Monday, January 25, 2016

Book (Series) Review: The Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander

Wow. That was amazing.

My siblings and I just finished an epic read-aloud journey into the far-off world of Prydain, created by Lloyd Alexander. Something about fantasy series - there's just nothing like them. Especially when they're read out loud. Know what I mean? Some of my greatest sibling memories were formed when my dad was reading The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia out loud to us. Falling in love with the characters and the constant wondering what would happen next gave us something to talk about and share in common despite our different interests, and - well, enough reminiscing. :) Prydain was a rare chance to share yet another fantasy journey with my siblings when I was near convinced there wasn't anything left to read. :)

So, there are five books in the series, in this order:
1. The Book of Three
2. The Black Cauldron
3. The Castle of Llyr
4. Taran Wanderer
5. The High King

My review will be of the series as a whole, and at the end, if you're interested, you may see the books listed in order of my favorite to my least favorite. :)

File:The Chronicles of Prydain (book cover collage).jpg

What was it about?

I already mentioned it was an epic fantasy journey - can anything else be said? :)

Actually, the plot was very similar to The Lord of the Rings - a dark lord rising to power and casting a shadow of fear over the land, his disgusting minions striking terror into the hearts of the good folk, and an unlikely hero joining with a band of unlikely friends to fight evil. There were lots of differences from The Lord of the Rings, however. The story wasn't simply a quest to defeat Arawn (I know, it sounds shamefully similar to Sauron); Arawn's power isn't as far-reaching and creepy as Sauron's, and several of the books hardly mentioned him. The series is really more of a coming-of-age story than an adventure story at heart (though it is chock full of adventure!), as we see Taran grow from a rash, rude-mannered little boy to a great hero.

And Lloyd Alexander's style was much different from Tolkien's - much faster-paced and more comic.

What were the characters like?


Ohhhh, they were awesome. And I'm still writhing in agony trying to decide on my favorite one.

Let's see, the protagonist was definitely Taran, the Assistant Pig-Keeper. He was one of the first main characters I'd been able to actually attach to in a long time. Usually I like the main characters and only really love the side characters, but Taran is actually in the running for my favorite character in this series. He's so delightfully flawed in the beginning, with all these boyish misconceptions about heroes and battles and such, and he grows in such a wonderful, gradual, believable way (although I did feel like at the beginning of The Black Cauldron he kinda forgot everything he learned in The Book of Three...or maybe he just got caught up in the excitement of a new adventure).

Then there was Eilonwy. Ooh, Eilonwy! - the talkative, spunky, "Taran-of-Caer-Dallben-I-told-you-so" Eilonwy. And her golden bauble that glows in the dark. That bauble was really cool.

And there was Fflewddur Flam, the absolutely hilarious, endearing, adorable bard. (I don't know what he'd think of me calling him adorable. But I shall call him adorable anyway, for I adored him.) I really think he must be my favorite, with his constant "A Flam is fearless!" "A Flam never falters!" and his harp with the strings that break whenever he tells a lie. (Oh, "lie" is such a malicious word...let's say "fib.")

And then there was Gurgi! Faithful little Gurgi! Think Sam Gamgee and Gollum rolled into one - but a cute version of Gollum, a furry version of Gollum. He's sacrificial, he's loyal, he's sensitive, he's endearingly shaggy and continuously hungry and heartbreakingly funny I. Loved. Gurgi.

And Gwydion. The Christ-figure/Aragorn guy. Enough said. Not strictly funny, mind you, but absolutely and totally awesome all the same just because he's such an epic hero.

And my other favorite character was Prince Rhun, the curious, well-meaning, bumbling Prince Rhun. It's really a crying shame he was only in two of the five books, because I loved him so. He did not come in half as much as he should have. *pouts*

All of them were very well-developed, with their own little quirks and flaws and strengths. All of them grew, unless perhaps they were meant to be despicable all the way. All of them were awesome.

Was there anything not-so-great about it?

Um. I already mentioned the very-similar-to-The-Lord-of-the-Rings-thing. At first I refused to admit it was so. But it is. It's not enough to stop me from loving it, but it does make the whole thing a tad less...original.

One other MAJOR disappointment. The ending. I. Am. So. Mad. At. The. Ending. So much so that I asked my siblings NEVER to let me write an ending like this. I hereby give them permission to bop me over the head if I do. IT TORE MY HEART OUT! And crushed it into little tiny pieces. No author has the RIGHT to do this to his characters, not to mention to his readers! Okay, that was an overreaction. Lloyd Alexander warned us in the author's not of The High King (another great little thing about this series, the author's notes) that we would have to decide for ourselves whether the ending was "happy, heartbreaking, or both." Well, Lloyd Alexander, here is my opinion: it was heartbreaking. Absolutely and utterly heartbreaking. Maybe in a month, or a year, or a decade, I will be able to see the happy part. But as of now my world has crumbled to ruin.

