Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

"For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" -Luke 2:11

I just wanted to wish you all a Merry Christmas if you celebrate Christmas, and a Happy Holiday in any case.      

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Carols

Next week is Christmas, my very favorite holiday.  The house is clean, the lights are hung, there's a dusting of snow outside, making this a surprisingly white almost-Christmas.  (We usually don't get snow until after New Year.)  And I am thinking about cookies and Christmas Carols.  Now, cookies, while delicious, are not much of a subject for a writing and literature blog (two bites and they're over) but carols are worthy of a post.

The amazing thing about carols (and perhaps poetry in general) is how much meaning they pack in just a few verses.   We Three Kings manages to tell the whole life of Christ from birth to crucifixion and teach the symbolism of each Magi gift in just five verses.  That's pretty impressive.  O Come O Come Immanuel brings out a sense of the humanity of the Old Testement prophets, their longing as they looked forward to Christ's coming.  Then there's Joy to the World, which is just an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving.  

Christmas Carols get to be a tradition.  They're passed down as invisible gifts from parents who want to share something of their warm Christmas memories with their children.  Carols are sung in nursing homes to bring those memories back to lonely elders.  Music is powerful, so are words, and perhaps memories are most powerful of all.  The three are wrapped together in Christmas Carols, making for something that lasts. 

So how about you?  Do you have any favorite traditions for this time of year?  What do you think makes for memorable poetry?  Do you think carols would have lasted so long if they weren't set to music? 

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ode to End Notes

Yesterday was my last final.  Wahoo!  In honor of another semester finished, I decided to do a post on end notes.  

I discovered end notes in second grade.  My parents had bought me an easy reading series, (the Exitorn Adventures by Peggy Downing) set in a semi-imaginary version of the Middle Ages.  The book had a glossary in the back for the less familiar words, like `portcullis' and when my mother got tired of me pestering her about what this or that meant, she taught me to use it.

When I hit high-school and discovered Dickens, the concept of notes in the back of the book was a familiar one.  I'd already discovered how frustrating it is to try to FIND the end notes while you're in the middle of a story, so I came up with the two-bookmark system.  One bookmark kept my place in the story, the other bookmark kept my place among the end-notes.  I spent many happy hours flipping back and fourth.  I learned all kinds of cool things about the Victorian Era, such as the fact that `Lucifer matches' are an early term for regular matches (and that they were invented early enough for Dickens to talk about.)  I also got to read the bits and snippets that Dickens cut out of his novels, and that later editors collected.  I learned to look for Penguin and Everyman editions of my lovely classics because their editors do such a good job giving `extras'.      

Lately I've been trying to branch out of European literature a little, and I find footnotes and end notes are vital because I don't have the cultural background to catch the significance of what's going on.  The copy of Popol Vuh that I've been slowly working my way through (the Allen J. Christenson translation) has almost as many footnotes as it has text.      

So what about you guys?  Do you enjoy pausing, as you read, to take in end-notes or footnotes, or would you rather ignore them and get on with the story?  Or do you like to read through classics and myths twice -once for the sheer joy of story, then a second, more leisurely time, taking in the editorial notes?   

Saturday, December 4, 2010

An apology, and a really cool link

Today is the Saturday before finals week and I desperately need to study so today's topic is... nonexistent.  I am sorry.  I did find something really awesome I wanted to share with you, though.  It's a website run by Young Adult author, Katherine Langrish.  On Fridays she has guest authors post about how their favorite fairy-tales influenced their writing.  I've added a link to the interviews  here.  They are really worth checking out.  Have fun.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Some Thoughts on `Blue Fire'

Don't you love discovering a new book?  It's a delicious feeling.  Yum.  My latest discover is Janice Hardy's Healing Wars trilogy, or more specifically, book two, Blue Fire, which came out this October.  (Book one is called The Shifter.)  The Healing Wars are about Nya who can shift pain from person to person in a world where pain is bought, sold, and used as a weapon.  By book two, Nya is a hunted outlaw desperate to protect her friends.  The books are mid-grade, so violence and romance are toned down, but the subtlety actually makes both more effective.

