From the Archives: A Guide to Blackstock College

Throwback Thursday is a feature of my new blog, Entering the Enchanted Castle, that allows me to take a look back at some of my favorite posts from past years on ECBR. This week I’m linking up one of my most popular posts, which was also one of the most fun to write — for reasons I think will become clear as you read on. This post originally appeared on October 31, 2015, as the kick-off post of Witch Week.

TamLinIn Tam Lin, Pamela Dean takes her college experience and mixes it with elements of the well-known sixteenth-century ballad about a young man entrapped by the Fairy Queen, who is then rescued by his mortal lover from becoming a Halloween sacrifice. It’s a wonderful novel about that time between adolescence and adulthood when the world opens up, revealing both its promise and its dangers. It’s about love and friendship and books and learning and life, and how they all intertwine in the process of growing up.

Because I attended the same school as the author — Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota — every time I reread Tam Lin I find a special pleasure in identifying and imagining the buildings, landscapes, and events that are so lovingly described in its pages. Dean says in a note that “Blackstock is not Carleton,” but really, it’s pretty darn close. For those who don’t have the advantage of having been there in person, here is a guide to help you visualize some of the geography I know and love so well.

As we approached the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication and my own graduation in 1991, it was interesting to note how much the Carleton campus has changed in that time — far more than it had changed since the setting of Tam Lin in the early seventies, which on my first reading seemed like the remote past. The core remains, though, and if you stroll the campus with book in hand you’ll still recognize much of it.

In any case, if you ever do have the chance to go to Carleton, whether for a day, a term, or the whole four years, take it. Even if the fairy queen doesn’t actually ride through the Arb on All Hallows Eve, it truly is a magical place.

Heartfelt thanks are due to Matt Ryan, Carleton’s Associate Director of Web Communications, and to the Carleton Archives for their help with obtaining the images in this post. For requests to use these images elsewhere, please contact the College.

BlackstockCampusMapA map showing the “Blackstock” names for Carleton buildings that existed in the mid 1970s, when Tam Lin is set. Keep in mind that some sizes and distances have been changed in the book, and some buildings eliminated.

Major Locations

In the text the Blackstock name is given first, and then the Carleton name (if different) in italics. Attentive readers will note that the name-pairs often have some obvious relationship — e.g. Watson becomes Holmes. I’d be grateful to anyone who can cast light on the more obscure ones (Dunbar? Murchison?).

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Ericson Hall (Nourse Hall)
Janet, our heroine, lives here with her two roommates during her freshman and senior years, having a distinct prejudice in favor of the old-fashioned style of dormitory. I liked it too, when I lived there as a freshman. There really is a Little Theater in the basement, scene of a highly charged production of The Revengers’ Tragedy in the book and of countless student productions through the years in real life. I never heard of any ghosts, though.

Eliot Hall (Evans Hall)
Janet and her friends live here during her sophomore and junior years, in Column A — the building’s oddity being that it is arranged in vertical columns rather than horizontal floors to reduce noise. In its Carleton incarnation, this unfortunately also did away with much of the floor-based socializing that sustains student life, and so it was remodeled some years ago to a more conventional floor plan. Eliot/Evans also housed Janet’s and my favorite dining hall, where one could enjoy the view across Bell Field without having to trudge all the way to the edge of campus (see Dunbar, below). Alas, that too is gone, replaced by a more central, modern facility. Still remaining is the Cave, the student hangout in the basement where Thomas (the Tam Lin character) drowns his sorrows in weak beer.

Dunbar Hall (Goodhue Hall)
Janet’s second-favorite dining hall is here, with even more spectacular view thanks to its floor-to-ceiling windows, but lower popularity due to its distance from the center of campus. That’s gone too, repurposed into an enormous “superlounge.” Proximity to the Arboretum makes it a good choice for outdoorsy types, and Janet spends a lot of time going back and forth over the bridge that links it to the main campus (as do many of the more unsavory characters).

Masters Hall (Laird Hall)
Home of the English department in Janet’s time and mine, this former science building is a proud edifice facing the center of campus, with a lofty, high-ceilinged interior. She happily spends many hours here delving into the treasures of English literature, as did I. The warren of temporary buildings behind Masters/Laird where Janet has to hunt for her advisor either never existed at Carleton or was gone before I got there, though “Laird Annex” was a computer lab where I printed out my papers using the college computers.

Library (Laurence Gould Library)
Also known as the Libe, due to the Carleton/Blackstock penchant for abbreviating everything. Janet first encounters Thomas in the stacks here, seeks clues to the identity of the Ericson ghost in the archives, and finds peace in its “padded rooms” for studying. Because it’s built into a hill, it’s much bigger than it appears from its front elevation.

Chester Hall (Old Music Hall)
In her most obvious deviation from actual Carleton architecture, Dean makes the comely but rather petite old Music building into a looming, menacing supernatural presence of considerable grandeur. I do remember a listening room and music library, but not a marble-floored hall suitable for roller skating. A significant event takes place in one of the practice rooms, but I can’t say whether that is based in reality or not.

Arboretum
To my loss, I never spent much time in this enormous natural preserve during my time at Carleton. Janet is wiser, and as a Blackstock faculty child she has a longstanding knowledge of its byways. Her first romantic encounter takes place here, as well as meetings of the more supernatural variety. It’s a good place to locate your fairy court, if it’s going to be attached to a midwestern college.

Janet made a ceremonial stop in the middle of the bridge. She knew this stream in all its manifestations, from cracked mud set about with slimy green rocks to the foaming mass that covered the knees of the trees and lapped at the concrete wall that separated the parking  area from the woods. Today it was about midway between those two. All the rocks were covered, and the grass that overhung the banks like combed hair drifted sideways in a mild brown current. The air was full of dusty sunlight and a slow fall of yellow elm leaves. The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, thought Janet, recalling favorite poems with a pleasurable melancholy. — Tam Lin, pp. 46-47

Minor Locations

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Taylor Hall (Burton Hall) – Janet dislikes the dungeon-like dining hall in the basement of this dormitory on the far west side of campus, which causes a rather sticky situation when she ends up uncharacteristically going there one day.

Womens Center (Cowling Gymnasium) – Site of Janet’s freshman fencing class, this smallish gym is in convenient proximity to the East side dorms where she lives.

Murchison Hall (Musser Hall), Forbes Hall (Myers Hall), and Holmes Hall (Watson Hall) – These modern dormitories get short shrift in Janet’s book, but I lived in two of them and they weren’t so bad. I was definitely glad I never had to live in Musser, though.

