Tag Archives: fantasy

Understanding Comics – McCloud / Princess of Mars – Burroughs

Nearing the end of October, I got a sudden panicky feeling that the year almost ends. Two months! Plans made at the beginning of the year all went out the window, and think of all the books you don’t get around to read this year – some you have planned to since years ago! And so year after year we’d be pondering over the same thing, that there’s not enough time in the world to read all the books you want to read. But I’m going to leave my full year of reflection for the first post next year, as always.

For now, two books, one I super loved, one was a meh. I’ll start with the Love.

Understanding Comics

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud was the book I’ve been meaning to read for years. In fact, it was published in 1994, so really quite old already. I started knowing about it after this blog, so that’s only in 2007.

And just a second ago I realized that Bookie Mee is now SIX years old! OMG.

Since I haven’t been blogging much for a while though, I’m just going to let that slip by quietly. It still surprises me how long this blog has gone on. And how I feel still connected to the whole book community in the Internet, even though I have stepped far back. Will I keep this blog as long as I’m still reading? Only time can tell.

Back to Understanding Comics, I wonder why it took me so long to read it. It is the most thorough the most informative book on understanding comics (I haven’t read Eisner’s book on the topic, will do that next), that I’d highly recommend it to both people who love comics and those who misunderstand comics.

Comic has suffered long enough as a “low art” form, and people should start seeing it as what it is, a media, not a genre. You can use any media to convey your ideas, to express your creativity and views of the world. What you say is the content of the medium. So for example if you don’t like super-hero comics, it doesn’t mean you hate comics as the media (or I hope you don’t), you just don’t like the content. You can still like comics with other contents.

The book covers history of comics and comparison between American, European, and Japanese comics (which I’m especially happy for – since I grew up with Japanese and European comics). Also covered is how to read comics or how to understand comics. Many of these come very intuitively for me, but I grew up reading comics. From talking to a few people who have not grown up reading comics, apparently it may not come intuitively – which I found very interesting, and it may be the things that put them off.  (The same with playing games. If you don’t grow up with it, it may not come intuitively for you.) If you’re one of them, this book is such a great way to “teach” you to read comics. Also have I told you that it is all told in comic form? — comics as in combination of text and pictures. It is so much fun!

5 out of 5 stars! I finally read this with the nudge from Comic Books and Graphic Novels course on coursera.org.

princes of mars

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

In the effort to finish the Fantasy and Science Fiction course on, again, my-favorite-online-course-platform-on-the-planet coursera.org, I read Princess of Mars. On a side note, did you know that Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan? That was a nice discovery.

I watched the movie adaptation John Carter when it was out. Kind of enjoyed it, but didn’t think much of it. It was done by Disney so it felt Disney-ish…? (doh) The book though is somewhat an important pillar in the history of FSF, as it is a pioneer in inter-galactic, or in this case inter-planet (Earth and Mars), romance. Could this be a seed of Star Wars? It started the rise of pulp fiction, and one of Guardian’s 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read.

The book was readable, but overall it was just meh for me. With John Carter as hero and his adventures to save the princess of Mars, slaying aliens, it all felt too boy-ish. I don’t remember much about the movie, but it seems to capture the book quite well (was thinking to re-watch it after reading, but naah…).

This time, watch the movie, skip the book.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

Mee’s Summer Reading 2013

Since I am way way way behind in blogging about books read and all bookish things that happened in the past 3 month, I’m just going to write about them in one giant post. And I just realized those 3 months were summer (coincidence?), so I can call them summer reading!

Books Read

Frankenstein — Mary Shelley (England/Europe, 1818,  4/5)

I liked Frankenstein, a lot more than Dracula, which I did not like very much. It seems that most people either like one or the other. I’m definitely on Frankenstein side. Also if you read a little about Mary Shelley’s life, it is as shocking and as interesting as her story.

metamorphosis

Metamorphosis — Franz Kafka (German, 1915, 4.5/5)

Metamorphosis is my first Kafka, finally. Well the first was actually his short story called A Country Doctor, which I read just before Metamorphosis, but it was a 5-page short story. Metamorphosis is rather short too, around 90 pages. I thought it was amazing story about a man waking up as a giant insect. I got the impression that it was going to be depressing, and it was at the end, but overall I thought it was hilarious. I will need to read more Kafka!

The Night Bookmobile — Audrey Niffenegger (US, 2010, 4/5)

An illustrated book by Audrey Niffenegger about a woman who stumbles upon a mobile library, in which there is everything she’s ever read in her life. Wow it’s so dark and depressing at the end, that I’m not sure what the whole point of the book is. The story is just a bit strange. But there’s a lot of work put into the book as she illustrates it herself using various art techniques.

don quixote comic

Don Quixote (graphic novel, vol 1) — Cervantes, illustrated by Rob Davis (Spain, 2011, 4/5)

As I imagine I won’t get into the real Don Quixote anytime soon, I jumped at the chance to read the graphic novel. The illustration is lovely and colorful – I really liked it. The story however seems a bit pointless, about a disillusioned old man and his servant-like mate. I’d probably need to read the real book to get the layers of the story. Don Quixote is still amazingly popular in Spain, as proven by my trips to Spain, so I’m curious.

