Alice in Wonderland Before reading the book, I'd only ever seen the Disney film and that was last seen twenty years ago. Despite that lapse of time, I...moreAlice in Wonderland Before reading the book, I'd only ever seen the Disney film and that was last seen twenty years ago. Despite that lapse of time, I still recognised a lot of it in the story. This either means that either Disney was very true to the book or my memories of the film are so fragmented that I only recognised its and the book's iconic scenes, such as the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter and the Hare, the Caterpillar and the Red Queen's game of croquet.
Alice in Wonderland is a strange story. It's funny and entertaining, but it has no plot whatsoever and doesn't really make much sense. It's a link up of seemingly loose scenes and encounters Alice has once she goes down the rabbit hole. Considering the origins of the story, this isn't all that surprising. Carroll first invented the tale while telling stories to the Liddell sisters while on a series of afternoon boating expeditions. Alice is based on the second sister, Alice Liddell. Her insistence that the stories should be put into proper book form, was the impetus for Carroll to actually write the stories down and see them published.
The characters of Alice in Wonderland are fantastic and fabulous. They are what make the book shine, from the huffy mouse Alice meets in her pool of tears, to the dodo and the owl that tell tales to get them dry, to the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, the Duchess and her cook, they are all distinct and weird. My favourite ones are the Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. The Rabbit because he's what I remember first and foremost about the film; the entrance of the Rabbit and his little song. I can still hear it in my head to this day. On top of that he is such an officious little soul in the book, he makes me smile every time. And the Cheshire Cat, because, well, who doesn't love the Cheshire Cat? To me he is one of the epitomes of felinity, with his casual mysteriousness and smugness. He always made me grin in the film and continued to do so in the book.
The story seems simplistic, but that's probably only on a surface read. From what I've read in the Bakewell biography of Carroll's life, there's a lot beneath the surface. Carroll, under his true name of Dodgson, was an enthusiastic satirical pamphlet writer, and no doubt this facet is also present in his Alice in Wonderland. Still, it was meant primarily as a children's book, so whether its intended readership was supposed to get the references is doubtful. I know I didn't, though that is probably partially due to the fact that I'm not familiar with most of Carroll's contemporaries and the contemporary issues.
While Alice in Wonderland is fun and fantastical (in the broadest sense of the word) I didn't really like the book. I guess I just couldn't handle there not being a plot to the book. Despite this, I can appreciate the literary merits and importance of Carroll's seminal work, as a classic of English literature and as the first true children's novel. As such it is a work that any one with an interest in the development of English literature and children's literature in particular, should read.
Through the Looking-Glass Through the Looking-Glass is the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, based on the scraps of stories told to the Liddell girls, but not included in the first book. Carroll started it in 1867, the year he finished Alice in Wonderland, but it would take him until 1870 to finish it.
Through the Looking-Glass is as strange a tale as Alice in Wonderland, though the story is more linear and clearly based on a chess game, which gives it context and something of a plot to follow. As with the previous book, the story takes the shape of a dream. This time Alice doesn't drift off next to a burbling river, but next to a cosy fire snuggling with one of her kittens. She needs to travel from the Looking-Glass house (check name in book) to the other side of the river, so she can become a queen. As such, book has a clear goal and as in a chess game every episode has an "opponent" for Alice to "defeat".
Besides the scraps of stories left after Alice in Wonderland, Carroll also incorporated some of his other, often poetic, works in the book. Carroll's more well-known poems are in here, such as 'The Jabberwocky' and 'The Walrus and the Carpenter.' They form separate stories told to Alice during her travels through the Mirror world. Where 'The Jabberwocky' is presented both as a mirror poem and a completely mystifying text composed of mainly made up words, which even Alice has to admit she doesn't understand, the poem does convey a story. The precise meaning of the story might be a little obscure, but it is reminiscent of the sort of epic poetry such as Beowulf, where the hero of the story defeats the monster and is received as a hero upon his return. But where Beowulf is history transformed into legend to illustrate the characteristics of a worthy leader of men, 'The Jabberwocky' seems to lack such depth, Carroll added no moral to the story. In comparison, 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' seems to have a clearer 'moral', where it ot for the fact that Carroll mostly didn't seem to believe in adding such morals to stories. Where 'The Jabberwocky' is strange and alienating in its vocabulary, 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' is far more familiar in tone. Both characters are pretty much bad eggs, luring away the little oysters just to eat them, though one could pose the question why the elder oyster, who seems to be aware of their intent, doesn't warn the younger ones. Which raises the question whether he isn't just as culpable as the titular characters. Eventhough, at first glance, 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' seems the less complicated of the two, if you consider the poems carefully, there are underlying themes to both of them.