Appleton Hall (Boliou Hall) – The building where Janet has her first Greek class is a pleasant place to study art and art history. The fountain in front tempts Carleton students to splash in it on hot summer days.

Olin Hall – The science building that looks like a radiator doesn’t even get its own Blackstock name. It does have an open-air auditorium nearby, though, suitable for impromptu performances by Music and Drama majors.

Observatory (Goodsell Observatory) – This historic building is one of the gems of the Blackstock/Carleton campus. Janet takes astronomy just so she can learn to use the telescope, an aim with which I sympathize.

Student Union (Willis Hall) – In Janet’s time, the student union is crammed into this tiny old building with an iconic clock tower. At Carleton this function was eventually to be taken on by the repurposed Sayles-Hill Gymnasium (see Room Draw, below).

Sterne Hall (Severance Hall) – This attractive dormitory also boasts a “Tea Room” in the basement where Janet and Thomas buy greasy french fries. In my time this was just another dining hall, but we still called it the Tea Room.

Music and Drama Center – Janet frequently walks past this much-maligned modern construction but oddly never sets foot inside it, in spite of her love of music and drama.

Chapel – Janet also admires this lovely building from a distance but never goes inside, even though she must have done so at some point. At Carleton, weekly convocation gatherings in the chapel are a longstanding tradition; once they had a religious element but this has been replaced by secular lectures and presentations. Janet mentions Convocation exactly once.

She looked out the window in time to catch the best view of Blackstock, as the bus climbed the hill that led them out of the river valley the town was built in. The buildings between which she ran and bicycled and trudged laden down with books made one tight cluster, the chapel tower, the brick battlements of Taylor, the black glittering clock tower of the Student Union, the brick stack of the heating plant and the mellow sandstone of the Anthro building crammed in the center of a circle of trees, green and red and yellow. You could have put the whole thing in your pocket. — Tam Lin, pp. 138-139

Other

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The Tunnels – The steam tunnels that so conveniently linked many buildings on the East side of campus were closed due to safety concerns after my freshman year. I don’t remember seeing Homer in Greek on the wall, but there’s a lot of other amazing graffiti down there, including a reproduction of Tenniel’s Jabberwocky, a Twister board, and the yellow brick road.

The Town (Northfield) – Janet and her friends go downtown to buy bedspreads, eat sandwiches at a diner, and pick each other up from the bus — all typical activities for students needing to get off campus for a while.

The Old Theater (Old Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis) – The theater where Janet and Thomas go to attend highly meaningful performances of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Lady’s Not For Burning was demolished in 2006, replaced by a new waterfront complex. (I’m not sure why Dean already called it the Old Theater in 1991 though. Did she have some inside information?) This article from NPR gives some historical background, along with interior and exterior photos of the theater. It also includes shots from the first and last plays to be performed on its stage: both productions of Hamlet, appropriately enough.

Schiller – In a significant early scene, Janet gets involved in a pitched battle over the bust of the German poet, which is jealously guarded by groups of students who try to steal it from one another while also making dramatic appearances at public events. Yes, this really does happen at Carleton, and there are more wacky stories about it than you can shake a stick at. The idea is to keep things fun, clever, and nonviolent, which is Carleton in a nutshell.

Room Draw – The dormitories at Carleton (and presumably Blackstock as well) are mixed, without designated dorms for upperclassmen. Rooms are assigned via a quota system, whereby in the spring each student draws a random number that allows him or her a place in line to choose from remaining rooms. Janet and her friend Molly both draw extremely low numbers for their sophomore room, which is why they are so glad that their third roommate Tina is still willing to stick with them even with a high number that might have given her a chance at a single. At Blackstock room draw and registration take place in the old gymnasium, which by my time at Carleton had been made into the new campus center.

Traying – The temptation to take trays from the dining halls and use them to sled down Bell Hill is something few Blackstock/Carleton students can resist, and Janet and Thomas are no exception.

They had made the bottom of the slide properly: instead of stopping abruptly in the hollow made by everybody’s stamping feet, the tray skimmed halfway across the huge expanse of Bell Field, slowed, and slowed, and stopped somewhere in the middle. The setting sun lined the bare branches of the trees across the stream with gold, but down here there was a blue and gray twilight. — Tam Lin, p. 285

I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the Blackstock/Carleton campus, and that if you don’t know it through either its fictional or real-life incarnations, it’s intrigued you enough to take a look!

Witch Week 2015: Wrap-Up and Preview

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It’s been another wonderful Witch Week here at ECBR, and I’d like to extend a giant thank you to everyone who made it possible:

. . . and YOU, for your interest and support. Whether you were an old friend or a new visitor, I’m so glad you could join us.

SomethingWickedI hope you’ll be back next year, which will center around the theme Made in America: fantasy literature that engages with the people, places and landscapes of our somewhat United States, the so-called “New World” rather than the old. This ties in with a new challenge I’m cooking up for 2016 — watch for more details soon.

I’m planning to feature Ray Bradbury’s spooky classic Something Wicked This Way Comes, set in a small Midwestern town that’s visited by the forces of evil in the form of a strange carnival. I’ve never read it, but I love Bradbury’s writing and know that this is a favorite for many.

If you have any other suggestions, or feedback about this year, please mention them in the comments. Till next Halloween, I wish you a year of magical reading!

 

Witch Week 2015: Interview with Kate Forsyth

Kate by tree smlThis post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Australian author Kate Forsyth, who was kind enough to answer some questions about two of her fairy-tale-related novels that were recently published in the US. I highly recommend both Bitter Greens, an opulent variation on the theme of Rapunzel, and The Wild Girl, a historical novel about Dortchen Wild, who told many of the stories collected by the brothers Grimm — click through the links for my reviews. And be sure to enter the Witch Week giveaway for a chance to win a paperback copy of Bitter Greens!

ECBR: Your novels Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl, first published in Australia in 2012 and 2013, took a couple of years to make it into print here in the US. Can you tell us anything about that process – why did it take so long, and how were the books finally picked up for publication here? How has the US reception been?

KF: My books are always published in Australia first, because of a publishing law here that tries to protect the local book industry from cheaper US imports. Books are much more expensive in Australia, and so the government tries to encourage Australians to buy the local products rather than purchasing the cheaper US editions over the internet.

