Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery

The Blue Castle wasn't on my to-be-read list, but I thought Carrie's L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge sounded like fun. As I searched through L. M. Montgomery titles that I hadn't read, I found this little novel that has some unique qualities which set it apart from most of Montgomery's other works. First, it is her only novel that was written for an adult audience, and in fact there are no children, only a few memories of childhood, in the book. Second, it is her only novel with a setting entirely apart from Prince Edward Island. While I dream of someday visiting P.E.I. like any other fan of Anne of Green Gables, this distinctive appealed to me. I wanted to see how Montgomery would describe other parts of Canada.

I was certainly not disappointed in my choice! The Blue Castle has all the charm, wit, and vivid characters of Anne and other Montgomery novels, plenty of picturesque descriptions of nature, and a heartwarming love story, too. What more could you want to curl up with under under a throw or by a fire on a cold winter's day?

Valancy Stirling had lived under the constraints of her mother and extended family's expectations for twenty-nine years. She was timid and submissive to their obsessive habits and sense of decency - which was guided more by gossip and the sake of appearances than any genuine concern for propriety - but she had nothing for which to live, nothing to make the monotonous, dreary days bearable but her dreams of the Blue Castle where she was no longer a wallflower, but a princess with dashing suitors who longed to do her bidding. She was resigned to her fate as a bashful old-maid until faced with the finiteness of her life. In a brief afternoon, she decided that she must really live the remainder of her days. The exchanges that ensue when she begins to speak her mind to her family, tacitly revealing their shallowness, are simply hilarious. Valancy begins to make decisions based on meeting needs and showing love, and in return she finds her Blue Castle and a love that she never could have imagined.

At first, I thought the characters seemed a bit too stereotypical, but in retrospect that merely set the stage for Valancy's transformation of character and its effects on her family. Valancy's integrity (in the sense of being honest and transparent) stands in stark contrast to her family's all-consuming concern for the opinion's of others. It wasn't hard to guess certain aspects of the plot, but other elements took me pleasantly by surprise. It was a delightful story with a good lesson about what really matters in life - a challenge to us all to live authentically!

Here are a few quotable quotes:

"She made a discovery that surprised her; she, who had been afraid of almost everything in life, was not afraid of death. It did not seem in the least terrible to her. And she need not now be afraid of anything else." (37)

"'I've been trying to please other people all my life and failed,' she said. 'After this I shall please myself. I shall never pretend anything again. I've breathed an atmosphere of fibs and pretences and evasions all my life. What a luxury it will be to tell the truth!'" (46)

"'As for Barney Snaith, the only crime he has been guilty of is living to himself and minding his own business. He can, it seems, get along without you. Which is an unpardonable sin, of course, in your little snobocracy.'" Valancy coined that concluding word suddenly and felt that it was in inspiration. That was exactly what they were and not one of them was fit to mend another." (65)

"'Cissy Gay is dying,' she said, 'and it's a shame and disgrace that she is dying in a Christian community with no one to do anything for her. Whatever she's been or done, she's a human being.'" (81)

And after that, I got too interested in the story to mark any more passages. . .

Update on the rest of what I intended to read for the L. M. Montgomery Challenge ~ My daughter and I got off to a great start reading Anne of Green Gables aloud - Daddy even read a few chapters and then finished the book on his own! (He finds Anne's imagination and rapturous speeches quite amusing, which just proves that real men can read Anne of Green Gables!) However, some fairly drastic and time-consuming life events have come our way, and we haven't had time to finish it. I don't think it will happen in the next four days, but we will pick it up again when things settle down. I'm glad that my almost 5-year-old daughter is interested enough in Anne to sit still through several chapters. It is fun to share favorite books with her and start reading more than just picture books!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lilith by George MacDonald

I have long loved the novels and poetry of George MacDonald, but it has been years since I have read any of his fantasy works. I don't remember much of The Princess and Curdie, though I do remember where I was when I was reading it - in the back of a bright yellow Volkswagen Rabbit that my dad bought sometime in the early 80's. Those were the days!

Anyway. . . when a fellow book club member mentioned Lilith, it piqued my interest, and I added it to my TBR list. Since we happened to have it on our shelves, it was the first book I picked up for the new year.

I must admit that I found the first half of the book very strange and somewhat confusing. There were plenty of profound statements which added a richness to the narrative, but I just wasn't sure where the story was going. By about half-way through, however, I was able to sort out the good from the bad and better understand the task of the protagonist Mr. Vane. Although the genre of myth is distinct from allegory, I could not help wondering if there were some symbolism in his name. Was Mr. Vane the embodiment of vanity in his willfulness and imagined self-importance, or was his name more suggestive of a weather vane, perhaps, that is blown to and fro by the wind?

