Category Archives: Fables and Tales

They are short stories with animal characters that act like humans. There is a lesson or moral to be learned from each story. Myths explain natural things.

Spinners

Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen 1999

Another retelling, this of the Rumpelstiltskin fable.  I liked it fine.  The storyline ebbed and flowed, picking up different pieces well.  The characters’ feelings towards spinning, the baby were telling and fascinating for the reader.  It is skillful how the authors set up a lot of sympathy for the crippled spinner character but hold his wrongdoings and appearance in the story and end with his defeat.  One wonders whether to forgive his theft and presumption for the grain of pure heart he holds.

I wonder, which fairy tale is most often pondered and retold?  This and Beauty and the Beast are ones I’ve seen quite often, is there a special draw that these stories hold for an author?  Maybe a current that ties them together is the undefined identity and intentions of the villain characters, Rumpelstiltskin and the Beast.  Some authors choose to emphasize their villainy and others tell of the misrepresented soul forsaken in the sweep of history.

Personally, I think authors should feel free to take more leeway with these tales, to branch out from the hard and fast story line and make leaps of assumptions that lead to new truths.

Beauty

Robin McKinley 1978

(This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Kind of nice.  This book reminded me a lot of Spindle’s End.  Please pardon me, but for whatever reason, some of McKinley’s books do not agree with me.  Mainly I feel that the core story of Beauty and the Beast was neglected and most of the emphasis is on the back story, which I suppose is understandable and likely what she was going for.  But personally I get more enjoyment out of my shady perception of the tale and the Disney depiction.

First off there was a severe separation between the life with the sisters at home and the (short) life with the Beast in the castle.  The transition’s drama and emotional upheavals didn’t seem real.  The magic, integral to the story, was left murky where it could’ve been explained, and there were weird bits like one finds at the end of Spindle’s End.  Because after all magic has to make sense a little bit.

Secondly, none of the details of the fantasy world really struck me.  I felt like McKinley much more focused on the blacksmith shop and the garden by the little country house than the lawns and gardens of the castle.  But that’s not altogether true; Beauty’s room was a nice enough place that saw some setting development.  Importantly, though, I was severely unaware of what the Beast was supposed to look like and struggled to visualize him the whole time, even after he transformed.  His past self, the character in the painting, was well-played though.  And I think the character with the best development is the horse.

Overall, there are points where this book shines and others where I was left grasping.  But in the end it did not leave me with a strikingly different interpretation or probing look at the tale that I always knew.  So, sorry Ms. McKinley, but I’d say stick with the real greats, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

The Three Apples (Arabian Nights, 1001 Nights)

An annotated index of the Arabian Nights tales (very good), Full-text: dasburo.com/Sacred-texts.com, translated by Sir Richard Burton 1850

I love the Arabian Nights tales!  Reading Guys Lit Wire last night & their list of favorite short stories I was prompted to read The Three Apples:

The story begins with governors going to the streets to ask how their officials are doing.  They meet a man, very poor with no fish to bring home to his family, and bring him back to the river with the promise to buy anything he catches.  He goes home happily with coins in exchange for the large chest that they pulled out of the river.  Inside, in a basket of palm fronds and wrapped in a hanging, is the corpse of a fair lady.  The Caliph charges Jafar to find the murderer or die in his place. 

After three days Jafar is up on the scaffold to be hanged when two men approach and insist that they murdered the lady.  The young man tells that his wife had been sick for many days and desired an apple, he loved her dearly so he searched and had to travel many days, but he brought her back three apples.  Later he saw a slave in the marketplace tossing an apple, and the slave said that he dined with the lady and she gave him the apple.  In a rage the man returned home and killed his wife, cutting her to pieces and putting her in the chest.  When he returned home his son was weeping by her bed, and he told how he had taken one of the apples to play outside when a slave had walked by and beaten him up for his apple.

