Archive for the 'Books' Category

Review of Morton’s Anglish Fictionary

Morton's Anglish Fictionary; Fierst Endition by Morton Benning

Review: 

Morton Benning – Morton’s Anglish Fictionary: Fierst Endition (2016)

It is the sign of a good book when one laughs out loud. I laughed when reading this book, almost on every page and many times on some pages.

It is even better if, when I read out a portion to my wife, she laughs out loud too. Or groans – with a roll of the eyes.

A winner

Morton Benning has a winner here with hundreds of neologisms, invented words made by changing one or two letters, all with their own improbable, but highly entertaining, daffynition.

Over several years I have seen portions of this amazing volume develop as the author tried out the words and meanings by testing new words on his Facebook friends, also known as contrefutors, many of them adding extras of their own, or modifying suggestions.

Entertainment

While I admit that I read right through the book from cover to cover when I received it, and it can be read like that, I think it is best read by dipping into various pages at random. In this way, it is sure to entertain the reader for many years.

A downside

I notice that the author has called this the Fierst Endition (read the book for daffynitions of those words). I do hope there is not only a seconnd endition, but a theard and more. There is one downside of this work. By the time I was only half way through reading, I was seriously questioning my ability to spell even basic words. Sigh.

Such phun.

Grab yourself a copy from here. You won’t regret it.

Here are a few tasty morsels:

  • pratzel: an annoying idiot twisted in a knot and baked
  • velcrow: a raven that sticks around
  • shenannygans: grandmothers behaving badly
  • articulatte: to communicate clearly about, or because of, coffee

A retelling of MacDonald’s Phantastes

Phantastes

George MacDonald’s classic fantasy novel as retold by Mark Worthing.

Stone Table Books, 2016.

phantastes-cover

Some of my readers may well ask, “George who?” Fortunately, I was aware of who George MacDonald was before I was handed a copy of this book for review. MacDonald’s works usually do not appear on any of those “Best Books of the Week/Month/Year/Century.” His works were first published in the mid-1800s, so there is no surprise to realise that they are not on everyone’s To Read list.

Mark Worthing, the author of this retelling, gives a short introduction to George MacDonald at the beginning of the book. I will give an even shorter introduction. MacDonald’s novel Phantastes was first published in 1858 and is widely regarded as the first modern fantasy novel to be written in English. MacDonald was a Congregational minister, but he did not last long in this role because his theology was at odds with those who employed him. Although he continued in occasional preaching, his main income was derived from his many writings, though he was never really well off.

MacDonald’s contribution to fantasy

Readers should not be put off by MacDonald’s work, especially this title. Many great writers of fantasy have paid tribute to MacDonald for inspiring them to also write fantasy. These include J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, Ursula LeGuin, Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens, among others.  “Madeleine L’Engle, the matriarch of modern Christian fantasy, literature, candidly admits that ‘George MacDonald is the grandfather of us all – all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through fantasy.’” (Worthing, Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God, p.26)

The full title of the novel is Phantastes, a Faerie Romance for Men and Women. This retelling of the original is just called Phantastes. In order to review this reworking of the novel, I felt I should at least attempt to read a part of the original story.

Trepidation

I came with a little trepidation to the original, mindful of the irony of reading it on an eReader – a work first published nearly 160 years ago. I should not have worried. I took to it easily and read right through over only several days. While I found the language somewhat stilted and archaic to my modern ears, I found it relatively easy to read and follow the plot. I had a similar experience several years ago when I read right through Milton’s epic Paradise Lost. The many unfamiliar words MacDonald uses were easily located directly from the inbuilt dictionary in eReader. This made understanding the novel so much easier.

Worthing’s modern-day retelling was next on my reading list. Already being familiar with the general gist of the story I breezed through this new work. It is a very enjoyable story which will reward the reader on many levels. At its most basic, one could regard it as a simple quest story. The protagonist, Anodos, is also the narrator of the tale. It is his search for adventure, beauty and love which drives him to explore the Land of Faerie. Many of the classic characters we come to expect in fairy tales are encountered along the journey; fairies of course, goblins, ogres, monsters, dragons, giants, witches, kings, knights, princesses and many more.

