The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. LeGuin

One of my reading goals this year is to read through the Earthsea series. The Tombs of Atuan is the second book in the series and I was drawn into this story even more than A Wizard Of Earthsea. It’s probably because I was excited to learn about Tenar’s story. I started the series by reading The Other Wind first and Tenar was so wise and understanding that I wanted to know more about her story even then.

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When the One Priestess of the Tombs of Atuan dies, she is reborn. So, the other Priestesses and the Wardens go and search for a little girl who was born the same night the One Priestess dies. If the child remains healthy until the age of five it is understood that this is the One Priestess reborn. She is then taken from her parents and brought to the Temple. Her name will eventually be taken from her as she becomes servant to the Nameless Ones. She becomes Arha, The Eaten One. Tenar is said to be the reborn Priestess and becomes Arha. She is isolated in the desert with very little life around her. She is to daily repeat that she is The Eaten One, a reminder that all is consumed and there is nothing left of her from her previous life. She is discouraged from having close friends or meaningful relationships, even punishment is withheld from her. She is set apart to serve the Nameless Ones, the ancient Dark Powers.

LeGuin does a great job of creating this isolated place in the desert. I really got a good sense of how lonely and isolated a life this was. There is no life, no hope, no joy. There is also an origin account the Tombs creation. Things get interesting when we learn the story of Erreth-Akbe. He was defeated by the High Priest when his amulet was cut in half. One half is hidden in the Treasury of the Tombs, the other half is believed to be lost. Now, the only real thieves who would attempt to break in and steal from their treasury are sorcerers hoping to get the ring of Erreth-Akbe back.

This is a very different story from A Wizard Of Earthsea. We don’t even see Ged until much later in the book. There is a focus on darkness here. Tenar is Arha, the Eaten One and her world is a sad and lonely existence in service to her masters. She serves these Dark Ones and explores the dark caves with her hands and mind for light is forbidden in the deep of the caves. She is also responsible for determining the appropriate death her Masters would choose for prisoners brought to her. Darkness, death and evil surround her until the day a wizard breaks into the Tombs with a light–defiling the dark place– and opens her eyes to so much more: the beauty and riches of the Tombs, the choice of life over death and the chance to leave that horrible place.

I enjoyed getting to read Tenar’s story from the beginning. I also enjoyed seeing Ged again and appreciated how he has grown since A Wizard Of Earthsea: he is patient, kind and wise. He still bears the scars on his face from his own dealings with the powers of darkness and probably always will. Tenar, too, is scarred, not physically, but mentally. She carries with her the guilt from previous actions committed. She wants to remain isolated as fitting punishment, but Ged offers to let her stay with his old teacher instead as a place to heal.

The struggle for Tenar lies not only in deciding whether she should stay and remain Arha, or to leave it all behind and courageously step forward into the unknown to discover who she really is, but, additionally, in how she deals with her painful past. This is something that will shape her as she moves forward. Then again, how could it not? She is brave, though, and I look forward to reading on about her personal journey and transformation.

I’m also interested in reading more about the ring of Erreth-Akbe. Is this another ring to rule them all, only that this one holds the promise of peace? I suspect that the story of finding the right person to wear the ring and rule the people will be fascinating. I think there is a lot to look forward to in the next few books!

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A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

It must be the right time for me to work my way through those books I should have read as a kid but didn’t. This time it is Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

“Oh, we don’t travel at the speed of anything,” Mrs Whasit explained earnestly. “We tesser. Or you might say, we wrinkle.”

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I think many people are already familiar with this book. Meg Murry lives with her mother, twin brothers and baby brother Charles Wallace. Their father is gone, no one knows where, but outside the family, people think he abandoned them–Meg knows better though, she just doesn’t know where he is or when he will come home. Then Mrs Whasit and Mrs Who enter their life, followed by a new friend, Calvin and later Mrs Which. Together they will travel through space and time to find Meg and Charles Wallace’s father and will confront IT– an enemy more powerful than any they have encountered in their young lives and will discover the way to defeat him and the evil he represents and reunite their family.

This book was very different from a lot of young adult novels, at least for me, because of the space travel. I liked the focus on science and that the protagonist was a young girl interested and good at both math and science. The characters were also pretty interesting; Mrs Who and Mrs Whatsit definitely added a dash of fun especially early in the novel.

