Practical Theory - The Origin
The Scholars in CyberEnglish
ToDaY's MeNu - Ted

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Don't Wake Me at Doyle's by Maura Murphy


Don’t Wake Me at Doyles by Maura Murphy is a memoir of a woman born in rural Ireland in 1928. She is the third born of a lot of seven in a twelve-year span. They are poor and all the tragedy and hard ache one could imagine befalls this family. Maura and her husband, John, have retired to the town from which she was born. While bringing in the laundry, she coughs and spits out a disgusting glob of mucus and blood into a tissue. She is alarmed.
There isn’t anything else like Irish poverty. It is well documented by some of the world’s best writers. The number of children who survive and the number who don’t is too often equal is these large families. The squalor in which they live, what they eat, how they work is explained in such detail and beautifully written prose. No other people seem to have a monopoly on this kind of tragic real life writing like the Irish. Only the pictures of Walker Evans might come close, but the number of tomes on the subject of Irish poverty and lives is immense.
What we continue to learn in these Irish sagas is the religious difference between the Catholics and the Protestants. It is the continued servitude of the Catholics to the Protestants. The poor abandon education for the service job to the rich. It is a vicious circle. This pattern even continued into the 80’s in America as now educated Irish women came to America to work, as nannies because they knew English, were educated, and were very reliable. As I read this memoir the cultural ways the Irish developed those many centuries ago at the hands of the English can’t seem to be shed. We are constantly reminded of the Mideast and its religious wars, we too often forget Ireland. It is still a class-conscious society.
Maura has two distinct trips to Dublin. The first is when she is very young and gets a job as a maid. During her two years there she falls in love. She has not been truly up front with him, Tom Walsh. She doesn’t disclose her true station in life and is ashamed. They go to dance halls and have good times for two years. Then one day she discovers he, too, hasn’t been true to her. He is seeing another woman.  This drives her home and she ends up with her husband, John, because she pities him so she tells us. Her second visit to Dublin is years later and she is very very sick. She learns a great deal about her family by reading their diaries years later about the event. One of the neat things about such a literary island and country, is that everyone is literate and in this family as in others, everyone keeps diaries. She also learns about herself as a mother.
Moving about, bearing children, and learning to live with John is a full time journey for Maura. These two remind me of my own parents who were born in the same year as Maura and John.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Morels by Christopher Hacker


The narrator in The Morels by Christopher Hacker was a musical prodigy of sorts is now a movie house ticket seller, taker, and janitor in addition to being an indie movie something or other who lives with his mom. He isn’t terribly ambitious. He runs into a former fellow musical prodigy of fourteen years ago while waiting for an elevator on his film editor’s floor. He, too, gave up music and is an author now, married with a son. His name is Arthur Morel, his wife is Penelope, and their son is Will. Arthur was a remarkable violinist, but his career was ended by a rather base act he committed on stage during a celebratory concert at school. Our narrator is picked up by a young woman at the theater while he is collecting tickets and he becomes part of her recovery ritual like her young golden retriever that isn’t quite house trained yet. She has much baggage, but so does he.
The narrator becomes Penelope’s sounding board because she doesn’t have any girlfriends to talk to, especially after Arthur’s second novel. Arthur has a great deal of talent at whatever he takes on, but he cuts his nose off to spite his face too often. Arthur and Penelope are very conscious about how they raise Will. At eleven, Will is making his own decisions and is experiencing free will. The grandparents are worried. This is also part of the thinking and sub plot about art, what it is, and what role it plays in our lives. Arthur is an artist and his actions upset people as we see at the concert and with his second novel.
When it all goes south sometimes it really goes south. The end of the year holidays get it going as the narrator is falling more and more for Penelope and is going deeper and deeper into that dark place. His mother does help some when she reminds him, “I won’t tell you that it gets easier, because it doesn’t. It just seems to matter less, the older you get. It’s an improvisation. Think of it that way. And there are no wrong notes, because it’s your tune. You make it up. It’s not ideal, but what other choice do you have?”
Perhaps the best way to really understand children is to know their parents. This is true of Arthur, Will, and Penelope. Meeting Arthur’s parents during the documentary is eye opening. Understanding Will is easy, we know Arthur and Penelope. Penelope isn’t too difficult once we know Frank and Constance. And once the second novel gets short listed for an award everything changes.
Catharsis is an overwhelming theme in this undulating, return home novel. The sins of the father and all that. Art is the subject that is what is sought here, what is never compromised, and always held supreme as point of view is explored until the son discovers his voice. Symbols are rampant in the novel starting with the title and the mere exchange of an ‘a’ for the ‘e’ and in the names of the three Morels: Art, Will, and Penelope.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Montaro Caine by Sidney Poitier


