Tag Archives: fantasy books

Book Review: The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

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Did you ever dream about your toys coming to life, speaking to you, playing with you, and becoming your best friends, readers? I used to do that. I loved the characters in all the stories I read about or watched on TV. I wanted to romp with 101 Dalmatians come to life, to pilot a zoid across Zi’s burning deserts, to travel through the Stargate with SG-1. I even wanted to hang out with Lieutenant Harmon Rabb Jr. from JAG.

So this means that stories such as The Castle in the Attic were tailor made for me. If I could not convince my toys to come to life and talk to me, I could read about toys that did do this for their owners.

William Lawrence is a ten year old American boy. Since he was little, while his parents have been away at work he has been cared for by Mrs. Phillips. Mrs. Phillips is from England. She lost her husband in World War II, and aside from William and his parents her only family is her brother, who still lives in England.

Coming back from gym class one day, William learns that Mrs. Phillips is going back to England. She is homesick and wants to go back. This upsets William mightily. He loves the old woman like she was his own grandmother and he does not want her to leave.

So he takes the picture of her husband and her pearl pin and hides them, hoping that this will make her stay. But Mrs. Phillips knows him too well not to guess what he has done, and eventually William returns the items. In order to make their parting a little easier, Mrs. Phillips gives William a model castle which has been in her family for generations.

There is only one toy that goes with the fully equipped, articulated castle: a knight carrying a dagger, sword, and shield. Called the Silver Knight, William puts the toy and the box it came in on the castle courtyard.

Later, after he has been put to bed, William waits until everyone has gone off to sleep. Then he sneaks upstairs, opens the box, and takes out the Silver Knight.

But the Knight does not feel like a toy. He feels warm. And squishy. And he is moving!

William is so surprised that he drops the Knight in the castle courtyard. Once he is upright, the Silver Knight challenges William to a duel. Once the preliminary arguments are dispensed with, the two go to their separate beds. William is not quite sure that he has not dreamed the entire encounter, so he goes up to the attic again next morning to see if the Knight is still there and alive.

Turns out, he is.

The adventure continues on from here, readers, but I do not want to spoil more of the story. If you want to know what else happens in the book, you shall have to cross that drawbridge yourselves! I would not want to spoil your fun.

Also, be sure to look for the sequel, Battle for the Castle. It is not my favorite of the two, but it never hurts to read the sequel at least once.

See you around!

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Book Review: The Witch World Trilogy by Andre Norton

About a year ago, maybe two, I covered Andre Norton’s famous first Witch World novels: Witch World and Web of the Witch World. As you may remember, those books detailed the arrival of Simon Tregarth to the Witch World from Earth. After several adventures in this new world, Simon married the Witch Jaelithe who, though she was cast out of the Witches’ Council, retained her Power after marrying him.

These next three tales, which are crucial to understanding the timeline and references in all future Witch World novels, continue their tale in a new form…

Three Against the Witch World

Image result for Three Against the Witch World by Andre Norton

Three Against the Witch World is set after the Kolder War, at the very end of the year. Told from the point of view of Kyllan Tregarth, he describes how his mother, Jaelithe, gave birth to triplets. This was astounding because no one in the Witch World had ever had more than two children at once. Not in recorded memory, at least; if it ever happened before, it is lost in the Witch World’s ancient history.

But the birth was difficult, leaving Jaelithe lethargic and nearly catatonic for an entire year. This nearly drove Simon mad, and his work on Estcarp’s border with Karsten came dangerously close to killing for killing’s sake. Only when Jaelithe recovered did he calm down.

And the children? There were three: Warrior, Sage, and Witch. Kyllan is the warrior. He reached for a sword hilt when he could only crawl. The first born, Kyllan is not prone to asking questions or thinking on ancient mysteries. He is a man made to face the present moment, the desperate hour of battle.

Kemoc, the second of the triplets, is the Sage, the one with all the questions. He pries into records, old knowledge, and wants to learn anything and everything. Kaththea, the third triplet, was born almost immediately after him, and so the two have always been closer to each other than to Kyllan. Though not displayed in her early life, Kaththea has the same gifts as her mother; she is the Witch.

With Karsten maintaining its aggressive stance toward Estcarp, Simon and Jaelithe have to spend almost all their time on the border. Thus they rarely interact with their own children, whom they leave in the keep of their old friend, Loyse of Verlaine, the wife of Koris of Gorm.

