Saturday, August 28, 2021

R.I.P. XVI - A spook inspired reading challenge



An annual Halloween themed reading challenge that runs from September thru October. It’s pretty relaxed as to what qualifies – horror, suspense, mystery, gothic, etc. I try to stick to classics, which apart from the two most obvious, Frankenstein and Dracula, it can be a little challenging to find books of these genres amongst the classics. They’re there, just takes a little digging to find them. 


For R.I.P this year, I will read:


Rebecca   by Daphne du Maurier




The Collector   by John Fowles

(titles in Century Gothic font...see what I did there?)



A last minute update, I'm adding
The Haunting of Hill House to my list for this challenge.

Previous R.I.P. reads




Sunday, August 22, 2021

The Worm Ouroboros by E. R. Eddison (novel #186)

Kings and governors that do exult in strength and beauty and lustihood and rich apparel, showing themselves for awhile upon the stage of the world and open dominion of high heaven, what are they but the gilded summer fly that decayeth with the dying day? ~ Lord Gro


The Worm Ouroboros is high fantasy, ostensibly set on the planet Mercury, but it is really just a fantasy version of earth.


It tells of a war between Demonland and Witchland, and although the citizens of those lands are named Demons and Witches, they are mortal men. The same goes for the other realms of Goblinland, Impland, and Pixyland. 


Whom am I to cheer for if the choice be Demons or Witches?


This confused me for a bit, but soon I learned the Witches were cruel and treacherous – misnomer notwithstanding – the Demons were the good guys.


And two of them, Lord Juss and Lord Brandoch Daha embark of a classic hero quest, to rescue a friend and brother in arms held in enchanted fortress. And while her greatest heroes are thus away, Demonland is perilously beset by the forces of Witchland.


Both races are mighty warriors and heroes on both sides pay respect to the valor and duty of their mortal enemies, as described by three-time turncoat Lord Gro…


Such glamour hath ever shone to me all my life’s days when I behold great men battling still beneath the bludgeonings of adverse fortune that, howsoever they be mine enemies, it lieth not in my virtue to withhold from admiration of them and well nigh love.


There are mythical beasts, including a hippogriff, enchantments, curses, and such, but the eponymous worm, or dragon, Ouroboros hardly plays in the tale. You may see on the cover that Ouroboros forms a circle and is swallowing his own tail; the never-ending circle is symbolic of the wars in this fantasy world.


And of course, there are ladies fair and brave. 


As high fantasy, this work is sometimes compared to the writings of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (both read it, with qualified praise), but I think it is more like Norse mythology. I enjoyed it, but I felt Eddison’s world building left much to be desired. 


First, it starts as a frame story, where an observer – presumably the narrator – is taken by enchantment to observe a world he is told is Mercury. But I think it’s false to call it a frame story, because the other side of the frame is missing. The story begins with this observer, but he is never mentioned again. That’s not a frame, merely a prologue, and unnecessary. 


Second, the notion that this world is Mercury is ridiculous. I have no problem that it doesn’t comply with what we know of Mercury. I can suspend disbelief, but this world is clearly a fantasy version of Earth. The characters refer to Greek mythology, a tree is described as an Irish yew, and one character even quotes Shakespeare. It is a fantasy, and unnecessary to pretend it is set on Mercury.


Finally, the names of Demonland, Witchland etc., were confusing at first, and then, just silly when I realized there were merely differing realms of men.


It was a fun diversion, but Tolkien and Lewis are still the Gold Standard of the genre.


My rating 3.5 of 5 stars


I read this as my novel for The Classics Club Spin #27.


Excerpts: The Worm Ourboros written in 16thCentury English, which is a bit challenging at times, but it also adds romance and beauty.


I was never so poor a man of my hands that I need turn braggart. ~ Lord Brandoch Daha of Demonland


You men do say that women’s hearts be faint and feeble, but I shall show thee the contrary is in me. Study to satisfy me. Else will I assuredly smite thee to death with thine own sword. ~ Lady Mevrian of Demonland


So, in the golden autumn afternoon, in the midst of that sad main of sedgelands where between slimy banks the weed-choked Druima deviously winds toward the sea, were those two men met together for whose ambition and their pride the world was too little a place to contain them both and peace lying between them. And like some drowsy dragon of the elder slime, squat, sinister, and monstrous, the citadel of Carce slept over well. ~ narrative


…to strenuous minds there is an unquietude in over-guietness. ~ Lord Juss of Demonland


One last excerpt, that I loved, but needs a bit of context. When an enchanted and peace loving Queen observes the retired armory of Demonland, she is asked by Lord Juss if she despises the instruments of war. Her reply...

O my lord, I think nobly of them. For an ill part it were while we joy in the harvest, to contemn the tools that prepared the land for it and reaped it. ~ Queen Sophonsiba





Monday, August 2, 2021

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (novel #185)

The Corrections is set in the fictional mid-western town of St. Jude. It concerns
senior citizens Albert and Enid Lambert, and their three adult children, Gary, Chip, and Denise. It takes place in the late 1990s with numerous flashbacks to the family’s past.


Albert the strict patriarch and retired railroad engineer has Parkinson’s and shows increasing signs of dementia. Enid, deludes herself that he will get better and desperately tries to arrange one last Christmas with the entire family – but it doesn’t look likely. The eldest Gary, is a successful banker, alcoholic, and probably clinically depressed. Chip, is an intellectual, and something of a flake. The youngest Denise, is a rising star chef, but her personal life is a mess. Each suffer guilt, and try in some way to do their duty to their parents, but never to Albert or Enid’s liking. Each of them have left the Mid-West, and its values, to pursue their dreams and passions in the fast-paced bustle of the East Coast. 


They didn’t want the things that she and all her friends and all her friends’ children wanted. Her children wanted radically, shamefully other things.


Nor do Albert and Enid care for each other’s way of dealing with their new reality. 


But against all odds, all three children make it to St. Jude for Christmas. Gary without his wife and children, Denise after being fired, and Chip barely escaping Eastern Europe with his life. But Enid, blissfully ignorant of these details exclaims...


This is the best Christmas present I’ve ever had!


But the euphoria does not last, as all are confronted with Alfred’s condition, and numerous uncomfortable changes it seems to require.


The “corrections” refers to the down-turn in technology sector stock prices of the late 90s, concurrent with events in the novel. It is a metaphor for gradual “corrections” to the lifestyle, behavior, and expectations of the Lambert Family, and on a larger scale, emblematic of the changing American values of the day. 


It’s a poignant depiction. Superbly written, believable, quirky, and funny at times. But, I can’t say I enjoyed it. I don’t think it’s meant to be enjoyed, but, in spite of dealing with aging parents myself, I didn’t relate very well to any of the three children.


I may be the exception though. The story received high acclaim and resonated with many, winning the National Book Award in 2001.


My rating 3 of 5 stars



The title is an homage to William Gaddis’ novel The Recognitions, which I will be reading sometime in the next year or so.