From R.R. NUMBER 1, in Once Upon a Time by
Grace E. Funk, "Recent reading:"
Mennyms in the Wilderness by Sylvia Waugh (New York, Greenwillow
I greatly enjoyed this sequel about the Mennyms. The author weaves a surprising
amount of plot into a simple sojourn in the English countryside. Each member
of the family has parts to play. The introduction of Alfred, nephew and
living heir of Aunt Kate (who is a moving force in the book, too) adds the
new dimension that prevents the book from being merely a repetition of the
earlier one. The family is getting closer and closer to "reality,"
including providing food for Alfred, healing the hurt rabbit, and being
"seen" by two mischievous boys. After reading the first book I
made remarks about Amy's Eyes. Parallels with the Borrowers are plainer
in this book. The family must not be "seen", and if they are,
the consequences are nothing short of a disastrous crisis. Yet they must
make their way and live their ways making use of the human world about them.
The details of doing so are very carefully and consistently carried out,
and form part of the charm. The gentle spoof of activists and protesters,
absent-minded professors, immaterial ghosts, and motorcycles riders who
are going "nowhere", all add to the fun.
Mennyms Under Siege by Sylvia Waugh (London. Julia MacRae Books,
This book is more of the same. I found the original concept of a family
of rag dolls quite enchanting, and the story moved forward with the finding
and assembling and "bringing to life" of Pilbeam. The second book
(see above) had all the same problems of concealing the "rag doll"
reality from outsiders compounded by a move to the country. The story had
lots of action, and it was moved forward by the ghost of Aunt Kate, the
original maker of the dolls, and the appearance of Alfred, nephew and living
heir of Aunt Kate. The third book returns to the original home, characters
and problems. The plot of this book is the presence of an evil but attractive
spell operating on Appleby, the rebellious 15-year old girl. The evil spell
will, apparently, destroy the "life" of all the dolls. The spell
is resisted by the combined efforts of Aunt Kate's spirit, mother Vinetta,
and Appleby herself, who is unfortunately killed by the effort. How can
a rag doll be killed? That's what her parents ask, but she is. Sequels are
promised. Could the author (heaven forbid!) actually be going to make her
rag dolls into real people?
A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer (TOR 1994).
Thanks very much to whoever suggested this book. (Laura?) I loved the book,
especially the ending. I like books set in institutions, like boarding schools
(but not necessarily schools, just institutions). The irreverent attitude
to magic, which must nonetheless be taken seriously, strikes just the right
note. The powerful but unknown protagonist is a stock fantasy character,
but Faris is definitely her own woman right from the start! This is a story
of struggle between women; the men, although present, are subordinate. The
alternate world, which is a spoof of Edwardian manners, is a delight. The
climax is entirely appropriate. To fulfill her destiny, and "close
the rift" made by her greedy ancestor, Faris must give up everything
she loves. She cannot; she loves Tyrian too much. But Tyrian is, almost
accidentally, killed, so then everything is gone. This complete sacrifice
rings true, as good fantasy is always true. To achieve healing for Faris'
world, as for Middle-earth, someone, like Frodo, must give it up. And the
author keeps twisting the approaching denouement right up to the last page.
I hope for more writing by this author! [I enjoyed her deft humor in Sorcery
and Cecelia, too.] I hunted up River Rats, and enjoyed it, too,
although it is science fiction, not fantasy. I've always found "after
the blow-up" books stimulating to my imagination. It's the details
that intrigue me, and Stevermer makes them almost believable.
Halflings, Hobbits, Warrows and Weefolk edited by Baird Searles and
Brian Thomsen (New York, Warner Books, 1991).
[This] is a collection of nine short stories about little people. In his
introduction, Baird Searles says: 'the little guys ... coming out on top
through cleverness, or ... luck. Here the reader of the story takes a part."
He mentions Tolkien's hobbits, of course, but only three of the stories
are about hobbits. Two stories are science fiction. I like best 'Moon Shadows"
by Jody Lynn Nye. And I also will remember 'The Graceless Child' (a half-troll)
by Charles de Lint.
The Witch Poems by Barbara Bucknall (Niagara Falls, Artspress, 1995)
The introduction says 'Feminist'. My word is 'cosy'. Very much at home,
this witch. I greatly enjoyed the poems, as did a young friend with whom
I shared them. I have a 'response' to each poem, which I could write at
length, if I thought Barbara would be at all interested. But I don't think
so. It is sufficient to say that I have a response. Barbara has found a
persona to share her frustrations and problems and let us all laugh and
groan with her. She says the poems are ironic-- yes, deliciously so. There
is also some rather slicing satire, and more gentle self-mockery. And I
particularly like the titles. About the illustrations--I can't say that
they relate to the poems. According to the introduction, they are supposed
to be the "emotional and intuitive response of the artist." Guess
you have to be an artist. I can see witch pictures when I read the poems,
but not those. My young friend says that the poems do not need illustrations;
but that the artist, playing with her idea, seems to have accomplished what
she set out to do; that the pictures are mime-like; that the figure (persona?)
is pushing against the box but never seems to get outside it. (Whereas I
thought the witch was definitely "outside".)