What gems of beauty/wisdom were hidden in its depths?

If I can get over my slump about the ending, I will tell you. *goes back to re-read analysis of the characters*

There was lots of loveliness in it. At times, it struck me with a depth of allegory comparable to Narnia or LOTR. I've mentioned before that Gwydion is quite the Christ-figure. I haven't actually sat down and written out all the allegories that might be in it, but I felt them as I was reading, if that makes any sense. The whole series just has a very deep, truth-filled feel to it, particularly the climactic battle in The High King. It makes me wonder if Lloyd Alexander was a Christian. I bet he was. Although I don't have any source to confirm that.

About every book had lovely little quotes scattered through it. Let's see if I can find some....

"It is not the trappings that make the prince, nor, indeed, the sword that makes the warrior." - Gwydion, The Book of Three

"My dear boy, this is a bit of metal hammered into a rather unattractive shape; it could better have been a pruning hook or a plow iron. Its powers? Like all weapons, only those held by him who wields it." - Dallben the wizard on Taran's sword, The Black Cauldron

"If you want truth, you should begin by giving it." - Dallben, Taran Wanderer

In conclusion!

I loved this book. The characters were awesome. The ending was horrible. Overall I recommend it. And I shall most probably read it again. Possibly skipping the last chapter or two. Or possibly even skipping the last book. Or even the last two books.

Speaking of the books! Here they are in order of my favorite to least favorite.

Favorite: The Castle of Llyr, Book 3. Because it was the happiest one with the happiest ending, and because it had the most Prince Rhun in it. And, oh, the climax was so exhilarating and sweet and painful.

Second favorite: The Black Cauldron, Book 2. I actually think this probably had the most well-done plot - it would have worked pretty well as a stand-alone. It's not my favorite because it's a good deal heavier than The Castle of Llyr.

Third favorite: The Book of Three, Book 1. It only took a few days to get through this book, because the characters were so tantalizing and delightful and the plot was so exciting, and it just makes you want to read the whole series! It's bumped down to #3 on the list mostly because I feel like the climax wasn't very...climactic. Like, it was a great start to the series, but Taran didn't actually...accomplish much at the end.

Fourth favorite: The High King, Book 5. Even though it broke my heart and crushed my soul (to quote Tangled), that was mostly only at the end. If it hadn't been for the last few chapters (and a few heartbreaking incidents through the book), it would've been tops. The plot/climax was really good, and it was great to see all the loose ends of all the other books finally tied up. Plus pretty much every character who came in before and was still alive had an appearance, which is cool.

Least favorite: Taran Wanderer, Book 4. Because even though it started out absolutely awesomely, it was extremely disappointing at the end. Not only did it not have Eilonwy, not only did Taran spend a dull three chapters wandering around "the Free Commots" (the name was enough to strike terror of boredom into my siblings' hearts ever after), but *spoiler* you spend the whole book waiting for Taran to find his parents, and then *spoiler* he doesn't find them. So the conflict wasn't even solved.

And that wraps up my probably-too-long ramble on the Chronicles of Prydain. (You forgive me for rambling, right? Because fantasy series are so easy to obsess over?)

Have you read any of these books? Did you like them? Do you agree with me that the ending is heartbreaking, or was I too hard on Lloyd Alexander?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Truth Shall Triumph - a Poem

I don't think I've posted this poem before...have I? :) Anyway, I wrote it awhile ago, and thought it was appropriate in wake of the March for Life on January 22. Besides, I'm tired of posting book reviews....
Truth Shall Triumph

We live in a world that is crawling with lies -
White creeping maggots, that blind our eyes
By blocking our vision and making us see
The world as the devil wants it to be;
They nibble away at our minds and our flesh,
Until only pitiful matter is left.
Yet still the Truth, with her blazing sword,
Mounts the skies on her vivid wings,
And shines with glory, reflecting the Word
Who lights up even the darkest things.
Her bright sword glaring burns weak eyes;
Yet the only thing she harms are lies.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review - Lay Siege to Heaven, by Louis de Wohl

I'll be honest: when I picked up Lay Siege to Heaven, by Louis de Wohl, I wasn't expecting a riveting read that would keep me up at nights. A good, edifying book, yes; a novel that would hold me spellbound, not so much.

