Books, characters, fantasy, fiction, heroines, influences, quotes, stories

The Non-Problem of Susan

I always wondered what it would take for me to finally break down and write that “There is no problem of Susan” post. Today, I found out.

There’s a meme going around Tumblr about “Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and …” finish as your preference lies, either she is treated horribly by the baristas because she is feminine or she won’t order coffee because she doesn’t like it any more. Here’s the thing: I think both are missing the point. I respect other people’s opinions on the matter, even the ones with which I disagree, but I have my own opinion on this as well, and so I offer it here.

To run with the coffee shop analogy:

Susan Pevensie walks into a coffee shop and wants imitation coffee. When told that they only offer real coffee at this shop, but here, have a comfortable chair and a pastry while you wait for us to lovingly prepare it for you, and oh by the way, there’s no charge for any of this, she walks out without anything, and from then on mocks the rest of her family for still going to that coffee shop.

CS Lewis was very, very big on Truth over Falsehood, Depth over Shallows, Beauty over Ashes. That theme is woven throughout the Chronicles of Narnia – sometimes obviously, as in The Silver Chair, when the children, the prince, and Puddleglum must fight to believe in a true sky, a true sun, a true Lion, over the Witch’s imitations of such things in the Underworld. Or the difference between the true Aslan and the Ass clothed in a lionskin in The Last Battle. Oftentimes it’s more subtle: Lucy’s genuine beauty springing from her love for Aslan as opposed to the false beauty the spell would have given her in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, for example.

Susan has not been banned from Narnia because she has become a true woman. In fact, none of them were banned from Narnia. When people graduate from school, do we consider them unjustly treated? Are they often sad to leave school, especially if it was a wonderful experience? Yes, Narnia was a wonderful place for the children to learn about Truth, about Beauty, and about Aslan. But eventually, they grew to the point where Narnia had given them all it could offer, and they needed to go forward and apply that knowledge to their everyday lives. Just as, with school, eventually you have to leave and take what you learned there and use it in your adult life.

But there are some people who, upon leaving school, never really want to move forward. They are glad to be leaving school behind, and to think of themselves as grown-up, but they aren’t actually ready to accept the responsibilities of adulthood. They prefer to remain in perpetual adolescence, a life of frivolity, never going beyond the shallows of life to taste the true joy and awe of the deeps.

That’s Susan’s issue. As Polly says, “Grown-up indeed! I wish she would grow up.” The problem isn’t that she is an adult woman instead of a child. The problem isn’t that she’s embraced femininity. It’s good to grow up, and to wholly embrace who you are. It’s not “lipstick, nylons, and invitations” that’s the problem. It’s considering those things the most important – artificial prettiness and popularity over true Beauty, Friendship, and Love. Or to use Lewis’ own words:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. (The Weight of Glory)

It’s not that any of those things are bad. But for Lewis, they were not enough. They could not be the end goal of life. To continue to borrow his metaphor, Susan was one who had seen glimpses of the sea, and deliberately forgotten it so as to better enjoy her mud pies. That is her tragedy. And that is her relatability, for who among us has not done the same?

But there is hope for Susan – “Once a Queen of Narnia, always a Queen of Narnia,” you know.  And we miss that hope when we miss the point of her journey.

Books, characters, fiction, influences, reading list, Watch, world-building

Book Recommendations: Sci-Fi

Time for another book recommendation post!

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve always been something of a sci-fi fan, but never got into the hardcore stuff. Star Wars, movies and novels, made up the majority of my fascination for a long time. Star Trek, especially Voyager (yes, in watching the show now I can understand people’s irritation, and am frustrated myself, at the weak storylines and bland character developments when it had SO MUCH MORE POTENTIAL, but it’s still my favorite of all of them) was a mainstay of my teenage and college years. As an adult I discovered Doctor Who and Firefly, and though my relationship with Doctor Who has soured to the point where I no longer care about it in the slightest, it was wonderful for a while. And I adore Firefly (ZOE!!!). I also get a kick out Warehouse 13, and one of these days I am actually going to watch The X-Files.