The children’s only real mother is Anghart, a Falconer woman who left her village after her own deformed son was killed. The Falconers cannot tolerate weakness of any kind in their ranks because of their harsh lifestyle as mercenaries. And so, like the Spartans of old, they traditionally dispense with any child that is crippled or somehow blemished – even by, say, a large red birthmark splattered across their face. So Anghart is cold and distant to all in the keep. Only the Tregarth triplets, whom she cares for as her own, know her true warmth and nature.

Anghart may be the only one, aside from Jaelithe, who perceives the special tie among the triplets: though three distinct people with their own strengths and weaknesses, the Tregarth heirs have a mental link that lets them meld into a cohesive whole. On instinct, they do not display this ability openly or use it often. It is private, for them alone…

But when Kaththea accidentally intercepts a message sent by a Witch to the Council, asking for aid, their bond activates in response to the urgency of the summons. Captured by Karsten raiders, the Witch called her Sisters for help, and Kaththea was in the line of communication. She and her brothers immediately used their special connection to find the Witch and then help the Borderers save her.

But in doing so they revealed Kaththea’s talent. The Witches do not care for men, and because Jaelithe had left the Council, they did not test her daughter to see if she had the Power. With this rescue of the Witch, however, Kaththea’s Power has been revealed to them. The Council demands the right to test her and, if she proves to have the Power, to take her as a novice who will someday become a full-fledged Witch.

Although they almost never spend much time with their children, the Tregarths are no less protective of their offspring than any other parents. They flatly tell the Council that Kaththea is off-limits and will not be tested. But the Council is patient, and when Simon goes missing two years later, Jaelithe chases after him once she has found his location with the help of their children’s Power.

Years later, despite their parents’ best attempts to guard them, while Kyllan and Kemoc are with the border guards, the Council strikes. Sensing Kaththea’s cry for help, her brothers take off immediately to protect her. It takes the two of them a couple of days to get to the keep, where they find Anghart, barely alive. She stood by her foster daughter to the last, throwing herself between Kaththea and the Witches. When she would not be persuaded to move, they tore her will to live from her with their Power. Though she has the will to live long enough to tell Kyllan and Kemoc what happened and to advise them on how to rescue their sister, she dies two days later.

And so the Tregarth brothers remain Borderers, protecting Estcarp from attacks committed against their nation by Karsten, biding their time until they can find a way to save their sister. In one of these skirmishes Kemoc’s sword hand is injured and he has to be sent to Lormt to recover. When he comes back, he tells Kyllan he has learned where their sister is and where the triplets may hide from the vengeance of the Witches: in the East.

Why is this so special? For all those in Estcarp save Simon and his three children, there is no East on the map. There is not even a recognition of the word in the minds of those Kemoc has asked about the East. It is as if something blocks them from traveling or even thinking in that geographical direction.

So the brothers rescue their sister from the Witches’ training grounds and take her East – where they upset many balances, meet new allies, and find bitter, monstrous foes…

Warlock of the Witch World

Image result for Warlock of the Witch World by Andre Norton

The sequel to Three Against the Witch World, this novel is from Kemoc’s perspective. Living in the Valley of Green Silences with its people, his brother, and his sister, Kemoc leads raids against the evils that prowl the Eastern land known as Escore. Kyllan has married a high lady among the People of Green Silences – Dahaun – but Kemoc and Kaththea as yet have no such heart-ties.

Until a man named Dinzil arrives with his people to join in the Valley’s defense. Kaththea and he get along right from the get-go, and he is well known by reputation among the People of the Valley, not to mention well-liked for his charm.

The only one who cannot stand him is Kemoc. It is not that his sister, with whom he has always been close, is showing favor to the man. That bothers him, but not in the way you might think. The reason that it bothers him is that he instinctively dislikes Dinzil. He cannot find a reason for his aversion; he only knows that every time he gets close to the guy, he has to restrain the urge to grab for his sword. The fact that Kaththea and Kyllan do not have this problem, and that Kaththea is dazzled by Dinzil, only makes matters worse for the Sage.

Dahaun figures this much out through observation and asks Kemoc what his problem is. Kemoc admits that he does not want to speak ill of an ally, nor does he want to accuse a man without proof. He only knows that something about Dinzil feels wrong. He cannot say it any other way.

Unlike his siblings, Dahaun accepts Kemoc’s instinctive assessment of the man. She knows Dinzil’s reputation, knows that he has been vouched for by others as a servant of the Light. But she is not willing to dismiss the second Tregarth youth’s concerns out of hand. Instincts can be as good as knowledge or reason; sometimes, they can be even better than those. In this case, she thinks he may be right and promises to keep as close an eye on Dinzil as she can.

