Monday, 30 April 2012

Ghosts and Fringe

Here is such a cool post:  Neil Gaiman interviews Stephen King.  It was for the UK's Sunday Time Magazine, but because the paper is locked, Neil kindly posted the full interview on his blog.  How could anything be better than two of the favourite writers of our generation sitting down to talk writing, fame, and family?  I have to read Stephen's new book 11/22/63, which is coming out in paperback on July 5. 

Here are some reviews from bloggers so far on 22/1163:
Becky's Book Reviews
Book Den
Rhapsody in Books
Bibliophile By the Sea

Continuing the theme of horror:
Ghosts......Emily over at Telecommuter Talk has a lovely post on the kind of ghost she likes to find in stories she reads. It got me to thinking, because I loved Caspar because he was a friendly ghost and Emily didn't, about the nature of ghosts and what we want in our ghost stories.   I write ghost stories too (like Emily),  as well as read them voraciously.  So, what she wants to know is, do you like your ghosts malevolent, or friendly?  Let Emily know.....For myself, I love a ghost story.  The scarier the ghost, the creepier the setting, the better the chill and the goose-flesh feeling.  It's very difficult to write a good ghost story, and while Emily quotes MR James (I am in the midst of reading a collection of his ghost stories), I myself think The Haunting of Hill House (by Shirley Jackson), The Shining (Stephen King), and The Woman in Black (Susan Hill) are three of the most frightening novels featuring ghosts ever written. They each came close to inducing a real state of fear in me, so much so that I had to keep checking that the doors were locked and no one could get in.  Stephen, in the interview above, talks about writing a sequel to The Shining, called Dr Sleep.  Danny Torrance, all grown up, and still with the shining.   Let me tell you, I don't care if it's in hardcover and weighs 20 pounds, I will find some way to buy it the day it comes out and get it home, and lock myself in my house to get it read uninterrupted. Then there's Joyland, about a serial killer in an amusement park. That one is creepy just to think about!  Oh, I can hardly wait!  So I have to say Emily is right:  malevolent ghosts make the best horror stories. 

I do have to say that I love sad ghost stories too.  I think I just love ghost stories, period.  If you like ghost stories, is there a kind that you prefer? Victorian?  Modern?  Angry ghosts, vengeful ghosts, sad ghosts?  How about haunted things?

Some recent books featuring ghosts that I really enjoyed are:
The Secrets of Pain - Phil Rickman (Oh, I haven't reviewed this one yet, bad me, this was so good and eerie and one of the best sense of being haunted books I have read recently)
Maureen Johnston's The Name of the Star (this was particularly frightening and riveting, I loved it, still have to review it)
Dark Matter - Michelle Paver - this was terrifying and fabulous and yet another to review.  Go read it if you haven't.
Anya's Ghost - Vera Brosgol  (graphic novel, the ghost is not who you expect, very good)
The Ghosts of Belfast - Stuart Neville - modern thriller with an ex-soldier of the IRA haunted by the ghosts of the people he killed.  It was much more moving than I would ever expect.
Uncle Montague's Tales of Terror - Chris Priestly  Oh yes, this was another good novel of ghosts and hauntings and shadows that move......
Tamsin - Peter S Beagle- that judge!!!!  talk about malevolent!  a wonderful ghost story

There is something vulnerable that I think ghosts make us feel.  They penetrate our fears and reveal that death does exist.  I don't like when madness is linked to horror, as if the mind has to break down before it can see the other side, or see things here that a normal mind can't see.  It makes me wonder who is making the rules up, who has decided that ghosts don't really exist?  And why is it more sane to not see them?  less scary, yes, but isn't it the scariest when the person is sane, and see ghosts?  I think so.

What are some of your favourite ghost stories?  Let me know, and Emily, please.

