Completed: The Grey King

Cover: The Grey King by Susan Cooper The Grey King
Susan Cooper
1974, England

I’ve been slowly revisiting The Dark is Rising Sequence over the past year and a half or so, inspired to reread this favorite childhood series by my reading of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys. (And after I started my reread, I learned that she was indeed inspired by Cooper’s work.) I haven’t been blogging about these for the most part, but since I’ve included the last two on my 15 Books of Summer list, I thought I’d write up just a little bit.

The series in general–five books in all–is inspired by Arthurian legend, but set in the present day (roughly 1960s/70s, when it was written, though it really doesn’t feel that dated and could equally be now). The first book, Over Sea, Under Stone, was a grail quest, as the three Drew children sought to retrieve the Hold Grail before a group of adult adversaries can. It ends with the Grail in a museum and the tantalizing suggestion that maybe The Merlin has been helping them along the way. And there, I understand, Cooper originally intended to leave it. It was only some years later that she added on the other four books, to round out a series depicting a great battle between the Light and the Dark, a battle ongoing since at least the time of the great King Arthur. The books from this point bounce between protagonists: Will Stanton, the last (and youngest) of the Old Ones, is introduced in book two, The Dark is Rising, where he must search out and retrieve the six signs by Midwinter’s Night. In book three, Greenwitch, the Drews return as protagonists, when they “happen” to meet Will in a small town in Cornwall (the setting of the first book) where they must rescue the stolen Grail back from the Dark.

The fourth book, The Grey King, returns to Will’s point of view. He has been sent to Wales to recuperate after a severe illness. While there, he meets a strange boy, Bran, and Bran’s dog Cafall, and discovers that he will need their help in retrieving a lost gold harp meant to wake the “six sleepers” whose aid the Light will need in their upcoming battle against the Dark. Over the course of the story, Will and Bran will also learn the surprising backstory to Bran’s arrival in Wales and that Bran’s help may be needed for more than finding the harp.

Although commonly classified as fantasy, The Dark is Rising sequence has long felt to me more akin to the myths and legends of long-gone times: of King Arthur, of Brenin Llwyd. Perhaps, in our cynical, rational age, this is a fine distinction. After all, we know that magic doesn’t exist–at least not as defined in fantasy tales. But when I find myself considering what book might most naturally follow next after these, it is the old legends and stories I think of, not more contemporary writers. Cooper, by drawing in bits of stories she only borrows, pushes me towards seeking out stories I don’t yet fully know. And if that is the result of reading one book, to be pushed toward others, I would say that the writer has been successful in their telling.

I read The Grey King as part of my Classics of Children’s Lit project and as #2/15 for the 20 Books of Summer Challenge.

What’s Making Me Happy – Two

What a fast week! I suppose it was all the busyness at work–so many people are on vacation just now but new jobs just keep coming in. No complaints though; it’s good to be busy. But what’s making me happy this week?

Purple Cone Flower and Brown Eyed Susan

  • My bullet journal – I only just started one about two weeks ago, so I’m still working out just how I want to use it, but both the organizational system and the freedom I’ve given myself to let it not be “perfect” and to experiment are making me very happy. Come to think of it, organization can make me strangely happy, despite how much I hate to clean…
  • As a Northeast Ohio partisan, and ignoring all politics [please don’t air political views here!], all the positive press for the city of Cleveland coming out of the Republican Convention this past week–apparently we’re rather nice in the Midwest, and outsiders are starting to recognize Cleveland’s rebirth.
  • Revisiting the artwork of Beatrix Potter for my final post on her Twenty-three Tales from earlier this week–so delightful!
  • Delicious seasonal peaches (well…imported from the South) and plums.

And you–what’s making you happy this week?

Beatrix Potter Tales Part 3

Oh dear, it’s been so long since I read the rest of the Twenty-three Tales by Beatrix Potter, finishing up shortly after the end of the Classic Children’s Literature Event. But I do want to post something, and fortunately, I took notes as I read. Really, I have no excuse for taking so long, but just a sort of writing avoidance. I seem to be finding that I either have to a) write something up the moment I finish a book or b) sneak up on myself to write a blog post. That last one’s tricky.

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Johnny Town-Mouse (1918)

I feel like our main character is really Timmy Willie, the country mouse. But no mind. This is a tale of a city mouse and a country mouse. Timmy Willie accidentally visits town and is quite out of place—the noise keeps him awake, the cat frightens him, and the food not at all to his taste. He is much more at home in the country, with his gardens and quiet. He returns home and eventually Johnny returns the visit, but just as Timmy Willie is unsuited to the city, Johnny is unsuited to the country.

