Archive for July, 2013

Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase Plot summary courtesy of Goodreads:

Wicked wolves and a grim governess threaten Bonnie and her cousin Sylvia when Bonnie’s parents leave Willoughby Chase for a sea voyage. Left in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp, the girls can hardly believe what is happening to their once happy home. The servants are dismissed, the furniture is sold, and Bonnie and Sylvia are sent to a prison-like orphan school. It seems as if the endless hours of drudgery will never cease.

With the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they escape. But how will they ever get Willoughby Chase free from the clutches of the evil Miss Slighcarp

I think that this is my favorite cover of the five books in this series. There is something so compelling about it. My specific book was the 50th anniversary Yearling issue, and the cover was originally copyrighted in 1962 by Edward Gorey. Which explains in part why I like it so much, because I often like Edward Gorey’s work.

The 50th anniversary printing also had a lovely introduction by the author’s daughter, Elizabeth Charloff, who writes:

From its dramatic opening, “It was dusk – winter dusk,” in the snowy, wolf-filled park of the great house of Willoughby Chase to its glorious and satisfying conclusion, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sweeps readers into another world.

Joan Aiken was a prolific writer of children’s books, and came from a family steeped in literary talent. Her sister, Jane Aiken Hodge was a writer of romance and suspense novels and her father was poet Conrad Aiken. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is the first entry into the world of Dido Twite, an alternative history Britain.

My thoughts on the book: I absolutely loved it. So far, it is tied with The Children of Green Knowe, and I prefer both of those to The Enchanted Castle. The historical setting is unique and interesting without being fantastical. There were plot elements that reminded me of Burnett’s A Little Princess, Harry Potter, and the books of Roald Dahl. There is a darkness to the book – the evil headmistress really is evil. Children really are treated with cruelty.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase pretty much falls into what I like to call the plucky orphan type of children’s books, a storyline that is frequently seen in children’s – especially British children’s – literature. In this particular case, the kind and loving parents of Bonnie, the daughter at Willoughby Chase, disappear early in the book, and they are subjected to the not at all tender ministrations of the evil, mercenary guardian, Miss Slighcarp (who bears more than a passing resemblance to Miss Minchin. Or to Professor Umbridge). The book chronicles their escape from her clutches, and her ultimate vanquishment, which is highly satisfying.

I can’t believe that I had never heard of this book before I started this project, but I had not. It is a short, quick read at 181 pages, but is highly recommended. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and plan to work on tracking down the remainder of the series.


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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Children of Green Knowe
Where to begin with the Children of Green Knowe? On the one hand, it is a sweet, simple little ghost story – not a scary ghost story, but a ghost story nonetheless. On the other hand, it is a timeless meditation on family, the past, the present, and the intersection of all three in the most magical way.

I loved this book. Tolly – the living child who arrives at Green Knowe by boat, because the land around the manor house is completely flooded. And, what a marvelous image it is when he awakens in the old fashioned nursery under the eaves – a giant ark of a house surrounded by flooded water that has come over the banks of the river below.

Toby, Alexander and Linnet, the ghost children who died centuries earlier in the Great Plague, and who still haunt Green Knowe in the most friendly of fashions, along with their beloved pets. Green Knowe (or, Green Noah, as it is called in the book) is full of magic.

Green Noah
Demon Tree
Evil Fingers
Can’t catch me

Green Knowe is an otherworldly place, Grandmother Oldknowe is a character with a foot planted firmly in both of Green Knowe’s incarnations. The book reminds me a bit of C.S. Lewis’s timeless classic [book:The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe|100915] without the overt Christian allegory: an old mansion that is more than it appears, a world out of time, and an elderly sagelike character to help the main characters put their time there in perspective.

I discovered this book a bit too late for my children – a daughter, 17 (who has long since graduated to adult fare) and a son, 13. There is a lovely section about Christmas at Green Knowe, however, so I think I will try it out this holiday season as a seasonal read aloud, which is a long-standing tradition between my son and I.

I will close with a quote:

“Outside, the world was most magical. It had stopped snowing. The garden looked like the back of a giant swan, curled up to sleep. There was nothing but white slopes, white curves, white rounded softnesses with bright blud shadows. Nothing had been scraped aside or trodden on. The only footmarks wre the birds’ round the door. The yew trees had disappeared. In their places were white hills with folds and creases i their sides. Tolly picked up a handful of snow and found it was made up of tiny violet stars.”