Watchmen — Alan Moore (fantasy world, 1987, 3/5)

What a DENSE graphic novel! I’m not sure if I’ve read a graphic novel as dense as that. Apart from the comic style pages, there are also pages of writing, in newspaper clip style or letter. It took me forever to read Watchmen, and at the end I speed read it, because I could not stand it not-finished any longer. I know this is a very important graphic novel — it’s in one of Time’s All-Time 100 Novels, but I got impatient. I watched the movie after that and I’d probably recommend most people to just watch the movie. The movie stays very true to the book, and nicely directed (Zack Snyder). Watch the Director’s Cut (around 3.5 hours, while the cinema version is far shorter than that) to get more details from the book, including the meta-comic.

To the Lighthouse — Virginia Woolf (England, 1927, 3/5)

It is my first Woolf, so I’m happy that I finished it, and at least understood most of it. I probably wouldn’t ever be able to get through the book without Prof Weinstein’s lectures on Coursera though, so if you’re struggling, I’d recommend getting his lectures on Coursera’s Fiction of Relationship, and you can sort of read alongside the lectures (there are many of them). My advice is if there’s a paragraph that you don’t understand after reading a couple of times, KEEP GOING! Don’t obsessed and get stuck over one paragraph. In the bigger scheme of things, it really does not matter, and you’ll be glad once you get to the end and able to see the book as a whole.

The Invisible Man — H. G. Wells (England, 1897, 3/5)

Apart from Fiction of Relationship in Coursera, I am also following Fantasy and Science Fiction course, by Prof Rabkin. The reading list is interesting. There are many that I wouldn’t read by myself, so I’m glad to be able to broaden my reading horizon (the same as true for Fiction of Relationship). In one of the weeks the reading list includes all H. G. Wells: 2 novels and 2 short stories. I didn’t know how important Wells was in SF. He is often compared with Jules Verne, as they were from the same era, but as explained in the lectures, Verne is purely entertainment, while Wells questions social and political issues in his writing.

In Invisible Man, Wells created a man that because of a personal scientific experiment has turned invisible. And he can’t go back. Since I read this so close to Frankenstein, I saw some similarity, like how the two main characters are rejected by the society and turn bad as a result. I guess that’s the end of the similarity, because I didn’t enjoy Invisible Man as much. The description of actions tire me, and I kept waiting for deeper discussions of life like in Frankenstein, which does not happen in Invisible Man.

A Grief Observed — C. S. Lewis (1961, 3/5)

I feel the need to say that this book was given by a friend, who asked me to read this favorite book of his, so I felt compelled to read it. I might appreciate the book more if I were at different stage of life, but as it was, it didn’t speak to me in any profound way. I have long left any discussions of God and Christianity IRL, and therefore found the discussion here about God, his intentions and afterlife to be heavy handed.

C.S. Lewis wrote books journalling his thoughts after the death of his wife of 4 years, referred to here as H. I’m just glad that they edited much of it, and left a thin 60-page large-font book, as I wouldn’t have much patience for longer book about wallowing in grief. I feel a bit bad for not thinking higher of the book given the sad subject matter and the circumstances of my reading it, but as I said, in another time I could’ve taken it differently

moreau.jpg

The Island of Doctor Moreau — H. G. Wells (1896, 3.5/5)

In the Island of Dr Moreau, Wells plays with the idea of turning beasts into men. Our narrator is someone who got stranded in an island, where he meets two other men, one of them Moreau. Later finding shows how Dr Moreau has been experimenting with animals and turning them into imperfect human that is more half man half beast. Interesting premise, but after reading 2 books by Wells, I’m pretty clear that I don’t fall in love with his writing. His ideas are great, but his writing just doesn’t evoke much in me.

ps: Don’t even look for the movie. It seems to be really bad from what people say. I just some pictures, and the effects don’t impress me too.

Short Stories

Been reading Nathaniel Hawthorne (Before I started I didn’t know he is also well known for his short stories, some are mentioned as early conception of Science Fiction. I only knew he wrote Scarlet Letter prior to this.), Edgar Allan Poe (never quite like Poe. Maybe I’m just not into psychopathic behaviors?), Flannery O’Connor, John Updike,  more H. G. Wells (I kinda liked the two I read: The Country of the Blind and The Star), Gustave Flaubert, William Faulkner, Jorge Luis Borges, Hemingway.

I got little sparks from Borges so I’ll be reading more. Flaubert, possibly. I’m eyeing Madame Bovary.

