Sunday, August 9, 2009
And today I ran across a lovely poem by Billy Collins in my niece and nephew's poetry anthology (Poetry Speaks to Children) which got me thinking in fresh ways about the tales. No matter how much I think about fairy tales, there always seem to be new angles.
A wolf is reading a book of fairy tales.
The moon hangs over the forest, a lamp.
He is not assuming a human position,
say, cross-legged against a tree,
as he would in a cartoon.
This is a real wolf, standing on all fours,
his rich fur bristling in the night air,
his head bent over the book open on the ground.
He does not sit down for the words
would be too far away to be legible,
and it is with difficulty that he turns
each page with his nose and forepaws.
When he finishes the last tale
he lies down in pine needles.
He thinks about what he has read,
the stories passing over his mind
like the clouds crossing the moon.
A zigzag of wind shakes down hazelnuts.
The eyes of owls yellow in the branches.
By the way, if anyone knows where I can find a good computer wallpaper of classic fairy tale illustrations (Rackham, Dulac, etc.) please tell.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Friday, May 1, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Here's one from Emily Dickinson:
If I can stop one heart from breaking (#919)
If I can stop one Heart from breaking
I shall not live in vain
If I can ease one Life the Aching
Or cool one Pain
Or help one fainting Robin
Unto his Nest again
I shall not live in vain.
Monday, March 23, 2009
Gaiman recently won the Newbery for The Graveyard Book, and is also the author of Stardust, Coraline, Neverwhere, and the Sandman series, among other things.
Colbert himself is of course poised to take over the world.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Like the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, we live our lives with regret for what we have not done — or have done imperfectly — instead of taking satisfaction with what we have done, such as, in Coleridge's case, founding English Romanticism in his youth and producing, throughout his life, some of the best poetry and literary criticism ever composed, including his unfinished poem "Kubla Khan." But that was not enough; always, there was some magnum opus that Coleridge should have been writing, that made every smaller project seem like failure, and that led him to seek refuge from procrastinator's guilt in opium.
Monday, February 16, 2009
Still, I doubt that the stripes and Christmas-themed patterned are strictly necessary. But if I had to knit tons of chicken sweaters, I'd probably try to make it fun for myself.
This picture reminds me of an illustration from Jerry Pinkney's The Talking Eggs.
I particularly enjoyed this passage:
We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. If it has terrors, they are OUR OWN terrors. If it has precipices, they belong to us. If dangers are present, we must try to love them. And if we fashion our life according to that principle, which advises us to embrace that which is difficult, then that which appears to us to be the very strangest will become the most worthy of our trust, and the truest...Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where everything comes from and where it is headed? You do know that you are in a period of transition and wish for nothing as much as to transform yourself.
This also reminds me of something Victor Hugo said: "There is one spectacle greater than the sea; that is the sky. There is one spectacle greater than the sky; that is the interior of the human soul."
Sorry I don't have page numbers and editions for these quotes, but I'm traveling and don't have my library with me.
Anyway, happy exploring!
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
"My advice to Titania and Oberon? Leave the forest. It's this place. It gets into your head. I mean, all this nature...it's not natural, is it?" (Puck)
"If you don't get it right, I'm going to turn you into a novelty key chain." (Oberon to Puck, of course)
A Misummer Night's Dream, written by Peter Bowker; starring Bill Paterson, Imelda Staunton, and Johnny Vegas
Much Ado About Nothing, written by David Nicholls; starring Sara Parish, Damian Lewis, and Billie Piper
Macbeth, written by Peter Moffat; starring James McAvoy and Keeley Hawes
The Taming of the Shrew, written by Sally Wainwright; starring Rufus Sewell, Shirley Henderson, and Stephen Tompkinson.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
However, if you visit the PBS website here, you'll find a link to an online conversation with the screenwriter, David Nicholls, at barnesandnoble.com. He is answering questions about the issues involved in screenwriting (particularly, adapting classics) until January 12. This is something that does interest me intensely, and I'd highly recommend checking it out.
Nicholls (IMDB profile here) also penned an extremely deft modern retelling of Much Ado About Nothing for the Beeb in 2005, as well as the quirky Starter for 10 starring James McAvoy.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
On to business: here is a great article that ran in the Washington Post this past weekend on M.T. Anderson, another young adult writer of quality. (At least, I think he is; I have not yet read his book.) He is the author of Octavian Nothing, an epic set in the Revolutionary War documenting the experience of a slave in very unusual but historically accurate circumstances. I noticed it in Borders a couple of days before the article ran, and now it's certainly on my list to read.
- Read a lot of Chaucer (see above)
- Saw (twice) and loved (twice) the Twilight movie. Ate my words from months previous about how it looked imbecilic and came away with a hearty respect for Robert Pattinson (channeling James Dean and Max Schreck simultaneously?!), Catherine Hardwicke (making it beautiful), and the general power of not being too cynical for your own good.
- Finished a chapter! Yay! I successfully narrated a medieval journey without mentioning seedcakes once. Victory is mine.
- Actually did research for my novel, which felt very virtuous.