On hearing this tale the Caliph is again furious and charges Jafar to find the slave or die in his place.  Again after three days Jafar has written his will and is saying goodbye to his family when he discovers an apple in his daughter’s pocket.  It is the same apple, and he discovers that the slave is one of his own.  He brings the slave to the Caliph but saves him by offering an even more impressive story than the one of the three apples that the king just witnessed in exchange for the slave’s life, the story of Nur Al-Din Ali and his son Badr Al-Din Hasan.

Son of the Shadows

Juliet Marillier

Very good.  A great fantasy read.

{LitLiv Summary: Sorcha and Iubdan, protagonists of Daughter of the Forest, have built up a lovely life and brought stability and prosperity to Sevenwaters.  Their three children, Sean (a born leader learning from his father and uncle Liam), Niamh (very much a Briton, fiery and willful), and Liadan (unforeseen, a healer, and inwardly strong) grow and experience the events of this novel.  Ripples of problems begin when Niamh falls in love with a man she should not, the adults keep a lie which starts to erode the family, and Liadan’s suitor is consumed by the pursuit of her.  Liadan is the protagonist and must navigate the dangerous times while everyone attempts to influence her decisions.  She realizes her important role in the prophecy (that a child of Sevenwaters with the mark of the raven will gain back the three sacred islands from the Britons), but she is not sure of the great danger that is awakening.  As events unfold she manages to stay true to herself and follow her own heart, Fair Folk and prophecy be damned.}

I really liked the character of Liadan and learning about her world and her brother and sister.  She grew as a character, and she matched very well with Bran, even though their relationship frustrated me at first: they wouldn’t admit that they loved each other.  Bran as a character was also very cool, with his raven persona and complicated past and emotions.  The climatic conflict that stemmed from Eamonn was unexpected.  At first I didn’t quite like the idea of Liadan having a baby everywhere with her, it was definitely different, but Marillier made it work well for the story.  The historical aspect of mercenaries and maneuverings of the feudal system in ancient Ireland/Britain is very interesting and makes a great premise for Son of the Shadows.

+ Her website has the cover images of the book from different countries and a map of the places in the book.

Reviewer, Writer A.S. Byatt

A famous reviewer has interesting things to say about fairy tales:

One of the pleasures of the tales is the brilliant mosaic they offer of isolated things and materials. Loaves of bread, magic swords, frying pans, spindles, necklaces, shoes. And these things have brilliant colours – the Swiss scholar Max Lüthi has remarked that they also have a restricted range – red, black, white, gold and silver. Materials shine – a glass mountain, golden coins spouting from the good daughter’s lips. Materials contaminate – a bad daughter has slimy toads springing from her lips. Pitch defiles. Blood wells up and betrays crimes. Birds glitter and shimmer and sing significant songs. The animal world is a close extension of the human world – bears help (or devour), foxes and deer are helpers or punishers, fish speak from lakes and birds help in the sorting of seeds or peck out the eyes of the wicked. It is a mosaic world capable of endless retelling in varied ways.”

The Guardian, Monday 12 October 2009

I hope to read more of her work, maybe one of her books.

Troy

Adele Geras

{Summary found on Wikipedia.com} :  The plot focuses on several women of Troy, ranging from powerful rich maidens to the servant girls who live in the town. The women all suffer in emotional ways with the decade long war at the center of their pain. Orphan sisters Xanthe and Marpessa live in Priam’s palace as maids and surrogate daughters to Andromache and Helen, respectively.  Andromache is Hector’s wife and mother to Astynax, whom Xanthe cares for like her own child. Marpessa sees the gods but keeps to herself because she knows that people will label her “disturbed” like Hector’s sister Cassandra.

The story picks up steam when Eros hits Xanthe with a silver-blue arrow, while she is working in the Blood room (where the fallen soldiers are taken to be nursed back to health). Xanthe falls in love with Alastor, who then impregnates Marpessa, a triangle brought about because Aphrodite longs for any entertainment other than the war. Polyxena, a friend of the two sisters, is hopelessly in love with Iason, who loves Xanthe.