Montaro Caine is Sidney Poitier’s first novel. Mr Sidney Poitier is one of my heroes. His movie career is laced with some of the best stuff out there. So when I saw his name on the spine of a book at the library, I paused, I hesitated, I considered the ramifications of what I saw, a novel by Sidney Poitier? This is a no brainer, I said to myself.
Dr Caine dies in an airplane crash before he can give a gift from a genius boy, Luther, to his son Montaro. How did Luther know Dr Caine had a son? And what is the seventh ship Luther refers to? Before we know it we are fifty years into the future and speeding along. There is intrigue around every corner. A pair of rare and out of this world coins delivered in the palms of newborns predicted by a doctor in a remote Caribbean Island, an MIT assistant who has become a powerful CEO whose company is in trouble, that CEO’s prep school daughter in trouble, that CEO recalling details of twenty-six years ago when he examined one of the coins and then is asked to examine another similar coin, he becomes embroiled in a harrowing international race to discover the secrets of these celestial coins. And he also has to watch his back as he has spies and traitors in his own company planning a takeover if not outright coup d’etat. This is a high paced novel so keep the seatbelts tight.
These coins seem to have a life of their own as they bounce around, create chaos, and keep reconstituting themselves. Montaro is delving into cosmic conversations, the classic philosophical matter of predestination and free will. Matthew Perch, that doctor in the islands who healed terminally ill patients keeps popping up and even Luther reemerges as Montaro searches his dad’s briefcase for answers to the riddles before him, which are about the coins and even life. Everything seems to be collapsing around Montaro, but once again his grandfather at ninty-nine comes through for him. The purpose of the coins is fulfilled, the truth is revealed, and order comes from chaos, greed, and deception.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Whiteness of the Whale by David Poyer


The Whiteness of the Whale by David Poyer is about a strange collection of people who join together on a large sailboat that will sail into the Antarctic Sea to take on the Japanese Whalers in protest to the practice of killing whales. Besides the crew of Captain and a couple of crew members the ‘passengers’ include a scientist, Dr Sara Pollard; an Orca trainer, Eddi; protesters Lars and Bodine; and finally the diva, the actress Doree and her maid, Georgita. They all live in a confined space, one that is in constant motion, and without any privacy or solace. Nerves go quickly as everyone has many jobs as cooks, not chefs, watches, crew members with the constant reminder that if you go overboard ‘helpless in sixty seconds, dead in five minutes.’
The details about the trip of this sailboat in the harsh Antarctic Sea are amazing. The fear factor is incredibly high. The beauty of the sea, of the whales, and what they are trying to do to save the whales from the new age whalers and the huge factory ships is inspiring.  The cause of saving the whales takes a curious turn when a scientist from the killer ship jumps overboard and is rescued by the protesters. After an encounter with an Argentine corvette, the Black Anemone leaves a very sick first mate for better medical treatment and Georgita. Sara takes over the first mate’s quarters and having picked up fresh stores fro the corvette, the sailing craft heads off for more adventures. One very cool adventure is a brief icy swim with right whales.
One can’t help but begin to think of Ahab and his obsession. Though the obsession of one to kill a whale and the obsession of the others is to save the whales, I have to wonder about this obsession, common sense, and safety. Tragedy followed by danger doesn’t deter the obsession. In the end it is all irony, lies, and the reminder how dangerous man is to mankind.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne


Turn the volume down when you start The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne. It is loud with music in the room, on the phone, and in our heads. Even the video game is loud. This is the world of 11 year old super star Jonny Valentine after a show in Vegas. He can’t sleep and needs some pills to help. He sneaks into his mom’s room for the pills only to discover the existence of his dad when he goes to his mom’s computer and begins reading and doing some chat room searches and discovers a message for his dad to him, “email me anytime,” with the email address. He writes the email down, goes back to his room, finishes a level in the video came, pops the pill and goes to sleep.
The narrator is an eleven-year-old pop singer. He has a very strenuous schedule and it can take its toll on anyone, especially this kid. What is his mother thinking? His dad has been out of the picture most of his life, but seems to be getting back into the picture via the Internet. Interacting with kids his own age is impossible since he is a pop star. He doesn’t go to school; he is tutored on the road and at home. He has celeb waiting rooms at doctor’s offices and wherever he goes. He is sheltered and protected and his mom is the quintessential helicopter parent. I can’t think help but think of Michael Jackson.
An important theme in this book is one of adult supervision and behavior. Hypocrisy also plays a key role. Young Jonny is navigating this dicey pop star world well considering his obstacles. He has to negotiate the levels of the video game Zenon. He has to figure out to hook up wit his father in a concert city. He always needs to breath around his mother. This is a story of coming to age in the celebrity word of music as an eleven year old soon to be twelve.
He will do well with his Final Exam question for History from his tutor, Nadine.
Write an essay of approximately 1,000 words in response to this prompt: What does it mean to be property of another person, and what does it mean to be free? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each position? Make sure you have a beginning, middle, and end, and cite at least three primary sources.”
Jonny is going to nail this essay.

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Love Machine by Walter Mosley


Marchant Lewis has created a love machine or he is a love machine, sort of in Love Machine by Walter Mosley. Engaging in an experiment with Lewis, a seven foot five hundred plus African American changes Lois, a petite Korean female. The experiment involved a little device that when touched by Lois and Lewis does things to Lois she can’t explain nor understand that involve sex, her boyfriend and her thinking of Lewis and in fact being drawn to him for no other reason than the experiment and she wants to know what and why.
It’s complicated. When she merged with Lewis via the electric machine, her character, personality, memories were absorbed by Lewis and the others who were also merged. And she, too, absorbed them. She was interested at first in reversing this experiment. She and they were empaths. Sleep and being awake were becoming confused. They live communally in the house named the End of the World. They are a collective called the Co-Mind. Whenever says he is going to create a better world, a new world order, we instinctively reject it which is what Lois is doing, though she is intrigued. Lewis is a  monster and the act of co mingling, absorbing, and spitting out is all part of conquering the world. Are we awake or asleep?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Stepping Stone by Walter Mosley


Truman Pope is reminded, “to pay attention” by his former 4th grade teacher, Ms Boucher in Stepping Stone by Walter Mosley.  Truman had learning and speaking problems, Ms Boucher cured. Truman now delivered mail for HBH, a corporation on East 56th in NYC. He has been the only permanent employee of the mailroom for the past 21 years. One day he spies a beautiful woman dressed in yellow and follows her. This gets him in some trouble with HR. He meets her again in the vault. Truman is very good at what he does, he is pure and so many people think he is troubled, slow, and simple. He is not.
True has dreams and nightmares. He sees into the future. Sometimes we don’t know if he is in the real world or the dream world. He has powers and can command people and they listen and follow. As he says, it is better to listen and not talk. He helps people by saying, “Pack a bag and go to a place where you want to be.” And they do. He has identified his vision woman as Minerva and she is bothering him and not answering his questions. She advises him but still doesn’t explain herself to him nor himself to himself. He’ll figure it out eventually she assures him. Then he meets Maud who is nineteen to his forty. Things change. Truman is special.
What if God were human.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin


