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.

Books, characters, favorites, fiction

Top Ten Characters Who …

… I would want to be my friend. (Or, to put it in a more grammatically correct form: Top Ten Characters with whom I would want to be friends.)

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1. Betsy Ray, the Betsy-Tacy books by Maud Hart Lovelace. When I think of book friends, Betsy is the very first who springs to mind. How I would have loved to have her as a friend when I was young, and even now, I think how much fun she’d be to have around. The great thing about Betsy is that I kept “discovering” more of her books the older I got (sneakily and well done, parents), and so we really did grow up together. I read Betsy’s Wedding shortly after getting married myself … so in some ways it feels like we are old friends who grew up and experienced much of life together.

Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!
Betsy and Joe, also one of my very favorite literary couples!

2. Lucy Pevensie, Tarkheena Aravis, Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis. No offense to Susan or Jill or Polly – I like all of them, but it’s Lucy and Aravis I’ve always wanted to have as friends. Could you imagine the trouble we’d get into? It’d be awesome.

3. Randy and Rush Melendy, The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright. Re-reading all of Enright’s books recently reminded me again of how much I love this brother-sister team, and how badly I wanted them to be real people and my next-door neighbors when I was a kid.

4. Miss Marple, Agatha Christie. Dudes, can you imagine a better friend? No matter what’s going on in your life, Aunt Jane would have some gentle wisdom and humor to impart, and she would keep you from every being too conceited.

5. Sophie Hatter, Howl’s Moving Castle etc, by Diana Wynne Jones. SOPHIE. I want to hang out at the playground with Sophie, while my kids play with Morgan, and just talk. And then I want to foist our respective children off onto the husbands so Sophie and I can keep talking, without having to parent or wife at the same time.

6. Princess Cimorene, the Enchanted Forest books by Patricia C Wrede. Cimorene is another that I want to have as my friend now, not just as a kid. The younger Cimorene is awesome enough, but grown-up, mother-of-Daystar Cimorene is awesome as well, and I hope someday Wrede writes about some of Cimorene’s adventures between when Daystar was born and when he set off to rescue his father. Because we didn’t get to see nearly enough of her Being Awesome in Book 4.

I love Cimorene’s expression on this cover. It sums her up so well.

7. Tiffany Aching, Wee Free Men etc by Terry Pratchett. I actually think I’d like to hang out with Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg as well, but Tiffany is the one I’d most want to be friends with.

8. Brother Cadfael, the Brother Cadfael series by Ellis Peters. Like Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael would be a most comforting and wise friend to have. Also like her, extremely useful if one is ever accused of murder. (Wrongly accused, that is. Though if you’re a mostly-okay person, and the murder was provoked, even Brother Cadfael might find excuses for you. Not Miss Marple. She doesn’t approve of murder, no matter how justified.)

9. Molly Gibson and Roger Hamley, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. I swoon more for Margaret and Mr Thornton from North & South, but I’d want to be friends with Molly and Roger. Both because I think they could use some like-minded friends, and because I think they would make wonderful friends in return.

10. Joy-in-the-Dance, Lucian, et al from The Arkadians by Lloyd Alexander. I love all of Alexander’s characters, from all his books, but it’s the main cast of the Arkadians who most make me want to dive into the book and go adventuring with them. I wish he’d written more than one book about them all – I’ve always wanted to know what they did next.

Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians
Picture taken from my favorite cover of The Arkadians

And that, my friends, is my top ten. It surprised me, when I started writing it, how many of my favorite books and characters do not appeal to me as friends, however much I may love them for themselves (Lord Peter and Harriet, for example, I think would make me feel utterly stupid and inadequate, and that’s not exactly good for a friendship). Some of my opinions have changed since childhood, also – once upon a time, Anne Shirley would have been my ideal friend, but now I have a sneaking suspicion she would exhaust me after every visit. I haven’t outgrown her, but I have outgrown her friendship.

