Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Curfew and Other Eerie Tales, by L. M. Boston

I bought this book on my UK trip and have been saving it for October!  L. M. Boston wrote several creepy stories in the early 1930s, but only three were ever published (each in different anthologies).  The stories were found among her papers and published together in this collection, along with a short play suitable for young amateurs to put on. 

 The stories are really pretty creepy!  I enjoyed them a lot.  They are similar in style to M. R. James' stories, in that they have a kind of domestically-flavored horror, and frequently feature children, but Boston is less tidy in her endings; they are left open and mysterious, with no solid conclusion.

The play, "The Horned Man," is set at a country manor house in the reign of King James I, who has sent witchfinders to roust out any witches there might be around.  The two older daughters of the house, bored and mischievous, try to curry favor with the official in hopes of being whisked off to court, but he has motives of his own for his work.

There is also an introduction by Robert Lloyd Parry, who sometimes gives performances at the Manor, reading M. R. James stories in the dark.  Oh, how I wish I could go to one of those!

Dialogue from the story "Pollution:"
"They behave, with their smoke and slag heaps, as if they had killed the very forces of nature. But nature has a dual personality.  They may think its beauty not worth bothering about, but it may still have surprises for them more hideous than they expect."
The book itself is lovely.  Published by Swan River Press, it is a hardback book with a 19th-century painting of the Manor on the cover.  Then the dust jacket features a painting by Lucy Boston's close friend Elizabeth Vellacott; a few of her paintings are on show at the Manor.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Master and Margaritalong III

Here's the third installment of Reading Rambo's readalong of The Master and Margarita, by Michail Bulgakov.  I'm a bit late with my reading this week, so I probably won't be able to do a really long post--we'll see.  Last time I mysteriously skipped a chapter and then read too far.  Weird.  So I went back and read:

In another Pilate novel chapter, the disciple Matthew runs to the desert as Yeshua is crucified.  He decides to kill his master to spare him pain, but by the time he arrives, the executioner has already stabbed all three.

In Moscow, Berlioz' cousin has arrived in town to try to get hold of the apartment, but the demons whap him with a roast chicken and throw him out.  The barman of the ill-starred theater shows up to ask after Woland, who tells him that he'll die of liver cancer within the year, so the poor man panics and runs off to the nearest doctor.  He pays with magic rubles, the demons visit the doctor, and he ends up with leeches all over his head.

Now we move on to Margarita.  She is quite a wealthy and lucky woman, married to a nice man with a giant apartment and plenty of money, but she doesn't love her husband and is miserable.  Meeting the master is the event that brings her happiness, so when he disappears, she is ready to die until she meets Azazello.  (He talks to her as she happens to observe Berlioz' funeral procession; the gossip is that his head disappeared.)  Azazello first invites her to meet a distinguished foreigner, and she thinks he's accosting her, but when he tells her that the master is still alive, she's ready to do anything to find out more.  He gives her a pot of ointment to apply that night.

Margarita with her flowers
When Margarita applies the cream all over herself that night, she becomes younger and more beautiful, and is able to fly.  She feels wonderful, and flies off into the night, naked and invisible, telling her maid to follow suit.  She finds Dramlit House--just like Massolit only for drama, and that's where the critic lives who destroyed the master's life.  She finds his apartment, but he's gone at the funeral, so she smashes everything she can see and flies away, meeting her maid on the way. (She is flying on a hog, who is the neighbor, transformed by the magic cream.)  They fly out to the country, meet a witch's meeting, and then Margarita is driven back into Moscow by demons.  She's having a wonderful time.

Azazello takes Margarita to the apartment, which has turned into a massive house of luxury.  Koroviev explains that Woland is to hold a great ball, and needs Margarita to play hostess.  She happily agrees, and goes in to meet Woland, who is holding court in bed, with Hella rubbing ointment into his sore knee (the devil has a limp, you know).  Margarita hits it off wonderfully with the whole crew, and it's time for the ball.

Well, there's lots more chaos in Moscow, but we also move on to Margarita's storyline and her perfect willingness to fall in with Woland's plans--at first for the sake of the master (actually just for the hope of news of him, not in hopes of actually helping him) and then because she enjoys the whole thing so much.  I wonder what will happen to her?

Next week: chapters 23-26!

Friday, October 14, 2016

The History of the Franks

 The History of the Franks, by Gregory of Tours

I was pretty scared of this book, which is a solid 600 pages of early medieval history.  I should not have been nervous at all, because this history is crammed full of gripping stuff!  Feuds, intrigues, miracles, and weird stories spill out all over the place.  I had about as much fun with this as it is possible to have with 600 pages of early medieval history.