Bitter Greens was even later than usual, however, because the US publishers of my earlier books was a fantasy fiction imprint and was not interested in publishing a historical novel, even though it does have a fairy tale element. That meant we had to find another US publisher, which took a while. This is quite usual in the publishing industry – it can be quite a long and anxious process finding a home for a new work.

The US reception has been wonderful. Bitter Greens was widely reviewed and got some great press, and then it won the American Library Association Prize for Best Historical Fiction, which was the most incredible and exciting surprise. The Wild Girl has only been out for a few months, but I am hoping it will win as much acclaim.

Bitter Greens took you seven years to write and was somewhat different from the books you were known for. What inspired you to make this journey as a writer and what carried you through it? What have the fruits of it been for you?

BitterGreensI am best known in the US for my series of heroic fantasy The Witches of Eileanan but in Australia I am well-known for a variety of different types of books, including a series of historical novels for children called The Chain of Charms. (It was published as The Gypsy Crown in the US and was nominated for a CYBIL Award). I have also written a timeslip adventure for children called The Puzzle Ring, which was published in the UK but not in the US.

So writing a historical novel was not actually a new direction for me. What was new was the combination of a fairytale retelling within a historical setting, but then many of my other books – which range from fantasy to contemporary magic realism to historical fiction – are infused with fairytale settings, symbols and structures. So again it was not a radical departure for me.

I had wanted to write a retelling of Rapunzel for a long time, and the idea became more and more urgent in my imagination. I did not want to write a conventional retelling – I wanted to do something bold and new and surprising – and so I began to wonder where the story came from, and who first told the tale. The research ended up being so fascinating (and difficult), I decided to turn it into a Doctorate of Creative Arts. Altogether the writing of Bitter Greens and my doctorate on the history of the tale took me seven years, which is a long time. However, I loved every step of my journey and grieved deeply when it was all over, and I had to leave it all behind me.

Bitter Greens has been an astonishing success for me, however, and so all the thorns and stones of my road were absolutely worth it.

WildGirlHow was writing The Wild Girl similar to or different from that process? Did you feel it was a natural continuation of what you had already begun, or did it take you in a different direction?

The Wild Girl was, in one way, a new direction for me, because it was the first book I have ever written that did not have any purely fictional characters in it. Up until The Wild Girl, most of my books have been peopled with entirely fictional characters. The Puzzle Ring had a cameo appearance by Mary, Queen of Scots, and other real life people of her court, but my major characters were all imaginary. In The Wild Girl, all the major characters were based on real people who had once lived and breathed and loved. This was very challenging, and involved a great deal of research to try and make them as true to life as possible.

The Wild Girl is also historical social realism. I worked hard to be as true as possible to the life of my heroine Dortchen Wild, and there is very little that is magical or fantastical in the story. Bitter Greens, however, can probably be best described as historical magic realism – all the spells and curses and superstitions in the book are inspired by real beliefs of the time, recorded in the 16th century witch trials of the Italian Inquisition, but just pushing at the boundary between what was considered possible in their world.

In both of these books the central characters are brilliant female storytellers who have been overlooked by historians and largely forgotten. How can reviving and honoring their memories help us to find our own voices?

220px-Liselotte_von_der_pfalz
The Duchess of Orleans, who mentioned Charlotte-Rose in her memoirs

I was drawn to tell these stories by the desire to – as you say – revive and honour their memories. Most people know the names of Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers, and Hans Christian Andersen, but the names of the extraordinary female fairy tale tellers has been forgotten. I was hoping to rescue Charlotte-Rose de la Force and Dortchen Wild (among others) from the oubliette of history, and to foreground the importance of women’s lives and women’s voices.

How do you balance your exhaustive research with the creative process? Do you ever find the factual basis of the story threatening to overwhelm its imaginative power, or vice versa?

For me, the story always comes first. No matter how fascinating the fact, it has no place in my novel unless it helps propel my plot forward, deepen the reader’s understanding of, and connection with, my characters, and create a vivid and deeply immersive sense of place. It must do all three of these things.

The research can sometimes feel overwhelming, particularly in the beginning, when I am made acutely aware of how little I actually know. However, the more I research, the more I know, and the more clearly I see my story, and so gradually I become less overwhelmed and more excited by all the possibilities.

I actually love the research process! So interesting.

Your new book, The Beast’s Garden, takes place much closer to modern times, being set in Nazi Germany, yet you are still working with themes and motifs from traditional stories (here, the “Beauty and the Beast” tale and its variants). How did it feel to bring these elements into our own day?

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Illustration by Arthur Rackham

The Beast’s Garden was a really challenging book to write, and took me much longer than I expected. Right from the very first flash of inspiration, I knew that I was working with the Grimm brothers’ version of the Beauty & Beast tale, which is called The Singing, Springing Lark, but that I intended to only use its structures and symbols to tell a story that was as real as I could possibly make it. The difficulty lay more in the massive amount of research I had to do, and in the harrowing nature of what I discovered. I am interested in using fairy tales in bold and unexpected ways, and seeing how their inner truths and wisdom can enrich a story set in the real world.

Can we look forward to this book also being published in the US?

I hope so! Time will tell …

What’s next for you? Will you continue to weave fairy tales into your novels? Are there any stories that are calling for you to explore them?

I am now working on a new historical novel that tells the story of the passions, scandals and tragedies behind the creation of the famous ‘Briar Rose’ series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones in late Victorian times. Once again I’m interested in the women – the wives and muses and mistresses and daughters of the Pre-Raphaelites circle of artists and writers.

BurneJonesSleepingBeauty
Painting by Edward Burne-Jones

Sounds fantastic! Many thanks to Kate for taking the time to answer my questions and for writing such marvelous books. I hope that Witch Week readers will check out her available titles, and petition the publishers to let us have more of them!

Witch Week 2015: Top Ten Stories That Take the Old to the New (Guest Post)

This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

TopTenSQFor today’s post, I went to one of my favorite sources of Top Ten Tuesday lists, Susie from Girl with Her Head in a Book, to see whether she’d be up for doing one especially for Witch Week. I was so happy that she agreed to take on the challenge for her first-ever guest post! GWHHIAB’s lists are always full of surprising connections, interesting insights, and boundless enthusiasm, and this one is no exception. I hope you’ll find some old and new favorites in this list, which has something for everyone. Enjoy!