Little did I know the surprise that awaited me beyond that cover.

What was it about?
This novel is a biography of St. Catherine of Siena - but a biography like none I've ever read before. It wasn't so bogged down in historical facts that it was a slow and laborious read, nor was it so fictionalized it felt candy-coated. Rather, it was an extremely enjoyable portrait of an amazing life, painted in the vivid colors of lovely description and sparkling with historical names and places. The Siena of the 1300s leapt to life on the page and sucked me in so that I spent every spare second reading. (Well, maybe not every second....but you get the idea.)
A very interesting thing about the novel is that although the entire story is centered around Catherine, it seldom goes into her point of view. Rather, it focuses more on the people around Catherine. It doesn't strain itself trying to pack into 300 pages all the fascinating things about her life - it doesn't mention, for instance, the invisible ring Christ gave her as a symbol of their spiritual marriage. But it does show a lot about her family and friends, the political problems and set-up of the time, and the troubles the Church was going through during her life.
What were the characters like?
They were awesome!
Who was my favorite one? Catherine! I love a book that makes the saints relatable and human without casting a shadow on their sanctity. Catherine has fears, temptations, doubts, and sorrows; she suffers intensely and flares up with just and holy anger. Yet at the same time, she leaves me speechless with awe and admiration, puts me to shame with her goodness. I should always be reading a book like this because it inspires me to true greatness.
Of course, there were other characters I was quite fond of. Fra Tommaso, Fra Bartolomeo, and Fra Raymond are all holy priests who give Catherine spiritual support - never are they stuffy or dull, but quite often provide a lighthearted take on things (especially Fra Bartolomeo), and in their struggles and shortcomings become as sons to Catherine, whom they hold in respect and awe. There was also a large number of redemptive characters, whom I always find endearing and encouraging. Francesco Malavolti, for example, was very interesting and likable even at his most despicable moments so that I couldn't wait to see if he converted. And - oh! The famous episode where Catherine helps the despairing prisoner had to be one of the most masterfully executed chapters in the entire book. Even the wicked and sinful characters who don't convert are well drawn and thus enjoyable.
Was there anything not-so-great about it?
Well, content-wise, it wasn't a book for little kids, as it didn't hide the decadence and sinfulness of certain characters. But for mature readers that shouldn't be a problem, as good always triumphs. Also there was some taking the name of God in vain. (Often with these old-fashioned characters I can't tell if they're using it in vain or praying, you know?)
The great number of characters, and the fact that quite a few of them share the same first names, adds potential for confusion. I also sort of wish it would've been possible to keep a larger group of main characters heavily involved throughout the story, rather than switching them out so often. (Besides Catherine, I'd guess the characters with the most stage time were...her mother and Fra Raymond? Her mother is there throughout the first half of the book or so and then sort of fades into the background, while Fra Raymond doesn't enter until about hallway through.) But it just wasn't the kind of book that could afford to add subplots involving side characters longer than a chapter or so, and I'm so impressed by the development of characters in such short space that I quite forgive Louis de Wohl for not telling me more about Francesco Malavolti and his friend Neri the poet.
Oh. And a punctuation nitpick. For some reason, the dialogue was punctuated like this, which got on my nerves at first:

"The sky is blue", said Bobby.
Rather than, how I would've put it:
"The sky is blue," said Bobby.
And, no, there's no one named Bobby in the book. That was an example. :)
What gems of beauty/wisdom are hidden in its depths?
Don't get me started. There was so much in this book to rave about. The whole thing was glorious. In particular, there were some very poignant and delectable descriptions. Also, there were lots of great quotes. Some of my favorite were:
"Fra Bartolomeo de'Domenici mopped his forehead. 'I've never dared pray to be allowed a vision', he muttered. 'Praying is such a dangerous thing. Before you know where you are, you're heard.'"
"The Pope must know by now that she was a saint. And saints were uncomfortable people. They had a way of inspiring fear in those who had not yet reached perfection..."
In conclusion? I highly recommend Lay Siege to Heaven to anyone who wants a good saint story. Also, if anyone asks me for a Christmas list anytime soon I'll probably put a Louis de Wohl novel on the list....:)

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Beautiful People - January

I said I had lots of new plans for 2016, and here's one of them taking effect: my first ever Beautiful People post!
These questions were so fun to answer, I'm afraid I went slightly overboard. :)
What were your writing achievements last year?