Currently Reading

Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs (remember John Carter? Also, did you know that Burroughs wrote Tarzan? Yeah, I didn’t know too!)

Great Expectations by Dickens via Dailylit, sent daily to my mail, which I try to read first thing in the morning on the way to work for. I’ve been doing this for a few months now, and I’m over a third in. I’m happy that it works. I don’t think I would be able to do it reading it like normal book to be honest. It is very very long, and in spite of the interesting bits, there are more boring bits.

On the Pipe

I probably shouldn’t mention much in fear that I would jinx it, but if all goes according to plan I’ll be reading Herland — Charlotte Perkins Gilman, The Old Man and the Sea — Hemingway, and the Martian Chronicles — Ray Bradbury.

I can’t believe how much I’m reading considering how little I did for the last couple of years. I think I probably needed more structure and direction in my reading, and I’ve got them, thanks to the Profs and Coursera.

 

Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh

When you go to Edinburgh, you might pass by this seemingly ordinary little cafe called the elephant house and not even bat an eye.

the elephant house, Edinburgh

But upon further inspection, you’d see that there’s a rather obnoxious sign on its front glass:

the elephant house, Edinburgh

The Elephant House: Birthplace of Harry Potter

Yes, when J.K. Rowling was writing her first and second Harry Potter books, she was so poor that she found it cheaper to buy a cup of coffee and wrote in this cafe the whole day, rather than paying for her heating bill at home.

the elephant house back window

The backside of the elephant house cafe

Every day J.K. Rowling would sit on that third floor and stare out of the window. (I did not have time to go in, but I heard the cafe made a little sanctuary for her – after the books got giganormously famous of course.)

What did she see from that window?

First there’s a cemetery called Greyfriars Kirkyard. And further in the distance, the towers of George Heriot’s School:

Greyfriars Kirkyard and George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School is prestigious private school in Edinburgh, with four houses and four towers – a clear inspiration for Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry:

George Heriot's School

George Heriot’s School was built in 1628 with the funding from George Heriot, who left his estate to build a school for orphaned children. Thus it is an irony that the school became so prestigious that presently only the richest can afford to go to this large private school. Unless you’re a rich orphan I guess. (The school ground is all locked up, so I couldn’t get a better picture. Above picture was taken from a closed gate in the Greyfriars cemetery.)

So when J.K. Rowling was taking a break and trying to find inspiration, she would roam around the cemetery just behind the elephant house cafe.

She would read the names on the tombstones one by one — as you do when you need name inspiration for the books you’re writing. (click to enlarge pictures)

Moodie, Greyfriars cemetery, Edinburgh

Elizabeth Moodie – Mad-Eye Moody anyone?

William McGonagall, Greyfriars cemetery

William McGonagall – for Professor McGonagall (this is just next to the gate of George Heriot’s School). I like how he is known as “Tragedian”.

Thomas Riddle, Greyfriars cemetery

And the scariest of them all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, Thomas Riddle – Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort)

I would say the experience of seeing the tomb of Tom Riddle was rather creepy.

On a lighter note, there’s this pub in Edinburgh called Maggie Dickson’s Pub:

Maggie Dickson's Pub, Edinburgh

Maggie Dickson’s Pub, Edinburgh

Maggie Dickson lived in the early 18th century and was subjected to public hanging for concealing pregnancy outside of marriage – which is pretty much the worst law breaking act you could do as a woman at the time! So she was hung at the public square and her body was taken away in a cart. Not very far away yet, the cart man heard knocking and banging from inside the coffin. Maggie Dickson was still alive! They rushed back to the square – where the crowd hadn’t even quite dispersed yet. Some people thought that Maggie should be hung again, and some people thought technically she had, and if she survived the execution she should be allowed to live.

At the end she did live for many more years. Maggie Dickson became a local celebrity and she is known as Half Hangit’ Maggie.

If that sounds familiar at all, that is because Half Hangit’ Maggie was the inspiration for Nearly Headless Nick :)

Wandering around Edinburgh, you could see how J.K. Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter – what a fantastic city full of stories and storytellers. All the pubs based on some quirky characters, like Maggie Dickson, Burke and Hare, and Deacon Brodie (the inspiration for The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde). Edinburgh is also known as the most haunted city in Europe!

Anyway I think if there’s a moral to the story, it is:

Be nice to customers who hang out at your cafe all day long though they only buy a cup of coffee. You never know if later she becomes the person who writes Harry Potter and turns to be the richest woman in the UK. (yes, more than the Queen)


Thus Born the Boy Wizard: Tracing J.K. Rowling Steps in Edinburgh is cross-posted at my travel blog Wandering Mee.

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

lost-thingA few months ago after knowing about The Lost Thing made into a short film and meeting Shaun Tan himself, I determined to read all his books. The Lost Thing and The Red Tree came to the top of my list. Ordered both from Book Depo and read both soon after (I’ll save The Red Tree review for later). Both cost less than $10 (the paperback) and they’re so worth every cent. Books that I love to have as my permanent collection.

