Review: The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

Last August, T. Everett recommended I read The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, saying “Have you ever wondered what Harry Potter would be like if it were about Hermione instead?”

I hadn’t wondered this, because of Ann Margaret’s excellent stories on that very premise – except that, okay, I had, because those still revolve around Harry and his path as the Chosen One.  So the question becomes, “What would Hogwarts – and Hermione – be like without Harry’s shenanigans?”

If we took Rachel Griffin’s Enlightenment as the answer, it would be “Largely the same; other shenanigans would arise to fill the gap.”  There are, in fact, so many shenanigans springing up that the whole 360 pages or so comprise five days, assuming I counted properly.

However, Rachel and Hermione, and their respective worlds, are dissimilar enough that the question of Granger-sans-Potter remains unanswered.  Rather, we are presented with a whole lot of other questions, answers, and characters, including:

– Rachel, a wizard girl of Noble Blood, with an eidetic memory, a strong work ethic, an unyielding compulsion to obey adults (until she tries really really hard and breaks said compulsion), a devotion to her father which must eventually be transferred elsewhere, and complete religious ignorance…but I’m getting ahead of things.  By dint of memory and effort, she flies very well. She remembers everything she looks at, though there were too many instances of Let Me Stop And Review The Picture In My Head for my taste (though I must concede their purpose: to help her see past magical obfuscation). She is super concerned with Who Likes Whom.

– Siegfried, an orphaned dragon slayer who often exclaims “Ace!” while hoarding his gold and food (so much so that he doesn’t know to buy an extra set of clothes), and whose quixotic ideas move the narrative forward, if haltingly.

– Nastasia, a Russian princess…of Magical Australia, for whatever reason.  She has a Bag of Holding, a violin, several skills which I have forgotten, a deeper commitment to the rules than even Rachel has, and the blessing/curse of having Visions when she touches certain people.

Many other figures crop up, though their development is flimsy.  Honestly, a lot of it reads as flimsy: the number of talents every single character has, the fact that a “girl reporter” is under threat of death, the amount of improbable things figured out by a bunch of 13-year-olds, the rapid escalation of threats interspersed with a lot of concern over dating.  The names – Gaius Valiant, Salome Iscariot, Dr. Mordeau, to name a few – are either super-literal or the reddest of herrings; I’m betting on the former.

Still, a few subtler details await development by the margins.  For one, individual takes on magic and magical worlds are generally diverting, and this world is no exception.  The American wizarding school, the Roanoke Academy for the Sorcerous Arts, explains how the colony of Roanoke went missing: the school’s founder turned it into a floating island, safe from the eyes of the Unwary (this world’s Muggles).  Magical familiar animals, music, and particular materials (including wands of metal and jewels) contribute to one’s magical abilities.

One of the most intriguing facts is that Rachel Griffin, Devourer of Library Books, is ignorant of all religious information – to the point where she doesn’t understand why a broom would be branded a “steeplechaser,” or what a friar is, or what the winged statue in the forest might be.  The dramatic irony involved might carry on through another book; given the visions, Morningstar references, and discussions between a prophetic raven and a miniature lion, I expect some kind of celestial showdown in the end.  Hopefully it doesn’t get too preachy.

Altogether, it’s a story that’s mostly drawn in Crayola colors – but here and there are shades in between, shadows implying that something deeper may come.  The concept is better than the execution; by the end of the narrative, I wasn’t certain what Rachel’s “unexpected enlightenment” actually consisted of.  Hopefully the next three installments can answer the questions this book left hanging, and further illuminate the reality (and history) of the Wise.

Advertisements

Drinks in Remembrance: Alan Rickman

You’ve heard, I’m sure, of the sad fact that Alan Rickman died of cancer last week. 69 years on earth, and suddenly he is gone.

Colonel BrandonWhether you loved him best as Hans Gruber, Severus Snape, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Professor Lazarus, Metatron, Marvin the paranoid android, Judge Turpin, Colonel Brandon, or someone else entirely – solely himself, perhaps – I’m sure you, like me, will miss him.

So here’s a tribute.  Raise a glass (or several!) with me.

Severus Snape (modified from Backyard Bartender)Snape cocktail
1.5 oz Cruzan Blackstrap Rum (having only Myer’s, I used that)
.5 oz Fernet Branca
.5 oz falernum
dash Peychaud’s bitters (alas, I have no lavender bitters)
dash creme de violette
dash rose syrup

Nancy has a delightful explanation for her Snape concoction (which was the original reason I sought out Fernet Branca and falernum, to be honest).  Having no lavender bitters, I attempted to make up the difference with some other floral additions.  As she says: strong, dark, complex.

