Friday, October 31, 1975

The Grey King: Navigating the Grey Area Between Love and Hate

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I should clarify that I did not hate Susan Cooper's The Grey King (1975), but I also didn't love it. More than anything, I didn't get it. There's a kid named Will who turns out to have some ancient power and he makes friends with Bran, who has a mysterious past. They go see some ancient kings - I'm not clear how that happened - and then get a harp which they are supposed to use to wake the Sleepers. And some bad man shoots Bran's dog.

It wasn't over my head, but it didn't grab me enough to give it the attention it needed for me to catch all the information I needed. I've pondered why this happened and don't have any one definite conclusion, but have developed a few explanations as to why this Newbery-winning book didn't work for me.

The first challenge is jumping into the fourth of a five-book series. It seems odd to give such a prestigious award to what amounts to only part of a greater story. Of course, even books in a series should stand on their own. In that sense, this book does have its own self-contained story with a beginning and end. The difficulty comes in trying to get up to speed with references to events and characters which occur prior to The Grey King.

Another challenge is the genre - fantasy. I loved The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings back in my middle-school and high-school years. After the movies were made, I reread them with my son. They had suddenly become more tedious. A common characteristic of fantasy is to overload the story with references to great gods and warriors and legends - all of which are lifted up as having monumental importance. After a while, the reader is overwhelmed by the levity of it all. I realized one of my difficulties in reading fantasy is its frequent inability to be light-hearted, to have a change in tone which lets the reader relax and not always feel like the world is at stake.

My third challenge in reading this book is essentially one brought on by the first two. In reading a sequel which eludes to great moments of importance, I became less invested in the story almost from the start. Since I already felt like I was behind, I had a difficult time embracing the story enough to want to really grasp what was going on. That meant that a book I should have finished in a week or two stretched out to nearly two months.

The lesson for me to take away from this as a writer is to always put the story first. A book must stand on its own and intrigue the reader, regardless of genre and regardless of whether or not it is part of a greater story.

Monday, October 20, 1975

J.R.R. Tolkien The Lord of the Rings: Last Book Published 20 Years Ago Today

Updated 2/16/2019.

Buy on Amazon

First Publication: 7/29/1954 (Fellowship of the Ring)

First Publication: 11/11/1954 (The Two Towers)

First Publication: 10/20/1955 (The Return of the King)

Category: fantasy fiction

Sales: 150 million (trilogy)


About the Book:

The Lord of the Rings was written in stages between 1937 and 1949 as a sequel to The Hobbit (1937). For economic reasons, it was published over the course of a year in three volumes: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King. WK The trilogy “has since been reprinted numerous times and translated into 38 languages.” WK

“Lord of the Rings” is a reference “to the story's main antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron, who had in an earlier age created the One Ring to rule the other Rings of Power as the ultimate weapon in his campaign to conquer and rule all of Middle-earth.” WK “After it was taken from him, he gathered the rest of the rings, but continued to search for the One Ring to complete his dominion.” AZ

“After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins,” AZ who, on his eleventy-first birthday, bequeathed it to his nephew Frodo. A party is assembled to “journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.” AZ Accompanying Frodo are Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.” AZ

Tolkien, who “was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford,” AZ crafted his works out of his interest in classic language as well as “philology, mythology, religion and the author’s distaste for the effects of industrialization, as well as earlier fantasy works and Tolkien's experiences in World War I.” WK

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Thursday, April 10, 1975

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald: Published 50 Years Ago Today

Updated 2/16/2019.

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First Publication: April 10, 1925

Category: novel

Sales: 25 million


About the Book:

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book, stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted ‘gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,’ it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s.” BN

“Invited to an extravagantly lavish party in a Long Island mansion, Nick Carraway, a young bachelor who has just settled in the neighbouring cottage, is intrigued by the mysterious host, Jay Gatsby, a flamboyant but reserved self-made man with murky business interests and a shadowy past. As the two men strike up an unlikely friendship, details of Gatsby’s impossible love for a married woman emerge, until events spiral into tragedy.” AZ

“Regarded as Fitzgerald’s masterpiece and one of the greatest novels of American literature, The Great Gatsby is a vivid chronicle of the excesses and decadence of the ‘Jazz Age’, as well as a timeless cautionary critique of the American dream.” AZ

In July 2018, I became the organizer of the Mission Classic Novels Book Club. Check out the Book Club tab here or Meetup for more information. This was our book for February 2019.

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You can watch the 2013 movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio on YouTube for $3.99.

Also available: the 1974 movie version, starring Robert Redford, is available on Amazon for $3.99. Click here.

Wednesday, January 1, 1975

Vladimir Nabokov Lolita: Published 20 Years Ago This Year

Updated 2/16/2019.

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First Publication: 1955

Category: controversial sex-themed novel

Sales: 50 million


About the Book:

“Awe and exhilaration – along with heartbreak and mordant wit – abound in Lolita.” AZ The “novel written by Russian American novelist Vladimir Nabokov…is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a middle-aged literature professor under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze,” WK otherwise known as “Lolita,” his private nickname for her. WK He “becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather.” WK

Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America. Most of all, it is a meditation on love – love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.” AZ

“The novel was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1962, and again in 1997 by Adrian Lyne. It has also been adapted several times for the stage and has been the subject of two operas, two ballets, and an acclaimed but commercially unsuccessful Broadway musical.” WK

“Its assimilation into popular culture is such that the name ‘Lolita’ has been used to imply that a young girl is sexually precocious.” WK

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