Later, Kemoc and one of the men in the Valley go to visit the Krogan, humans mutated centuries ago by Adepts in magic so that they can live in water, not to mention weave spells using it. The catch is that the Krogan cannot survive long out of water. If they travel too far away from any source of water, salt or fresh, they will die. Don’t bring ‘em to the desert. 😉

At the lake the Krogan call home, Kemoc meets Orsya, one of the Krogan women. Later on, the Krogan emissary states that his people wish to remain neutral. Though of the Light and not allied with Darkness, they are tired of war and just want to be left alone.

Kemoc and his guide/commander leave the lake peacefully. But on the return journey, Kemoc is separated from his friend by a flood. It is not a natural flood, either; Kemoc feels as though this flood was conjured up by something or someone of the Dark. He gets back to the Valley eventually – only to learn that Kaththea, distraught at his disappearance and her inability to find him by mind touch, has gone with Dinzil to use that man’s “means” to locate him.

Though no one else is worried, Kemoc sets out almost at once to find her.   His every instinct is screaming that this was a trap set for his sister, and he has to find her before she is killed. Or worse….

Sorceress of the Witch World

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The final book in this trilogy of Witch World novels is from Kaththea’s point of view. After the events of Warlock of the Witch World, Kaththea was left in a childish, not-quite amnesiac state of mind. She has had to relearn everything, and her memory has come back slowly. Soon, though, the only things she does not truly remember are what she did while she was with Dinzil.

Nevertheless, her dabbling and subsequent mind wipe have left her open to the wills of the Dark things that roam Escore. Finally, she can stand the nightmares no longer. She decides to go back to Estcarp to find a surviving Witch to retrain her in the use of her Power.

The plan goes awry, though, when an avalanche separates her from her brothers in the mountain pass that leads back to Estcarp. Alone and unable to contact her brothers due to her weakened mind bond with them, she can only hope that they are still alive and that she will be able to return to them and the Valley.

That idea seems destined to die when a primitive man finds her and takes her back to his tribe – which turns out to have an old, old, old Witch guiding it around Escore’s myriad dangers.

Although she does not like being in this tribe or her separation from her brothers, Kaththea instantly recognizes that this Witch can help her regain control of her Power. This arrangement works well enough – until the old woman appoints Kaththea her replacement in the tribe’s society, seconds before she topples over dead!

Trapped with a tribe she does not want to lead, Kaththea slowly breaks free of the spell holding her to these people. When her attempt to safely guide the tribe ends in a massacre, Kaththea escapes, with only her most bitter enemy for company as she searches for a way back to the Valley.

The search is hampered not simply by those who are hunting the two women, but also by the magnetic pull of magic coming from an abandoned Adept’s castle. Unable to resist the pull, Kaththea and the other woman enter the castle and pass through a gate into another world –

It is through these events that Kaththea becomes the Sorceress of the Witch World.

Wow, that was a longer post than I had intended to write. Whew, I did not realize how much I would have to say to whet your appetites, readers! I think I will sign off now and let you look up these books yourselves. ‘Till next time!

Book Review: Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Image result for Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones Image result for Howl’s Moving Castle film

If you are familiar with the renowned Hayao Miyazaki film Howl’s Moving Castle, this blogger must warn you up front: Mr. Miyazaki diverged somewhat from Mrs. Jones’ story. Now, Mrs. Jones has no problem with that, the author of this post has no problem with that, and no one I know personally has a problem with this. But some people somewhere are bound to prefer either the book or the movie over the other. And in this case, that is a real shame, because both film and novel are about equal in terms of storytelling power and prowess.

Besides which, if you want to better understand the film’s plot, Mrs. Jones’ book is the best place to find information on the world of Howl’s Moving Castle. In the film, we see that Sophie is running her father’s hat shop, her mother is shallow and into the latest fashions, and Sophie is continually passed over because she is not as pretty as her younger sister, Lettie.

In the book, the very first thing we learn is that the country where Sophie Hatter and her family live is called Ingary. Second, the mother we see in the film should actually be Sophie’s stepmother. Her mother in the books died when she was two and Lettie was one; so her father remarried a young woman who worked in his hat shop. This young woman was named Fanny. Fanny had a child not long after the marriage – another daughter – and her name is Martha. So there are actually three Hatter sisters in the book.

Another thing to remember about Ingary (other than it is a country where invisibility cloaks and seventeen league boots are real), is that the eldest of three in a family never has an interesting or prosperous future. Neither does the second child, though that one may do somewhat better than the oldest. No, it is the third of three who makes the mark on the world.

