Summer reading

I’m coming to the end of one reading focus, the Wyrd and Wonder fantasy blogging event (cohosted by Lisa, Imyril and Jorie) and have been pleased with the material I’ve got through. And so the next focus which I fancy subscribing to is Cathy Brown‘s 20 Books of Summer.

Actually, for this event one is free to go with any number of options and so it is that I’ve aimed to be sensible by choosing just ten titles (though, as Cathy says, one can up this number, change titles, or even admit defeat).

Also, next month is Jazz Age June, a new event set up by Laurie @ Relevant Obscurity and Fanda at ClassicLit. This reading event runs from June 1st to 30th, aiming to explore the 1920s through literature and other arts.

So as we approach the cusp between one month and the next here is my catalogue raisonné of books read and to-be-read, which I offer for your possible delectation and deliberation.

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“Greed puts out the sun.”

Islands

Ursula Le Guin: The Other Wind
Orion Children’s Books 2002 (2001)

O my joy!
Before bright Ea was, before Segoy
Bade the islands be,
The morning wind blew on the sea.
O my joy, be free!

When Lebannen, king of all the isles of Earthsea, remembers this fragment of a ballad or lullaby from his childhood he is sailing on the Inland Sea. A storm has passed; whether it is the words, the tune or being on deck that has brought the words to mind matters less than that it is a leitmotif for this final novel in the Earthsea sequence, and perhaps for the whole sequence. It recalls a beginning and even an ending, for on the last page Tenar whispers the final words to Ged: O my joy, be free . . .

The Other Wind is, however one looks at it, the last novel in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea sequence: the collection Tales from Earthsea includes episodes which predate the events in this swansong instalment but these two books, along with Tehanu, form a balancing trilogy with the first three books which, the author came to recognise, gave a rather unbalanced worldview of her creation in terms of gender.

As Earthsea’s existence and survival is bound up with balance, it was only morally and poetically right for its Creator to follow the male-dominated first trilogy with a second reasserting female contribution; and if that involved if not retconning then at least establishing that the fulcrum of power on the Island of Roke was initiated by women as much as men justice could not only be done but seen to be done. And though some benighted erstwhile fans saw this somehow as too politically correct, to this reader at least Earthsea’s yin was finally complemented by its yang and Le Guin’s passion made manifest.

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#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 6: Cart and Cwidder

Cart and Cwidder HarperCollins UK edition 2016

When their father, a travelling minstrel is killed, three children involved in rebellion and intrigues inherit a lute-like cwidder with more than musical powers.
— From the first edition of Cart and Cwidder, Macmillan 1975

You’ll by now be aware that Witch Week takes its title from a novel of the same name, ostensibly for children, by Diana Wynne Jones, who died in 2011. So it seemed apt to have as this year’s novel for discussion Cart & Cwidder, the first volume in a fantasy quartet set in a polity called Dalemark. In fact the very first Witch Week featured The Spellcoats, another Dalemark novel in which the principal villain is actually identified.

Three of us have had a detailed online chat about this — an edited version is offered below — but a number of you have also taken up the challenge of reading it beforehand so that you could join in today’s conversation, and you are very welcome to add your comments below. The participants in the online chat were Laurie Welch (red), Chris Lovegrove (green), and Lizzie Ross (blue). Our comments coalesced around topics such as magic, historical setting, bildungsromans, zeitgeist, and of course villains!

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#WitchWeek2019 Day 5: Sinister Relations

Jean Lee is a blogger, author and massive fan of Diana Wynne Jones.

Jean was an obvious choice, therefore, for inviting to participate in this event as one of DWJ’s books was the principal inspiration for it, and we’re very grateful she responded so enthusiastically!

She has chosen to focus on one of Jones’ most sinister figures, Aunt Maria from Black Maria (1991), published as Aunt Maria in North America.


Firstly, dear readers, I am honored to be here with you during this most magical Witch Week. Diana Wynne Jones is one of my absolute favorite writers for many reasons: her arduous childhood, her steel resolve, her motherly devotion, and her bottomless love for sharing the gift of storytelling with others. While others wrote what she called “Real Books,” books that described real-ish kids in real-ish situations going through all the real-ish problems that kids deal with in real life, Jones stood firm on the position that Real Problems can be solved with Unreal Books. The Ogre Downstairs, for example, is a lovely example of a blended family coming together when a magical chemistry set forever alters the “chemistry” of their lives (ba dum CH!). Indeed, Jones has never been one to shy away from the tough conflicts that can arise inside the family unit. Heavens, in Charmed Life Gwendolyn doesn’t just kill her own parents but her kid brother Cat, multiple times. Divorce, too, impacts characters such as young Polly in Fire and Hemlock, and Mig in Black Maria. Polly and Mig both learn who truly cherishes family … and who doesn’t.

