Well, now. Mackenzie has asked me in as this for tonight's guest lecturer. He likes to keep these seminars going through the summer months, you know, when otherwise the staff and denizens of the Green Man get too caught up in the long days and short nights in Oberon's Wood. Remember, Masters and Mistresses, you are supposed to be writing about books, here.
And what does it mean, to write 'about' books? Hey? Any of you bright-eyed boys and girls ever paused to think about it, in your rush between the reference stacks and Jack's in barrel? I've seen that barrel, and a mighty void it is, too. What are you all about as you proffer your analyses of art to the waiting ether?
Some might consider it a self-referential waste of time, especially the business of review and literary critique. 'Them as can, do,' the saying goes. 'Them as can't do, teach. And them as can't do neither, criticize.' Of course, that old saw is usually trotted out by someone who has written a bad book and been caught at it. There is power and skill needed to review a tale properly, so as to catch the casual reader's interest and send it on like a well-aimed sling stone to find the original work itself.
But you may need to ask yourselves - and a frightening question it is - are you committing metafiction? When you write about another's world, are you outlining the borders for the uninformed, or extending them? Are you lighting the path or creating a detour? It's not my business or concern to tell you that -- no, it's not, so you can put away your notes and that dismayed look, young woman -- it's merely my intent to make you think about it. To read deeply and then to talk about it is a serious thing.
We all walk into books hoping. We hope for joy and mere amusement; for fulfillment of a dream and the filling of an idle hour; for a clear look at something we have glimpsed in dreams, or the first look at what has been unimaginable. When we consent to read a tale, we're consenting to a journey that we have to take on faith. We hope to be well and safely conveyed the whole way, and not left robbed of our time by some nameless roadside. We trust the writers to know the way and show us all the best sights. At their best, all writers take us on the perfect road; at your best, you are sharing your experience on that road.
Consider yourselves cartographers, ladies and gentlemen. Every book opened is a new world discovered. Worlds are vast things. They harbor as much danger as delight; neither one is always easy to find, and maps are required. Not all worlds will sustain life -- a warning to the explorer behind you on the road can give warning that ahead is a deadly insufficiency of oxygen, or warmth, or wit. A bright red 'Here Be Dragons' pulls in as many eager travellers as it warns off the timid ones: someone languishing for the company of dragons may never find their heart's desire without your directions.
So sharpen your pens and calibrate your compasses. The folk below all brought out their brightest inks, and the maps displayed in this edition of the Green Man are grand examples to emulate.
Elizabeth Vail enjoyed Sword of Shame from the group of authors collectively known as the Medieval Murderers, having this to say: 'the Medieval Murderers know their stuff, never let the pacing drag between acts, and never burden the narratives with overt exposition on their own beloved characters and settings, letting the details steep into the story rather then cluttering it with infodumps. The Sword of Shame works as a fun, light read, and one can only hope it won't be long before the Medieval Murders decide to kill again.' Go 'ere for Elizabeth's full review.
Alan Simon, Excalibur II: L'Anneau Des Celtes was to the liking of April Gutierrez: As the II in the title suggests, L'Anneau Des Celtes (The Ring of the Celts) is the second in a planned trilogy of CDs planned by Simon in tribute to Celtic and Arthurian lore. The first was 2003's Excalibur: The Legend of the Celts, and third is planned for 2008. With the exception of one traditional arrangement -- 'Tuatha Danann' -- all the songs were written by Simon, and feature a veritable who's who of folk, progressive and symphonic rock on vocals and instruments. And it's a downright beautiful CD to listen to.' Read her Excellence in Writing Award winning review 'ere .
Donna Bird starts us off this issue with another of those period novels she's so fond of reading, this time George Hagen's Tom Bedlam . She says, 'As I read it, I came to regard Tom Bedlam as a fictitious biography, with all the charms and shortcomings of any retelling of a single person's life . . . The interesting thing about Tom's life story is the way all the pieces keep folding in on each other.' And for a few non-spoilerish examples of what she means, go read her review !
Faith J. Cormier takes a look at book two in Frank Beddor's Looking Glass trilogy, Seeing Redd. She believes that 'this is definitely a good read' and that 'Beddor has found his voice in this one. Seeing Redd is darker and more adult than The Looking Glass Wars . It's a tinge more violent, and the violence is somewhat more graphic.' To see what's up in Wonderland, check out the review .