Highly recommended for children of all ages.

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

The Enchanted Castle

E. Nesbit wrote: “There is a curtain, thin as gossamer, clear as glass, strong as iron, that hangs forever between the world of magic and the world that seems to us to be real.”

The Enchanted Castle circumnavigates this boundary between magic and reality. There are four children at the center of this classic children’s novel: three siblings, Jerry, Jimmy and Kathleen, and the “castle” housekeeper’s niece, Mabel, whom they meet while exploring the castle grounds. She is dressed in a pink gown, and is pretending to be a sleeping princess who must be awakened, a la Sleeping Beauty, with a kiss. This is a very classic British children’s fantasy, and although I can’t say that it is my favorite by Edith Nesbit, it is a good example of her work. In a Nesbit book, there is generally some sort of magical device or place that is stumbled upon by average, typically upper-class, British children, high jinks and mayhem ensue because the children’s manipulation of the magic tends to go badly awry, there is some mild danger generated by the situations in which they find themselves, the children ultimately develop a respect for and understanding of the rules by which the magic operates, and then there is a happy ending of some sort.

As Kathleen said, “I think magic things are spiteful. They just enjoy getting you into tight places.”

I chose the Puffin Classics version for my reading, which I would recommended – it is a relatively inexpensive version, and is going to be far better than any of the junky print-on-demand books for sale on online retailers like Amazon.com. The illustrations are included in the Puffin Classics publication, although this isn’t a book where the illustrations are of supreme importance. All of Nesbit’s works are out of copyright, so anyone can throw a OCR’d kindlebook or POD book up for sale. In my opinion, purchasers are always better off with a book published by a reputable publisher like Penguin. If you are going for the kindle version, try the free one first, and see if it is miserably formatted before spending money on a version that may not be any better than the free one.

Other writers similar to E. Nesbit include Edward Eager, as his books are written in much the same style and are also completely wonderful (truth be told, I prefer Eager to Nesbit. Heresy, I know.)

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Children's Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

Children’s Fantasy Classics: An Occasional Series

In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.

So begins Tolkien’s classic children’s fantasy, which I have previously read and reviewed on TDAC. But, it has occurred to me that hobbit holes and allegorical lions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to classic children’s fantasy, a special interest of mine. So, this is the first post in a continuing series that I will be doing over the next three weeks or so about five children’s fantasy classics that I have selected to read for a Goodreads Group challenge in the month of July.

As of writing this, I have finished two of them, and am ready to begin the third.

The list is:

The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit
The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

It is likely that the series will continue past those five books. Stay tuned.

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The end of Book IV is the midpoint of Middlemarch. We begin Book III, entitled “Waiting for Death,” pretending much waiting for death. Specifically, one death: that of the not-at-all-likely-to-be-missed Featherstone. The ones waiting for his death are, primarily, Fred Vincy (who hopes to profit) and, secondarily, Mary Garth (who works for him), and the rest of his family, who are equally hoping to inherit.

Middlemarch is not a novel of suspense, nor is it known for it’s great twists. However, the next three posts will all contain spoilers, so be warned.

Eliot’s Middlemarch deconstructs three pairings: Dorothea/Casaubon, Lydgate/Rosamunde, and Fred Vincy/Mary Garth. Of the three, the one that is projected to be the least successful, ends up the most successful. However, in Books III & IV, her deconstruction is just beginning.

Fred Vincy behaves remarkably badly in Book III, borrowing money from Caleb Garth in a desperate effort to recover some of his own financial losses. He, naturally, loses the money, causing great distress to the entire Garth family. This really relates to the whole issue of entitlement, which seems to be one of the subthemes of Book III. There are certain social conventions of this era that produce a sense of entitlement in some of the characters. It never occurred to Fred Vincy that borrowing money from a relatively poor man with many mouths to feed because it would have been INCONVENIENT and UNCOMFORTABLE to borrow it from his own father, (or more admirably to forgo it altogether) was wrong. In his mind, he “needs” the money (although purchasing horses hardly constitutes an actual need) and therefore getting it in whatever manner he can is perfectly reasonable.

I will say this for Fred, though. His sense of entitlement did seem to be shaken a bit when he realized that his inability to repay didn’t merely inconvenience the Garths. Rather, it was a devastating blow to them – and to their son, who has lost out on the ability to be apprenticed, which may well destroy his entire life. It’s like that old phrase: for want of a nail, a shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, a horse was lost, for want of a horse, a knight was lost, for want of a knight, a kingdom was lost. Loaning money to Fred Vincy = financial devastation for the Garth family.

