Archive for December 2007

A gallimaufrey

I have much that should be blogged, and so, to save time, I’m going to throw it all in here together and have done. It’ll be a bit of a higgle-piggle or hodge-podge, but in the spirit of the season, there should be something here for everybody.

  • I did indeed reread Alan Garner’s The Moon of Gomrath and found it full of the splendour of high magic but perhaps less of a well-rounded story than the Weirdstone. Poor Collin seems almost incidental in it, as his sister Susan goes, as it were, away with the fairies, but there’s some heady, visionary stuff along the way. This is how it ends (NO SPOILER ALERT: don’t worry, I don’t think I’m giving much away here):

    The horsemen climbed from the hillside to the air, growing vast in the sky, and to meet them came nine women, their hair like wind. And away they rode together across the night, over the waves, and beyond the isles, and the Old Magic was free forever, and the moon was new.

  • While reading Gomrath I got interested in the Wild Hunt motif, and guess how I found some really good material? By searching Google Books. From a volume of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, for instance, I learned that “a dark gigantic rider, upon a steed of vast dimensions, was wont to traverse in stormy nights the hills of Horwich Moor”, a few miles north of Manchester, on the outskirts of Bolton.
  • The previous post’s title, “Dark Materials” was meant, in its roundabout way, to allude to the fact that I’m reading children’s fantasy literature again as a prelude to reading Philip Pullman’s trilogy. This might have to be put off a little bit longer, however, owing to my discovery of Susan Cooper’s five-book Dark is Rising sequence. If the other four are as good as The Dark is Rising itself, then I’m in for a treat. The character of Hawkin, terribly abused by Light and Dark alike, is a finely ambivalent creation; dark materials indeed.
  • Switching genres almost unfeasibly, my eye was caught lately by avant garde Canadian poet Christian Bök’s choice of “five of the best books of avant-garde poetry published in Canada during this last year”, chiefly because one of them is The Alphabet Game, a compendium of material by bpNichol. As an aside, I’m tempted to refer to this list as Bök’s Globules, the (umlaut-free) existence of which I discovered while idly browsing Google Sky (see how this all comes together. Who said hodge-podge?)
  • That excellent site Ballardian has had a redesign. Very nice. [via del.icio.us/bldgblog]
  • What, no ‘Books of the Year’ list? Not when The Millions and ReadySteadyBook do these things so much better. Here, though are some of the titles the monkey will be immersing himself in over the Christmas period: Will Cohu’s Out of the Woods, with its beautiful illustrations by Mungo McCosh, was a must-buy as soon as I saw it, and has already taught me more than a thing or two I didn’t know about trees; Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, also finely illustrated, by Corinna Sargood, and wickedly funny; Jerome K. Jerome’s Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow – not that I have that many days to be idle in, more’s the pity; John Masefield’s The Box of Delights – who could resist the tagline “Christmas ought to be brought up to date, it ought to have gangsters, and aeroplanes and a lot of automatic pistols.”?; and Laetitia Wolff’s monograph on the French graphic designer Robert Massin – wonderfully creative, rough-edged work inspired by vernacular typography. Happy holiday!

Written by Dave Lovely

December 22, 2007 at 5:05 pm

Dark materials

These magical and mysterious jacket illustrations by George Adamson for Alan Garner’s two children’s fantasy classics, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Moon of Gomrath give the four-shilling (in 1969, the back cover also carried the decimal equivalent, ’20p’) Puffin paperbacks I still own the richness of jewel-encrusted incunabula from a wizard’s study.

book jacket for Alan Garner's The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
book cover for Puffin edition of Alan Garner's The Moon of Gomrath

Garner himself was delighted with the Weirdstone cover, commenting ‘I could not have hoped for the mood of the book to be better expressed. George Adamson has caught it exactly. Fenodyree is just as I imagined him and the eyes are the best part of the jacket.’ [Fenodyree is one of the main characters, a dwarf]

On re-reading the Weirdstone – accomplished with the same kind of voraciousness I remember giving it as a child: that not-wanting-to-stop feeling – I’m struck particularly by a couple of things. It’s quite a radical book. It doesn’t flinch from death, or darkness, or pain. Susan, one of the two central human characters, makes several decisive interventions, and is never made to shrink behind the other, male, characters – quite unusual, I would think, for a book written in the late 1950s. There’s a minor character, a stuffy local businessman, who turns out to be a spy for the forces of darkness – a small thing, but a reminder never to trust petty respectability. You never can tell. Philip Pullman is a big admirer of these books, and this, I’m sure, is one reason why. Then, Garner’s descriptions of the Cheshire landscape – the brooding hills, the torturous underground passages – make the natural environment a shaping force of the narrative. There’s something out there older, other, than us, and it affects what happens to us. It’s not a backdrop.

Now for Gomrath. I can’t wait.

Written by Dave Lovely

December 9, 2007 at 4:15 pm

The key of perfect change

Now that I’ll no longer be spending more time moving books around than reading them – 200 boxes a day, average of, say, 30 books per box (sometimes more, sometimes fewer) = 6,000 books, of which I’d typically be handling at least half of them: nasty, heavy things they are, in piles or shrinkwraps of 20-plus – I should once again have the modicum of leisure necessary to post here.

So to begin with, here’s a quote, taken at random, from my ancient copy of Jonathan Cott’s Stockhausen: Conversations with the Composer:

Stockhausen himself lives modestly. he has few possessions and seems to wear only two pairs of light trousers, a couple of white Mexican shirts, and occasionally a Norfolk jacket. His study also exemplifies this simplicity: on a long, slightly angular desk – following the shape of the windows – are placed rulers, pencils, and a telephone. Antique cymbals, bells, and bamboo sticks hang from the ceiling. There’s a phonograph and tape machines, a couple of shelves of books, a map of the stars – northern and southern sky – attached to a closet, and a wonderfully rich-sounding but fast-actioned spinet piano next to the desk on which Stockhausen sometimes plays ragtime and folk tunes for his children. On the piano stand is a photo of the composer’s youngest child Simon, on the bottom of which is written:

We may find when all the rest has failed
Hid in ourselves the key of perfect change

– Aurobindo, in Savitri

Written by Dave Lovely

December 8, 2007 at 9:55 pm

Posted in books, meta, music

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