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message 1: by Manfred (last edited Jan 24, 2017 12:41PM) (new)

Manfred Manfred (goodreadscommanfred-nightopium) | 39 comments Mod
This is a topic for all members to post their reviews. It is also a place for members to comment on the reviews that are posted, Any feedback on Reviews is always much appreciated by the Reviewer.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a totally aweome duo of books.
Alice in Wonderland and the Glass, based on the real life adventures of Lewis Carrol's Child Muse Alice and his own mathematical Genius - have both become great classics in the nonsense and surrealist genres.

What many people dont know is that the nonsense and back the front logic in the book is not only an amazing play on words, but it also hides very serious themes of the author's own existential crisis in faith, belief and being ness. Lewis Carrol was not only a mathematician, he was also a Cleric of sorts who had a very deep insight into the nature of being, the Anglican Chruch, God and the society around him - all of which he blatantly satirizes, such as the monarchy and aristocracy in the figures of the Duchess and the Queen of Hearts, the law courts are satirized in the trial of the Knave of hearts. Even the holy communion of the Anglican church is satirized by the cookie with"eat me" on it and the little bottle with "drink me" on it.

Most of all the laws of Nature are stretched and subverted in a similar way with all the growing and shrinking scenes, the Mad Hatter's bizarre behaviour at the Tea Party - the sacrosanct ritual of English civility. And the Cheshire Cats disappearance until all you can see is his smile.

The Chesire Cat subverts Alice's and the readers reality most of all when he says that it doesn't matter which way she goes, either to the Hatter or the March Hare, she will meet mad people. When she objects to this the Cheshire Cat tells her that he is mad too. Indeed Everyone in Wonderland is mad including Alice herself. If she wasn't mad, she wouldn't be there in the first place.

This is very thought provoking for the reader of the book. In a way it challenges our reality hinting that it is the same with us. If we weren't quite mad, or if we didnt want to be mad like Alice and the Cat, we wouldn't be reading such a mad book in the first place.

But we all have and after reading it a little bit of Alice, the Cat and Wonderland itself now lives in us forever.

Thanks to a mad Mathematics Professor and his young Child Muse Alice Liddel!

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Manfred Manfred (goodreadscommanfred-nightopium) | 39 comments Mod
The Secret Garden & A Little Princess The Secret Garden & A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The secret Garden is probably the most amazing and thought provoking children's book every written. Such a profound insight into the hearts and minds of the main characters Mary, Colin, Dicken etc- a little romanticised perhaps but still amazing.

The story is set in Yorkshire and it starts off with a kind of dark Gothic atmosphere with Mary stuck in this monstrous and spooky house and her only comrade of sorts is the servant girl Martha - Dicken's elder sister. The house at night is filled with all sorts of horrible tormented wailing which Mary bravely follows until she meets her bedridden and hypochondriac cousin Colin, the heir of the great manor house who is certain he is crippled, deformed and destined to die at a young age. He is in fact incredibly neglected by his father who has been mourning for a decade or so over his late wife who dies tragically in the Garden. After that he locks the Garden and closes it forever.

The company of Mary cheers the child up a bit, but it is not until he hears stories of the Secret Garden that Mary has just rediscovered that his interest in life is renewed. Eventually with the help of Martha's little brother Dicken, the Master of animals, plants and all other sorts of enchantment, the Secret Garden is brought to life again and Colin finally has something to live for other than his imaginery hump and other illnesses.

The main theme of the book the Garden itself symbolizes a kind of Paradise Lost that must be regained through the spiritual innocence, love and lifeaffirming Joy of the three children. Dicken is the Nature child in the story, a kind of Pan figure and the symbol of the pure rustic peasant child who, with his ability to charm animals and breathe life back into the soil, works miracles on first Mary who is the Keeper of the Secret Garden and then on Colin - who, as the heir of the Manor itself, is its owner.

A final miracle takes place at the end of the book which although stretching our gullibility as readers to the limit brings about the perfect resolution to the story. It is a lovely plot twist which not only reunites father and son again, but also restores the social order of things left by a ten year old tragedy and the abandonment of the Father's duties as Lord of the Manor.

This book was written towards the end of the 19th century about a time when the social order of England and societies links with Mother Nature and the pastoral idyll of the country life was viewed as sacrosanct - The author lived in a time that had not been devastated by two world wars, the Holocust, Hiroshima and the current trend of globalisation, the digital revolution and the infotainment society.

