Friday, May 25, 2012

Red Cross Book Fair 2012

Hello, dear readers, from New Zealand! I was excited when I heard that I would be in the country for the legendary Red Cross Book Fair of Palmerston North. The only problem would be keeping purchase volume down so that I could transport my books back across the Tasman. Did I manage it? Well, ruthless as I was in culling my stacks, here are the must-buys that snuck in:

  • Fabula Petro Cuniculo per Beatricis Potter--yes, it's The Tale of Peter Rabbit in Latin! I can't wait to show this to my little sister, whom I've been tutoring in Latin for over a year...
  • Selected Essays by GK Chesterton, including all the old favourites--A Piece of Chalk, On Lying in Bed, On Chasing After One's Hat...
  • Bleak House by Charles Dickens--so I can read the one Dickens book everyone tells me about!
  • The Harvest of Yesterday by Emily S Holt--my first ES Holt book!
  • The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  • Green Dolphin Country by Elizabeth Goudge--with adorable dustcover
  • The Collected Poems of GK Chesterton--just what I've always wanted!
  • The Ballad of the White Horse by GK Chesterton--rendered redundant by the previous find, of course, but I can find someone who might like it
  • Love Poems by Christina Rossetti--I kept my eyes skinned, but this was the only Christina Rossetti book I could find. Decidedly her love poems were the least of her output, but this is a start at least, with lovely Pre-Raphaelite pictures sprinkled throughout.
  • The Magic Walking Stick by John Buchan
  • North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • The Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope
  • Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life and Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald S Whitney
  • Arthurian Romances by Chretien de Troyes--At last! At last I have Chretien de Troyes!!!
Trust me, there were many more I had to leave behind! We waited in the queue for an hour and a half before the booksale opened--by the time it did, the queue stretched across the carpark out onto the street. Fortunately we were right near the head of the column and were able to get in ahead of most of the wild rush. Thanks to the Smiths of the Home Education Foundation of New Zealand for hosting me on my stay here in Palmerston North, and consoling me by buying all the books I couldn't!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Princess Adelina by Julie Sutter

Every so often I am reminded that I am not the only one to be interested in rediscovering lost gems! Many of the publishers and suppliers catering to home educators have resurrected, rebound, and re-released long-forgotten tales for new audiences. Such is The Princess Adelina, now published in a beautiful new hardback edition by Vision Forum.

Originally published by the Religious Tract Society, The Princess Adelina is a fictionalised account of the early life of Bilihild, wife of Hedan II of Thuringia. When the story opens, this little province just north of Bavaria in sixth-century Germany still has an uneasy relationship with the Irish missionaries and their Christian faith. After the Christian Herzog, or duke, dies and his pagan son Hedan inherits Thuringia, the Christian settlers fear that their uneasy peace is over. But then Hedan falls in love with the Christian maiden Adelina (Bilihild), and orders her to marry him. To save her people from Hedan's wrath, Adelina complies and comes to love the prince even as she learns to fear his controlling mother, Geila. But the pagan nobles of Thuringia are determined to destroy her, and the undisciplined love of a heathen can never be a good foundation for future happiness. The clouds are gathering. What is to become of Adelina and her people?

This was a quick read and would be an excellent read-aloud choice for young children. Although the language is archaic, it is deftly handled and was never obstructive. I get the impression that the story was heavily fictionalised by the author, but I did enjoy the suspense and adventure woven into the plot. While girls will find this story most attractive, there's plenty to interest boys as well.

There was a good amount of historical detail and (knowing Vision Forum) generally excellent theological points. This was definitely the first novel I've ever read with information on the earliest monasteries--family communities which men with their wives and children established in heathen countries to serve as evangelistic centres. It was also pleasant to read a story in which the heroine is reminded of 1 Peter 3:1-2:
Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. 
The Vision Forum edition has been edited by Perry and Kimberly Coghlan. Not having read the original, I can't comment on any changes they might have made, but must commend the publishers for producing such a pretty book, in such a lovely hardback. Thank you, folks!