Half-Blood Prince cocktailHalf-Blood Prince
2 oz dill-infused gin
1.5 oz green ChartreusePotions Master cocktail
spritz of absinthe
.5 oz lime juice
dash chamomile bitters
Stir with ice and strain into an appropriate goblet.  This is my nod to the Potions Master and the head of Slytherin House: herbal, complicated, very green, full of venerable spirits.  It’s a lot like a Last Word (equal parts gin, Chartreuse, lime, and Maraschino), but sourer.

Severus Snape (alternate)
1.5 oz CynarCynar (Chee-NAR)
I wondered if perhaps there were a simpler approach to Snape.  This is one such attempt, applicable to Sorcerer’s Stone Snape: a straight shot of Cynar, which is a drinkable bitter made from artichokes (ie, instead of an intensity which requires but a few drops in a cocktail, it’s dilute enough to consume on its own).  It’s complex, vegetal, dark, and (of course) bitter.  An acquired taste, but when you love it, you really love it.  Harry Potter, of course, finds Cynar innately suspicious.  He would; he’s only 11, after all.

Random potion bonus:

7 bottles

Danger lies before you, while safety lies behind,
Two of us will help you, whichever you would find,
One among us seven will let you move ahead,
Another will transport the drinker back instead,
Two among our number hold only nettle wine,
Three of us are killers, waiting hidden in line.
Choose, unless you wish to stay here forevermore,
To help you in your choice, we give you these clues four:
First, however slyly the poison tries to hide
You will always find some on nettle wine’s left side;
Second, different are those who stand at either end,
But if you would move onward, neither is your friend;
Third, as you see clearly, all are different size,
Neither dwarf nor giant holds death in their insides;
Fourth, the second left and the second on the right
Are twins once you taste them, though different at first sight.

Alexander Dane cocktail
Alexander Dane (as Dr. Lazarus)

1.5 oz cognac
.5 oz Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
.5 oz blue curacao
.25 oz lemon juice

The thinking here was that Dane is Very Serious Business – “I played Richard III!” – not-quite-obscured by something brightly colored and mildly ridiculous.  Overall: shiny and enjoyable.

 


Colonel Brandon
Colonel Brandon cocktail
2 oz gin (I used Hendrick’s, but a London Dry would probably be better)
.75 oz lemon juice
.75 oz creme de cassis (blackberry liqueur)
.5 oz St-Germain
dash of plum bitters
I had the idea to make something rather British and proper, but also sweet enough to appeal to those moved chiefly by their sensibility.  It turned out to be a bit cloying, so throw in some sturdy Calvados or genever to bolster it: something befitting a man of action, one who needs an occupation lest he run mad.

Alan Rickman himself:
When my roommate and I made Tom Hiddleston cocktails, we found the most difficult one was Tom himself; not having met him, we could only work from a particular face he sometimes presented to the public.  The same difficulty attends Alan: by several Alan Rickmanaccounts I’ve read, he was everything kind, generous, funny, and generally delightful (but de mortuis, nil nisi bonum and all that).  So Thalia’s suggestion was to capture the unique quality of his striking voice by the use of something dark and deep.  The thing that came to mind was scotch.  If you’re a purist, sip it straight; if not, try a sort of modified toddy:

1 oz Laphroaig scotch
1/2 oz Drambuie
Fill teacup with hot water

It’s sweet enough not to be totally off-putting, but it is very very strong.  The smoky smell spread throughout my dining area and kitchen.

That seemed a bit overwhelming, so taking a cue from my friend Amanda, I tried to go the coffee route:

Alan Rickman (alternate)Alan Rickman tipple

1/2 oz Kahlua
1/2 oz Frangelico
1/2 barspoon (ie, 1/4 tsp or so) pimento dram (allspice liqueur)

Ideally this would have been mixed with coffee or espresso, to represent Alan’s liveliness and how engaging he was.  But it was quite late by that point, and prudence won out.  I hope to have a bit of a film festival before long, and see how a caffeinated version of this fits into it.

Alan, here’s to you.  We mourn your passing, but are glad you were there to depict Very Interesting People for a time.  You delighted us, and we will miss you.  Always.

Alphabooks: M is for Major

M: Major Book Hangover Because Of…

Although I originally conceived of this prompt as “a story so intense or engrossing that you can’t quite get over it or emerge from that world for awhile,” I’m not certain if that’s what Ms. Jamie was going for.  So, going with my inclination to pursue all possible roads:

Book that made you stumble about, head swollenTechnopoly and 1984 are probably the most recent suspects for this one.  Both of them filled my mind with ideas and indicated that there was so much out in the world to perceive – though not all of it welcome.