Gregory was the bishop of Tours in the late 6th century, during the Merovingian dynasty of Frankish kings.  He served through four reigns.  His history is in ten books, and starts with the creation of the world, moving to Frankish history, and then to the history he personally witnessed.  Of course he wrote in Latin.

Book I is a summary of Biblical history, pretty much, except that Gregory continues through early Christian history up to the death of St. Martin of Tours in 397.  I will admit to skimming this one, since I am already pretty familiar with that.  But Gregory had a reason for including it; he's situating his own Frankish land in a Christian setting, showing God's plan from the start right through to current times.  The Franks, as a Christian people, are part of the kingdom of God and see their predecessors all the way back.  Then Book II talks about the wars and movements of various tribes--the Vandals and Franks and so on. 

Merovingian kings wore long hair, unlike most Franks
 After that, we get a nice tour of the first half of the 6th century, and a very detailed account of the second half, which is closer to Gregory's time.  He knew all the major Frankish people and frequently intervened in affairs. so he appears personally quite a bit in the last third of the book.  One king, Chilperic, actually put Gregory on trial for treason.  Chilperic does not get a good writeup in this history, and is the major villain of half the book, since he managed to outlive everyone else.  I kept wondering if he would ever die!  All his sons died in wars, so he had another one, and he died too, but Chilperic just kept going.

The entertainment rarely stops, so here are a few choice passages:
In Touraine this same year, one morning before the day had dawned, a bright light was seen to traverse the sky and then disappear in the East.  A sound as of trees crashing to the ground was heard throughout the whole region, but it can hardly have been a tree for it was audible over fifty miles and more.  [A largeish meteor maybe?]  V.33

At this time there livednear the town of Nice a recluse called Hospicius.  He was a man of great abstinence, who had iron chains wound round his body, next to the skin, and wore a hair-shirt on top.  He ate nothing but dry bread and a few dates.  In the month of Lent he fed on the roots of Egyptian herbs, which merchants brought home for him.  Hermits are greatly addicted to these. VI.6
[A hermit's story] There came to me certain bishops whose plain duty it was to exhort me to press wisely on with the task which I had begun [standing on a pillar].  Instead they said to me: "It is not right, what you are trying to do!  Such an obscure person as you can never be compared with Simeon the Stylite of Antioch!  The climate of the region makes it impossible for you to keep tormenting yourself in this way.  Come down off your column, and live with the brethren whom you have gathered around you."  [As the footnote says, "This sort of thing was no doubt all right in the Middle East, but the climate of Northern Gaul was hardly suited to it."]  VIII.15

Meanwhile Bishop Bertram died in Bordeaux.  Berthegund then came to her senses.  "What a fool I have been," she said, "to listen to the advice of my stupid mother!"  IX.33

At this time Droctigisel was Bishop of Soissons.  He had been out of his mind now for nearly four years, through drinking to excess.  Many of the citizens maintained that this was brought about by witchcraft, through the action of an archdeacon whom he had dismissed from his post.  He was certainly more mad when he was inside the city walls, whereas whenever he ventured outside he behaved fairly normally.  IX.37
In contrast, here is a sad passage that contradicts the theory we sometimes hear that medieval people didn't care as much about their children as we do:
The epidemic began in the month of August.  It attacked young children first of all and to them it was fatal: and so we lost our little ones, who were so dear to us and sweet, whom we had cherished in our bosoms and dandled in our arms, whom we had fed and nurtured with such loving care.  As I write I wipe away my tears...V.34
As a bishop, Gregory is of course primarily concerned with the faith of the people, so he spends a lot of time talking about heresies and splinter sects.  The Longobards and the Vandals are prone to Arianism.  Pelagianism shows up once or twice, but not nearly as often as Arianism.  He also devotes a large section to convincing a priest that the resurrection is real (the priest believes everything in his theology except the bit about being resurrected someday).

The names are quite difficult to keep straight.  Everyone is named Chilperic, Theudebert, Gundovald, or something similar. 

The final passage is very interesting; it's just Gregory's close and his solemn curse upon any of his successors who change his books.  He's worried that future bishops will find him unpolished and want to pretty things up a bit, so he invokes the seven arts and the curse of God to make sure they don't.  It's also clear that Gregory does not expect many people besides future bishops to read his works at all!  Here I am, about 1400 years later, reading his book that he assumed only fellow clerics would ever see.

I am so glad I read this history.  It was way more fun than I thought it would be.  Only the size (OK, and the names) is intimidating, so don't let it scare you--try it out!

