I like Mondays. On Monday, I am refreshed from the weekend and exhilarated by the possibilities of the week ahead. I also like magic. I like its history, its intersection with technology, and its crafty use of human nature. I figured I’d combine the two and make a Monday feature that is truly me: a little bit of magic and a look at the week ahead.
Just a quick semi-magic post while I’m still on vacation. While in San Diego, I visited the ILLUSION exhibit at the Reuben H. Fleet Center:
My favorite was definitely the bugs that would “crawl” from their monitor. In related optical illusion news, OK Go released a new video, an epicly done in one-shot:
Once Upon a Time Challenge
Saturday was the end of Carl’s Once Upon a Time Challenge. I dove in with, as usual, an overly ambitious plan. I had some notion of investigating the intersection between fable and magician’s biographies, which is probably going to be an on-going project for me. I have a lot of on-going projects. 😉 In the end, I read three short novels and a few short stories and had a lovely spring!
The Ocean At The End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
Forty years earlier, a man committed suicide in a stolen car at this farm at the end of the road. Like a fuse on a firework, his death lit a touchpaper and resonated in unimaginable ways. The darkness was unleashed, something scary and thoroughly incomprehensible to a little boy. And Lettie—magical, comforting, wise beyond her years—promised to protect him, no matter what. (via Goodreads)
The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a nice juxtaposition with The Thief of Always by Clive Barker, which I read earlier in the year for Once Upon a Time. Both Gaiman and Barker are British authors. Both stories have a boy and a mystical girl. Both boys go on a journey and come back to a very changed world.
There are some big differences as well. Gaiman’s story is much quieter with a stronger feminine aspect. The Hempstock women are the lynchpin of this tale. This is also a tale set in retrospect. Our middle-aged narrator is re-remembering these events. For me, this gives Gaiman’s tale more poignancy. Not only is the boy struggling to find out who he is, the classic purview of a YA tale, but the man is reflecting on how be came to be who he is. The over-arching mysticism of the world-building is well and good, but the sublimity of remembering and forgetting is what will stay with me. “You drove to the end of the lane and came here, like you always do,” Mrs. Hempstock tells the narrator, who doesn’t remember visiting the Hempstocks other than when he was a kid. Strangely, that line hit me hard. How many things do we do over and over, things that *mean* something in the moment, that we forget about so easily? That there is a middle-aged* question.
*Not to imply that there’s any thing wrong with this being a “YA” book, if you want to categorize it as such. On Goodreads, the categorization is pretty up in the air. But on the cusp of 40, I currently don’t have much interest in the plight of young people. If I’m reading something “YA,” I need some aspect that will give me and my graying hair a way into the story.
Publisher: William Morrow Books
Publication date: June 18th 2013
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
It is an old, old tale, the German story of Briar Rose, the Sleeping Beauty. Now one of America’s most celebrated writers tells it afresh, set this time in the forests patrolled by the German army during World War II. A tale of castles, of mists and thorns, of a beautiful sleeping princess, and an astonishing revelation of death and rebirth. (via Goodreads)
This is a book I’ve owned for a very long time. I bought it when it was newly published, back when I was in college. Twenty years is a good estimate. It’s traveled back and forth from dorm rooms to my parent’s house to the house I shared one summer to the apartments I lived in before I got married to the apartment I’ve lived in for the last 14 years. What took me so long? Books about the Holocaust are like that. You can’t wait to be in the right mood for them. The mood never comes.
Becca and her two sisters grew up with their Gemma’s version of Sleeping Beauty. It mostly followed the usual tale, but with some curious differences. Even Becca, the good granddaughter, never paid attention to the inaccuracies until Gemma dies and leaves Becca a box of strange documents concerning a woman named Gitl Mandlestein, not a name familiar to Gemma’s family. Becca unravels the tale, following her grandmother’s story to an extermination camp named Chelmno.
I bought this book because I was intrigued by the combining of fairy tale and history. Gemma’s story, repeating it again and again to her daughter and granddaughters is the distillation of “never forget,” even if there are part of her history that Gemma can’t quite remember. On a personal level, after the death of my own closest grandmother, it was a tough read and once again I wish I knew more solid details about Oma’s life.
This book was one the first that I encountered that was labeled “Young Adult.” When I bought it, that’s just what I was. It very much fits the criteria I consider YA. Becca isn’t only looking for her grandmother’s identity, but her own as well. Sometimes the writing was a little clunky. I haven’t read much Yolen so I’m not sure if it’s her, or whether she was trying to be lighter with the vocabulary.
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: November 15th 1993
Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale
Why did I choose this book? Decided to finally read it for Once Upon a Time Challenge.