Describing Shaun Tan’s books as picture books for adults can’t be more true than in the case of The Lost Thing. I’m not sure how it far it could resonate with kids. For me it shook my soul a little bit, as his books always do.

Storyline is simple. From Shaun Tan’s description at his website:

The Lost Thing is a humorous story about a boy who discovers a bizarre-looking creature while out collecting bottle-tops at a beach. Having guessed that it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but the problem is met with indifference by everyone else, who barely notice it’s presence. Each is unhelpful in their own way; strangers, friends, parents are all unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to day-to-day life. In spite of his better judgement, the boy feels sorry for this hapless creature, and attempts to find out where it belongs.

The Lost Thing itself I always knew would be red and big, so very noticeable, which makes us wonder why nobody really notices it (this is the key question of the story, for which there is no single answer).

lost-thing

The Lost Thing likes to eat Christmas decorations

Apparently there could be different interpretations of what the Lost Thing actually represents. While reading it though it seemed very clear to me that the Lost Thing is a thing that is important to us, so huge, so noticeable. It’s taking our entire world and yet you wonder why people just don’t see it the same way. That they just don’t care. Don’t you have things like that in your life? I do. Especially, perhaps, back when I was younger. Back when lots of things were important, to me, and people kept saying that they didn’t matter, not after you’ve grown older and learned more about the world. Annoying, but for most things, are sadly true.

lost-thing

In essence, The Lost Thing comments on the sense of being lost, of not belonging, which seems to be the recurrent theme I found in his works. Probably caused by experience as an Asian growing up in Australia many years ago?

The illustrations are stunning. There is no empty space within the pages. Even the gaps between panels that are usually white for normal comics are full of doodles and collages. The book is an absolute keeper. Love.

shaun tan

5 stars
1999, 32pp

The Lost Thing @ shauntan.net

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Equal RitesEqual Rites is the third Discworld novel and my first Terry Pratchett. Normally I would never ever read a book out of series order, but after hearing over and over from people that The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld novel, is not the ideal place to start since it’s not by all means the best of the lot, I gave up my insistence to start with book number one and started with Equal Rites. As you can see in this awesome Discworld Reading Order Guide, Equal Rites is the starting novel for the Witches series, and many people have told me that the Witches are the strongest / most interesting characters in Discworld.

In Discworld, a Wizard is chosen to be one and he must be the eighth son of an eighth son. One day however, an old Wizard bestowed baby Esk a staff, one requirement to be a Wizard, ignorant to the fact that Esk is a girl. As Esk grows up and starts to show signs of magic power, Granny Weatherwax, the Witch of the village where Esk lives in, takes her under her wing. But Granny is a Witch, while Esk is supposed to become a Wizard. So starts their journey to the Unseen University, where wannabe Wizards study to be real Wizards. Naturally, it’s not an easy journey for Esk (and Granny) as they navigate through the misogynistic world of the Wizards and hear too many times: Girls can’t be Wizards!

Unfortunately I did not find the book as exciting as I expected. Perhaps it was my fault to start this book right after One Hundred Years of Solitude, but it just felt bland and far too light. It wasn’t as funny as I expected and the story wasn’t as deep as I wanted. It took me a while to get through the book even though it’s rather thin and light in content, because I could never really get into it. I needed to push myself to finish it so I can at least say that I’ve read Terry Pratchett.

Don’t get me wrong. Equal Rites was not bad, not at all. It was just… ordinary, when I want wow-ness from my books. Esk’s story is a typical hero’s journey and there isn’t enough twist and turn to make me excited. It was not a very satisfying read for me.

Terry PratchettI know lots and lots of people love Pratchett, book bloggers and even several of my colleagues in real life alike (who all pushed me to try his book). But we didn’t click, Pratchett and I. I’m not sure if it was just the timing, but it might be a while before I try another of one of his books.

I’m sorry you guys. I’m just as disappointed as you!

3.5 stars
1987, 283 pp

First Line
This is a story about magic and where it goes and perhaps more importantly where it comes from and why, although it doesn’t pretend to answer all or any of these questions.

Challenges
Terry Pratchett Challenge

Also reviewed by
another cookie crumbles


The Sandman Vol 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Dream CountryI wonder how many Sandman I should read before I “get” it. I liked Dream Country a tiny bit more than the first two, but still not as much as I would’ve liked. People say the series gets better from the third series and above, that’s why I continued reading. In this third volume, the stories have all the consistent elements: dream-like, freaky, a bit sick, and um… bad coloring.

But there are really something about these stories that make you want to read more. (Otherwise how do I get to the third book?) They are weird and hypnotic, they pique my curiosity. What’s going to happen next? How many weird stories can Neil Gaiman pull off? How many tricks does he have up his sleeve?