And now for something completely different:
Fringe is renewed!  Yaaaay!  For 13 episodes only, though it does let the writers wrap up my favourite show on tv.  Friday's episode saw a tear or two when they had to close the bridge to the other world.  I am constantly amazed and surprised by Fringe, even after 4 years, even when I think the episode is slow, or the story is familiar, there is all the delights of watching variations of our characters in other worlds, and how they are different.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Fire Watch - Connie Willis

"Fire Watch" by Connie Willis is her short story that features her time-travelling continuum that Willis uses in-depth in Doomsday Book , To Say Nothing of the Dog, Blackout and All Clear. I've linked you to my two reviews.  I haven't read All Clear yet, that's on my immediate TBR pile.

"Fire Watch" is the story of Bartholomew, who is supposed to travel with St Paul, but because of a spelling error, is shipped instead to St Paul's - in the Blitz, in London, 1940.  Bartholomew doesn't have time to switch his history learning from the time of St Paul to the Blitz, and he only knows he is sent there to prevent St Paul's from burning down.  He joins the Fire Watch brigade at St Paul's for three months, which is the length of his time travel visit there.  And the story is him trying to do just that, save St Paul's at night when the incendiaries and bombs fall,  while he learns about the Blitz, while he tries to recall through memory aids what he needs to know about that time.  The memory aids  were implanted the fast way and so don't work until the moment he needs them.  So he bumbles about, learning everything as it happens, and then understanding what happens, almost instantaneously as the memory aids kick in. History happens and he is supposed to observe, as a historian, but like all the characters in Willis's time-travelling books, they end up doing, participating in history, and being changed by it.  There is no such thing as observing history, and part of the thrill and charm of this story and all her time-travelling stories, is that we get to experience that moment of history along with the characters.  By the way, I love the cover of the edition above - I don't own it, though I am going to try a copy now.  It's lovely, isn't it?

I had read "Fire Watch: before, several years ago.  So when I came across it in The Winds of Marble Arch, her massive collection of short stories (and still sadly no paperback editions have ever been issued, despite what Subterranean Press says, or if they did, they were so few that there weren't enough for the stores to carry), which I am currently reading from the library (because Subterranean Press refuses to publish any more in hardcover, which I would run out and buy RIGHT. NOW. if they did), I reread it again.  Since the time I read it the first time, I have been to St Paul's - if you look on my sidebar, you will see a picture I took when we were in London last in 2009, that we also have framed in our house.  I love that picture, it seems to capture the past rising up in the present, that everywhere you go in London, in England (and Europe), history is everywhere.  This sense of history is much harder to find in North America. We don't hang on to our history very well here, except in museums and in the US, the Civil War is remembered in many locations. I love that going about your every day life in London, you can see this beautiful awe-inspiring majestic church, that Christopher Wren rebuilt when it was destroyed in the 1666 Fire of London.  So much was lost in London during the Blitz, too, and this sense of loss, of history being lost, and trying to not forget it, infuses all of Willis' time travel books.  Why else do we study history, but to experience it and learn from it?

"Fire Watch" is stunningly moving. I forgot how good it is.  Here it is, online. I'm so glad it's available.   I cried as much at the ending as I did the first time I read it so many years ago.  There is something about Willis's writing that moves me, and this is why - along with her wonderful fun, zany, humorous, gentle, witty, smart writing, that I love so much. She never forgets that it's people that count.  No matter how prepared I am for her work to touch me, even in reading her short stories, I find she has the ability to pierce through to the important place where truth is kept.

Bonus review! another short story by Connie Willis:

"Letter from the Clearys" seems like such a quiet story (again, from The Winds of Marble Arch), and yet it lingers, this image of the world after it has exploded and left the survivors grimly hanging on.  It makes me realize how much in the 1980s we had to live through the threat of nuclear war - remember that Doomsday Clock, forever pointing at 1 or 2 minutes to midnight and death?  It is the story of a young girl, who goes to the corner store to fetch supplies - mostly seeds - and looks among the mail. She is looking for a letter from their summertime neighbors, who didn't come as usual the summer before last, when the end of the world started.  She is trying to hang on, and unwittingly reopens all the scars her family carries about the time - the day - the world changed. The Letter from the Clearys is also about us, as a human race, about how nuclear war might start with a bomb, and it is the small things that drive home the loss, the details, the way people don't always talk about what needs to be talked about, because it hurts too much.  The heroine, Lynn, aged 14,  reminds me of me as a child.  I was bumbling and awkward and forever saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I still don't have the greatest sense of timing.  Lynn wants to share the letter from the Clearys, because it's from before the bomb, and she doesn't realize the pain it will cause everyone to remember the way things were before. This is exactly what it would feel like to live in America after the bomb fell.  And you still have to live with people, and try to stay alive.  It's scary, and it's bittersweet, and it's supposed to be.  Brilliant, really. 