PS:  One funny thing: this is all about the history of the Merovingian kings, so eventually I remembered about the goofy theory that the Merovingians were descended from Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene.  A few minutes of googling let me know that the Priory of Sion mentioned in the Da Vinci Code is supposed to be this secret society bent on putting Merovingian descendants on all the thrones of Europe.  (This seems like a silly sort of goal, but then it's a silly sort of theory.)  Well, all I've got to say is, anybody who thinks the Merovingians were somehow special or holy has obviously not read anything about them; they were a bloodthirsty lot who specialized in killing each other off all the time.  And they weren't Christian until around 500.  A good legendary origin is always fun, and I bet Chilperic would have been all in favor of using it (until Gregory got him for heresy, which he would have), but this one is pretty ludicrous.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Drear House Chronicles

The House of Dies Drear, by Virginia Hamilton
 The Mystery of Drear House

When I was about 10, I checked The House of Dies Drear out of the library and read it, but I did not understand a whole lot of it.  I remember it was kind of spooky and massively confusing.  When Leila (formerly of Bookshelves of Doom) mentioned it at her new blog, The Backlist, a couple of weeks ago, I went back and read it again, along with the sequel.  It makes a lot more sense now!

Thomas' family is moving from the mountains of North Carolina to a small college town in Ohio, where Mr. Small will teach history.  He is delighted to find an old mansion on the edge of town that belonged to an eccentric and wealthy man who was a major force in the Underground Railroad.  The house is full of secret cupboards and cave tunnels under the house, and there are rumors of ghosts.  Thomas is both nervous and thrilled with the house, and determined to figure out all the mysteries.  Pluto, the caretaker, has a long feud with the treasure-seeking Darrow family, and things get scary.

In the sequel, all the mysteries are finally revealed, but I didn't think it was as strong a story as the first one.  It's still pretty good, though.

The language of the books is really very evocative and kind of poetic.  I don't think anyone would write it quite that way now, which is a bit sad.  Much of the dialogue is designed to evoke a slightly old-fashioned, African-American style of talking--it's never dialecty, that's not what I mean--it's a particular style.  There is a lot of concern for remembering black heritage, and the strength and comfort it gives, particularly within the church.  Thomas' father talks quite a bit about whether having separate churches is a good thing or not; Thomas is skeptical, while his father sees it as positive.

I do wish that Thomas' mother was a stronger character.  She just doesn't come into the story as much--even in the sequel, when the great-grandmother becomes a large part of the action, the mother is an interesting person who doesn't appear much.  Thomas is mostly concerned with his father and with other men as he tries to figure out manhood and growing up.

Hey, look, there was a movie!
It's easy for me to see now why I couldn't make sense of the story at 9 or 10.  I was a California kid.  I didn't know a thing about the Civil War, or the Underground Railroad, much less that there are black churches and white churches (though I was sick to death of missions).  I was pretty fuzzy on the part where Dies Drear is supposed to be the name of an actual person, because who is named that?  I have to say, it seems like a pretty unlikely sort of name, even for the 19th century.  Reading it as an adult was really nice, because I could see what Hamilton was doing.

The House of Dies Drear has held up over time and is still a really good book.  Get it for your kid (or yourself!) if you can, but be prepared to explain a lot.  Because of that, I wouldn't give it to a kid under 12; there's just so much that can be confusing if you don't know the history, or that Dies Drear is supposed to have been a person.

I'd also like to know why practically every fictional kid in the 70s got to live in an old, mysterious mansion on the edge of town.  It doesn't seem quite fair!  I was thinking that I've never known anybody who got to live in a place like that, but then I realized that I do--my friend had her family in a large country farmhouse from the 19th century for a few years in the 2000s.  It was known as the Big House.  It was both fabulous and difficult to live in; lots of huge, wonderful rooms, but dust got in everywhere, it was impossible to heat or cool, and the stairs were just plain terrifying.  I saw it just before they moved in, and the bedrooms had really wild 1970 wallpaper.  That was about the last time anybody had done anything to the place, but they'd put in a 1970 dream kitchen, with stereo and a barometer in the walls (broken), a built-in microwave (broken) and trash compactor (also broken) and two ovens, all kinds of amazing stuff.  There was even a butler's pantry with a sink and a meat locker (scary if you have small children, thus permanently open and unused).  Since the upstairs was just large bedrooms for farm hands, there was nowhere for a bathroom except the hall--so the hall had been turned into a bathroom and you could only get to one bedroom through it.  I loved hanging out there, but then, I didn't have to clean it or take showers in a hall.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Master and Margaritalong II

Last week everybody was pretty confused, and I'm guessing that this week's reading hasn't helped much!  With a new character or so in every chapter, a constant stream of chaotic events, and the usual trouble with Russian names, it's not easy to follow.