I finished the first draft of my ridiculous space opera The Prince's Pendant! Two drafts, actually. Came up with the idea in the fall of 2014, and by October 1, 2015, I had the second (still really rough) draft in good enough condition to print out and give to my brother as a birthday present. So I am rather proud of myself, although there are plot holes and terrible descriptions and I'm not even sure who my protagonist is....

I also wrote a spattering of other small projects. The biggest of these was half a novella/novel about Sir Gareth, from Arthurian legend. If I only would've stuck with that enough to finish the first draft, I would be rather impressed with myself. But as it is it's on my list of to-dos. Also, I had a little essay of mine published in Teen Ink's print magazine.....however, I'm not sure how much of an achievement that is, as I'm rather miffed by that organization for several reasons. :)

Tell us about your top priority writing project for this year?
Oh dear. I'm torn about that, actually. However, I think I have it narrowed down to two main options:
Option One: Give my all to that space trilogy I can't stop talking about and draft both Book 2 and Book 3. To quote Flynn Rider, that would be stupendous. I would feel so happy if I could carry Raphael and Dar and Timandra through a big series of adventures and land them in a happily-ever-after and be able to go back and rewrite and edit and edit some more and dream about publication for my little family! But that feels like a really ambitious not to mention messy goal, and I feel I'd actually like to finish something this year. Which brings us to...
Option Two: Try my hand at historical fiction and turn out a tidy little novel that's so well-researched and polished I can start reasonably planning for (and not just dreaming about) publication. That. Would be. Stupendous. Even more so than having super-strength in my hand. :) Because, my dear people, I simply adore history. And the very idea of writing a novel set during the Civil War is so enticing I don't know if I can possibly resist the temptation.
Of course, there's the option of trying to be superwoman and completing both those projects....but I don't know if I'm up for that.
List 5 areas you’d like to work the hardest to improve this year.
Um. Okay. I can do this...
1. Finishing things. And I mean really finishing, as in, editing something to near perfection. Although I tell myself I've "finished" several books in my life, really I know I haven't  completed any of them. I want to gain that focus and determination and stick-with-it-ness that I'll need if I'm ever to write books for a living. (Which would be so awesome there are no words for it...) 
2.Style. Prose, y'know. I'm dreadfully ashamed of how lazily The Prince's Pendant was written. The entire time I was writing it, I had this mindset that when I went back and rewrote it I would polish it up so it read beautifully. Very dangerous and wasteful mindset. That's the whole reason I started writing the Gareth novella - to flex my prose muscles.
3. Research/worldbuilding. Another weakness of The Prince's Pendant, and the Gareth novella, too, for that matter.
4. Characters. Not just characterization, but knowing what a character's purpose is. I never want to write another draft where I'm constantly wondering, "Now, who's my protagonist in this thing?"
5. Theme. I want to be able to write a story that's morally beautiful as well as well-written.
Are you participating in any writing challenges?
If I can come up with a satisfactory story idea and write it out in a satisfactory way before the end of this month, I plan to enter the Tarpeian Rock young writer's contest detailed here:
Besides that, I don't have any contest entries planned. If something comes up and interests me, I'll be likely to take a shot at it.
What's your critique partner/beta reader situation like and do you have plans to expand this year?
I love my beta readers and critique partners. They're so wonderful. :) I'm blessed to have several friends who are willing to read my work and tell me what they think of it, and to act as a sounding-board for my very frequent writing-related fits. Invaluable among my beta readers are my siblings, particularly my two sisters. I was extremely flattered to find them sitting together with my notebook on their laps this morning. I joke that they're my editors. One of them is especially merciless, and won't hesitate to tell me that Timandra is being really weird when she's asking her brother if he likes a certain young lady. :)
Nope. No plans to expand. I mean, if the occasion arises I'll be glad to suck in more friends as beta readers, but that's not really a plan, just a malicious tendency of mine.
Do you have plans to read any writer-related books this year? Or are there specific books you want to read for research?
Not really. If I decide to write that Civil War novel, then I'll need to do a ton of research. I'll probably lean heavily on the internet for that, in addition to begging Mom for stops at the library.
Pick one character you want to get to know better, and how are you going to achieve this?
Um. All of them.
Haha, for example's sake let's say Eldon. Eldon Clemmons. The poor boy was supposed to be my protagonist and I found him the dullest character on the face of the earth (or on the face of Perlacia or Zozzani, depending on which planet he was in at the time). Yet I think he has potential. Rather ironically, my plan is to kick him greatly out of the picture in Book 2 and then bring him back to help the girls get through the crisis at the climax. My guess is that when he shows up as a man instead of just a boy, all outfitted in an Erdanian uniform with a sword and a fighter flier of his own and everything, and is willing to lay his life on the line in the service of the prince, I shall fall head over heels in love with him and have lots of fun developing him in Book 3 and in the rewrite of The Prince's Pendant (if I ever get to that far-off stage).
Do you plan to edit or query, and what’s your plan of attack?
No. Editing and querying sounds like the first stage of a dream come true, but in my heart of hearts I know the first stage of that dream come true is finishing a book. So I'm going to focus on that right now.
Toni Morrison once said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” What are the books that you want to see more of, and what “holes” do you think need filling in the literary world?
Ha, that's an awesome quote. Books I'd like to see more of. Well, although I must admit I don't really read many modern books and therefore don't know what's being published nowadays, I've always wanted to get my hands on a historical novel that recounts some great big event through the eyes of an ordinary person, particularly a child. Hence my ambition to write a novel about the Battle of Lepanto in 1517 someday.
Regarding holes in the literary world, I think we need lots of good, wholesome children's literature. (By "children's" I also mean young adult - I'm in denial about being almost grown up myself.) I want to see books published and sold by secular companies which have nothing offensive in them - books that uphold Christian values, have heroic characters giving a good example, and show the family as something beautiful and glorious. Books that show the marriage bond as indissoluble, books that show religion as something noble and grand, books that set straight historical lies about the Church. Books with more to them than meets the eye. Books that inspire young people to be truly great in the only way that matters. Books that yearn after and point towards all that is good, and true, and beautiful. Books that inspire us to be saints. Books that make us laugh. Books that make us cry.
In other words, I want to see books that will work to reverse the direction in which America's culture is going.
What do you hope to have achieved by the end of 2016?
I hope to have finished something, whether it's a complete draft of my space trilogy or a neatly-finished historical novel about the Civil War.
In addition to that, I want to be able to let go. To know that writing isn't the most important thing in the world. To be able to tear myself away from my story in thought and action so I can be a 17-year-old. I think if I do that, the time I do give to writing will be more likely to be efficient. :)

