DE Stevenson

“I am grateful for all my blessings; amongst them the Gift of Storytelling, which seems to please and amuse so many people all over the world.”

“It seems to me that this job of interpreting my own people to other people is the most important contribution I can make to the world and to peace.”

-D.E. Stevenson.

I discovered D.E. Stevenson thanks to Goodreads recommending her “Miss Buncle’s Book” to me based on my fondness for Miss Read. Curiously enough, the Miss Buncle series are among my least favorites of her work; I prefer her stand-alones, or the ones with two or three loosely-connected books. However, they were enough to get me intrigued, and now I’ve read everything of hers our library has, and am starting to expand through ILL to others in our network.

Like Miss Read, Stevenson writes stories about ordinary people, stories in which (generally) not a lot happens. Nice, friendly, meandering stories, that give you a glimpse into somebody else’s life and fit into their shoes for at least a few brief moments. Stories which, as a kid, bored me to tears, and now I love.

And along with enjoying her books, I appreciate her philosophy as well. Aren’t those quotes up above lovely? Sums up a lot of my feeling toward writing and storytelling.

So, if you enjoy “quiet” stories, give D.E. Stevenson a try! She wrote dozens of books; if you enjoy them, you won’t run out of reading material for a long, long time. Also? She was the cousin of the great Robert Louis Stevenson!

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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.

To Live In Joy

This has been a really awful few days. The shooting in Ottawa hit me just like a sucker punch to the gut. Ottawa is the closest city to my hometown (yes, we were closer to a Canadian city than a US. REALLY rural, and REALLY far north in NY State); we are very familiar with it. It’s a beautiful, warm, welcoming city, and to think of such a horror being perpetuated in it was awful and personal.

The next day, I found out that the local college in my hometown – the school I attended for my freshman year before transferring to the state university the next town over – had to shut down because of threats on social media. MY town. MY school. Once again, the fury I felt was personal as well as abstract.

Today is the third anniversary of my grandmother’s death. And rather than continue to dwell on the things that make me angry, things I cannot change or stop directly, I’m going to do what Grandma would have done, and share some things that bring light, laughter, and hope to the world.

I’m certain I’ve posted this video before. Kurt Browning is one of my all-time favorite skaters – he is one of the greats – and this is a routine that never fails to brighten my day, no matter how bad it gets.

This song makes me cry. Every time. But they are good tears, tears of love for and pride in my grandparents and all those who choose joy instead of bitterness in the hardships of life.

Speaking of Patty Griffin … I love this song, too.

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I snapped this with my phone last weekend on our mountain hike. Glorious beauty in the dying of the year.

Not a picture or video, but – we have started reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to the kids before bed (Carl reads, I sit and quilt and surreptitiously watch their faces). They weren’t too sure about it at first, but last night the four children had supper with the Beavers, and neither girl wanted to close the book after that. They’re hooked.

“I heard the universe as an oratorio sung by a master choir of stars, accompanied by the orchestra of the planets and the percussion of satellites and moons. The aria they performed was a song to break the heart, full of tragic dissonance and deferred hope, and yet somewhere beneath it all was a piercing refrain of glory, glory, glory. And I sensed that not only the grand movements of the cosmos, but everything that had happened in my life, was a part of that song. Even the hurts that seemed most senseless, the mistakes I would have done anything to erase–nothing could make those things good, but good could still come out of them all the same, and in the end the oratorio would be no less beautiful for it.” -RJ Anderson, Ultraviolet

I love this quote.

In really, really good news from this week (well, the tail end of last week), my dear friend A.M. Offenwanger published her first book! It is a delightful read. The link leads to the Smashwords page, but you can get it through Amazon or Kobo as well, or as a print version through Createspace.

One final song:

There are some of my happy things! I hope that, whether you are having a wonderful week or a dreadful one, that at least one item in this post has brought a smile to your face.

Transition

I’m usually not good at transitions – you know, the “they walked through the woods for days. Then the adventure started again” type of phrases. I always feel like I have to fill in every detail, or I’m cheating.

But I’m getting better, and since I had to cover a four-year gap in the middle of a chapter of my Celtic MG/YA, I really needed to be concise.

