Wednesday, April 29, 2009

10 Books A Day: #10

The Crock Of Gold...James Stephens...Collier
The Complete Fairy Tales Of George Macdonald...George Macdonald...Schocken Books
The Field Guide To Extraterrestrials: A Complete Overview Of Alien Lifeforms--Based On Actual Accounts And Sightings...Patrick Huyghe...Avon
Nanny McPhee: The Collected Tales Of Nurse Matilda...Christianna Brand...Bloomsbury Publishing
Saint George And The Dragon...Edmund Spenser, Adapted by Standol Stoddard Warburg, Illustrated By Pauline Baynes...Houghton Mifflin Company
Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration In An Age Of Unbelief...Joseph Pearce...Ignatius
Here, There Be Dragons: The Chronicles Of The Imaginarium Geographica...James A. Owens...Simon Pulse
The Nip And Tuck War...Mary Mian...Hale/Cadmus
The Impossible People: A History Natural And Unnatural Of Beings Terrible And Wonderful...Georgess McHargue...Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston
The Savage Sword Of Conan Volume 1...Dark Horse Comics
The Savage Sword Of Conan Volume 2...Dark Horse Comics
Watchmen...Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons...DC Comics
Medieval Beasts...Ann Payne...New Amsterdam Books
Why I Left Jehovah's Witnesses...Ted Dencher...Christian Literature Crusade
Index Of Watch Tower Errors...ed. David A. Reed...Baker Book House Co.
The Oxford Dictionary Of Nursery Rhymes...ed. Peter and Iona Opie...Oxford University Press
This tenth (and somewhat lengthy) list brings us to the end of the first shelf on the right hand wall of my house.
The Crock of Gold is one of those wild, individual fantasies (like Lud-in-the-Mist or The Circus of Dr. Lao) that were produced before writers decided to get stuck in the furrow that Tolkien had plowed. Hard to describe; it involves a boy and a girl, a philosopher who is an expert on everything but real life, the god Pan, leprechauns, some policemen, and the old gods of Ireland. Concerns humor, adventure, love, and the heart's true calling. And a crock of gold.
Nanny McPhee is a collection of stories somewhat in the Mary Poppins style, but with far naughtier children and a much uglier "nanny." Originally published in Great Britain as the "Nurse Matilda" books, the name was changed because Americans would confuse the term nurse used as a child caretaker with a medical nurse, and Matilda with the Roald Dahl movie.
I first realized while reading this version of the Saint George story that C. S. Lewis was writing the Narnia stories in the Spenserian mode, with a blend of mythological, folkloric, and religious motifs. The Pauline Baynes pictures were a big hint (the picture of George fighting Error reproduced above could illustrate Rilian's fighting the Green Lady). Warburg modernizes many of Spenser's terms for clarity; Spenser was even 400 hundred years ago writing in a deliberately archaic style to evoke the mood.
Here, There Be Dragons...oh, Lord, it's not good. Owens also illustrates this book, and it is clear that his talent lies more in vivid illustration than in telling a tale or developing a myth. The story concerns the adventures of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams before they became writers, as they visit a magical land to protect an important magic tome, handed over to them by a mysterious mentor who turns out to be...H. G. Wells! A painful experience to anyone who knows anything about the people involved. The fact that he could market two sequels is a tribute to the scramble of publishers in the wake of the Potter books for any "juvenile" fantasy series. A fascinating train wreck to watch unfold.
The Impossible People is one of the first volumes of folklore I ever owned. I got my original copy for ten cents at a school book sale when I was about 11; this hardback I ordered just this year. We read the cover off our old copy; I remember our amusement when the description of a Hag ("females of great age, with bent backs, rheumy eyes, clawlike hands, sunken cheeks, long noses, wispy hair, and sometimes pointed teeth") perfectly fit our third grade teacher. Informative and well-organized, presented without any embellishments or speculation, it is a great introduction for a young reader to creatures of legend and fairy tale.

1 comment:

John said...

We also found a perfect match for Mrs. Davenport and notorious first grade teacher Ms Roberts in the persons of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker in James and the giant peach!