Sophie learns this at school and so resigns herself to her fate. This makes her quite agreeable, after her father’s sudden death, to taking up residence in the hat shop, which she will inherit after Fanny retires. Meanwhile, Lettie is to be apprenticed to a baker and Martha is to be apprenticed to a witch.

And speaking of witches, it turns out that the Witch of the Waste once terrorized the country of Ingary fifty years back. Rumor has it she has returned now to take her revenge on the king, and so no one is allowed to go out alone, especially at night.

To add to the trouble, the king’s wizard – Suliman – went out to deal with the Witch of the Waste. Unfortunately, it appears that his attempt got him killed.

And on top of all this, a great big floating castle is roaming around Sophie’s town of Market Chipping. At first the residents think it is the Witch’s castle. Then someone explains it is actually the residence of the Wizard Howl.

This is no improvement, however. Howl is said to suck the souls from the prettiest girls he meets. That or eat their hearts; the rumors vary. Either way, no one in Market Chipping wants to lose their daughters to either fate, and Sophie, Lettie, and Martha are warned to never go out alone or to have any dealings with Howl.

When Sophie finally gets away from the hat shop to see Lettie some months later, she happens to run into a very attractive young man at the May Day celebrations. She barely speaks to him, but even that is enough to anger the jealous Witch of the Waste!

And so Sophie’s adventure in the novel begins.

I enjoy the film and the book about equally. Mrs. Diana Wynne Jones is an excellent writer, and her books are full of fun. Howl’s Moving Castle has two sequels: Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways. I may get around to reviewing these in the future, or I may not. If you can find copies of these novels, though, I highly recommend them to you. They are hilarious!!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review – The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

Image result for The Time Traders: Firehand by Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin

If the names Andre Norton and P. M. Griffin look good together, then that is because these authors collaborated several times on novels set in Andre Norton’s universes. From the Witch World to the Time Traders, P. M. Griffin co-wrote a number of stories with Miss Norton. To the best of my knowledge, the only books she has written on her own are her Star Commandos series. I have not been able to read any of those yet, but hopefully I will get that chance in the future.

Firehand is a novel set in Miss Norton’s Time Traders series. Now, I have not read the series all the way through. Heck, I have not even read the first book in the series! Firehand was my introduction to it.

From what I can gather, the Time Traders are units of time-traveling Terran agents who work to ensure that history either remains the same or yields better results than it did previously. But they are not doing this for economic gain. That is, at best, a side benefit. No, the Time Traders’ main mission is to protect the Terran timeline and the histories of its allies/potential allies from the interference of strange aliens called Baldies.

Baldies get their Terran nickname from their bald heads. None of these aliens have tried to be friendly or to make first contact with the Terrans. Mostly, they have either tried to eradicate them or to control them.

Ross Murdock, the young time agent, encountered these aliens in Earth’s Bronze Age on his first time-trading mission. The Baldies, powerful telepaths, at one point were working hard to take control of his mind and bend him to their will. Running for his life, Murdock could not afford to sleep. Sleep would mean his conscious mind was relaxed, which would mean he could not maintain control of himself. So the Baldies could have him sleepwalk all the way back to their camp or into a river where he would drown, and he would be none the wiser until it was too late.

So Murdock kept moving, becoming more and more exhausted as he fled the aliens. Exhaustion, of course, is a threat as well; the more he tired, the more likely he would fall unconscious or collapse into sleep. This would leave him vulnerable to the Baldies’ telepathy as well.

Ross is not a man who submits to domination willingly. In order to stave off sleep and keep the Baldies out of his mind when he rested, he set a fire. Then he put a brand in the fire, took it out, and burned his own hand with it.

That was at the start of his career as a Time Agent. By the time of Firehand, he has been on at least a couple of other missions, gaining more experience and getting tougher by the day.

This latest assignment to the planet Hawaika, though, looks to be his last. With fellow agents Doctor Gordon Ashe and Karara Trehern, Ross had to destroy the time gate to save Hawaika’s future. Now, they are all trapped in Hawaika’s past.

Not that Karara is too unhappy about that. Melding with ancient Hawaikan magic before the final battle, Karara has become something other than human. To leave Hawaika now would be a death sentence for her. But to stay would be equally bad for Gordon and Ross.

Thankfully, the Time Traders have no intention of leaving their highly trained, very expensive agents stuck in the past. Karara they have to leave behind in time for the new history to remain the same; but Ross and Gordon are coming home…

….To face yet another historical crisis. This time, the world they have to save is the Dominion of the Sun-Star Virgin. When they saved Hawaika, something went wrong in the Dominion’s past. Now that world is reduced to a glowing cinder.

