This is a “Top Ten Tuesday” exercise [anticipating the April 16th challenge]…
Tag Archives: fantasy
Genre: classic; poetry; myth; fantasy; medieval
Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] In the “Lay of the Völsungs” is told the ancestry of the great hero Sigurd, the slayer of Fáfnir most celebrated of dragons, whose treasure he took for his own; of his awakening of the Valkyrie Brynhild, who slept surrounded by a wall of fire, and of their betrothal; and of his coming to the court of the great princes who were named the Niflungs (or Nibelungs), with whom he entered into blood-brotherhood. In that court there sprang great love but also great hate, brought about by the power of the enchantress of the Niflungs, skilled in the arts of magic, of shape-changing and potions of forgetfulness.
My Book Review: I am not a hardcore Tolkienite, but I do enjoy stretching myself and have made my way through many of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works. “The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun” was my continuation of reading his non LOR books.
The book is made up of two longish poems (“lays”), and one is a sequel to the other. Actually, the book is Tolkien’s retelling of an ancient Norse myth called “The Lay of the Volsungs,” and was published after his death by his son Christopher, who added many of his father’s notes and his own commentary.
It shouldn’t have taken me so long to read it as it did. It would have been relatively quick reading, but I was busy and to tell the truth I found it murky and boring. I found it hard to remember what happened the last time I left off, and by the time I made it to the breaks with Christopher Tolkien’s notes to explain what it was I just read, I’d completely forgotten and not much made sense. A lot of oath-swearing, deceiving, fighting and killing. Blood and guts.
On the plus side, I found it a lot of fun to read out loud. Tolkien wrote the lays in the style of the old Norse and there are a lot of ancient, outdated words that were fun to come across. Tolkien really was a master at language and it shows (even if I’m too thick to fully appreciate it). There was even a particular line or two I copied down that reminded me much of the True Story of the Savior of the World, Jesus Christ. This sounds very strange, but I plan to include in my Christmas cards this year:
In the day of Doom
he shall deathless stand
who death tasted
and dies no more,
seed of Odin:
not all shall end,
nor Earth perish.
On his head the Helm,
in his hand lightning,
afire his spirit,
in his face splendour.
When war passeth
in world rebuilt,
bliss shall they drink
who the bitter tasted.
“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on His head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one but He Himself knows…. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ …And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years…. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever…. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ …He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life.’ …No longer will there be any curse… Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. (Revelation 19:11 – 22:20)
I found it interesting that one of the characters toward the end of the tale, named Atli, is loosely based on what we know from old legends of Attila the Hun. That gave a wonderful grounding to the story, as if there really was a historical basis to the fiction I was reading.
I know there will be die-hard Tolkien fans out there who will want to read anything they can get their hands on of his who would enjoy this book. Otherwise, you might want to pass on it.
If you liked this book, I also recommend…
Listen on BBC Radio 4 for a limited time to free short story readings of various fairy tales! The retellings are slightly different, and the narrator Lia Williams is interesting to listen to. I recommend “The Gingerbread Business” (Hansel and Gretel), but there is also “Sleeping Beauty Wakes Up,” and more to be released within the next couple of weeks. Have a fun holiday season!
I recently published my book review of “Titus Groan,” by Mervyn Peake (read it here) and suddenly the BBC is airing it’s audio dramatized version of the story! I am preparing to start reading the second book in the series soon (“Gormenghast”), so I thought I’d better prepare by brushing up my memory on the details of the first.
I found this to be a very faithful and rather good adaptation. The best part about it is that it does not lose the flavor of the book’s descriptions and vocabulary. It seemed to be well cast, though the parts of Lady Gertrude and Irma Prunsquallor seemed be more ’emphasis’ rather than ‘acting.’ You can tell by the tedious melodramatic deliverances of lines instead of actually owning them.
You can click to listen to it for free for a limited time.
Plot Summary: Once upon a time there was an infant son and heir born to the Groan family of Gormenghast Castle. His name was Titus and being so young he was yet unaware of the long line of history and tradition of which he stood in line to inherit. But things were turned on their head (quite literally) on the day of his christening, and strange events began to unfold that are even stranger than the world into which he was born.