But … those are all TV shows. And movies, counting Star Wars. There aren’t a whole lot of books which I’ve read in the sci-fi category. And none at all on my shelves, save for a few holdovers from my Star Wars EU days. So I’m always looking for more.

What I love in sci-fi is not just cool technology and spaceships, although I do love those. And I’m not one who is into all the science-y talk, and figuring out the possibilities and probabilities of Faster-Than-Light speed or the like. Aliens are cool, but not essential. I really like just good old-fashioned space opera, the small drama of human existence played out against the wide background of space (or the wide background of a bigger universe than one we’re aware of – like Warehouse 13. It doesn’t have to be space, though I admit I love that best).

So, here are the few books/series I’ve read and enjoyed, and one or two I’ve tried and now wish to steer clear of, and please feel free to hit me up with more based on what I’ve already tried!

Star Wars Expanded Universe. I sold most of my Star Wars EU collection before one of our moves; it was a wrench, but I really didn’t read them anymore, and the New Jedi Order books had left me feeling rather cold toward the EU in general. I kept my X-Wing novels, though, at least all the ones before the NJO, as well as Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy and Hand of Thrawn duology. Oh, and Mike Stackpole’s I, Jedi. I saved all those because I would love them whether they were Star Wars or not, they were just fun, fun reads. And glad I was that I did when Aaron Allston died and I was able to re-read all the Wraith Squadron books by simply going down to our storage unit in the basement and pulling them out of a box there.

The Vorkosigan Saga. I read Lois McMaster Bujold’s Chalion books first, and loved them so much I turned to her Vorkosigan books as soon as I finished Paladin of Souls. I read Cordelia’s Honor first, and loved it but was so overwhelmed that it took me a little while before I could read The Warrior’s Apprentice. That pattern has remained, in fact. I love each book that I read, but I have to take long breaks in between them because I get so intensely involved in them as I read. And I absolutely cannot read them before bed, or my mind races like crazy all night long!

Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword. These books, by Ann Leckie, are so, so good. Rich characters? Check. Sci-fi and alien concepts used to bring home truths about our own societies and thought processes? Check. Intricate, well-developed plots? Check.

The Touchstone Trilogy. By Andrea K. Höst, an indie writer from Australia. These novels, written in diary form by the teenage protagonist, a girl from our world thrown all of a sudden into a strange new universe, are brilliant. I’m dying to re-read them, but making myself wait until I finish writing From the Shadows, which is also written in diary form from the perspective of a character thrown out of her ordinary world into a new one (of sorts). There are enough similarities there that I don’t want to let myself be accidentally influenced by Höst. I’m saving the trilogy re-read as a reward for finishing my own work.

Ultraviolet and Quicksilver, by RJ Anderson. Oh my. I love these books. Not space opera, but glorious nonetheless. Ultraviolet especially was so gripping and so unexpectedly moving to me, in a way I hadn’t experienced since reading A Ring of Endless Light.

Now for the ones I’ve tried but didn’t love.

Honor Harrington. I really, really enjoyed the first one. The second one dealt with some topics which turn my stomach, and while it might have handled them well (they are so distressing to me I cannot possibly be objective about how they’re handled – I had the same problem with the Phryne Fisher books), it made it impossible for me to continue with the series.

Ender’s Game. I read it because it’s a sci-fi classic. It was, I thought, really brilliantly written. But I didn’t enjoy it. That’s all I can say on that.

To close, I will mention that I have the first book of CJ Cherryh’s Foreigner series coming to me through ILL, but there was a glitch and it got held up for about two weeks, so I haven’t had a chance to read it yet. But I’m excited to try when it does get here!

There you have it, my list as best my memory (and my Goodreads lists) can serve. What do you recommend, or recommend I avoid in my search for more awesome-to-me science fiction books?