 Several things impressed me about Blue Fire.  One was the logic behind the villains.  Hardy didn't bring in new magic, she made her enemies smart enough to use the rules she'd already invented to their advantage.  That made the world more believable and showed off her villains intelligence.  Also, the stakes are not just high, they're very personal.  Nya isn't just out to save the world, she wants to save people she cares about, and because she cares, we do too.  Hardy writes quite a bit about raising stakes on her blog.  She has an excellent article on the subject  here.  It's worth checking out.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010


Yesterday  I was fortunate enough to go to a high-school performance of `Twelfth Night' one of my favorite Shakespeare comedies.  The group did an excellent job.  The audience sat right on the edge of the stage.  We were told that if a character asked a question, we should answer.  The idea was to make the experience as close to time-period as possible.  (Well... minus the throwing things at the actors.)  I had no idea Shakespeare was so fond of breaking the fourth wall.  

The set was very minimalistic.  It could have been done in an open park or (in Shakespeare's time) in the courtyard of an inn.  I was impressed by how much the actors did with no backdrops and few props.  They had a stool and a bench they whisked on and off stage.  Without scene changes, the action never lagged.

Because of the difference in Shakespeare's language and because of his reputation as a literary figure, it's easy to forget that Shakespeare's plays are all about entertainment.  People tend to put distance between him and modern audiences with elaborate sets that scream `this is archaic'.  It was nice to see a performance that took away all the false trappings and just left a really great, entertaining story of the sort Shakespeare is so famous for.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Wily Mentors in fiction

I've been thinking about archetypes, particularly the Wise Old Mentor, and I got to wondering -why wise old mentors?  If you're following the Hero's Journey archetype you need a mentor figure, sure, but if you've read many fairy tales you'll notice a lot of the mentors are wily animal companions.  The one that comes first to mind is the cat in Perrault's `Puss in Boots'.  The cat goes a fair way toward upstaging our protagonist (who doesn't even get a name, poor guy.  He just goes through life as `miller's son').  Puss not only teaches Millerson to get along in court, but also plays matchmaker for him and uses his wiles to get Millerson a comfortable estate.  

That's great for Millerson and co. but if wily animal companions are an achetype... where are they in print?  So after a bit of pondering, I came up with a title that follows the `Puss in Boots' archetype: Robert Louis Stevenson's `Kidnapped.'  If you take out the idea that a wily animal mentor has to be an actual physical animal, doesn't Alan Breck fit into the role?  He's definitely a mentor figure.  In chapter nine he's teaching our protagonist, David Balfour to mount a defense:

    "-that door, being open, is the best part of my defense."
   "It would be yet better shut," says I.
    "Not so, David," says he.  "Ye see, I have but one face, but so long as that door is open and my face to it, the best part of my enemies will be in front of me, where I would aye wish to find them."
                                                                                                                  Robert Louis Stevenson

Later Alan teaches David such important lessons as how to survive while fleeing through the Highlands from King George's army.  In the end Alan plays a crucial role in a trick meant to get David's rightful property away from his ogreish uncle.  (Well, his uncle is actually more goblin-like, but for the sake of the parallel we'll say ogreish.)

So what do you guys think?  Do you know of any wily mentors, animal or human?  Or have they been kicked out of modern fiction for stealing the protagonist's thunder -and if they have, how do we get them back?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Rambling about Lloyd Alexander

The first time I really thought about a writer's style was when I read Gypsy Rizka.  I'd checked the book out of my library based entirely on the front cover, and never bothered to check the writer's name.  Halfway through the first chapter I thought to myself, hmmm, sounds an awfully lot like Lloyd Alexander.  I looked at the flyleaf and saw that it was indeed written by him. :)
Once I realized nobody could write like Lloyd Alexander except him, I did a very brave thing.  I wrote a letter asking if he'd consider writing a story based on Norse myths and (here's the brave part) actually mailed it.  I didn't mention that I wanted to be a writer myself because I was afraid he'd say `then why don't you write a book based on Norse myths instead of bothering me about it?'
Lloyd Alexander wrote back.  He seemed happy to have heard from me.  He even promised to think about writing a book based on Norse Mythology.  I'm sure he did think about it, too, though he never actually wrote one.  He died a few years later.  I'm grateful that I worked up the courage to write to him before he passed away.
Hmm... maybe I picked the wrong title for my blog.  This post has nothing to do with fairytales, though its certainly rambling enough.  So, does anyone else have a hero you're glad you talked too (or never had a chance to talk to?)  What authors would you recognize, even if their names never appeared on the work?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Testing... 1...2...3... Testing....

I'm very new at blogging, and very bad at technology, so this is going to be a pretty short first post.  I'm an aspiring writer and self proclaimed Lit Geek.  I've been commenting on my favorite blogs as Chicory, so that's the name I'll be appearing under.  My goal here is to start discussions on literature, myths, fairy-tales, and all that sort of thing.  Best wishes, everyone. :)