Which brings us to the sweet old lady that is Aunt Maria.

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#WitchWeek2019 Day 4: Baked in a pie

Fig 1. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, John Singer Sargent, 1889 (National Portrait Gallery)

Today’s Witch Week guest post is by Sari Nichols, who tweets as Armchair Scholar and blogs at The View from Sari’s World and at The Groundling’s Guide to Shakespeare. Her expertise suggested her as an ideal guide to Shakspearean villains.

As Kipling wrote, “The female of the species is deadlier than the male,” and that may well prove to be the case in the Bard’s work as Sari explores some especially wicked wives, dastardly daughters, and murderous mothers.


My official introduction to Shakespeare happened during a high school English class reading. Our teacher must have been a frustrated actor because he didn’t just read the play, he entertained us students with a one-man production of Macbeth!

While I found his antics highly engaging, the play didn’t resonate with me; at 17 I could not connect with a murderous medieval king. It was not until our teacher began to talk about the madness and death of Lady Macbeth that I began to see value in the play (Act V).

Lady Macbeth: Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power to
account?

Yet who would have thought the old man
to have had so much blood in him.

The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?—
What, will these hands ne’er be clean?—No more o’
that, my lord, no more o’ that: you mar all with
this starting.

The queen cannot cope with her role in the death of King Duncan and the aftermath of this vile act. She sleepwalks, looking at her hands, sometimes attempting to wash them, all the while wondering if she will ever be the same; we learn the answer a few lines later, Lady Macbeth has killed herself.

The thought of doing something so damning as to stain one’s soul petrified me. I vowed right there and then that I would never do something that I would regret to the point that I would have to ask if my hands ne’er be clean. This bargain I made with myself led me to study and appreciate Shakespeare. It would make sense, as it was one of his plays that helped shape teen Sari into young adult Sari.

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#WitchWeek2019 Day 3: Wolfish villains

For many years now, as many of you know, I have on this blog been exploring one of Joan Aiken‘s alternative worlds with its alternative history, set mainly in a paracosmic Britain of the 1830s and 1840s. This ‘Wolfish Villains’ post is a fairly rare overview, looking at a set of character types whose anticipated defeats provide the impetus for much of the action.


Should young readers be presented with really hair-raising villains? I believe so. They love to be scared, and are more robust than adults…
—Joan Aiken: ‘The Way to Write for Children’ (1982)

This post for Witch Week examines some of the villains the late Joan Aiken created for the series beginning with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, a sequence which — thanks to Lizza Aiken — we now know as the Wolves Chronicles.

Almost every one of the novels that comprise this alternative history — eleven, twelve, or thirteen of them, depending on which ones are regarded as belonging to this alternative world — has at least one villain as the main antagonist pitted against the principal protagonist (who is invariably a child or young adult).

Like fairytales or classical comedies, the Chronicles fit the pattern of the protagonist overcoming all vicissitudes, usually defeating the villain, followed by a happy ending of sorts. Aiken’s antagonists, on the other hand, are frequently archetypal bad ‘uns — pantomime villains, almost, twirling their metaphorical moustaches — yet that doesn’t stop them being chillingly portrayed as not just sociopaths but psychopaths.

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#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.

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#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?

Continue reading “#WitchWeek2019 Day 1: the White Witch of Narnia”

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

Witch Week 2019 is coming

In two months it will be that traditional witching period of the year, which will mean it’s now time to remind you of the annual blogging event that is due then.

Witch Week is an annual event inspired by a 1982 novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. As always it’s planned to run from Halloween to Bonfire Night, the day celebrating the failure of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. (The ‘mother of all parliaments’ is going through a different kind of crisis just now.)

Inaugurated by Lory of Emerald City Book Review, the week (now in its sixth year) features guest posts and a readalong all under a broad theme; for 2019 this is VILLAINS.

Curated this year, as last year, by Lizzie Ross and myself, 2019’s posts will all appear here on Calmgrove: at present we plan that they will feature selected villains from Shakespeare and in graphic novels, in the Chronicles of Narnia, in Diana Wynne Jones’ Black Maria (also published as Aunt Maria) and in Joan Aiken’s Wolves Chronicles.

