Wednesday, October 26, 2005

 

Turniphead


The Oz books (yes, there are more—many more—than just the Wizard of Oz) have long been favourites, especially the second one, The Marvellous Land of Oz, in which Tip, the young serving boy of a witch named Mombie, borrows her magic powder and animates a servant for himself that he has made out of sticks, clothes and a pumpkin. He sets off for Oz with Jack Pumpkinhead and a lively sawhorse and after many adventures discovers something rather surprising about himself.
The Scarecrow in The Scarecrow and His Servant by Philip Pullman (Knopf, 2004) is a bit like Jack Pumpkinhead—physically clownish, innocent, hopeful—but much more noble of mind (or at least assumptions). He takes the human boy as his servant, and Jack, having nothing better to do and being of a fairly equable disposition, is nothing loath. Over the course of this delightfully fabulous story, their relationship changes, until Jack no longer has to protect and pretend, and "Lord Scarecrow" has truly earned his title. Pullman seemed to have a lot of fun with this one--it's a treat when a solid, "successful" writer lets out the seams a little. The world this happens in has its Oz-like, elements: talking animals (and garden tools) and threatening presences always on your tail. It seems more "real", in that its citizens are human, and mortal; but is its faintly medieval Italian Mafia-run rural landscape any less fantastic than Oz to a North American grade-schooler?
One other thing to say about this book—hats off to the designer. I opened the book and rushed straight through a door to childhood sensation. The typeface was oh, so familiar—it was the same as those British books about Tim, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone—and lo! the illustrator, Peter Bailey, employed the same small horizontal lines to create the same airy scenes and delicate profiles. Come to think of it, the book had a Tim feeling about it: sweet, comic-serious, but more robust than those. . . .

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

 

Still Here, Still Reading


Back from my sojourn away. Dutifully plowed through God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James' Bible by Adam Nicolson (Harper, 2003) on the plane and in the mornings when my body said it was time to get up and the clock said it was way too early. (Such readings came to a glad end when dear young relatives saw the light under the door and came tiptoeing in for a visit.) Perhaps I loaded the dice against the poor book, reading it when sleepiness hovered so close by, but I got too bored to continue past the three-quarter mark, even though I had started out very willing to read it. It wasn't really about the KJV; it was about King James and the people he chose to put together the KJV. So it was a lot of religious politics, interesting to me only as a little light shed on how much the CofE/Anglicanism owes to King James' striving for the middle way. (A much nicer way to look at it than simply seeing fuzzy theology.) P liked the book but thought the last bits went too ga-ga over the wonderful wonderful Translation. Leafing through before beginning to write this I think maybe I should go back and read those last bits. Found this quote, explaining the difference between the Tyndale and the KJ versions of an NT passage: that the underlying principle of the Translation was that it "appeal to what T.S. Eliot later called 'the auditory imagination', that 'feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word'." I've been editing something of my own involving a simple rhyming/rhythmic poem, and in the editing of the latter have been dealing with my recurring frustration at someone not hearing how a line doesn't work even though technically it scans and rhymes. I say it doesn't "swing"; now maybe I can just use the TS Eliot quote to explain myself.
Also read in the last week: The Gravesavers by Sheree Fitch (Doubleday 2005). I don't normally buy books I haven't read for the very reason illustrated by God's Secretaries--for fear of disappointment. This one I took a chance on for one reason: I heard the author on the radio talking about this book and she was utterly forthright about how much she owed her editor. I thought I should return the favour on behalf of all editors of children's fiction by buying the book. The reason I was interested in reading the book was that I know the author as a poet, first, and wanted to see what her fiction was like.
Well, very TS Eliot-y, it turns out. The language swings without being being "poetic fiction" and the result is a really solid, entertaining read.
In the end, there's comparatively little about the saving of an important graveyard being washed away by the sea, though what there is about that is very important. Also, the two elements--the voice out of the past and the story unrolling in the narrative present--are rather clumsily linked; I was thrown when we suddenly switched over, with only a change of typeface to indicate the switch. Really, it is only Minn that stitches them together, Minn the narrating character, a crabby, hopeful girl with a big burden and a humorous tongue. Minn--her voice, the author's obvious love for her--carries us through to the climax, when the past and the present come face to face.
To my utter surprise and delight the verb "blatting" (noisy self-indulgent crying) was used in this book. Apparently it is a New Brunswick word after all, and not just something my friend Gwen's mother said! (As in, "You want to blat? I'll give you something to blat about!")
Perhaps the real gravesaving going on in this book is the grave of unique language—and perspective. Certainly the book is really not about a group of people called The Gravesavers who are engaged in a community effort (which is what the title implies) but about one gravesaver, who pulls her family out of a grave of sorrow and puts them in each other's arms, rightly and properly, at the graveside they need to grieve at.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

 

Been There, Done That

Okay, so I guess I have read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I thought I recognized it somewhere in the first thirty pages, and then read the last twenty pages just to make sure. So, all caught up now. Thank goodness.
Remembered to get another couple of books out of checked luggage just before it rolled away. Phew! Got a Globe and Mail, too; and they showed "Bewitched" on the plane. Boy, am I glad I didn't pay to see that! It never got beyond two notions: "Wow, look how much Nicole can be made to look like Elizabeth Whatsit who played Samantha!" and "Aw, aren't Will Whatsit and Nicole Kidman cute together?"

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

 

Creepy!


Snuck some reading in yesterday, between laundry loads and errands. (Really, I had to go to the library--they were holding a reserve title for me!) The Lambkins by Eve Bunting is a creeps-inducing story of a wacko woman who has shrunk four young people of various ages and stuck them in a dollhouse in her basement. She calls them her Lambkins. They manage to escape at the end, but it really does look hopeless for a while. Not as oppressive as (any title by) William Sleator--the author is far too nice for that--but that's not a bad thing!
I'm going on a trip and am contemplating taking along a library copy of the fifth HP title. (I've fallen behind and I'm not sure I want to catch up.) Maybe if I'm stuck in an airport with no other reading material I'll be forced to push myself through another 50 pages of tedious Dursley business. We'll see.

Monday, October 03, 2005

 

Goobie Rules

What to say about this book?
I'm tempted simply to quote the blurb from Tim Wynne-Jones, because it pretty well says everything. I'll quote a bit: "Again and again [Beth Goobie] strikes you down with a turn of phrase, and yet, miraculously, the writing never gets in the way of the story. . . ." So often that's the problem with adult fiction; less so in children's fiction (unless it's bad writing). Before Wings is a delicious read: poetic, without being in love with itself, the story a strong chain pulling you along. It's a precision YA: the characters are people before they are "teens", and their passions are strong and true. And changeable--the author uses weather like a Shakespeare (The Tempest, King Lear) so that each--the weather and its denizens (the spirits) and human passion--works on the other.
I wonder, when I'm in Beth Goobie's world, if people--adolescents--really are so deliberate in their use of each other. It always seemed so much more accidental when I was in the midst of it.

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