Update:

Doris Egan’s Ivory books have been recommended (and I ordered the first one already!)

Two people (blog and FB) recommended Anne McCaffrey: the later Pern books, the Talents series, and the Crystal Singer series.

Also recommended was Shannon Hale’s MG superhero book Dangerous.

 

Books, characters, children, heroines

The Lion, the Witch, and the Costume

Carl finished reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the girls last night before bed. They hadn’t been too sure about it at first, but round about the supper at the Beavers’ house, they were hooked. They needed a little bit of explanation about why the Witch killed Aslan, and how he came back to life (at first Gracie thought the Witch brought him back to life – that took some straightening out), and a couple other parts confused them at first, but overall they loved it.

So much so, in fact, that they are right now listening to it on audiobook while they take their afternoon rest. It’s narrated by Michael York, and I keep picturing Captain Crane from Road to Avonlea telling the tale, and it’s cracking me up.

Joy’s Halloween costume is a medieval princess, with an underdress of light blue and a sleeveless overdress of dark blue, and we figured out how to strap a toy shield at her side and fake a scabbard out of ribbon to go over her shoulder for her foam sword. Last night, I asked her if, now that we’d read the entire story, she was going to be Lucy for Halloween.

“No,” she said, looking at me like I was crazy. “I’m the oldest. I’m Susan.”

Er. Right.

I think we’ll stick with “warrior princess” so as to avoid any confused and well-meaning neighbors spoiling the ending of The Last Battle for her.

And then I really need to introduce her to Eilonwy, who is NOT a younger sister.

(Gracie, in case you are curious, if going to be a fox for Halloween. Mamma realized a couple weeks ago there was no way her princess dress would be finished in time, and the promise of getting her face painted was enough to sway her to something simpler. And even at that I only finished sewing the vest and stuffing the tail yesterday.)

Books, characters, favorites, fiction

Characters I Would (or Have) Dress Up As

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Visit the Broke and the Bookish for more!

I love costumes. I love theater, and acting. Carl surprised me this weekend by taking me to our community theater’s production of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which was brilliantly done, and which I would have adored even if it had been less professional, because I haven’t been to a live performance since … well, before college. Carl had never seen live theater (aside from high school plays) before, so it was a whole new experience for him, and he was surprised at how much he enjoyed it, too.

Anyway. Because I love acting and theater, I also love dressing up as various characters. Always have, probably always will. Here are some of my favorites from the past, and some I still dream of attaining:

1. Raggedy Ann. My kindergarten Halloween costume! My mom sewed me a dress and pinafore, and made a red yarn wig; we couldn’t find striped stockings anywhere, so I still remember sitting in class and my dad showing up right before the parade with wide red elastic bands to put over my white tights, to look like red and white stripes. It worked beautifully, and set the tone for going all out with costumes in our family.

2. Robin Hood. This was for a friend’s 18th birthday party, where she wanted everyone to dress up as a character from their favorite movie. I chose Robin Hood, being a big fan of the Errol Flynn version, but also of the character himself from the many stories I read. Having short hair worked really well for that one; I recall I used an eyebrow pencil to give myself a mustache.

3. Joe Hardy. This was a last-minute costume. The well of inspiration ran dry, and we had a Harvest Party that night, and I had no idea what I was going to do. Staring at the bookshelves finally gave me an idea. I ran to the local department store and bought a pinstriped Oxford shirt and clip-on tie; borrowed my dad’s old leather bomber jacket, and slicked my (again, short) hair down with a disgusting amount of gel. Success!

4. Regency Lady. This was not any specific book character, but definitely inspired by my fondness for all the Jane Austen books and adaptations. In one week, I bought the pattern and fabric, cut the dress out, and sewed it. Still one of the fastest sewing projects I’ve ever managed to complete. I sewed the sleeves in backward, but no one ever noticed! We tied a wide ribbon around my head and my sister coaxed a few curls out of my hair, and there I was. (Fun side note: that was the night both Carl and I started having more-than-friendship feelings for each other.)