This edition has an introduction by C. S. Lewis, who is often quoted by MacDonald fans as saying, "I have never concealed the fact that I regarded MacDonald as my master, indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him" (from the back cover). Although I have not read the entire corpus of Lewis' works, I could easily find some similarities to characters and ideas in the Chronicles of Narnia. For instance, the evil Lilith is described in terms that reminded me of the White Witch, and there was a reference to "farther in, higher up" that reminded me of The Last Battle.

I'm sure this is a book that I will ponder for a long time, and probably take up to re-read it several times over the years God gives me. Like all myth in its truest sense, that is, stories that resonate with all that is true and right, it is a story that must grow on and in the reader, being absorbed and felt, not merely read. With the very short time of reflection that I have given it, I would suggest that it paints a story around the truth of Matthew 10:39 ~ "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it" (ESV).

I found many noteworthy passages, but here are a few of my favorites:

"'In this world never trust a person who has once deceived you. Above all, never do anything such a one may ask you to do.'
'I will try to remember,' I answered; '- but I may forget!'
'Then some evil that is good for you will follow.'
'And if I remember?'
'Some evil that is not good for you, will not follow.'" (conversation between Mr. Raven and Mr. Vane, 95)

"'. . .my human wife plunged herself and me in despair, and has borne me a countless race of miserables; but my Eve repented, and is now beautiful as never was woman or angel, while her groaning, travailing world is the nursery of our Father's children.'" (Mr. Raven's description of Lilith, 148)

"'But another has made you, and can compel you to see what you have made yourself. You will not be able much longer to look to yourself anything but what he sees you! You will not much longer have satisfaction in the thought of yourself.'" (Mara talking to Lilith, 200)

"'I may not be old enough to desire to die, but I am young enough to desire to live indeed! Therefore I go now to learn if she will at length take me in. You wish to die because you do not care to live: she will not open her door to you, for no one can die who does not long to live. . . Ah, then, sir,' I rejoined, 'it is but too plain you have not yet learned to die, and I am heartily grieved for you. Such had I too been but for the Lady of Sorrow. I am indeed young, but I have wept many tears. . .'" (Mr. Vane speaking to an old man, 225)

There are certainly depths to be plumbed on literary, philosophical, and theological levels in this book!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Books Read in 2009

Last year I assembled a list of books from memory and listed them alphabetically by title. Since I'll be compiling this year's list concurrently with my reading, I think I will list them in the order completed. The title will be a link to my review, and any other pertinent information will follow.

  1. Lilith by George MacDonald - for TBR Challenge
  2. The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery - for the L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge
  3. Nathan Coulter by Wendell Berry
  4. Under a Wing by Reeve Lindbergh - for Captive Thoughts Book Club
  5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
  6. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie - for Captive Thoughts Book Club
  7. Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang - for Captive Thoughts Book Club and TBR Challenge (alternate)
  8. Peony in Love by Lisa See
  9. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte - for Captive Thoughts Book Club
  10. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden - for Captive Thoughts Book Club and TBR Challenge
  11. Vanity Fair by W. M. Thackery - for TBR Challenge
  12. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows - for TBR Challenge
  13. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald - for CGS Book Club
  14. The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald - for CGS Book Club
  15. Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas
  16. Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren F. Winner for TBR Challenge
  17. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
  18. The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling
  19. The Once & Future King, by T. H. White for TBR Challenge and Becky's Arthurian Challenge
  20. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - for CGS Book Club
  21. The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale
  22. Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers
  23. Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers
  24. Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers - for Captive Thoughts Book Club
  25. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok - for CGS Book Club
  26. Charlotte's Web by E. B. White - read-aloud to kids
  27. Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers
  28. The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
  29. Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers
  30. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
  31. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy - for CGS Book Club and TBR Challenge
  32. The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White - read-aloud to kids
  33. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett - read-aloud to kids
  34. Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett - read-aloud to kids
  35. The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett - read-aloud to kids
  36. How The Heather Looks by Joan Bodger
  37. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer - for TBR Challenge
  38. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen - for TBR Challenge
  39. The Man who was Thursday by G. K. Chesterton - for TBR Challenge
  40. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame - read-aloud to kids
  41. Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of Enlightenment by James R. Gaines

The Deer's Cry or St Patrick's Breastplate

This beautiful and profound poem/song was included in Thomas Cahill's How the Irish Saved Civilization. I also love the hauntingly beautiful version tat Lisa Kelly (from Celtic Woman) sings on her CD Lisa. Maybe someday I can have it artfully framed with celtic designs bordering it so that I could read it every morning. . .

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation

I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the judgment of Doom.

I arise today
Throug the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In ignorance of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightening,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.

I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.

Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Monday, January 5, 2009

How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe by Thomas Cahill

How the Irish Saved Civilization had been on my mental to-be-read list for several years (it was recommended to me by a seminary professor), and I finally found a good reason to read it last August for some Irish background to our book club's September selection Angela's Ashes. I highly recommend it as a very readable introduction to the basic philosophies that have shaped the Western World, European history (particularly the fall of Rome), and Irish history and culture, with a good bit of theology and church history thrown in for good measure, too.

I read this before I started Lines from the Page, but I did record my favorite quotes before I returned it to the library. Since several people commented on this title in my Books Read in 2008 post, I thought I would list some quotes to interest you further. The beautiful poem/hymn, "The Deer's Cry," is also from this book and can be found here.

[all quotations from Cahill, Thomas. How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe. (Nan A Talese/Doubleday: New York: 1995)]

“Without this Service of the Scribes, everything that happened subsequently would have been unthinkable. Without the Mission of the Irish Monks, who single-handedly refounded European civilization throughout the continent in the bays and valleys of their exile, the world that came after them would have been an entirely different one – a world without books.” (4)

“Eleven centuries prior to the encounter on the Rhine, an insignificant band of Latin-speaking farmers ‘had but recently settled down to fixed agriculture and solved the problem of rapidly growing numbers by embarking upon a career of conquest that ultimately eventuated in the Roman empire,’ remarks the contemporary historian William McNeill. ‘Considered in this light, the Roman state in the West was destroyed by the same forces that had created it.’” (18)

“What is about to be lost in the century of the barbarian invasions is literature – the content of classical civilization. Had the destruction been complete – had every library been disassembled and every book burned – we might have lost Homer and Virgil and all of classical poetry, Herodotus and Tacitus and all of classical history, Demosthenes and Cicero and all of classical oratory, Plato and Aristotle and all of Greek philosophy, and Plotinus and Porphyry and all the subsequent commentary. We would have lost the taste and smell of a whole civilization.” (58)

“The works themselves will miraculously escape destruction. But they will enter the new world of the Middle Ages as things so strange they might as well have been left behind by interstellar aliens. One example will suffice to illustrate the strangeness of books to medieval men. The word grammar – the first step in the course of classical study that molded all educated men from Plato to Augustine – will be mispronounced by one barbarian tribe as “glamour.” In other words, whoever has grammar – whoever can read – possess magic inexplicable.” (59-60)

“In becoming an Irishman, Patrick wedded his world to theirs, his faith to their life…Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.” (116)

“The difference between Patrick’s magic and the magic of the druids is that in Patrick’s world all beings and events come from the hand of a good God, who loves human beings and wishes them success. And though that success is of an ultimate kind – and, therefore, does not preclude suffering – all nature, indeed the whole of the created universe, conspires to mankind’s good, teaching, succoring, and saving.” (131)

“It seems that as some point in the development of every culture, human sacrifice becomes unthinkable, and animals are from then on substituted for human victims…At all events, the Irish had not reached this point and were still sacrificing human beings to their gods when Patrick began his mission…Patrick declared that such sacrifices were no longer needed. Christ has died once for all…Yes, the Irish would have said, here is a story that answers our deepest needs – and answers them in a way so good that we could never even have dared dream of it. We can put away our knives and abandon our altars. These are no longer required. The God of the Three Faces has given us his own Son, and we are washed clean in the blood of this lamb. God does not hate us; he loves us. Greater love than this no man has than that he should lay down his life for his friends. That is what God’s Word, made flesh, did for us. From now on, we are all sacrifices – but without the shedding of blood. It is our lives, not our deaths that this God wants. But we are to be sacrifices, for Paul adds to the hymn this advice to all: ‘Let this [same] mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ (136, 140-142)

That's probably enough to give you a taste of this richly informative book. Find it. Read it. Enrich your mind!

Friday, January 2, 2009

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

Carrie at Reading to Know is hosting a L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge this month. Since it is both reasonable (only one book required) and fun - I've decided to join, as much for my daughter as for myself.

After finishing Picture Book Preschool from Sherry Early of Semicolon fame, I've decided to read longer chapter books with my almost five-year-old this year, books like Charlotte's Web, The Wind in the Willows, Heidi, Little Women, Little House on the Prairie, and this nice illustrated edition of Anne of Green Gables. My daughter has loved the Anne movies since she was 3, so she's excited about reading the book, and excitement about reading is one of the most important things for her to learn at this stage, in my opinion. We've read four chapters already!

So my selections for this challenge will be:

  1. Anne of Green Gables read aloud to an almost 5-year-old girl.
  2. The Blue Castle this one intrigues me since it was written for adult readers and it's not set on Prince Edward Island. Though I would love to visit P.E.I., I think I will enjoy reading this unique side of L. M. Montgomery's works.

Be sure to visit the sign-up post to see what others are reading for this challenge.