#WitchWeek2019: When shall we all meet again?

Well, the world has survived another Witch Week. Lizzie and Chris couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone who participated:

  • Laurie of Relevant Obscurity, for her terrific post about that ice-hearted Narnian witch, Jadis, not to mention her perceptive contributions to our discussion of DWJ’s Cart & Cwidder
  • Sari of The View from Sari’s World, whose survey of Shakespearean villains dripped with bloody images
  • Jean of Jean Lee’s World, who introduced us to one of the scariest aunts in fantasy literature
  • people, too numerous to mention, who added comments and questions; Tweeted/Facebooked links to our posts; and included pingbacks, links, and reviews on their own blogs
  • our readers across the globe
  • and, finally, a nod of appreciation to Lory of Emerald City Book Review, who 5 years ago started this annual celebration of Diana Wynne Jones and fantasy fiction, yet willingly relinquished the chains so that Lizzie and Chris could have a turn — MANY THANKS, LORY!

For anyone who just can’t get enough, here are the links for the Witch Week Master Posts from earlier years.

Thanks again to all of you for sharing this event with us, and we hope you’ll join us next year, at Lizzie’s blog, when our theme will be …

* GOTHICK *

#WitchWeek2019 Day 2: Graphic Villainy

WW2019

Lizzie Ross, co-convener since 2018 and last year’s co-host for Witch Week, blogs about reading and writing at LizzieRossWriter.com. In this post she rightly draws attention to villains in graphic novels, the range of which may prove surprising to those not familiar with this genre.


Yesterday, Laurie from Relevant Obscurity set the tone for Witch Week 2019 by providing us with a list of despicable qualities found in evil rulers. In this post I apply Laurie’s points to villains of all sorts in fantasy graphic novels. Some of these villains are leaders or want to be; others use/enslave/kill characters to gain power or wealth or longer life; still others just seem to get joy out of causing mayhem. But whatever their motivations, they’re all heinous enough to provide frissons of horror.

Continue reading “#WitchWeek2019 Day 2: Graphic Villainy”

Witch Week Day 5: Discussion of The Other Wind

THE OTHER WIND Discussion, Witch Week 2018

Lizzie, Lory and Chris approached this discussion of The Other Wind, the read-along book, not as a Q/A session, but rather as responses developing over time and in conversation with each other. Below: the edited version, with sections that match our Feminism+Fantasy theme. For the complete version (17 pages!), click here. And if you’ve read the book please join the conversation in the Comments.

Chapter I. Mending the Green Pitcher

LIZZIE: I’m glad to see Ged play a part in the action – to hear his reference to Tenar as his wife, and watch him only minimally regretful/angry about the loss of his powers.

CHRIS: Time enough for Ged to be better reconciled to his loss of power and status. He derives a quiet joy from mundane tasks and routines, but it is now Alder who is confused by Ged’s acceptance of a massive change of status and refusal to see Lebannen.

LORY: Ged has made a huge journey through the novels. In A Wizard of Earthsea, we meet him as a proud, insecure, sometimes arrogant young man, eager to acquire and display power. He matured into a wiser man who recognized the importance of balance and restraint. Now, having given away his extraordinary powers to restore balance to the world, he recognizes the value of the mundane and ordinary. It’s where all the magic comes from, after all, and what it should serve.

It makes me think about our own world and the power of simple acts: mending, tending, healing, caring. But I still wonder: Why does Ged refuse to meet the King or his fellow wizards? Is it really shame and regret? Or does he simply not fit into their world any more, would he feel too out of place?

Continue reading “Witch Week Day 5: Discussion of The Other Wind”

Witch Week Day 2: Sword-for-Hire

Tomorrow, two avid fans of Sapkowski’s Witcher series discuss the women of Witcher, so today Lizzie gives you a quick intro to the books and characters with this review.

Andrzej Sapkowski: The Last Wish: Introducing The Witcher
English translation by Danusia Stok
Orbit Books 2007 (1993)

The Last Wish comprises six short stories, framed by interludes that together constitute a seventh. Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher, offers his services to villages and towns in several principalities of a medieval world. Amphisbaena, basilisk, dragon, striga, vampire – if it’s troubling your district, he’ll get rid of it for you.

The Witcher is bred for battle and then schooled for a life of rescuing the world. Armed with various types of swords and knives, not to mention potions and elixirs, Geralt is nearly invincible. Yet he resents that people think he is a hired killer, “a job that wasn’t in keeping with either honor or the witcher’s code.” He also sees the irony of his work: the more successful he is, the fewer monsters there will be to kill.