Now for characters I would want to dress up as, even still!

5. Lucy Pevensie. I want to wear this dress, and be Queen Lucy the Valiant. Someday.

6. Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan. Let’s face it, fantasy-medieval characters are pretty much the best, especially when they get to carry weapons with them. I made Joy a blue princess outfit for Halloween this year, and we are figuring out how to concoct a shoulder belt and scabbard out of ribbon for her foam sword, while her shield clips at her waist, and with a headchain/crown on her head, she is a pretty uncanny representation of Eowyn (not that she knows who that is, of course – she rolled her eyes when I called her a Shieldmaiden of Rohan).

7. Rounding out my medieval list would be Eilonwy, daughter of Angharad, daughter of Regat, daughter of – oh, it’s such a bother going through all that. Carl recently read “The Book of Three” for the first time, and he told me afterward: “So, Eilonwy … pretty much you as a kid?” Hey, there are far worse book characters I could have been.

8. Anne of Green Gables. Though to tell the truth, I would honestly mostly like to dress like Anne for everyday life, not just as a costume. After watching the movie with some of my neighbors recently, I found myself craving long wool plaid skirts and hand-knitted sweaters for autumn and winter wear.

9. Harriet Vane. An excuse to wear 1930s clothing and say clever and biting things! What more could one want?

10. I had a terrible time narrowing down this last one, but I think I finally settled on Albert Campion. I’ve already got the glasses and pale hair and indeterminate face (I love that descriptive phrase, by the way: indeterminate face. Isn’t it evocative? And since I cannot go anywhere without having people say “Oh yeah, I know you … don’t I?” because my face always looks like somebody else, I think I can claim that phrase for myself). All I would need would be a natty 1920s gentleman’s outfit.

Carl could accompany me as Lugg.

Books, characters, favorites, fiction, heroines, influences

Anne and Me

Last night I watched the first half of Anne of Green Gables with a group of ladies in my building (and you can be absolutely certain that, mature, reasoned, responsible ladies that we are, we were every one of us sorely tempted to stay up until midnight watching the entire thing, and only barely managed to be sensible enough to call it a night after Part 1).

It got me thinking about Anne, and my relationship with her over the years. As a child, she was one of my best friends. I adored her temper, her dramatics (and sadly, unconsciously imitated both), her sense of beauty in the world, her vivid imagination (I unconsciously imitated those as well, with a much happier result). Anne, like Lucy Pevensie, Vesper Holly, Mary Lennox, Sara Crewe, Jo March, Emily Starr, Eilonwy of Prydain, Betsy Ray, and others whom I am most certainly forgetting at the moment, had a hand in shaping the person I grew to become.

As an adult, I started to lose some patience with Anne. Her dramatics made me wince, her over-exaggerations caused me to roll my eyes, her disdain for ordinary, everyday life seemed short-sighted and arrogant.

Watching the movie this time around, though, I found myself with an entirely new perspective. When others laughed at her statements such as “being in the depths of despair” or wishing to be called Cordelia instead of Anne, I found myself wanting to gather her in a big hug. I think it’s being a mother of little girls that’s helping shift the way I see things now. Now I can see Anne as the child who never had any kind of touchstone with reality, whose only exposure to a life beyond harshness and ugliness came from books, and who genuinely had no idea how to properly interact with the world until Matthew, Marilla, and Diana (and even Mrs Lynde, to an extent, in her advice to put Anne in school and Sunday School) showed her through example and friendship. Now I find myself getting really emotional, as Matthew’s kindness and Marilla’s practicality took a child who literally had no life beyond books and made her capable of living in the world and loving it as much as her dreams. Instead of wincing at her insistence on giving everything “imaginative” names, I now can appreciate how she was simply trying, in her own childish way, to make the beauty that she saw for the first time in her life fit the flaming glories it brought to her inner life.