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review: Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton

Congratulate me, friends! I recently completed a book that was a Christmas present from my parents: Heretics, by G.K. Chesterton. And it was quite wonderful.

Image result for heretics by gk chesterton
Like anything by Chesterton, it was a dazzling read. He's always got something surprising and true to say (apparently that's the only reason we listen to anyone, he says - to hear them say something unexpected). For instance, I never knew before that the most democratic thing in the world is a hereditary monarchy. But according to Chesterton it is, because by giving the power to an entirely random person whose only claim to the throne is blood, it is carrying out the principle tenant of democracy: that no man is better than another and thus any man may rule.
Was the entire book about politics and democracy? Not exactly. Each chapter was Chesterton arguing (in his very genial way) against the heretics of his day - men like George Bernard Shaw and (to my surprise) Rudyard Kipling.
I think the hardest thing about this book was the fact it referred so much to the philosophies of men I knew practically nothing about. For example, I couldn't tell you the first thing about George Bernard Shaw, and my knowledge of Rudyard Kipling doesn't go much further than the poem "If" and the fact that he wrote the Just-So Stories. (And the Jungle Book? Did he write the Jungle Book? I think he did. But I don't know.) Nevertheless, the book definitely deals with matters relevant today, and it's quite possible to read, understand, and appreciate it without knowing much about the heretics discussed. It wasn't so concerned with the men themselves as with their way of looking at things.
At first glance, these worldviews which Chesterton condemns as heresies seem like very trivial matters. The problem with Rudyard Kipling, for example, was that he has no deep-rooted patriotism, but sees England, his homeland, as merely another place which he may move away from if he so chooses. He's a wanderer. And the problem with Mr. McCabe (please don't ask me who he is) is that he objects to saying serious things in a serious way. And the problem with Whistler (or one of his problems, at any rate) is that he cannot escape from viewing himself as an artist, not even when he's taking a walk or eating supper. Chesterton also addresses such things as pessimism and the belief that paganism was more joyful a religion than Christianity. Never does he go into a full-fledged debate about the divinity of Christ, or Mary's perpetual virginity, or the authority of the pope, or anything else you might expect to find addressed in a book entitled "Heretics." And yet, as he argues in his brilliant, engaging, and highly amusing way, it becomes clear that these little things he's talking about aren't so little after all. The vague ideas we have floating around in the back of our head about the simplest things are really what define how we live. And it's incredibly important that we get these ideas straight.
A tip for anyone giving this book a shot: view it as a collection of essays, not one big thesis paper. For about the first half of it, I tried to read each chapter as a part of a whole and got bogged down in all the separate ideas so that they went over my head (which is really a crying shame - I should go back and read those chapters again). When I finally decided to take one chapter at a time, everything made much more sense to me.
As always with Chesterton, the book was chock full of delightful quotes. For example...
"The pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else."
"Humility is so practical a virtue that men think it must be a vice."
"There is no such thing on earth as an uninteresting subject; the only thing that can exist is an uninterested person."
"Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk the problem of what is good. We are fond of talking about 'liberty'; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about 'progress'; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good. We are fond of talking about 'education'; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good."
"But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period."
The greatest thing about reading Chesterton is to see how relevant all his ideas still are. Don't those last two quotes just shout our society today?
Our modern world really needs a slap in the face. If only we could convince it to read Heretics, it might get that slap in the face.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Let Us Pray!