The first section we read struck me with its religious references and implicit criticism of writers who produce lies on demand.  This part has a whole lot about the secret police and 'disappearances.'  Just like in Soviet life at the time, the secret police are never mentioned directly; when people disappear, the book sort of ignores it (so watch out for it!).  Anybody can disappear at any time, and nobody will question it. 

This week's update:

Nikanor, chairman of the tenants' association* for Berlioz' apartment building, is flooded with desperate requests for the half-apartment.  (There's a severe housing shortage, which gives him a lot of power.)  When he goes up to take a look at the apartment, there is already an occupant--Koroviev (the tall, checkered fellow that Ivan chased), who tells Nikanor that he agreed yesterday to give the apartment to Woland for a week, at a lovely high price.  Nikanor can't remember this, but there's a letter in his case to prove it, and the thought of taking a really enormous bribe blinds him to all else.  He gets 5,000 rubles down for a week's rent and he'll be able to keep a lot of it.  But just as soon as he leaves, Koroviev calls up the police and reports that Nikanor has hundreds of American dollars hidden away.  The police find the money--400 rubles has inexplicably turned to 400 dollars--and Nikanor is taken away.

Remember Berlioz' roommate, Styopa Likhodeev, who got whisked 900 miles to Yalta on the Black Sea?  His bosses at work, Rimsky and Varenukha, are getting pretty angry with his absence.  Nobody knows who this Woland performer guy is, and they blame Styopa.  A special telegram arrives from the Yalta police--they've got this madman in a nightshirt named Likhodeev who claims to work for this theater and what about it?  Rimsky and Varenukha are stunned; it must be a joke.  It isn't physically possible for Likhodeev to be in Yalta, even if he took a plane.  A flurry of telegram exchanges doesn't really help, and they decide to appeal to the police on their end to try to sort things out.  Varenukha takes them, but he's waylaid by Woland's cat and dragged to the apartment, where a redheaded vampire girl kisses him as he blacks out.

Ivan Homeless has been trying to write a statement about his experiences, but it's going badly.  He keeps getting on to Pilate and getting confused, and it just gets more unhinged with every effort.  He gets upset enough for the doctor to give him an injection, after which Ivan lies down and has a sort of disassociative experience, splitting in two and having an argument with himself over what to do.  And then he sees a man on his balcony!

But now it's time for the performance.  The hall is packed, and the MC, Bengalsky, introduces Woland and his assistant Fagott (who is Koroviev).  Woland starts a bit slow and Bengalsky keeps interrupting, so Woland first makes 10-ruble notes snow from the ceiling and then has the cat (Behemoth) rip Bengalsky's head right off.  It makes quite a mess, but Bengalsky apologizes and so they put him back together again.  Then they open a ladies' shop--a red-headed girl appears and gives all the ladies in the audience new dresses, shoes, and handbags.  It's a frenzy of fancy dressing which ends suddenly, and Woland exposes an eminent guest's indiscretions.  The audience goes kind of nuts, the police arrive, and Woland and company disappear.

Now Ivan meets his visitor.  It's a fellow inmate at the mental clinic; he's been there for a while and took some keys, so he can go around and meet other people.  Ivan tells him the whole story, and the stranger explains to Ivan that he has in fact met Satan.  This is the master, who has no other name.  He tells his story--he's a writer who wrote a great novel, all about Pontius Pilate, and when he met Margarita (who was already married), they fell deeply in love.  (Incidentally, it's totally unclear whether the master was married; he may have forgotten his wife.)  Margarita would visit every day as the master wrote, and she planned to break with her husband and live with him.  But when the master took his great manuscript to the publisher, he fell under suspicion and became the victim of a press campaign against him.  He is arrested, and after several months ended up in the clinic, where he plans to stay forever.

After the performance, Rimsky is alarmed by the police arrival and hears a commotion outside--ladies are running around in only their underwear.  The fancy dresses have disappeared, humiliating the women who wanted something for nothing.  Rimsky fears he'll be blamed.  It's late and he's alone in the building now, but Varenukha arrives and tells a long, complicated story claiming that he had found Likhodeev at a bar called Yalta, drunk out of his mind and sending crazy telegrams.  Rimsky would love to believe this, but realizes that it's all lies...and then sees that Varenukha has no shadow.  He has become a vampire, like the red-headed girl who is coming in through the window, and they both attack Rimsky.  He's going to die for sure, but just then a rooster crows; dawn is coming, and the vampires fly out the window and away.  Rimsky grabs his money and runs for the express train to Leningrad.

