Sunday, February 27, 2011
This magnificent history of English magic (oh how I wished there really was one) is truly magical, albeit long, the book by itself as it was written, and also because of the very detailed footnotes that the author included (they are fascinating though, and worth the read). Set in 19th century England, the book is as much the story of the ultimate magician John Uskglass, the King Raven, as it is the story of the rivaling practical magicians Mr. Norrell and Jonathan Strange. The magic is dark and grandiose, but in a quiet sort of way, the telling very imaginative, beautifully descriptive and mesmerizing.
'Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. They met upon the third Wednesday of every month and read each other long, dull papers upon the history of English magic.'(opening lines)
'Mr. Segundus wished to know, he said, why modern magicians were unable to work the magic they wrote about. In short, he wished to know why there was no more magic done in England.'(4)
'Mr. Norrell determined to establish himself in London with all possible haste. "You must get me a house, Childermass," he said. "Get me a house that says to those that visit it that magic is a respectable profession -- no less than Law and a great deal more so than Medicine."'(40)
"But really a magician has need of so few tools. I will tell you a little trick, my lord, the more apparatus a magician carries about with him -- coloured powders, stuffed cats, magical hats and so forth -- the greater the fraud you will eventually discover him to be!"(108)
"Two magicians shall appear in England..."
A sort of exclamation broke from Mr. Norrell, an exclamation that began as a cry and ended as a soft, unhappy sigh.
"The first shall fear me; the second shall long to behold me;
The first shall be governed by thieves and murderers; the second shall conspire at his own destruction;
The first shall bury his heart in a dark wood beneath the snow, yet still feel its ache;
The second shall see his dearest possession in his enemy's hand..."(123)
'Curiously, no one noticed that the strange malady that afflicts her ladyship was to a precision the same as that which afflicted Stephen Black. He too complained of feeling tired and cold, and on the rare occasions that either of them said anything, they both spoke in a low, exhausted manner.'(169)
"Can a magician kill a man by magic?" Lord Wellington asked Strange.
Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. "I suppose a magician might," he admitted, "but a gentleman never could."(304)
'Fairies do not make a strong distinction between the animate and the inanimate. They believe that stones, doors, trees, fire, clouds and so forth all have souls and desires, and are either masculine or feminine. Perhaps this explains the extraordinary sympathy for madness which fairies exhibit.'(365)
'English magic, said Mr Strange, had grown up upon English soil and had in a sense been nurtured by English rain. Mr Strange said that in meddling with English weather, we meddled with England, and in meddling with England, we risked destroying the very foundation of English magic.'(384)
'In the end is it not futile to try and follow the course of a quarrel between husband and wife? Such a conversation is sure to meander more than any other. It draws in tributary arguments and grievances from years before -- all quite incomprehensible to any but the two people they concern most nearly. Neither party is ever proved right or wrong in such a case, or it they are, what does it signify?'(398)
"Without the blessing of health and reason, riches and beauty are worthless indeed!"(427)
'Houses, like people, are apt to become rather eccentric if left too much on their own; this house was the architectural equivalent of an old gentleman in a worn dressing-gown and torn slippers, who got up and went to bed at odd times of day, and who kept up a continual conversation with friends no one else could see.'(452-453)
'It may be laid down as a general rule that if a man begins to sing, no one will take notice of his song except his fellow human beings. This is true even if his son is surpassingly beautiful. Other men may be in raptures at his skill, but the rest of creation is, by and large, unmoved. Perhaps a cat or a dog may look at him; his horse, if it is an exceptionally intelligent beast, may pause in cropping the grass, but that is the extent of it. But when the fairy sang, the whole world listened to him.'(469)
'It is the contention of Mr. Norrell of Hanover-square that everything belonging to John Uskglass must be shaken out of modern magic, as one would shake moths and dust out of an old coat. What does he imagine he will have left. If you get rid of John Uskglass you will be left holding the empty air.'(493)
'In his weakened state Childermass had been thinking aloud. He had meant to say that if what he had seen was true, then everything that Strange and Norrell had ever done was child's play and magic was a much stanger and more terrifying thing than any of them had thought of. Strange and Norrell had been merely throwing paper darts about a parlour, while real magic soared and swooped and twisted on great wings in a limitless sky far, far above them.'(512)
"Such nonsense! declared Dr. Greysteel. "Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful?"
"Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner," said Strange. "That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflections upon one's imperfections."(587)
"Now I know very little of English magicians. They have always seemed to me parcel of dull, dusty old men -- except for John Uskglass. He is quite another matter! The magician who tamed the otherlanders! The only magician to defeat Death! The magicians whom Lucifer himself was forced to treat as an equal!"(639-640)
'Chauntlucet: a mysterious and ancient spell which encourages the moon to sing. The song the moon knows is apparently very beautiful and can cure leprosy or madness in any who hear it.'(footnote 4, page 695)
"This house is built upon the King's land, with stones from the King's abbey. a river runs by it -- not more than two hundred yards from this room; that river has often borne the King in his royal barge upon its waters. In my kitchen-garden are a pear-tree and an apple-tree -- the direct descendants of some pips spat out by the King when he sat one summer's evening in the Abbot's garden. Let the old abbey stones be our envoy; let the river be our path; let next year's apples and pears from these trees be our handsel. Then we may name him simply 'The King'. These stones, this river, those trees know none other!"(745)
'...and everything changed. The sun came out from behind a cloud; it shone through the winter trees; hundreds of small, bright patches of sunlight appeared. The world became a kind of puzzle or labyrinth. It was like the superstition which says one must not walk upon lines between flag stones -- or the strange magic called the Doncaster Squares which is performed upon a board like a chessboard. Suddenly everything had meaning.'(763)
Bloomsbury Publishing First US Edition 2004
Book borrowed from the library
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
PERSONAL NOTE: Sorry for the mishap on my inadvertently posting the wrong one. If you are here for my one year anniversary post, it was a premature Ooooops. But a year already indeed... in a month this blog is one year old.
Monday, February 21, 2011
In a picturesque remote town somewhere in Colorado, sits the Overlook, a grand old hotel that is the setting of this expectedly disturbing and frighteningly vivid book. The perfect storm builds up to an explosive ending when Jack Torrance, a short-fused recovering alcoholic, his wife Wendy, and their son Danny, a five-year old with the gift of the 'shining' move in to the hotel as it's out-of-season caretakers, and the hotel with it's equally sinister garden starts to slowly take over their lives.
'Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.'(opening line)
'Watson shrugged. "Any big hotels have got scandals," he said. "Just like every big hotel has got a ghost. Why? Hell, people come and go. Sometimes one of em will pop off in his room, heart attack or stroke or something like that. Hotels are superstitious places. No thirteenth floor or room thirteen, no mirrors on the back of the door you come in through, stuff like that,'(25)
'He had been frightened, had tried to explain to them that there was nothing wrong, that this sometimes happened to him when he concentrated on understanding more than what normally came to him. He tried to explain about Tony, who they called his "invisible playmate."(32)
'Don't go, Danny...
Then the wind gusted again, making him squint, and the shadow by the bus stop was gone... if it had ever been there at all. He stood by his window for
(a minute? an hour?)