The Thief of Always by Clive Barker
Master storyteller and bestselling novelist Clive Barker creates an enchanting tale for both children and adults to cherish and retell. The Thief of Always tells the haunting story of Harvey, a bright 10-year-old who is suffering from the winter doldrums, and of a creature who takes him to a place where every day is filled with fun, and Christmas comes every night. (via Goodreads)
A week ago last Sunday, I received a key to participate the EverQuest Landmark closed beta. I’ve been a casual player of EverQuest and EverQuest 2 for years, but was only mildly interested in playing Landmark, the crafting sandbox precursor to EverQuest Next. Did I want to play something that’s still a little buggy and not fully functional? The key gave me a week to play around and, on Friday when the free week was nearly over, I plunked down $20 to continue harvesting and building. Next thing I knew, thieves of time that are computer MMOs had done a number on me. It was Sunday and I hadn’t read a word in 48 hours. Queue the audio books. I hunted up some audio books specific to the Once Upon a Time challenge. I figured, I’m playing in a fantasy world (roughly), why not listen to some fantasy fiction?
My first selection is a tad on the horror side, but still solidly in the land of fables. We begin in February, a gray beast of a month, with Harvey, a good kid who is terminally bored. He is the perfect target to be tempted by Mr. Hood and the Holiday House. Of course, there’s a catch and Harvey realizes that being a good, bored kid isn’t the worst thing. Despite the potential Bradbury feel of a 10-year-old learning to value time and mortality, this *is* a Clive Barker story. There’s some blood and gore. There are dead cats. There are scary, uncomfortable moments. Story-wise, the final confrontation between Harvey and Hood goes on maybe a little too long. The stakes alone are enough to make the battle important, not it’s number of rounds.
This is a “reread” for me and I own the hardback. The main disadvantage to listening to it is not having Barker’s lovely, creepy illustrations.
This is an investigation of Bradbury’s “The Illustrated Man”: Where would such tattoos come from? What would it be like to have a tattoo that tells stories on your skin?
Gerald MacGregor, new inheritor of his father’s ball-bearing empire, is a fanciful man. He dreams of going to Mars, despite his poor eyesight. He asks his accountant to marry him, even though he’s only known Sylvia for a few months. After seeing a tattooed woman in a carnival side show, a woman with tattoos that play out scenes from adventure stories, he pays a fortune to get a tattoo of his own. MacGregor becomes addicted to the beauty of his tattoo’s images and ignores what bothers Sylvie the most. The stories never have happy endings.
“So what if some of the stories don’t exactly end happily? I just wish we could watch together, to experience the adventures together, the good and the bad.”
MacGregor finds his own happy ending, but of course, it’s the only kind of ending MacGregor sees.
I’m becoming familiar with the Aarne–Thompson tale type index, a dizzying list of motifs found in folklore. Luckily, it’s available online at various places. Identity and recognition tests might be a good place to start.
Also, looked at mention of one of the earliest “magicians,” Simon Magnus. As mentioned in the Bible:
Acts 8:9 – A man named Simon lived there, who for some time has astounded the Samaritans with his magic. He claimed that he was someone great.
Obviously, Simon was not concerned with defining his awesomeness in relation to anyone else.
Hosted by Carl @ Stainless Steel Droppings
Friday, March 21st begins the eigth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.
The following is based on a true story.
Eric, on Friday, knowing of my love of readathons and challenges: Did you see the post at Carl’s blog about the Once Upon a Time reading thing?
Me: Yeah. But I have a bunch of books I should be working on and none of them are fantasy. Also, SF Experience didn’t go so well for me.
Eric: Okay. *goes back to editing*
Me, the next day: Everyone I know is signed up though.
Me: For the Once Upon a Time challenge. I kinda wanna do it.
Eric: I thought you said you didn’t have any books for it.
Me: I didn’t say *that*. I have books. I have a Peter S. Beagle that I haven’t read yet…
Eric, also knowing that Beagle is one of my favorite writers: You have a Beagle book you haven’t read? How does that happen?
Me: Er…it’s one of his older books?
Eric: *goes back to editing, knowing that I’ll be signing up the next day*
I’m going to play this totally smart and only sign up for The Journey: Just one book. It’s possible I’ll do more, but I’m keeping it simple.
Potential reads that I own:
I’ve also carved out a shelf at Open Library; I wouldn’t mind adding stories from a few cultures I’m not totally familiar with. Another idea I’m toying with, on the periphery of this challenge, is how biographies of early magicians set up a sort of folklore for their artistic progeny. The Fantastic Worlds anthology should help me with theory and then I’ll dip into the Memoirs of Robert-Houdin and a few other early biographies to see what’s there.