Dream Country has 4 stand-alone short stories. In Calliope a writer who’s desperate for ideas makes a dirty deal to get Calliope, one of the Muses in Greek mythology. He keeps her like a pet, raping her body and mind for inspiration for his later successful novels. (Told you it was sick)

In A Dream of a Thousand Cats, one cat goes on a journey to find answers to life. There are lots of miserable cats here. Too bad I’m not a cat-person, so I don’t relate much to their misery.

Third story is A Midsummer Night’s Dream in which Shakespeare and his group of actors perform in front of The Dream King and his fantastical friends. The short won The World Fantasy award for short fiction in 1991, apparently the first time for a comic book to win this category. I know A Midsummer Night’s Dream from various sources (never read the original), but I still found the flow kinda confusing. It was hard to know which one was real and which one was not. I imagine it would be mighty difficult for someone who has not known the play to follow the story.

The last story Façade is my favorite, though it’s not less disturbing. It follows the life of a forgotten DC super hero: Element Girl, a girl whose superpower is transforming her body to any natural elements, but as a trade she looks absolutely freaky, almost like her whole body is burnt. Unwillingly retired, she is incredibly lonely and unable to end her life because of her body condition. Like a lot of other Sandman stories in the previous volumes, I needed to wiki my way to find out the background story to get the full picture.

The real highlight of Dream Country for me though is this quote I found in the book:

“Things need not have happened to be true. Tales and adventures are the shadow truths that will endure when mere facts are dust and ashes and forgotten.”

A treasure.

3.5 stars
1991, 112 pp

Challenges
Graphic Novels 2010 (book #8), Once Upon a Time IV (book #6)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

alices-adventures-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glass-and-what-alice-found-thereI absolutely did not expect to love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as much as I did! I grew up with the Disney version of Alice, and while it is always fun and evokes all sense of wonderment, it is never funny, I don’t think. How surprised I was to find the book incredibly amazingly hilariously laugh-out-loud FUNNY. Oh how I enjoyed every page, reading it a little bit every night before sleeping, just so I could savor it slowly and keep it unread a bit longer!

Before reading the book, I never had much impression of Alice. She was a rather dull observant in a wacky world. How pleasantly surprised I was to find that the character Alice in book has so much more! She is opinionated, she likes to daydream and talk to herself, she likes to assert everybody (which makes the creatures around her unhappy more often than not), she is adventurous, but also has impeccable manners. In short, she has personality! Which is really what is lacking in the movies.

And the language! How delightful, playful, and surprisingly, modern! It does not at all read like a classic (not that there’s anything wrong with classic). It just felt so familiar, as if it is written in our times. I could not believe the book is written in 1800s.

Then the world! We are all familiar with Alice’s world from various sources, but I was so happy to finally know how it was originally presented. There are a few creatures that never made the cut into the Disney movie, namely the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Though probably for a good reason as I thought it was the least exciting part of the book. Then the Duchess, her pig baby, and the excessive-pepper cook. And do you know that Tweedledee and Tweedledum are not in the original Alice? I was waiting for their appearance as they’re ones of my favorite characters, yet they never came up. Apparently they appear in the sequel (Through the Looking Glass), which is included in the same Vintage copy I have, but I’ve decided to save it for later and write a separate post as I loved the first one so much I can’t wait to talk about it here.

My favorite parts are the scene after Alice cries and falls into her own pool of tears and meet all the birds and mouse. The part where the Mouse starts to give what according to him is the driest speech and where they have running competition in circle almost made me fall off my chair laughing (figuratively speaking, as I read in bed). Then the trial in the last two chapters! My gosh the trial is just out-of-this-world hilarious! I don’t think it can get any funnier! My words can’t explain how funny the whole scene is!

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up this book and why I missed it as a child (I’m guessing it never got translated in my birth country). But really, I have a feeling that it’s one of those books that you may appreciate more as an adult. For me it is anyway. Now I understand how the story could stand the test of time for so long (145 years this year). I honestly think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is work of a genius.

5 stars
1865, 150 ppAlice's Adventures in Wonderland

My Vintage copy of Alice contains the original illustrations by John Tenniel (above). I read it in conjunction with another copy of Alice I borrowed off the library which was published in 2009 by Walker Books (Australia), illustrated by Robert Ingpen (right). The new illustrations use colored pencils and look absolutely amazing. However Alice and everybody in it looks so grave to the point of looking sad, which seems like an odd decision. Why would you draw such solemn characters for such a funny tale? The contemporary illustrator gave such high praises for Tenniel, the original illustrator, and it warmed my heart. He stated that the creative partnership between Carroll and Tenniel is “unmatched in the history of our literature”.