So Ross, Gordon, and former Time Trader weapons instructor Eveleen Riordan are going back to Dominion’s past to fix this mess.

And that’s all I am writing, fellas. If you want to know the rest, hunt up the Time Traders series or skip straight to Firehand. As I have said elsewhere, Miss Griffin is a superb writer. Her work on Firehand is not necessarily of the same caliber as her work on Seakeep and Falcon’s Hope from Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance, respectively. In fact, if you are paying attention you will see some similarities between those stories and Firehand.

However, the similarities do not cause too much of a problem for me. If anything, they just show the writer’s preferences. Every writer has some favorite plots, names, animals, character types, or worlds, etc. Who am I to jump all over P. M. Griffin for being normal?

In a while, Crocodile!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Tales of the Witch World by Andre Norton

Here is that next Andre Norton book I promised to review some time ago.  This book is not entirely Miss Norton’s creation. It is an anthology book, which contains several short stories set in Miss Norton’s Witch World universe.

Miss Norton only wrote one story in the whole volume. The others were written by her protégés, authors she helped to get noticed and published by the companies who published her work. It is a long list of authors she helped to get started, readers.

If you are not familiar with the Witch World, you can check out a couple of my other posts about that universe here on the blog. But the Witch World is wide and varied, and those last two posts are just glimpses of a bigger world. Some of these stories will not make much sense if you have only read Witch World and Web of the Witch World.

So this is why I am going to list which stories in Tales of the Witch World are good, and which you may want to avoid. To start with the negatives first, it would be best to avoid Heir Apparent, Cat and the Other, To Rebuild the Eyrie, Milk from a Maiden’s Breast, and Green in High Hallack. None of these stories are particularly well written, in my opinion, and some of them do not fit properly with the rules Miss Norton’s established for her world.

Heir Apparent is told from the villain’s perspective, and so I found it very annoying. Cat and the Other played fast and loose with the rules of Estcarpian society, the niceties, as it were. The honorifics were sloppy and insincere sounding. This makes it grate on my nerves, and so I do not recommend it at all. To Rebuild the Eyrie, which focuses on a young Falconer trying to reestablish his people’s base in the twisted southern mountains, was so poorly written that I did not even finish reading it.

Milk from a Maiden’s Breast I managed to stagger through, though again, I found the author had almost ignored the rules of the Witch World. Green in High Hallack was almost unbearable for me to read for the same reasons. It was also poorly written, which increased my aggravation with both story and author. *Deep sigh.*

These are the stories in the book that I avoid and therefore do not recommend be read. What you wish to read or not read, however, is for you to decide. The only reason I have gone to the trouble of listing the stories which drive me crazy is because I cannot, in good conscience, recommend stories I hate. If you like them, that is your prerogative. My imperative is simply to be as honest as possible when I give my opinions.

On the positive side, I enjoyed most of the other stories. A few of these came dangerously close to breaking Miss Norton’s format, but they were well written and therefore managed to avoid irritating me too much.

The first story in the book is by Andre Norton herself. This one is called Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir, and it is an introduction to the story of Kerovan, a character who lives in High Hallack, the western continent of the Witch World. Kerovan’s stories usually involve gryphons; one of the books that feature him and his wife is called Gryphon’s Eyrie. I have only read that one story which was based on him and his wife, and so I do not know much about him. Of the Shaping of Ulm’s Heir fills in some of the blanks for me, but I have much more to find out about him yet.

Then we have Fenneca and Bloodspell. Both these stories also take place in High Hallack, I think. Fenneca may actually take place in Estcarp; the location is never exactly stated. Fenneca breaks a few rules, but it is written well. I am therefore willing to forgive Wilanne Schneider Belden and to recommend that Fenneca be read.

Bloodspell was written by A. C. Crispin. Crispin co-wrote several novels with Miss Norton, and then went on to write a few Star Wars novels. Bloodspell takes place in Arvon, a state in High Hallack which is beyond the Dales. In Year of the Unicorn, it was implied that no one in High Hallack could enter Arvon except through luck or the gates which connect the Witch World to Earth. Bloodspell does not break this rule, but another story later on in the book does.