A pair of retired Edinburgh cops leaves the funeral of another retired cop. One is going home the other, Rebus, to a meeting, which he is already late to, with other retired cops in a new cold case unit headed by a full time cop, James Page. Rebus likes referring to him by using classic Led Zeppelin song titles, which annoys some. Talk about deep retirement. This is how Ian Rankin’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave begins.
A woman comes to speak to DI Gregor Magrath about her missing daughter. Magrath retired many years ago and is unreachable, so Rebus goes to speak to her. She tells Rebus that her daughter was the first to disappear and recites more names of missing women since her daughter’s disappearance that share similar details.
Rebus was an old dog, a cop from the last generation. He rubbed elbows with every one and had no friends. He drank with hoodlums, with cops, with low lifes and high lifes. Internal affairs were always looking into something he was doing even now in retirement. He knew his way around the seedier parts of town and didn’t do anything by the book. He was the only maverick in the force because he produced. “…and in walks John Rebus, not even bothering to wipe his shoes, leaving bits of muck everywhere without even noticing.” This was the best description of John Rebus and his twisted way with people. But he does make things happen when few others can or do. He is a maestro.  He is vinyl and the others are digital.
Six young women have gone missing with very similar traits: all connected to a certain roadway, all sent a picture of a picture from the same locale to someone on their cell phone address book. Is this picture real or designed to throw the police off track. I know when I’m in Scotland a good pair of wellies is required footwear to be stored in the boot. Why doesn’t Rebus know this?
Rebus just bulls ahead not making friends as the gangsters have words with him for speaking to the other, the cops are finding him tiresome yet he is doing a lot better than they are, and the civilians are frustrated with him. His strength is he is keeping his eye on the prize in spite of how much alcohol he consumes. A colleague may have said it best, “Tell me, is it possible for anyone to come to know you without them always feeling they’re slipping their neck into a noose?’
Keep track of the songs so you can answer the question in he end?

Friday, May 10, 2013

Lennon Revealed by Larry Kane


My friendly local bartender, Mike, from Burley Oak gave me a copy of Lennon Revealed by Larry Kane. Kane knows Lennon well. He was on both the 64 & 65 Beatles’ Tours. He has stayed connected with John up to 1980. John trusted him and Kane knew all the people around John so he could do interviews with them as a trusted confident. The details of this book are incredible.
This is a very enjoyable book. Kane doesn’t pull punches. He begins with the tragic evening of December 8, 1980, some other interacting stories and then gets right to the core of John’s three main women, Cynthia, Yoko, and May Pang. Sure there were other women during the Beatles’ tours, but the press was more discreet about that stuff than they are now.
John was a troublemaker in a fun and whimsical way at times, and in a more self-destructive way, especially when he had drink or drugs. During his childhood, he was a juvenile delinquent. With the Beatles he was terribly whimsical and oftentimes the clown who could also shock the world with a concise statement that could and would be misconstrued, like the Jesus Christ statement. And then we all came to love him when he moved to NYC and took up the cause to better the world and seemed to threaten the Nixon Administration. It took a while for John to fine tune his skills and his wit and Yoko was very instrumental in that. He took time to grow up and then he was gone.
It wasn’t that he was a troublemaker he was a thinker, an intellectual, a man with questions and answers. During his second American tour, he commented on the war in Vietnam. He was a maverick. Celebrities were silent on political matters, especially after the 50’s and McCarthy. And a member of the Fab Four speaking about politics and the war was really an enigma and bothered Epstein, but John was John. John was ahead of his time. When he moved to NYC he immediately became involved with the Peace movement. Though many members were anti war, John wanted to keep it positive. His association with Hoffman, Ruben, and others scared the US Government and then FBI got involved and Lennon spent a lot of time in courts resisting deportation and gaining citizenship. John’s convictions for Peace and his music became the theme for many in the early 70’s and it still burns brightly today. John was ahead of his time and those like John are called troublemakers because they make us think and make us move forward when the leaders of any time choose to remain blind and wish to maintain the status quo.
The intimate details of John the performer during the early tours are eye opening and informative. We learn so much about Lennon and the boys, pre performance, performance, and post performance behavior and antics. The plane rides are the most fun and engaging. Fears and joys are shared and shown to make John so human. It is a wonder with his phobias, he chose NYC of all places to live, but then it makes sense because he could get lost in NYC not to be confused with his famous “Lost Weekend.” Some highlights for me were that their concerts were only 35 minutes long, they made $150, 000 for one concert in Kansas City which was more than other concerts they gave, and that the Shea Stadium concert for 55,000 fans was the first of its kind. We forget just how many barriers the Beatles tore down. But most informative was the fact that they almost canceled the Jacksonville, Florida concert because the crowd was going to be segregated. The concert went on with an integrated crowd. The lads really did change more than just music; they changed us.
Larry Kane has written a fabulous account of a man who changed our lives. I saw John and Sean in Central Park a couple of times and so admired what he was doing. While watching a Monday Night Football game, Howard Cosell interrupted the broadcast to announce that John had been shot. I lived on Second Avenue and 71st Street. It was late and it was very very cold that night. I bundled up and proceeded through Central Park to the Dakota. A small crowd was already there and someone had a boom box playing Lennon and Beatle music. Candles flickered and he crowd grew as people sang softly, cried publicly, and were so well behaved. The next weekend in Central Park was an amazing gathering of so many people and glorious singing to honor this man. Every year after that, I would go to the Dakota and then Strawberry Fields to lay a white rose on the steps or Imagine mosaic in honor of this great man. Starting in the 90’s because of the Internet and my presence on list serves, I announced my plans to go to Strawberry Fields on Dec 8 and messages from all over the world came in asking me to place their name and message on a sheet of paper to accompany the white rose. In the dot matrix days that roll often contained more then twenty pages of names and messages. Last December 8, I went to Iceland to see the Tower of Peace. What happens ever December 8 at Strawberry Fields in NYC is astonishing and so unique. I don’t know of any other tribute to a man quite like what occurs on December 8 around the world. Oh perhaps Jesus Christ on December 25 in Bethlehem.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Cassandra Project by J McDevvit & M Resnick