The readalong will be Cart and Cwidder, from Diana Wynne Jones’ fantasy sequence The Dalemark Quartet; you are invited to read this beforehand and join in a discussion introduced by an edited online conversation.

The wrap-up post will then announce next year’s theme, one we hope you will love getting your teeth into!

Two months sounds a long time away but that will give us time to chivvy along tardy guests (including me!) and also give you time to think around the theme as well as to source a copy of the readalong. (HarperCollins Children’s Books have published a new UK edition in the last couple or so years, for example.)

Hope you’re as excited as we are: heaven knows that villains are more acceptable in fiction than in real life…

The Imaginarium by Chris Riddell, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights, Bath

Mischief, thou art afoot

“Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot.
Take thou what course thou wilt.” Mark Anthony, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

It may seem odd for those of us in the northern hemisphere anticipating high summer to be considering the onset of winter, but that is what this post is asking its readers to do. (Denizens of the southern hemisphere, I pray your indulgence.)

The reason for this timely yet untimely reminder is that in less than six months time, if the Fates are willing, we shall be contemplating the imminent arrival of Witch Week 2019. This is a week-long celebration of things fantastical in memory of Diana Wynne Jones, author of Witch Week — which itself charted certain singular events between Halloween and Bonfire Night.

Originally inaugurated by Lory Hess so brilliantly, last year’s Witch Week was ‘curated’ by Lizzie Ross and myself and featured the theme Fantasy + Feminism. This year we will focus on — cue diminished seventh chords and evil laughter — Villains. So, what can we expect?

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Good to go

Framework

Another year starts, and we’re all encouraged to plan ahead… Well, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I don’t have targets. I don’t set challenges.

What I have instead are goals: something to generally aim for but no pressure other than satisfaction at reaching them or even making the initial effort.

A better metaphor might be a framework: something that provides shape but the cladding for which is more random and the amount of cover more arbitrary. Imagine a big wide open goalmouth, the posts set wide apart and the crosspiece high, the netting a patchwork of different materials and loosely spread over. It’s pleasing to get the ball in the net but, heaven forfend, I’ve never had dreams of being a Premiership player…

So, Reading Goals. (No, not Reading Gaol, that was Oscar Wilde.)

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Cardiff BookTalk Le Guin event

Cardiff BookTalk describes itself as “the book group with a difference: we listen to experts on great literature and then explore the big themes from the books in lively conversation.” Recently its members have been exploring science fiction and fantasy genres, including a screening and discussion of the biopic Mary Shelley as part of Cardiff FrankenFest, a contribution to a worldwide Frankenreads initiative.

Earlier this week I managed to attend a special discussion of Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea, and hope you’ll enjoy the report on the evening that follows, not least because Lizzie Ross and I hosted a Witch Week event which included posts on Le Guin. This year marks not only UKLG’s death in January but also the fiftieth anniversary of the groundbreaking A Wizard of Earthsea, and as a feminist she remains a notable figure in a year that has seen the #MeToo movement take off, plus the centenary of partial women’s suffrage being won in the UK, along with unofficial recognition of 2018 as being the year of the woman. And not before time, as most years irritatingly seem to be dedicated to only half of the world’s population.

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Witch Week Day 7: Ending / Beginning

That wraps up Witch Week 2018, and Lizzie and Chris have so enjoyed hosting this. We couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone who participated:

• Marlyn, of Stuff ‘n’ Nonsense, for her list of Ten Kick-Ass Heroines
Tanya, of Tanya Manning-Yarde, PhD, for her beautiful review of Ursula K Le Guin’s poetry collection, Finding My Elegy
Piotrek and Ola of Re-enchantment of the World, for their discussion of the women in the Witcher stories by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski
Lory, of Emerald City Book Review, who last year retired her Witch Week broom yet found time to review Madeline Miller’s Circe and participate in our discussion of Le Guin’s The Other Wind
people — too numerous to mention — who added comments and questions; posted pingbacks, links, and reviews on their own blogs; and Tweeted/Facebooked links to our posts

For anyone not yet sated, here are the links for the Emerald City Book Review Master Posts from earlier years:

Witch Week 2017: Dreams of Arthur
Witch Week 2016: Made in America
Witch Week 2015: New Tales from Old
Witch Week 2014: Diana Wynne Jones

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