I received the following message via email:

"Someone has said that if Christians really understood the full extent of the power we have available through prayer, we might be speechless. During WWII there was an adviser to Churchill who organized a group of people who dropped what they were doing every day at a prescribed hour for one minute to collectively pray for the safety of England, its people and peace. There is now a group of people organizing the same thing here in America. If you would like to participate, Every evening at 9:00 PM Eastern Time (8:00 PM Central) (7:00 PM Mountain)(6:00 PM Pacific), stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the safety of the United States and for a return to a Godly nation. If you know anyone else who would like to participate, please pass this along. Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have. Please forward this to your praying friends."

That's a great idea, isn't it? And it's a great idea for a New Year's resolution, too. Our country is in such need of help - the road it has been traveling down is anything but holy, and it's high time for a change. It's up to the people of the United States to work to change that.

Even if you aren't an American citizen, the whole world needs prayer. Not to sound pessimistic, but America is not the only country turning away from God or threatened by vice. Our whole world is in need of conversion. 

There's no such thing as overestimating the power of prayer. So let's get praying!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Book Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

I have returned!
I recently completed an exhilarating trip to Europe...experienced an adventure in the countries of France and England...traveled back in time to the tumultuous days of the French Revolution!
In other words, I just finished reading The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy.
Ooh, look! This must be what a scarlet pimpernel really looks like. "A small English wayside flower," I think they called it.
It's the star-shaped image of this flower which the Pimpernel uses to sign his anonymous letters.

What was it about?
Adventure! Romance! Mystery! Suspense!
(Well, okay. It would've been suspenseful if I hadn't known the story already. You see, my mom read the abridged version aloud to me and my younger siblings a few years ago and - never mind.)
This marvelous work centers around the heroic plots and daring ingenuity of the Scarlet Pimpernel, a mysterious Englishmen who regularly risks life and limb snatching the hunted aristocrats from the claws of the frenzied revolutionists. (The guillotine! The barricades! The Committee of Public Safety! Old hags knitting as they watch the executions! Oh, it's all so exciting.) Who is this Scarlet Pimpernel? None can say. And there is no way I'm going to tell you, because half the fun of reading the book is guessing his identity - mwahaha!

What were the characters like?
Well, the heroine is the dazzlingly beautiful Marguerite Blakeney, "the cleverest woman in Europe," who is married to an "inane fop" named Sir Percy Blakeney. Marguerite's quite interesting: on the outside, she's a sparkling, admired figure who should be the happiest being on earth. But on the inside, she's miserable. And this misery only increases as the plot speeds up - mwahaha again.
I don't know if there was a character in this book I didn't like. The several members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel who showed up were all prodigiously amiable fellows, and as for their leader, the Scarlet Pimpernel himself - well! He's simply wonderful, one of the most heroic, likable, and admirable characters in literature as far as I'm concerned. I also was quite taken with Marguerite's brother, Armand St. Just. Something about those older brother characters...and the way she and he were so devoted to each other, it was simply sweet. Maybe not "simply." Heart-wrenchingly might be a better word, considering where Marguerite's concern for her brother led her...
Even the villain was not only remarkably villainous, but surprisingly...sympathetic. Several years ago when we read the abridgement, I considered Chauvelin the creepiest snake who ever crawled on the face of the earth. On revisiting the story, however, I've found there's something pathetic and admirable about him. He's made me believe that an essential part of a really detestable villain is to give them a virtue of some sort. Chauvelin's virtue is his selflessness, his absolute devotion to his cause. Granted, that cause is a simply rotten one. Which is where his villainy comes in.