One thing Willis's writing is reminding me of, that I am discovering as I read science fiction this year, is how much science fiction is trying to find a way through the certainty of some global disaster or nuclear war or ending of the world - trying to find some way through the future, so that we have a future ahead of us. How do we survive?  what's the best way?  Do we have to leave the planet, is that our only hope?  It would be depressing fiction, if it weren't for this sense of hope infusing it, that we can find a way.  Science fiction is one way of pointing us to possible futures and outcomes. Connie Willis' writing (the time travelling series anyway) comes from a future where we do still exist,but things have changed, and they are trying to come back to see what they can save, or to see what happened.  It's beautiful and I love her writing, and this story, "Fire Watch", for showing that in the midst of war (the Blitz), there is time to care.

 "Fire Watch" won the Hugo and Nebula award for best novelette in 1983.
"Letter from the Clearys" won the Nebula Award for best short story in 1983.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Mary Oliver, creativity, and reading slump

I have reached  a reading impasse.  I haven't been able to finish one book since last Thursday.  I keep picking books up and putting them down.  I want something good, to sink into and lose myself in, and nothing is grabbing me.  I love my Jane Austen book, and I am reading the short stories in The Winds of Marble Arch, and am  over half-way done The Morville Hours, and each of them I adore for different reasons. They are lovely and beautiful books.  I want to read though something meaty, something where characters are wrestling with moral dilemmas, with deep drama and conflict, so that I don't feel I'm all alone in trying to sort my life out now.   I think this is one of the ways that books - and literature - are so good for us, for we get to see other characters going through the same things, and see different outcomes. Different perspectives, too, and ideas.

So have you, Gentle Reader, ever turned to a book because it mirrored something you were going through?    If you don't mind sharing, I'd love to know what the book was, or the author .

On the fabulous news front (and I'm sorry these have been in such short supply this year so far), I have begun writing again.  I had been writing my poetry on and off over the past few years, but I had stopped story writing a couple of years ago.  I've started up again, and I feel so much happier now.  This has been a long time coming.   It was reading a post on Mary Oliver that brought me to realize that I have to do what makes me happy.   This was such a good interview on Mary, at, by Maria Shriver two years ago.  I read those words, "We all have a hungry heart, and one of the things we hunger for is happiness. So as much as I possibly could, I stayed where I was happy." and that was
writing poetry for her. I don't know why I never thought of it that way, doing what I liked because it makes me happy, and that is exactly how I feel when I'm writing.  I like how she puts that a calling is something that you can't help but do.  And that certainly is writing, and poetry, for me.   I'm happier, and a happier person, when I'm writing.    I've also been reading Twyla Tharp's The Creative Habit, which I saw at Chapters a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me I had my own copy at home, so as soon as I got home that evening, I went looking for it.  She says what almost every writer or poet says:  you must write every day, no matter what. That is the only way to learn and to become better.  This applies to any skill, any creative activity you want to develop.  Just do it, and keep doing it, because you love it.  Isn't that a wonderful way to explore and deepen our connection to life?

What do you do because it makes you happy?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

In the Garden with Jane Austen

Yesterday was one of those days when it felt like Friday the 13 energy had carried over.  Did you find that too? 