Anodos faces many hardships, adventures, narrow escapes and puzzles in his quest to meet the Faerie Queen. Along the way he not only discovers that he has part fairy blood, he also explores what true love is, the many forms of beauty, the power of song and music, and what it takes to be truly brave and sacrificially selfless. Worthing has added a satisfying and romantic ending to the original tale, an ending which is implied but not stated in the MacDonald version.

Voice

Before commencing to write this retelling of Phantastes, Worthing realised that many present-day readers struggle with reading MacDonald’s version. He says in the introduction, “When I taught a tertiary level course some years ago on the history of fantasy literature, MacDonald and his novel Phantastes featured prominently. I managed to persuade several students over successive offerings of the course to attempt to read the book. Invariably they came back to me some weeks or months later, admitting defeat.” (p.8) It was this difficulty that was the inspiration for this retelling. The author was determined to keep true to the voice and style of the original, while modernising the language used. I believe that he has been very successful in this aim. The retelling is an easy read, while still capturing the voice of MacDonald. I am familiar with Worthing’s unique style and voice, and he has managed to suppress this in a retelling which beautifully reflects the intentions of the original.

Poetry

MacDonald included many beautiful passages of poetry which are called songs in the original, some of them many pages long. Some of these can be difficult to read and follow, mainly due to the archaic language used. Worthing has incorporated many of them, many in edited form and some in a much-shortened form. I think he has retained the essence of the original songs, while allowing greater enjoyment and understanding by making the language far more accessible. I should add that this is a general first impression, not as a result of a line by line analysis.

Stories within the novel

MacDonald included a number of short stories within the novel. Chapter 13 includes the story of Cosmo and this is the longest of them. While at first glance this appears to have little bearing on the main plot, an understanding of this tale is essential to the story arc. It is a vital turning point of the story and the concentric nature of the whole work. Worthing has retained a shortened version of Cosmo’s story, and in one of the appendices he has explained the importance of this to the structure of the novel (p. 168 – 171).

 Conclusion

There is ample evidence for the outstanding contribution of George MacDonald to the genre we know as fantasy today. His legacy is immense, but his works have largely been ignored by contemporary readers. This is a shame, for he evidently has much to offer, as this retelling bears testimony.

I thoroughly recommend this new version.

Details of the launch, and where to buy this book, can be found here.

Acknowledgment: special thanks to author Mark Worthing for supplying a review copy of his book.

 

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God:

A History of Fantasy Literature and the Christian Tradition

Mark Worthing, Stone Table Books, 2016

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God.COV DRAFT A_23.10.20

Mark Worthing’s latest book appears, at first glance, to be a relatively slim volume, but it certainly packs a solid punch. His in-depth knowledge of and passion for fantasy is quite apparent throughout, and he argues a solid case for the role of the Christian world-view, not only in the development of the genre, but also on its continuing place in literature.

While the sub-title says that this volume is a History of Fantasy in the Christian Tradition, it is far more than just a bland historical recount or a mere apologetic for the Christian traditions within the genre. It is a rigorous examination of the genre, and how many writers have expressed their Christian faith through their writing.

Victorian England fantasy

In the early chapters he considers the origins of modern fantasy as they appeared before, and during, Victorian England, from writers like Hans Christian Andersen, George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, and Edith Nesbit, among others. Worthing devotes a short chapter to the writings of Hans Christian Andersen and his influence on the Victorian era readers and writers.

George MacDonald

This is followed by an in-depth chapter on the writings of George MacDonald, whom he considers to be the major influence upon early fantasy writing. Indeed, Worthing quotes from the writings of C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle, both of whom owe a great debt to MacDonald. “Madeleine L’Engle, the matriarch of modern Christian fantasy, literature, candidly admits that ‘George MacDonald is the grandfather of us all – all of us who struggle to come to terms with truth through fantasy.’” (p.26) MacDonald’s writing also heavily influenced other prominent fantasy writers, including Chesterton, Tolkien, Nesbit and even Dickens. He was also a major influence upon another great fantasy writer, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll).