The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt and Mike Resnick begins at a news conference led by Jerry Culpepper, on July 20, 2019. During the Q&A after the report, a reporter plays from his gooseberry, the latest generation of handheld device, a recording of astronauts about to land on the moon six months before Armstrong. Hoax, practice, a mistake? Whatever it was, Culpepper was in for it and then he got a phone call from an eighty year old retired Navy chopper pilot who told him how one of the three astronauts on that flight stumbled and the bag he was carrying spilled some rocks on deck. He left the question of why an astronaut was carrying rocks if payload was so crucial in those launches. The diary of an astronaut from another flight mentions walking on the moon before Armstrong. So what is up with all of this? Why not celebrate these earlier walks? What is being covered up? This is what billionaire Bucky Blackstone wants to know. He has tried to hire Culpepper away from NASA and is funding private flights into space.
A former astronaut, a couple of astronaut’s kids, former NASA employees, and politicians kept telling Culpepper to leave it alone. But he couldn’t. He discovered some photographs of the dark side of the moon and had an expert, a former girlfriend, authenticate them. She discovered some discrepancies with Russian and American photos of the same area. There was a cover up and he had to leave NASA. He joins Bucky’s company as its spokesperson. Even the President of the United States gets involved. Why are sections of the dark side of the moon missing from official NASA pictures?
Bucky needs to fly to the moon to solve this problem that takes us back to the Watergate break-in and to Tricky Dick himself. What a flashback especially in 2019. It seems to be all Greek to everyone and requires some Holmesian logic to solve, but it gets solved as only a government and entrepreneur can collaborate.  Here’s to everyone’s fantasy, fly me to the moon…..

