Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Russian Fairy Tales re-told by E. M. Almedigen

I picked this up second-hand many years ago. According to this website, E. M. Almendigen was born in Russia, and fled to England in 1923. "Russian Fairy Tales" was published in 1957. In her introduction the author gives a little history of folk/fairy tales in Russia, and stresses that this volume is a retelling, not a translation. It is intended for children, and the tales are not particularly frightening or horrific. They would be good to read aloud.  The stories are:
Vassilissa the Beautiful - Vassilissa's mother dies, leaving her a doll and her blessing. Her father remarries; her stepmother is cruel and sets Vassilissa impossible tasks, which she accomplishes with the help of the doll.  This story features the Queen Witch, otherwise known as Baba Yaga.
Dawn, Twilight and Midnight - An overprotective king locks up his three daughters, but they get kidnapped by a dragon anyway. Dawn, Twilight and Midnight are the three brothers who search for them.
The Woodman and the Fox - a poor woodman is helped to wealth, status and a royal bride by a quick-witted fox.
The Fire-Bird - Boastful Peter ignores the advice of his talking horse and ends up having to perform more and more outrageous tasks to appease his jealous king.
The Flying-Ship - a foolish but kind-hearted lad earns a flying ship as a reward for kindness to strangers. He also gains seven friends with very odd abilities, who help him gain a kingdom.
King-Frost and the Snow-Maiden - a girl whose mother hates her is turned out into the snow, where she meets the frost king. He rewards her for her goodness. Her sister is not so lucky when she goes to meet him.
At the Pike's Command - an unlucky peasant meets a talking fish who grants him wishes. The outcome is happy - eventually.
Prince Ivan and the Sun Princess - Prince Ivan has to leave home to avoid being destroyed by a witch. He meets the Sun Princess, but it is a little mouse who saves him from the witch.
The Crystal Mountain - an unsatisfactory prince rescues a princess from inside a crystal mountain, and together they defeat a dragon.
The Boy and the Birds - a boy's ability to understand the language of the birds gets him thrown out of home. After several years as a sailor, he helps out a king and marries a princess.
The Golden Cockerel - a cautionary tale about greed, particularly governmental greed.
The Phoenix and the Falcon - a merchant's daughter requests a phoenix feather as a gift. Her father fails to comply with the conditions attached to the gift, and causes all kinds of difficulties for his daughter.
The Magic Ring - a young man squanders his inheritance on a cat, a dog and a ring that turns out to be magic. With its aid he marries a princess, and then his troubles begin.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Neverwhere Read-along. Conclusion

This week Carl asked us write our thoughts on the conclusion of the story. In some ways it would have been easier to answer another round of questions! However, after some thinking, here goes.

Hunter:  Hunter's betrayal of Door was shocking, but, in a way, not surprising.  Her pursuit of the Beast was always more important to her than any other quest. She would have died satisfied.

Door: Door has developed into a force to be reckoned with. It would be interesting to go back and see what she has managed to achieve in London Below.

The Angel Islington: Got his just desserts. It is deeply satisfying that Door managed to trick him.

The Marquis de Carabas: Ah, the Marquis. He came through at the end, for Door and for Richard. Yay.

Richard: Richard has grown so much, especially once he realised that what he wanted wasn't what he thought he wanted. His final scene with Jessica was touching, and he handled it so well. It could have gone either way, but he chose correctly, I think. The scene with the old lady with the umbrella that once might have been white brought him in full circle from the prologue.

I enjoyed the story immensely. It will stand a third reading at some stage, I know. But, now I have to watch the TV series again, book in hand, to track down what went in the book that wasn't on screen. And get hold of an original edition of the book to see what else has changed.

In a sense the whole book is a kind of floating market - it is different in each appearance.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Neverwhere Read-along Week 2

Week 2 of Carl's Neverwhere read-along. It has been really interesting reading other blogs and seeing what people like, dislike, and what they think of the story so far. I was intersted that so many people saw Hunter as Zoe from Firefly. She is certainly the same kind of no-nonsense female warrior.

So how is the story developing this week?

