Friday, April 29, 2016

Book Review - The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, by Kate DiCamillo

My poor blog! How I have neglected you! Here I am again, with good intentions to keep you updated on a semi-regular basis....

Hullo readers! (Assuming I have any readers left on the face of the earth.) Do you believe me when I say I have good intentions? Of course you do. You simply shouldn't believe that I will fulfill those good intentions, that's all...

Anywho. I wrote this book review a while ago (awhile? a while?) and thought I might as well post it before another day of procrastinating-blog-stuff went by. ;)

************************************************************************************

It wasn't a very smart idea to open the book, I knew. My list of books-halfway-read-and-waiting-to-be-finished was way too long already, and the last thing I wanted was to add to it. But I picked it up anyway.

A few hours later, when I put the book down for the last time that read, I had finished a miraculous journey of my own. For books are always miraculous, aren't they? Whether good or bad, they take us to places and introduce us to people - and china rabbits - we would never lay eyes on otherwise. This particular journey took me everywhere from the bottom of the sea to a toyshop.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. On to the book review!


What was it about?

It was about a china rabbit - I think to call him a "toy rabbit" would offend him - named Edward Tulane. At the beginning of the story, he's very proud of his own finery and loveliness (his ears and tail are made of real rabbit fur) and is quite spoiled by his mistress, the little girl Abilene (he has a magnificent wardrobe of clothes). But there's no love in his little rabbit heart, any more than there is hardship in his little rabbit life. All that begins to change when he falls overboard off the Queen Mary.

It really reminded me of The Velveteen Rabbit. It also was a bit like Black Beauty in the way the main character is an animal (well, a toy animal) who changes hands many times throughout the book. So, The Velveteen Rabbit meets Black Beauty? Rather interesting.

What were the characters like?

Edward's character development was good. He's such an egotistical snob at first, but by the end - oh, Edward. By the end my heart was aching for him. Actually it was aching for him the whole way through, because how can you be such a lucky rabbit with such a wonderful life and not even love Abilene back?

The sweet characters were darling. I loved them all. Abilene, and Bull, and Sarah Ruth, and Bryce, and - oh, they were just so lovable. And they were so well developed! Looking back, I realize all of them had their own voices that reflected their personalities and their pasts, and - well, they were just really endearing.

There were a few characters I had mixed feelings about. Such as Abilene's grandmother, whose name escapes me at the moment. Something that started with a P. Pellegrina, perhaps. (And why did Abilene call her grandmother by her first name? Was that weird? Or is that something French people do? They were French, right?)

And then there were a few characters I hated. Characters whom I loathed to the very marrow of my bones. And I'm not so sure it was in a good way, either. I mean, every now and then there was a character who was just mean, with no apparent reason to be mean, and his (or her) cruelty was just so blatant and nasty and unnecessary that I wanted to punch them in the nose.

(Hopefully this isn't something I have to confess in the Confessional. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned - I harbored feelings of hatred towards the toyshop owner in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.") 

Was there anything not-so-great about it?

Kate DiCamillo seems to have a very profound sense that the world is bleeding - that everyone has a hidden sorrow, that everyone is hurting deeply. This is predominantly a good thing, I think - more on it in a minute - but it can also lend a feeling of darkness to her works which I'm not so sure I like. The book began happily, sunnily, carelessly - but as it went on it got darker, and darker, and darker, and darker. With every new person Edward met, he discovered new sorrows, new tragedies. By the time he left the possession of Sarah Ruth, it had gotten downright...horrible. My heart felt as though it was being crushed under a burdensome weight. It's not exactly a flaw in the book - it's a testament to the beauty of the writing, I think, that I could get so emotionally into it in a few hours - but it was just so heavy I don't know if I would feel good giving it to a child. I mean, it touched on some pretty hefty topics, like drinking.

And did I mention the sheer, downright, unreasonable cruelty of some of the villainous characters? Ugh! They were so twisted. My knuckles are itching just thinking about that toyshop owner.

Also, it was implied that Abilene's grandmother was similar to a witch in ways. But Abilene's grandmother was a force for good in the story, and witches are evil, so.... That mixture of good and evil sorta made me squirm a wee little bit.

What was lovely and beautiful in it?

Very, very much of it was lovely and beautiful. Kate DiCamillo's style - oh! Her prose! It is so lovely and beautiful methinks I shall die. Seriously, I want to be able to write the way she does. Her writing voice is simple, and whimsical, and conversational, and - just sweet.


And despite the heaviness of it, I really do like the theme of sorrow. It's an interesting thing to think about, and I've often thought of it myself - how everyone has some deep pain in his life, some old scar or still-bleeding wound, whether or not it's apparent. I just might steal that theme for my Ellen story.

Darkness gave way to light in this story - the light of love. And I really, really liked the way that love was portrayed, not as something merely pleasant and cheerful, but as something that takes effort, something that hurts.