Monday, May 6, 2013

Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason


Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason is the seventh Inspector Erlendur novel and it returns me to Iceland. Erlendur works with two other detectives: Elínborg, a female detective and Sigurdur Óli, a male detective. Elínborg caught the case of a young man we met in the first chapter who had readied himself for a night out on the town with some Rohypnol in his jacket pocket. We last saw him with a young woman whose drink he added the date rape drug. We are surprised when Elínborg finds the young man dead on his apartment floor with his throat cut and just a pair of trousers around his ankles, the girl’s San Francisco T shirt is on him, her shawl with a hint of tandoori is found under the bed, and a used condom on the floor. This is a twisted case and will be very bizarre. Elínborg will gather together another detective who has been working on rapes and try to untangle recent rapes involving Rohypnol. She is not happy with the rise in rapes, especially those involving Rohypnol.
After Elínborg finds the body and then goes home we learn a lot more about her family. Her husband Teddi is a mechanic, her oldest son, Valthór, is in high school and she recently found a condom in his trousers. She doesn’t talk with him much, his choice and he is short with her. She discovered his blog and is learning about him, his friends, his female friends, and even her family from the blog. She is discovering that the Internet is changing her children’s generation from being insular and introverted as was her generation into a more open and extroverted generation. Elínborg doesn’t quite know how to handle it. Her younger son is not as truculent as the older one but is getting there. Her youngest child Theodora, is a girl who loves to read. The boys are always asking her about her work, but she can’t talk about it. She has a lovely family. She doesn’t have kind words for Erlendur and his fathering or lifestyle, but somehow, I think they will find themselves in the same boat. Parenting is tough no matter where you live and how you approach it.
Elínborg is considering trying to tie this dead guy with the rapist of a previous case involving Rohypnol. She has traveled to his former hometown to learn more and leaves unsatisfied and with some questions. Upon return to Reykjavik, she provides us with a culinary tour of Iceland and then one of her own which leads her to the tandoori trail and the tandoori pot and to the woman who was with the dead man when she woke up the next morning in his apartment. Neither she nor her father did it even though they confess and then change their minds.
It comes down “putting your nose to the grindstone.” Elínborg is doing just that as she has used her nose to detect the tandoori and then the smell in the dead man’s house, which takes her back to his hometown. This is an excellent tale of rape and the consequences. Masterfully handled and presented. The title is perfect, OUTRAGE.
Erlendur never appears. He is off on a quest we have been hearing about in the previous six novels in the East Fjords. He and his brother were lost in a blizzard as boys and his brother was never found. Finally after all these years, Erlendur, took a two week leave to revisit his home and the hills in which he and his brother were lost presumably to find his remains. No one has heard from him and his rental car had been finally towed after sitting for two weeks near a churchyard near his home with no trace of the driver. Has Erlendur become a missing person? Ironic since that is his job with the police.
This is a novel about Elínborg, her cooking, her family and her relationship with each family member, and her job. She has written a cookbook and we see her cooking and we get her recipes. Like Bruno, in Martin Walker’s Bruno series, who is a cook and his recipes are provided on Walker’s website, I hope Indridason considers including some classic Icelandic recipes on his website. ‘Whenever Elínborg focused on her cooking she attained a rare state of calm… For Elínborg the three stages of cookery – preparation, cooking, and eating – were the recipe for life itself.’ Bon appétit.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Last Refuge by Chris Knopf


The Last Refuge by Chris Knopf is his debut novel about money and murder in the Hamptons and introduces us to Sam Acquillo. He has taken early retirement and lives in the little cottage on Peconic Bay. He sits on the front porch smoking the camels and drinking the vodka. He reads some. He goes out some. He has a dog, so he has someone to talk to. He reminisces about his early life here with his dad who is dead, got beaten up. His mom is dead. His neighbor is a cantankerous old bat; no one likes her and she demands Sam do chores for her. One day he smells something, It is her, she’s dead. His quiet path to death is disturbed as he gets involved cause no one else will.
Sam is getting around town. He has found a joint he can go to eat and chat with the owner and daughter. He has a personal banker, who wants to be more personal. He is chatting it up with a local cop. He has reconnected with an old friend who is a big time lawyer and wants to help him. He got as dog. Sam is been out of touch for four years and all of a sudden he is reemerging because of the death of his neighbor. He comes with lots of baggage. He has an ex wife, a daughter he doesn’t see, a sister he doesn’t see. He is alone and has liked it for the past four years. He has his routines and is loving it. Of course this is all changing, as it should.
He is involved with something and isn’t quite sure what it is. He does have the cop curious. He has met some shady individuals along the way, which has fueled his curiosity, which is why he reconnected with his lawyer friend, Burton. Summer is over and he has a project, oh goody. All the pieces are coming together as the past unfolds itself into the future and payback, well payback is payback. In the end it is all about civil, mechanical, and social engineering.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