“It is for these reasons that my pictorial collection of Alice through her dream underground for these modern times, is dedicated in awe to John Tenniel, whose skill and imagination made his work shine out at a time when black and white engraving from drawings was the only practical means of print reproduction for the illustrator.” ~ Robert Ingpen

I rarely quote a dedication, but this one just touched me. Such a humble man.

alice-caterpillar

Alice and the Caterpillar, by John Tenniel

Some interesting facts about Alice. Lewis Carroll is the pen name used by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for three daughters of a Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, one of them named Alice Pleasance Liddell, the middle of three sisters. Carroll was a mathematician and worked as mathematics lecturer until his death. When Caroll first wrote the story by hand, he purposely left space for 37 illustrations which were added later by John Tenniel. After coming out of copyright in 1907, 42 years after its publication, over 200 illustrators other than Tenniel have interpreted the story, many paid homage to the original visions of Carroll and Tenniel through their depictions of Alice and the other characters. Carroll realized that the book’s illustrations were as important as his words, for, as Alice herself muses in the opening paragraph of the book, “… what is the use of a book… without pictures or conversation?”

lewis carrollJohn_Tenniel

Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel

Also check out First Tuesday Book Club episode on Alice in Wonderland. They were all over it!

First line
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Challenges/Projects
Once Upon a Time IV (book #5), Read the Book See the Movie (pair #4), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Disney Literature Challenge

Also reviewed by
Loved! Ready When You Are, C.B. | Sasha & The Silverfish (with illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia)
Didn’t :(. su[shu]

The Films

I watched Tim Burton’s Alice months ago, but I think I’m going to talk about that one after I read Through the Looking Glass. This time around hubby and I were curious about the other adaptations of Alice apart from the Disney cartoon. So we tried two versions: the 1972 and 1999 (there are an incredible amount of movie adaptations of Alice!)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 1972Alice in Wonderland DVD 1999

We tried the 1999 version first (right), the one with Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Kingsley, but quickly got bored. So after 20 minutes or so we tried the 1972 one (left), which we liked more and watched until the end. It stays quite true to the story, with the appearance of the Gryphon, Mock Turtle, the Duchess and Pepper-woman (who are missing in the Disney cartoon).

But you see, the problem is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one hell of a book to turn into a movie. I do think it is quite impossible to adapt the book, no matter how many times people try. The humour and the deft language is completely lost. Sure the world is full of strange creatures, but that’s about it.

I haven’t watched all the adaptations ever made (and I don’t think I will), but I will bet a good money that the Disney version is probably the best of the lot and as best as you can get for Alice. Though it surely has not beaten the book, nuh-uh. I haven’t re-watched the Disney version for this round of my Disney Literature Challenge (mostly because I just realized I don’t own the DVD. How can that be? I thought I owned all Classic Disney DVDs.) but I don’t need to. We have a clear winner.

alice in wonderland DisneyAlice in Wonderland

Disney Literature Challenge Round 2

Disney vs. Carroll
on Alice Adventure’s in Wonderland

Well, what do you know? Carroll won the battle. (What, you mean I wasn’t clear enough?)

Current Score
Disney – 1 vs. Authors – 1

DLC

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

tender morselsTender Morsels is a book I picked up for many reasons. I first knew about it from Nymeth, whose passionate review seems to gather some sort of a cult. There was probably a time when people responded with a blank look “Tender Morsel who?”, but that time has long gone now! The novel won World Fantasy Award in 2009, in the same year that Shaun Tan won the Artist category. With high Australian spirit, I shouted yay, and looked forward to the collaboration of Margo Lanagan and Shaun Tan to be published in February 2010 by Allen & Unwin (as pictured). Lucky for me, I was sent a copy by someone from the Australian publisher. On top of that, Claire and her non-structured book group is reading this book for end of May discussion. Oh and did I tell you that Margo Lanagan lives in Sydney, the same city I live in now? All those finally pushed the book up my pile. And here’s what I think.

Tender Morsels started from a rough point. Liga is a teenage girl who is sexually abused by her father after the death of her mother. After a couple of forced abortions, she is determined to keep the last one. Coincidentally her father dies before he gets to kill her last unborn baby. Her peace lasts very short while before another unfortunate, evil event befalls her once more, which pushes her to the end of hopelessness. Magical things happen. Liga is transferred to a place of her heart’s desire where people are always nice and safe, and that’s where she raises her two daughters, Branza and Urdda.

There are some obvious dark themes, and while it is never explicit, the incest and the rapes were very hard to read. Here’s where I think Margo Lanagan shows her skills. She is very good at writing around something without actually saying the words. The book is very well written, though I did have problem with the dialect style at times.

