Thursday, October 08, 2015

And recent reading

Still pushing away on Moby-Dick, but find myself wanting to intersperse it (it's the point where they are butchering whales) with other things. I pulled out a Folio book I had started a while back but not gotten very far in - a little-known (at least this side of the Atlantic) children's fantasy novel called The Box of Delights by John Masefield. (Who also, I guess, was the Poet Laureate of the UK mid-century).

Fantasy novels and I have sort of a checkered history. I like some of them - much of my childhood was spent re-reading both The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia but I find some of the "high fantasy" stuff really bogs me down - could not get through any of Tolkein's other work, for example. And some of the "modern" fantasy that's out there, I admit, the first sex scene (and some fantasy authors seem to love them) bring me to a screeching halt with the novel.

Children's fantasy is a little different. I find the ones that are TOO high-fantasy (as in: world not remotely like our own) often lose me (it's the same with SF, incidentally: if everything takes place upon some bizarre planet or on a space station, I am not that interested. But if it's more-or-less ordinary folk who wind up either tessering or time-traveling or something like that, I can enjoy it. I like Connie Willis' stuff, one of my favorite books read in the past 15 years is The Doomsday Book and of course I like Madeleine L'Engle's work, though I think that's as much for its spiritual theme as it is for the whole time/space travel thing)

I'm enjoying Masefield's book though I now see I should have read his OTHER one (The Midnight Folk) first, because apparently this is a continuation. Oh well.

It's set in England, sometime mid-century but not, apparently, during wartime (maybe the mid 1930s?). Kay Harker, a young man, is on his way home from boarding school for Christmas....he meets up with an old man who eventually entrusts a small magic box (that can make him "go quick" or "go small" if he pushes certain buttons on it).

Part of the fun of the book is the simple country-house-holiday-time coziness. Friends of the family (cousins, maybe?) are staying with them so Kay has playfellows (preteen kids are not nearly so sophisticated in Edwardian England as they are now, and that's a relief). One thing they do, for example, is have a robbers' tea: they make a sort of blanket-fort to serve as their hideout, and then they toast bread and cook eggs over the open fire, and they return to their "cave" to consume them. And they also play at being pirates, though one of the girls propose they be "Christmas pirates" (rather like Robin Hood: they take the things they stole from the rich and leave them in poor people's stockings). But along with this coziness there is a threat from without: men dressed as curates, with strange accents, who are not who they pretend to be.

There's an undercurrent that there's some kind of evil ("The wolves are running") and that there's a good vs. evil showdown coming.

And actually, maybe that's the ingredient that gets me involved in a fantasy or science-fiction type novel: the idea that there are evil forces out there, that good has to fight them, and that even somewhat ordinary folks (Meg Murry, the Pevensie children, Kay Harker) can play a role in fighting evil. It may be that that appeals to something deep in my psyche - not just the idea that we can and should fight evil, but that ORDINARY people (and I am about as ordinary as they come) can play a hand in assisting Good towards its ultimate victory.

I said once before that the reason I like certain "superhero" movies - and maybe a reason why they're generally popular - is that a lot of us have that fantasy of wanting to do something Big and Good and That Helps. And unfortunately, the way modern life is structured, it's very hard to have a chance of doing that unless you are something like involved with Doctors without Borders or are a firefighter or are in certain divisions of the military. And while, yes, you can be a kind person and hardworking at your job and "follow the rules" (well, at least the just rules). But that, I don't know, that feels like doing merely what you are SUPPOSED to do, and you aren't doing anything over and above to help....And while I doubt any of the situations I might be thrust into where I could try to fight against evil would be very good outcomes for me (the most likely evil, these days, being a campus shooter), still, I think a lot of people have that desire to do something that seems big enough to actually make things better....

1 comment:

Dyddgu said...

Oh, I loved Box of Delights when I was a child
There was a magical-to-me TV adaptation too. I got the DVD recently, and while the effects have aged it was still lovely.