-  Yesterday I learned I have osteoarthitis in both knees now.  And they have been inflamed for over a month now.  Thankfully I have been told how much Tylenol I can take, and it's working.
-I got a cortisone steroid shot in one knee, to try it. The doctor accidentally hit a bone spur in my knee when giving me the shot. There's nothing quite like crying silently while keeping absolutely still. Thankfully it didn't keep hurting afterward (except for the normal deep ache both knees have right now).
-after moaning to myself that I'm under 50, and much too young to be facing the next 40 years of pain management, I decided to go to the last day Nicholas Hoare bookstore was open.
- yes, the bookstore I just discovered a year ago, was forced to close when the National Capital Commission ,a federal body that overlooks parts of the city because we are the capital of Canada, decided to raise the rent 72% suddenly.  No bookstore in the world - no business in the world - could stay open with that.  In spite of protests, letter writing, and stories in the news, the NCC refused to give an answer about why a fashionable, popular, successful bookstore was being forced to close down.  And get this:  there is no tenant waiting to come in.  So instead of regular income, the NCC is wasting our tax dollars because there will be no tenant. 
- I went in to buy some last books and commiserate and say thank you and goodbye.  I bought two birthday presents for my ex, a Mother's Day present for my mother (and just in case they read this, I can't say what they are yet!), and three books for myself:
-Woman with a Birthmark - Hakan Nesser (Chief Inspector Van Veeteren series)
- The Terrorists - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo (final book in the Martin Beck series)
and then, a final treat for me:
- In the Garden with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson

I started reading it right away on the bus on the way to work.  It took all the stress and worry from me, and I lost myself in reading about Jane Austen and the gardens she grew in her lifetime.  Did you know that Jane and her family were avid gardeners?  That as daughters of a rector, they grew their own vegetables and fruit as children, and when they finally landed at Chawton Cottage, they had an orchard, and several kinds of gardens - herb, vegetable, flower. Chawton Cottage was one of two that James,  her well-to-do brother offered them.  It was here that Jane lived out the final 8 years of her life, and here where she wrote her final three novels.  He took excellent care of them, redesigning part of the cottage for their comfort, and adding gardens and walkways so that they could take their daily walks. They had chickens, their own fruit and vegetables, flower gardens, herbs, everything a gentlewoman could need to be self-sufficient and in charge of her own home.  Jane delighted in this.

In the Garden with Jane Austen is filled with bits from her letters to Cassandra, descriptions of gardens or walks from her novels, and most wonderfully, pictures of where Jane lived, and descriptions from her letters of the  gardens had.   The ones  at Chawton Cottage have been recreated, and there is an introduction to this book written by Celia Simpson, Head Gardener at Jane Austen's house. I find I didn't know this could be a career choice, but how fabulous and wonderful, to be head gardener now at Jane Austen's house!!  I am discovering, partly because of The Morville Hours, but mostly I have always been interested in the history of plants and gardens, what 16th and 17th century gardens looked like, how they were arranged and used.  So I love seeing the layout of Jane's gardens, and the flowers she grew, and that she had her own orchard. 

There are also photos of the great houses she visited, and around her areas she lived, that would have influenced her writing as well as where she would have walked for exercise. Some photos are  also of  the settings for some of the movies made from her novels.  There are recipes from her time, and drawings and sketches by family members.  Did you know she kept bees, and made mead from the honey?  

This is a lovely book.  It is just the thing to ease care and worry and remind myself of the beauty all around, and that with luck, I will be comfortable enough to get into my garden this year.  I'm toying with a plan to see if I can plant a tiny corner of Jane Austen flowers, what do you think?  I think it would be a lot of fun.  I already have some pinks, though I think I need to replenish them.  When I finish In the Garden with Jane Austen, I will do a post on the flowers she had and loved to grow. 

Here is a link to Jane Austen's House Museum, where there is a virtual tour, and a list of what's on this year.
and with pictures of Jane's Gardens just starting to bloom, here is a link to Jane Austen's House Museum blog.  I'll be coming here regularly now!  I didn't know this existed. 

Once again, a book provides solace and comfort, and while I am very sad to see the end of Nicholas Hoare bookstore here, I have some wonderful books from England (which they specialized in) to remember them by - The Morville Hours, and now In the Garden with Jane Austen.