Geras fills in the holes between each of the subplots with gossip from the servants of Priam’s palace. They serve as the Greek chorus and converse among themselves with how lazy Helen is or how estranged from her family Andromache is. Eventually the story winds down with the inevitable wooden horse and the sacking of Troy.

Geras shines as a storyteller and multi-subplot manager. She carefully scripts each plot to tell the inner feelings of the Trojan woman. The reader knows how the story ends (the rape and pillage of Troy) but what keeps them reading is the interest in the characters’ dreams and ultimate futures.

Continue reading

The Book of Mordred

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

by Vivian Vande Velde

Before this novel the most I’d heard about King Arthur and the knights of the round table came from the 1998 movie Merlin (directed by Steve Barron and starring Sam Neill), the Whoopi Goldberg movie A Knight in Camelot, and our readings in English class, including “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

This was an interesting book and gives even more insight into the life of people and mythology from these times.  The writing style and voice is not quite to my liking, but I enjoyed the book more when I got to the part narrated by Keira. (This book is divided into three parts, each narrated by a different woman [Alayna, Nimue, and Keira] who was important in Mordred’s life.  They take us on separate adventures.)

The part with Nimue is very interesting. I did not imagine a blonde-haired witch with the habit of second-guessing herself for Merlin’s wife, and I didn’t like how Nimue got between Alayna and Mordred. I was really routing for that couple.

As the inside cover summary warns, this is a different interpretation than the usual Arthur legends.  It is a focus on the villain, Mordred, not so much a villain in this version, and actually a part of the knights of the round table.  I liked this alternative look at the dashing rogue, but I was looking for a little more depth in his reasoning and the factors that contributed to tipping points in his thinking and actions.

But things are definitely different.  From HomeschoolBuzz.com: “Lancelot is not a hero, and Mordred is simply a misunderstood, strong, charismatic, and likeable old fellow.”  And new characters are introduced.  You probably didn’t recognize the names Alayna and Keira, they’re new, and so is an evil wizard named Halbert.

(Details about the ending are hidden below, stop here to avoid plot spoilers!)

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The Glass Word

by Kai Meyer

Completing the trilogy of the Dark Reflections series, The Glass Word reveals all the mysteries readers wondered about.  My biggest concern was: How could that entire world be enslaved?  Except for Venice the alternate view of our Earth seemed almost devoid of life, and at first even the Venetians weren’t too worried.  Now in The Glass Word we meet people from Czechoslovakia, the sea, and Egypt and hear of others elsewhere when Summer is freed.

I particularly liked the concept of Summer and Winter trying to find each other.  And the fact that Junipa was okay in the end and did not give in to the Light.  Her and Merle’s travels through the mirrors will certainly be interesting.  I hope Vermithrax, the great obsidian lion, finds his people.  I enjoyed his character, so strong, almost nothing could hurt him, and he was a guiding strength. 

It was nice to have defined the exact parameters of the epic battle between the Light and good forces.  Finally the story makes sense!  I still don’t get the relationship between Lord Light, Lalapeya, and Merle.

One thing though, that I’m sure readers everywhere scratched their heads about: why did Serafin have to die?  Was it too inconvenient to have him around anymore?  Is a happy ending too cliché?

Anyway a very interesting book.  A mixed bag of ideas that give one pause.

Singer to the Sea God

by Vivien Alcock

Excellent book.  I read it a while ago, but from my memory of it I loved the pacing and excitement and ideas.  As an ardent mythical-story lover, this is gold.

“It is said that if one stares at the head of Medusa, he or she will turn to stone, but Cleo, not believing the legend, does just that and is instantly turned into a statue! Now her brother Phaidon and uncle are on a grand adventure that takes them through ancient Greece as they attempt to turn Cleo back into a mortal. Will Phaidon’s song to the sea god have the power to bring Cleo back to life?” ~ InternetBookList

Oh dear, no picture to be found.  I may have to scan in my copy and upload it.