Faith had mixed feelings about Blake Bell's I Have to Live With This Guy! 'So is there any reason to read this book besides to laugh at the grammar mistakes? There are lots, actually. I Have to Live With this Guy! is a fascinating biography of the relationships between fifteen couples. One or both partners in each couple is involved in the comics world. Along with the biographies, you get fascinating insights into North American culture since World War II in general, and more particularly into the comics. It's enthralling, so long as you can get past the sloppy writing and editing.' Read the rest of her review here.
Faith was firmly back to the positive side of things for Loreto Todd's A Fire in his Head: Stories of Wandering Aengus, of which she says ' A Fire in his Head has one of your stereotypical "god meets girl -- god loses girl -- god wanders three days beyond the end of the world to find girl" plots. It exists mainly as a sort of hall tree on which to hang dozens of other stories. Of course, this isn't a bad thing, especially when the stories are so fascinating in themselves and told so skillfully.' For the rest of her review, go here .
As we continue to fill out our collection of reviews of Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow's Year's Best in Fantasy and Horror collection (in anticipation of the 20th volume), Cat Eldridge reviewed Volume 8 , a retrospective of 1994. Cat's a big fan of the anthology series, and this volume's no exception -- 'Oh, but the fiction offerings! What a feast!' And to get a taste of that feast, read his review !
Cat has nothing but praise for the novelization of Ellen Kushner's The Golden Dredyl (we reviewed the recorded version some time ago). He says 'This short novel holds wonders which will brighten up anyone who reads it. It's that good'. To find out what wonders, take a peek at the review .
Cat's next review was at another Mike Mignola graphic novel, B.P.R.D. Volume 2: The Soul of Venice & Other Stories. He seems to have enjoyed it as much as the first and has some high praise for Mignola: 'A good graphic novel series is a rare thing -- or at least in my experience as someone who loves a long-running story . . . there's the exemplary work of Mike Mignola, who must be counted among the pantheon of truly great graphic novel creators.' To see where B. P. R. D. fits into Mignola's work, read Cat's review !
Last up for Cat is a reference work, Gary Westfahl's The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy -- Themes, Works, and Wonders , which Cat thinks is a must have for 'any library with a more than bare bones speculative fiction collection' and 'will be sought after by anyone with a serious interest in the intertwined genres of science fiction and fantasy'. Why's that? You'll have to read his review to see why he's so stoked!
Book Editor April Gutierrez examines two volumes of the Year's Best anthology series this time around, starting with Volume Two . April says that 'there's horror and dark fantasy here in spades', 'there are moments of hope, beauty and whimsy too' and 'there's far, far more between the covers'. To see how much more, go on and read her review .
Next, April jumps forward in time to Volume 6 , which she thinks is 'a particularly strong collection' with the best bit being 'an opportunity to read Angela Carter's "Alice in Prague, or the Curious Room," a bizarre meeting of Alice Liddel, Ned Kelly and Dr. Dee. I had only encountered Carter as an editor before, and now I desire much more of her as a writer.' Read the rest 'ere.
Liz Milner takes a look at a potential heir to the void in children's fantasy left by the final volume of the Harry Potter series -- Guillaume Prévost's The Book of Time . She seems to have mixed feelings about the quality of the first volume of the trilogy, but does have this to say: 'Prévost's trilogy has all the components that would appeal to Harry Potter fans: magic, time travel and teen-aged angst.' And 'Prévost's also has the obligatory combat between the hero and the bully; in this case it's a judo match instead of a Quidditch tournament. I found Prévost's descriptions of judo far more entertaining than Rowling's accounts of Quidditch. If Prévost could bring the same level of energy and suspense to the time travel sections of his books, he'd have a sure winner.' To see what else she thought about book one, read on .
While Elizabeth Vail feels that Stephen Gallagher is certain not lacking talent, she found his current collection, Plots and Misadventures to be, well, somewhat lacking. She says that the collection 'is a varied grab bag of mystery, horror, fantasy, and uneven mixtures of all three. While all of the British novelist's stories contain a fair share of the darkness that appears to be his trademark, he nevertheless experiments with several genres instead of fixating on just one. While this makes the collection a stimulating read, when it comes to Plots and Misadventures , the bulk of his stories seem to contain too much of the latter and too little of the former.' Ouch. For more details on the stories, check out the review .
