Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Jessica Townsend: Wundersmith: The calling of Morrigan Crow

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Morrigan survived the initial tests, and was finally admitted into the the Wondrous Society, and secured her citizenship in Nevermoor and The Free State. Now starts her training, or at least, that’s what she is expecting. The first day of school however, she is barely admitted into the school of the Wondrous Society at all. While her fellow students are sent to all kinds of special courses, Morrigan spends her days studying the failed arts of wundersmiths before her. Beeing a wundersmith herself, this is a depressing subject. As her powers and frustrations grow, she needs some kind of venting. Who can teach her the art of controlling Wunder, when neither the school, nor her patron can or will?

Jessica Townsend follows in a classical track writing for young fantasy fans. The rising magical comet pupil enters school. Jill Murphy, Dianna Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, J.K. Rowling, you name them. Now, nothing wrong in giving the young reader well-known knobs to hang her hats on, but they have to be good. Does Townsend succeed? Perhaps. I would love more intrigues and contact between Morrigan, Hawthorn, and the rest of her unit friends, and her enemies. I want relationships to appear and grow. I want more character arcs. I want … just more, I guess. Which means, I would simply like a longer book. Perhaps was it more. Perhaps were there stuff that landed on the cutting board floor. Or perhaps this was all. On the other hand, there is a lot to like. There are humour and sadness. There are songs and poems. I love the teachers, especially the school mistresses. The two-in-one classical Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and/or Gollum schizofreniac style transformation is both disturbing and hilarious. The Ghastly Market is perfectly ghastly, the crooks are evil enough, and the finale is chaotic and overwhelming. The thrown-in whodunnit baffled me, and Morrigan’s frustration of not getting to learn more about who she is and what she can do, is crushingly felt by the reader.

This is a good follow-up of the first book in the series. I hope the next one will fulfill my needs for more character development. And I want a T-shirt with “Introverts Utterly Anonymous” on the front, and “no meetings or gatherings of any sort, ever” on the back.

Jessica Townsend: Nevermoor – The Trials of Morrigan Crow

Tuesday, January 15th, 2019

In a world powered by wundercraft, a strange nature force that may be harvested for electricity, Morrigan is a child of a priviledged family. Her father is the elected Chancellor of the state, they are rich, and live in a large manor house. The should have been happy. But they are not. Morrigan was born as a cursed child. That means that whatever she does, bad stuff happens around her. The cat dies. The farmers have a bad year with low crops. Somebody falls and break a leg. It is always Morrigan’s fault. In addition, she will only live until she is 12, when the new Age begins. Then, as all they who are listed in the Cursed Child Register, she will die. Not much of a childhood to write home about. At the eve of the age, the Eventide, and also Morrigan’s birthday (and dying day), a strange figure called Jupiter North visits the family, and instead of dying, Morrigan is whisked away on a journey across the borders of the state, and into the wunderful world of Nevemoor. Jupiter saves Morrigan’s life, but her trials have just begun.

Towsends writes funny and originally, sometimes even surprising. Episodically, the story goes from cliff hanger to cliff hanger, so it should be excellent as bedside or holiday read aloud story. The text is full of songs, rhymes, alliterations, puns, strange words, and new words, and goes from very good, to just brilliant! There is never a boring period. Also she writes about children’s feelings. Morrigan is afraid, happy, disappointed, scared, angry, and jealous. The author makes the readers share those feelings. Well done.

As you may perceive, I love this book! I think it was Neil Gaiman who once said that the primary function of a book is to open a portal to another world. And that is why I love books like The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe, The Earth-Sea series, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and that first book in the Harry Potter series (and more or less anything written by said Gaiman). This is a book for that list.

Towsends writes for an audience that has become used to this kind of more or less magical worlds. After the success of the Harry Potter series, and the Tolkien movie (and thus book) renaissance, youth fantasy like the Pullman, Paolini, Riordan, and hey, why not Pratchett, series have bloomed and blossomed, and the readers know what they want. I will not say that Towsends writes after a template, her work is too original for that, but of course she is inspired by J.K. Rowling and other fantasy writers. And Jupiter could be Willy Wonka’s second cousin once removed.

Critics ask if this could this be the next Harry Potter? I’d rather say it’s the next Chocolate Factory. I assume Morrigan will return in a series of books. I look forward to them.

Tolkien’s fan service (J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings)

Monday, December 24th, 2018

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.

When I read through the first chapter of The Fellowship of the Ring again, I stumbled over all those small things that remind about The Hobbit. Going through them more systematically, it is clear that Tolkien started out wanting to create a sequal, and he uses a lot of small details to bind the first chapters of the new book closely to the previous one.