So! There are my thoughts on The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. :) Have you read this? If so, did you enjoy it? Do you like stories about toys and sorrow and miraculous journeys? :)




Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Life She Chose - a short story


The pregnancy test was positive.
She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. Oh, this couldn't be. Not now, not yet. She was too young for a baby - far too young. Only 17. And a 17-year-old can't mother a child.
There was only one thing to do. She called an abortion clinic and made an appointment. And that was that. Everything was taken care of. In a few weeks, it would all be over, and no one would ever have to know.
She drove herself to the clinic. A short car trip, and a plain white building rose up before her, its sign proclaiming "Women's Center" in bright but faded letters.
She pulled in, parked her car, and walked through the door. But it wasn't an abortion clinic, the lady inside said - the lady with the gentle voice and soft sad smile. It wasn't an abortion clinic, but they could help her. Would she let them?
When she walked out of the center, a new hope had blossomed in her heart. She would not have an abortion; though she was sure of nothing else, she was sure of that. And though she could not give the baby a home herself, perhaps someone else could...
It was a difficult decision to make, but she made it. A beautiful baby boy was born, a soft pink angel with big blue eyes; and, so soon it seemed a moment had scarcely begun, she entrusted that angel, her darling, to new and loving arms. The tears of joy that shone in his new parents' eyes checked the tears of sorrow in her own. She let go of him, let go with love; and they held him close with infinite tenderness. Alexander Hark, they named him - and Alexander Hark, Alexander Hark, Alexander Hark she repeated to herself, for the next thirty years.

  

The cancer test was positive.
She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes. Oh, this couldn't be. Not now, not yet. She was too young to have cancer - far too young. Only 47. And a 47-year-old can't die.
It was going to be alright, the nurse told her - the nurse with the gentle hands and sweet girlish smile. It was going to be alright, because a young doctor of the city had just discovered a way to treat this cancer before it went too far, and already several lives had been saved by his surgery.
This young doctor's name was Alexander Hark.
There was only one thing to do. She made the appointment with a hard-pounding heart. Of course, she told herself, of course there may be many Alexander Harks in the world. There may be dozens. This surely wasn't her Alexander Hark.
But when he walked into the room to shake her hand and say hello, his large blue eyes left no room for doubt. This was her Alexander Hark, her soft pink angel whom she'd given up for love. She couldn't help it; she broke down in tears. And when he expressed in halting sympathy that it was alright, that she need not fear the surgery, she shook her head and wiped her eyes and explained as best she could. It was a strange question, she knew - a ridiculous question - but was he the same Alexander Hark who had been adopted by childless Mr. and Mrs. Hark, thirty years ago?
She broke down again then, and he broke down; and for a moment no words were said. Then he took her in his arms and held her close, as she had held him close so many years ago; and he whispered in her ear,
"You gave me my life - now I will save yours!"

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Character Interview - Able

Time for Able's interview! I didn't get it up as soon as I wanted to, but oh well.

Me:
Hey, Able! Ready to be interviewed?

Able:
*smiling* I suppose so.

Me:
Alright, then, I'll plunge right in. These questions are from Rosie and Andrea. Now, besides riding the griffin, what are some things you like to do with your sister?

Able:
Oh, Ellen and I do lots of things together. One of my favorites is to sit with her in the evenings and read with her. I taught her to read, you know. She loves to look at the illuminated manuscripts from the library. And then, we love to go outside and spend time with the grass and the trees and the sky.

Me:
Do you have a best friend besides your sister?

Able:
There's a boy who works in the fields with me, named Gregory. We've known each other ever since I can remember. His family treats me like a son of their own.

Me:
When do you wake up in the morning, and is it hard or easy for you to get up?

Able:
I always get up at the crack of dawn, sometimes earlier. We have to get an early start on the work in the fields. *grins* There are days I'd like to sleep 'til noon, but usually it's pretty easy to get up. Force of habit, you know.

Me:
Since you ride a griffin, Rosie guesses you're not afraid of heights. What are you afraid of?

Able:
*laughs* Oh, no, I'm not afraid of heights. Hmm, what am I afraid of. What am I afraid of? Well, I'm not too fond of snakes. Sometimes there are really thick, ugly ones in the fields - and you can hardly see them when the wheat is thick and tall. That's why we wear tall leather boots.

Me:
What's the last thing you do before you go to bed?

Able:
Read. I'm allowed to borrow books from the library. If I don't get time to read something for pleasure during the day, I can always read a little before I fall asleep at night.

Me:
Why do you have to work in the fields if you're a nobleman?

Able:
*grins* I usually ask myself, "Why do I get to be a nobleman if I was born a serf?" By rights I should be out in the fields all the time, and I shouldn't know how to read, and I shouldn't be wearing this nice fur-lined jacket. My parents were just poor workers under Stonedon, and I'll never understand why he took Ellen and I in when we were orphaned. We should probably be living with Gregory's family - orphaned serfs are usually adopted by other serfs. But for some reason Stonedon adopted us. Well - "adopted" is the wrong word. He makes it very clear that even though we're getting an education and living under his roof and eating at his table, we're not really nobles. Working in the fields is the price I pay for this half-sonship he's given me. Ellen pulls her weight with chores in the castle, especially needlework.

