Archive for Book Blogosphere

Merlin Made Real: The Crystal Cave and Hollow Hills

Mary Stewart's Arthurian Trilogy

Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy

Nicola at the Alpha Heroes blog is hosting the Bookworms Carnival next week, and the theme is the Arthurian story. And the question Nicola asks us to post about is this: do you prefer the more fantastical versions of the story, or the more realistic? What role does Merlin play in your favorite version?

My answer is summed up in one author’s name: Mary Stewart.

I remember being sceptical, long ago, when I learned that Mary Stewart had written a set of novels about Merlin. My mom had all of Stewart’s mystery-romance novels, and I’d grown up reading them. I couldn’t imagine how an author who wrote in that genre could possibly start writing about a mystical enchanting/enchanted figure like Merlin. I knew she was a good writer; I just didn’t think she could cross genres like that.

Boy, was I wrong.

I always have wished that magic and myth were real. This was why I loved Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia and similar books as I grew up. I wanted the mundane world to be lit, on occasion, with those moments of breathless wonder that made the hair on your arms stand up. I wanted to round a corner and catch a dangerous glimpse of deity, a split second before it disappeared.

I liked the Arthurian story, but even though the magical elements were there, they seemed subsumed under the much more human story of the royal love triangle and betrayal, and Mordred’s enmity. The magic of Camelot wasn’t much more than the rather jolly atmosphere presented in the broadway musical and the movie. I never really connected this story with my yearning for myth and magic.

Mary Stewart changed all that. And the odd thing was that she did it by making Merlin very much a part of the real world. As far as I know, Stewart researched the history of post-Roman Britain quite thoroughly, and found a historical niche into which Merlin, Arthur, and their literary contemporaries plausibly fit. So we saw the everyday details of Merlin’s difficult childhood, and then more of the politics of his day as he became involved in them.

And this made those moments of magic even more powerful, because they were set into the thoroughly mundane world. These really were out-of-the-norm moments that sent the frisson of awed fear down your back and lifted the hairs on your arms. Merlin, paradoxically, became all the more magical for being, first of all, a normal human being.

I still didn’t know, at that time, that the entire Arthurian story really had Celtic origins; I was only familiar with the elements that had come down through much later Christian reworkings. It wasn’t until even later, after reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry, that I finally learned about Celtic myth and legend, and realized where Arthur had come from. But I know now that it was that Celtic background that gave Mary Stewart’s Merlin, and her Arthurian story in general,  the power I’d never felt in other versions.

Until I read these books, the primary figures for me in the Arthurian saga had been Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. (I was only dimly aware of the Grail stories, for some reason.) But after reading Stewart’s books, Merlin sprang to vivid life. And as the story unfolded through his eyes, somehow it made more sense and seemed more plausible.

Both the history and the magic became more real and more potent because they were grounded in this very human yet power-ridden person.

So if I were made to choose which version of any Arthurian tale was my favourite, it would be this set of Mary Stewart books, hands down:

  1. The Crystal Cave
  2. The Hollow Hills
  3. The Last Enchantment
  4. The Wicked Day

And the answer to the second part of Nicola’s question, do you prefer the more fantastical versions of the story, or the more realistic?, would therefore be, “YES.”

Mary Stewart - The Wicked Day

The Wicked Day, Mordred's story

Journaling and Bibliotherapy

Notebook Collection by Dvortygirl

Notebook Collection by Dvortygirl

I just found something interesting from Melanie at The Indextrious Reader. She’s one of my Twitter contacts and a Canadian librarian whose blog I just love (you’ll see it on my blogroll), and now she’s started a new business: Four Rooms Creative Self-Care.

On her blog she describes it this way:

I love journals. I love to read them — both real and fictional examples. I love to write in my own journal, and study journaling as a practice.

And now I am embarking on a new venture: teaching journaling. …

Four Rooms will focus on the power of the written word to lead us to wholeness and wellness, in all areas of our lives. To begin, Four Rooms will offer journaling classes, expanding into explorative poetry and bibliotherapy as time goes on. What is explorative poetry? It is simply reading and/or writing poetry in order to enjoy and respond with journaling and personal meaning, not an attempt to teach poetry as an art form with all its technical elements. And bibliotherapy? That is the use of a written text, primarily fiction, to explore and expand the stories we tell ourselves about our lives.

I love the idea of bibliotherapy. Doesn’t this sound intriguing? This could be an interesting experiment, watching how she tries to weave journaling, poetry, fiction, and other things together. I’ve signed up at the Four Rooms site for the newsletter. If you’re curious, go have a look.

Meaningful Blog Awards


Well well! Mariana Blaser at the Randomities blog has given me the Happy 101 Award! According to Mariana’s description, it means that we are supposed to list ten things that make us happy, and then pass the Award to five people.