It was interesting that after the kids saw IT through the Happy Medium’s crystal ball that Mrs Whatsit told them that many were working to fight IT and that the best fighters came from Earth, beginning with Jesus. She went on to say that our artists were lights to see by and the kids started to name people from Michaelangelo and Shakespeare to Rembrandt and St. Francis. Individuals who bettered the world through art, literature, science and religion. It is the individual who contributes to their society and the fight against conformity is key in this novel.

In some ways I was reminded of The Giver because of the dystopian image of a society so structured that no sickness or pain was allowed to be seen. As if by not allowing others to see pain or unhappiness it will prevent those in that society from suffering. As Meg points out, just because they aren’t suffering doesn’t mean they are happy.

My copy of the book has An Appreciation by Anna Quindlan at the beginning which addresses the cold war influence. She says “The identical houses outside which identical children bounce balls and jump rope in mindless unison evoke the fear so many Americans had of Communist regimes that enshrined the interests of state-mandated order over the rights of the individual.” And, embracing your individuality together with the power of love is just what is needed to defeat the enemy.

I liked this book. I saw it as a journey to self discovery; a novel about accepting yourself and facing your fears as well as about the importance of family. I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as a kid, so now really was the right time for me to read this.

The Owl Service by Alan Garner

It’s here! The first-ever, Wales Readathon! The event is hosted by Paula Bardell-Hedley at Book Jotter. The focus for this reading event is to read and blog about Welsh writers and their works: fiction, non-fiction, plays, poetry or any other form of writing with a connection to Wales. Her official 2019 Dewithon book is The Autobiography of a Super-tramp by W.H. Davies. You are welcome to read along with her and others or choose something else. Be sure to stop by her blog throughout the month to read more and to see what others are contributing to this event. The master post for link ups and comments is here.

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The book I selected for the event is The Owl Service by Alan Garner.

The Owl Service

Alison hears scratching in the attic and the assumption is that it’s rats, but when her friend Gwyn goes to investigate he finds only a set of dinner dishes. He brings one down to Alison who cleans it and notices an owl pattern behind the floral pattern. She traces the owl pattern from the plate and makes cut–out owls. Later, the pattern has vanished, leaving behind a white plate and the cut–outs have disappeared, too! So begins the mystery of the plates, the pattern and the story behind it.

This book is a retelling / re–enactment of the Welsh story of Blodeuwedd: a woman made from flowers for Lleu Llaw Gyffes who was cursed that he would not marry a human woman. Later, when Bloeuwedd falls in love with another man, Gronw Pebr, she is turned into an owl as a punishment.

I had never heard of this story before. This story of Blodeuwedd comes from The Mabinogion, which is a collection of stories from Welsh mythology (some of the stories feature an Arthur before the King Arthur we know and love today). If you wanted to read about Welsh Mythology, The Mabinogion is the place to start. This story of Blodeuwedd may very well be one of the oldest stories in Welsh mythology coming to us from oral tradition.

The Owl Service, however, was a very unusual book. It’s is a children’s book, or young adult book, written in 1967. And, let me just say that this is not a straight forward retelling of a legend. It is very unusual and even a bit creepy. There is a supernatural element at work and at various times I was reminded of The Yellow Wallpaper.

There are three teenagers who are trying to figure out the mystery and are pulled into the story so that they become a part of it. Alison, her step–brother Roger and friend Gwyn whose mother runs the house and knows things about the plates–and possibly more– that she won’t share. Why? Is there a secret everyone is in on but the kids? This book is filled with mystery, and when not focused on what is happening with the plates, you are still drawn into the story of Blodeuwedd through the lives of these three people and the constant wondering of who–knows–what–that–they–are–not–telling. Everything points to the legend but it’s unfolding today!

Aside from the story of Blodeuwedd, in the present day, the book taps into the differences in social class. Alison is surprised by the choices Gwyn has to make; the sacrifices he has planned to make in order to continue his education. Alison realizes how easy everything is for her and the options that are available to her are simply not there for Gwyn. Roger, on the other hand, can be rude and insensitive; he doesn’t seem to consider Gwyn’s struggles. Then again, Alison and Roger plan to do what is expected of them and don’t really consider what they want to do where Gwyn is making choices and plans to make sacrifices to pursue what he wants. Gwyn is Welsh, but his mother doesn’t want him speaking Welsh which she considers the language of a laborer (but then, she has her own unique story). Gwyn is smart and is the primary one of the three who puts the pieces of the mystery together. All of this tension and conflict between these three characters though ties into the unfolding story of Blodeuwedd.