It is therefore a pretty slow paced book, filled with didactic passages and pretty morals, as well as a gushing Romantic sentimentalism. Even in the time it was written it is clear that the novel looks back to a Golden Age where the servants, villagers and their leige Lord were meant to live in a social harmony of bliss and harmony based on a set hierarchical structure ordained by God himself. It is also clear that it draws upon the old Renaissance idea of Mother Nature as being God's second book of revelation and instruction (the first book being the Bible). As such Nature is viewed in a totally non-Dawinistic sense. Instead of being Red in tooth and claw, Nature is both a guide and teacher as well as a benevolent and nurturing Mother - She is the Faery Queen of the New Eden which awakens at the touch of those like Dicken, Mary and Colin who see her with pure vision.

Dicken of course is the High Priest of this Eden, he is an archetypal Pan figure, the go-between for Mother Nature and the Fallen Adam and Eve of her world, Colin and Mary. When he connects them both back to their original link to her, the two are totally enthralled and awaken not only to the Secret Garden around them, but also the Secret Garden inside their own hearts and souls.

Colin and Mary both call this mystical awakening to Nature's Wisdom, White Magic and when he discovers its amazing healing powers, Colin vows that he will write books on the mystery of this magical force inside him and the Secret Garden. When the world learns of this Magic and Knowledge then all its problems and misery will disappear and the Paradise that existed at the morning of the world will be regained. This is a very odd idea for us in our time, but you have to remember that in those days Milton's Paradise Lost, along with Tennyson's Idylls of the King were two of the most important and influential books in the period. So the idea of regaining the Lost Paradise of Eden was not out of the question for people of the 19th century!

The film I think that was based on the book I thought was also amazingly beautiful.
There was a second book written Back to the Secret Garden, based on the first. But this book was written post WW II and the age of England's innocence along with the mystique of her Gardens was no longer there anymore was it?

Five stars for the Secret Garden - three stars for its sequel.

Review by Manfred
Heavily Rewritten 19-1-2017

Really like the whole India thing thats in it as well. Mary originally lived in India before she came to the Manor, so she brings some of the old stories and ideas from India which she learnt from her Ayah or Nurse there. Along with her meeting Dicken and finding the Garden, the stories from India help inspire her belief and Philosophy of White Magic.

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Manfred Manfred (goodreadscommanfred-nightopium) | 39 comments Mod
The Princess and the Goblin (Princess Irene and Curdie #1) The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

George Macdonald is the Scottish Father of Fairytales - he was the inspiration for a lot of later fantasy writers including Lord Dunsany, CS Lewis and even the Great Bard of the Middle Earth sagas JRTolkien.

He wrote many children's stories and one of his best and most well known stories is the Princess and the Goblin - this book draws on familiar Fairytale motifs including the heroine Princess Irene as a symbolic Sleeping Beauty and her kindly Grandmother as a kind of Mother Goddess and Fairy Godmother figure that she meets in the attic.

The interesting part is that the hero of the book, Irene's friend Curdie. the Goblin chaser in the mines, cannot see her Grandmother when she shows her to him. And when she keeps insisiting that she is there, Curdie concludes that Irene is playing a cruel game with him - one that is totally unworthy of a true Princess.

As it happens, Curdie is very brave and courageous - he is very busy chasing the Goblins down in the mines, but at the same time he doesn't possess the Princess's insight and Wisdom and this creates a conflict between them and provides a very important moral for Macdonald's Fairytale.

Nowadays we all hate morals for stories, but in those times it was necessary to provide one. Even C.S LEWIS in his book TLTWATW instructs us with a similar moral, when Lucy slips into the wardrobe and comes back with stories of the fabulous land of Narnia and the faun Tumnus. Edmund also goes there but denys it. And her elder brother Peter and sister Susan conclude that Lucy is telling whoppers until the Professor teaches them the error of their ways through a system of logical elimination. Peter and Susan only have three choices - either Lucy is a liar or mad as a March Hare and if, in their experience, she is neither of these things, then OMG, she must be telling the truth.

In Macdonald's book, Curdie does the same. He acknowledges the Grandmother's existence and the Princess's special gift of gaining insight and knowledge through a medium other than the five senses. In the old days they would have said that Princess Irene had the Gift of the Sight. Nowadays they would say that she was clairvoyant. Either way, Macdonald plays the teacher in this section of the book by telling his readers not to dismiss the insights and gifts of others just because you don't have them yourself.

The book of course ends happily with a great battle against the Goblins and the clearing out of the mines so that everything in Irene's Kingdom can return to normal, including her Father the King coming back to bounce her on his knee and she and Curdie becoming best friends again.

I won't say more in case any of you haven't read the book.

I give it four stars because although it is an excellent and instructive children's book, it is not a work of Genius like Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan.

It's one weakness, like most of Macdonald's stories, is that it doesn't possess that charming and irresisitible humour that you will find in Lewis Carroll's Alice books or Barrie's Peter Pan. Most of his attempts at humour are not very successful, although I did like the bits with the hero Curdie stomping on the Goblin's feet - the feet are their most vulnerable parts and if you ever want to screw a Goblin you stomp as hard on his feet as possible.