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Clunes Booktown 2012

I have a few public announcements to make, but I promise that this post will be as book-filled as I can make it.
First of all, I am making another journey to New Zealand to see the lovely Narelle of Boutique Narelle (helping you to be modest and gorgeous since 2008!). I will be away for a few weeks, so posting may be light during the merry month of May.

Second, for those of my readers based in Victoria, Australia, there's a little bookish event I simply must tell you about. The historic town of Clunes, just half an hour's drive north of Ballarat, comes alive for one weekend every May, and becomes Booktown--a little country village bursting with book shops, sales, stalls, and stands of every description! Thousands of books and thousands of bookworms descend upon the little town, which becomes a reader's paradise. There's something there for everyone's budget, from the 50-cent or dollar book sales to the $5 sales to that $600 first-edition Biggles book your collection so badly needs. This was the second year I attended, on a strict budget, and because one can never be too gleeful about one's finds, I catalogue them below.
Booktown finds:
  • Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter (spare/gift copy)
  • A Blessed Girl by Lady Emily Lutyens (Memoirs of a Victorian Girlhood 1887-1896)
  • Told by Peter by Mary Grant Bruce (rare find, for a very low price!)
  • A Book of Princesses selected by Sally Patrick Johnson (collection of princess stories by authors from Kipling and Dickens to Nesbit and Thurber, including all of The Light Princess by George MacDonald)
  • Banner Over Me by Margery Greenleaf (A Tale of the Norman Conquest—really like this book!)
  • The Dean's Watch by Elizabeth Goudge (for Kara!)
  • The Christian Gentleman by GC Davy (A Book of Courtesy and Social Guidance for Boys)
  • The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer (well, it was fifty cents...)
  • The Young Fur-Traders by RM Ballantyne
  • Quentin Durward by Sir Walter Scott (One of my favourite Scotts! Great place to start reading him, if you've never read Scott before!)
  • Martin Rattler by RM Ballantyne
  • For Love and Duty by Alfred H Miles (Historical and Other Stories—nice old vintage book)
  • The Flight of the Heron by DK Broster (I keep hearing this name, everyone loves a Jacobite uprising, and I finally gave in and bought a copy!)
  • L'Abri by Edith Schaeffer
  • Fabulous Beasts by Monika Beisner and Alison Lurie (A lovely picture book, illustrated almost like a medieval manuscript, solemnly cataloguing some famous mythical creatures)
  • The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope (It will wait till I've found and read the others)
  • Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope (I already have Can You Forgive Her)
  • The Victorian Age in Literature by GK Chesterton
  • The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge (A perfectly sweet book for little girls)
  • The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (yes, I finally gave in, I'm going to read it, though I don't know if I'll like it)
  • Augustus by John Buchan (One of his biographies)
  • Billabong Adventurers by Mary Grant Bruce (A favourite in the series—and unedited!)
  • Eldorado by Baroness Orczy
  • The Three Hostages by John Buchan (for my mother's library)
  • English Literature by HE Marshall (who wrote Our Island Story. Found this massive hardback in in a cardboard box for $2!)
  • A History of Australia Vol I by Manning Clark, 1962 edition (The legendary 1962 edition! The politically incorrect edition!)
  • Strong Poison, Murder Must Advertise, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers (Some of the best!)
  • Piers the Ploughman by Langland (prose translation by JF Goodridge: I thought, eh, I don't want to read it in prose—but then!)
  • Piers the Plowman by Langland (unaltered and untranslated! YES! I can just read English of this date. It's got Þorns, and I can use the translation if I need it!)
  • Parzival by Wolfram von Eschenbach (the great German Arthurian poem—in a prose translation, oh well—but still!! Hooray!)
It is sad that I shall have to leave all of these books behind me on my NZ trip. However, as it turns out, I shall be in that country during the legendary Red Cross Book Fair, on the 25th-27th of May in Palmerston North. I can see I shall have to pack light.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux

Chances are that you've heard of The Phantom of the Opera—or at any rate of Andrew Lloyd Webber's baroque pop musical, so beloved by thirteen-year-old girls and middle-aged women. If you were ever a thirteen-year-old girl, you may even have read the original I did.