My Book Review: The Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake has been on my reading list from very early on. I believe it was a discovery made while perusing the Dover catalog. I really had no idea what it was about, which sometimes leads to interesting discoveries. In this case, it was a very interesting discovery indeed, and has become one of my top reads for this year so far.
This isn’t normally a book I would have picked out for myself, so it’s probably a good thing I didn’t know what it was about. I’m proud of myself for completing such a thick book. I’m also usually more action-oriented, whereas this is more character driven. There is not a lot of action and when there is there is always a slow buildup to it, making those scenes stand out more. I tend to quickly forget details and character names of a lot of the books I read, but not this one. The scenes in this book stand out clear and defined in my mind, in large part due to great detailed descriptions. With names like ‘Prunesquallor’, ‘Nannie Slagg’, and ‘Countess Gertrude Groan’, they’re hard to forget. And the author’s own illustrations of many of them are wild and memorable as well.
Even better than just the names and pictures are the full-bodied characters themselves. You really have to read the book for yourself to make them come alive, and once you do I can almost guarantee they will live forever in your mind. The insane Lord Sepulchrave, the 76th Earl of Gormenghast, who thinks he’s an owl; his epileptic twin sisters Cora and Clarice who are stupid and vacant-minded; the vain, middle aged Irma Prunesquallor in love with a teenager; and the sociopathic Steerpike, the young puppet master behind the inhabitants of the castle. These aren’t all the colorful people of the story; there are many more besides. It’s ironic that the title character really doesn’t play a major role in this first of the series. In fact it really only covers the first year or two of his life, but all the important things that occurred during it.
It’s hard to put a finger on why I liked this novel so much. At times it seemed rather dark, and longwinded, yet the wonderful descriptions and the weirdness of it all lured me on. The author had a way of making even peeling paint sound interesting. I think one of my favorite scenes was the description of Fuchsia’s attic hideaway. Who wouldn’t want a great hidey-hole retreat like that all to oneself?
Is this book fantasy? I would not call it that, although it is set in a fantasy world. If you go into it expecting fantasy, you might be bored. It is not set in a particular time era, though the closest one might get is the 1880’s-1910 era with a fantastical twist.
Some say this book reads of despair and futility. It is dark and the people of Gormeghast do live futile lives of pointless ritual, but the unusual turn of things as Titus grows gives a glimpse that things may change with Titus as heir… ?
One caution: there is one chapter in which a character, Keda, has a one-night stand with a lover.
I’ve read that there is more than one audio drama of this series, and also a movie, but I don’t see how any of them can be as good as the novel. If I ever come across them, I’ll surely review it and post if worth it.
Titus Groan won’t be for everyone. But I’ve certainly learned that character-driven books can be just as interesting (or even more so) than the plotted ones. I’m not sure what the other books in the series will be like, but I can’t wait to see what will happen in the next installment of Titus Groan’s life. The entire series are as follows:
- Titus Groan
- Boy in Darkness
- Titus Alone
- Titus Awakes
I also recommend…
I came across something entirely new to me– the ATC Seneca Awards, which recognizes the best in family audio dramas. The Awards are according to the opinions of the Audio Theatre Central podcast which you can check out here. I thought it would be fun to dredge up trailers for as many nominations as I could find and collect them all in one place on this post. Audio dramas are a great source of favorite family memories and long car trip entertainment. Have fun!
Captain Bayley’s Heir – (Heirloom Audio Productions; John Fornof (writer/director); starring John Rhys Davies, Finty Williams)
The Trials of St. Patrick – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); Philip Glassborow (producer); starring John Rhys Davies)
Ode to Saint Cecelia – (AIR Theatre; Paul McCusker (writer/director); starring Derek Jacobi, Hayley Atwell)
The Giant Killer – (Lamplighter Theatre; John Fornof)
Wulf the Saxon (couldn’t find a trailer) – (Heirloom Audio Productions; Todd Busteed (writer/director); John Campbell (score))
*You can find reviews of all of these audio dramas and more on the ATC podcast.