Monday, December 20, 2010

Reading Group

So, yesterday our reading group met again for the first time in a long time. We usually break for the summer, when it's hard to get people together because of vacations &c, and this past year all our fall meetings had fallen through. And, to make matters worse, I'd missed the last meeting before that break because I was out of town (in Kalamazoo, at the Medievalist Congress). We have about four to six members, scattered between Redmond and the University District and Queen Anne Hill and Kent, who come most of the time, plus another half-dozen who can only make it once in a while.

This being our annual December party, we didn't have an assigned book but instead pick books for the next few months (sometimes we've tried picking the whole next year's books all in one go, but that rarely works out for us). First, though, we just enjoyed getting together, sipping tea, enjoying book-group snacks, and playing with our host's Most Excellent cat, Max (even Max's shy companion, Maya, made a brief appearance).

After that, we revisited some of the books we wd have discussed had we managed to have the September (WICKED), October (ERAGON), and November (BEREN & LUTHIEN; TURIN) meetings. Wicked we universally found disfavor with: those who had read it all the way through (like Janice) and those who'd given up part-way in (like myself) were united in our bafflement of why people like, and praise, this book. Not only that, but why it had inspired a Broadway musical and given rise to a string of sequels. The idea of retelling a famous story from the villain's point of view, while it's becoming a bit overdone, has its potential, but here the author seemed determined to write a story about an Oz that would be utterly unrecognizable as Oz. The names were the same, but everything that made Oz 'Oz' was gone. I was reminded of LeGuin's famous essay "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie", and thought that here was a case where Elfland had deliberately been remade as Poughkeepsie -- the sense of wonder stripped out so that a dull political tale cd be substituted for it. Seeing this, I understood what the Jackson-bashers feel when they see his LotR films: a sense that he got everything that matters wrong. I think they're completely wrong about Jackson -- who I'd say sometimes screws up the details but does a great job delivering on the essence -- but just for that moment I felt their pain.

ERAGON we dealt with more summarily; the only person who'd read it strongly urged the rest of us not to, and we all pretty much felt inclined to take her advice; sounds pretty much like a mash-up of Tolkien (or Tolk-clones) + McCaffrey.

The Tolkien, on the other hand, we decided is too good to miss, so we decided to roll that over into our first meeting next year (January).

After bantering about several options (LITTLE BIG? -- no!; some Chinese or Japanese classic --where to start?; ARABIAN NIGHTS -- maybe later), we decided on what we'll be reading for the first half of next year:

January (1/16-11): THE STORY OF BEREN & LUTHIEN by J. R. R. Tolkien. From THE SILMARILLION (et al). location: our place in Kent.

February (2/20-11): JOHANNES CABAL -- THE NECROMANCER by Jonathan L. Howard. location: Chez Max.

March (3/20-11): HULDUFOLK 102 (documentary). location: Chris & Andy's

April (4/17-11): JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH by Jules Verne. location: not yet determined

May (5/15-11): WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams. location: not yet determined

June (6/19-11): GILGAMESH -- the translation by Andrew George, not the novelization by Nancy Sandars.

We generally meet on the third Sunday of the month, so if you're anywhere in the Seattle area and enjoy reading & discussing fantasy books, drop us a line.


P.S.: In other news, I was astonished to learn this week that the 'Dragonlance' series has now run its course and ended. At twenty-five years it had a good run, but I'm surprised to hear it's over.


Ed Pierce said...

You're probably already aware of this, but make sure you select a good translation for "Journey to the Centre of the Earth." The one that is most often found in bookstores is an anonymous translation from the 1800's that is an utter travesty. I believe some good translations have come out recently (like William Butcher's), and there is also a good one from Robert Baldick that was done in the 1960's. When I say "good" I mainly mean (since I don't know French and am not much of a literary critic) that they are considered pretty faithful reproductions of the original. Many old Verne translations (including the anonymous one I mention above for Journey to the Centre of the Earth) contain numerous errors as well as intentional changes--omissions, abridgements, changes in details (large and small), and in some cases, additional material invented by the translator.

Ed Pierce

Brer said...

A good Chinese classic to start with would be "Journey To The West"; again, the problem is choosing the right translation. The one I've read is "Monkey" by Wu Ch'eng En, translated by Arthur Waley, but it might not be the best. This story is not only enjoyable but gives you insight into a lot of subsequent popular culture.

It's not exactly Japanese, but Lafcadio Hearn's "Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things" is a classic in it's field, and a good introduction to Japanese ghosts and spirits.

Magister said...

Did anyone comment on the movie Eragon being essentially a re-telling of the first Star Wars movie?