Tender Morsels has received so many raving over-the-top reviews from the book blogging community, so I feel a bit out of the loop to say that it didn’t blow me away as much as I expected. I thought it was skilfully written and it flowed nicely from beginning to end, BUT I felt very little connection with any of the characters. Liga’s parts are told with third-person point of view, while the bears are told with first person. I never understood why and it just bothered me. In my view Liga was the main character and her stories with her daughters were the most interesting. I was annoyed with the change of perspectives to the bears, who I thought were less interesting less important characters. I just couldn’t shake my annoyance off for the entire book for some reason. The third-person view of Liga made her felt very distant.

Lanagan Margo[Minor spoilers ahead] I also had some qualms about how the story turned at certain points. For one, I’m not sure if this is the book to read for how it deals with rape. Getting sent to one’s heaven is so far from being realistic, and I’m not talking about the magical aspect of it. Who in the real world would ever be able to conveniently run away from everything and come back to successfully take revenge? Isn’t that a misleading illusion to how the real world works? It felt a bit self-indulgent. I don’t mind magical world and humans transforming to bears, but the way the problems get resolved kept reminding me that this was a work of fiction, so I was unable to be completely immersed in it. The problems were too serious and realistic for a fantasy, yet the resolutions were too unrealistic. The balance just wasn’t right for me to be believable.

Having said all these, I think Tender Morsels is great as fantasy or adventure book. I loved how it ended for Liga, which wasn’t exactly happy-ever-after so it had that realistic edge. The book has a couple of fantastic female characters who I loved dearly. I realized that I got a bit critical over this book, perhaps I entered it expecting… something else.

4 stars
2008, 380 pp

The basis of the bear ritual: Fete de l’Ours

First line
There are plenty would call her a slut for it.

Awards
2009 World Fantasy Award (Novel)
2009 Honor Book: Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

Challenges
Aussie Author (book #3), Once Upon a Time IV (book #4), Book Awards IV (book #10), Women Unbound (fiction #8)

Also reviewed by

Loved it unconditionally!
things mean a lot
| my fluttering heart | A Striped Armchair | Stuff As Dreams Are Made On | The Zen Leaf | YA Fabulous! | Sarah Miller

Liked it with some reservations (like me). Regular Rumination | Farm Lane Books Blog | Dolce Bellezza

Thought it too flawed. Nonsuch Book

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

The Bloody ChamberI don’t usually read every single story in an anthology or short story collection. I did a couple of times before but it didn’t work well. I’m glad I did for The Bloody Chamber, because it felt like all the stories belong in the same world, like glimpses of different lives in separate parts of the same universe.

I gathered from people’s reviews that Angela Carter’s works are often studied in schools. It’s quite obvious why from the get go. Her language is lyrical, her writing daring, and her story full of symbolism. Her vocabulary level is a bit higher than what is comfortable for me, but more often than not I could let myself lost in the beauty of her prose, prose that evokes vivid imagery and creates such mysterious atmosphere.

To call The Bloody Chamber a collection of fairy-tale retelling is rather diminutive. It’s more accurate to say that Carter ripped fairy tales apart, took some of the elements, sewed them back with her own imagination, and made them her own. I loved how dark and how different they were. Most of the setting is an odd mixed of old and modern world. There are beast and vampire in ancient castles, but there are also bicycle and telephone. (I can hear you say “Whaa?”)

What sets her apart for me is how her writing oozes sexuality. It’s almost like girl soft-porn for the literary minded (and uum I meant that as a compliment). There’s almost an obsession on innocence and virginity.

“She stands and moves within the invisible pentacle of her own virginity. She is an unbroken egg; she is a sealed vessel; she has inside her a magic space the entrance to which is shut tight with a plug of membrane; she is a closed system; she does not know how to shiver.” ~ from The Company of Wolves

There’s so much foreplay and built anticipation, while the “main action” is secondary, or almost non-existent. (girl porn, right?) I find many female writers shy away from the subject of sexuality, it’s water they don’t want to get near to. So I felt what Carter did was refreshing and liberating.

What didn’t sit right with me was the endings, which were often abrupt and confusing. I guess it goes back to the symbolism which probably just went over my head. Some elements are just plain bizarre, which were okay in the middle of the story because of the fairy-tale aspect to it, but bizarre ending left me dissatisfied.

Now I’m going to talk about each of the story. I’ll try to keep any spoiler as minimal as possible, but I can’t be completely sure of what you consider spoiler or not. So proceed with caution.Angela Carter

There are 10 stories in the collection. I’ll start with the longest, The Bloody Chamber, which gives the title of the collection, and is 42 pages long– almost 1/3 of the collection! Luckily it’s easily one of my favorites. Based on the Bluebeard tale, a young girl marries an older man and she is brought to his majestic castle. What she doesn’t know, within the few months of their courtship (doh!), is that he has a perverse, dangerous fetish. I loved how it was written, how believable everything was, how it kept the suspense very well, until the part where she finds out about his secret. Then it just went downhill for me. 4.5 stars