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So, this is my very first ever guest post and I am a tiny bit excited. When Lory explained about Witch Week and asked me to draw up a list of stories which made use of fairy tales and other traditional lore, my brain immediately went into overdrive and this is a mere edited summary of a list that could probably have hit three figures if I had not been very careful. Many stories hinge on the same structure and there are many novels which are the clear offspring of more primeval forebears. We have been telling and retelling each other the same stories since the beginning of time; what is interesting is how the methods we use have changed over the centuries.

The Harry Potter Chronicles, JK Rowling

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While many have criticised this series as a derivative British boarding school adventure (particular parallels being drawn to The Worst Witch), I would argue that they are missing the point. JK Rowling takes the core grammar of fairy-tales and makes them her own. The magical universe of witches, wizards, spells and magical creatures is harnessed in a structure of rules and regulations. The older laws of folklore are disregarded by the foolish at their peril — we see this as Umbridge decries the centaurs as ‘filthy half-breeds’ and thus is abducted by them, but more particularly when You-Know-Who’s lack of heed to the old rules brings about his downfall. Rowling’s collection The Tales of Beedle the Bard makes use of the fairy tale structure with similar adeptness — her prose may not have the fluidity of an Angela Carter, but one cannot doubt that Rowling speaks fairy-tale fluently. Image: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Cinderella – Ella Enchanted, Ella’s Big Chance

ella_cover_different  ellas chance

The Cinderella rags-to-riches story is one of the very, very oldest and but the figure of Cinderella is surprisingly fluid. Cloak-a-Rushes makes her the cast-out daughter of the King; in Mexico they call her Adelita, in Germany Ashputtel, but she is just a rose by another name. About ten to fifteen years ago, there was a trend for more assertive Cinderellas. In Ever After, Drew Barrymore played a version who read Utopia, befriended Leonardo Da Vinci and who only married the Dauphin when she was certain that he loved her. In Shirley Hughes’s Ella’s Big Chance, in the end Ella decided that she didn’t know the prince very well and that she’d rather marry Buttons whom she’d known all her life and knew would be a good match. My personal favourite is Ella Enchanted (don’t watch the film, though, it’s dire), which has a heroine who bounds onto the page, most likely tripping over her own feet. Bound by a childhood curse which has forced her to be obedient, Ella is determined to overcome it by any means necessary. More recent adaptations seem to indicate a downturn, however, with Kenneth Branagh’s recent Cinderella displaying a return to the more inert portrayals. I am not sure what this means, except perhaps that fashions change, but I know which version I would most wish to pass on to the next generation.

Twilight/Fifty Shades of Grey/Dark Fairy Tales

Twilightbook  fifty shades of grey
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I know. It’s awful. But for a list like this, it is impossible to ignore the rise of the Dark Fairy Tale. You can spot them a mile away — their covers are black with a single brightly-coloured object in the centre which somehow symbolises the monstrosity behind the myth. These are generally ‘low-fantasy’ books, meaning that magic is not supposed to exist, with an ingenue heroine who gets to be all startled by the goings-on. The insipid Bella Swann is a good example of this; another is Amanda Seyfried playing Red Riding Hood. Being the lead in a dark fairy tale involves being pale, wearing a lot of lip gloss, and gawping a lot in terror. Still, the original Grimm Fairy Tale version of Red Riding Hood is also pretty shocking in its implied eroticism, with the Wolf getting the child into bed — there are a lot of theories that the myth of Red Riding Hood itself is about the loss of virginity. This links in to Fifty Shades of Grey, with Christian Grey being a fairly creepy version of the Big Bad Wolf — but he is so insanely wealthy that the heroine allows herself to be swept off her feet. For all that Anastasia may repeatedly claim that she is not swayed by the expensive books, the helicopter and the designer clothes, it is obvious that E L James expects the reader to be impressed. Forget a pumpkin coach — this man can buy a fancy car. Never mind glass slippers, this guy can get you Louboutins. Forget the gentleman bringing the lady Milk Tray, Christian Grey just buys her an iPad. The obvious materialism of this is depressing, but it does represent the rising consumerist obsession of our society. We want our fairy tales with better stuff and we don’t want to have to pay for it ourselves.

Discworld, Terry Pratchett

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I have mourned few authors in the way in which I mourned Terry Pratchett. I loved Discworld, this anarchic interpretation of a post-Industrial-Revolution Fairyland. Although the series followed a broad continuity, it was easy enough to dip in and out and each of the books tended to satirise and skewer something slightly different. Dwarves and trolls are locked in a sectarian-style conflict, vampires attempt to rehabilitate and overcome their addiction and over in Lancre, there is Granny Weatherwax using headology to keep things running. Pratchett always has a healthy respect for the risks of magic — the wizarding Archchancellors of the Unseen University have a high mortality rate in early volumes, with the institution’s librarian being turned into an orang-utan. In Lords and Ladies, we meet the deadly elves, but it is the way that Pratchett balances their menace with humour that shows what a skillful storyteller he truly was.  And I always remember how he explains that country folk put horseshoes over the doorway because those tended to be handy pieces of iron that they were likely to have hanging around, and somewhere deep down they remembered that iron repelled elves. There is a kind of practicality to Pratchett’s writing that brings the traditions of fairy tales down to earth — such as in The Wee Free Men, when Tiffany Aching reads that the monster that has abducted her younger brother has ‘eyes the size of soup-plates.’  Recognising that this is of little help, Tiffany goes home, gets a tape measure and finds a soup plate, and then has an actual idea of what she is dealing with. An excellent attitude to have, given that she is introduced shortly afterwards to the Nac Mac Feegle, a race of Scottish pixies thrown out of Fairyland for being Drunk and Disorderly. Throughout the series, Pratchett displays little sympathy for those of a poetic or artistic disposition — Agnes Nitt never does get to be Perdita Dream — but he does let his characters learn Useful Lessons, perhaps the greatest fable tradition of all. Image: Yenefer