Crispin’s short story focuses on the Were-riders. Men who were bespelled by an Adept so that they can shape shift into animals, the Were-riders call themselves a Pack. We learn about them first in Miss Norton’s Year of the Unicorn, a very good book I will someday review here. For now, it is enough to say that Crispin wondered why the Were-riders were kicked out of Arvon into the Dales of High Hallack. Miss Norton said she did not know why, and this allowed Crispin to give us the reason in Bloodspell.

Next is The White Road, by Charles de Lint. This story is set in High Hallack immediately after that country has been freed from the Hounds of Alizon. It is fairly well written and takes little liberty with the established rules of Miss Norton’s Witch World. I would give it four out of five stars, if pressed to rate it.

Then there is Oath-Bound, by Pauline Griffin. After Miss Norton, Miss Griffin is the one writer I would trust to successfully tell a story about a Falconer. This story seems to have preceded Seakeep and its sequel; Miss Griffin’s writing here is good, but by her later stories in Storms of Victory and Flight of Vengeance her writing had greatly improved. I rate Oath-Bound as a somewhat lesser story for this reason, and no other.

Of Ancient Swords and Evil Mist and Nine Words in Winter follow. These stories skate close to breaking Miss Norton’s established laws in the Witch World, as well as the history she had formed around the countries where they take place. However, their writers knew their craft, and so the stories do not truly grate on this reader’s nerves.

Were-Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey, is a very good story. Truth be told, I cannot stand Miss Lackey’s novels (she co-wrote novels with Miss Norton). The woman puts a great deal of detail in her novels – too much detail. She has to explain the whole universe, all the scenes, characters, customs, and clothing in great specificity. This means her novels suffer from a burden of too much description and not enough story. What is more, the resolutions of her novel conflicts are often anti-climatic and unfulfilling. As a novelist, she drives me crazy.

But as a short story writer, she is not so very bad. Were-Hunter is a good example of this. The story is set in Arvon, as a sequel to Year of the Unicorn. Miss Lackey’s handicaps are assets here, and Were-Hunter is one of the stories in Tales of the Witch World that I like best. I do not understand how I can enjoy her short stories and hate her novels, but I do.

Then we have Neither Rest Nor Refuge. This story is set in Karsten at the time when the Old Race was thrice horned, or outlawed, and killed by Duke Yvian in Witch World. It is written well enough that it garners my appreciation for that reason. It also introduces a male character native to Estcarp who can wield the Power. The ending is a cliffhanger, so do not expect too much from it. Still, it is a passable story.

Next are Night Hound’s Moon and Isle of Illusion. Night Hound’s Moon is set in the Dales of High Hallack. It takes place either some time after the end of the war with Alizon, or during a lull in the conflict. Other than that, it is an entertaining story. Isle of Illusion does not adhere very well to Miss Norton’s rules for magic, in my opinion, but it is otherwise well-crafted and the writer knows her business. I do not know just where in the Witch World that Isle of Illusion is set. Seemingly, it is off the coast of High Hallack, but I cannot say for sure.

And last we have The Road of Dreams and Death. Robert E. Vardeman writes well, but I think he should have read a few more of Miss Norton’s Witch World novels before diving into this tale. In The Road of Dreams and Death, the barrier between Arvon and the rest of High Hallack is non-existent, when by rights it should still be there. This is the one thing about the story I do not understand and which rankles when I read it. Otherwise, it is an acceptable yarn.

These are the stories you will find if you pick up Tales of the Witch World, readers. You may like the stories I hate and hate the stories I like. Or you may dislike the whole thing. That is your choice. The stories I have described in some detail are the ones I enjoyed the best and wanted to share with you. If any of you wish to drop me a line disagreeing or discussing the above book, I would certainly enjoy hearing from you! For now…

See ya later!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: Roverandom by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The Silmarillion….

These are the titles most of us think of when we hear the name J. R. R. Tolkien. And rightly so. Tolkien wrote these stories and more set within Middle-earth. He also wrote Mr. Bliss and Farmer Giles of Ham. And he wrote a great many essays, as well as at least two translations of the epic of Beowulf. (They were very good translations.)

But Mr. Tolkien also wrote another story which was not published until 1998. This is the story of Roverandom.

Roverandom started life as a tale for Michael Tolkien, the second son of the Tolkien family. Michael had a little lead toy dog he never went without. When the Tolkiens were on vacation near the beach, Michael brought the toy with him. But when he and his brother went out to play in the sand, he lost the little toy. J.R.R. Tolkien, John Tolkien, and Michael Tolkien went looking for it, of course, but they could not find it.