The characters are again fabulous and inventive. I particularly loved the insects (probably the only time in history these words will leave my keyboard): The rocking-horse fly, the Snap-Dragonfly, the Bread-and-Butterfly. and the way he's incorporated the mirrored nature of the Looking Glass World is genius. Though at the same time, I'm having a hard time imagining how some of it would work, such as, for example, the needing to cut the cake backwards in the Lion and the Unicorn scene. It makes sense in the context of the story, but how it would actually work is beyond me. Another brilliant mirroring is the White Queen's memory. Instead of remembering what has just happened, she remembers what is to happen in the future. So she's constantly referring to things that have not yet happened, which confuses poor Alice to no end. Funnily enough, this concept was easier to wrap my head around than the backwards cutting of the cake!
I honestly liked Through the Looking-Glass far better than I liked Alice in Wonderland, mostly due to the fact that there was something actually resembling a plot to it. As with Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass is a work that any one with an interest in the development of English literature, and children's literature in particular, should read.(less)
Fun book. But strangely lacking in plot. Will write a longer review for the annotated version which also includes Alice through the Looking Glass, whi...moreFun book. But strangely lacking in plot. Will write a longer review for the annotated version which also includes Alice through the Looking Glass, which I will be reading soon.(less)
For all my having a BA in English and having mainly read speculative fiction since I was fourteen, I've never actually read Dracula before. Yes, that...moreFor all my having a BA in English and having mainly read speculative fiction since I was fourteen, I've never actually read Dracula before. Yes, that is appalling, I know. It gets worse... I did see the film featuring Gary Oldman as Dracula. And I didn't really like it that much, convincing me that I probably wouldn't like the book that much either. Yes, I'm deeply, deeply ashamed of my teenage self. Luckily, I grew up and decided I wouldn't let myself be scared of creepy films anymore and even more luckily I won a copy of Oxford World Classics' new Dracula edition, so I could rectify the situation. After reading it, one thing is sure, this vampire does NOT sparkle, though his girls might!
The introduction to the novel by Roger Luckhurst, who also provided the footnotes, was excellent, very entertaining and informative. It was a pleasure to read an introduction that was written recently, as most of my classics have somewhat dated introductory material. The material gave a good overview of both the author and the work, touching on themes such as sexuality, gender roles, politics, race and science. The author concludes the introduction by looking at what came after Dracula and it was interesting to see in how many directions the vampire mythos has travelled and how it hasn't really ever gone away.
Most interesting to me were the themes of sexuality and science. Not so much the Dracula as a sexual allegory angle, but the way Lucy and Mina rather mirror Dracula in their harems of men. Dracula has his trio of weird sisters and both Lucy and Mina collect a group of men about them, who are completely devoted to them. Actually, I found that rather creepy, the way the men all but put the ladies on a pedestal and adore them in not quite the old-fashioned chivalric way. In the case of Mina, it is both more and less disturbing as the men aren't as overtly amorously drawn to her as they are to Lucy, as she is already engaged to Jonathan. But it's exactly that which makes it disturbing; she's engaged to someone and here are all these men ready to lay down their lives for her. This might just be due to Gothic conventions or it might just be that I'm just not as much of a romantic as I thought, I mean I didn't get the obsessive Heathcliff/Cathy attraction in Wuthering Heights either. However, what I did like a lot was the scientific approach the party takes, led by Van Helsing, and the details Stoker included. My favourite of which was Mina's gathering and collating the information from all the sources, as it's both a narrative ploy and such a valid scientific method. Both the scientific approach and the details made the narrative feel very modern in its own context. They also illustrate the mental split Victorians found themselves in with regard to science and religion and the superstitions of an earlier ages. Though the fact Van Helsing just went back and forth between Amsterdam and London kept somehow surprising me, I kept forgetting that they'd already invented steamboats at this time.
What does Dracula mean for speculative fiction? Everything vampire related seems to spring from him. Stoker might have collated everything that has come before, the folklore and superstitions, but also earlier literary works which used the vampire myth, but his Dracula is a creature all his own and has fathered, figuratively speaking, all that came after him. So do we rejoice that it brought us Buffy and Lestat or do we mourn because it brought us Twilight? I don't know, everyone will answer that question differently, but I think Dracula has given us an archetypal monster, which has inspired many authors to reinvent it and the vampire mythos and which doesn't appear to be vanishing soon.