The Peter Grant Adventures, Ben Aaronovitch

peter grantI still feel as though ridiculously few people have read the Peter Grant books.  Starting with Rivers of London, they move on to Moon Over Soho, then Whispers Undergound and Broken Homes. Last year saw the release of Foxglove Summer, with The Hanging Tree coming up next year. Peter Grant was a bog-standard trainee police officer when he happened to be accosted by a ghost while guarding a murder scene. With his only other career option being the Case Progression Unit (paperwork and nothing but), Peter reluctantly agrees to join the occult division of the Met, headed by Inspector Nightingale (a.k.a. Merlin/Gandalf/Dumbledore, except that something’s going on that means he’s aging in reverse, nobody is sure why but Nightingale is not complaining). The beauty of the series is how standard police jargon is applied to magical matters. Having been fully-trained in political correctness, Peter winces at the term ‘black wizard,’ preferring instead ‘ethically-challenged,’ and he is fully committed to ‘engaging with the stake-holders’ of the magical community, as well as dealing with the turf wars between Mother Thames and Father Thames (unrelated entities, hence the issue). Nightingale and Peter have the classic bleary-eyed cynicism of law enforcement, except their cases involve children abducted by the Faerie Queen, or the on-going calamity of the Faceless Man. One part I particularly enjoy is how Peter’s Sierra Leonean mother is so much prouder of her wizard-fighting son than she ever would have been when he was a mere policeman. Like Harry Potter, this book roots itself in our world, but applies twenty-first-century attitudes to ancient stories to superb effect. Image: Ben Aaronovitch

Which Witch?, Eva Ibbotson

which-witch-978144726574001I read this as a child and adored it — I also loved The Secret of Platform 13 and The Great Ghost Rescue, but this one has to be number one. Arriman’s parents looked at their baby and saw that he was different.  So his father very sensibly went to the library, looked up his symptoms and came up with a diagnosis — wizard.  And a dark one at that. So they named him Arriman and encouraged him to be the best kind of dark wizard that it was possible to be. When the time comes for Arriman to select a wife, he decides to hold an evil magic contest of the witches in his local area, who are not a particularly prepossessing group. My personal favourite is Mother Bloodworth, who is rather elderly and finds doing magic taxing, so her continued attempts to cast a spell to make herself young again have the distressing side-effect of repeatedly transforming her into a coffee table. I love the inversion of a group of women competing for a man’s hand rather than vice versa, and the supporting characters are superb.

The Borrowers and The Little Grey Men

borrowers  little grey men

One of my favourite fairy tales was that of the Elves and the Shoemaker. I loved the details about the little clothes that the Shoemaker’s wife made for the Elves — it is a very gentle use of the myth that arming any of these magical creatures with clothes will set them free, another old myth that JK Rowling makes use of. It is that urge to examine our world on a micro level that makes both Mary Norton’s Borrowers series and BB’s The Little Grey Men so much fun — and I could not choose between them. Neither series is rooted in a world that is inherently magical, indeed they are both recognisably dominated by humans. Mary Norton specifies that she had attempted to remain in the bounds of realism in her writing — even Pod’s balloon is designed to work properly. The fascination for me was always the idea of viewing life on a micro level, of tiny people who plunder dolls-houses for their chinaware, for whom mice are deadly predators and whose habitat is always under threat from those giants who are incapable of understanding them. The metaphor is heavy-handed (protect the planet!) but no less beautifully delivered.

The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly

book-of-lost-things-uk-225I almost put this one in the dark fairy tales but I feel that there is more to it than that. The Book of Lost Things embraces all that is dark and deadly about fairy tales along with a hefty helping of nastiness from the land of Men. David is an angry child, bitter at his mother’s death and father’s immediate remarriage — David is promised a kingdom by the Crooked Man if he will only give up his half brother George, or else he must find the current King Jonathan’s Book of Lost Things so he can go home. Like the musical Into the Woods and Kate Danley’s The Woodcutter, here fairyland reflects the darkness within our own imaginations, our fears given flesh and teeth. David is disgusted by how his father’s sexual appetite let him to betray David’s mother, and his revulsion for womankind is played out in the land he is taken to.  Sexuality is a frequent theme in fairytales, for all that they are supposedly designed for children. The magical realm is a place for broken things and broken people — be careful where you step, because anything could be out there in the wood.

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

Erin-Morgenstern-The-Night-CircusThis novel went viral a few years ago and publishers have been seeking to replicate its success ever since.  I’ve lost count of the number of books I’ve seen with stickers or quotes beside them saying that they are ‘perfect for fans of The Night Circus.’  I feel a certain degree of cynicism about books being marketed on the merits of others, but I understand the urge to return to the Circus’s very particular glamour.  The circus is a fantastical realm, constructed to play out the contest between Marcus and Celia — a highly original wizarding duel. But the plot is secondary to the evocative descriptions of the luxurious delights available should the Circus des Reves ever head your way. It reminds me of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses,” of the rooms upon rooms of magical beauty, all of which can be only sampled sparingly. One never knows when the spell may be struck asunder, sending us back to a world which will always seem the greyer once we have glimpsed bright colour.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Neil Gaiman

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​I truly believe that Neil Gaiman is the one-man Brothers Grimm for our age.  Like JK Rowling, he masters the fairy tale format with flair and fluency, but his prose is also startling in its perfection. I have come to his work only gradually and feel slightly late to the party.  What always impresses me is how he consistently brings a fresh perspective to old stories — his “The Problem of Susan” tackled the uncomfortable fate of Susan Pevensie, Anansi Boys breathed new life into the Anansi mythology, and more recently he wrote The Sleeper and the Spindle. My personal favourite remains The Ocean at the End of the Lane which in my view is as near to perfect as a novel can get. The Man is discontented and by chance finds himself in the area in which he grew up, so he looks for the pond which his childhood friend swore was an ocean. As the story unfolds, we are treated to an unearthly tale — but is it what truly happened? There are several points when the Man acknowledges that there are other interpretations. Which takes us to the reason why people first began to tell each other stories in the first place — to better understand our humanity. Gaiman understands not only the grammar of fantasy but also what motivates it — fans of the fairy tale would do well to follow him.

Once again, a great big thank you to Lory for letting me participate — I have had so much fun drawing up the list.  There were many very worthy contenders which did not make the cut but I would urge you to remember that fairy tales are worth reading well beyond the bounds of childhood — they contain so many truths about our own nature, and the differing ways we tell them tells us a lot about ourselves as well.

Girl with her Head in a Book is from the UK and tends to panic if she only has one book in her handbag. Currently living in Oxford, she’s a Northerner at heart and likes knitting, Jane Austen and Granny Smith apples. Add a cup of tea and you’ve got yourself an ideal afternoon in. Her site features listography, reviews and general book-themed tomfoolery. Visitors are always welcomed warmly.

Witch Week 2015: Don’t Bet on the Prince (Guest Post)

This post is part of Witch Week, an annual celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

DontBetPrinceFor today’s Witch Week post, I’m delighted to welcome guest blogger Chris from Calmgrove to offer his thoughts on a groundbreaking collection of feminist fairy tales and critical essays, Don’t Bet on the Prince.

