Archive for February, 2011


Ugh. It’s the devil, the bane of everybody who wants to be productive. Having just decided a month ago to really get my act together, Resistance has been throwing everything it can get its hands on right at me. Must. Not. Let. It. Win.

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Finally installed last p.m. Onward!

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The Game

I just got hold of this small book by Diana Wynne Jones at my local library last week. I don’t know what I was expecting — actually, I do know: some kind of riff on video games, with virtual reality interacting with actual reality — but The Game was a surprise, and a good one too.

Through main character Hayley Foss, one of those DWJ kids who’ve been abandoned, transplanted, and pushed around, we experience the apotheosis of a theme Jones began exploring many years ago in Eight Days of Luke: the continuing presence of ancient myths and legends resonating throughout our contemporary, “ordinary” lives.

Which is about all I’ll say, as the book is short and the hour is late. My favorite line, spoken by Hayley’s cousin Harmony:

“Yes, the drinking horn truly was used by Beowulf. That can go in the cabinet and so can this One Ring. No, don’t put it on, you fool! It’s dangerous!”

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Jones makes some allusions to Tolkien in Howl’s Moving Castle and in Fire and Hemlock that I plan on discussing in a later chapter. One of them refers to Lothlorien and Rivendell and how their respective leaders Galadriel and Elrond pay the maintenance and repair bills with their Elven-rings. Also about the general infrastructure of songs and spells.

I thought I could pull out any of the seventy-some books I own that are by and about Tolkien, not including duplicate editions, and find a citation just like that. Wrong. Though I’ve spent hours of happy searching and made several delightful stacks of books that will have to be put away.

Meanwhile, it occurs to me that I am miles ahead of myself, when I have already made more than enough notes about the first chapter of HMC to keep me going for days. *sigh*

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Sophie sits in the back lining bonnets with pleated silk, a passive listener to the incantatory buzzing of the local ladies who have come in to the shop to admire themselves in a dozen different hats in a dozen different poses in a dozen different mirrors. This I would imagine is even better than having a hairdresser who can really dish the dirt. (I haven’t bought very many hats, having spent most of my life chained to the church choir-stall. I’ve had some fantastic hairdressers, though.)

What Sophie overhears (quoted on 2/2 below) ranges from the Down-home Everyday to the Great Big Scary Thing Out There.

There’s the Mayor’s wife, who we assume is a regular customer (11). She has to be the one who shared her husband’s shocking dietary habits with the hat shop ladies — no doubt along with other personal stuff we are just as happy not to know.

Then there’s local girl Jane Farrier. Everybody’s got an opinion about her. Jones often writes for younger readers, but in HMC her subject matter (and intended audience) is more mature, although she deftly understates and implies a great deal of what’s really going on. Outrageous clothes and ridiculous hair are one thing, but in Jane, I believe, we are seeing the town Bad Girl. She’s definitely not a member of the Mayor’s wife’s set. Not even Wizard Howl would go for Jane’s heart or soul, let alone “a respectable man.” Or so say the gossips, whose talk about Jane serves as a kind of ritual reinforcement of their in-ness and her out-ness.

The Witch of the Waste merits only “a fleeting, fearful whisper,” although historically she may well be Ingary’s greatest existential threat. Yet she’s in the Waste, which is a long way from Market Chipping (NOT in the hills above town, as in the anime). Her business has always been with the family of the King, not with his provincial subjects. Or so they believe. And anyway, there’s no controlling a threat as epic as the Witch. Gossip, for the hat shop ladies as for most people, is a means of feeling in control–of the “narrative,” if nothing else.

Wizard Howl is much more of an immediate danger than the Witch of the Waste. The going narrative about him is that just the other day he may have “taken” a girl from down the valley, which is all Sophie can make out from the fevered whispering going on in the next room, that and the exclamation “Bluebeard!” Having put a name, however evil and terrifying, to the mystery and menace that is Wizard Howl, the locals can now believe they know what they are dealing with, and can take reassuring concrete measures such as keeping their daughters inside.

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Today’s post was derailed by professional musical obligations this afternoon. Think I’ll put a poem up. My brain is tired, so it’ll have to be something random. And romantic — it’s getting close to Valentine’s Day. A little wild and wind-blown as well, like today’s weather. Here’s an early piece by Frost, written before he became spare and laconic.


The line-storm clouds fly tattered and swift.
The road is forlorn all day,
Where a myriad snowy quartz stones lift,
And the hoof-prints vanish away.
The roadside flowers, too wet for the bee,
Expend their bloom in vain.
Come over the hills and far with me,
And be my love in the rain.

The birds have less to say for themselves
In the wood-world’s torn despair
Than now these numberless years the elves,
Although they are no less there.
All song of the woods in crushed like some
Wild, easily shattered rose.
Come, be my love in the wet woods, come,
Where the boughs rain when it blows.

There is the gale to urge behind
And bruit our singing down,
And the shallow waters aflutter with wind
From which to gather your gown.
What matter if we go clear to the west,
And come not through dry-shod?
For wilding brooch shall wet your breast
The rain-fresh goldenrod.

Oh, never this whelming east wind swells
But it seems like the sea’s return
To the ancient lands where it left the shells
Before the age of the fern.
And it seems like the time when after doubt
Our love came back amain.
Oh, come forth into the storm and rout
And be my love in the rain.

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After attempting to clean up the pages numbers I’m citing in HMC, I notice that in the final paragraph of my last post I state several things which I don’t back up: for example, that in Jones’s overall approach to parallel worlds, technology develops at the expense of magic.

I’ll fix these as time allows, because I grew up in an era when you backed up your assertions in expository writing, and although blogging is a free-wheeling and informal medium, I still feel more comfortable when I can provide book, chapter, and verse. If I own the book I’m citing, no problem, but Jones has published over thirty novels and about six story collections, more than I can afford to own (though I’m working on it). I have read all but two or three of them over the past past three years, which, I may say, is sufficient to give me a pretty good overview of her themes and concerns. Fire and Hemlock was particularly interesting, and I know I’m going to want to cite it.

But when reading a good story you’re not as a rule taking notes, so by the time I figure something out I may have already returned the book to the library. I’ve also heard several of her novels on audiobook. So when some point or insight hits me while I’m blogging, I can’t always put my hands on the source. I’ll try to fix this as time goes by.

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