Completed: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Cover: A Midsummer Night's Dream A Midsummer Night’s Dream
William Shakespeare
(c. 1594-1595, England)
Bantam Books, 1988
David Bevington, Ed.

Shall we their fond pageant see?
Lord, what fools these mortals be!

Puck, 3.2.114-115

My overwhelming impression of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, having finished it just in time for the start of summer (it’s taken me a bit extra time to write about), was that it is absolutely delightful! I don’t think I’ve ever thought that word, “delightful,” in connection with the works of Shakespeare before–there are plays I’ve enjoyed, adaptations I’ve revisited many times, but none I’ve experienced before this have provided for me quite the wonderful impression of magic and fairy tale that this one brings.

No doubt this is largely due to the plot thread involving Oberon and Titania, King and Queen of the fairies. They are feuding, and in spite, Oberon decides to use a potion to cause Titania to fall in love with the first creature she sees–no matter what it may be. But he also decides to play Cupid for two pairs of young Athenians–Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius–that their loves woes  may be solved (at play’s start, both young men are in love with Hermia, though she loves Lysander and Helena loves Demetrius). Of course it doesn’t quite go to plan when his mischievous accomplice, Puck, applies the potion to the wrong young man. On the other hand, Oberon couldn’t be happier with the results with Titania–the first creature she should see on waking may be a man, but a fool of a man, Nick Bottom, whom Puck has only too appropriately just provided with an ass’s head.

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love’s mind of any judgement taste;
Wings, and no eyes, figure unheedy haste.
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.

[Helena, 1.1.232-239]

Interwoven with all this are the threads of the marriage of King Theseus of Athens with Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and the theatrical production that a small group of local laborers–Bottom among them–wishes to put on as part of the wedding celebrations. The wedding story serves primarily as a framing device for the rest of the action–it is with this background that the young Athenians flee (or chase) into the forest, and it is later at the wedding celebrations that the “tedious brief scene of young Pyramus/And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth” (5.1.56-57) is performed by our hapless players. I do feel in part that these last scenes, all of Act 5, feel out of place compared to the magic of the middle section. But on the other hand, as I watched the 1999 adaptation some days later (Michael Hoffman, dir.), this was the portion of the play that was most laugh out loud funny; the full effect of the haplessness of the amateur players is best seen rather than read. That does seem to be often the case with Shakespeare – I read the play, understand it, but finish feeling I still want more. At least with A Midsummer Night’s Dream it was not just a production that I wanted to see–but to experience more of the magic and delight that the forest provided. Thank goodness, there are always plenty of bookish solutions to that problem!

I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream as one of my Classics Club titles and for Shakespeare 400.

Anticipating April….and May….and June…and…

I was just updating podcasts to my iPod and thinking, “oh, I’m nearly caught up with my favorite podcast – I’m almost to November,” when it dawned on me: my brain is still stuck in January, even while it’s March all around.

Spring Squills - 2016

We’ve had an unbelievably mild winter (although, cruelly, there were snowflakes falling on this first day of spring), but it is still nice to welcome in the spring blooms and longer days.

And with spring, my mind turns to spring reads. This past week, after reading a number of “books I’m looking forward to this spring” and “here’s what I’m reading for April’s Classic Children’s Literature Event” posts, I thought, “hey I need to do one of those!” So here goes:

Spring 2016 Reads

From the top:

  • The Tale of Peter Rabbit, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, and The Tailor of Glouscester – I’ve been wanting to revisit Beatrix Potter for a while, such delightful and charmingly illustrated tales, and what better time than for the Children’s Event?
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream – I’ve been wanting to read this in June for years
  • The Jungle Book – I have long had a fondness for the tale “‘Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,'” but I’ve never read any of the rest. Long overdue!
  • Pedro Páramo – my Classics Club spin selection
  • Titus Andronicus – the next Shakespeare selection on my list for this year
  • Selected Poems by Paul Laurence Dunbar – I’ve slowly, slowly working through this and vow to finish by the end of April – poetry month!
  • Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – I’m hoping it’s as amusing as the premise sounds. It’s one of the many books on my shelves that I’ve decided I must simply get read sooner rather than later.
  • Bleak House (vol. 1 of 2) – Well, a start.
  • The Sound and the Fury – another I’ve started, but have since been distracted from
  • Emil and the Detectives – the readalong title, of course!
  • The Complete Stories of Paul Laurence Dunbar – I don’t intend to read the whole thing at this point, but I’ve started with Dunbar’s first story collection Folks from Dixie. This, and the Selected Poems above are both part of my Ohio project.