Mariana has become one of my special pals, both on Twitter and then on Facebook, and I visit her blog as often as I can. Which was how I noticed this little matter of the award. 🙂

Some of you may have noticed that when I get one of these, I’m usually so frantically busy that I say “I’ll come back to it,” and then usually forget. And I’m also a bit reluctant about them, anyway; I don’t pass on chain emails either. But I really appreciate Mariana’s friendship, and her concern during February and early March, when I’d been sick (and I returned the concern for her, for similar reasons). And I’m really honoured to be so highly regarded. So here are the ten things that make me happy, and then I’ll list five other people (only five?? eeek!) who I also admire.

  1. Cats. Sorry, but this one always comes first for me. There is nothing on earth that makes me happier than looking into a little cat face, stroking soft cat fur, and holding a sleeping cat along my side at night in bed. I look at a cat and my soul sings. So this one’s first.
  2. Great friends. This one did, at least, come in at #2! I grew up being bullied by virtually all the kids in my schools right through high school, and only ever had one friend at a time until I was about 19. So when I say I love and appreciate the astonishingly large number of friends I have now, both online and in person, I really mean it.
  3. Writing. My passion and my joy. I feel like I was born with a pen in my hand. I love my stories and my characters, and love my non-fiction writing too.
  4. Mythology. There’s a reason I always list this as one of my main interests on any online community I register on. I love mythology! Greek, of course, which I grew up on, but that’s been overtaken and surpassed by other greater loves: Celtic, Hindu, Norse, Egyptian, Mesopotamian, with smatterings of Teutonic. I’d study myth all day long if I could. Well…half the day, since I’d be writing during the other half.
  5. Anime. I can hear some of you: “What? It came as low as fifth??” But I do madly love certain anime series, and the genre in general. I’ve just been watching Rah-Xephon again, and marvelling anew at the richness of the coloring and drawing, the fascinating, dramatic characters, and the utter incomprehensible nature of the story. (Heehee!) The artistry of anime is a wonder to me, but some series have such great stories that I feel happy every time I see them. My favourite? Of course, anything relating to Fullmetal Alchemist. But beyond that, all the Gundam series I’ve seen, Noir, Maria Watches Over Us, and the delightful Princess Tutu. With Steam Detectives as a guilty pleasure. (Ah, LeBled, we hardly knew ye!)
  6. Ancient history and languages. Another thing I could read all day. If, you know, I wasn’t writing, and reading mythology, and watching anime. Hm. This is getting complicated. My favourite areas of the world for ancient history are Egypt, India, Greece, Mesopotamia, and Turkey. Languages that fascinate me most: Sanskrit, Latin, the gleanings we have of original Indo-European, and languages that used cuneiform. (I joke that when it comes to history, languages, and even myth, my personal motto should be “The Deader the Better.”)
  7. Libraries. Honestly, give me a university library and I could live in it.
  8. Toronto. I am happy every day to be living in this most multi-cultural city in the world. I love that I can walk a few blocks and have Indian food or hop three stops down the subway and get Greek or Thai. I love that Toronto will regularly shut its streets down for Caribana or the Pride Parade, or the Word on the Street celebration of books. I love Doors Open Toronto, where we get to explore our heritage buildings for a weekend. I love the diversity and the fact that in the apartment complex across the street from mine, there are at least ninety-seven different languages spoken from almost every culture in the world.
  9. Indian food. I lived for much of my life without ever having discovered this. NOM.
  10. Books. This may be cheating, since I already mentioned libraries, but no, I don’t think so. I have books of my own too, you know. (2000 or more by now.) There have been times when I’ve been very depressed, and walked into the room with most of my bookcases, and just stood looking at all the shelves, and felt better. I love my books. I love my books. I love my books.

So there are the ten things! And now five people who I really admire and appreciate. They may not be the sort of people who pass awards around from blog to blog, but I want to at least mention them.

  1. Kiirstin, from the A Book a Week blog. I love reading her blog, and just generally chatting with her, there and on Twitter. She’s a Canadian librarian.
  2. Another Canadian librarian! Am I collecting them?? Melanie, from the Indextrious Reader blog. Another person I really enjoy chatting with on Twitter, and whose blog I love.
  3. Stephanie, from the Rocket Scientist blog (she really is!) and the Ask Me Anything blog (go ahead — ask her; she gives great, thoughtful answers). (In fact, the most recent question she answered was one that I had asked, about the idea of having an “elevator” to space.)
  4. Nicola at the Alpha Heroes blog. I’ve learned so much from her, about a genre I haven’t paid much heed to until now.
  5. Daisy (and Harley) at Daisy the Curly Cat. If you’re a cat lover and haven’t yet discovered this utterly delightful cat, run to this blog — now. Daisy is, among other things, a very fashionable cat.

And there ya go. One of my more…wordy…missives. Have a good weekend!

Minds Alive on the Shelves Friday Puzzler

PuzzleA new crossword puzzle is up at the Minds Alive on the Shelves blog today, following Lisa’s promise that she’d have a new puzzle there every Friday.

This week’s topic is Book Terms and Titles. I’m halfway through and am stuck on a few of them (love the challenge!), but I’m not going to check for the solution just yet. Go have a look if you enjoy these sorts of exercises!

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