Nearly thirty years ago, the work of editor Jack Zipes paved the way for a veritable explosion of creative and scholarly activity in the field since — and yet, as we’re seeing in so many ways today, we may not have come all that far on our journey toward true gender equality. What do stories, old and new, have to teach us today? Can we make out of them workable “training manuals” for the challenges we all face, in what we share as fellow human beings as well as in our differences? Thanks to Chris for pointing us toward a book that can help us to remember these still-relevant questions.

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Training Manuals

Jack Zipes, editor
Don’t Bet on the Prince:
Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North America and England
Gower/Methuen 1986

Fairy tales are never static: they’re always changing according to the teller, the medium, the audience, the prevailing culture. What we call ‘classic’ fairy tales are products of the early modern period, edited and retold by men (or women within a male-oriented or male-dominated culture). Marcia K Lieberman succinctly calls traditional fairy tales “training manuals for girls,” telling them the acceptable ways to behave and what to expect out of life. But these narratives – culturally determined dreamscapes peopled with archetypes – can and should change to reflect our awareness that all is not set in stone. As Jack Zipes, the editor of this now historic collection of tales and essays, writes, feminist fairy tales “explore new possibilities for gender rearrangement.”

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Illustration by Walter Crane from King Thrushbeard. Source: SurLaLune Fairy Tales

Lieberman’s essay usefully underscores how literary fairy tales ended with a moral, either explicit or implicit. Virtue is rewarded, sometimes in this world, sometimes in the next: and female virtues included passivity, patience and victimhood. Lieberman reminds us that in The Blue Fairy Book – as edited by Andrew Lang in 1889 – “most of the heroines are entirely passive, submissive, and helpless,” as for example is the Sleeping Beauty. She points out that “the system of rewards in fairy tales equates with these three factors: being beautiful, being chosen, and getting rich.” When the female protagonist achieves one or more of these goals life for her stops, as the rubric “lived happy ever after” indicates.

TransformationsSextonWhat feminist takes on these tales do is re-envisage ideas of attractiveness, passiveness and blatant gold-digging. Lieberman notes that it’s interesting that in these tales “powerful good women are nearly always fairies” (that is, non-human) whereas remote evil women are shown as “active, ambitious, strong-willed and, most often, ugly” – with the added vice of jealousy where the protagonist is concerned.

The sixteen pieces – mostly prose tales but with some powerful poetry by the likes of Anne Sexton – mostly date from the 70s and 80s, as do the four essays. There’s only space to mention a handful but all are rarely just subversive, for they strive to right the balance in favour of our common humanity by giving the female leads active, positive characters and roles. They don’t always end happily ever after either.

Michael de Larrabeiti’s ‘Malagan and the Lady of Rascas’ is not a straight retelling of any one classic tale, but points out the danger of males believing they ‘own’ their wives. Sorcery and the vagaries of war combine to ensure a baron’s wife never regains her beauty; but her innate goodness, belying the notion that beauty is only skin deep, eventually proves the redemption of much that she holds dear. As for the heroine being ‘chosen’ by her suitor, Jeanne Desy’s ‘The Princess Who Stood on Her Own Two Feet’ definitely subverts the traditional tale of ‘King Thrushbeard’ as well as being an implicit commentary on Shakespeare’s ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ (as Zipes points out). Finally, the cliché of the lead female being motivated solely by cupidity is shown the door in Jane Yolen’s poignant ‘The Moon Ribbon,’ a re-visioning of the Cinderella tale.

Forest Path
Into the woods…photo by Chris Lovegrove

Zipes’s own essay is an illuminating examination of how the Little Red Riding Hood theme subtly evolves in narration and book illustration, so it’s entirely appropriate that I mention in conclusion Tanith Lee’s ‘Wolfland.’ Here is a powerful telling of the young woman in the familiar depths of an eerie woodland infested with wolves, but here the resemblances end. The grandmother is not in fact the victim of the wolf but a werewolf, the young woman not the disobedient (and some might say willing) victim but heiress to a blood legacy. But then I could as equally mention any of the tales by Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Meghan B Collins or Joanna Russ – or indeed by all the other writers – as worthy of note. In an era when, thankfully, the incidence of kickass heroines is proliferating it’s important to recognise some of the pioneering authors who paved the way.

And the moral? Ah, there’s always a moral. This one will do, from the end of ‘Malagan’: He who turns to evil will, at the end, find it turned against him. If not in the present, then at some future date. That would be very appropriate in a radically rewritten training manual for girls.

Chris Lovegrove posts photos on My New Shy, micropoetry on Zenrinji and book reviews on Calmgrove. After a career in music education he now has time to lavish on more selfish pursuits like reading and reflecting on books, including those he didn’t take the time over in his youth. He now appreciates Zappa’s heartfelt cry, “So many books, so little time.”

Witch Week 2015: A Guide to Blackstock College

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This is the first post for Witch Week 2015, a celebration of fantasy books and authors. This year’s theme is New Tales from Old, focusing on fiction based in fairy tale, folklore, and myth. For more about Witch Week, see the Master Post.

In Tam Lin, Pamela Dean takes her college experience and mixes it with elements of the well-known sixteenth-century ballad about a young man entrapped by the Fairy Queen, who is then rescued by his mortal lover from becoming a Halloween sacrifice. It’s a wonderful novel about that time between adolescence and adulthood when the world opens up, revealing both its promise and its dangers. It’s about love and friendship and books and learning and life, and how they all intertwine in the process of growing up.

Because I attended the same school as the author — Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota — every time I reread Tam Lin I find a special pleasure in identifying and imagining the buildings, landscapes, and events that are so lovingly described in its pages. Dean says in a note that “Blackstock is not Carleton,” but really, it’s pretty darn close. For those who don’t have the advantage of having been there in person, here is a guide to help you visualize some of the geography I know and love so well.

As we approach the 25th anniversary of the book’s publication and my own graduation in 1991, it’s interesting to note how much the Carleton campus has changed in that time — far more than it had changed since the setting of Tam Lin in the early seventies, which on my first reading seemed like the remote past. The core remains, though, and if you stroll the campus with book in hand you’ll still recognize much of it.

In any case, if you ever do have the chance to go to Carleton, whether for a day, a term, or the whole four years, take it. Even if the fairy queen doesn’t actually ride through the Arb on All Hallows Eve, it truly is a magical place.