Release: Brisingr, Sept 20

So, the third book in the Inheritance series came out this weekend.  I don’t know if there was a book event or not, sadly I was busy working. :(  But here’s an excerpt on msn.com for your reading pleasure:

Excerpt: Fantasy novel ‘Brisingr’

Cover of Brisingr

Cover of Brisingr

The Battle of the Labyrinth


The Battle of the Labyrinth
by Rick Riordan

Awesome! More rip-roaring fun from author Rick Riordan in this 4th book of the series. Here’s an author who really shines in the gradual culmination of a larger plot; his individual books shine on their own yet move smoothly toward the final goal. I love all the mythological facts and quirks he includes in the story, plus the trip through America’s greatest places.

lol, found this snippet of conversation on Book Dweeb’s blog:
___________________________
kawzmikgirl Says:
Apr 8, 2008 at 11:04 pm

Is this series REALLY worth my time? LOL No, but really. Is it good?

Team Edward!
———

Book Dweeb Says:
Apr 8, 2008 at 11:41 pm

You HAVE to check out this series if:

a. you like mythology at all
b. you like funny things
c. you are breathing

So, yeah, it is REALLY worth your time.

Oh, and…Team Jacob!
_____________________________

That was back in May when the book came out. I think it’s so funny how the Twilight series unites readers everywhere…
I love Book Dweeb’s blog, his/her critiques are informative yet succinct, telling me what I want to know. For instance, the next book I check out will be “Dragon Slippers” by Jessica Day George, a recent post. :)

Summary of Battle of the Labyrinth: “Even Camp Half-Blood isn’t safe, as Kronos’s army prepares to invade its once impenetrable borders. To stop them, Percy and his friends must set out on a quest through the Labyrinth — a sprawling underground world with surprises and danger at every turn. Along the way Percy will confront powerful enemies, find out the truth about the lost god Pan, and face the Titan lord Kronos’s most terrible secret. The final war begins . . . with the Battle of the Labyrinth.”

Crispin: At the Edge of the World


Crispin: At the Edge of the World
by Avi

Oh my goodness. Could this book be any more unfortunate? So depressing! How did the decision get made to kill off Bear, Crispin’s one link to reality on earth? And this book felt like one giant segue; they talk about going to the ‘edge of the world’ and then in the very last few paragraphs, “Well, I guess we’re going to the edge of the world.” Like that wasn’t already determined… can we get to some substance to match the title already?

What this book does have are good glimpses of life in the olden days of England. That part was very interesting, talking about the different regions, how people move around, the conflicts with France.

Maybe the last book will wrap everything up and actually make sense.

The Outlaws of Sherwood

Robin McKinley

A good read. I took this novel with me on my trip to France this summer and loved being able to draw it out of my purse for a few minutes while riding the metro and trains etc. Some books are just not conducive to such sporatic perusing, but this one was still very good.

I don’t know if I like Robin’s worrywart persona but I love the descriptions of the forest, the practicalities of living in it, and their smart solutions.  The character of Cecil and her falling in love with Little John reminds me of the quirky relationship between Sleeping Beauty and the blacksmith in Robin McKinley’s Spindle’s End.

Here’s a great analysis by Allen W. Wright on a Robin Hood site full of information about the legend:
http://www.boldoutlaw.com/robspot/0902.html

A spot of character description:

“Fortunately, McKinley’s Marian is one of many modern attempts to restore some strength and vitality to the character.  Yes, Marian can easily outshoot Robin (in this book — who can’t?) But again, she’s far more than merely a good huntswoman.  Much of the spirit, the emotional heart, of Robin’s legend (within the book) comes from Marian.  In terms of personality, McKinley’s Marian is as strong as she’s ever been — making great personal sacrifices for the sake of the outlaws and their reputation.”

the Chronicles of Narnia

The Chronicles of Narnia

by C.S. Lewis

I started this series a while ago, at the wee age of 12 or so, the age when every young person picks up this series with delight. But I didn’t fall rapturously in love with it. I had this weird thing against chintzy old stories of English kids, like Narnia and another book called The Amulet (which I refused to read, and still have not read to this day, maybe it’s next).  But this summer I decided to finish it.