To see others’ top ten characters who … lists, check out The Broke and the Bookish. Happy reading!

characters, children, favorites, heroines, world-building

Names and Naming

I realized, a few years back, that every single story I was writing had a main-ish character with some version of the name Katherine. Every one. The funny thing is, that name was never even on my list of favorite names, certainly not one I considered for either Joy or Grace (although if I had a third daughter …), and yet it kept cropping up in every one of my stories, until I had to consciously edit it out. Magic Most Deadly’s Julia was a Kate first, for example. As were the main protagonists in the two other stories I was writing/plotting at the same time as that. I kept one as was, changed MMD’s Kate to Julia, and abandoned the other story entirely, at least for a time.

Other names, or name-sounds, crop up with frequency, too. I adore Lloyd Alexander’s Princess Eilonwy (I think the E and the I look ugly next to each other, especially with that W showing up so soon after (W is just an ugly-looking letter anyway), which is one reason why I never considered Eilonwy as a name for Joy or Grace, but the sound of the name – Aye-LON-Wee – is pure music). I love JRR Tolkien’s Eowyn as well (though the E-O-W is even uglier to look at than E-I…W), and have found myself using very similar names in many of my stories. I have an Eilwen in one, her daughter Eirlys in another (plotted but not written). I’ve used Owen, Will, Gwen, in several of my non-fantasy stories. And I have yet to write this character, but I love the name Telyn and am eagerly waiting for the right story to put her in.

I sat down and analyzed Wings of Song the other day and realized it pretty much needed to be torn apart and begun again. Part of that tearing apart meant changing my main protagonist’s name. So much of her character was bound up in her name. If she needed a different personality, she needed a different name. I wanted this new heroine to be a combination of two previously-written protags: one named Meggie, one Gwen. At first I thought I wanted a name that preserved that middle “eh” sound, but in the end (and it was surprisingly difficult), I went with something entirely different.

And it’s working.

Poor Carl – I used to scare him half to death when we’d be driving along in the car, talking of something completely different, and I’d suddenly fire off: “What do you think of ___ for a name?” “Are you pregnant?” he’d howl.

He’s since learned to just roll with it. He married a person with an endless fascination for names, how they look, how they sound, what sort of associations they conjure up in people’s minds, all that. When I did get pregnant, and we finally did start talking names for real, I couldn’t settle down to think about anything in the pregnancy seriously until we had decided on names. (Joy and Grace, for newer readers, are not their real names. I decided when Joy was a baby that I could use photos OR real names, but not both, and at that point I went with photos. As they’re getting older and their faces are getting more recognizable, I’m starting to rethink even that policy. We’ll see.) And even though we didn’t use the boy name we had chosen for Joy, I couldn’t consider that name (Evan, by the way) for Grace. That was Joy’s-boy-name. Grace (of course, at the time we were discussing names, we didn’t know she was a girl) needed her own unique boy-name (she would have been Tristan, if you’re curious).

What about you? Are names something that fascinate you, or are they just convenient handles for keeping people and characters from getting confused? Do you find yourself drawn to similar-sounding names without even realizing it, or re-using one name across many different stories? And which is more important to you, a name that looks beautiful written, or sounds beautiful spoken?

Books, characters, fiction, influences

TTT: Books That Make You Swoon

I usually let a few more days pass between posts, especially when my previous post was SHERLOCK!!!!!!!! … but once again, I couldn’t resist the topic.

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Books that make me swoon! I wasn’t sure at first if this was romantic swooning, or just “I adore this” swooning, or swooning over characters, or what. But I glanced at a few of the other posts, and it seems people are interpreting it however they wish, so I will too. Ha! It’ll be mostly “I adore this” swooning, but occasionally romantic swooning over characters as well.

1. Gaudy Night, Dorothy L Sayers It’s no secret that I am head-over-heels for Lord Peter Wimsey. Talk about swooning! But it’s this book, where the stormy relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane comes to a conclusion, that gets me the most. Not just the characters, but the way they settle their struggles, and the overall relationship and respect between them. The scene at the river’s side? *Faint*

2. Rilla of Ingleside, LM Montgomery I don’t care so much about the romance in this one, though as a kid I always had a crush on Walter. But the sad goodbye to one era, the hopeful looking toward a new, the slow, sorrowful, strong growing-up of Rilla, has always made me very swoony over this book.