Starting with the title, A long expected party, of course closely mimicking the Hobbit’s first chapter An unexpected party. During Bilbo’s feast, Gandalf shows off his firework display, as he did on the Old Tooks parties a long time ago, according to The Hobbit. The firework elements themselves reminiscing parts of the story of the Hobbit. The trees of Greenwood the Great (or Mirkwood if you like), complete with butterflies. Then there are the eagles, a thunderstorm, an embattled army of elves with silver spears, and of course, the mountain and the dragon as the Grand Finale. Then Bilbo holds his speech, reminding the bored guests about his coming to Esgaroth on his 50th birthday, before he makes his special exit.

After Bilbo has disappeared in a flash and a bang, and left 144 flabbergasted guests back in the pavillion, we follow him and Gandalf back into Bag End. Here we see him pulling out his old treasures from The Hobbit; His sword Sting, the green cloak and hood that he borrowed from Dwalin (rather too large for him), and of course, his journey’s diary, the actual Hobbit book itself, nicely written into the story, and, as he tells Gandalf, he has written an end for it: “And he lived happily ever after, to the end of his days”, like the book actually ends. Gandalf reminds Bilbo about the will – the contract with Frodo if you like, that should be put on the same place as Bilbo found his own contract 77 years earlier, by the clock on the mantlepiece. He then sets out with dwarves, again.

At Crickhollow, the evening before the hobbits set out together, Merry and Pippin has made a song mimicking the song the Dwarves sang before Thorin and company set out. Out on the road, Frodo and his merry followers visit a tavern, like Thorin’s travelling party is said to have done too. They enter the wilder region, and Frodo and company sees the hills with old ruins on them, just like Bilbo did. After crossing the same stone bridge, they even discover the trolls that Gandalf tricked to stay out until the dawn made them to stone. Finally, the second book of the Fellowship starts with a rest in Elrond’s house, as did Bilbo.

Tolkien’s eye for details gives the fans of The Hobbit great value for their money, and a world full of small well-known nuggets to get comfortable before the quest takes off into the parts of Middle-Earth where they have not travelled before.

Are there more hints of the Hobbit in The Fellowship of the Ring than those listed here? I probably missed a lot of them.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Sunday, December 23rd, 2018

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. So also this year.

There is said so much about this book already, so instead of adding more non-interesting chatter to the World, I’d rather again this year show off my latest acquisition to my Hobbit collection: The first Czech edition of the Hobbit: Hobit aneb Cesta tam a zase zpátky. This version is a bit special; its first release came in a country that no longer exists, Czechoslovakia, in 1978. It has strange and gorgeous illustrations by Jiří Šalamoun, resembling a humorous naïve style, almost like children’s drawings, while still with a deep artistic impression.

20190102_134808_small

20190102_134820_small

20190102_134900_small

20190102_135102_small

20190124_134022_small

Another great addition to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion

Friday, December 29th, 2017

I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, around Christmas every year. So also this year.

One of the most fascinating stories in The Silmarillion is of course the story of Túrin Turambar. He is regarded as one of the major heroes of his age. At the Council of Elrond, Elrond himself lists the great men and elf-friends of old, Hador and Húrin and Túrin and Beren. But while reading through the Silmarillion, there are few among mortal men that have also added so much pain and disaster to the elves. While a great war hero, Húrin was also responsible for the slaying of the greatest hunter of the elves, Beleg Cúthalion, the strong bow. Being the war hero, he turned the people of Nargothrond away from the wisdom of their history, and even their king, and made the hidden kingdom available for the enemy. How many elves were cruelly slain or taken to captivity in Angband because of Turin’s pride? Thousands! Perhaps even tens of thousands? So how come the elves, ages later, still reckoned Túrin son of Húrin as one of the great elf-friends?

In a Nordic saga style stunt, Túrin finally slew his greatest enemy, Glaurung the great fire-breathing dragon. Glaurung had been a continous danger to all peoples of Middle-Earth, and the end of that worm was of course a great relief to all the elves, even Elrond’s ancestors, the kings of Doriath and Gondolin. Also, we must remember that the lives of the elves are different from that of men. When the elves’ bodies die, their spirits go to Mandos, where they sit in the shadow of their thought, and from where they may even return, like Glorfindel of both Gondolin and Rivendell. But when men die, they go to somewhere else, and are not bound to the world. It seems that elves are more willing to forgive and let grief rest for wisdom over time, than are men’s wont. Even the Noldor who survived the passing of the Helcaraxë forgave and united the Noldor of Fëanor’s people that left them at the burning of the ships at Losgar.

Perhaps that is one of the lessons learned from the tragic story of Túrin. From all his unhappy life, good things happened, and afterwards, the elves forgave and even mourned him and his family.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Monday, December 25th, 2017

I read Tolkien’s “canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, around Christmas every year. So also this year.