Father Brown omnibusBook that gave you a headache:  The Father Brown Omnibus – but it’s not the book’s fault any more than it would be Tanqueray’s fault if I drank the whole bottle.  And the Omnibus has 53 stories, not a dozen or so: a Methuselah rather than a standard bottle, and all so delicious that I didn’t put the book down until my eyes blurred.

Book that made you throw up:  …okay, I included this because it seemed thematic, but this hasn’t yet happened to me.  Either it’s worked out quite neatly to avoid horror books, or I’ve repressed the memory of whatever dreadful thing provoked emesis.

Book that filled you with regret the next dayPostern of Fate.  I’d been warned that the Tommy and Tuppence books were not Agatha Christie’s best, but this one, written as she grew older and lost some of her edge, is probably the worst of the lot.

Book(s) whose world is hard to leave:  The possibilities are many!  After I read The Magician’s Nephew, I longed for some way to reach the Wood Between the Worlds.  After I read Harry Potter a couple dozen times, I brought up Hogwarts and all the implications of magic whenever it could possibly be applicable.  After I read The Silmarillion, I longed to hear the Valar singing together.  After I read The Hunger Games, I went shopping for groceries and was stunned by the amount of food I could just buy if I wished to.  After I read Gaudy Night, I wanted to retreat to an ivied tower to dig into some academic pursuits.  And so on.

What books have been intoxicating to you?

Alphabooks: L is for Longest

L: Longest Book You’ve Read

I haven’t yet finished Les Miserables, Moby Dick, or The Count of Monte Cristo, but several possibilities occurred to me nonetheless.  Brothers Karamazov is lengthy (824 pages, or 877).  So are Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (768 in hardcover) and David Copperfield (768 in paperback).

    Brothers KHP Order of the PhoenixDavid Copperfield hard cover

But after some dithering over the variations in editions (since publishers will not be so good as to tell me how many words each book has), I’m fairly certain the longest book I’ve ever read is Anna Karenina: some 864 pages of Anna cheating on her husband with Count Vronsky and suffering all manner of social awkwardness in the course of it.  Happy people need very little description; unhappy people are unhappy in their own verbose way.

Anna Karenina(Okay, so it’s much broader in scope than that.  The thing is so long because it’s a microcosm of Russian existence, or something of that sort: all the social pressures against Anna’s divorce, everything that follows around an affair, faith, Levin and Kitty’s happier marriage, how peasants act, illness, how politics works, how much parents care for their children, etc., etc.)

…wait.  Wait, I just realized: I’ve read two other microcosmic books, and they’re probably tied for length:

George Eliot’s Middlemarch and Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.  Take out Anna and Vronsky, and sub in some other people in pursuit of love.  Scarlett O’Hara is looking in all the wrong places, though I daresay some folks in Middlemarch get it right.

              MiddlemarchGone with the Wind 1936

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read? 

What’s the longest book you’ve ever read and adored?

Thoughtwash

Today, I’ve been pondering the Pensieve. One of J.K. Rowling’s inventions in the Potterverse, it is a bowl with various runes carved into it; magic allows one to draw silvery threads of thought out of one’s head and put them into this basin.

The purpose is twofold. The first is that when one’s head is too full of thoughts, some of them can be unloaded.  Imagine how useful: remove the thought when you need to stop replaying your worst memory in your head; when you need to focus on one task instead of a dozen others; when you can’t sleep for anxiety; when you have so many ideas to ponder that you cannot pick and follow a single train of thought to its terminus.

Typically, though, we only see it used (in the books, at least) to examine memories – an extremely plot-convenient film reel or record of events, made shareable through the magic of the Pensieve, and more exact than life.

Also: inadvertent (or not so much) spying on one's professors

Also: inadvertent (or not so much) spying on the past of one’s professors

Useful though it sounds, I don’t typically long for a Pensieve. The act of picking out which thoughts to remove, to line up, to examine – that is organization enough for my Muggle purposes.  I also imagine that removing the first two or three thoughts could render one unable to recall which other thoughts one had wanted to cull and examine.

On the other hand, there are thoughts I wish I could erase or delete or scrub away with brain bleach.  The objects we perceive are grist for the mill of our cogitation, memory, and imagination; and only that which has been milled by the internal senses can contribute to our intellect and understanding.  Thus the things I see, the stories or articles I read, the words or music I hear, all become a part of me.

I should take far greater care for what grist enters the mill of my mind.