3. The Castle of Llyr, Lloyd Alexander Taran Wanderer is my favorite of the Prydain Chronicles, but this one is definitely the most swoon-worthy. A quest to save Eilonwy, who in the end has to make the most gut-wrenching choice to save those she loves. Ah … perfection.

4. North & South, Elizabeth Gaskell Margaret Hale. John Thornton. This book is incredible, you guys. The mini-series BBC did was pretty darn good, too. Richard Armitage as John Thornton? Please excuse me while I go faint quietly in the corner.

5. Persuasion, Jane Austen I adore Anne Elliot. Captain Wentworth’s letter is pretty much the best romantic gesture ever. The scene between Anne and Wentworth at the concert in Bath is one of my favorite scenes between two romantic leads I’ve ever read. I love this book.

6. King of Attolia, Megan Whalen Turner *Do not read this entry if you’ve not yet read the Queen’s Thief books. PLEASE. I’m as fond of spoilers as anyone, but don’t, don’t ruin this for yourself. Just trust me on this.* It’s not just the relationship between Gen and Irene that I love in this book (although that alone would be enough!). It’s the relationship between Gen and Costis. The relationship between Costis and Teleus. Between Teleus and Irene. Irene and Relius. Relius and Gen. So many relationship, you guys. And all of them heart-rending.

7. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones Sophie. I love Sophie, and I love Howl, and I love Sophie and Howl, and I love this book. Love, love, love.

8. Betsy’s Wedding, Maud Hart Lovelace This picture of the first few years of marriage between Betsy and Joe has always filled me with great joy. And them coming back from their honeymoon? Yes, definitely swoon-worthy.

9. Seaward, Susan Cooper Far less known than her Dark is Rising series, this book is eerie and lovely and sad, and just beautifully written.

10. Paladin of Souls, Lois McMaster Bujold ISTA. Ista is the best. I love Ista. I want to be Ista. Well, no, because her life was horrible, but her strength and courage and humor are amazing. And her romance, while secondary to her adventures, is highly satisfying.

There you have it! My top ten swoon-worthy books. Head over to The Broke and The Bookish to see what others picked!

characters, TV, Watch

Sherlock S3 Ep1 (Spoilers!!)

I, being the patient part of the fandom, waited to watch Sherlock S3 until it aired here in the States. And then I waited one more day because a 10:00 start time is way too late for me, especially when the next day is a school day and I must have some semblance of a brain in order to teach.

But now! Now I’ve watched it, and I’m exploding with Thoughts.

(Spoilers follow. You’ve been warned.)

(I personally don’t mind spoilers for some things, but I did, very much, want to watch Sherlock without anyone else’s thoughts or reactions influencing mine, so for this one I did avoid spoilers like the plague.)

**********

I loved it. Mostly.

Side note: I have struggled, in the past, with calling myself a fan, because I don’t obsess over things, or have to know every detail, and because I don’t mind admitting when the Thing I Love has flaws. But I’m getting over that, and even though I say yes, Sherlock has flaws, and even though I waited to watch it until a sensible time, I really am a fan. Just not a fanatic.

So yes, it had flaws. I really dislike how the show has gone from Sherlock being aware of social conventions and how people will react to him, and merely choosing to ignore it, to how he is utterly clueless about everyone. Before he was well aware that the things he said were hurtful, and just didn’t care. Now, especially with John, he hasn’t got a clue. “No, of course John won’t mind that I never told him I was dead! Of course he’ll think it a big joke that I surprise him in a restaurant, in public, while he’s on a date, to reveal that I’m alive!”

Um, no. Sherlock Holmes is many things, but he’s not dense.

(I also don’t like how the viewers are invited to wink wink, nudge nudge, snicker snicker along with him whenever he plays John. The raw pain of John’s goodbye last season is not something I care to giggle about now that it’s over. Sorry.)

But! I love Mary (really, really, surprising even myself, love her character). I love how smart she is (she figured out the code within moments!) and her common sense, and her adventurous side, and her warmth, and pretty much everything about her. I hope she sticks around for the rest of the show’s duration, because it would be tragic to lose her.