But despite the fact that Macdonald is not as amusing as other writers, the voice in his books is wistful, deep and at times even sagacious. His books for this reason are often pretty slow paced filled with deep thoughts, mystical insights and lots of Romantic sentiment designed to pull at the heart strings and fill you with gushing emotions, just so that if you have forgotten your pocket hanky you have to rush out of the room to grab a kleenex.

That made his stuff totally perfect for a more sentimental age like the Victorian age. But not for a cynical time like ours. But for those who are looking for Romanticism, poetry and depth in your stories in your books, you just HAVE to read Macdonald.

C.S Lewis who knew his books better than I ever will boasted that Macdonald had literally "baptsised his Imagination" when he first read him. And, although technically he was not a great writer, he was the Greatest Mythmaker of all. And in fact no writer before or after him explored the archetypal world of myth in his stories better than he did.

This is probably true - just dont go to Macdonald if you only want fast paced books filled with cheap thrills and lots of entertainment. Because in that way he was not very modern at all.

Review from Manfred 19-1-2017

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message 4: by Manfred (last edited Jan 23, 2017 02:17PM) (new)

Manfred Manfred (goodreadscommanfred-nightopium) | 39 comments Mod
A Little Princess A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked this book, but not as much as the Secret Garden.

This is a Cinderella story - a riches to rags and back to riches again type book, with the main focus of the novel on Sarah Crewe, the spoilt Princess who travels from India with her Papa to London where she is enrolled in a Girl's Boarding school.

With her beautiful dresses, manners, wit and immaculate French, she manages to enchant the entire school and becomes the prize pupil. However, she also has a very kind heart and she mothers the weaker students as well as the servant girl who lives in poverty up in the attic. In every way she is the perfect Princess.

Things change very suddenly for her and she ends up as a poverty stricken and destitute orphan - there is no place for her in the school except as kitchen maid and French teacher to the younger girls. She is moved from her beautiful Princess room to share the servants quarters in the attic. Here she remains until her fortunes are restored.

This book is a reworking of Cinderella - but instead of the evil stepmother, there is the evil Headmistress of the school who makes Sarah's life Hell once she falls from her high position of wealth and favour. The cook and other servants in the kitchen also make her life unbearable and she goes around in rags and tattered clothes just like Cinderella. Sarah however retains her Princess demeanour under these adverse conditions and her trials are lightened by her attic comrade Becky and one or two of the students who remain faithful to her-

Her trials are also lightened by her befriending of a small family of rats in the wall of her room and a chance meeting with an Indian monkey. This meeting connects her both to her childhood world and the monkey's owner, a servant of an Indian gentlemen in the next building called Ram-dass (literally translated as servant of Ram).

As in the Secret Garden India represents the exotic world of Magic and mysterious predestined events. In the West we call this Fate and in India they call it Karma. With something of a background in India Frances Hodgson Burnett appears to be playing with the idea of Karma as well as the various Fairytale motifs.

The highlight of this meeting between Sarah and her beloved India occurs when Ram Dass, with the approval of his Master, lavishly decorates the attic while the two girls sleep and brings them sumptuous food to ease their half starved condition.

In a similar way to the Secret Garden, food in A Little Princess has an almost mystical aura surrounding it - food not only nourishes the children's bodies but acts as a Holy Communion to nourish their souls. The fact that the food is supplied by unseen Fairy hands adds to this mystique and both Sarah and her attic comrade are quite convinced that everything has appeared by Magic. Of course, when you think about the way the events in the novel have come about, they are both right in this assumption.

I liked A Little Princess. Like all books of this period it is very didactic and even moralistic in its themes and its plot and at times it is difficult to believe that any young child given over to such injustice and abuse can tolerate it all with such patience and forbereance. But at the same time the message of a child's victory in the face of grown up and institutional abuse is an irresistible one, especially when it is set upon a background of a Inidan mysticism and a child's belief in Magic and Fairytales. Sarah only survives her years of abuse and enslavement because she can draw upon the resources of her own inner world - her imagination, her stories, her dreams, her love and compassion for others and most of all - her faith in herself as a Princess.

The entire book is set in the cold, wet, dark and foggy world of 19th century London. Unlike Mary in the Secret Garden, this little Princess doesn't receive much help from all those wonderful green, growing things that help heal and transform Mary and Colin. No, Sarah has to mostly draw deep upon her own inner resources and make the most out of her miserable surroundings, such as when she befriends the family of rats in her room. In this way, this is a story of a real Cinderella like Princess.

by Manfred

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