some time longer, but there was no more. At last he crept back into bed and pulled the blankets up and watched the shadows thrown by the alien streetlight turn into a sinuous jungle filled with flesheating plants they wanted only to slip around him, squeeze the life out of him, and drag him down into a blackness where one sinister word flashed in red:
'And in the bug, which moved upwardly more surely on the gentler grade, he kept looking out between them as the road unwound, affecting occasional glimpses of the Overlook Hotel, its massive bank of westward-looking windows reflecting back the sun. It was the place he had seen in the midst of the blizzard, the dark and booming place where some hideously familiar figure sought him down long corridors carpeted with jungle. The place Tony had warned him against. It was here. It was here. Whatever Redrum was, it was here.'(71)
"You got a knack," Halloran said, turning to him. "Me, I've always called it shining. That's what my grandmother called it, too. She had it. We used to sit in the kitchen when I was a boy no older than you and have long talks without even openin our mouths."(89)
"...a lot of folks, they got a little bit of shine to them. They don't even know it. But they always seem to show up with flowers when their wives are feelin blue with the monthlies, they do good on school tests they don't even study for, they got a good idea how people are feeling as soon as they walk into a room. I come across fifty or sixty like that. But maybe only a dozen, countin my gran, that knew they was shinin."(90)
'There was an iron scream behind his lips, but he would not let it out. His mommy and daddy could not see such things; they never had. He would keep quiet. His mommy and daddy were loving each other, and that was a real thing. The other things were just like pictures in a book. Some pictures were scary, but they couldn't hurt you. They... couldn't... hurt you.'(105)
'They watched until the car was out of sight, headed down the eastern slope. When it was gone, the three of them looked at each other for a silent, almost frightened moment. They were alone. Aspen leaves whirled and skittered in aimless packs across the lawn that was now neatly mowed and tended for no guest's eyes. There was no one to see the autumn leaves steal across the grass but the three of them. It gave Jack a curious shrinking feeling, as if his life force had dwindled to a mere spark while the hotel and the grounds had suddenly doubled in size and become sinister, dwarfing them with sullen, inanimate power.'(112)
'Once, during the drinking phase, Wendy had accused him of desiring his own destruction but not possessing the necessary moral fiber to support a full-blown deathwish. So he manufactured ways in which other people could do it, lopping a piece at a time off himself and their family. Could it be true? Was he afraid somewhere inside that the Overlook might be just what he needed to finish his play and generally collect up his shit and get it together? Was he blowing the whistle on himself? Please God no, don't let it be that way. Please.'(203-204)
'The bewilderment seemed to grow and for a moment she saw his true face, the one he ordinarily kept so well hidden, and it was a face of desperate unhappiness, the face of an animal caught in a snare beyond its ability to decipher and render harmless. Then the muscles began to work, began to writhe under the skin, the mouth began to tremble infirmly, the Adam's apple began to rise and fall.'(256)
'The whole place was empty.
But it wasn't really empty. Because here in the Overlook things just went on and on. Here in the overlook all times were one.'(339)
'Dying was a part of living. You had to keep tuning in to that if you expected to be a whole person. And if the fact of your own death was hard to understand, at least it wasn't impossible to accept.'(349)
First Pocket Books trade paperback edition, October 2002
Book borrowed from the library
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Personal Note: I could not stop reading this book, and it was perfect for the 16-hour flight to the Philippines. It definitely made the long flight seem shorter. It was a busy two weeks, and only found myself finishing three books instead of the six books I planned. Thanks to all the thoughtful well wishers. A few pictures from the trip:
overlooking Laguna de Bay
catching the sunset
Jackfruit (Langka) Tree
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
with illustrations by the author
translated from French by Richard Howard
There will always be room on my list for a simple book such as this, a gentle reminder to all of us about what truly is important. When a pilot is forced to land his plane on a desert, he meets an extraordinary Little Prince who teaches him the secret to cherishing life. The same message keeps getting told in so many ways, I know, but are we actually getting the message?
'Once when I was six I saw a magnificent picture in a book about the jungle, called True Stories. It showed a boa constrictor swallowing a wild beast.'(opening lines)
'Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again.'(2)
'Grown-ups like numbers. When you tell them about a new friend, they never ask questions about what really matters. They never ask: "What does her voice sound like?" "What games does he like best?" "Does he collect butterflies?" They ask: "How old is he? "How many brothers does he have?"..."How much money does his father make?" Only then do they think they know him.'(10)
'Authority is based first of all upon reason.'(31)
'This is the hardest thing of all. It is much harder to judge yourself than to judge others. If you succeed in judging yourself, it's because you are truly a wise man.'(32)
'Trying to be witty leads to lying, more or less.'(48)
'But my rose, all on her own, is more important than all of you together, since she's the one I've watered. Since she's the one I put under glass. Since she's the one I sheltered behind a screen. Since she's the one for whom I killed the caterpillars (except the two or three for butterflies). Since she's the one I listened to when she complained, or when she's boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing at all. Since she's my rose.'(63)
'One sees clearly only with the heart. Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.'(63)
'What moves me so deeply about this sleeping little prince is his loyalty to a flower -- the image of a rose shining within like the flame within a lamp, even when he's asleep...'(69)
'... if you should travel to Africa someday, in the desert. And if you happen to pass by here, I beg you not to hurry past. Wait a little, just under the star!'(85)
A Harvest Book edition
Book qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge
Thanks to Suko @ Suko's Notebook for her sidebar picture of the book, the reminder that I finally had to read it.