1.  Chapter 6 begins with Richard chanting the mantra, "I want to go home".  How do you feel about Richard and his reactions at this point to the unexpected adventure he finds himself on?

I think Richard's reactions are perfectly understandable. Who hasn't, at the start of some journey (usually self-inflicted) wondered what they are doing and why are they here, and how can they get out of it? True, Richard's journey is a little more extreme than most, and a lot more bizarre. At this stage I don't think any the less of him for his reaction.

2.  The Marquis de Carabas was even more mysterious and cagey during the first part of this week's reading.  What were your reactions to him/thoughts about him as you followed his activities?

Door's "psychotic grand vizier" just gets more psychotic! His behaviour is high-handed, arrogant, and he treats Richard very badly. However, I still couldn't help enjoying his adventures. Interesting that we get to hear some of his reputation - trickster, thief, body-snatcher, traitor, fraud, cheat and possibly even a monster. However, he is honourable, in his fashion. Old Bailey has time for him, and trusts him. So did Door's father, but he is dead, and we have no way of knowing how reliable his judgment was. Serpentine thought he was an idiot. I wanted to read ahead and see what happened to him when Vandemar and Croup finished with him, but I retrained myself.

3.  How did you feel about the Ordeal of the Key?

The Ordeal of the Key was creepy, mainly because it wasn't actually gory. Sometimes what is inside your head can be a lot scarier than what, however terrifying, is outside it. It was a lovely touch, too, that it was Anaesthesia's bead that got Richard through it.

4.  This section of the book is filled with moments.  Small, sometimes quite significant, moments that pass within a few pages but stick with you.  What are one or two of these that you haven't discussed yet that stood out to you, or that you particularly enjoyed.

The marquis giving the tune to Lear, the busker, and warning him to be sparing with it. Then having to call it off so that people stop pelting Lear with money.

Mr Croup telling Mr Vandemar he had to be more careful with his toys.

The abbot correcting Richard's misquotation of Shakespeare.

5.  Any other things/ideas that you want to talk about from this section of the book?

I do like the way London Below is being fleshed out. I don't know if I'd like to meet Serpentine, though I'd quite like to go to a fancy dress party as her, or the Earl from Earl's Court, but the Abbot of Blackfriars is a sweetie.  It's very clever, how all the monks' names are synonyms for black. (Brother Fuliginous does sound more impressive than Brother Sooty). 
I think Richard has passed some kind of turning point now. He has realised that he doesn't belong with Jessica and her world, but he still has to find out if he fits in London Below. Passing the Ordeal of the Key will maybe help  him find his place

I am looking forward to the last third of the book.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

It's been a long time since I last blogged. Life has been busy. In an attempt to get back into the habit, I have joined Carl's Neverwhere read-along.  Neil Gaiman is a favourite author of mine. I have read Neverwhere once before, and seen the television series. This time, however, I'm reading the author's preferred text (it says so on the cover.) So, the answers to the question for Week 1.

1.  What do you think of our two villains thus far, Messrs. Croup and Vandemar? 
I love these two. They are so sinister. They are a great pairing, too, the verbose Mr. Croup and the almost strabismic Mr. Vandemar. They never actually seem to do much, and when they do it is over very quickly. Mr Vandemar is portrayed as  somewhat slow-witted and obviously thuggish. Mr. Croup's agility with words makes him seem so much less violent than he is, so much less threatening, and yet those words can inspire terror in a way that I think mere brute force can never do. Why else is Varley so frightened of him? It was Mr. Croup, the little, talkative one who finished him off, and who killed Door's mother. You would expect him to stand aside and leave the thuggery to Mr. Vandemar.
I did like the description of their clothes: "...there was something odd about the cut of the coats. They were the kind of suit that might have been made by a tailor two hundred years ago who had had a modern suit described to him but had never actually seen one. The lines were wrong and so were the grace notes."

2.  Thus far we've had a small taste of London Below and of the people who inhabit it.  What do you think of this world, this space that lies within or somewhat overlaps the space the "real world" occupies?
How do we know our world is the real one? It is real to us, but no doubt London Below is real to its inhabitants too. I live in a very new country - less than two centuries of European migration, and only a millennium or so of any human settlement. London was old before anyone discovered New Zealand. Thus it is hard to envisage the sheer age, the layers that must go into making up a city like London. It is entirely plausible that such a world could co-exist with ours. It is hard enough to comprehend everything that goes on on the surface of a city, never mind what might lie beneath it.