And this assumes of course, that some other distraction–or other blogger’s list–doesn’t catch my eye! On the other hand, if the reading goes well, I may add another title or two to the Children’s Classics list, most likely Part 2 of Little Women (in my edition, Good Wives in other places). Of course, the list above may give you a clue that I’m joining in some other events, despite all my busyness (I’m pretty sure that I’m piling on the books as a knee-jerk response to the fact that I can’t keep up at work either – might as well fail spectacularly at everything all at once!)

Button: Poetry Month Celebration at The Edge of the Precipice

Cleo’s been a terrible temptress of late, but I won’t blame her for letting me know about the Poetry Month Celebration at The Edge of the Precipice. No, I’m happy to have an outside incentive (besides library due dates) to finish the Dunbar poems. For that matter, I believe that The Jungle Book has some poetry as well.

Button: The Pickwick Papers Read-Along

But even before that, O’s Pickwick Papers Read-Along begins. A nice, slow, long term one, it seems totally doable as long as I remember to read for it!

Button: Once Upon a Time X (art by Melissa Nucera

And of course, I have to participate in Once Upon a Time! Even when I’m not planning on it, the pretty artwork (this year by Melissa Nucera) reels me in every year. I’m not sure what I’m reading, other than A Midsummer Night’s Dream (although there are some rereads I’m eyeing), so I’m only planning on participating in “The Journey,” which is just one book (or more…) Of course, if I were to pick up some Ancient Greek mythology (for one of my 2016 challenges), that would count as well. See, blogging is a very dangerous thing!

Button: Once Upon a Time X "The Journey" (art by Melissa Nucera


Happy Reading!

Completed: The Scorprio Races

Cover - Scorpio Races

The Scorpio Races
Maggie Stiefvater
2011, U.S.

“Fifty years ago, it was a man they killed up there, just like every year before. The man who will not ride.”

“Why?” I demanded.

Her voice is bored; there’s a real answer, possibly, but she’s not interested in knowing it. “Because men like to kill things. Good thing they stopped. We’d run out of men.”

“Because,” cuts in a voice that I recognize instantly, “if you feed the island blood before the race, maybe she won’t take as much during it.”

This wasn’t the title that I had in mind when I decided to participate in this year’s Once Upon a Time challenge, but it was the one that somehow managed to make its way home with me from the library–and more importantly, get read. I’ve read several of Stiefvater’s books now (the first three books in the Raven Cycle plus this), and she seems to write just the sort of thing I can’t resist. I saw a list–I don’t remember where now–of books from she read growing up that she recommended to her fans for when they run out of her books to read. So many of them–The Dark is Rising series, Arthurian mythology, among others–were stories I either loved growing up or have (belatedly) discovered since. No wonder I am drawn to these.

The Scorpio Races introduced me to a myth I was not previously familiar with (reminding me I still want to read more Celtic mythology), that of the water horse, or capall uisce (or glashtin, capall uisge, cabyll ushtey, aughisky, each uisge, or kepie according to which mythology/language is being referenced), a flesh-eating November-associated, ocean horse. In Stiefvater’s version, the island men race these dangerous creatures each November–and more than one man is almost certain to die. This race is the background for the novel, which focuses on two young people, Sean, a multi-year champion of the races who seems to be one of the only to understand the wild horses, and Kate (or “Puck”), who, out of desperation enters the race–the first woman to do so, a grave challenge to convention, but also a grave risk to her life. Although I suppose I could say that the story is largely plot-based it also focuses much on the characters, specifically Sean and Puck, who both narrate the story. They both have desires and dreams, and it is really their chase after these that forms the heart of the novel; the climatic race is just the means by which they hope to achieve them.

As with the other Stiefvater novels I’ve read, I was completely pulled in by the story–by the magic, of her words, of the horses, of the setting. The Thisby of the novel reminded me of the descriptions of the remote Shetland islands in Ann Clevees’ Raven Black. As I turned the last pages, I found I was reluctant to leave Thisby–and its dangerous, magical horses–behind.

Once Upon a Time IX Logo

Week’s End Notes (24) – Once Upon a Time

 Once Upon a Time IX 

I’ve been in the midst of quite a reading/blogging slump lately. Part work (super-busy until about two weeks ago), part weather (just…winter…), part not quite finding the right book, part other distractions. I’ve only finished one book since January (The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper), but I recently started rereading Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and I think that’s going to be just the thing. I’ve been missing 19th century lit, and didn’t even know it.