I don’t think I would have gotten much out of this book had I read it as a kid. It is a complex novel with many layers. In many ways I feel like I need to read it again so I can dig in a little deeper. I’m glad I read this book, though, and I’m glad to now know about this story of Blodeuwedd: a woman made of flowers who was turned into an owl. There is a lot that can be explored in this myth and the book touches briefly on some of this, but the book is primarily a retelling of the story in the lives of three modern (at that time) teenagers. For me, it will always be this book that introduced me to the story of Bloeuwedd.

Thank you, Paula, for hosting this event! I’ve enjoyed reading and becoming acquainted with some Welsh Mythology. I don’t think I have read anything specifically about Welsh Mythology prior to this and I plan to read one more book about women in Celtic myth for this event. It is just another example of the way the book blogging community encourages one another to read more widely and to have fun in the process. πŸ™‚

A Wizard Of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

I read my first Ursula K. Le Guin book in October when I read The Other Wind for Witch Week 2018. I started this series by reading the final book first, and although the book can be read as a stand alone book, I knew that I wanted to start at the beginning because there was obviously a lot that I was missing out on.

So, for 2019, my goal is to read through this series. I just finished reading the first book, A Wizard Of Earthsea, and enjoyed it!

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Here we are introduced to a young Ged who is full of pride and arrogance. Add to the mix anger and jealousy and when he summons someone from the dead, a shadow comes along with it, scarring and almost killing Ged, who must then figure out how to confront and defeat this evil thing.

This story is about learning and growing for Ged: learning both who he is and more about the shadow. A thing is released, not a spirit, not a being, but a creature belonging to Ged and only he can defeat it. I must say that the way this was done totally surprised me. I did not expect the story to end the way it did.

It was clear pretty early on that there is power in knowing someone’s name– one’s name is to be protected. Our protagonist is known as Sparrowhawk and only reveals his true name to those he trusts. Knowing a person’s true name gives one power over them. A few observations related to the power of a persons true name:

  • Ged was allowed to enter the school doors because of his name
  • Friendship deepened when Vetch shared his true name
  • Ged had power over a dragon by knowing his name
  • The shadow had power over Ged because it knew his name

Is the power in sorcery related to knowing the name of something? It was interesting that the sea creatures in the deep, vast unknown part of the ocean didn’t know their name and so sorcery didn’t work very well on them. Is knowing the name of something or someone the way to understand them more fully? I think so– it speaks of identity. After all, Ged believed he could defeat the shadow if he knew it’s name– if he knew it’s identity and nature he could equip himself for the battle. Knowledge is power, but understanding is key.

This was a wonderful story not only of discovery but also of friendship and the way it strengthens and restores hope when all seems lost. I look forward to reading more about Ged’s adventures and finding out where life takes him next!

2019 Reading Goals

Happy New Year!

This is the time, when the year is so young, that many sign up for reading challenges and set reading goals for the year ahead.

I am terrible with reading challenges, though. I have the best of intentions at the beginning of the year but then I tend to lose discipline and just follow my own reading interests. It’s not that this is a bad thing. In fact, it’s good to give yourself the freedom to freely read whatever strikes your interest, but it’s also good to set goals and try to challenge yourself. The key here is balance.

I didn’t do very well in completing my reading goals for 2018… hey, these things happen, but I was reading. πŸ™‚ Looking forward, I have a few ideas of what I would like to read, but I’m going to keep it pretty open.

The only reading challenge, or event, I plan on participating in this year is the Wales Readathon. And, I’m considering joining Nick’s 2019 Chapter-a-Day Read-Along. I don’t think I will commit to all four books, but I would like to read Don Quixote and The Count of Monte Cristo. Aside from these events, there are a few reading goals I’d like to aim for in 2019:

  • I’d like to read through the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
  • I’d like to read the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin (This was inspired by Witch Week 2018’s read along book of The Other Wind. I would like to start at the beginning.)
  • I’d like to start reading Alison Weir’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII
  • I would like to read more Native American History
  • I would also like to try to read more fantasy (besides the Earthsea series and Narnia)

We will see how this plan unfolds. The key is to have fun, discover some new authors, enjoy a series or two that I missed out on as a kid and learn some new things along the way.