Was there anything not-so-great about it?
Content-wise, there was a bit of mild, British-y language in it. Also, there were a few slight, subtle references to adulterous habits or tendencies among the aristocracy - but I am happy to say all the main characters are very good, moral, upstanding people, and overall there was a very strong message of the indissolubility of the marriage bond. The moral strengths of the book quite outweighed its weaknesses, I believe.
Style-wise, you could tell Baroness Orczy was not a modern American writer. At times her use of punctuation and wording got on my nerves. But if I heard somebody else criticizing her just for being old-fashioned, I would probably give them a mental punch in the nose, so I shall be quiet on that front from this point forward. :)

What gems of wisdom were hidden within its pages?
There were so many great themes in this book.
One thing I really loved about it was the way it portrayed marriage. Maybe it wasn't the most realistic portrayal - I mean, it was a pretty happily-ever-after sunshine-and-roses ending - but I honestly don't have any problem with that; we need to have some stories, I think, that do have that happily-ever-after sunshine-and-roses ending. So much of the book was about the relationship between Marguerite and her husband Percy, and how she goes from thinking he's just an irritating, brainless, spineless fop to respecting and loving him with all her heart. There was something so very - pretty - about watching Marguerite's love for Percy bud and blossom and turn into sheer adoration. And although the final romantic scene between them was delightfully romantic, it was, at the same time, down-to-earth, as Percy's character wouldn't allow for mere sweet-talking. I do wish I could be more explicit, but to do so would be to give spoilers.
Also, (and I will blabber on about this a few paragraphs below), I saw a good deal of allegory in the story. Whether or no Baroness Orczy meant to put it there, I have no idea; but the Scarlet Pimpernel is a Christ-figure if I ever saw one. The way he risks everything for the French aristos who mean nothing to him, the way he hides his own identity and robs himself of the glory the English would love to heap upon him - oh, he was just so awesome, despite the flaws which made his personality more endearing.
And my favorite quote? I underlined this bit of dialogue, a conversation between a recently rescued aristo and the gallant Sir Andrew who assisted her to England. He has been describing to her the workings of her rescuer, the anonymous Scarlet Pimpernel.

"Ah! Monsieur," sighed the Comtesse, "it all sounds like a romance, and I cannot understand it all."

"Why should you try, Madame?"
I will leave you to conjecture why that struck me as so profound. :)

And now, here are my scatterbrained conjectures on the allegories in this treasure of a book. WARNING: THIS WILL OF NECESSITY CONTAIN SPOILERS. And The Scarlet Pimpernel is not half so fun to read with spoilers. One of the greatest things about it is its unpredictability. It is perhaps above all a mystery novel, a suspense story, a guessing game, an enigmatic puzzle which will surprise and delight you. Therefore, if you have not yet read it, I hereby entreat and command thee to read no further. :)

Alright. So. Here I go...

The Scarlet Pimpernel is the Christ-Figure; Marguerite represents fallen mankind, as do Armand and the endangered aristos; and Chauvelin, I believe, represents the devil. (Sir Andrew and Marguerite agree with me on that one.)

Percy Blakeney's disguise as an "inane fop" is a lowering of himself for the sake of his mission, distantly reflecting Christ's becoming truly Man in order to redeem mankind. To save those ensnared by the French Revolution (which is the result of the aristos' own sinfulness as well as the rowdiness of the revolutionists, whom I see as avenging devils), Percy Blakeney, who really has no reason to care for these French people, risks everything. Not only does he regularly endanger life and limb on daring escapades in France, but he completely humbles himself in England by pretending to be a brainless fop. His anonymity isn't just clever and necessary; it's also very humble. Everyone adores the Scarlet Pimpernel, but no one respects Sir Percy. (In a similar way, everyone awaited the Messiah, but very few believed Christ was He.)

Marguerite's sin reflects the sin of mankind. Marguerite, like the sinful, lost, helpless people of the real world who have fallen into sin, has no idea who Percy really is. She can't see past his outward appearance; for, much as Isaiah said of Christ, there is nothing about Sir Percy to make her look twice. Then, like Adam and Eve - though she is less blameless than they - she is tricked into sin.  The result is terrible: by trying to get along by herself and not turning to her husband for advice (like a sinner trying to get along without grace), she condemns the Scarlet Pimpernel to death. Chauvelin, a devilish figure if ever there was one, insists that either Percy (the Christ-figure) or Armand (a sinful soul) must die. Too late, Marguerite realizes her guilt, realizes the Scarlet Pimpernel is her husband, realizes how much she loves him. She does all in her power to save him - but again, she is helpless. All she can do is strive to save him and thus show her love for him, her repentance. (In the same way, we can't save ourselves, but we still must strive to in order to show our love for Christ Who gave everything for us.)