 

The Tale of Mr. Tod - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Mr. Tod (1912)

Another tale that seems a bit misnamed, for while Mr. Tod is part of it, and the most exciting action is at his house, it seems to be as much about Tommy Brock and the efforts of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny to recover Benjamin’s little ones from the oven where the badger, Tommy Brock, has hidden them. It is thus a darker tale than the preceding, both for the greater danger the bunnies are in at the hands of the badger than any we have seen yet, and because the illustrations themselves are largely in darker colors than typically used. But it is also quite amusing, to see Mr. Tod’s machinations to get at Tommy Brock and Tommy Brock’s pretending to sleep that he might get the better of Mr. Tod.

Notably, this is the first of these I’ve read with black and white line illustrations as well as watercolors. I read the tales in the order they are numbered in my set, which is not strictly chronological, and it seems whoever ordered them put all the stories containing black and white line illustrations (they still have watercolor images, just not as many) at the back half.

The Tale of Pigling Bland - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Pigling Bland (1913)

We return to the story of a good little animal who due to outside forces finds himself on an adventure. In this case it is Pigling Bland—who doesn’t misbehave, but due to circumstances—the frivolity of his brother, a mixup of papers, and some mistaken turns, winds up lost and in a farmer’s clutches, where he must not only escape, he must rescue a girl-pig, Pig-Wig, from a future as bacon and ham.

It does seem, perhaps, that Pig-Wig may be nearly as frivolous as his brother, so one wonders in the end if Pigling Bland has gained anything? Other than, of course, female companionship.

Although there are many of these tales that only barely ring familiar, really, I’m not sure I ever read this one!

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding (1908)

We follow up with Tom Kitten & his family – Mrs. Tabitha (an “anxious parent”!) is trying to place her kittens in the cupboard to keep them out of trouble while she bakes, but she has lost Tom Kitten. While she searches, Mittens and Moffit also disappear, and she doesn’t find them until a neighbor, Mrs. Ribby, appears and searching together they find the two girls, who have seen two enormous rats—Anna Maria and Samuel Whiskers—running about stealing kitchen supplies. The rats have Tom and are preparing him as a dumpling, when John Joiner (rat terrier, I believe) shows up, and the rats run away.

Despite yet another example of a story in which a young animal is in danger of becoming someone else’s dinner, it really was a rather delightful, fun story. And, it should be noted, Miss Potter makes an appearance. I don’t think this is the first time, but it is the first by name. (The others she has just referred to herself, “I.”)

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of the Pie and the Patty-Pan (1905)

Ribby, whom we met in Samuel Whiskers, invites Duchess to tea, and promises to serve a delicious pie. Duchess accepts, but then fears it will be a mouse pie, which she couldn’t eat, so she attempts to switch it out with a veal and ham pie she made, only things don’t quite go to plan, in a most amusing way.

I must say, poor Ribby! It would seem she needs better options for guests. Though I quite understand Duchess’s reluctance to eat mouse pie, her antics in trying to switch out the pies—well, no wonder at the end she feels silly!

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Ginger and Pickles (1909)

An economics tale! Ginger (cat) and Pickles (terrier) run the same-name shop, and they do rather well as far as quantity of sales—10 times Tabitha Twitchit!—, but as most of their business is on credit, they never seem to get paid. But the taxes must, so they are forced to close up shop and take up new occupation (trapping for Ginger, gamesman for Pickles). The community is dismayed at the loss of the shop, for Tabitha raises her rates and doesn’t take credit, and other options are scarce. Eventually, Sally Henny Penny reopens the shop, much to everyone’s delight, for while she won’t take credit, she is less frightening than a dog or cat and has good bargains.

It is delightful to see so many critters from previous stories in this one—more in the illustrations than show up even in the text. The reader paying good attention to Potter’s illustrations is always rewarded.

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson - Beatrix Potter

The Tale of Little Pig Robinson (1930)

“The Owl and the Pussycat”

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
You are,
You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’

This is the longest of the tales and the only one with chapter divisions; it is nonetheless delightful and diverting, even with far fewer of Potter’s always charming illustrations. Inspired by the Edward Lear poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” it is the story of the risks of a young pig going alone to market, for although he may be good and sensible, he may not be invulnerable to harm from others. Sure enough, danger finds young Pig Robinson, and there is very real risk he may be—gasp—eaten!

Although Potter has never shied away from the realities of life—that many of her critters may be eaten, either by humans or other predators—here she has one line in particular that is both forthright and amusing: “They led prosperous uneventful lives, and their end was bacon.” (Ch. 1)

With the greater length of this story, Potter has plenty of time to set the scenery—I was truly transported to not just the countryside found in so many of her tales, but to the bustling sea-harbor of Stymouth. I wonder what else she might have done had she turned her attention more to longer stories.

The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit - Beatrix Potter

The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit (1906)

A very short little moral tale: bad rabbit = consequences! It is a very simple text, as if it is designed not only to impart a lesson (not sharing could lead to bad things), but as if it is meant as an early reader. Quite in contrast to some of the other tales, with their more complex vocabulary and structure (e.g., The Flopsy Bunnies or Little Pig Robinson). It is also one of the earlier stories, as is the following.