And so it bears mentioning Pensieve cabinetthat while I hunted for a picture of this thoughtbowl – look how decorative! – other basins came to mind, specifically baptismal fonts. I don’t believe Rowling meant to allude to the sacrament of baptism with her cogitation-basin, but I reckon that the baptismal font is the best help available for management of our thoughts and our inner life.

Luther’s Large Catechism reads as follows:

These two parts, to be sunk under the water and drawn out again, signify the power and operation of Baptism, which is nothing else than putting to death the old Adam, and after that the resurrection of the new man, both of which must take place in us all our lives, so that a truly Christian life is nothing else than a daily baptism, once begun and ever to be continued. For this must be practised without ceasing, that we ever keep purging away whatever is of the old Adam, and that that which belongs to the new man come forth.
But what is the old man? It is that which is born in us from Adam, angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, yea, unbelieving, infected with all vices, and having by nature nothing good in it.
Now, when we are come into the kingdom of Christ, these things must daily decrease, that the longer we live we become more gentle, more patient, more meek, and ever withdraw more and more from unbelief, avarice, hatred, envy, haughtiness.

What a litany.  Angry, hateful, envious, unchaste, stingy, lazy, haughty, unbelieving, infected with all vices.  True, true, true, true, and true.  I need much more than the removal of this or that unhealthy story, rude joke, vacuous song, or meaningless article.  I need nothing less than the washing of regeneration for all my thoughts, each and every day.

Baptism is not a one-time event.  It is the power of God to drown that Old Adam daily.  The thoughts put in to the baptismal font will either be redeemed, or they will be eradicated.

 

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet: Cliffhanger Avoidance

Why I Haven’t Read That Book Yet, Part 4: I Don’t Want Another Cliffhanger

I was among those who started reading the Harry Potter books at age 12 when only the first three books were out.  And so began the waiting: a few months until Goblet of Fire, three YEARS until Order of the Phoenix, another couple years for Half-Blood Prince, and two more until the finale in Deathly Hallows.  In retrospect, waiting was part of why I loved the books so much: no matter how many other books I read from 1999 to 2007, there was always this series I reread and revisited, learning it like the back of my hand, sewing it into my mental map of reality, into my language.

Albino Deer

All of which meant I used to get impatient with people who couldn’t remember, say, the difference between a Muggle and a Squib; that’s like confusing albinism with melanism, or worse.  But a year or so ago, I read all the Hunger Games books in 4 days and forgot most of the details in them after a few months.  Sure, I could paint a broad Melanistic Deerpicture of what bad stuff goes down, what affronts to human dignity take place, and perhaps which people die, but I couldn’t name all the tributes or victors or weird technological weaponry that gets used.  None of my Hunger Games discussions can turn on a detail like that.  I realized that my rereading in anticipation of the next installment of Harry Potter made me so much more literate in that universe, and rather insane invested in the storyline and characters.

All of which sounds like an argument for getting into a series, even if it isn’t finished, right?  After all, even if the larger story told in the series weren’t finished, each book has its own plot which can stand alone, more or less.  But the longer and more expansive the series gets, the more loaded each book, and the more pressure there is for the crisis to be reached and resolved, the loose ends to be tied and tucked neatly away.  Years of waiting for that can take their toll; just look at the Sherlock fandom.  Whatever good you get out of the wait, you also get…the wait.  Nor do you have any guarantee that your patience will be satisfied.  Christopher Tolkien and Brian Herbert attempted to finish book projects their fathers John and Frank had begun (reviews on the resulting books are mixed); Robert Jordan died before finishing Wheel of Time; and they are far from the only authors who died, leaving unfinished stories.  I’ve said that I won’t start reading A Song of Ice and Fire until George R. R. Martin finishes writing them, which at his current rate (extrapolated from the other publishing dates) might well be 2027.  Or it might not happen at all.  Some friends want to discuss the extant books and thus urge me to reconsider; I’ve been accumulating Martin’s books gradually in preparation, and I might crack the first two before buying more.

Unfinished series don’t always put me off; I’ve started the Dresden Files and found that there are enough of them to keep me busy for a while (I started reading them over a year ago and am only 9 books in).  And meanwhile, sometimes a series is complete, but I still hesitate to start it because I’m not sure which book comes first.  This is why I haven’t started the Earthsea Cycle yet (do you have to read “The Word of Unbinding” first?  Are there three books or six? Someone please share their wisdom).  It’s why I haven’t read Vale of the Vole, despite my friend’s insistence that I’d love it – it’s the tenth of a series I haven’t tracked down.  Then there are times when I gleefully read things out of order:  I read the Peter-and-Harriet books before I got to Peter’s bachelor days, and Prisoner of Azkaban before Chamber of Secrets.