Heartfelt thanks are due to Matt Ryan, Carleton’s Associate Director of Web Communications, and to the Carleton Archives for their help with obtaining the images in this post. For requests to use these images elsewhere, please contact the College.

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BlackstockCampusMapA map showing the “Blackstock” names for Carleton buildings that existed in the mid 1970s, when Tam Lin is set. Keep in mind that some sizes and distances have been changed in the book, and some buildings eliminated.

Major Locations

In the text the Blackstock name is given first, and then the Carleton name (if different) in italics. Attentive readers will note that the name-pairs often have some obvious relationship — e.g. Watson becomes Holmes. I’d be grateful to anyone who can cast light on the more obscure ones (Dunbar? Murchison?).

 

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Ericson Hall (Nourse Hall)
Janet, our heroine, lives here with her two roommates during her freshman and senior years, having a distinct prejudice in favor of the old-fashioned style of dormitory. I liked it too, when I lived there as a freshman. There really is a Little Theater in the basement, scene of a highly charged production of The Revengers’ Tragedy in the book and of countless student productions through the years in real life. I never heard of any ghosts, though.

Eliot Hall (Evans Hall)
Janet and her friends live here during her sophomore and junior years, in Column A — the building’s oddity being that it is arranged in vertical columns rather than horizontal floors to reduce noise. In its Carleton incarnation, this unfortunately also did away with much of the floor-based socializing that sustains student life, and so it was remodeled some years ago to a more conventional floor plan. Eliot/Evans also housed Janet’s and my favorite dining hall, where one could enjoy the view across Bell Field without having to trudge all the way to the edge of campus (see Dunbar, below). Alas, that too is gone, replaced by a more central, modern facility. Still remaining is the Cave, the student hangout in the basement where Thomas (the Tam Lin character) drowns his sorrows in weak beer.

Dunbar Hall (Goodhue Hall)
Janet’s second-favorite dining hall is here, with even more spectacular view thanks to its floor-to-ceiling windows, but lower popularity due to its distance from the center of campus. That’s gone too, repurposed into an enormous “superlounge.” Proximity to the Arboretum makes it a good choice for outdoorsy types, and Janet spends a lot of time going back and forth over the bridge that links it to the main campus (as do many of the more unsavory characters).

Masters Hall (Laird Hall)
Home of the English department in Janet’s time and mine, this former science building is a proud edifice facing the center of campus, with a lofty, high-ceilinged interior. She happily spends many hours here delving into the treasures of English literature, as did I. The warren of temporary buildings behind Masters/Laird where Janet has to hunt for her advisor either never existed at Carleton or was gone before I got there, though “Laird Annex” was a computer lab where I printed out my papers using the college computers.

Library (Laurence Gould Library)
Also known as the Libe, due to the Carleton/Blackstock penchant for abbreviating everything. Janet first encounters Thomas in the stacks here, seeks clues to the identity of the Ericson ghost in the archives, and finds peace in its “padded rooms” for studying. Because it’s built into a hill, it’s much bigger than it appears from its front elevation.

Chester Hall (Old Music Hall)
In her most obvious deviation from actual Carleton architecture, Dean makes the comely but rather petite old Music building into a looming, menacing supernatural presence of considerable grandeur. I do remember a listening room and music library, but not a marble-floored hall suitable for roller skating. A significant event takes place in one of the practice rooms, but I can’t say whether that is based in reality or not.

Arboretum
To my loss, I never spent much time in this enormous natural preserve during my time at Carleton. Janet is wiser, and as a Blackstock faculty child she has a longstanding knowledge of its byways. Her first romantic encounter takes place here, as well as meetings of the more supernatural variety. It’s a good place to locate your fairy court, if it’s going to be attached to a midwestern college.

Janet made a ceremonial stop in the middle of the bridge. She knew this stream in all its manifestations, from cracked mud set about with slimy green rocks to the foaming mass that covered the knees of the trees and lapped at the concrete wall that separated the parking  area from the woods. Today it was about midway between those two. All the rocks were covered, and the grass that overhung the banks like combed hair drifted sideways in a mild brown current. The air was full of dusty sunlight and a slow fall of yellow elm leaves. The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, thought Janet, recalling favorite poems with a pleasurable melancholy. — Tam Lin, pp. 46-47

Minor Locations

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Taylor Hall (Burton Hall) – Janet dislikes the dungeon-like dining hall in the basement of this dormitory on the far west side of campus, which causes a rather sticky situation when she ends up uncharacteristically going there one day.

Womens Center (Cowling Gymnasium) – Site of Janet’s freshman fencing class, this smallish gym is in convenient proximity to the East side dorms where she lives.

Murchison Hall (Musser Hall), Forbes Hall (Myers Hall), and Holmes Hall (Watson Hall) – These modern dormitories get short shrift in Janet’s book, but I lived in two of them and they weren’t so bad. I was definitely glad I never had to live in Musser, though.

Appleton Hall (Boliou Hall) – The building where Janet has her first Greek class is a pleasant place to study art and art history. The fountain in front tempts Carleton students to splash in it on hot summer days.

Olin Hall – The science building that looks like a radiator doesn’t even get its own Blackstock name. It does have an open-air auditorium nearby, though, suitable for impromptu performances by Music and Drama majors.

Observatory (Goodsell Observatory) – This historic building is one of the gems of the Blackstock/Carleton campus. Janet takes astronomy just so she can learn to use the telescope, an aim with which I sympathize.

Student Union (Willis Hall) – In Janet’s time, the student union is crammed into this tiny old building with an iconic clock tower. At Carleton this function was eventually to be taken on by the repurposed Sayles-Hill Gymnasium (see Room Draw, below).

Sterne Hall (Severance Hall) – This attractive dormitory also boasts a “Tea Room” in the basement where Janet and Thomas buy greasy french fries. In my time this was just another dining hall, but we still called it the Tea Room.

Music and Drama Center – Janet frequently walks past this much-maligned modern construction but oddly never sets foot inside it, in spite of her love of music and drama.

Chapel – Janet also admires this lovely building from a distance but never goes inside, even though she must have done so at some point. At Carleton, weekly convocation gatherings in the chapel are a longstanding tradition; once they had a religious element but this has been replaced by secular lectures and presentations. Janet mentions Convocation exactly once.