Has a book brought you comfort lately, or restored your spirits?  Do you walk  in gardens or in nature like Jane Austen did, or Mary Oliver does (my favourite poet), as a way to find beauty and joy in life?  Do you garden?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Forests of the Heart - Charles de Lint

I didn't plan on reading this for Carl's Once Upon a Time challenge. After seeing Kailana and Carl write about their shared read of Spirits in the Wires last week, I wanted to read it, but don't own it and it wasn't in Chapters when I looked. I had Muse and Reverie put aside for this challenge, but it's a collection of short stories, and I wanted a novel to sink my teeth into and be absorbed by.  So, I looked for something by him on my shelf, and thought, ok, I'll try Forests of the Heart.  I'm not sure why I was resisting it, I think it was because it opens in the desert, which is not the place I associate with Charles' writing.  This time, it was magic.  I really enjoyed the Spanish and Mexican flavours of Bettina  San Miguel and her family, and especially the myths that are touched on in this book.  Mostly, the stories of being a curandera, a  healer, and shapeshifting.  Los cadejos were my favourite, the dancing half goat, half dog in rainbow colours that are the oldest dogs in Bettina's culture, laughing dogs that have such joy - clown spirit dogs, almost.  They were delightful and funny. 
Forests of the Heart does take place in Newford, the city de Lint invented where his fantasy for the most part takes place.  Newford is a bustling city with room for ghosts, spirits, myths, and legends to go walking in the shadowy places of the city, as well as in the parks, and in this book, in the bars and in an artist's retreat called Kellygnow.  Forests of the Heart is a blend of three different cultures - difficult to to do two, almost impossible to do three, though it works well in Forests of the Heart.  It works because de Lint writes about mystery and spirit as if at the same level, it moves in the same way - that a healer is the same no matter what culture one comes from, that spirits come to us in the same way no matter where we come from, and the way that spirits talk to us and that we have to be careful what we say to them, is the same.  Even some of the way the myths work - the basic seed - is the same, as in only some people can see into the spirit world, only some people are artists, though as one character says, everyone carries a bit of mystery in them.  This is how the aboriginal elders, the Creek sisters, are able to recognize the latent power in Ellie, a sculptor, who is not interested in anything but art, and in Bettina, whom they meet for the first time in the spirit world.  Bettina is not able to see it in others yet, though it comes to her as she gets more comfortable with her power.  This bridging of cultures through seeing the links in myth and magic, through the basic way that people approach spiritual power and medicine, is wise and profound in de Lint's  writing as a whole, as well as Forests in the Heart in particular.  Mexican, Aboriginal, Irish/Gaelic - the book blends the three cultures, and it works.  If you want a glimpse of what it is like to walk between the worlds in the timeless place where the world began, then de Lint's books - and Forests of the Heart - are a wonderful place to visit.

On to the book itself:  Bettina finds herself in Kellygnow, unsure of what she is doing so far north from her desert, except that she was called there after she could not get over the disappearance of her grandmother.  Her grandmother, her abuela, teaches her everything Bettina knows about being a curandera which has as its source a spiritual power and gift that runs in their family.  There is also another gift, that Bettina discovers in the book, a shapeshifting skill that I wish we could have gotten to learn  a little more about.
Bettina is one central character - much of the book is from her point of view, a grounded healing point of view that centers the book in plain speaking from the heart.  This kind of wisdom lets the fantastical  story unfold as completely believable - that there is a mask, that other characters want Ellie, with her gift of sculpting, to make, to bring back a myth to life.  They think they can control the myth.   At the same time, we have Ellie herself, who is  a white girl who had a normal upbringing, who wants to help others when she is not sculpting, and rides around in a van helping the homeless at night.  She works with Tommy Raven, a recovering alcoholic aboriginal man who is nephew to the Creek sisters on the Kickaha reserve just outside Newford. Like all skilled storytellers, everything is connected, in Forests of the Heart. 