The Story of Miss Moppet - Beatrix PotterThe Story of Miss Moppet (1906)

Another very short, simple text, although with delightful illustrations—the expressions! It is a cute story, however, without the moral of the preceding, but rather a vignette of a cat-and-mouse game! Quite charming

Appley Dapply's Nursery Rhymes - Beatrix Potter

Appley Dapply’s Nursery Rhymes and (1917)

Cecily Parsley's Nursery Rhymes - Beatrix Potter

Cecily Parsley’s Nursery Rhymes (1922)

Two short collections of nursery-rhymes, some I recognize from elsewhere (e.g., “Three Blind Mice,” “Goosey, Goosey, Gander”), others by reference, and some I believe to be Potter’s inventions. Although charming in their own right—and easily learnable to recite, with their patterns and rhymes–I’m not sure but that perhaps Potter used them as a raison d’être for more of her imaginative illustrations, which really seem to be the stars in these books.

What’s Making Me Happy – Week One

I’ve about had my fill of negativity lately.

It’s hard enough that the news seems headlined by one disaster or crisis or violent act after another, with nary a space to breathe, but add to that general negative attitudes and behaviors towards others. I find I have to limit my intake of news and social media so that I don’t become overwhelmed by it. It is not that I think that politics or the news (or political news) isn’t important–and there are some very important conversations happening right now–, but too much is unproductive and too much exposure, even of plain news from quality sources, can be paralyzing and unhealthful.

So this morning, listening to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, specifically the “what’s making me happy this week” segment, I decided that I didn’t want to just limit my exposure to the negative, I wanted to take deliberate steps to remember the positive. Starting today, and with any luck, once a week for the foreseeable future, I will post a small list of things making me happy that week—no matter how small. Feel free to join in—we all could use a little more happiness!

Lantana

Happy Flowers

  • The brightly colored gold finches and blue jays at the feeders
  • The (brief) break in the heat
  • Watching Zootopia a second time
  • The smell of summer rain
  • Happy song of the week: “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and the Waves

Completed: Pedro Páramo

Cover: Pedro Paramo by Juan RulfoPedro Páramo
Juan Rulfo
(1955, Mexico)
Margaret Sayers Peden, translator

And though there were no children playing, no doves, no blue-shadowed roof tiles, I felt that the town was alive. And that if I heard only silence, it was because I was not yet accustomed to silence–maybe because my head was still filled with sounds and voices. (8)

I had meant to read Pedro Páramo for last spring’s Classics Club “spin,” as well as for Richard’s (Caravana de recuerdos) Mexicanos perdidos en México winter-spring event. I started it, but didn’t finish on time, more due to lack of free time than the book itself. Fortunately, I’ve been similarly remiss in writing up a post as now I find I can make a small contribution to Spanish Lit Month, even if I don’t finish anything else on time.

The story of a man in search of his father, Pedro Páramo can be at times disorienting and confusing, as it flits from present to past, narrator to narrator with no more notice of its current time and location than what context clues may provide. Narrators–even he who opens the story, Juan Preciado–do not name themselves, simply breaking into their little portion, providing their identity only if asked by the audience at hand. It demands the reader’s complete attention, not letting go until the last page is turned.

But at the same time it is engaging, the story of Juan Preciado–young?, middle aged?, we don’t know really–returning to his mother’s hometown, Comala, in search of the father (Pedro Páramo) he has never known, at the request of his dying mother. But it is more the story of Páramo, and to some measure the town itself, and in Preciado’s search for them–learning about them–he becomes ensnared by the dying town. Or perhaps already dead town. It is never entirely clear if all those he meets–and Preciado meets many people–are already dead, or only most of them. It is a ghost story: the ghosts of all the hidden stories of the past, come to light as now the dead are given voice and take the turn to tell their tale, with no more to fear from the dominating Páramo.

‘This town is filled with echoes. It’s like they were trapped behind the walls, or beneath the cobblestones. When you walk you feel like someone’s behind you, stepping in your footsteps. You hear rustlings. And people laughing. Laughter that sounds used up. And voices worn away by the years. Sounds like that. But I think the day will come when those sounds fade away.’

That was what Damiana Cisneros was telling me as we walked through the town. (41)

Reading Pedro Páramo, I could sense–but not put my finger on precisely where I saw it–Rulfo’s influence on Gabriel García Marquez. There was a familiarity to it. There was also perhaps a hint–though maybe I imagine it?–of William Faulkner. I could easily see reading Pedro Páramo again, looking to see all that I surely missed on this first go-round as well as visiting Rulfo’s short story collection, The Burning Plain and Other Stories [El Llano en llamas].

I originally read Pedro Páramo for The Classics Club spring “spin” (ended May 1 – oops!) and Richard’s Mexicanos perdidos en México (ended May 15 – oops!). But it’s worked out nicely for Richard’s and Stu’s Spanish Lit Month and for the category “a classic in translation” for the Back to the Classics Challenge. It is also on my Libros españoles project list.

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