2017 was a great year for Tolkien fans. It was the 125th anniversary of the Professor’s birth, and the 80th anniversary for the Hobbit. We also got the magnificent news that Amazon will produce a TV series based on “previously unexplored stories based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s original writings“. So what storylines would that be? A reboot of the 2001-03 trilogy is out of the question, as Peter Jackson explored and extended more than enough already. So, what do we have left? A lot! Let’s have a look.

The Lord of the Rings and its appendices tells stories in several different timelines. Long before (as in hundreds, and even thousands of years) before the main story, just before the main story (like a few decennials), parallel to the main story, and after.

One storyline could follow the ancient history of Gondor and Arnor. There are lots and lots of substories there. If I should pick one I would like to see, it would be the stories of the kings Arvedui of Arnor and  Eärnil II of Gondor, perhaps started with the Firiel incident. There are lots of exciting points to pick up there. Gondor throne heiritage politics, the war against, and the prediction of the downfall of the Witch King, the flight to Forochel, with the disastrous ship’s wreck in the ice, and the loss of the palantiri.

For the “near history” before The War of the Ring, the obvious choice would be a “The young Aragorn” series, where we could follow Aragorn in his many guises, riding with the Rohirrim, going on raids with Gondor against Harad, in and in constant conflict with Denethor. And his love life, of course, with his meeting and very long-term relationship with Arwen. And speaking of Arwen, her family story is a good storyline, with the love of Celebrían and Elrond, travelling from Lorien to Rivendell, and her abduction, and Elladan and Elrohir’s rescue of her from the orcs. Parallel to that, the story I would most love to see, would be, the story of Denethor. His tragic life is worth a season alone. Another storyline from the years just before The War of the Ring, could be Balin’s attempt to retake Moria, and build  a colony of dwarves. Lots of gore and killing of goblins to depict!

Parallel to the War of the Ring, there are a lot of things going on, that are merely mentioned in the book, and completely forgotten in the movies. The fight in Dale. The Ents’ war against the orcs after the capture of Isengard, the loss of Osgiliath and Cair Andros, to name just a few.

And of course, even after the the War of the Ring, and the Return of the King, there are stories to follow up. Aragorn’s “negotiations” for peace with his neighbouring peoples, with armed battle as alternative, supported by Eomer of Rohan. The sweet but bitter death of Aragorn and Arwen. The reign of King Eldarion.

I’m optimistic! This is going to be great!

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

I read Tolkien’s “Canon”, that is, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion, every year about Christmas. These year, it’s even The Hobbit’s 80th Anniversary, and to celebrate, I have of course read through The Hobbit again.

So many have said so much about this book, so I’d rather show off my newest addition to my Tolkien bookshelf. This is the Swedish 1962 edition of The Hobbit, Bilbo, En Hobbits Äventyr (Bilbo, A Hobbit’s Adventure), and it has quite an interesting history.

In the 50s and 60s, Astrid Lindgren, maybe most famous for her children’s books about Pippi Longstocking, worked as an editor at the department for Children’s literature at Rabén & Sjögren, who published Tolkien’s works in Sweden. Lindgren was very interested in Tolkien’s work, and while she later denied Tolkien as an inspiration for it, she published the quite Lord of the Rings reminiscing Mio my Son in 1954, and later the world beloved classic children’s fantasy novels The Brothers Lionheart and Ronia, the Robber’s daughter.

In the early 60s Lindgren was not content* with the current Swedish translation of The Hobbit, Hompen (translation by Tore Zetterholm, 1947), and wanted to better it. So she opted for a new translation and got hold of Britt G. Hallqvist for the job. For illustrations, she contacted her friend Tove Jansson, now World famous for her Moomin Valley universe. Jansson had already had success with her Moomintrolls, and had previously made illustrations for a Swedish edition of Lewis Carrol’s classic poem Snarkjakten (The Hunting of the Snark, 1959), so a successful publication seemed likely.

Hallqvist translated, Jansson drew, Lindgren published it, and it flopped! Tolkien fans didn’t enjoy Jansson’s drawings much, and the illustrations were not used** again before 1994. By then, the 1962 version was cherished by Tove Jansson fans and Tolkien collectors over the World, and it had become quite hard to find. The 1994 edition was sold out in a jiffy. The illustrations were finally “blessed” by the Tolkien Estate, when they were used for the 2016 Tolkien Calendar.

Jansson’s illustrations were also used in the 2016 Tolkien calendar, which I’m, afraid to say, have not acquired (yet).

I was lucky and found a decent copy of the 1962 edition in a Japanese(!) bookstore on the Net. Now I LOVE this book. Its illustrations are absolutely gorgeous.

20171219_003402.jpg.small

20171219_144844.small

20171219_003429.jpg.small

The destruction of Lake Town and the death of Smaug are my personal favourites

The destruction of Lake Town and the death of Smaug is my personal favourite

It makes a great additon to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

This book makes a great additon to my ever growing list of Hobbits.