Yet these stories focus more on Geralt’s clashes with women than with monsters: sorceresses, queens, rebels –- all as skilled as men in battle or politics or both, all enraged enough to frighten whomever they challenge. Having been betrayed, they’re quick to betray another’s trust. A negotiated peace is often a feint; a shared secret the key to power over an opponent.
Continue reading “Witch Week Day 2: Sword-for-Hire”

A week to go to Witch Week

One week from today, Lizzie Ross and I will be hosting Witch Week, a celebration of fantasy fiction and feminism. If you haven’t already, do look back at my announcement post or at Lizzie’s post here. Then come back here and/or to Lizzie’s blog on October 30 for a preview, a schedule, a readalong and more before the fun really starts on Halloween, continuing until Bonfire Night on November 5th, followed by a wrap-up post. Do join us!

Incidentally, the Witch Week 2018 logo features a detail from The Little Foot Page (1905), a painting by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. This shows Burd Helen, a tragic Scottish heroine who dressed as a page boy to follow her cruel lover barefoot while he rode on horseback. The painting shows her dressing as a boy and cutting her long hair. (After this painting was exhibited we’re told that female art students started cutting their hair in page boy style, possibly inspired by this image.)

An old Scottish ballad in Francis James Child’s 19th-century collection gives a flavour of her awful treatment by the lover who’d made her pregnant.

‘And ever I pray you, Child Waters,
Your foot page let me be!’

‘If you will my foot page be, Ellen,
As you do tell it me,
Then you must cut your gown of green
An inch above your knee.

‘So must you do your yellow locks,
Another inch above your eye;
You must tell no man what is my name;
My foot page then you shall be.’

All this long day Child Waters rode,
She ran barefoot by his side;
Yet was he never so courteous a knight
To say, Ellen, will you ride?

But all this day Child Waters rode,
She ran barefoot through the broom;
Yet he was never so courteous a knight
As to say, Put on your shoon.

When feminism combines with fantasy, female characters are more likely to ride, and to wear shoes — as we’ll learn during Witch Week. Past conventions required women to sacrifice quite a bit — the fates of Tess of the D’Urbervilles and other heroines — exactly what Le Guin was fighting against in her re-visioning of Earthsea and as we hope to explore further!

Witch Week 2018 is coming…

Ursula Le Guin

Fellow blogger and author Lizzie Ross and I are co-hosting Witch Week 2018. This is a yearly event, first aired on Lory Hess‘s Emerald City Book Review, named after the third book of the same name in Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series.

The week runs from 30th October to 6th November, so it includes two great holidays: Halloween AND Guy Fawkes’ Day. The first is now mostly associated with witches and spooky goings-on, of course, while the second, commemorating the uncovering of a plot to blow up Parliament and King James, is an excuse to celebrate with bonfires and fireworks in the UK.

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot.

This year, our theme is Feminism + Fantasy, so our read-along book will be Ursula K Le Guin‘s The Other Wind, the final book in the Earthsea series. You have plenty of time to get a copy and read it (perhaps the rest of the series as well) before 30 October. Then join the conversation as we discuss what happens when Le Guin throws a feminist dynamic into the fantastic world of Earthsea.

We’ll have guest bloggers, including this event’s originator and previous host, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, and other features to be finalised and announced as we get closer to the event. We do hope you’ll join in!

Cymbeline, Act II

cowslipsWilliam Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act II in five scenes

“… On her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
I’ the bottom of a cowslip …”

— Cymbeline II ii

Most of the principal characters having been introduced in Act I, Act II settles down to working out some of the scenarios that have been triggered: so the mystery of the chest supposedly filled with treasures for the Roman emperor is now revealed, and Iachimo’s trap is sprung. The Queen’s son, Cloten, who has been revealed as a strutting coxcomb in Act I, continues to display what a complete clot he is: having heard that an ‘Italian’ (Iachimo from Rome) is newly arrived, he expresses his intentions to beat him, perhaps cheat him, in some game or other. Though he never gets to meet Iachimo, we don’t doubt the outcome of that match. It is in the next scene, in Imogen’s bedchamber that the apparent ‘tragedie’ of the drama is played out. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act II”

Cymbeline, Act I

Ely House portrait
Shakespeare: the Ely Palace portrait, probably 19th-century — before 1864, when it first appeared