Of course, my modus operandi was always to start by reading the book before ever getting around to adaptations, so that's what I did. I discovered that Gaston Leroux's legendary book is a sensational, melodramatic gothic novel set in the Paris Opera in the late 1800s, and introduced by a very serious Prologue assuring the reader that the Opera Ghost did, in fact, exist.

The plot will be familiar to most of you, I think. The Paris Opera has just been bought by new owners, who are shocked to discover that the Opera is haunted—by a tyrannical ghost that demands a share in the Opera profits, a reserved box in the theatre, and his protege Christine Daae to become the prima donna.

Christine is naïve, beautiful, and musically talented; her father, a famous violinist, told her before his death that when he had gone to heaven, he would send the Angel of Music to teach her. Soon after her arrival at the Opera, she begins to hear a heavenly voice; when she asks him whether he is the Angel of Music, he tells her that he is. When Carlotta, the Opera's current leading lady, falls ill Christine is asked to sing Margarita in Faust: her performance is a triumph, and her childhood friend Raoul, now the Comte de Chagny, who is in the audience recognises her and determines to renew their friendship.

But after the performance, Christine disappears for a few days. When she finally reappears, Raoul tries to renew their acquaintance, but as she evades him, he becomes more and more certain that something is wrong. Why is Christine avoiding him? Who is the genius teacher that requires her total loyalty? And who is terrorising the Opera's owners into making Christine the new prima donna?

This book is one of two Leroux books I have read; reading another put this one in context. Leroux's books appear to be characterised by a 'police procedural' style—to the point where The Phantom of the Opera seems, in places, less a sensational novel and more an attempt to convince French officials that the events actually happened. In addition, they show a trenchant sense of humour, some totally bizarre occurrences, and a fascination with double or deceiving identities.

If your only exposure to the story comes for the Lloyd Webber musical, you may be in for a slight shock. Leroux's novel is uneven, strange, and unsettling: Raoul is barely twenty, and a self-absorbed, immature and regularly irrational young man; but pitiful and petty as he occasionally seems, it's the Opera Ghost that takes the cake—a musical and architectural genius, yes, but also an unhinged, childish freak whose ugliness is matched only by his taste for bizarre and barbaric cruelty. One sympathises with Christine having to choose between them. This is not like the musical, in which Raoul is boring and the Phantom is tormented but both of them are intended to be attractive. The book Phantom is never remotely attractive to the sober-minded reader: he is a pitiful monster whose dream—to be a normal man taking a normal walk in the park with his normal wife—is pathetic and impossible mainly because of his own near insanity.

It's been a while since I read The Phantom of the Opera, but in thinking it over my attention is caught by the symbolism of the opera which the Opera Ghost is writing: it is titled Don Juan Triumphant, and is clearly intended to be a subverted version of all the operas about seducers who entertain their audiences with their wicked deeds before being unexpectedly dragged to Hell at the end of the third act—the “have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too” morality tale. Operas like Don Giovanni and Rigoletto featured stories or characters like this, all based loosely on the Don Juan legend.

Clearly, the Opera Ghost's magnumopus is intended to be a subversion of this, probably one in which the Don Juan character gets away with his deeds. This is, of course, the Opera Ghost's intention as well: his misdeeds are more along the lines of torture, killing, and kidnapping, but he certainly intends to have his own way. His choice of Don Juan as a self-insert character for his own opera does not so much drip as pour down irony: his ghastly looks have ensured that no woman could ever bear to look at him. His hubristic declaration of triumph is similarly subverted, at the end.

Although extremely melodramatic and sensational, full of a very specific kind of nineteenth-century silliness, The Phantom of the Opera is an enjoyable Gothic tale of suspense, mystery, and murder with some very interesting themes.

The Phantom of the Opera has been filmed multiple times and adapted into a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The early films, including the well-known Lon Chaney version, seem to preserve the feel of the book much better than does the does the musical.


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