Donal and Miki are the two siblings at the center of the book for the Newford side, along with Hunter, the owner of a record store in Newford.  You knew there would be music in this book, right?  There always is.  I've always wished I could play an instrument the way de Lint's characters do.  They have such a fabulous time making their music, playing, dancing and singing to folk and celtic music, and musical names are dropped all the way through this book. I always come away with thinking I have to know a lot more about fiddling and celtic music before I dare to write a celtic fantasy!  and that there is whole lot of music out there, music and groups, that I have never heard of.

Forests of the Heart is also about using your creative gifts properly.  Miki is afraid to reach out for her touring life she wants to do, to bring her music to a wider audience.  Bettina discovers that she needs to heal herself before she can claim her real power, and fill the empty space inside her.  It's what happens to Donal that makes the darkness in this book:  Donal never is able to let go of his melancholy even as an artist, and this gloom hides a darkness in his spirit that eventually eats away at him until almost nothing good is left.  No one understands what is happening,not until it is too late. It is he who works with the Gentry, and starts the mischief that quickly turns dark and nasty.  The Gentry are the homeless spirits who cause much of the problems in this book. This is a dark fantasy, and there is some violence and death.  The Green Man, when he is finally brought to life, is nothing like what any of us would imagine, tainted because Donal's reasons for summoning him are for the wrong reasons - for hatred, revenge, power.  The way that the Green Man is finally defeated is using a combination of all the energies and power of all the three cultures combined, through Aunt Nancy, Bettina and Ellie. 

And may I just say here, that speaking as someone who's family is not from here, but from away, that it is really good to read a story that deals with what happens when myths and spirits from other lands meet up with the native spirits here.  The Gentry can't settle because the manitou, the original aboriginal spirits who guard the land here, are already here and won't let them in.  The manitou are facing their own problems, with the growing city of Newford cutting into the virgin land of the forests. 

Everyone is lost, in Forests of the Heart. It's a book about finding your home.    Both Aunt Nancy of the Creek girls, and Bettina of the Mexican people, discover that they share a common way of saying, the secret place in your heart that you go to, that is your home.  It's a lovely way of saying it,' in the heart of my home.' Because they are connected to power and spirit and are powerful medicine women, they find their  home of their heart in that spirit world they cross over into.  And each is different unto the person, which also shapes the cross-over place.  (We return to this world in The Onion Girl and Widdershins, later books.) Donal and Miki are lost, orphans except for each other.  Bettina is far from everyone she loves, Hunter has just broken up with someone, and long ago, Donal and Ellie dated.  Everything connects.....

I really enjoyed Forests of the Heart.  When Bettina says to the corderjos near the end, that she is welcoming them into the forest of her heart, I cried.  She had struggled so hard to heal herself.  that was a beautiful moment in the book. I cried because I've been trying to answer what is my home, where is it, and who do I let into it?  so the themes of this fantasy really struck a chord in me.

I highly recommend this fantasy.  I read it for the myth section of Carl's Challenge.  It is deep and funny and bittersweet and true, and there is room for love and magic, too. Plus an ice storm, and an artist's colony that I'd love to go to!  I've always wanted to visit Newford, I love how de Lint is blending fantasy and myth and magic with city living.  5/5

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Fables: Rose Red

I have fallen in love with the Fables series of graphic novels.  How could anyone not love the fairy tale twisted subversive dark delightful funny stories that Fables tells?  Imagine all your favourite fairy tale characters together, along with mythic creatures, witches, ogres, gods and goddesses, and then imagine worlds upon worlds of fairy tale tellings to plunder.  There is something so marvellous about this series, it's got so much going on in it, and it's fun and scary and funny.  Beauty is married to Bigby, otherwise known as the Beast.  Rose Red and Snow White, Prince Charming, King Cole, Pinocchio.....and these are adult fairy tales, mind.  So naked fairies abound, plus dark sorcery, spells and enchantments.  And the funniest look at politics and trying to hold a city, a haven and a farm together.  I love the mix of the stories, of all these characters together. 