Tolkien and Lewis

Worthing, after setting the scene by considering some of the early fantasy writers, continues by devoting three chapters each to the lives, faith and works of arguably the two greatest fantasy writers, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Their prominence in the genre continues to grow, with their influence and popularity magnified by recent cinematic versions.

Interestingly, the author also gives a serious consideration to what he calls “the atheist response” by considering the contributions to the genre of the likes of Pullman and Pratchett. Another chapter is devoted to the fantasy writers who focus on “earth spirituality”, writers like LeGuin, Bradley and Forsyth. From there he moves to the modern publishing phenomenon of “the Harry Potter debate”. He deftly negotiates the minefield of Christian criticism – and praise – of this series. He concludes that, because of some of the inherent themes of the Potter books, they could be considered within fantasy literature which deals with some major precepts of Christianity.

Christians and Creativity

Worthing concludes his book by considering some recent trends in the fantasy genre, along with a Christian defence of fantasy. One of his final statements has serious implications for creative artists who are also Christians: “Sadly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to argue with those who steadfastly hold to the view that imagination itself is not part of God’s creation, but something bad and quite dangerous.” (p.151) Sad, indeed, for these attitudes often close the potential dialogue between creatives who express their faith through their creativity, and Christians with closed and clouded minds unwilling to consider a valid alternative.

One of the interesting aspects of this work happens to be the footnotes. Normally, I find footnotes to be irritating at best, and highly annoying most of the time; they invariably interrupt my train of thought. Nearly every page of this book has a footnote, some of them very long and detailed, with the occasional note flowing over to the following page. My advice is: read them. There is much interesting, valuable and even crucial information contained in them. Many could easily have been included in the actual text.

I found that the lack of any index something of an oversight. I am sure I am not alone in wanting to be able to quickly use this work when looking for references to authors and titles mentioned in the text. I found that the author included references to many writers and titles I would like to explore further.

Inspiration

On the positive side, I found this work to be truly inspiring. Many of the titles mentioned I was already familiar with, but haven’t read in years – in some cases, decades. After reading this book I have decided that I need to revisit the works of Tolkien, Lewis, L’Engle, and LeGuin, and I even concede that I might even need to put aside my initial reservations and fully explore the world of Hogwarts (I have only read the first in the Harry Potter series, and didn’t like it.) What is more, the author has mentioned many other writers I am quite unfamiliar with, or I have only read one or two of their works.

In conclusion, this volume is a valuable contribution to the academic discussion on fantasy in general, and its relationship with Christian traditions in particular. It is easy to read but thorough in its coverage. Highly recommended.

Details of the launch, and where to buy this book, can be found here.

Acknowledgment: special thanks to author Mark Worthing for supplying a review copy of his book.

 

Book review

To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

I must say from the beginning that this is more of a personal response than an actual review. I have done many book reviews on this site over the years, and I plan to continue writing reviews from time to time. So much has already been said about this novel that what I could possibly add would be lost in a very crowded space.

Why did I read this book now?

I had always intended reading this classic. I just never got to read it. Throughout my other life as a primary classroom teacher here in South Australia for 35 years, I mostly read children’s books. After one disastrous event, I always made it a personal policy to read a book myself before reading it to my class. It had to be suitable and appropriate for those in my class. Now in retirement, I am enjoying being able to read anything that interests me. Because of all the hype about Harper Lee’s recently released second novel, Go Set a Watchman, and her more recent demise, I thought that it was about time I focussed my attention on her classic.

I am pleased that I did.

Classic status

I am not a good judge of what constitutes a classic piece of literature. I will leave that to the experts in the field. As with art, I am more of the “like it” brigade; I know what I like, and if I don’t like it but others do, then that merely shows a difference of taste and opinion. Let’s not get too upset with one another.