It would be a pity to let this book stay alone without decent Janssonic company, so I searched a few weeks, was lucky again and found a nice copy of the mentioned Snarkjakten by Lewis Carrol, and an almost mint copy of the absolutely fantastic (in all meanings of that word) Swedish 1966 edition of Alice i underlandet (Alice in Wonderland). If you enjoy Alice, you will love Janssons’ illustrations, even outshining her work on The Hobbit.

Janssons illustrations of <i>Alice</i> were later used in a lot of versions, among them, Finnish, American, British, and Norwegian editions.

Janssons illustrations of Alice were later used in a lot of versions, among them, Finnish, American, British, and Norwegian editions.

For an intensely interesting read about Jansson’s artistic work on these classics: Read Olga Holownia’s essay at barnboken.net.

That’s it. Merry Christmas and happy Youletide everybody!

*) Neither was Tolkien himself. He specially disliked the translation of Elvish names into Swedish, like Esgaroth -> Snigelby (ie. Snail Town!!!). Also interesting: Svensson, Louise, Lost in Translation? – A Comparative Study of Three Swedish Translations of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’, Lund University 2016

**) Actually, there were other versions with Jansson’s illustrations; the Finnish Hobbit Lohikäärme-vouri (The Dragon mountain) from 1973, and the updated Finnish translation in 2003. The illustrations were also used in this year’s Finnish 80th Anniversary edition of The Hobbit.

Arto Paasilinna: Verdens beste bygd

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

Eemeli får i oppdrag å bygge kirke til minne om sin bestefar, en angrende kirkebrenner. Han får i hop Dødskirkestiftelsen, finner en tomt innpå skogen, og går i gang med å bygge kirke. Det blir en vakker kirke, og etter mye krangling med leke og lærde myndigheter, får de til slutt både innvielse, byggetillatelse og prest. Rundt den vakre kirka vokser det opp et lite samfunn som klarer seg selv, og det kommer godt med når verden utenfor går fullstendig av hengslene med verdenskrig og sammenbrudd. Dødskirkestiftelsens samfunn er selvforsynte med oksekraft og ved, elgkjøtt, lagesild og poteter, badstue og dram, så de overlever.

Et lite alvorsord om bærekraft og miljø fra Paasilinna, blandet med en hel masse sprudlende humor og myndighetsforakt. Bare titlene som figurene bærer med stolthet, er i klasse for seg. “Forhenværende togvaskerforkvinne Taina Korolainen” er f.eks en viktig person i fortellingen.

Paasilinna anbefales jo stort sett alltid. Denne boka er ikke noe unntak.

John Steinbeck: Perlen

Friday, April 28th, 2017

Perlefiskeren Kino og Juana er fattige, men lykkelige. De har et barn, Coyotito. Coyotito blir stukket av en skorpion. Juana suger ut giften, men er redd barnet skal dø av stikket. Den lokale hvite legen vil ikke hjelpe dem. Samme dag finner Kino en stor perle. En perle så stor at han antar han vil bli rik, kan hjelpe Coyotito, og skape seg en fremtid for ham og familien. Men med perlen kommer grådighet og vold.

Denne klassikeren er visstnok en gjendiktning av en gammel mexicansk fortelling. Den korte triste teksten kan gjerne brukes som en liknelse som forteller om menneskenes ondskap, egoisme og grådighet, men forteller også om å stå opp mot nettopp dette.

Har du ikke lest Perlen er du en udannet grobian. Les den med en gang.

Diana Wynne Jones: The Pinhoe egg

Friday, April 21st, 2017

Vi er tilbake i Chrestomanci sin “egen” verden, kronologisk noen år etter den første boka i serien. Eric (eller bare “Cat”) har blitt noen år eldre, og hakket mer selvstendig enn sist. I en landsby i nærheten av Chrestomansi Castle har en gammel familiefeide blusset opp igjen. Pinhoe-slekta har samarbeidet bra med Farleigh-slekta, men Marianne Pinhoe, jevngammel med Cat, mistenker at Bestemor Pinhoe kaster magi og forbannelser på tvers mellom familiene, da hun og senga hennes blir flyttet fra det gamle huset, til et sted der familien kan ta bedre vare på henne. Marianne Pinhoe blir kjent med Cat, og sammen finner de en magisk hemmelighet i det gamle huset.

Ved siden av hovedsporet i fortellingen er det mange morsomme sidespor. Mariannes bror og Chrestomancis sønn Roger er to luringer som har smarte prosjekter på gang. Cat lærer å ri. Flyttingen av Bestemor Pinhoe er litt av et sirkus. Chrestomancis datter Julia, og hennes venninne Janet, som er Cats søster Gwendolen sin ekvivalent fra en annen verden (ja, det er komplisert med parallelle verdener) har kjærlighetssorger som tenåringer flest.

Lunt og morsomt. Fin ungdomsfantasy i serien.