I said in a post a little while ago that while I still love Anne, I don’t know that we would be friends anymore – I had started to feel like I’d outgrown her. I don’t feel that way anymore. Now I think I’ve gotten to a point of enough maturity to properly love her and befriend her once again.

Books, characters, fantasy, favorites, fiction, influences, research, world-building

Lloyd Alexander and Diversity

An incomplete (but pertinent) bibliography of Lloyd Alexander’s works for young people:

Time Cat, 1963. Takes place in ancient Egypt, Rome, Britain, Ireland, Japan, Italy, Peru, Isle of Man, Germany, and America, all extensively researched and handled with great respect and affection.

The First Two Lives of Lukas Kasha, 1978. Takes place in fantasy Persia, extensively researched.

The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen, 1991. Takes place in fantasy China, patterned after Chinese folklore and fairy tales, extensively researched.

The Arkadians, 1995. Takes place in fantasy Greece and neighboring islands, patterned after Greek myths with very obvious affection.

The Iron Ring, 1997. Takes place in fantasy India. Patterned after Indian myths, incorporates traditional Indian caste systems and the importance of honor and karma, extensively researched. (Also the first Lloyd Alexander book I ever bought with my own money.)

Gypsy Rizka, 1999. Features a Romany heroine.

The Rope Trick, 2002. Takes place in fantasy Italy, pre-unification.

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio, 2007. Takes place in Arabia.

In all the calls for the need for more culturally diverse books, I have not seen anyone mention Alexander’s works, and that’s a shame. Because I grew up enthralled with fairy tales and folklore of many different lands, and infused with the desire to immerse myself in and explore all sorts of “other” cultures in my writing, and I never considered that an odd way of thinking, and that is due almost entirely to Lloyd. To me, respectfully, excitedly, and lovingly exploring different cultures through fantasy was normal, and sticking with basic European traditions was weird.

We do need diverse books. So let’s not forget the man who was writing them long before any campaign for such notion began, the man who wrote diverse books solely because he loved the richness of them.

I would also like to note that all of the female characters in Alexander’s works are strong, no-nonsense (except for the ones who like nonsense), independent, intelligent, witty characters, at least if not more so as well-rounded as the male characters. And most of them are capable of physical fighting as well, though they tend to be clever enough that they avoid the need to fight much of the time.

(Lloyd Alexander has also written a few picture books which are beautifully illustrated and also culturally rich. The Fortune-Tellers, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, is set in Cameroon, and is witty and charming. Dream-of-Jade: The Emperor’s Cat I (sadly) have not yet read, but it is illustrated by D Brent Burkett and set in Ancient China and looks just as marvelous as all Alexander’s other works. The King’s Fountain, another I’ve not yet read, is illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats and set in the Middle East.)

TL;DR

Lloyd Alexander was awesome.

Books, characters, favorites, fiction, reading list

Top Ten Favorite Classic Books

I did not expect, when I first started this post, how hard it was going to be to define classic. If I included all the classic children’s books I loved, it would be a hundred items long. And do I include such mystery classics as Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None? Or Terry Brooks’ Sword of Shannara, which is such a classic of fantasy that the entire genre as we know it wouldn’t be the same without it?

In the end, I stuck with a more traditional definition of classic, and tried to keep it to “adult” classics, not because I consider them “better,” (quite the opposite, in some cases), but because I just needed some framework for my choices. I did bend a little with my last one – it’s a classic of fantasy and a children’s classic, but I make no apologies. In my opinion, it’s a classic classic.

There are also lots of pictures in this post from film/TV adaptations of said classics. I make no apologies for them, either. Especially the Richard Armitage one.

As always, check out The Broke and Bookish for more top ten lists. And without further ado, I give you my Top Ten Favorite Classic Books.

Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell. I adore this book. I adore the characters, the relationships (not just the romantic ones), the simplicity that balances so well with the complexity of it, the way that unlike many (most) classic novels, you can’t necessarily predict how it’s all going to turn out in the end. It truly is what its subtitle claims: An Everyday Story, and I just love it for that.