Rose Red is about - Rose Red.  Remember the fairy tale Rose Red and Snow White?  Well, Snow is happily married to her Prince, but Rose Red is lying in misery on her bed, sulking because she has never forgiven Snow White for disappearing and marrying the Big Bad Wolf (Bigby).  We get the full story of Rose Red and Snow White growing up in their cottage, of the bear who comes to stay in winter nights, of the dwarf who Snow White saves three times, only to discover that he is a thief and is stealing magical items.  To evade his curse she is sent away, and so we get to see the real story of the 7 dwarves, and how Rose Red copes with her sister's death, and then discovery it was faked.  Rose Red is about Rose discovering the full truth at long last, because Fable Town is in danger from Death.  See?  I told you it was dark and magical and good.

I had borrowed this copy from the library, and last month I had borrowed a copy of Witches, the book in the series preceeding Rose Red. My original review is here.

Witches is the story of how Death was once captured, as the great mythic powers are wreaking havoc on many different worlds, slaying and laying waste to people in such great numbers (just because they can), that a group of monks decide to devote their lives to capturing them.  Witches features Buffkin the talking monkey, who along with a group of fairies, saves the day.  They stop Baba Yaga, the witch of the title, who complete with her walking house, has a plan to get out of the central land she is in, and make her way through all the worlds. The other great power causing havoc is Death. He is creepy and scary, very reminiscent of the gentleman from Buffy the Vampire episode from Season 4.  He makes people turn into zombies just by being near him.  He is a creature of nightmare.  And so powerful that even in the box he was captured in, his power leaked out and tainted whoever came near him.  Witches ends with the end of Baba Yaga, and Death moving into New York City.

The artwork in these graphic novels is stunning.  I'd like to frame so many of the pages!  The dialogue is uncanny, in that each character is captured in speech rhythms and use of words.  The characters are true to their original sources,even if the stories they find themselves in are adult now.  It's like a continuation of their original stories, told for grown-ups.  I can't rate this series highly enough.  If you haven't tried Fables yet, try one.

I think of all the ones I've read so far, Rose Red might be my favourite.  It could be that it features the bear in the woods, the dwarf with the stolen treasure - I loved seeing that fairy tale again here;  it could be that we see what realistically happens between Rose Red and Snow White, and how they finally come together again as sisters, or just that we see Rose Red finally get out of her bed and reclaim her place as mayor of  the Farm.  I think it might be all of those, and the love story that is in the background too.  Oh, and Beauty and the Beast's baby - you have go to see what happens!!

I read Rose Red for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.  I think I will be looking for a copy for myself, for my upcoming birthday.  I like it that much.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Sunday Salon: a little The Morville Hours for Easter

Did the Easter Bunny visit your house today?  Did he hop his way through, leaving eggs and treats behind?  He (or she?) did ours.  I have to admit that it is fun watching the kids race around filling their baskets with treats.  One of the earliest pictures of me is of me and my sister at Easter, with our faces covered in chocolate.  I still have the same delight in Easter.   Even though I can no longer eat as much chocolate as I'd like, I certainly enjoy it the same way! 

But Easter is about much more than that, however. If you are Christian, then this is one of the most holiest of times, the story of how Jesus rose from the dead.  It is a powerful myth, so strong that even in our society when consumerism is beginning to dictate 24 hour shopping, the stores are still closed on Good Friday and today.  There is something taboo about shopping on the day Jesus was crucified, and the day he rises again.  Although I am no longer Christian, I am thankful for the time spent at home, watching spring arrive.

