20 December, 2011

Casual violence for children

Henry Treece

There was a time when i read everything i could get my hands on by Henry Treece; it must have started at least forty years ago, because i know that i was at Shrewsbury House when i first read any of his books; i can also remember in the very early 1970s, in Vancouver, visiting the book bus that came around to West Point Grey, and desperately searching for any of Treece’s works ~ usually unsuccessfully. It is thus now at least thirtyfive years since i’ve read these books i loved, and i almost jumped for joy when i came across this one in the Machynlleth market; in fact, i had to physically restrain myself so that the stall-holder wouldn’t suddenly raise the price (50p ~ can you beat it!) knowing she had a live one. Of course, i could have bought all of them at any time (assuming i had money!) in any bookshop or on-line, but how much more joy has been brought to me by this method than that. Furthermore, a particular joy of this book is that i think it could well be the exact edition i read previously; certainly, the cover art looks very familiar, it is a Puffin book, and is price-marked at 3/6 (verbalised as “three and six” meaning three shillings and six pence, or rather less than half the very good price i just paid for it [50p equates to ten shillings, old style]!), so clearly this volume dates to prior to 15 February 1971, Decimalisation Day. So, the book itself? Well, what can there be other than joy in rereading something one has held in rosy memory for so long? To be sure, it’s simple: It was written for children; it’s more story than history: It is fiction; it’s casually brutal: It was written prior to the contemporary concern with correctness and concern for “lesser” peoples. But these are not really faults, merely descriptions of what, why, and when it was written. It is also a great story, exciting, based in truth, a superb introduction to an era of history, and, to put it simply, extremely enjoyable. I’d like to read this aloud to JAG.

04 December, 2011

Parody, but not completely successful

The Chronicles of Blarnia

Michael Gerber

A parody along the lines of The Va Dinci Cod (itself essentially a parody of a parody), so much along the lines, in fact, that it’s probably published by the same people, possibly written by the same person (though the name is completely different). I have to say, however, that this one is not quite as clever, and definitely more tedious, than the other, so not nearly as successful by my estimation. To be honest, i found it dragging at points, much as the Wide Witch’s sledge dragged and fought against travel, particularly towards the end of the novel, when the repetitions of the jokes became merely annoying (thinking here, for example, of the beavers’ log babies, the hairballs Asthma brought up, even the mock-Tudor speech of the children once they became kings and queens).

At first, though, i have to say i enjoyed the book; it is quite clever, though i should think that the original, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, is quite an easy target for the author, with nice touches such as children living in the present, but still thinking that the Second World War is raging, being sold for human experimentation to a mad professor, and the Beavers as a lesbian couple. Indeed, i did not not enjoy the thing, i simply found it going more slowly than i wanted; for, when the reader (in this case me) starts looking at page numbers and working out how many more are to be read, it is surely a bad sign for the author.