However, he does show some actual character by being the one to go and tell the girl that he loves that he is, in fact, the loser whose spendthrift nature has potentially cost her brother his future. We’ll see if he continues on this way, or if he falls back into his same patterns.

Also in this section, Rosamund finally manages to manipulate Tertius Lydgate into offering for her. Somehow I suspect that this particular pairing will be no more successful than that of Dorothea/Casaubon.

If there is a gun on the mantle at the beginning of the book, then by the end of the following book, someone will have shot someone. And so, we have the long-awaited demise of Featherstone, which caused discredit to pretty much everyone EXCEPT Mary Garth. Fred ended up with nothing, of course, which may be the making of him in the end. Certainly becoming a gentleman of leisure wouldn’t have done anything for his character. We will see what Eliot has in store for her characters in the later books. Right now, she seems to be pretty much brutalizing everyone.

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Anne of Avonlea covers the period from when, if my memory serves me correctly, Anne is 16 and 17 years old. I am doing a series reread of Anne of Green Gables this year, with some friends, so here are my general thoughts on Anne of Avonlea, which I finished in April.

I enjoyed Anne’s exploits as a teacher in her old school, and the collision of youthful idealism and Anthony Pye. For those of you who haven’t read the Anne series, Anne begins teaching students at the school she attended, and finished, right before she went off to Queens College. Imagine, going from peer to teacher so quickly! Anne struggles for the respect and love of the students, and one of the students – the incorrigible Anthony Pye – nearly defeats her. She begins school swearing, with all of the charming youthful idealism in the world, that she would never strike one of her students. At which point, Anthony Pye literally drives her to distraction, until the day that she loses her temper and smacks his hand with a ruler. She is distraught, but he is chastened. Regardless of how one feels about corporal punishment (and I am generally opposed to it), this is an object lesson for Anne – it is important to be respected by your students.

This particular installment of Anne has one of my favorite Anneish quotes:

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”

I think that this is really one of things that I love the most about this series. None of the characters do anything particularly splendid or wonderful or exciting. There is no murder, no drama, no great men (or women) or great acts being described. Nonetheless, LMM manages to show the inherent and natural grace and nobility of people who live their lives well and with respect for their neighbors.

I also love that Anne finally forgives Gilbert for his bad behavior on the day of that they first met. She very nearly leaves it too long!

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This post is not about books. I am a pro-choice, feminist woman. I will be talking about sex, and pregnancy, and incredibly dickish Republican politicians, and other things related to my incandescent fury at the ongoing Republican roll-back of constitutionally protected abortion and other reproductive rights in the Red States. If you don’t care what I think, this would be a good time to stop reading. If you’ve had your head under a rock and have missed the fact that the Republican party is engaged in an all-out war on women’s reproductive rights at the individual state level, this would be a good time to pull your head out.

Tomorrow’s post will be about Anne of Avonlea. The one after that will be about Middlemarch.

I don’t do this political thing very often. But when I do, it tends to be long, and ragey. Sorry.

So, what do John Kasich, Rick Perry, Terry Branstad, and Sam Brownback all have in common? They are all middle-aged, male Republican governors of states where the Republican controlled legislatures have passed, or are in the process of passing, sweeping new laws rolling back abortion rights.

John Kasich of Ohio just signed a budget that somehow – although how it has any thing to do with the state’s budget, I do not know – made abortion illegal after 20 weeks, created regulations which require abortion clinics to do something that it then makes it illegal for them to do, requiring rape crisis centers who receive public funding to never tell rape victims that they could abort a pregnancy that results from a sexual assault, and which requires that women who seek a legal abortion to undergo and pay for an ultrasound that they neither need nor want.

And look, here he is signing the budget, surrounded by a group of extremely supportive women, also known as “uterus-bearing constituents” or “speech-capable reproductive devices” who are totally in agreement with him on his plans to gut abortion rights and interfere with women’s health care. Oh, wait, those aren’t women, are they? It’s a bunch of old guys who can’t get pregnant at all. Is there a woman anywhere in that room? Anywhere? No. Apparently in Ohio, signing laws that impact women’s health care doesn’t need to involve those individuals who might actually have an interest in women’s health care. Not even so they can act as witness when you dismantle their rights.

