooper.¹

A large section of the final book in Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence is set in what she calls The Lost Land – which, incidentally, is the name of her official website, In Silver on the Tree two of the protagonists, Will Stanton and Bran Davies, travel back in time to the City, the Country, and the Castle of this Lost Land to win a key object in their fight against the Dark.

A few readers feel confused by this episode. So many previous episodes in the sequence are set in real or nearly real places – Cornwall, Buckinghamshire, Wales – even if transformed by magic, and in a fictional present or past; but the Lost Land is so obviously a fantastical setting that it almost seems out of place.

In this discussion post I want to explore some of the author’s likely literary and historical inspirations for her Lost Land and suggest possible reasons for including the boys’ sojourn here in an area off the coast of Wales now covered by the sea.

Continue reading “#TDiRS22: The Lost Land”

The goblin master

Arthur Rackham:
Masterpieces of Art

by Joseph Simas.
Flame Tree Publishing, 2015.

A treasured book in my childhood – unfortunately no longer in my possession – was The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book, a hardback first published in 1933 with “23 favourite tales” and a full-colour dust jacket labelled ‘Hop-o’-my-thumb went up to the Ogre softly and pulled off his seven-league boots.’

That selection of fairytales ranged from traditional English tales through Grimm, Perrault, Andersen, and even Washington Irving, to the Arabian Nights, and featured full-page colour illustrations by Rackham, with some black and white pen and ink vignettes and silhouettes peppered through the text.

Forever nostalgic for a missing childhood gem I therefore pounced on this art book when I spotted it in the library to help ease the ache of loss; and a delightful romp through the range of Rackham’s œuvre it certainly proved.

Continue reading “The goblin master”

Winter fuel

Pembrokeshire garden © C A Lovegrove

RSPB Pocket Birds
by Jonathan Elphick and John Woodward.
Dorling Kindersley 2003.

17th January, 2013. As I write this there is a female Great Spotted Woodpecker on the bird feeder, hammering away at the fat balls.

I don’t hear it early morning now as it taps the bark on the dying Scots pine outside – maybe there’s no live food available, or maybe I’m not waking early enough – but it’s got bolder and no longer flies away in fright when we appear at the window, as the occasional shy jay does. The woodpecker is a sight to swell the heart, with its striking pied plumage and the bold splash of red under its tail clearly visible as it feeds.

As it’s winter now, with the first appearances of sleet and snow, it’s vital to keep the feeders replenished with mixed seed and fat balls to provide fuel for wild birds.

Continue reading “Winter fuel”

Humour is the salt

Paper-cut by Hans Christian Andersen

Fairy Tales and Stories
by Hans Christian Andersen,
translated with an introduction by Reginald Spink.
Illustrations by the author.
Everyman’s Library No 4, 1960.

“My aim was to be the writer for all ages; the naīve was only one element of the fairy tales, and humour was the salt in them.”
– Andersen.

Introduction, vii

Hans Christian Andersen wrote more than 150 fairytales and short stories, several of which are not only familiar but well-loved around the world. ‘The Little Mermaid,’ ‘The Ugly Duckling,’ ‘Thumbelina,’ ‘The Princess on the Pea,’ ‘The Steadfast Tin Soldier’, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, ‘The Little Match Girl’ – the mere mention of the titles is often enough to evoke the entirety of each tale in our minds.

It’s sometimes easy to forget they’re not entirely traditional tales because they were penned and published by an eccentric Danish writer two centuries ago; and yet they’ve achieved traditional status partly because Andersen based many of them on the stories he’d heard growing up, or written highly individual variations on tales he’d read from The Arabian Nights and the collections by the Brothers Grimm.

Yet, apart from the often repeated stories, whether retold straight or adapted in various media, there are a host of his other whimsical, even melancholy, narratives which remain generally unknown or ignored, pieces which deserve seeking out to be enjoyed, or at least turned over in the mind. As a whole it’s a collection I personally have found worth keeping by the bed to dip into.

Continue reading “Humour is the salt”

Incidental extras

Frederic Edwin Church’s 1865 painting “Aurora Borealis”: Wikipedia Commons

“Everything has a meaning, if only we could read it.”
— ‘Lyra and the Birds’

The recently published short story The Collectors by Philip Pullman was a moderately satisfying stopgap while we awaited the final volume of his The Book of Dust, which is anticipated as the completion of the saga of Lyra Silvertongue and her dæmon Pantalaimon.

Following on from the His Dark Materials trilogy The Book of Dust has been extending the long journey that began in 1995 with Northern Lights (titled The Golden Compass in North America in case the UK title was assumed to indicate a nonfiction book, but erroneous in that the alethiometer is neither golden nor indeed a compass).

But Pullman has been filling in some of the gaps with what I consider as incidental extras, giving us bits of history to enlarge the background to places and personages in Lyra’s world, feeding us tantalising tidbits to assuage our literary cravings.

Continue reading “Incidental extras”