I found the rest of the books very interesting and full of scintillating story details and frankly transparent views on religion.  My favorite books in the series are The Horse and His Boy and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

In The Last Battle, the end was slightly shocking when it was revealed that the children had died and entered heaven.  I’m glad C.S. Lewis let one of the true-hearted Telmarines into heaven, but he was still very biased against people of different religions.

All in all this is a very creative series and one necessary to read because it is such a famous series in literature history.

The Arkadians

Lloyd Alexander

from Amazon.com “An expertly developed cast of characters rounds out this witty epic that’s filled with romance and adventure.  Lucian, the archetypal hero, knows more than he should about the king’s nefarious soothsayers and must escape the palace or be killed. He takes with him Fronto, a poet whose folly has turned him into a donkey.  Guided by Joy-in-the-Dance, a pythoness oracle who serves the Lady of Wild Things, they seek the Lady on an Oz-like journey for answers to their problems, joined on the way by Ops, a chief who was cast out of his village.

The travelers do not get what they had hoped for from the Lady, but Lucian does learn why her followers and his Bear Clan are enemies. The seekers are then sent on another journey that completes the heroic cycle. On one level, this is a rousing adventure complete with cliffhangers and do-or-die situations. On another, readers familiar with Greek mythology will find clever hints at the myths’ purpose and genesis.  The Arkadians have experiences and listen to tales that resemble the stories of Narcissus, the Wooden Horse of Troy, Odysseus, and Theseus and the Minotaur, among others. The women are the wise ones in this novel and play their own heroic roles.

On a deeper level, this tale is about love and peace, symbolized by the marriage of Lucian and Joy-in-the-Dance and the subsequent uniting of the Bear Clan and the Followers of the Lady. Thus, Arkadia becomes the mythical Arcadia, which poets lauded as a utopia. The plot has many twists and turns, but is not hard to follow, and Alexander’s style is eminently readable.”

Cheri Estes, Dorchester Road Regional Library, Charleston, SC.  Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The Lightning Thief


Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1
The Lightning Thief
by: Rick Riordan

Can’t wait to read the sequel, The Sea of Monsters. Very good book, read it in a snap. Couldn’t believe how long it took me to figure out that Percy was short for Perseus…

I have so many posts saved as drafts right now… I am definately procrastinating. I have the feeling quite a lot of them will be put up with just a picture.

Straw into Gold

Gary D. Schmidt

Really enjoyed it!  Schmidt writes this retelling with a candor that never gets dry, and a realistic substance that makes you wonder.  Some plot points/predicaments seem a little unrealistic, but the overall effect is a great one, and the ending circumstances will hit you with feeling.

Have you heard the sunrise lately?

The Hero and the Crown


The Hero and the Crown
by: Robin McKinley

Love it love it love it! This was a precursor to The Blue Sword, also a very good book. What surprised me the most was how different they were. I like parts of this one better, but there are parts of the other book I wouldn’t give up either. I don’t like the beginning of The Blue Sword, I thought it was like mid-1800’s, and then the whole scene and mood changes throughout the book, which I found very confusing.

In The Hero and the Crown I hate how inevitable everything seems to be. She just had to fight the dragon by herself, she just couldn’t recover, she had to go up the staircase for centuries, she had to come back at the very last minute. Also, why did king Arlbeth have to die?

I do like how the author handled Aerin’s mortal and not-quite-mortal sides, and the fact that Aerin could live a full life and still go back to love Luthe. I was really dreading her final decision.

It would be interesting to read a story continueing this one, where we get to see how strong Aerin’s magic really is. Now that I’ve read this book I want to go back and read The Blue Sword, a lot of things will make more sense. But I still advise that you read the Blue Sword first, then The Hero and the Crown.