She looked out the window in time to catch the best view of Blackstock, as the bus climbed the hill that led them out of the river valley the town was built in. The buildings between which she ran and bicycled and trudged laden down with books made one tight cluster, the chapel tower, the brick battlements of Taylor, the black glittering clock tower of the Student Union, the brick stack of the heating plant and the mellow sandstone of the Anthro building crammed in the center of a circle of trees, green and red and yellow. You could have put the whole thing in your pocket. — Tam Lin, pp. 138-139

Other

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The Tunnels – The steam tunnels that so conveniently linked many buildings on the East side of campus were closed due to safety concerns after my freshman year. I don’t remember seeing Homer in Greek on the wall, but there’s a lot of other amazing graffiti down there, including a reproduction of Tenniel’s Jabberwocky, a Twister board, and the yellow brick road.

The Town (Northfield) – Janet and her friends go downtown to buy bedspreads, eat sandwiches at a diner, and pick each other up from the bus — all typical activities for students needing to get off campus for a while.

The Old Theater (Old Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis) – The theater where Janet and Thomas go to attend highly meaningful performances of Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and The Lady’s Not For Burning was demolished in 2006, replaced by a new waterfront complex. (I’m not sure why Dean already called it the Old Theater in 1991 though. Did she have some inside information?) This article from NPR gives some historical background, along with interior and exterior photos of the theater. It also includes shots from the first and last plays to be performed on its stage: both productions of Hamlet, appropriately enough.

Schiller – In a significant early scene, Janet gets involved in a pitched battle over the bust of the German poet, which is jealously guarded by groups of students who try to steal it from one another while also making dramatic appearances at public events. Yes, this really does happen at Carleton, and there are more wacky stories about it than you can shake a stick at. The idea is to keep things fun, clever, and nonviolent, which is Carleton in a nutshell.

Room Draw – The dormitories at Carleton (and presumably Blackstock as well) are mixed, without designated dorms for upperclassmen. Rooms are assigned via a quota system, whereby in the spring each student draws a random number that allows him or her a place in line to choose from remaining rooms. Janet and her friend Molly both draw extremely low numbers for their sophomore room, which is why they are so glad that their third roommate Tina is still willing to stick with them even with a high number that might have given her a chance at a single. At Blackstock room draw and registration take place in the old gymnasium, which by my time at Carleton had been made into the new campus center.

Traying – The temptation to take trays from the dining halls and use them to sled down Bell Hill is something few Blackstock/Carleton students can resist, and Janet and Thomas are no exception.

They had made the bottom of the slide properly: instead of stopping abruptly in the hollow made by everybody’s stamping feet, the tray skimmed halfway across the huge expanse of Bell Field, slowed, and slowed, and stopped somewhere in the middle. The setting sun lined the bare branches of the trees across the stream with gold, but down here there was a blue and gray twilight. — Tam Lin, p. 285

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I hope you’ve enjoyed this brief tour of the Blackstock/Carleton campus, and that if you don’t know it through either its fictional or real-life incarnations, it’s intrigued you enough to take a look! Please stop by again for the remaining Witch Week events; tomorrow will see the launch of a giveaway featuring two fabulous books, Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth and The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

Witch Week 2015: Master Post and Linkup

…Witch Week, when there is so much magic around in the world that all sorts of peculiar things happen… —Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

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Welcome to the second annual Witch Week, an opportunity to celebrate our favorite fantasy books and authors. This year we’re focusing on the theme New Tales from Old, and I hope you might feel inspired to join in by linking up your own posts about books inspired by fairy tales, folklore, legend, and myth.

Or you may wish to join in the readalong of The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter; or enter one of two fabulous giveaways; or enjoy some of the other reviews and interviews during the week. Here’s the schedule:

Saturday, October 31: A Guide to Blackstock College (from Tam Lin by Pamela Dean)

Sunday, November 1: Giveaways: Bitter Greens and The Bloody Chamber

Monday, November 2: Don’t Bet on the Prince (Guest Post by Chris of Calmgrove)

Tuesday, November 3: Top Ten Books That Take the Old into the New (Guest Post by Susie of Girl with Her Head in a Book)

Wednesday, November 4: Author Interview with Kate Forsyth, author of Bitter Greens and The Wild Girl

Thursday, November 5: Readalong of The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

Friday, November 6: Wrap-up and 2016 Preview

Please use the linky below for your own posts; I can’t wait to see what you all have been reading! (You can also leave a comment or send an email to lory [at] emeraldcitybookreview [dot] com.) However you participate, I hope you enjoy the week as much as I have putting it together. Let the celebration begin!

 

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What would you like to read for Witch Week?

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Today I’m cheating a bit by focusing my monthly discussion on an upcoming event here at ECBR: Witch Week. From October 31 to November 5, we’ll be celebrating our favorite fantasy books and authors. Last year we focused on the wonderful world of Diana Wynne Jones, and it was a terrific week! This year the theme is “New Tales from Old,” and I want to know what you think about this genre — fiction derived from fairy tales, folklore or myth, or other old stories (actual witches need not be involved). Is it one of your favorites, or does the appeal of such tales escape you? What are your favorite titles, past and present? Is there anything you’ve been meaning to read for ages, or a recent release that’s caught your eye?

The week will conclude with a readalong and I’m looking for some suggestions for what we should read together. I’d also love to hear about any ideas you have for your own posts: lists, cross-genre reflections, thoughts about a favorite story, single-book reviews… the possibilities are endless. Let me know what you’re up to, and I’ll be sure to feature you in my own posts about the week.

Here are some of the possibilities I’ve already thought about:

  • The Homeward Bounders by Diana Wynne Jones (guest appearances by Prometheus, the Flying Dutchman, and the Wandering Jew)
  • Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis (based on the myth of Cupid and Psyche)
  • The Wrath and the Dawn by Renee Adhieh (Thousand and One Nights retelling)
  • Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff (Arthurian historical fiction)
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (dark, feminist fairy tale retellings)

Besides the readalong, the week will start off on Halloween with a post from me on the campus landmarks of “Blackstock College” from Pamela Dean’s Tam Lin (IRL Carleton College, my alma mater). There will also be an author interview, a giveaway, a Top Ten list, guest posts, and more — with opportunities for participants to link up their own posts as well. I do hope you will join us, and please help spread the word. #WitchWeekECBR is the tag to use on Twitter.

What “new tales from old” are you itching to read, either on your own or as a readalong? Do you have any plans for posts on your own blog? How else would you like to participate in Witch Week?

Shared in the Book Blogger Discussion Challenge hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.