Percy pays for Marguerite's crime as Christ paid for our sins. Percy, meanwhile, is quite willing to pay for Marguerite's blunder. Disguised once more, in perhaps his most humble disguise yet, considering the hatred Chauvelin holds for Jewish folk (and isn't it pleasing that at this most sacrificial moment Percy takes on Christ's own religion?), he takes the consequences of Marguerite's sin without complaining (and isn't it satisfying that he is beaten, as Christ was scourged?). In the end, Percy triumphs over Chauvelin despite unspeakable odds - rising, as it were, from a metaphorical grave. We realize, now, that Percy was in control all the time - Chauvelin was hopeless from the beginning and Marguerite, for all her pain and anguish, has done nothing to help Percy except to offer him love and comfort.

There! Those are my thoughts on The Scarlet Pimpernel. Anyone else out there who thinks this is a great book? Did you see any allegories or gems of wisdom that I missed?

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Year of Grace 2016

The Year of Our Lord 2016 is upon us! Happy New Year, everybody!

'Tis also still the Christmas season. And since I haven't yet gotten around to doing anything Christmasy on this little blog of mine, merry Christmas! I shall copy and paste my latest Christmas poem at the end of this post.

So, traditionally, it's time for New Year's Resolutions. My resolutions are usually more like good intentions...they don't lead where I'd really like them to. But that shouldn't stop me from making them, right?

Did I fulfil last year's New Year's resolution? Umm....teehee, no. I'd wanted to read the entire Bible, front to back. I regret to say that didn't happen. BUT, I did read a lot more of the Bible than I would have if I hadn't made that resolution. So. It must've done some good. Therefore I shall make more resolutions this year.

What would I like to get done this year? Lots! Let's see. I would like to...

1. Read the Bible. Not front to cover the way I planned to do last year. But maybe I could get into the habit of reading a little every day, in the morning and at night. That would be extremely rewarding, and probably do more good than an I'm-gonna-get-this-done-if-it-kills-me attitude.

2. Spend more time with my family doing the little girl things (and the big girl things) I haven't made time for - paper doll games, checker games, chores, reading out loud, sewing, that kind of thing. I don't want to leave home without making lots of fun memories. :)

3. Finish writing something! I would absolutely love to knuckle down and write a good book for once. Something I can really be proud of. Something polished up and neat and sparkly clean. Something with interesting characters, a unique setting, lovely prose, and an original, interesting plot. I've got a couple of ideas for this mystery book, but - sigh. That's just the problem. I've got too many ideas, and don't know which to focus on. I still want to work on that space trilogy of mine, if only for my siblings' sake, but what I really have a hankering to get into is historical fiction. And I also have a really fun, tantalizing start on a little fantasy.... So we will see what happens.

4. This blog! Really not a top priority, as evidenced by my sketchy posts. :) But. It would be very fun to actually get it rolling. I have big plans, my dear people - plans for book reports and writing-related ramblings and maybe some ranting against the evils in this world. Random stuff like that. :)

Okay. I've got other plans and hopes and ambitions, but I'd better stop there. Despite the fact that four is an even number and I don't like ending things on even numbers. I feel it leaves a loose end. (I suppose that's just a weird idiosyncrasy of mine.)

Now! Here is that Christmas poem I promised....if I can find it...ah! Here we are. Oh dear. Reading this over I find the meter a bit off at places. One of my pet peeves when it comes to poetry. Oh well. Here it is anyway. :)

To the Lord who Makes Himself Little

When you came to mankind, Jesus,
In the far-off days of old,
You were born, a tiny baby,
In a stable dark and cold.

You did not ask for silken pillows,
Monarch though you were,
Nor throne, nor crown of beaten gold,
Nor coat of ermine's fur.

Nay, oxen's straw contented thee;
And when the shepherds came,
You let them draw quite near your heart,
Those men without money or fame.

When you come to mankind, Jesus,
In these days of modern times,
You come in the guise of bread and wine,
At a priest's word, amid tinkling chimes.

Even humbler than your coming then
Is your daily coming now;
Sinners surround you and draw close,
As did the donkey and the cow.

Oh, Jesus! Like the shepherds,
May I humble but unafraid be;
My soul is poor, like the stable,
But still you come to me.

You come to mankind, Jesus,
And with us you'll always stay;
As the Child in the manger long ago;
As the Lord in the Host today.
Isn't He adorable??? The Latin phrase in the picture puzzled me at first. It means, "The Child Jesus in the Manger."


Oh! And because it is also the feast day of Mary, Mother of God, here is a picture of Our Lady with the Child Jesus. :)