- Went to the library and checked out a whole pile of books I knew I wouldn't be able to finish but enjoyed myself anyway.
- Fretted about historical accuracy in fiction. (More to come on this issue.)
- Formed a resolution to read some E.T.A. Hoffman, after I finish the Canterbury Tales (ha!), The Faerie Queene (bigger ha!), and this random book I picked up at Borders about medievalists...
And, last of all, Coming Soon: Why History Is Just a Nuisance
Saturday, November 15, 2008
In the introduction, the Kate Bernheimer makes a much-needed defense of writers who work in less-respected genres, like children's literature, young adult literature, fantasy, mystery, and sci-fi. She says that not only "literary" like Margaret Atwood or A. S. Byatt writers deserve respect, but also the likes of Robin McKinley, Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman...She points out many of the original transcribers of fairy tales were women working in the French courts to collect the derisively named "old wives' tales."
Highbrow readers quick to dismiss these tales because of genre labels might consider that these writers are also following in the footsteps of the salon writers of Paris, working subversively in fields often dismissed by the literary establishment, and staking out territory in books that have wide appeal. These authors often acknowledge their debt to a range of influences from Madame D’Aulnoy to Angela Carter.
I feel that this is an important point to make, because in current literary culture there often a deep divide between "good books" and "good reads." The books that continually win the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer, the Snerdly McSnoggall Prize for Great Literature are often horribly depressing, leaden reads that I occasionally force myself to read out of some misguided sense of virtue. I don't mean to suggest that all Booker Prize-winning books are dead ends, but that there is a culture which suggests that if a book is depressing and written in a certain style, it must be a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.
Meanwhile, it's books like Twilight and Harry Potter which people are apparently dying to read. I know many many people, too, who humbly submit to preferring "escapism" over "literature" - but I can't help feeling that they shouldn't be made to denigrate their own tastes, simply because they enjoy the occasional happy ending or adventurous romp. Perhaps Harry Potter isn't the most well-crafted book (then again, maybe it is, given its addictive qualities), but it shouldn't be automatically dismissed just because of its genre and popularity. And there are certainly other representatives of its genre that are extremely artful, profound, and yes, beautiful.
The question is: Does the gap between quality and pleasure have to exist? My own opinion is ABSOLUTELY NOT, and I will fight to the death to prove it. The immense pleasure and edification I get from Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Gaskell, John Le Carre, Connie Willis, Dorothy Sayers, and Doctor Who tell me that it is possible to be intelligent and fun. Certainly, the writers listed above all contain different mixtures of fun and weight, but the point is that the rip-roaring good yarn can also be excellent, excellent art.
And it's immense fun to trawl through the less exalted genres and find the gems. Much more fun than struggling through The God of Small Things, I guarantee that.
Monday, November 3, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
It only took about 20 minutes to read, and it was worth the time. Good old Victoriana. You can find a full text here at the wondrous, wondrous Gutenberg collection of public-domain works.
'We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots?'
Sorry my posts are all a bit goblinny these days - the fairy tale reading kick has reasserted itself!
Monday, October 27, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Some writers, though, have a horror of reading while they're writing. I can sympthize - just like your annoying third cousin's sister's husband's voice gets stuck in your head, some writers' voices get stuck in your head. Even if they're good writers, this is a problem. For example, after I read I Capture the Castle, for months every single one of my characters sounded like Cassandra - i.e., always about to ask for a cup of tea.
And though reading is oxygen for my pen, every now and then I'm seized by paranoia that this is bad or dangerous. This happens most often when I'm reading something I feel slightly guilty about (say, Doctor Who fan-fiction, or a junky mystery novel) - then I hear a voice in my head going, "You're going to absorb that voice and then you'll never write anything good again, and it'll serve you right for not reading more Virginia Woolf." Or words to that effect. And sure, it's true that reading quality writing is the best way to teach yourself, unconsciously, about good craft. So fan-fiction, like junk food, should be kept at a minimum, I suppose.
There's also the fear that reading so much will choke originality. Every now and then I'll be writing, and I'll realize, "Well, shoot, this scene came right out of Our Mutual Friend. Now I have to figure out something else!" I've come to feel, though, that these moments aren't reasons to stop "reading like a butterfly" - a very manly butterfly, for my male readers.
We accept that other artists need materials, for instance that painters need models and paint and canvas...but we often expect writers to create from nothing, I think. But everyone needs materials. I've started to think of the imagination as a great big compost heap, as unromantic as that sounds, in which we throw all our experiences and all the books we read and all the films we watch and all the songs we hear, to break down into something new from which we can grow our own garden. (Just look at the way I kept control of that metaphor! ShaZAM!)
Every now and then, something pops out of that compost heap that hasn't broken down sufficiently - a character too much like Andrew Foyle, a phrase too much like something Fitzgerald would write, a setting that just is a little too much like Hogwarts - but that's not a reason to stop reading. The solution is not insulation but inundation. We ought to read more when that happens, find something else that touches our hearts and stirs out imaginations, because then the still-fresh images and prose of other books will break down and mix a little more, into a new color, a new soil, a new story.
To read more about why Daedalus Notes exists, click here.