The story of King Arthur's boyhood and his education by Merlyn the wizard, who usually takes a very practical approach to teaching. Wart is transforme...moreThe story of King Arthur's boyhood and his education by Merlyn the wizard, who usually takes a very practical approach to teaching. Wart is transformed into a fish, a falcon, a tree and a badger amongst other things and has a variety of other adventures. It absolutely enchanted me when I was a child, the sheer force of imagination is wonderful, definitely on a par with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or any other children's fantasy. The Disney version, as always, doesn't compare in the slightest. The writing, looking at it now, is a little archaic and formal at times and you may expect a child to have little interest in it, but I LOVED it (and still do), and I read it around the age of 9. One of the scenes that particularly stays with me is when Wart spends the night in the mews as a merlin. The danger and excitement of the politics between the birds was fascinating.(less)
I read this for the first time when I was about eleven and I nearly died laughing. It still makes me cry with laughter if I try and read it aloud. If...moreI read this for the first time when I was about eleven and I nearly died laughing. It still makes me cry with laughter if I try and read it aloud. If you think this is funny, track down the whole story:
"Once, twice and thrice upon a time there lived a Jungle. It started at the bottom and went upwards till it reached the monkeys, who had been waiting years for the trees to reach them, and as soon as they did the monkeys invented climbing down. Most trees were made of wood, and so were the rest. Trees never spoke, not even to each other, so they never said much (actually one tree did once say "much" but nobody believed him), they never said "fish" either, not even on Fridays. It was a really good Jungle: great scarlet lilies, yellow irises, thousands of grasses all grew very happily, and this Jungle was always on time. Some people are always late, like the late King George V. But not this Jungle.
This Jungle became very, very popular with lots of wonderful animals; there was absolutely no shortage of them and therefore the Jungle was ever so busy. This Jungle was called the Bozzollika-Dowser Jungle. Because. There was no organization there, but everything worked out perfectly. Some scientists tried to make an organized Jungle of plastic, but it didn't improve conditions and the scientists left saying, "Let's go to the moon instead," and as there is nothing on the moon it seemed the best place for them. Men kept coming to the Jungle looking for gold, diamonds, gas and oil. Whereas simple animals could live without the things, brilliant man couldn't, in fact he'd forgotten how to. One thing he never forgot was how to have wars and say, "Oh dear, how sad," when children were killed by bombs. The animals left these things called men alone. In return for this kindness man killed them, cut off their skins and put them on the floor; cut their heads off and stuck them on the walls. But if ever an animal killed a man, it was in all the newspapers.
But this story is a hap-hap-happy story, about animals..."(less)
It didn't really have an ending... Which I suppose is part of the point, but the abrupt stop still left me feeling a bit flat. I really enjoyed most o...moreIt didn't really have an ending... Which I suppose is part of the point, but the abrupt stop still left me feeling a bit flat. I really enjoyed most of it though - the subversion of Western myths and culture was very funny.(less)
Worth it just for the quotation: 'By my green candle, I do not follow you at all'. Overall a nice, simple skim over a large stretch of French history...moreWorth it just for the quotation: 'By my green candle, I do not follow you at all'. Overall a nice, simple skim over a large stretch of French history that manages to be light without being trite, and gives a good overview of the period on which to structure further reading. I only read the Third Republic section, because that was what my module was on, but I'm sure the rest was just as comprehensive.(less)
This is his go at a historical novel, the story of Jón Hreggviðsson who possibly kills the King's (Danish) hangman in a drunken stupor; it's never qui...moreThis is his go at a historical novel, the story of Jón Hreggviðsson who possibly kills the King's (Danish) hangman in a drunken stupor; it's never quite clear whether he's guilty or not. Set at the end of the 17th Century and based on real historical events, Laxness paints a fairly unappealing image of early modern Iceland. Squalor, poverty, crime and fecklessness abound. I didn't enjoy it the first time round as much as I have other Laxness novels, but I intend to give it a second read as all Laxness only improves with multiple readings.(less)
"How much can one sacrifice for the sake of one's pride? Everything, of course - if one is proud enough." - Halldór Laxness, The Atom Station, 1948
No...more"How much can one sacrifice for the sake of one's pride? Everything, of course - if one is proud enough." - Halldór Laxness, The Atom Station, 1948
No less than the best book I have read so far in my life. Independent People (original title: Sjálfstætt Fólk) is the tragedy of a man who is proud enough to sacrifice everything. It tells the story of Bjartur of Summerhouses, his family (especially his daughter, Ásta Sóllilja) and the 'world war' they wage against the harsh Icelandic landscape in which they live and the demons, imaginary or otherwise, that inhabit it. Bjartur has spent 18 years scraping together enough money to buy his own croft (a croft that is supposedly haunted by a ghost destined to bring failure to all who try and farm there) and is determined at all costs that he and his new wife Rósa will live as independent people. He is stoical beyond belief, often frustrating the reader to tears with his stubborn refusal to deviate from his principles, to the detriment of his wives and children. He is callous to the point of cruelty and yet not unloving, and this for me was the most heart-wrenching strand in the novel (portrayed most clearly in his relationship with Ásta Sóllilja, but present throughout). It isn't at all that Bjartur doesn't experience love; it's that his misguided desperation for independence forces him to suppress his own humanity. And, in fairness, clinging to his principles must have been the only thing that prevented him from being crushed. He simply cannot allow himself to feel, otherwise he would sink beneath all that death and poverty. Set in the late 19th and early 20th century, superficially this is a book about sheep farming and drinking coffee, but in reality it is a journey into the 'labyrinth of the human soul'. With a good dose of sheep as well. The writing is simply first class. Laxness' voice is simple and wry and filled with black humour, weaving Icelandic folklore and child-like imagination into a world of grim hardship. He is a true poet. The rest of the Laxness I've read has been translated by Magnus Magnusson, but I prefer J. A. Thompson. The vocabulary is richer and the style is smoother. I haven't read the original so I can't really comment on whether Magnusson's or Thompson's is closer to the spirit of Laxness, but I suspect (or hope) the latter is. Independent People is an epic tragedy, filled with melancholic despair and great suffering (physical and emotional), but to me the book was not depressing, despite the fact that it did, and still does, make me cry. The story and the writing are beautiful and contain moments of great joy, humour and love alongside the tragedy. The characters are just perfect, and Bjartur must be one of the most interesting and complicated protagonists I've ever encountered. Every time I read it I am overwhelmed. Literature at its best: I can't believe that anyone could come away from this untouched. I have read several other Laxness novels, but this is undoubtedly his masterpiece. It is a travesty that it is so little known; Independent People is one of the great modern classics and, to paraphrase Leithauser, this novel genuinely is not just good, not just great, but the book of my life.(less)