Nikanor is interrogated, but he's so incoherent that he winds up at the mental clinic, where he has a nightmare about confessing to hiding currency, and Pushkin.  The previously-beheaded Bengalsky is there too, piteously asking for his head.

By now the theater staff is pretty depleted, and the lowly bookkeeper Vassily is left in charge.  Since Woland has disappeared, he has to cancel the evening's show--the massive crowd that has collected in hopes of collecting free money is pretty disappointed.  The police are everywhere (their dog freaks out at the scent of vampire), Mrs. Rimsky shows up in hysterics, and Woland's posters and contract have mysteriously disappeared.  Vassily's job is to take the money from ticket sales to the bank, so he gets a cab, but the cabdriver is reluctant to take paper money, because every cabbie in town is finding that the magic ten-ruble bills turn into paper trash.  At the bank, the secretary is in hysterics because the boss (the eminent guest from last night) is now an empty suit doing meaningless paperwork.  Behemoth has paid them a visit.  Vassily goes to another branch of the bank, only to find the entire staff unable to stop singing folksongs--Koroviev has been there.  And when Vassily finally opens his briefcase of 21,000's stacks of forbidden foreign currency.

*Think of him as the superintendent of the building.  It's easier! 

I find it very helpful to do these summaries of the action; I hope they're not too dull for readers!

The internet abounds with images of Woland's retinue, and it can help to have some visuals.  Here are a couple of good ones. 

Koroviev (tall), Azazello (short), Behemoth (cat)

Woland in center; Behemoth, Hella (vampire girl), Korviev, Azazello

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Faerie Queene Readalong, Book III, Part II

I've finished the second half of Book III!  I know, it's taking me forever; I'm amazed that o has managed to power through the whole thing and finish!  Our original idea of doing this in a few weeks was clearly insane.  I've been running into the problem that I get really sleepy while reading; it's gotten to the point that ten verses will put me right to sleep no matter how energetic I felt when I started!  Even the weirdest Spenserian action makes me sleepy, but I am enjoying learning the stories and figuring things out, so no quitting allowed.  To continue the stories of Britomart, Amoret, and more...

Florimell (who, you might recall, loves Marinell, who doesn't love her and is currently recuperating with his mother) is fleeing.  It took me a while to figure out that she wasn't running, but riding a horse, and symbolically speaking, she's emotionally out of control.  The exhausted horse stops and Florimell finds a cottage, but the residents are a witch and her oafish son.  The witch is afraid at first, and then angry, but is moved by Florimell's plight and lets her rest.  The son lusts after the maiden and brings her treats, but once she is well she sneaks away.  The son is mad with despair and frustrated desire, so the witch plots to bring her back.  She calls up a monster hyena (symbol of debasement and lust), which chases Florimell to the seashore.  Florimell plans to jump into the sea and drown rather than be caught, but finds a little fishing boat and gets away.  The monster has caught her girdle, and eats the horse.

Florimell, fleeing as usual
 Sir Satyrane (who loves Florimell) arrives and seeing the gory monster, fears the worst.  He battles the hyena; it's too powerful to kill, but when he bridles it with the girdle, it submits.  Then along comes a Giantess pursued by a knight; she holds a tied-up squire on her lap (she's also lust, so the squire is controlled by his desires).  The squire is thrown aside as the giantess prepares to fight Satyrane--with her mace!  She bonks Satryane and is about to leave with him, but the knight's pursuit gets her to drop him and flee.  Satyrane unties the squire, who tells a complicated story about the giantess and her brother, his own situation and love, and the knight.  It would take a long time so I'll skip it, but it's got a lot of very odd jokes about lust.and infidelity.  I did love the knight though--she is the chaste Palladine, a maiden of great skill at arms, and only she can defeat the giantess.  We will never see her again, more's the pity.

 Meanwhile, the witch is happy that Florimell is dead (as she thinks), but her son is worse than ever, so she makes him a false Florimell out of snow, run by sprites.  He's happy, but as they walk in the forest, old Braggadocio shows up, beats the oafish son, and grabs False Florimell.  Another knight comes along and challenges him, so he runs off and the new knight takes the girl, not knowing she isn't Florimell.  The real maiden is in a boat, and there's an old fisherman asleep in it.  When he awakes, he is filled with lust and tries to rape her.  Her screams attract Proteus, the sea god, and he rescues her and takes her to his home...where he won't let her go.  He woos her, but she rejects him, so he tries to scare her into submission and throws her into a dungeon.  Poor Florimell is an eternal victim, never able to defend herself properly and so always suffering.  --  Meanwhile, Satyrane and the squire meet Sir Paridell, who is seeking Florimell along with many knights of Faerie.  Satyrane breaks the news of her death, but they resolve to look for more proof before really declaring her dead.  So they go to a nearby castle for the night...and are refused shelter!

