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

Last updated 7/5/2020.

The Lord of the Rings

J.R.R. Tolkien

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)

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

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 “Frodo and friends journey to Mordor to destroy the ring, making the young Hobbit one of the greatest fictional heroes of all time. More than 100 million copies have been sold of the trilogy that brought fantasy to a mainstream literary audience.” TG

Resources and Related Links:

Friday, August 1, 1975

Frank Herbert's Dune published 10 years ago today

First posted 7/4/2020; updated 7/6/2020.


Frank Herbert

First Publication: August 1, 1965

Category: science fiction novel

Sales: 20 million

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“Frank Herbert’s classic masterpiece [is] a triumph of the imagination and one of the bestselling science fiction novels of all time.” AZ It is “a stunning blend of adventure and mysticism, environmentalism and politics.” AZ

“Set on the desert planet Arrakis, Dune is the story of the boy Paul Atreides – who would become known as Muad’Dib – and of a great family’s ambition to bring to fruition humankind’s most ancient and unattainable dream.” AZ

Set in the distant future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the Padishah Emperor, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, whose noble family accepts the stewardship of the desert planet Arrakis. As this planet is the only source of the oracular spice melange, the most important and valuable substance in the universe, control of Arrakis is a coveted – and dangerous – undertaking.” WK

“The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the factions of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its spice.” WK

Dune won the first Nebula Award, shared the Hugo Award, and formed the basis of what is undoubtedly the grandest epic in science fiction.” AZ Five sequels followed and the first novel inspired a 1984 film adaptation and a 2000 mini-series on the Sci-Fi Channel.

Resources and Related Links:

Wednesday, May 14, 1975

Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway published 50 years ago today

First posted ?.

Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

First Publication: May 14, 1925

Category: novel

Sales: ?

Accolades (click on badges to see full lists):

About the Book:

“In Mrs. Dalloway, the novel on which the movie The Hours was based, Virginia Woolf” AZ “details a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post–First World War England.” WK Clarissa is preparing “for a party of which she is to be hostess, exploring the hidden springs of thought and action in one day of a woman’s life.” AZ

Her conflicts about marriage are stirred up when she is visited by “the enigmatic and demanding Peter Walsh,” WK whom she passed over in favor of the “reliable Richard Dalloway.” WK

At her party that evening, she hears about the suicide of a World War I veteran. She “gradually comes to admire this stranger’s act, which she considers an effort to preserve the purity of his happiness.” WK

“Created from two short stories, ‘Mrs Dalloway in Bond Street’ and the unfinished ‘The Prime Minister,’” WK “the novel contains some of the most beautiful, complex, incisive and idiosyncratic sentences ever written in English.” AZ “With an interior perspective, the story travels forwards and back in time and in and out of the characters’ minds to construct an image of Clarissa’s life and of the inter-war social structure.” WK “It is one of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century.” AZ

Resources and Related Links:

Thursday, April 10, 1975

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

Last updated 7/5/2020.

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

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” BN “and one of the greatest novels of American literature.” AZ It “is a vivid chronicle” AZ “of the Jazz Age (1920s) in all its decadence and excess,” LC “a time when The New York Times noted ‘gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession.’” BN

The Great Gatsby captured the spirit of the author’s generation” LC “and earned a permanent place in American mythology.” LC In this “timeless cautionary critique of the American dream,” AZ Fitzgerald explores “themes of class, wealth, and social status” LC by taking “a cynical look at the pursuit of wealth among a group of people for whom pleasure is the chief goal.” LC Jay Gatsby is a “flamboyant but reserved” AZ “self-made, self-invented millionaire” LC “with murky business interests and a shadowy past.” AZ

“Nick Carraway [is] a young bachelor who has just settled in the neighbouring cottage.” AZ After attending “an extravagantly lavish party” AZ at Gatsy’s “Long Island mansion, [he] …is intrigued by the mysterious host.” AZ “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

Resources and Related Links:

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.

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