Look, ma, no girls!

Look, ma, no speech-capable reproductive devices. I mean, girls!

In Texas, Rick Perry, whom the inimitable Molly Ivins used to call Governor Goodhair, has called a second special legislative session, to the tune of approximately $800,000.00 to pass the very same anti-abortion legislation that failed the first time around when it was filibustered by the sneaker-wearing woman heard round the world, Democratic Senator Wendy Davis.

Heroically discusses the pitfalls of the bill into the 11th hour. Literally.

Senator Davis heroically discusses the pitfalls of the bill into the 11th hour. Literally. And in pink sneakers.

Texas is big, and proud, and apparently Governor Perry doesn’t want to be left behind his fellow Republican governors in their rampage to see how much control over their State’s uteruses, natural resources which are unfortunately embedded inside of actual female human beings, they can personally exert. Although, he’s got a ways to go to catch up with Iowa’s Governor, Terry Branstad. I’ll get to that a minute.

Because the Texas bill wouldn’t just make abortion harder to get, it would make contraception less available for poor women. And God knows, as does the Republican leadership, that poor women should not be having sex. They simply aren’t wealthy enough to engage in that little pleasure of life. It’s not enough that the Republicans have already handed over most of America’s wealth to the wealthy through their regressive tax policies, and their “privatize profits/socialize losses” crony capitalism economics. Now they want to make sure that the rich people – especially middle-aged, rich, male people like them – get all of the sex, one of the few remaining pleasures available for free to the poor, as well as to the rich.

Let it be known henceforth that non-procreative, just-for-fun sex is a perk of being a middle-aged politician – like South Carolina’s formerly-married-Republican-governor-turned-Republican-senator and Appalachian trail explorer, Mark Sanford. Anyway, I digress. Back to Governor Perry – the man just wants to be Commander-in-Chief, and, after all, he has great hair, an obviously necessary qualification for the American presidency.

Great hair. Empty Suit.

Great hair. Vacant expression. Our 45th President? Fingers crossed!

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas, in April, signed new and sweeping restrictions on abortion rights in Kansas. Restrictions that require doctors to actually lie to women and tell them that abortion causes breast cancer (it does not). Do they think we are stupid? Seriously, ladies, they do. Republican politicians think women are stupid.

Perhaps it’s time that we stopped being stupid and voting for them. Maybe?

Kansas women just say no to Governor Brownback.

Kansas women just say no to Governor Brownback.

Governor Brownback just says no to Kansas women.

Governor Brownback just says no to Kansas women.

But, let’s move on to Iowa. Because, in Iowa – and this one may actually win the prize for most breathtakingly arrogant exercise of individual authority over a uterus belonging to someone else – Governor Terry Branstad is now personally responsible for deciding whether poor women can receive a Medicaid funded abortion. He really is a hands-on governor! And the people that he has his hands on? Iowans: poor and female.

Are you a victim of incest, and your abuser, I mean your father, is refusing to pay for your abortion (or, possibly, is in jail where he belongs) so you need Medicaid to pay for it? Who decides if you qualify, or if you’ll be the only seventh-grader in your class giving birth to your sister-slash-daughter at some point in the not-all-that-terribly-distant future but definitely prior to starting eighth grade? Ask Governor Branstad. Before he decides on your request, he wants to know more about this “D-minus” in American History.

Were you forcibly raped at gun point, and you’re on Medicaid, and the rapist impregnated you? Do you want an abortion so you aren’t required to cede control of your body for the next nine months, and control of your life for the next, well, forever, to the rapist? Ask Governor Branstad. Don’t forget to say the magic words! And the magic words are: legitimate rape!

Are you carrying a fetus that is so tragically and devastatingly deformed that carrying the pregnancy to term will result in the birth of a baby who will die within hours or days? Do you, and your husband, your doctor, and everyone personally relevant to the question know that it is in your best interest, and the interest of your family, and your living children, and your future, to have an abortion? If you are wealthy, you don’t need to ask Governor Branstad for his permission. But you’re not – you are poor, and on Medicaid, and therefore, the guy with the mustache and glasses depicted below – he gets to decide. Not you. Not your husband. Not your doctor. You are all irrelevant. Ask Governor Branstad. No medical degree, no problem. Governor Branstad knows what’s best for you!