The castle is Malbecco's (bad goat/cuckold), a rude, greedy churl who keeps his wife Hellenore locked up.  She is young and sweet, and they are 'unfitly yoked.'  Still, that doesn't excuse her behavior.  Malbecco is so jealous that he doesn't let knights come in.  A storm breaks upon the knights, so they take shelter in a shed.  Another knight arrives, seeking shelter--and they are churlish and unwelcoming themselves, so they all have a fight out in the storm.  Satyrane makes peace and they plan to attack the castle, and Malbecco lets them in.  As they disarm, the knight turns out to be Britomart, who is very beautiful but also intimidatingly powerful.  She scares them.  All sit down to a feast, and since Malbecco only has one eye to keep on his wife, Paridell finds it easy to flirt with her.  (You may now notice that Paridell and Hellenore are a lot like Paris and Helen.)  They flirt outrageously and lewdly.  After dinner, Paridell claims descent from Paris and claims that he is one of the Nine Worthies (which he isn't).  Britomart gets all excited at this Trojan history; she is descended from Aeneas and asks for more stories.  Paridell talks about Rome, but Britomart reminds him about England and its founding by Trojans.

Paridell and Hellenore flirt
Britomart and Satyrane leave the next morning, but Paridell "needs more rest."  Malbecco is grumpy about this and keeps a close eye on his wife, but Paridell is an experienced seducer and he's got a willing partner.  Paridell abducts Hellenore and sets fire to the castle so they can get away safely.  Malbecco searches for his wife but has no luck, so he hires Braggadocio, who only wants the money.  They do find Paridell, but he has already deserted Hellenore, as is his habit.  She wandered until she met the forest satyrs, who made her a communal wife.  She's having a great time and has forgotten both men.  Braggadocio steals Malbecco's treasure, and Malbecco goes mad and throws himself off a cliff...but he's so emaciated by his jealousy that he floats down.  Living on frogs and toads in a cave, he is now the monster Jealousy.

(A favorite line:
And awfull terror deepe into him strooke, 
That every member of his body quooke.)

Hellenore parties with satrys
Britomart and Satyrane run into the giant Ollyphant, an uncontrolled lustful male, and have to run, which separates them.  Britomart meets a knight with a Cupid shield; he is Sir Scudamore, and laments Amoret's imprisonment by the sorcerer Busirane.  He hasn't been able to rescue his true love and is in despair.  Britomart offers to help him, so they go to the castle.  There is no gate, only a sulfurous fire in the porch (flames of desire).  In some really odd imagery, Brtomart puts on all her armor of faith and parts the fire with her sword.  It yields to her, but Scudamore can't do it; he's got too much rage and desire, and his attempts at force fail.  The castle is gorgeous; tapestries cover the metallic walls, showing scenes of Jove's various amorous adventures with nymphs and other kings conquered by lust.  Cupid, the cruel god, even wounds himself every so often.  At the end of the hall there is a gold statue of the god--blindfolded, holding a variety of arrows, and triumphing over a wounded dragon (which guards chastity).  The hall is full of fancy people, all bowing to the idol, and it dazes Britomart.  Over the door it says "Be Bold" and she enters an empty room, with several doors saying "Be Bold"-- and one iron door saying "Be Not Too Bold."  She waits until dark.
Amoret, tormented by Busirane as Britomart sneaks up

Bam!  With lots of special effects, the Masque of Cupid starts.  There's lots of stage language here, an audience, and everything.  A long parade of figurative characters marches by as hypnotic music plays--there are Fansy and Desire, Doubt and Daunger, Feare and Hope, and it goes on and on. Despight and Cruelty lead a beautiful lady with a stab wound in her breast and her heart in a dish, just before Cupid himself, riding a lion and gloating over poor Amoret, who is the lady.  Soon there is a confused rout of figures as the whole production breaks down, and they exit through the iron door, which locks.  Britomart tries to follow, but she must wait another day.  She disguises herself and joins the procession, but on the other side of the door everyone has disappeared except Busirane and Amoret, chained.  He writes his spells in her dripping blood, but she will not yield to him (although he is also a version of Scudamore; things must be done righteously or not at all).  Seeing Britomart, he tries to kill Amoret.  Britomart stops him, so he stabs her--but not deeply.  She is ready to kill him, but only he can heal Amoret, so she forces him to do that.  The whole house shakes and finally Amoret is freed from her chains and healed of her horrible wound.  Busirane is then chained up and the two maidens leave together through a decayed castle.  The porch flames are quenched.  Amoret and Scudamore are reunited in an ecstatic embrace--they are "grown together quite" like a tree or one being, in an image of true loving marriage.
Britomart rescues Amoret from Busirane