By any of the standards that I judge a book by, this has to be a classic work. It certainly has stood the test of time and is possibly more popular and more widely read than ever before. It is certainly well written and engages the reader like any great book should. It has memorable characters that stay with you forever – or certainly for a long time after reading. It has a simple premise and an intriguing plot. The story line carries the reader on, always turning the pages to see what happens next. I could go on, but I promised a personal response.

My response to this book:

In the previous paragraph, I indicated some of the elements that make this book a memorable classic work of literature. While I certainly concur with all of these statements, for me this book was far more than that. It has left a lasting impression. It is a glimpse into the times and culture of a small American town in the 1930s. It has made me realise the importance of the little events of life which have such an impact on ordinary people. I couldn’t help thinking of my own period of growing up in a small Australian farming community in the 1950s, and comparing the two.

Racial tensions

The most outstanding theme of this book – and arguably what makes it so outstanding – it the author’s portrayal of the racial tensions of the times in which it is set. The contrasts are stark. The legacy seems to be ongoing. (That’s if I read the current American culture correctly.) The inequalities and differences between all levels of society are certainly drawn starkly, and the reader is left in no doubt about those divisions.

Australian literature

Australia has been largely free of racial tensions until the last few decades. And so far, we do not have an outstanding classic work of literature which has addressed the obvious tensions in our society. Layered upon that is the multicultural aspect of modern Australia and we have a simmering melting pot. Our country is ready for such a work as this. Or am I being too critical of Australian literature? The only works which seem to come close to Mockingbird would be Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and David Malouf’s Remembering Babylon. Remember, though, I have not yet read widely in classic Australian literature, so listing only two titles seems rather inadequate.

Conclusion

In summary, I can now understand why To Kill a Mockingbird has received so many accolades. I can appreciate its place in the annals of American literature; indeed, it stands tall in the literature of the world. It is one of those books which should appear on every “Top 100 Books You Must Read” list.

One question remains: Did I enjoy the book?

To that I give an unqualified “YES”.

Readers

Questions for my readers:

  • What are your responses to this book?
  • What about the book did you enjoy – or hate?
  • Leave a few comments, please.

Good reading – and good writing.

Trevor

 

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Back in April I wrote about the fact that I had finally relented and procured an eReader. It was interesting adapting to a new form of technology. It was also quite a different reading experience. I found it very easy to use and quickly downloaded several books to read.

I also included my wife in this wonderful new addition to our reading regime. I was quite surprised how easily she also took to it. In fact, during the first few weeks we had to share the reader. She usually heads off to bed before me and reads for 20 – 30 minutes, and then when I arrive in bed it is lying there waiting for me. So far, we have not argued over its use at all. Not yet.

But I digress.

Well, not so much of a digression but more of an introduction to the review I want to do. The first book I bought and read on my eReader was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. When I mentioned this on Facebook many of my friends said how enjoyable this book was, as well as being totally gripping in its exciting subject matter.

I have to disagree.

Yes – I was totally absorbed by the storyline. At times I had trouble putting the reader down. I even took it out in the back yard to read – when the grandchildren allowed me this luxury. We were staying with my son and family in Sydney at the time. The utter fascination with the characters and the events in this novel had me spellbound, and about half way through the book, this began to bother me, and towards the end it concerned me greatly.

While I concede that this is a brilliantly written book – it has the reader in its grip right from the beginning – it was the subject matter which rang alarm bells in my conscience. I found the sadistic subject matter towards the end of the novel to be quite repulsive; I guess that was what the author was trying to achieve. I also found that many of the characters had no moral compasses at all. Instead, they displayed very strong ‘immoral compasses.’

Conclusion:

Certainly it is a very well written novel – no disputing that. I just found that this type of novel is not for me – especially when I have so many other books waiting to be read.

And I have resolved not to read the sequels in this series. Good thing I didn’t buy them.

Good reading.

Good writing.

Trevor