3.  What ideas or themes are you seeing in these first 5 chapters of Neverwhere?  Are there any that you are particularly drawn to?
Neil Gaiman seems to have a thing about people who fall between the cracks, the homeless, the runaways, society's rejects. He foreshadows it in the prologue, where Richard gives his umbrella to the old lady after she mistakes him for someone homeless. Also, Richard begins to wonder about names.  "...whether there really was a circus at Oxford Circus: a real circus with clowns and beautiful women and dangerous beasts." Mr Croup is not the only person associated with this book who likes words, likes to plays with the sounds and the meanings.

4.  We've met a number of secondary characters in the novel, who has grabbed your attention and why?
I'm a Marquis de Carabas fan. What's not to like? He dresses in an interesting, highway-mannish fashion, he's rude, aristocratic, sly, thieving, heartless, a complete rogue. He is completely shallow, as are my reasons for liking him.

5.  As you consider the Floating Market, what kind of things does your imagination conjure up? What would you hope to find, or what would you be looking for, at the Market?
The markets in India, magnified. Noisy, crowded, colourful with so many sights, smells and noises. You can buy anything - someone, somewhere will be selling what you need - food , clothes, tools, nick-nacks... you name it. I like the idea that it is never in the same place twice; I also wonder if you leave it where you arrived from. It wouldn't surprise me if you didn't.
What would I buy? Books, jewellery or magical artifacts. And maybe a curry.

6.  If you haven't already answered it in the questions above, what are your overall impressions of the book to this point?
I think (know) that Richard has a very weird journey ahead of him. I'm looking forward to accompanying him and seeing an alternative aspect of London. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

I've just come home from choir practise. We are doing a lessons and carols service on Sunday. Normally I'm bah, humbug about Christmas - it is always a stressful time in our household, we don't ever get to go away to family until after church on the 25th, and at this time of year in NZ everyone is complaining about the weather, tired, frazzled and needing a holiday. And that's just the adults. Spending an hour or so singing Christmas music suddenly does make me feel much better about Christmas, and what it really means. And no, I'm not putting up the Christmas tree thisyear. We're breaking with tradition, having the 25th off (still have to do midnight service on the 24th) and going to India on Boxing Day.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

On Publishing and Fitting in a Life

So two hours ago I uploaded my second book, "The Selkie's Diamonds" to Smashwords. Already it has 19 downloads, and its companion volume "More Than a Game" has 188, plus, two people have linked it in their libraries.  I am stoked. They are free, because I just hope someone gets pleasure from them. I hope to get the third volume, "The Patterner" up next weekend.

This week has been an unsettling one. The best part about it was handing the reins back to my boss, who is back from a trip to the USA. Being in charge, but not really the boss, is not the easiest thing to manage, plus combining doing her job and what I could of mine at the same time. I suppose it is a common enough scenario, but I'm not an Energiser bunny and found the month she was away rather tiring.

Then on Thursday I got a phone call to say that my aunt, who has just had part of her leg amputated, was not at all well. On consulting with my cousin, it appeared she was not as bad as I had been led to believe, but still. My cousin and I are rebulding a relationship after drifting apart over the years. These things become important once you pass the half century mark. Nothing went drastically wrong with our relationship, but I suspect there were some fairly major misconceptions on both sides.

I had just finished the conversation with him when my mother rang to say my father was in hospital.  He has had a bad leg all year, and there was nothing more his GP could do for him.

We decided to go to see my aunt. She lives about 400 kms/250 miles away. We drove up on Friday night, visited her on Saturday morning and drove home again. Richard had to be a work this morning. she was better than we expected ,and it was good to see her in her new settiong, which my cousin has got looking lovely.  I couldn't go to see Dad, becasue he is 1400 kms/850 miles away, and the costs of flights from Invercargill to Auckland are extortionate.

Richard is at a concert now, and the after-party is here. I think I might go to bed.