Anyone who has had a favorite toy and misplaced it permanently knows how damaging a loss this is. Michael was apparently inconsolable. To take his mind off of the loss, J. R. R. Tolkien told the story of how Michael’s toy was actually a real dog enchanted to be a toy. The little dog, he explained, had been enchanted by a wizard he had upset and was now off on an adventure to return to normal size.

Roverandom went through several revisions over the following years. After the success of The Hobbit, Tolkien gave his publishers the manuscript for Roverandom. But they did not want this story. Because The Hobbit had been such a big hit, they wanted a sequel. The rest, as they say, is history; The Lord of the Rings was the sequel that the publishers knew they wanted, and Roverandom was left in the family archives.

That is where it remained until 1998, when the Tolkien Trust published the manuscript for the first time. Michael Tolkien apparently lost interest in the story after the first few retellings. His older brother John, however, did not lose interest. He was the driving force behind the story being written down and revised at least three times.

The story of Roverandom begins when Rover, playing with his mistress’ yellow ball, sees an old man pick it up. Now the old man is Artaxerxes, and he is a wizard. Thinking he will make the ball a more interesting trinket for the dog, he picks it up without asking if he can have it.

Rover is not happy about this at all. He barks at the wizard, telling him (without the proper polite niceties), to put down the ball. The offended Artaxerxes replies that he will not, instead putting the ball in his pocket.

This is too much for Rover, who reacts very foolishly. He bites the wizard’s trousers and tears a piece off – possibly taking some of Artaxerxes with it!

Well, now the wizard is in high dudgeon. Whirling around, he tells Rover to “go and be a toy!” And, before you can say Jack Robinson, Rover is stuck in a begging position in a box of toys. He is also far smaller than he should be, unable to move much (especially while people are watching), and his barks are too quiet for anyone but the other toys to hear.

Then Rover is taken out of the box and bought by a lady for six pence. She takes him home and gives him to Little Boy Two (Michael Tolkien), and the boy loves him to pieces. Rover, however, is more interested in being returned to his proper size and going home. He ignores Little Boy Two until he falls out of the child’s pocket while the lad is running about on the beach with his older brother.

The rest of the story you will have to read for yourselves. I have spoiled too much as things stand now, and I have no desire to be turned into a toy for telling more! 😉 If you can buy Roverandom, readers, it will be a good investment. If your local library has it, well, then you really have no excuse to avoid borrowing it to experience the adventure yourselves!

Until next time –

The Mithril Guardian

(bowing)

At your service!

Book Review: Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Miss Le Guin’s works are myriad. She has written A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels, The Earthsea trilogy, and The Lathe of Heaven. The one series which I know best, and that is not saying much, is her Catwings books. It is not saying much because I am missing one of the novels, perhaps two, and so I have lost part of the story.

Voices is the first Le Guin novel I have read in years. It is also the longest Le Guin story I have ever read. What inspired me to pick it up?

That’s a tale in the telling.

Voices takes place in the city of Ansul. From what a reader gathers, Ansul was once rather like Ancient Athens. The capital city of a small nation which was democratic and full of learning, Ansul kept no standing army. They had a merchant fleet but the ships were armed mostly for fighting pirates. Though they had good equipment, Ansul only has the one coast.

So when the Alds from Asudar came storming over Ansul’s land-locked border, the resistance to their invasion was scattered and haphazard. A country which relies on only words and learning to defend itself is not going to do well. This is a fact. Still, Ansul has an extra excuse for their dismal defense. The Alds’ assault was a complete surprise. They had had no forewarning of an attack, let alone an invasion.

The city of Ansul, which was home to the most libraries and their great university, held out against the Alds for a whole year. When it fell, red ruin played out in the streets. The Alds considered any woman walking alone in the streets to be free fodder for rape. As a result, many “siege brats” populate the city in the intervening years. Only old women and children, along with men, can safely go to the market. Any girl over a certain age who goes out alone and undisguised is at risk of being raped.

This would be bad enough for the people of Ansul to bear, but there is more. Their religion is believed by their conquerors to be unholy, and so practice of it is outlawed. Even the mildest gestures can be punished with death. Also the Alds, at the behest of their priests, have invaded Ansul looking for the gateway to their version of Hell. They call this the Night Mouth. And they believe the Night Mouth is somewhere within the city of Ansul.

So after they had control of the city, the Alds wrecked all the libraries. They destroyed the university. Then they went from home to home, building to building, searching for every book they could discover. Considering books to be demonic and full of witchcraft, the Alds would not touch them, so that they would not be defiled by them. Instead they had the citizens of Ansul pile the volumes into carts, then throw these tomes, weighted with stones, into the river and the harbor to drown. They do this because they consider fire sacred, so burning books is the same as elevating them to the sacred.