From the Forest by Sara Maitland


From the Forest by Sara Maitland is a search for the hidden roots of our fairy tales. We all know, ‘Once upon a time…’ and off we go on some fanciful story that usually involves the forests and woods. I can recollect my own love of the woods when I was young. We always had good woods across from our homes or when I was older an easy drive, especially on Nantucket when I would escape to the moors and then the hidden forest to find some solitude. Walking in the woods always has more intrigue and adventure than a simple walk on the beach or in a city.  Forests and fairy tales have a symbiotic relationship contends Maitland and she sets out from the get go to show and prove this with sound examples and a strong argument. “The forest is the place of trial in fairy stories, both dangerous and exciting. Coming to terms with the forest, surviving its terrors, utilizing its gifts and gaining its help is the way to ‘happy ever after.’” Beyond the classic authors I’m struck by Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and The Tempest particularly and how he use this formula to arrive at a happy ending. Part of the charm of the forest is the chaos they bring to the story, the confusion, and in the end once it is figured out, the path is found, order is restored, but first there is always chaos. There is magic about forests we have always felt and always seem to return to with joy, trepidation, and wonder. Maybe it isn’t a coincidence that our cities resemble forests as we imitate our primitive natural sides when we cut them down and build where a forest once was. Once upon a time there was Thumbling.
The book has twelve chapters, one for each month of the year starting with March. Each chapter speaks of a specific forest filled with botanical facts of the trees in each wood followed by a fairy tale.
April finds us in Saltridge Wood where I learned that the beech tree is the best tree to carve in because it grows with the tree and is not overgrown, as it would be obliterated on other trees covering the wound. I also learned that little else but bluebells and ransoms are found in a beech grove because of the root system of the beech tree which is not hospitable top other fauna. ‘Tyranny is like a beech tree; it looks very fine but nothing grows under it.’ The hierarchy of trees has the oak as king and the beech as queen only because it was the tree used by nobles to plant on their estates to provide shade and no groundcover. The real queen of the forest is the birch, which has been relegated to princess. It is the birch that has the connection to the fairy world, as birch was the tree for witches’ broomsticks. The birch has many other aspects as well such as the natural juices, the bark, and its sinewy strength as attested to by Robert Frost in his poem praising the birch. Ironically, there is no defining text or study of exactly what a fairy tale is or how many there are. The author mentions two attempts, the Aarne-Thompson system and the Vladimir Propp morphological approach, both of which are incomplete, inconclusive, and unsatisfying. Fairy tales are oral or written down. Charles Perrault (1628-1703) is given credit as the first ‘collector’ of fairy tales. Then of course we have the Brothers Grimm. So doesn’t Shakespeare fall into this category? He did what the Brothers Grimm did; he altered existing fairy stories and wrote them down. More irony occurs when their walk is interpreted by a hellhound that attacks their dog and creates some angst and puts a cloud over the walk after the bad dog owners retrieve their hellhound and disappear. Once upon a time there was a White Snake.
In May at the height of spring we are exploring New Forest, which has a history back to 1066, when William the Conqueror created the Forest Law that stated all forests belonged to the Crown and the Crown had exclusive hunting rights in all forests. Only the Crown could grant hunting rights to others, nobles as rewards. All others were poachers and harsh penalties would be exacted. In 1215 during King John’s reign the Magna Carta giving the people access to the forests displaces the Forest Law. During the time from 1066 to 1215, the forest became the realm of Out Laws, Robin Hood being the most famous mythical outlaw in England. Forests were places for people to hide from the law and still are today. The author spends much time providing data from the Brothers Grimm about the number of people who use the forest as sanctuary. Of course she spends some time with the Arthur legend and Camelot while Merlin wanders the Great Caledonian forest. Once upon a time there was Rumpelstiltskin.
It’s June so we must be in Epping Forest. Epping Forest is a tube ride from London, which makes it a very public and very visited public forest. It has been public and in the national trust since Queen Victoria. A right good model for what Teddy Roosevelt would do in America soon. Prior to Victoria and as far back as Henry I, Epping Forest was the formal hunting land of the Crown. While wondering the forest our author comes upon a swing that must have taken lots of genius to create because of the height of the limb and the difficulty of climbing the branchless tree. As she reflects of the lack of children, the author ventures off on her own private rant of how children are missing out on the adventures of the forest because of the overprotected society that keeps children in and allows them to become obese and miss out on the spirit of fairy tales, of play, of solving problems in the forest, and of living. She has a point. Once upon a time there were Hansel and Gretel.
Each month for the rest of the year, Maitland visits a different forest or wood, discusses the nature of the ecology and biology and botany of the wood, then explores various fairy stories to complement the science. The connection between woods/forests and fairy stories/tales is obvious as we travel from wood to wood with her and her companions. The major connection is one of ‘secrecy.’ Woods provide a place for secrets just as fairy tales are secrets or are filled with secrets, which are probably why we are enchanted, by both woods and fairy tales. They are physically linked to each other in so many ways, it is hard not to walk on a forest path, fear getting lost and hope to find a house that will provide refuge, safety, and magic. Even her fairy tales that follow each chapter are not the ones we know, they are variations much like what Shelley Duvall did with Faerie Tale Theatre in the 80’s.
This is a fun book and has provided me with a whole new avenue of exploration for my future visits to UK.