William Shakespeare
The Tragedie of Cymbeline
Act I in six scenes

The Medieval and Renaissance sense of the past was particularly liable to admit anachronisms, for example narrating how pre-Christian classical heroes would go to Mass before setting out on their adventures. In Cymbeline Shakespeare had no worries about anachronistic details: a story set just before the arrivals of the Romans in Britain includes for example men from France, Holland and Spain, when these countries were yet to come into existence, and its curious mix of Welsh, Italian and Latin-sounding names is quite disconcerting. But the author cares not a jot or a tittle about this, for this is principally a fantasy about power struggles in high politics, conducted by individuals with very human failings. Like many a Shakespearean comedy (don’t be fooled by the ‘tragedie’ label of its original title) it is essentially a fairytale full of all the folktale motifs and themes that we expect from traditional stories. Continue reading “Cymbeline, Act I”

Shakespeare’s The Tragedie of Cymbeline

Scene-II-Act-IV-From-Cymbeline-By-William-Shakespeare-1564-1616
Henry Singleton Scene ii Act IV from Cymbeline http://www.1st-art-gallery.com/Henry-Singleton/Scene-II-Act-IV-From-Cymbeline-By-William-Shakespeare-1564-1616.html

Shakespeare was christened on April 26th, 1564, four and a half centuries ago. To mark his birth — traditionally set on St George’s Day, feast day of England’s patron saint, though his actual birthday is not known — Lizzie Ross and I will be looking at one of his more obscure plays, The Tragedie of Cymbeline, act by act until we get to April 26th. We tweeted a similar dialogue with our views on the graphic novel Watchmen.

CymbelineAccording to IMDb a modern version of Cymbeline is due to be released as a film this year, set in New York and starring Ed Harris, Dakota Johson, Ethan Hawke and Milla Jovovich among others. This will be a far cry from either Iron Age Britain, when Cunobelinus ruled from Camulodunum — now Colchester in Essex — or from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s chronicle The History of the Kings of Britain, which in turn supplied Cymbeline as a fantasy character to later inspire Shakespeare via Holinshed’s Chronicles.

But despite the title, this is not primarily a tale about the king — as we will no doubt see.

 

Looking Both Ways

Janus on a 3rd-century coin (Wikipedia Commons)
Janus on a 3rd-century coin (Wikipedia Commons)

Traditionally when approaching year’s end and anticipating the new a janiform attitude is called for. To celebrate a year of reading I’ve decided to highlight twelve posts, one for each month and chosen more or less at random, which I hope you might enjoy reading for the first time (or re-reading if you’re already familiar with them).

First is a discussion Continue reading “Looking Both Ways”

A book of spells

book
Statue with book, Old Library, Cardiff

Lizzie Ross Kenning Magic
Saguaro Books (2013)

You’ll look in vain for Mitlery and its neighbour Sarony in an atlas: they are to found only in the minds of their author and her readers. A miniscule map in Kenning Magic does at least help you orientate yourself: the western tip of Mitlery lies across a strait from Sarony (which we glimpse in the northwest corner of the map) while to the east are mountains harbouring goats and the creatures that prey on them. Rivers drain down from the mountains to feed into the Zilfur Zee, and habitations dot the land, from villages and towns in the countryside to fishing villages, ports and the country’s capital on the coast.

In a village in the centre of Mitlery lives young teenage orphan Noni. She’s different from everybody else in this land: in a country where magical ability is the birthright of every individual she is the exception. But what she does have is the ability to read, the ‘kenning’ magic of the title, and this grants her access to Oma’s book, an heirloom filled with tales and poems. When virtually everyone in Mitlery mysteriously loses their magical ability (apart from her friend Twig, a sixteen-year-old boy who luckily carries an apotropaic talisman) her reading skills give her and Twig the chance to find a way to restore magic to her countrymen as they set off on a journey to find the mysterious Book of Spells.

Lizzie Ross has, in Mitlery, created a believable secondary world, one inhabited by fallible humans similar to us and which has climates, seasons and physical geography that are easy to relate to and appreciate. These touches of realism are heightened by the accepted use of magic, the existence of creatures like dragons and the butterflies that feed off their scales (a singularly striking conception) along with the accepted fairytale convention that allows the meek to, if not exactly inherit the earth, at least prove the catalyst that rights the balance between good and evil. Because, of course, conflict resolution requires that there are two opposing sides and, as Ross notes in her acknowledgements, this story “began with the villains’ names and grew from there”. The baddies — DeBoyas and siblings Pintz and Wanda — are deliciously evil and clearly render the youngsters’ task of overturning their maleficence an uphill struggle. Continue reading “A book of spells”