I like the playing with all the different theories the fandom has concocted explaining Sherlock’s demise, and that we’re never exactly sure how it really did go down. I do hope that the explanation Sherlock gives Anderson is at least partially correct, because that was MY theory – the before part, not the actual jump part.

I was certain, upon my last watch of Reichenbach Fall, that Sherlock and Mycroft were playing Moriarty from the beginning. It seemed impossible to me that he could trick Mycroft the way he claimed to, or that Sherlock could really be two steps behind him all the way. I wasn’t quite sure of their purpose in playing him, but I knew that they were. So when Sherlock told Anderson that he and Mycroft had it all planned, in order to discover the extent of Moriarty’s network, I felt rather pleased with myself. I don’t care if the jump part is right, but I very much want that aspect to be true.

I like the relationship between Molly and Sherlock, and how she humanizes him more than John, even, maybe because he got used to John and didn’t listen to him after a while, but he’s not as familiar with Molly and so still pays attention to her. I  love how she’s not intimidated by him anymore. All in all, it was the women of Sherlock that really won me over this episode (Mrs Hudson, of course, was spot on as always. Her little comments during Sherlock’s exchange with Mycroft in the flat were priceless.).

The mystery itself was fairly uninspiring. I never felt much tension over it, or even cared that much – but that was okay. The focus of the episode was clearly on Sherlock coming back to life, and that’s as it should be. I did hate the scene at the end, where Sherlock tricks John into forgiving him, and John finally breaks down and laughs, ha ha, you’re a jerk Sherlock but that’s okay, everything’s fine. Um, no. Mary, please slap both of them upside the head.

Although I did like how they poked gentle fun at the shows where, with one minute left on the ticking clock, the scene plays out for fifteen or so minutes. I was sitting there snarkily going “well, that’s the longest two minutes ever,” and then you find out Sherlock stopped the clock and it really wasn’t meant to be two minutes at all. Well played that, show.

All in all, it was a great episode, and I do like how they’re trying to show Sherlock becoming more human. It’s a fumbling effort on their part, but that’s okay, because one can only imagine Sherlock is fumbling in it too. He’s very adept at pretending to be human, but he sucks at the real thing. It’s okay if the show drops the ball here and there, too.

Have you seen it? What are your thoughts, if so?

1920s, characters, families, research, world-building

Welcome to Stanbury

Hello! Welcome to Stanbury, ancestral home of the Whitney family. Come right in! Let’s use the side entrance; it seems more friendly, doesn’t it?

Maia used to swing on the gate when she was a child. It drove her mother mad, of course, but she loved the freedom of swinging combined with the ability to see the world passing by on the road. Even if “the world” were usually only a few stray escaped sheep.

Mind your step here. You wouldn’t want to trip on these stairs. Ouch!

Shall we pop into the kitchen a moment? Mrs Humphrey won’t mind. If we’re lucky, she’ll even give us a cup of tea (and possibly a slice of fresh-baked bread).

The sitting room gets marvelous light, wouldn’t you agree?

Mrs Whitney says it’s terribly draughty, though.

Yes, the bathroom is rather small. But so elegantly decorated! Ellie insisted on that.

The Whitneys are so very proud of this room, an addition the current Mr Whitney had built after he was married (but before the War, naturally. One doesn’t indulge in unnecessary expenditures in this day and age. Have you heard that they had to sell the London house? Terrible shame, but one can one do? Mr Whitney was only thankful to be able to hold onto Stanbury).

And here we are back onto the grounds! Sorry we couldn’t take more of a detailed tour, but really, it is terribly gauche to peek into people’s lives too much, don’t you agree? Besides, you wouldn’t have wanted to see Ellie or Merry’s bedrooms, believe me. They are a terrible mess, especially since Merry keeps chasing away all the maids with her Socialistic notions.

I hope you enjoyed the tour! Stanbury might not be the grandest showplace of the county, but the local folk are proud of it all the same. After all, as Maia says, it has character, and that’s even better than impressiveness.

All pictures are, in reality, of the Old Vicarage in Croxton Kerrial, Leicestershire. I love real estate websites for finding house inspirations.