The shortest in the collection is The Snow Child, which felt like a reminiscence of Snow, Glass, Apples by Neil Gaiman I read recently, is only 1.5 page long! Loved the beginning, confused about the ending. One question. What’s with Snow White and necrophilia? That’s second time in a row! 3 stars

There are THREE stories based on The Little Red Riding Hood:

The Werewolf which is the shortest of the three (2.5 pages long) is the closest to the original story, with a simple twist: grandma is the also wolf. 3 stars

The Company of Wolves takes a different twist. Wolf becomes a handsome man and flirts with Red on the way to grandma’s place. Once Red arrives, grandma has been eaten and Wolf is ready to eat Red too. It’s sexual awakening for Red when she realizes her attraction to the man/wolf (regardless whether he ate grandma or not) and they end up sleeping together (which I frowned upon… What about grandma? Did you forget?) 4 stars

Wolf-Alice is the farthest away from The Little Red Riding Hood. In fact I’m not sure if they’re related at all apart from the wolf thing. It’s probably a hybrid with Alice in Wonderland seeing the title, but in what aspect I’m not sure either. This was where I learned the term feral child. It starts with a girl who is raised by a pack of wolves. Some nuns take her in then after a while somehow send her to live with a lonesome Duke in an ancient castle. Problem is, the duke is a vampire. (!) What an odd storyline. 3.5 stars

The Lady of the House of Love is based on Sleeping Beauty, only Beauty is not sleeping. She’s a vampire, a lonely one at that because she just has to kill all these men that visit her castle and drink their blood. One time though her tarot card shows that there will come love instead of food death, so she waits anxiously for her prince, who finally comes on a bicycle. (lovely) This story is probably my next favourite. I love the description of the princess and her doomed fate. 4.5 stars

There are TWO stories based on Beauty and the Beast.

In The Tiger’s Bride, Beauty is lost to Beast on her father’s game of cards. She is brought to Beast’s castle and not long after finds out that Beast really really wants to see her without clothes. (uhuh!) I liked how the story was kinda naughty and sexy, but again the ending baffled me. “What’s going on?” I moaned. “What does it mean?” (rinse and repeat for almost all the endings) 4 stars

In The Courtship of Mr Lyon, Beauty is forced to visit Beast’s castle after her dad’s attempt to steal Beast’s white rose. With a little bit of trick, Beast manages to keep Beauty in the castle for longer, what with her dad busy taking care of his business at another city. Beast acts all gentleman-ly and sparks start to fly. One day Beauty finally leaves the castle and forgets all about Beast. This is probably one of the more “normal” stories–just a simple love story between Beauty and her Beast. 3.5 stars

The last two stories I read were also my least favorites. Puss-in-Boots tells about a cunning cat and his master, trying to win over someone else’s wife. There were just too many weird unfamiliar words used in the story, I started skimming near the end. The writing just didn’t work for me. 2.5 stars

The Erl-King is about a maiden who is seduced over by the forest king. Better than Puss, but it didn’t captivate me much, and again the ending confused me. 3 stars

In conclusion, an interesting seductive introduction to Angela Carter’s work. I just wish I could discuss most of the stories in class and dissect all the meanings with the experts. But it also means I can see myself going back to re-read some of the stories in the future.

Thanks to Claire who has been such an awesome host to Angela Carter Month. I definitely look forward to reading more of Carter’s works in the future!

4 stars
1979, 149 pp

Awards
1979 Cheltenham Prize for Literature

Challenges
Once Upon a Time IV (book #3), Book Awards IV (book #9), Women Unbound (fiction #7)

Also reviewed by
another cookie crumbles
| Stainless Steel Droppings | A Striped Armchair | Estella’s Revenge

The Rabbits by John Marsden and Shaun Tan

If you have been a reader of my blog for .. oh.. about 5 minutes, you’d know that I luurrvv Shaun Tan. After the amazing Tales from Outer Suburbia and The Arrival, I have intended to go through all his back catalogue, even if that means I need to venture into the children’s section of my library, towering like a gigantic being among the little young uns’.

Shaun Tan’s books are classified as Picture Books, though according to him:

They are best described as ‘picture books for older readers’ rather than young children, as they deal with relatively complex visual styles and themes, including colonial imperialism, social apathy, the nature of memory and depression.

The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, is partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. It features the weirdest looking rabbits I have ever seen. Like always, Tan’s illustrations left me breathless.

I’ll let you soak in the glory of Shaun Tan’s world.

4 stars
1998, 32 pp

Shaun Tan’s The Rabbits

First line
The rabbits came many grandparents ago.

Awards
1999 Children’s Book Council of Australia Picture Book of the Year
1999 Spectrum Gold Award for Book Illustration
1999 Aurealis Conveners’ Award for Excellence

Challenges
Aussie Author (book #2), Book Awards IV (book #6), Once Upon a Time IV (book #1)

Also reviewed by
Beth Fish Reads

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