I loved this book. I hadn't expected to love it, but I did. Once Jonathan entered that coach leaving Bistritz, I got swept along right up till the end. Dracula is a classic, important both to speculative fiction and to Gothic and Victorian literature. It's a story any speculative fiction reader should at least read once and in this case watching the film doesn't count! If you won't take my word for it, take Mark Charan Newton's, as he insists on the same, albeit in a much more eloquent fashion.(less)
When I got the pick of my mother's books when she needed to get rid of them as she was emigrating, the reason I picked Tales from the Thousand and One...moreWhen I got the pick of my mother's books when she needed to get rid of them as she was emigrating, the reason I picked Tales from the Thousand and One Nights was twofold. First of all I was of the opinion that I ought to have read at least part of one of the great, classical literary influences, both on the literature I studied at university and on my beloved speculative genre. Second of all, I had bought Anthony O'Neill's Scheherazade, a retelling of the story of Scheherazade, a few months earlier and never really got past the first twenty pages and I thought reading some of the original The Thousand and One Nights might help me get into the book more. Of course, this was almost ten years ago and both books have remained unread until now.
The Thousand and One Nights are a collection of folk tales that found their current form in the early nineteenth century. Their first introduction into the West, however, was as early as 1707 when the French Orientalist Antoine Galland. He encountered the stories on his voyages in the East and brought them back and translated them into French. He wasn't just a translator though, as I learned from the BBC4 program Secrets of the Arabian Nights, which serendipitously aired just as I'd started reading the book. Galland also adapted some stories, which he'd heard being told during his travels, to satisfy the rising demand for more Arabian Nights tales. After their introduction to the West, The Thousand and One Nights went through Europe like a wildfire, being in high demand in upper class drawing rooms. And while they have gone through many incarnations, being bowdlerised by the Victorians and turned into children's stories by them as well, they have never disappeared into oblivion and have remained popular to this day.
The Thousand and One Nights contain strong themes of compassion, charity, loyalty and forgiveness. As illustrated by The Tale of Judar and his Brothers, where Judar keeps forgiving his brothers and providing for them, regardless of all their greed and scheming. Another strong theme connected to loyalty is the importance of familial relations. It is paramount to care for your family, not just your immediate family, but your extended family as well. And people cast each other in familial roles, even if strangers, as we see in the case of Sindbad the Sailor and Sindbad the Porter, where the former is rescued on his last journey by an old man, who makes him his son and heir by marrying him to his daughter. Familial relations can also be used to deceive, as illustrated by the Moor in Aladdin and the Enchanted Lamp, who pretends to be his long lost uncle so he'll help him recover the lamp.
Women are either Mary's or Eves, though in some cases they may represent both, such as the three girls from The Porter and the Three Girls of Baghdad. These seem to be largely temptresses in their treatment of the porter, but when they later tell their stories to the Caliph they turn out to be victims of circumstance as well. This ambivalent view of the feminine seems to to move from harlots to housewives during the telling of the Tales by Scheherazade, as she wanted to show that not all women were faithless and treacherous and to convince her Sultan to let her live, or at least that is what the BBC show claimed. From the small selection of tales in this book, it is hard to distil this development.
The stories aren't just fantastical in a speculative sense, but in a literal sense as well. The stories aren't very logical, not even within the context of the stories. They are, however, very entertaining, ranging from morality tales, such as the Fable of the Donkey, the Ox, and the Farmer, to out and out farce, such as The Historic Fart. Yet these stories favour the rogues and ne'er-do-wells; being good and virtuous doesn't always equal being rewarded, as illustrated by The Tale of Judar and his Brothers, where the forgiving and loyal Judar ends up being killed by his avaricious brothers. In this case fortune really does favour the brave, as shown by The Tale of Ma'aruf the Cobbler, where Ma'aruf's outrageous lies become the truth and all's well that ends well, much to Ma'aruf's frind Ali's dismay.
Much of (Middle) Eastern based fantasy draws on The Thousand and One Nights. In some cases more directly than others, such as Howard Andrew Jones' The Desert of Souls, which is as the author himself says (to paraphrase) Sherlock Holmes meets Arabian Nights meets Sinbad crossed with Indiana Jones. Others are less obvious, but the story-within-a-story model such as used in Patrick Rothfuss' TheKingkiller Chronicles, is the basis for The Thousand and One Nights. This model can even get very confusing as the nesting becomes Matruschka-like in proportions and it can get difficult to keep straight at which level the story is placed. One thing that I found striking, was the fact that the jinn in these stories aren't half as treacherous as they are often portrayed. The only malicious jinn is the one from the The Fisherman and the Jinnee, the rest of the jinn in this selection of stories, is nothing more than magical, wishful-filling slaves.
Tales from The Thousand and One Nights was a very entertaining collection of tales taken from The Thousand and One Nights. These stories still need to be read, both because they are a classic in literary history and because they have such a profound influence on much of the Middle-Eastern inspired cultures in the speculative genre. But most importantly, these stories deserve to be read for themselves, as they are fun, adventurous and give a peek at a culture that is both exotic and fascinating.(less)