Le Corbeau et le Renard

Le Corbeau et le renard

Maître corbeau, sur un arbre perché,
Tenait en son bec un fromage.
Maître renard, par l’odeur alléché,
Lui tint à peu près ce langage :
« Hé ! bonjour Monsieur du Corbeau.
Que vous êtes joli ! que vous me semblez beau !
Sans mentir, si votre ramage
Se rapporte à votre plumage,
Vous êtes le phénix des hôtes de ces bois. »
A ces mots, le corbeau ne se sent pas de joie ;
Et pour montrer sa belle voix,
Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie.
Le renard s’en saisit, et dit : « Mon bon monsieur,
Apprenez que tout flatteur
Vit aux dépens de celui qui l’écoute.
Cette leçon vaut bien un fromage sans doute. »
Le corbeau honteux et confus,
Jura, mais un peu tard , qu’on ne l’y prendrait plus.

Jean de LA FONTAINE
Fables, livre I (1668)

Cliquez ici pour l’écouter:
www.wheatoncollege.edu

Daughter of the Forest


Daughter of the Forest
by: Juliet Marillier

Very good. It reminds me a lot of Marillier’s book Wolfskin, which was also excellent.

At some parts I cursed the characters’ stupidity, and fervently wished that they would breach the gap of hate between the Britons and Sevenwaters, such as the brothers’ constant hostility (except for Finbar), and the awful rumors told by the Britons.

I can’t wait to read the next book in the series, Son of the Shadows.

La Cigale et La Fourmi


La Cigale, ayant chanté
Tout l’été,
Se trouva fort dépourvue
Quand la bise fut venue.
Pas un seul petit morceau
De mouche ou de vermisseau.
Elle alla crier famine
Chez la fourmi sa voisine,
La priant de lui prêter
Quelque grain pour subsister
Jusqu’à la saison nouvelle.
« Je vous paierai, lui dit-elle,
Avant l’oût, foi d’animal,
Intérêt et principal. »
La Fourmi n’est pas prêteuse;
C’est là son moindre défaut.
« Que faisiez-vous au temps chaud?
Dit-elle à cette emprunteuse.
–Nuit et jour à tout venant
Je chantais, ne vous déplaise.
–Vous chantiez? j’en suis fort aise.
Eh bien! dansez maintenant. »

Jean de LA FONTAINE
Fables, livre I (1668)

Cliquez ici pour écouter cet poème:
www.wheatoncollege.edu

Quiver


Stephanie Spinner

The story of the mythological Atalanta, specifically how she gained a husband and their love.  Very quick book, but decent.

The myth of Atalanta & review from Publisher’s Weekly: {Abandoned in the woods as a baby because of her gender, then saved by the goddess Artemis the Huntress, Atalanta grows up to become a talented archer and the “swiftest of mortals”; grateful, she swears her loyalty to the goddess and vows to stay chaste. As the book opens, she is the only female hunting for the Calydonian boar, and the first to draw its blood (though, again due to gender, this feat earns her more trouble than honor). Spinner’s pacing is somewhat awkward (the story takes too long to unfold, and the conclusion seems rushed), and the large cast is hard to keep straight, but Atalanta has depth as a strong, female protagonist who not only defeats men but who also trusts herself. Shortly after the hunt, Atalanta learns that she is the daughter of King Iasus; he is dying, lacking an heir, and demands that she marry and produce one. To adhere to her vows of chastity, she offers the king a compromise: she agrees to marry a suitor who beats her in a race; otherwise, he must be killed. Of course she wasn’t counting on Aphrodite’s meddling, or being shot in the heart by Eros’s love arrow. The narrative may be difficult to enter, but there is enough death, surprise, prophecy and direct intervention from the gods-including interludes of their whimsical dialogue-to keep readers engaged.

{Spinner also resolves one of the more troubling aspects of the original myth — that Hippomenes seems to win the race by cheating: in this version, Atalanta clearly knows what he is doing.} –I did like that assertion.  {from commonsensemedia.org}

I really must read Spinner’s other myth book, Quicksilver, about Hermes.