For me, Easter is about renewal.  There are other older myths about this time of year, and whether it is about the Goddess or other stories such as the rebirth of Christ, this time of year is about that: rebirth, renewal, coming back to life after the long winter darkness. Here in Canada, buds are beginning to grow on branches, the tips of Irises are breaking through the soil in gardens, and daffodils and crocuses are blooming.  Spring birds such as robins have appeared.  The day lasts longer, so that leaving work, I am in light still at 5:30 pm.  I am so filled with joy at seeing daylight and the sun at the end of the day!  The air occasionally has the scent of the earth on it - it's still below freezing at night, and we haven't had very much rain to release the smell of the earth coming to life, this year.  In fact, we are so low on rain and have had so little rain or snow this winter, that we broke the all-time record for least amount of snowfall in a winter.  Already our water conservation authority is worried about water levels in the Ottawa River. So while I am enjoying our glorious sunshine and feeling my spirits lift with the increasing light, I am aware that we need rain.  This is part of life, and I'm curious to see if we will have a long hot dry summer, or if moisture will find its way to us this year. 

The Morville Hours at Easter

I was thinking of Easter and the seasons partly because of The Morville Hours, which I have been reading with Cath over at Read-Warbler.   I just finished the chapter "Terce", which is about April and May, in Morville, the garden, and the land around Morville in Shropshire, UK.  I didn't know where the colour purple comes from and why it's used on vestment robes for Easter for the priests and ministers. I was raised a Catholic, and Katherine Swift is rediscovering her Catholic roots at Morville, because of the nearby Benedictine Abbey.  She has based The Morville Hours on The Book of Hours, as it  was the book by which so many lay people  marked the hours of the day, in medieval times. Here is an image from Les Tres Riches Heures de duc du Berry, which Swift also discusses in her book.
 They are based on the old books the monks illustrated and used as part of their devotions in regular church life in the monasteries and abbeys.  Through these,  Western Civilization was saved through the Dark Ages.  The Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels, etc are some examples. Swift has taken the 24 hours that makes up a day in a monastery, and used it to write about her garden through the year, based on the agricultural year. This was because in The Book of Hours, the year was also divided and marked by images for each month, based on the agricultural season. 

Monasteries and abbeys had their roots in their gardens and the agricultural life around them.  The Book of Hours copied and made for the wealthy in the UK and Europe, were wealthy because of land and the richness of the land.  Before industrialization, everyone marked the agricultural year.

So, in the Book of Hours and in The Morville Hours,  Easter is marks the arrival of spring.  What I didn't know was that Easter moves every year because it's based on the moon.  The new moon in the calendar marks where Easter is going to be.  For me, this takes me right back to my desire to honour the cycles of the seasons and nature. I watched the full moon rise this weekend, and it was beautiful and spread so much light through Friday evening (when it was full) and last night.

The Morville Hours is about the seasons, and the roots of all the seasonal activities we do, from a UK perspective.  We don't have Lady Day here, March 25, but I love what she writes: "There was disagreement too about the date that the new year began.  Lady Day, March 25, was when the church year began - the Feast of the Annunciation, the date on which Christ was nominally conceived - placed where it is in the calendar because it is nine months before Christmas, the ritual date of Christ's birth..........And Lady Day  is still one of the Quarter Days, the date from which many leases and agricultural tenancies run, so beginning the Agricultural as well as the Church year.  A better time for new year's resolutions, I think, when seed is sown and life begins, than January, in the depths of midwinter."   We do have the Feast of the Annunciation, at least for those who attend church.

I like this tying together of the religious pattern of life with the agricultural way of life.  Even if I no longer follow the Catholic faith, I understand the rhythms and meaning behind it, and I really like seeing how it is based on the seasons.  It's the pattern of the year, and finding the right pattern that makes how we live make sense, is important to me. I want to live more in the seasons, acknowledging the ebb and flow of life around me, especially here in the city where I have to look a little harder to see it.  I really like what she says about resolutions growing better now, as we plant seeds and see life blossom all around us.  It makes more sense.  I have to wait until the long weekend in May before I can plant any new seeds, roots or bulbs  in my garden - we can have frost as late as that, here.  Until then, however, I will be watching my lilac tree blossom, my irises and garden come to life. 

So, this Easter, I wish all of you a day of light and dreams for the future, and knowing what seeds you want to plant in your lives as well as your gardens.  Happy Easter everyone, and I hope the Easter bunny did get you a book or a treat, too!