By contrast, Elizabeth had nothing but praise for the reprint of Barry B. Longyear's City of Baraboo : 'Barry B. Longyear's City of Baraboo reads like O'Hara's Greater Shows' pink lemonade: colourful, sweet, and satisfying -- even considering its odd ingredients.' To see what she means by that strange praise, go read the review !
Sara Wendt's Here's Us posed a problem for Camille Alexa : 'Like much good art, Wendt's music is difficult to categorize. She sings with solid strength, but with an overriding wistfulness and distinctive controlled breathy quality. Her vocal stylings have been likened to such artists as Chrissie Hynde, Natalie Merchant, and Sinead O'Connor. Wendt lists among her own influences Joni Mitchell, Kate Bush and The Beatles. All of the above can be readily spotted in the tracks on Here's Us , but in the end, these are only comparisons; perhaps descriptive, but not definitive.' Do read her review for the rest of this story!
FootLoose's Trip to the Moon and Trio Mio's Pigeon Folk Pieces are Danish recordings which get the once-over from Lars Nilsson : 'There are many who use folk music as the starting point for taking the music further. Here are two such albums, with what you might call modern instrumental folk music, in some ways very different from each other, but in other ways they have a lot in common.' Both recordings pleased him as you can read thisaway .
Lars also looked at fiddler extraordinaire Bonnie Rideout's A Scottish Fiddle Collection and Gaelic singer Jenna Cumming's Kintulavig recordings: 'Scottish music comes in various shapes, and it is not only a concern for people living in Scotland. Here are two examples, one instrumental and one vocal. Both are based on traditional songs and tunes, the first one recorded by an American, the other by a representative for the Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland.' Again, both pleased him as you can read 'ere .
Two recordings, Allan Yn Y Fan's Belonging and Delyth Jenkins' Aros , are both from Steam Pie, a Welsh company. Lars notes correctly that 'Everyone listens to folk music from Ireland, Scotland and England, often in that order, but it is harder to come by Welsh folk music... yet, it still exists and here are two recent examples.' Both suggest 'that Welsh folk music is alive and kicking.' Read his review thisaway.
Adam Hood's Different Groove and Kendel Carson's Rearview Mirror Tears are reviewed by Gary Whitehouse who says that these are 'two debut discs by young, up-and-coming country artists. Both display a lot of talent, have attracted powerful mentors in Anderson and Taylor, and both sound like they're in it for the long haul. Keep an eye on both of them.' Read his review 'ere for why this is so.
Gary goes to look at two recordings, John Platania's Blues, Waltzes and Badland Borders and the Anthology of the Twelve String Guitar: 'The guitar is one of the key instruments in modern folk and rock music. Here are two CDs that provide some beautiful guitar music: One of modern music by a guitarist who has been part of rock for four decades, the other a re-release of an album that was highly influential on the folk and rock scenes of four decades ago.' Read his Excellence in Writing Award review over 'ere .
Gary looks at the son of a famous musician next: 'Those unfamiliar with his family history might be surprised that Teddy Thompson chose to do an album of country covers. But given his parents' -- that'd be Richard and Linda Thompson -- fondness for American country standards, it's no surprise at all. Richard, in particular, has covered quite a few country songs, in particular those by Hank Williams, over the years in concert and in various side projects.' Read his look at the recording, Upfront & Down Low, over 'ere .
Ahhh, that chair in the Pub near the fireplace which is made of oak, leather, and a foliate print fabric. One of the Jacks says it started life as the chair that Sir John Falstaff, the portly rascal of Windsor, sat in at the Garter Inn. What? You thought he only existed in Shakespeare's Henry IV and The Merry Wives of Windsor? Possibly he did, possibly he didn't. All I know is that the chair is more than massive 'nough to hold his reputed bulk. Now however The Old Man claims it's the Throne of Bonnie Prince Charlie himself...And some doubters claim it's just a prop left-over from Victorian days that was used for Christmas Past to sit upon in Dickens' A Christmas Carol . All tales of this chair could be true, all might be false, and some likely seem true at least to the storyteller. Just think of the story told in 'Matty Groves'. Who's telling the truth there?