This right here is quite possibly my favorite out of all the transition phrases I’ve ever written:

Life continued to be mildly not-fair for the next four years, at which point it took, in Cadi’s opinion anyway, a flying leap into monstrously unfair.

I’m not sure if I’ll actually keep it in the final draft or if I’ll end up editing it out due to it having a slightly different tone than the rest of the chapter – but for now, I’m just quite tickled over it.

How do you handle transitions?

True Princesses

My nearly-four-year-old and I share a fascination with Princess Kate – I beg her pardon, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. We just call her Princess Kate, though.

Joy and I (and my father) happily watched as much of the Royal Wedding as we got up in time to see. Granted, most of Joy’s thrills came from the horses that pulled the carriages, and with the bride’s beautiful white dress. Mine came because I had adored Princess Diana as a little girl, and it felt like coming full circle to watch my daughter sit in absorbed fascination at her son’s wedding.

We don’t do Disney princesses around here. This hasn’t been so much of a conscious decision against those sorts of princesses; we just don’t do much for television or movies at all. As my girls get older, though, I am devoutly thankful that their ideas of princesses come from the likes of Princess Kate and Audrey Hepburn’s Princess Anne in “Roman Holiday” (we watched that on Hepburn’s birthday), rather than pale, insipid versions of fairy tales princesses.

I’m not sure whether Disney is the root or the result of the problem with how we in this culture instinctively view princesses. I do know it is a more modern way of looking at things – that “princess” is synonymous with privilege and luxury, instead of responsibility and sacrifice. A perfect example of the difference, and how much things have changed in the last hundred years, is looking at the difference between the book A Little Princess, written by Frances Hodgson Burnett in 1905 (revised from a serial written in 1888), and the popular movie version that came out in 1995.

In the book, Sara’s “pretend” that she is a princess starts while she is living in pampered luxury, but where it really takes effect is when everything is stripped away from her. She says, in effect (my copy of the book is in a box at the other house right now, so I can’t give exact quotes), “Anyone can be a princess when she has lots of pretty things and everyone likes her. A true princess shows her worth when all that is taken away.” Sara shows her true “princess-ness” by always being courteous and kind to those who constantly belittle and abuse her, by giving generously of what she still has left – namely, her imagination and story-telling abilities – to those around her, and by sacrificing her own needs to those who are less fortunate even than she (“this is one of the populace, and I’m not truly starving,” she says, as she gives away her buns to the little beggar girl, in one of the most poignant and beautiful scenes in the entire book). Because of the era in which the book was written, she of course receives her reward in the end, but still, the idea is that because she was a princess when everything was dark and bad, she was raised up again to luxury and comfort.

The movie sends a different message. It’s been several years since I watched it, but I remember the general idea as well as specific scenes quite plainly. From what I remember, and reviews I’ve read, what sets Sara apart from the other girls as a “princess” isn’t so much how she behaves as her imagination. She doesn’t always treat everyone with respect, as is shown in one scene where she pretends to place a curse on the school’s “mean girl.” In the book, Sara does have a fierce temper, but part of being a princess means she has to control it, even when she wants to box the bully’s ears.

In the movie, Sara’s salvation comes when all the girls put their differences aside and band together to help her. And in the end, they realize that they are all princesses at heart, if they just tap into their potential. At surface, that seems like an “awww” idea. But looking at it more deeply, it is directly opposite to the idea proposed in the book, which is that one has to work and sacrifice and love deeply to be a true princess – you are a princess if you behave the same regardless of your circumstances, instead of needing the circumstances to be just so to show you your worth.

The difference is subtle, but like I said before: I want my girls to grow up with the idea that it is how you behave to others that sets you apart, not how others treat you. Yes, dear girls, by all means grow up with princesses as examples, but let them be princesses like Sara Crewe of the book, not of the movie.

Or, as King Lune puts it in The Horse and His Boy,

“For this is what it means to be king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as there must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your kingdom.”

It’s not about privilege. It’s about sacrificing for your people, for those you love. And that, my friends, is the noblest goal of all.

ETA: Re-reading this, I realized this could really be the companion piece to my Hero and Everyman post. Connections without even realizing it!

What are your thoughts on princesses? Are you a fan of Disney? Do you agree that it is good to have fictional role models, even princesses, so long as those role models show praiseworthy traits?