There’s also been the persistent idea worrying away at the back of my brain that I want to read some fairy tales, or adaptations. Maybe some writing about fairy tales. Something, I’m not sure just quite what yet. And when I saw–and I confess, I had completely forgotten that it would be coming soon–that Carl is hosting yet another edition of his “Once Upon a Time” event, it seemed that I simply must poke my head back in here and participate. Carl’s events are always fun (the number 1 and 2 rules), they don’t require much–one book is participating–and with the arrival of spring–actually here on time this year!–it seems the timing just right.

Now…what to read?

Completed: Tales of Magic Land 1

Tales of Magic Land 1: The Wizard of the Emerald City & Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers by Alexander VolkovThe Wizard of the Emerald City
1939, U.S.S.R.
Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers
1963, U.S.S.R.
Alexander Melentyevich Volkov
Translated from Russian by Peter L. Blystone

Waaaaay back in January when I hosted the Wonderful Wizard of Oz readalong, Ekaterina reminded/informed us about the existance of a Russian version of the original Baum story. (She posts a comparison HERE.) Some years after The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was published, Alexander Volkov released his own version, part translation, part re-imagining of the Baum. Intrigued, I decided, to search out a copy. It doesn’t seem to be well-known at all in the U.S., but my library came through: after my Interlibrary Loan request, they purchased a copy. It took a while to arrive, but came just in time to serve as my first two completed reads for Carl’s Once Upon a Time challenge–I read the Volkov sequel Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers as well.

Now, given my so-s0 feelings towards Baum’s original, I’m perhaps not the best person to be reading The Wizard of the Emerald City. Sure enough, the reading simply dragged on. I’d read (most) of this before, just a couple months back. But (as Ekaterina’s post shows) they are not quite the same book. Although at times it felt like I was reading a text that had been run through translation software twice–from English to Russian and back–Volkov selectively edits and adds. He has a completely new chapter prior to the arrival at the Emerald City, in which the Dorothy character–named Ellie here–is snatched by an ogre and nearly eaten. I felt before that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz didn’t have high enough stakes–Volkov certainly raises them! But on the other hand, I have a feeling that Baum would not have cared for such a blood-thirsty addition, at odds as it was with his own desires for a new sort of fairy-tale.

One benefit to the comparison of the two stories is that it gave me a new appreciation for Baum’s actual writing. I can’t say for certain–knowing not a lick of Russian–how many of the little irritations I found here are products of translation, but one thing I felt was that Volkov overwrites. He seems to feel a need to provide an explanation for everything, rather than letting the “magic” of the story–and his “Oz,” which he calls “Magic Land” take over. Sometimes less is more. Of course, this could be a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing and others far prefer the extra explanations. The other thing I noted was that, at least in The Wizard of the Emerald City, Volkav has a tendency to use adverbs with his “saids,” such as “said sadly.” (I don’t remember seeing this in Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers, but it could have happened and I was just more caught up in the story and didn’t notice.) He also seems to like to use every synonym for “said” he can find. I’ve seen recommendations against both of these practices in writing, and while I’m sure there’s a time and place, in this instance, I was able to see just how annoying it can be! I don’t know though…maybe this is a lost in translation sort of thing and it comes across better in Russian?

In contrast to Wizard, Urfin Jus and His Wooden Soldiers was completely new to me. Rather than adapting one of Baum’s own sequels, Volkov invented his own completely new Magic Land adventure (and I believe there are another four as well). The translator packaged them together, and despite how long it took me to get through the first, I decided that since I had it, to try the sequel. Volkov certainly had his own vivid imagination and Urfin Jus feels like a story that fits with Oz. The basics of the plot: Urfin Jus, an unsociable Munchkin, comes by a magical powder that brings inanimate objects to life. He creates an army of wooden soldiers and a plot to  conquer Emerald City, and Ellie finds that she must return to Magic Land with her uncle Charlie to help defeat Urfin Jus. This of course means all sorts of new adventures for Ellie and her friends–but also has an interesting echo of The Wizard of the Emerald City when we follow Urfin’s journey from Munchkinland to the Emerald City. The same challenges are still there, only Urfin must find a different way to solve them.

I enjoyed the second selection much more, largely, I think, because it was completely new to me and I could just focus on the adventure rather than the comparisons.

A note regarding the translation: from all I can tell, these translations were a labor of love for the translator, Peter L. Blystone. When I was looking for The Wizard of the Emerald City online, the only available English edition I found was from a print-on-demand publisher, and in his acknowledgements Blystone mentions that when he started it was “basically a one-man production.” I am grateful he took the effort–if not I would not have had to opportunity to try out these books.

Once Upon a Time VIII Quest the Second badge

Fairy-tale Selection for Once Upon a Time VIII, Quest the Second