Grateful Amoret and detached Britomart
The second edition, though, changes the ending to make it more open, leading into Book IV.

Wow, what a storm of weird events and symbolism about chaste love vs. lust!  I did not even get in to all of it.  There is a lot of fun stuff in here.  I really wonder what Book IV will bring.

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

Time for a Mount TBR checkpoint.  Holy cow, I only have a few months left on this.  Help.  Bev says:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. 

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:
A. Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.
B. Pair up two of your reads. But this time we're going for opposites. One book with a male protagonist and one with a female protagonist. One book with "Good" in the title and one with "Evil." Get creative and show off a couple of your books.
C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?
D. Choose 1-4 titles from your stacks and using a word from the title, do an image search.  Post the first all-eyes-friendly picture associated with that word.

Titles read:
  1. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein
  2. Cromartie v. the God Shiva... by Rumer Godden
  3. The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin
  4. Time and Again, by Clifford D. Simak
  5. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, by Rainer Maria Rilke 
  6. The Broken Road, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  7. The Umbrella Man, by Roald Dahl
  8. Reynard the Fox, trans. by James Simpson
  9. Green Dolphin Street, by Elizabeth Goudge
  10. Up From Slavery, by Booker T. Washington
  11.  The September Society, by Charles Finch
  12. The Fleet Street Murders, by Charles Finch
  13.  The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu
  14. The Old Ways, by Robert MacFarlane 
  15. The Death of Vishnu, by Manil Suri
  16. Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog, by Boris Akunin 
  17. Revolutionary Days, by Julia Cantacuzene 
  18. My Apprenticeship, by Maxim Gorky
  19.  Gentian Hill, by Elizabeth Goudge

I've read 19 titles, so I have five more to go to make it to my goal of Mont Blanc.  I've picked out the five in hopes of actually managing to do it, but I don't know, it's going to be close.

Favorite character?  Well, really my favorite isn't a character at all, unless you want to argue about constructed identity in memoir.  I want to go traveling around 1930s Bulgaria with Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of the travel memoir The Broken Road.  I guess I'll have to let him visit the male-only Mount Athos on his own, though.

For book pairings, we could put Revolutionary Days together with My Apprenticeship, and let the fiery Soviet writer duke it out with the aristocratic American-Russian princess.  Gentian Hill's Christian sensibilities could vie with Cromartie vs. the God Shiva's devout Hinduism (or let's bring in The Death of Vishnu to really confuse things).

Length of time on TBR pile: Gorky for sure, I picked him up back in the 1990s.  I've probably meant to read him for almost 20 years.  Although he's a little angry about everything, I'm enjoying reading the whole trilogy and looking forward to the next one (probably sometime next year).
Green Dolphin (OK, not the first, but the only one I liked)
Reynard Fox, 1860 illustration

Reynard Fox, I like this one better


Monday, October 3, 2016

Witch Week 2016: Made in America

I feel like such a dope--I've been kind of behind in the blogging and failed to do a post on Witch Week 2016 when I should have, but there's still time!

Lory, our wonderful hostess, has chosen to do a "Made in America" theme this year.  She's got some goodies planned, like an interview with Kat Howard (author of Roses and Rot), a Top Ten, a discussion of Oz, some talk about Neil Gaiman and American Gods, and all sorts of things.

And I'm especially excited about the readalong, which will be Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, possibly the iconic Halloween classic.  I've already put my copy on hold!  The discussion will be on November 5.

I hope you'll join Lory, and me, and quite a few others in reading and discussing some great fantasy during Witch Week.  (If you're not familiar with the term, Witch Week is the week between Halloween and Guy Fawkes, referenced in Diana Wynne Jones' wonderful Witch Week.)

Classics Spin Number....

And it's #1, which means....Light in August, by William Faulkner.


Really, Faulkner?

My doom is come upon me.

I kind of thought #1 wouldn't happen because, hey, we had #1 already a few Spins ago, but that's randomness for you.  Still.  Faulkner.