Anne of Green Gables, LM Montgomery. I grew up with Anne smacking her slate over Gilbert’s head, with her dramatics and her passions, with her friendships and loves and hatreds, and while at times now I shake my head at the ridiculousness of everyone who meets her falling under her spell as she gets older, I do still love her. Not to mention Gilbert.

North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell. A book that made me think, and swoon, and think some more. It doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage plays Mr Thornton in the BBC adaptation. I’ll leave Darcy for all the P&P fans; Mr Thornton for me, please.

Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens. I watched the adaptation of this before I ever read the book – and I have no regrets. I love the book, and I don’t think I would have been able to appreciate it as much if I had just tackled it without already having some of the richness of color and character and setting imparted to me by the adaptation.

Ivanhoe, Sir Walter Scott. I read this when I was a kid – I don’t know if I would love it now upon re-reading. But oh, I adored it then. The chivalry, the pageantry, the disguises, Robin Hood and King Richard, the wicked Knights Templar, beautiful Rebecca and Rowena … I ate it all up. My fondness for Edward Eager’s Knight’s Castle might just possibly have contributed to my love.

Ivanhoe in a flying saucer. Who wouldn’t love that?

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte. Jane is yet another heroine I met first through film (the Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke version, and I have yet to see more fitting portrayals of Rochester and Jane), and then grew to love more deeply through the book. I love her quiet strength, and her joyous passion. Rochester’s a jerk, but since Jane triumphs over his jerk-ness, I can forgive him.

Persuasion, Jane Austen. I like P&P, but it’s Persuasion that I return to almost every autumn, re-reading with pleasure, identifying with and enjoying Anne a little bit more each year. It’s such a quiet book, with hidden strength, rather like its heroine, and it is just sheer enjoyment to read.

The Psmith Books, PG Wodehouse. I confess: I can only read so much of Wooster and Jeeves before I start desperately wanting for Bertie to, just once, get the best of absolutely everyone else, including and especially Jeeves (I also have always wanted Wile E. Coyote to catch Road Runner at least once). I have no such difficulties with Psmith and faithful-but-exasperated Mike. Their adventures and misadventures are just sheer fun.

The Second Violin, Grace S Richmond. I don’t know if technically this one counts as a classic. Is it a classic if it’s old, but nobody has ever heard of it? Richmond’s books are romances, often moralistic, and while I can recognize their quality is not necessarily as great as one might like, I also enjoy reading them when I just want some harmless fluff. It helps that I have an antique copy of The Second Violin with a note to me from my grandfather on the frontspiece, one of the first presents he gave me after my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s had developed to the point where he had to do all the birthday and Christmas presents and hang on, BRB, need a tissue now.

I would love, for no other reason but snob points, to be able to end this with Tolstoy or Dostoevsky or Hugo or Eliot, but the fact of the matter is that my classics favorites have all been along similar lines to each other, simple and comfortable rather than challenging and painful. I have read Anna Karenina (ugh), Middlemarch (also ugh), as well as almost all the Brontes’ works, more by Eliot, more by Dickens, some Trollope … I just don’t love them (in fact, I can tell you right now that I hated many of them with a burning passion. Don’t even get me started on Wuthering Heights). And most of the classics I do love, aside from the ones already mentioned, are children’s books, of which, as I said at the start, there are too many for me to even name. So instead I think I will make my #10 pick …

The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien. Technically a children’s book, but like Anne of Green Gables, so so much more than that. I have distinct memories of the first time I read The Hobbit, something rare for me, as most of my first reads are blurred by time. Not this, though … I remember running my finger along the books on the library shelf, looking for something new, wanting to find a book I had never seen before, pausing at the title and pulling it out. The green and blue cover, with mountains and forests and strange runes along the edge intrigued me, and I carried it over to the beanbags in the corner of the children’s room, settled down, and opened the first page.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

The rest was history.