Me:
Do you remember your parents?

Me:
*smiles sadly* No. Sometimes I want to say I do. I have this vague image in my mind of what Father and Mother were like. *bursts out laughing* But it's a ridiculous image! A few years ago I could've sworn I remember Father holding a sword. Of course a serf has no reason to own a sword. I don't know where that memory came from. I guess I'm just imagining things. I was only - what? two or three when they died. I probably don't remember them at all.

Me:
How did you learn to ride a griffin?

Able:
Oh, everyone learns. I mean, it's practically like riding a horse. One of Stonedon's knights taught me, when I was about ten years old. Ever since then Pierce has been my chosen mount. She technically belongs to Stonedon, but it's understood that she's mine.

Me:
Well, thanks for letting me interview you, Able! That was lots of fun.

And, more importantly, thanks to the wonderful readers who provided the questions! They were splendid topics of inquiry, as always. :) If you have any more questions for Able, feel free to ask in the comments!

The candidates for the next interview are:

Princess Rosalie
Prince Tristan





Friday, April 1, 2016

Easter: the Fulfilment of Christmas

Happy Easter, everyone!

For Easter it is, and shall be for quite some time. The Octave of Easter lasts all week; and even after the octave is over, the Easter Season shall continue! The church is full of flowers, their cheerful colors and gentle fragrance lifting our minds to what is pure and holy; our hearts are full of joy, as we celebrate the truth that He is risen!

Isn't it fitting that Easter comes in the midst of spring? (Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere, I suppose. Do forgive me for being so blindly poetic.) When all the world is bursting into blossom? For Easter is the springtime of hope, the dawn of a spiritual summer. It is the day when the winter of death is conquered once and for all. The grave no longer holds power; its frigid grasp cannot terrify the disciples of the never-ending Light and Warmth. Though the storms of life and death may rage around us, we know that at last the sunlight must break through the clouds and the springtime must succeed the winter.

The fittingness that Easter should come in the springtime is mirrored and completed by another seasonal perfection: the fact that Christmas comes in the wintertime. Isn't it lovely, the symbolism of Christ coming into the world in the winter? The idea that our Great and Eternal God first felt the air of this earth when that air was most biting and inhospitable? The old Christmas hymn "In The Bleak Midwinter" might well say it best -

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan; earth lay hard as iron, water like a stone. Snow had fallen snow on snow, snow on snow, in the bleak midwinter long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor the earth sustain; Heaven and earth shall pass away when He comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter, a stable place sufficed the Lord God Incarnate, Jesus Christ.

By coming in the wintertime, Jesus showed his undying love for us. So on fire with love for the world was this God that He chose to come down to it when it was most in need of Him.

The winter surrounding Bethlehem is the winter of our sin. The frosty wind is the emptiness which lays barren the human soul; the iron hardness of the earth is the iron hardness of our hearts. We were buried deep in the snow of our sin, the cold and loveless blanket of death.

And then, He came. The light touched the darkness, the warmth felt the cold.

For ages we had been longing for this, struggling through the darkness and cold; and then, on that first Christmas -

A thrill of hope! The weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Suddenly winter is not so horrible. There is hope amidst the snow; something is alive and warm within the ice - Something, or Someone, Who will glow with a warmer and warmer light until the earth is thawed and melted in His love. Fr. Francis Finn touches on the transformation of winter in his novel Percy Wynn, when the character John Donnel says:

"...I really believe that winter, with all its bleakness and sterility, has come to be loved by thousands, not least by us boys, because around with it comes Christmas with all the love and joy and good feeling of that sacred and happy time."

It's remarkably fitting that Christmas is celebrated in the winter! And it is just as fitting, and perhaps moreso, that Easter is celebrated in the spring.

For Easter is the completion of Christmas. Without Easter, Christmas would have no meaning.

In Easter, death is defeated for once and for all. The winter of sin holds no horror. The devil, who thrives on intellectual darkness and spiritual coldness, is put to flight. The age of ignorance and sin begins to give way to a new era in history, the era of faith.

All the virtues burst into bloom at Easter, like flowers opening to the sun. Faith is rewarded, love is glorified, hope is born. Strength and peace and joy flow from the knowledge of our Savior's resurrection, and a spiritual springtime begins.

The turning of the year, the liturgical seasons, are an allegory. Christ is the summer; Christ is the light. Christ is the warmth which lends beauty to winter, the hope which gives us strength to hold out until spring. Christ is the joy, the everlasting joy, of the first bright flower on a fresh green lawn.

May we ever keep this joy, this hope, in our hearts. Just as spring will always come again, good will always triumph, Christ will always reign. The darkness of Good Friday will pass into the light of Easter morning, the terror of the storm will give way to the peace of fair weather.

Rejoice! Rejoice! For He is risen, and the winter is no more.