Happy Reading in 2019!

Witch Week 2018

It’s Witch Week! Last year was the first year I participated in this event and I loved it!

This is a yearly event that runs from October 30th to November 6th focusing on fantasy authors and books and is named after the book Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones.

It was originally created by Lory at Emerald City Book Review but this year it is co-hosted by Calmgrove and Lizzie Ross. The theme this year is Feminism and Fantasy and the read along book is The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin. Be sure to stop by both their blogs to see what they have planned for the week and to participate in the read along discussion!

My fantasy read for this event is The Bear And The Nightingale by Katherine Arden.

I’m a bit late to The Bear And The Nightingale party. It seems that everyone was reading this book last year. It is Katherine Arden’ s debut novel and the first book in her Winternight Trilogy. This book beautifully transports the reader into another world in far away Russia, or Rus’ in this story. It’s more fairytale than fantasy, but it has fantasy aspects within the fairytale. It has talking horses, homes you need imagination to see clearly and fantastic spirit beings that only those with special abilities can see. Do fairytale and fantasy overlap in some areas? I think so. It also fits into the theme this year because the protagonist, Vasya, is determined to make her own way and live her own life.

Vasilisa Petrovna (Vasya) is special and before she was even born, her mother knew she would be born with abilities and she would be like her grandmother. Vasya has a gift: she can see her household spirits and the spirits of her nearby forest. Her mother died shortly after she was born and her family believes she would benefit from a mother’s presence to soften and control her independent nature. When her father remarries it’s not quite the change the family expected. However, when the village gets a new priest and her stepmother, Anna, makes a startling confession, old ways are challenged and changes begin to occur.

I enjoyed this book. It is an amazing debut novel! The setting and the storytelling drew me in from the very beginning. I loved being transported to far away Rus’. I liked the fairytale aspect and I enjoyed being introduced to characters such as the Domovoi, Rusalka and the frost-demon, Morozko. These characters are such a huge part of the story and not just because Vasya can see and interact with them. It is because of who they are; they are so real with distinct personalities. I didn’t realize they were part of Slavic mythology until I read this book and they were very interesting characters worth taking the time to learn more about. I loved Vasya and how this stubborn, willful girl loved her family and cared about others. It is clear from the beginning that she is special not because she has abilities but because she is such an individual! In the beginning of the novel, we saw Vasya as a free-spirited little girl. She made it very clear later on in the book that a dutiful and obedient wife she would never be…with a spectacular display of bravery and skill to boot. I enjoyed watching her grow and begin to come into her own.

Father Konstantin was a horrible priest! Cleary, he is intended to be an unlikable character. Proud and arrogant– and ultimately cruel– he wanted power, but Vasya saw through him and called him on his cruelty.

I thought it was sad that Vasya and Anna didn’t connect more. They were similar in some ways: they could both see the spirits that inhabit their home, but they were so unlike each other in every other way. Vasya could see and interact with the spirits but was confident and lived in harmony with the natural world, which included the spirits. Anna, on the other hand, saw the spirits as demons, and considered herself “mad” because of it; she lived in fear, especially of the spirits she saw. If they had connected, they could have given each other support and friendship. In Anna, I do not see an evil stepmother, though. It’s true that she was far from kind to Vasya, but Anna didn’t understand her gift and it caused her to withdraw in fear rather than reach out in compassion and kindness. I felt sorry for Anna. Life could have been very different for her.

There was very little I disliked about this book, but, in general, I don’t care for stories involving the undead. That’s just me and others may not feel the same way. That was only a part of the story though and I saw that even this creature, the upyr, plays a part in Russian folklore. This storyline also showed Vasya defying logic and taking a risk to reach someone she loved.

This book is more than a fairytale, though, it’s a story of a girl who yearns for more. Vasya doesn’t fit into her society and she wants more out of life than that allotted to women. Her gifting and her individuality caused her to be misunderstood, but it was also the way that she helped her family and community. Now, she will make her own way and I am looking forward to reading what happens next in The Girl In The Tower!