I have read exactly one Faulkner title in the past, in Comparative Literature 1B in my first semester at Cal in the spring of 1992.  I think it was Absalom, Absalom! but I don't really know at this distance.  There may have been something about a funeral and a bridge.  It made no sense to me.  I think I put Faulkner on my CC list because it was so scary, and also because my American literature is so awful in general.  I'm now re-thinking the wisdom of that decision.

I've put a hold on it at the public library.  I ought to be able to get it at work, but during the Great Summer Weed I noticed that all the famous Faulkner titles had disappeared over the years (like they do--they get lost or wander away) so that only the titles nobody has heard of were left on the shelf, and the replacements I ordered have not yet finished processing.

OK, now I'm just babbling in panic.  So.  Faulkner.  Here we go.  [Bob the Tomato] I can DO this. [/Bob the Tomato]

Master and Margaritalong I

I've read the first eight chapters of The Master and Margarita, and it's pretty much just as deranged as when I read it the first time, but then that's the whole point.  Here we go--

Some background first: Bulgakov started it early on in his career, in the late 1920s, but never expected to publish his novel during his lifetime.  It was dangerous even to write these thoughts down, and at one point he burned most of the manuscript.  Over the years, he wrote and rewrote the story, continuing to make changes right up until his death in 1940.  Bulgakov had a difficult writing career and was officially marginalized; in 1930 he took the rather dramatic step of asking to either emigrate or be given a job in the theater.  This tactic actually worked, and he was given a job at the Moscow Art Theater, but even so, he rarely succeeded in putting on a play.

Master and Margarita has two plots: first, the devil comes to Moscow and wreaks havoc among a standardized, repressed people.  Then in several interspersed chapters, Pontius Pilate faces off with Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus of Nazareth).  It's not supposed to be historical; Bulgakov tweaks things here and there.  The novel contains Bulgakov's reactions to Soviet repression and his feelings of revulsion at the Soviet attempt to eradicate religion.  It's also the place where he tries to work out his feelings about his own compromises with the state.  He did not feel that he had always acted with integrity, and the character of the master is where he judges and finds himself wanting.   On to our story---

The head of Massolit*, Berlioz, and an avant-garde poet, Ivan Homeless**, meet at Patriarch's Ponds*** and meet a foreign professor type who leads them into conversation.  First he predicts Berlioz' death and some other things, and then argues about whether or not Jesus existed.  They say not, but the professor says yes--he was there, after all...and he tells them a story, or gives them a vision, about Pontius Pilate, who had to question a young preacher and confirm his death sentence.  Pilate can't decide if he wants the man to stay (can he cure this awful pain?) or die, but he doesn't want to go against the leader of the Sanhedrin, so he goes along with the program.

The two men, somewhat dazed by the memory-vision, leave the (insane?) professor, and Berlioz is promptly killed in an accident, in just the way the professor predicted.  Poor Ivan tries to give chase, but the professor leaves with a weird tall guy and a black cat, walking on its hind legs.  Ivan can't seem to catch up, but he runs all over town, certain that he knows where to go.  He dives into the river, winds up with someone else's clothes, and finally fetches up, babbling incoherently, at Massolit.  Everyone there thinks Ivan's gone mad (well, he quite possibly has) and they have him taken to a clinic, where he fails to convince anyone of his sanity.  For one thing, nobody is at all prepared to believe that the devil has come to town.  Riukhin, a mediocre poet who escorted Ivan to the clinic, heads back to Massolit to get as drunk as he can (incidentally, Massolit's fancy restaurant appears to be run by a fellow who is transforming into a pirate).

In the morning, Styopa Likhodeev, who shares Berlioz' apartment, has an unexpected visitor.  The professor, who introduces himself as Woland (a German name for the devil), claims that they met yesterday and set up a theater run--Woland being a professor of black magic and a performer.   Poor Styopa is utterly confounded; he can't remember a thing about this, but his boss seems to know all about it.  Woland demands the apartment for himself, and the next thing Styopa knows, he's sitting on the shore of the Black Sea.  At the same time, Ivan Homeless wakes up at the clinic.  He's calmer now, but still obsessed with catching the mysterious figures who caused Berlioz' death, so he's diagnosed with schizophrenia.

*Massolit is a made-up contraction for a Moscow literary association.  Perfectly Stalinist, isn't it?
** As we know from Gorky, some Soviet writers used pseudonyms like Bitter or Hungry.  It got to be a popular thing.
*** Watch out for Moscow locations that are former religious landmarks, now turned to Soviet purposes.  They show up a lot, and they make things happen.