What series(es) have torn you up with waiting?  Which are tearing at you right now?  Upon which cliffs do you hang?

Thursday Dances: Books’ Theme Songs

So.  The order of the day is Books I’d Give a Theme Song To.  This presents me with some difficulty; typically, a book’s plot or themes are more complex than any given song, and as such the song can’t necessarily represent the entirety of the book thematically…at least, not many songs I know.  Have we mentioned I don’t deal well with instrumental music?  I really have difficulty with musical comprehension without lyrics to grab hold of.

One way to circumvent both obstacles is to find a wordladen song for a not-very-wordy book: Smitten by Rachel Hale.  One of my brothers, knowing my love for kittens, gave it to me.  It’s not very involved (kittens accompany a variety of proverbs and other aphorisms), but I know the perfect song for it.

Then again, perhaps I can think of a couple stories encapsulated in song.  It’s been a while since I’ve read The Great Gatsby, but given what I recall of “the Trimalchio of West Egg,” either Richard Cory or If I Had it All would be apt.  Or, while rereading Brideshead Revisited, it would be appropriate to listen to Running Against the Sunset, This is the Time, or the outro (the last 3 minutes) of Broken Line.

But generally it’s much easier to think of a character I’d give a theme song to – or even a soundtrack!

For example, since my adolescence involved a lot of Harry Potter and a good deal of Billy Joel, certain of his songs inevitably bring Sirius Black to mind.  The man who enchanted an ordinary motorbike to fly would most certainly sing You May Be Right to whatever witch caught his fancy.  On reaching the English/wizarding drinking age (whichever comes first), he would indubitably act like a Big Shot.  And when his friends demand to know why he did such stupid things, his defense would sound an awful lot like I Go to Extremes.

Then the bomb hits.  Then they are all betrayed; then James and Lily die at Voldemort’s hand, Harry is entrusted to his relatives, and Sirius is led off to Azkaban.  It’s a completely different situation from the Vietnam War, and yet the tone of Goodnight Saigon strikes me as fitting.  Going crazy.  People getting killed around you.  Holding on to the few you can trust, and leaving more of your childhood behind with every day.  And when Sirius escapes, attempts to clear his name, rejoins the Order, and goes down in battle against Bellatrix Lestrange, I think the playlist goes from An Innocent Man to Honesty to Only the Good Die Young.

But Sirius isn’t the only one with a playlist.  More often than not, Dave Matthews Band’s tunes make me think of Severus Snape.  Given his years of love and admiration for Lily Evans, I am certain he would Sleep to Dream Her.  When the Dark Lord killed her on account of Snape’s reports of The Prophecy, he mourned that Grace is Gone.  From that moment, he was once more Captain of his own will rather than Voldemort.  He goes on living, turning against one master to serve another by brewing potions, not mutiny.  This, in some wise, serves as his penance: the unending certainty that you Pay for What You Get, and his payment is to watch over the Chosen OneHalf-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows play out to the tune of Cry Freedom, I Did It, and What You Are.

The last of my somewhat lengthy list is not from Harry Potter and may be a bit of a cheat, I fear.  “Prelude/Angry Young Man” brings Mr. Stephen Mayfield to mind, though he is not always angry and certainly not boring.  But unfortunately for most of you, Mr. Stephen Mayfield hails from the pages of Radicals and Royalists, a book which my friend Emily is working to publish and which I have gotten to read by virtue of having edited it.  So read a bit of it here, if’n you like, and I shall let you know when you can learn more of this particular character!

Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Thirty

The Book Meme Challenge: Your favorite book of all time

As you might well expect, my mind and my words are divided.

The first answer
It is folly to even think I could pick a favorite, if for no other reason than the fact that one cannot judge the whole before one has seen the whole – and well might I believe that I have not already met with all the books that I shall meet through the remainder of my life, however long or short it may be.  Were I to pick one of the books I have encountered already, that choice might come to look like folly later on.  Have you not yet learned enough from the posts you have already seen?

The second answer
Behold.

These are a few (which is to say, just over a hundred…forgive me for stretching the word past breaking point) of my favorite books.  Several should be recognizable from the past month; those that weren’t mentioned prior may prove fodder for later posts.

The third answer
Well has it been said that “all time” eventually excludes all outside the inspired Word of God.  Look here.

And now I bid May its last and official adieu, and go my way for other friends, friends fallen of all the wide world’s ends.  Thank you for reading, and please pardon all my indecision!