For seventeen years the Alds have ruled Ansul in this manner. Memer Galva, the Ansul “siege brat” daughter of Decalo Galva, has lived in her grandfather’s house for all those years. A Waylord – that is, a taxman – Memer’s grandfather was taken and tortured for information during the siege. The tortures left him crippled, so that he tires after walking around the ruin that is his house for too long without a rest. He cannot stand up straight and his hands are deformed from the torments he endured.

As a child, Memer discovers a secret room within her grandfather’s house. It is filled with books. Here she plays and, although she does not know how to read, she respects the books in the room. Once she finishes playing she puts the volumes back exactly where they came from on the shelf.

One day, in a righteous fury, Memer enters the room to find comfort. Instead she finds the Waylord – reading a book!

At first, they are both frightened. Then the Waylord relaxes and asks Memer how she got in. Memer describes the method she used to enter. He begins to ask how she could know it, then remembers her dead mother, and the answer becomes obvious.

After a few minutes of silence, the Waylord asks Memer if she wants to learn how to read. From then on, Memer makes nightly trips to the secret room, where the Waylord meets her. Over the years he educates her in history, geography, writing and reading. During these years Memer observes others from the city come to the house, many at night and in secret, with books hidden in their clothes or accessories. These are smuggled to the house in the dead of night, lest those who carry them be drowned or buried alive in the mudflats outside the city. Memer and the Waylord hide these volumes in the secret room.

Eventually, things change dramatically for both Memer and Ansul through the story of Voices. But this is not why yours truly chose to read the novel.

No, what intrigued me right from the start was the blurb on the back of the book. The blurb states that, in conquered Ansul, reading and writing are considered “acts punishable by death” according to the law of the conquering Alds.

I was immediately put in mind of history itself. The barbarians of the past who invaded the Roman Empire, Spain, and other countries always destroyed everything the civilized societies they found there had built. From churches to libraries down to the meanest peasant’s house, all the knowledge, culture, and wonders which the conquered people had built were subject to ruin. Why?

As G.K. Chesterton points out in The Ballad of the White Horse, it is because barbarians of most stripes think that destruction is the greatest power on Earth. The barbarian’s life is marked by futility, selfishness, and despair. For will he not be struck down someday by death as well, the ultimate annihilation?

In the epic poem, Chesterton has King Alfred explain that destruction is far from extraordinary. The very Earth wastes away beneath us at this moment: deserts encroach on arable territories, river banks crumble, rocks are eroded, trees die, and mountains and hills are worn away, whilst others are raised through formerly flat plains. Destruction is part of nature itself. It is nothing special – not in the way the barbarian thinks it is.

What, then, is more powerful than destruction? If annihilation is natural, what can be more powerful than it?

The answer, in the words of “a nameless man” and “A rhymester without home” is this:

“Ere the sad gods that made your gods

Saw their sad sunrise pass,

The White Horse of the White Horse Vale,

That you have left to darken and fail,

Was cut out of the grass.

– 

“Therefore your end is on you,

Is on you and your kings,

Not for a fire in Ely fen,

Not that your gods are nine or ten,

But because it is only Christian men

Guard even heathen things.”

 

How did the West survive the Dark Ages? How did science progress to the age of “Enlightenment” and beyond? How do we know with such certainty what happened so long ago in Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Athens, Sparta, Rome, Carthage, and lands beyond?

All this is here because “it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.” A culture which does not build, which does not learn, which revels only in death, dismemberment, and devastation, is doomed to ruin itself. Though time will one day end, whatever survives to the day when the last man on Earth makes his choice will be there because “it is only Christian men/Guard even heathen things.”

Preservation, not annihilation. Life, not death. These are the powers which war for control of the Earth. This is what is meant by the phrase “light and darkness.” There is no question as to which side will eventually win the conflict. No, there is only one question each man must ask himself:

Which side will I choose?

This writer chooses to “guard even heathen things,” rather than to leave “The White Horse of the White Horse Vale/… to darken and fail.” I choose to fight the Long Defeat, and to preserve what I can. To be the hare “who has more heart to run” than the hunter who has “less heart to ride.” I would rather “Go gaily in the dark” and “go singing to [my] shame” than “know what wicked things/Are written on the sky” or “know all evil things/Under the twisted trees.”

That is my choice.

What about you, reader? Which side will you choose? Or, as Mr. Chesterton said:

 

Do you have joy without a cause,

Yea, faith without a hope?

The Mithril Guardian