The Fabulous Realm: a literary-historical approach to British Fantasy
1780-1991 by Karen Patricia Smith (Metuchen, NJ & London, Scarecrow
This book has four main divisions: didactic fantasy 1780-1840; enlightenment
fantasy 1841-1899; diversionary fantasy 1900-1949; dynamic fantasy 1950-
present. Each period has two chapters; one is devoted to the society as
a whole, its views of childhood and child-rearing, with particular emphasis
on education for the children who were reading fantasy i.e. the literate
child. The second and longer chapter tells about the fantasy of the period,
taking a few stories as representative, and referring to them over and over
under such headings as purposeful inaction; affluence and the English locale;
formalization; author and message; experiencing joy in the beholding; etc.
etc. The titles Smith chooses may be representative, they are certainly
not 'touchstones" in the sense that Sheila Egoff uses titles as examples
of the best books for comparison. In 'The resurgence of an ideal and the
enchantment of new terrain', i.e. the Victorian period, Smith constantly
refers, for some reason, to what Elizabeth Sewell calls "that disappointing
work Sylvie and Bruno, in which the game dies and instead the reader
is left with a dreary, odious, and pretentious mixture of false sentiment,
preaching, and whimsey." [Quote from Elizabeth Sewell, The Field
of Nonsense]. Smith's final chapter is a brief and hasty (too hasty)
look at fantasy in Australia and New Zealand, but not in Canada. She merely
notes that both Canada and The United States need in-depth studies of their
own. The 'too hasty" look meant that she refers to the hero of Joy
Cowley's The Silent One as a Maori boy. Joy Cowley may be a New Zealand
writer, but the silent (deaf) boy is Fijian; hence the significance of the
white turtle. The error makes me uneasy about accepting some of her other
statements. Much of the earlier material has been dealt with before. One
looks to the latter part of the book for new insights on recent fantasy,
but almost all the books referred to date from the '70's. Fully equipped
with extensive footnotes, an index, and an epilogue which looks to the future,
the book is a very "academic-type" study-reference book, but not
without proof-reading errors, and, sadly, the use of "liable"
where the author means to say "likely", plus a determination consistently
to split infinitives.
Karen Smith quotes from Sheila Egoff's book Worlds Within. Sheila
Egoff s latest collaboration is Only Connect the 3rd edition (Toronto,
Oxford, 1996. 416 pp. pb) is edited by Sheila Egoff, Ralph Ashley and Gordon
Stubbs, editors of the first two editions, with the addition of Wendy Sutton.
It includes only new material not published in either of the earlier editions.
The Preface notes that writing for children is keeping pace with rapid social
change, and also increasing in quantity until "even the best make less
of an impact". The 42 selected articles are organized into 9 sections:
Books and children (10); Myth and folklore (5); Fantasy (4); Science Fiction
(3); Poetry (2); Picture Books and illustration (4); Gender relations (3);
Young Adult literature (2); and Recent trends and overview (9). The authors
of the articles are a litany of the critics of children's' literature: Eleanor
Cameron, John Rowe Townsend, Jack Zipes, Brian Attebery, and lesser known
names such as Monica Hughes, Sarah Ellis, Tim Wynne Jones, Roy Stokes. The
fantasy section begins with "Turtles all the way down" by Aunt
Jane (for the identifying of which I am taking full credit). Next is Perry
Nodelman writing 'Some presumptuous generalizations about fantasy".
Tamora Pierce tells us 'Fantasy: why kids read it, why kids need it".
Chet Raymo has titled his article "Dr. Seuss and Dr. Einstein: Children's
books and scientific imagination." (Yes, this belongs under Fantasy.)
Terry Pratchett is included under Science Fiction, (is that what he writes
?) He says: "There is some evidence that a rich internal fantasy life
is as good and necessary for a child as healthy soil is for a plant ...
Here's to fantasy as the proper diet for the growing soul.' Under the heading
'Gender relations" is 'Women's coming of Age in Fantasy' by Brian Attebery.
He says, in effect, that the older societies, and hence the older stories,
do not acknowledge a coming of age for women, only for men. Therefore a
male catalyst is needed, who is actually part of the young woman herself.
And fantasy is the best medium for defining the route to maturity. Only
Connect, too is a scholar's book, with notes on the contributors (nine
(or 10?) are Canadian), a selected bibliography, and a careful index.
The indices of both books, of course, include references to Tolkien. In
attempting to become a collector of critical references to Tolkien, I am
discovering that keeping up is going to be impossible, since Tolkien's books
are now being referred to in the same way (and often in the same breath)
as Lewis Carroll's Alice books, that is, casually, in passing, as something
everybody knows, and so can serve as a shorthand for anything from high
fantasy to the difficulties of radio adaptations.
For more comments from Grace, Fantasy
Once Upon a Time
Return to Rivendell.
Back to the Bird & Baby.
This page is maintained by David Lenander, please forward comments or criticism