If Famous Witches and Wizards Cards featured beloved wizards from the pages of literature, you know there would be a card each for J.K. Rowling’s Dumbledore, Tolkien’s Gandalf, Peter Beagle’s Schmendrick, and John Bellairs’s Prospero… I’ve already got quite a long list in mind. Now that I’ve read this brief book by the Newbery Medal- and National Book Award-winning author of the “Prydain Chronicles”, I have another name to add to that list: Arbican. He doesn’t do much magic in this book, and most of what he does goes wrong, and on first acquaintance he may seem a bit brusque and grumpy, not very lovable at all. But in the last few pages of this book, he earns his Chocolate Frog Card, wands down. In fact, for the sake of one paragraph, a single speech in which he finally sets straight what is and isn’t true about fairy tales, he’s a shoe-in.
We’ve run into this problem before: First it was a novel. Then it was adapted, more successfully than faithfully, into a movie. Then came a film novelization, a novel designed to be more faithful to the movie than the movie was to the original novel. They did it to Pierre Boulle’s “Planet of the Apes”. More recently, it happened to Cressida Cowell’s “How to Train Your Dragon”. It even happened to another book by Ian Fleming. And so your dilemma is this: Which book do you buy or borrow, to read or give to your kids? Which counts as the classic?
When I saw this book at the public library, I thought it had a striking design. This, including loads of quirky but beautiful illustrations, is the work of Carson Ellis, who has also decorated books by Lemony Snicket and Trenton Lee Stewart. As for the author, I thought his name sounded familiar. Only later, after I had brought the book home, did I connect it with the alternative rock band the Decemberists, of which Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter. If you’re familiar with his music, you may not be surprised to learn that hints of a political message and of a New Agey, earth-magic type of spirituality perfume the pages of his book. But it’s also a thrilling fantasy adventure featuring a couple of kids from St. Johns, Portland, Oregon, who find a strange, magical, perilous world hidden within a short bicycle ride of their city.
Random House sent me a copy of this latest book by the author of the “100 Cupboards” and “Ashtown Burials” series. I thank the author and his wife for arranging it and apologize for once again taking so long over such a short book. Released in April 2014, it is as Heather Wilson described it to me, a mash-up of “Beowulf + football + Florida swamps.” As befits a book based on an epic poem—the classic work of Old English literature, in case you slept through your high school literature class—N.D. Wilson’s retelling is filled with heroes and magic and dreadful monsters, features a seemingly invincible being of ancient and evil power, and has the ring of poetry flowing through its paragraphs of prose.
Everyone who meets Don Quijote is amazed that one and the same person can be so wise and well spoken regarding most things and so completely insane when it comes to chivalry and the deeds of knight-errantry. Really a sensible old country gentleman, he has had his head turned by “books of chivalry”—romances about the apocryphal acts of apocryphal knights, their quests and amours, their saintly virtues and their military exploits. At times it seems possible that he has deliberately chosen to set aside reason, to make a break with the modern world, and at hazard of looking like a lunatic, to pursue the ideals of a time that has long passed, if it ever was. Maybe he’s a danger to himself and others. Maybe he’s a harmless fool. Maybe his protest against the unromantic pragmatism of modern life will be heard. Or maybe his plight is a protest against the poison of romance. Spin your interpretation as you will, what happens to Don Quijote and his talkative, rustic squire Sancho Panza is so funny that you may hurt yourself laughing.
In the fifth of 16 “Repairman Jack” novels, a strange Russian lady with a large white dog appears at Jack’s sickbed and tells him that he, and he alone, must stop a virus that the adversary of all mankind has unleashed to create war, hate, death, fear, pain, and destruction.
India-born author Samit Basu introduced a new wrinkle on the superhero cape and spandex, with ordinary people on a present-day flight from London to Delhi becoming extraordinary in what would come to be called the First Wave. Each person on that flight, and on several other flights around the world, suddenly developed super powers based on what they wanted most in life. Some became villains, others heroes, and quite a few of them perished in the struggle for world domination that followed.
I have never really taken much interest in zombie apocalypse literature. But something about this book appealed to me to that extent. Maybe it was the fly-leaves’ depiction of several collectible zombie cards, depicting not only notable zoms but also a few slayers and other legendary figures haunting the Rot and Ruin—which is to say, just about everywhere outside the fence surrounding the town of Mountainside, California, and the struggling band of survivors that calls it home.
While some of the “Jeeves” books are collections of short stories, this one is a solid (though not very long) novel. Its plot, similar to many other adventures of Bertie and his man Jeeves, has to do with mending two broken betrothals, saving an endangered marriage, distributing prizes at a boys’ school, and staving off the resignation of a supremely gifted French chef, all upon a summer holiday in the Worcestershire countryside. In its dimensions, it appears to be a trifling piece of entertainment. In its style of narration, it partakes of the stylish slang of a British upper-class dandy riding the crest of fashion à la 1934.
What if, instead of all-American journalist Clark Kent, Superman turns out to be an Indian Air Force pilot named Vir Singh? What if his archnemesis also happens to be his commanding officer? What’s in store for the world when passengers on a flight from London to Delhi suddenly start to present super powers? One of those passengers, a nerdy guy named Aman, has thoroughly studied the prophetic texts on this subject—namely, comic books—but he isn’t sure they give the right answers. It may not be as simple as powered people coming together and using their talents to serve mankind. As he struggles to understand the purpose for his newfound abilities, he begins to wonder whether that thinking will make him a superhero or a supervillain. Pointless as a city-wrecking knock-down-drag-out between indestructible heroes and villains may be, the survivors of British Airways Flight 142 seem to be choosing sides for just such a fight. Such is the frailty of human nature.