Today, All Souls Day, reveals this consideration, of Neil Gaiman’s celebrated bildungsroman set in a cemetery, for this year’s Witch Week with the theme of Gothick.
2012 US paperback edition, cover by Dave McKean “It takes a graveyard to raise a child.” (back cover of The Graveyard Book, US edition) Appropriately for today, the Day of the Dead, we present you with a discussion of this year’s read-along book, a novel set in a cemetery. Four of us–Lory* from The Emerald City Book Review, Chris […]
Day 2 of #WitchWeek2020 sees an excellent synopsis and analysis of the classic Italian Gothick novel ‘The Betrothed’ — don’t miss it!
Today’s guest blogger, e-Tinkerbell, lives in Italy, so it’s no surprise that she brings this classic Italian novel from the 19th century to our attention. e-Tinkerbell is a high school English teacher who loves literature, history… and shoes. She blogs at e-Tinkerbell. All translations from the Italian are hers. Buona lettura! The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi*) is […]
The first post in 2020’s Witch Week event is by yours truly over on Lizzie Ross’s blog, where this year’s event will be unfolding for the next seven days.
Happy Halloween to all! My first guest blogger is my co-host, Chris, who blogs as Calmgrove on WordPress, where for eight years he’s been exploring the world of ideas through books by way of reviews and discussions. Today Chris has taken on the challenge of setting the mood, so to speak, for our week of dark […]
Wotcher, would-be witches, warlocks, wizards and wonder-workers! Witch Week 2020 begins today with a line-up of what’s in store between Halloween and Bonfire Night on Lizzie Ross‘s blog (here) where all this year’s offerings are being hosted.
What exactly is Witch Week? It’s an event inaugurated by Lory Hess at The Emerald City Book Review inspired by Diana Wynne Jones’s fantasy Witch Week (which I reviewed here). It covers the period formerly known as Hallowmas and leads up to the day marking the uncovering of the Gunpowder Plot; this would have seen Parliament and all in it, including King James I, blown to smithereens in 1605, until Guy Fawkes was revealed ready to light the fuse.
2020’s theme is Gothick, and the event is bookended by posts very much focused on that ever-popular literary genre.
So, along with ‘Gothick Dreams’ there’s an analysis of an Italian Gothick classic, a discussion of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, a piece on ghost writer M R James, plus reviews (including one of a recently acclaimed Latin American title). The event finishes on the day after Bonfire Night with news of next year’s theme, to be hosted by yours truly here on Calmgrove.
So what are you waiting for? All the details, including who’s contributing what and when, are now up on https://lizzierosswriter.com — prepare to be bespelled.
And if you can’t wait to be spooked, here’s a link to my review of Joan Aiken’s The Haunting of Lamb House
We’re just over a week away from All Saints or All Hallows Eve, in case it had somehow slipped your mind in our modern commercialised world.
In the pagan Celtic period it was the start of Samhain in Ireland and Scotland, and in Wales Hallowe’en is Noson Galan Gaeaf, ‘the eve of the first day of winter’. When the start of winter was christianised in the 8th century the feast of All Saints was transferred here from the Pentecost period; no doubt this was due to ancestor worship traditionally being marked on the cusp of winter — with guising and offerings of food and drink at the graveside by the descendants of the deceased to appease their spirits — and therefore an apt time to honour all the saints and other souls who had gone before.
Myself, I don’t go for the partying or the trick-or-treating or the churchgoing, but I’m happy to mark the occasion online by offering a few words about Hallowmas on this post.
A quick reminder that Witch Week begins in roughly three weeks time. This runs from Hallowe’en to Bonfire Night, an event first begun by Lory Hess on The Emerald City Book Review, and is an annual series of guest posts.
Inspired by a fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones (called, naturally, Witch Week) this year’s event features Gothick as a theme, the perfect choice for this season.
This year my co-curator Lizzie Ross is hosting (I hosted last year) and I will be pointing you to her blog LizzieRossWriter.com for the posts: here’s her advance notice of what’s to come. Offerings lined up cover a range of literary areas, including a group read of Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, but there’s much, much more!
In other news, this arrived in the post this morning, a Certificate of Higher Education in Creative Writing Studies from Aberystwyth University
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 Earthseaincludes 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.
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.
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!
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.
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
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
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.
For many years now, as many of you know, I have on this blog been exploring one ofJoan 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.
Lizzie Ross, co-convener since 2018 and last year’s co-host for Witch Week, blogs about reading and writing atLizzieRossWriter.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.
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?
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
—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
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!
For award-winning, internationally-acclaimed author Rosemary Sutcliff (1920-92). By Anthony Lawton: godson, cousin & literary executor. Rosemary Sutcliff wrote historical fiction, children's literature and books, films, TV & radio, including The Eagle of the Ninth, Sword at Sunset, Song for a Dark Queen, The Mark of the Horse Lord, The Silver Branch, The Lantern Bearers, Dawn Wind, Blue Remembered Hills.