He does plan to be “thoughtful” about it, though, so you can take comfort in that. He also hopes to reduce the number of abortions funded by Medicaid every year. Which of my examples doesn’t get her abortion approved so that Governor Branstadt can make his constituents think he’s a good, god-fearing-upstanding-Christian man? Anyone want to guess that the answer is: all of the above, along with, possibly, a nice greeting card about making lemonade from lemons when he denies your request.

Not a doctor? No problem! He still gets to make health care decisions on behalf of certain Iowa women.

He’s not a doctor. He just plays one at his desk in the Governor’s mansion, making health care decisions on behalf of certain Iowa women.

And there are other states as well. North Carolina, where legislation requiring health teachers to lie to their students about the long-term effects of abortion has been proposed. “Long-term effects” that don’t actually exist, that are unsupported by scientific evidence, and that are not consistent with what actual doctors – not just the Republican legislators who impersonate them at their desks in Capitol buildings everywhere – say is the truth. North Dakota, where abortion has been banned past six weeks of pregnancy. Alabama, which just passed a law that would shut down the last remaining abortion clinic.

Wait, what, you say? I thought that I was told that the Republicans favored “small government.” That they were all about jobs, jobs, jobs. Jobs are job one. Government needs to stay out people’s lives! Government has no business in health care! Isn’t that what the media told us that the Republicans believe? Certainly when it comes to health reform, the mantra was “keep your Government hands off my health care.” I didn’t realize that the subtitle was “unless your hands contain an ultrasound probe, and I am a woman of child-bearing age.”

Who knew that the new Republican mantra was: “a government small enough to drown in a bathtub, but big enough to probe every possibly pregnant uterus in every Republican controlled state in America.”

Is ownership of one of these now a prerequisite for high Republican office?

You can buy your own at Wal-Mart. It's where any self-respecting Republican politician buys his tools to oppress women.

You can buy your own at Wal-Mart. It’s where all of the cool Republican politicians go for their tools to force their state’s uterus-bearing constituents into involuntary pregnant servitude.

I mean, last August, just before the election, the Dayton Daily News in Ohio (yes, that Ohio. The one that just shoved a bunch of abortion restrictions into their budget) swore up and down that the Republicans were focused on jobs.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich told Ohio reporters in Tampa that social issues are important, but improving the economy and creating jobs is the focus of this election.

“The social issues are important but the overriding moral issue in America today is job creation,” Kasich said. “That’s what makes families healthier. This election is going to be won or lost on the basis of who is going to improve the fortunes of Ohio families and American families.”

Apparently, in Ohio, and pretty much everywhere else that the government is controlled by Republicans, that’s nothing more than lies to keep women in their place. We know they aren’t afraid to lie to us, because they do it every day.

They lie about wanting to reduce the number of abortions, while simultaneously restricting, or even ending, access to contraception. They lie about being concerned about women’s health, while they force doctors lie to their women patients. They mandate that doctors perform unnecessary and invasive procedures – sometimes involving vaginal penetration – and lie to us, saying that the procedures are for our own good, even when there is absolutely no medical reason for them. And then, in the ultimate example of adding insult to injury, they make us pay our doctors to lie to us, and to perform those procedures that if they were committed by anyone other than our doctors would constitute criminal sexual assault.

I would like to say that I believe that people – men and women both – won’t stand for it. That the small and vocal minority who believe that rape victims should be forced to carry their rapist’s child to term will not prevail. That the small and vicious minority who think that the forced penetration of women who want to avail themselves of their constitutionally protected right to abortion is an appropriate means of deterrence will ultimately be voted out of public office. That those who believe that men and fetuses have an absolute right to life, while women have only a qualified right to life, subject to the current condition of their reproductive organs, will be roundly and firmly rejected.

And, if the current activity in Texas is an indicator, maybe there is hope.

Everything is bigger in Texas. Especially protests.

Everything is bigger in Texas. Even the protests.

But I have no confidence in any of this, because the voters have shown again, and again, and again, that they will fall for the bullshit. That they will swallow Republican lies about small government, and all of the rest of it for all time, unendingly, as they return Republicans to power, so they can, in fits and starts, sometimes with great leaps forward, like during this long, hot summer of 2013, work tirelessly to deny and dismantle and erode and encumber and hamper and hinder and obstruct and rescind and revoke and restrain the rights of women and their access to reproductive health care, contraception, and abortion.

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