The same holds true for folk tales -- 'ave you read many of time? Not that many? Well, mein junger reizender fiedler, it's time you did as there's more to life, Reynard's opinion not withstanding, than just live music, strong ale and a good shag with a pretty lassie like you! So let's visit the Library and check the review indexes there to see which of the more than ten thousand publications we've reviewed were concerned with folk motifs... Damn, it's bloody hard to make out the scrawl of some of the library clerks!
Let's see... You're Icelandic judging from your fiddling technique and the red hair you've got, so you should be interested in Queen of the Elves and Other Icelandic Legends where Christian and Norse beliefs co-exist side by side, not the situation in Norse Mythology where the Old Gods are very much alive and in charge. Yet more Icelandic folktales and legends are looked at 'ere.
The greatest folk tale of all time as far as I'm concerned is Beowulf and the version translated by Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, is by far the best. Though our reviewer did not care for it, I do, and another staffer found the reading by Heaney to be most excellent. Did I mention there's a graphic novel version? As someone once told me, 'Just gather a group of friends, get some good mead, and sit around the fire of an open hearth on a cold winter's night taking turns telling the entire tale on a dark winter's night'.
Let's see... Oh, one should overlook the French and German of telling tales -- The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales has some great tales from each of those traditions, and nothing beats the Annotated Brothers Grimm for a look at that venerable collection! Of course. keep in mind that the Brothers Grimm left the really nasty parts out when they wrote these down. For a more creative look at things Grimm, check out this review of some poems based on the tales. My German's barely good enough to read them in the original but what I read indeed indicates they're indeed scary tales!
So how 'bout some folktales of a Mayan nature? Or Mexican? Or Vietnamese? Or Jewish? Perhaps Mongolian interests you -- or Himalayan? Well, this review looks at collections covering all of those cultures. And let's not forget as you quaff that Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout, the lovely tales of Mother Russia -- I recommend a look at Russian Rom Tales for a decidedly different aspect of Russian culture and Patricia A. McKillip's In the Forests of Serre is based in part on the Russian stories of Baba Yaga!
Worth noting is the mythology of Finns, just across the border from Mother Russia. Our reviewer says 'Kalevala Mythology is an invaluable tool for understanding the Kalevala's significance not only to Finland.' I'd say the Kalevala is best read in small chunks as it's a bit, errr, dry.
Tales of Albion in all its facets ? Where to start... Well, you and I discussed all things Welsh a few weeks back in the Pub, so we'll skip that tradition for now. Now Scottish folk tales are amazing -- Paul Brandon's Swim the Moon novel is an amazing take on the selkies, and Jane Yolen's The Bagpiper's Ghost is a scary take on things which go bump in the night. And let's not forget Peter S. Beagle's Tamsin which has, as our reviewer put it, 'all the elements of a Scottish ballad -- star-crossed lovers, betrayal, and a villain who is worse than black.' Why am I recommending novels, not the tales themselves? Because most of the written Celtic folktales suffer from bad writing done to them by the pompous English gentlefolk. In novels and short stories, they come alive.
Take Tam Lin. Best version's no doubt Fairport Convention's take on their Liege And Lief album, but one can make a case that the 'Tam Lin' on Steeleye Span's Tonight's The Night...Live is its equal. In fiction, Pamela Dean's Tam Lin is the novel to read to get the full feel for this tale. Like the best telling of The Herlathing is found in Jane Yolen's novel, The Wild Hunt . Oh, I forgot to mention Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer , the definitive riff on that Child ballad!
And of course, you can do far worse than pick up any of the many, many Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling edited anthologies such as Coyote Road, The Green Man, Silver Birch, Blood Moon, and Sirens to name but a few of their anthologies who 'ave at least a few stories each based on the traditions of Albion.
Of course, we can't forget the traditions and lore of North America -- not only a part of our history, but of our present, and not only stories, but music, as well. (You didn't think we'd forget the music, did you?) You like the Celtic lore, you say? Well, you can start here, and just wander through the Otherworlds, or maybe go by way of Newford, and you'll be back to Albion soon enough. Or nearly.
That should keep you reading a while, lassie. Now let's see if The Neverending Session's willing to play 'Jane Yolen's Reel ' for us... Oh, if we see Jane in the Pub, do ask her how our Editor ended up as a character in her novel, The One-Armed Queen! If we're truly lucky. she'll be willing to tell her favourite folk tale, the story of the Kintail Witches .