“Unnatural thing,” said her brother, but he was more sad than angry. “Can you not be content? Men will forget about all this in time, and what you call cages is the lot of women.”

“It is not mine,” said Vasya. “I love you, Lyoshka. I love you both. But I cannot.”

Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes by Edith Hamilton

Back when I was in high school I loved it when we studied Greek Mythology. It’s been a while since I took the time to read any sort of mythology…that is, until recently.

I understand that this book is often required reading for many high school students as an introduction to mythology. I’m sad to say that it was never required reading for me; however, I recently had the good fortune to pick this up second hand and discovered Edith Hamilton’s Mythology for the first time.

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Edith Hamilton’s interest in the classics started at a young age. She would later study both Greek and Latin and go on to earn her Masters degree before taking a job at Bryn Mawr. Although primarily an administrator, I understand that she was also a wonderful teacher. When she retired she started writing and this is just one of the books she wrote during her retirement. This book is a collection of various stories from Greek Mythology with a very brief section at the end on Norse Mythology. It has the major epics such as the adventures of Odysseus, the fall of Troy and The Quest of the Golden Fleece as well as minor myths like Midas, even brief myths, most of which I had never heard of, in which someone often turns into something else like an insect! It really is a wonderful introduction to mythology. She provides a list of the gods with a brief bio on them; she points out early heroes; heroes of the Trojan War; love stories and minor myths.

I enjoyed reading this book. I felt like she gave me a good foundation of who the gods were, their powers and their interactions with men and women. Sadly, when a god decided to involve himself or herself into the affairs of mortals, it usually led to pain and difficulty for the mortals.

Ms. Hamilton begins each chapter by telling the reader which poet or poets created the myth. She will often use a few different sources as she retells the story. For example, part of a story may come from Apollonius, another part from Ovid and perhaps a third from Hesiod. She tells the reader which parts of the story she took from which poet. I feel like the end result was a more interesting and complete story than the original…unless of course one has time to read all of the poets mentioned!

I found it interesting the way the stories evolved. For instance, Zeus was originally a rain-god but later became a god with human form and “…protector of the weak.” Later, the Furies become the Benignant Ones. This was also done by creating an alternate ending, such as Agamemnon’s death. She tells us early on that these changes arose “…as men grow continually more conscious of what life demanded of them and what human beings needed in the god they worshipped.” As society’s views changed so did some of the stories.

The stories of Theseus and Hercules show how societies shaped their heroes. Theseus was the Athenian hero and he reflected their ideals. Athens valued intelligence and their hero was brave, compassionate and intelligent. Hercules, however, was different. He is known for his strength, but I was surprised to learn that he was all braun and no brain. Apparently most of Greece admired strength and so Hercules became a popular hero.

There were many stories that I enjoyed reading; some I found troubling and others I will not see the same way again. It was interesting to read the two creation accounts. What was interesting was just how different they were and that there were no women! Apparently Zeus created the first woman, Pandora, as “…a great evil for men…” later on. Well, that speaks volumes about how they viewed half of the human race! Besides this, I thought the story about Dionysus was both interesting and troubling. I was surprised to learn that he was a dying and rising god, but there were also some pretty terrible actions associated with the god of wine. In other stories I learned that burial rites were extremely important to the Greeks.

However, I do have a criticism for this book: the section on Norse Mythology was way too short! I loved everything I read in this section though! Ms. Hamilton chose the poems that best captured the beliefs of the Norse and this is a very different outlook on life. What I did not realize was how depressing Norse Mythology is. I did not realize that the gods lived knowing defeat was inevitable. It does not end well, and there is not much they can do about it, but they will go down fighting against evil and in the process reveal who they are by how they die. Theirs was a harsh reality in which good doesn’t necessarily conquer evil and this sentiment extends to the world of their gods as well.

Why did she include such a short section on Norse Mythology? She concludes her book by saying, “Norse Mythology and Greek Mythology together give a clear picture of what the people were like from whom comes a major part of our spiritual and intellectual inheritance.”

If your interested in reading different stories mostly from Greek Mythology then this book is a good place to start. As for me, I now want to read more about Norse Mythology.