July 2010


How I wish for the reality of parts of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld at the moment. Specifically the walking trunk made of … lets see if I can get this right without reaching for my Kindle … sentient pearwood. Sorry not sentient but sapient pearwood. And it is known in the books simply as the Luggage. What a marvelous contraption Pratchett invented to be sure! Not only does trunk never get lost and is eternally loyal, it also – and here’s the part that I love – allows its owner toss in worn clothing into it only to return it to him cleaned, ironed and ready to wear when wanted. What I wouldn’t do for my own sapient pearwood trunk. Heck I’ll settle for mango, cherry, camphor, cedar .. any type of wood actually so long as it would do my ironing (and washing and drying) for me. It also eats up enemies… but at this moment I do not have the kind that need eating up. No one is that importantly evil in my life.

The reason for this wave of want for another world is the recollection that I need to head into town to pick up my ironing, for which I might add, I pay a hefty if not exorbitant sum. Just like I did in Vienna, where laundry – not just ironing but washing and drying as well – was the single largest expense of the summer exceeding my rent even. Here in Ulm it’s not so bad, washing and drying at least have been cheap and are now free, but the ironing!!! After the convenience of Cairo where it’s done at home by Charles for such a reasonable price (okay so I’m an awful sold-out-to colonialist-values type of person) this expense really bites. But I can’t be buying an iron for just a few weeks!!! And the problem is I can’t wear my clothes in their line-dried form (too crumpled) and it’s really too warm to wear anything but cotton right now. So I’m paying the piper, if not of Hamlin then of Ulm. Tchuss! Bis spater mit mehr complaints. 😉

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I was a late-comer to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien, past my teens (but not yet the tweens) and already on my own in Edmonton by the time I was introduced to The Hobbit, followed shortly by The Lord of the Rings. It wasn’t the first time I’d read fantasy since the Narnia chronicles had been read and digested in my early teens and indeed by the time I was reading The Hobbit I had already stopped liking them as much. Too Christian, to be perfectly frank, and almost racist they seemed to my revisionist self (nowadays I’ve struck a medium and do recognize them for their great story telling – but I can do without the subtext) but in a climate that seemed to make fun of me for liking to read, I was only too glad to be introduced to a new world that someone else seemed to be in love with. How we got into the conversation about anything I cannot remember being in the large common lab in the microbiology department, which dates my reading to the spring/summer of 1988, where Sven waxed rhapsodic about these books. And so even though he and I never really became friends (he left for bigger and better things even as I settled down to a Masters) and I can’t even remember his last name, I owe him an eternal debt of gratitude.

The reason for this sudden  rekindling of interest  is a book of essays on Tolkien that I have been reading for the past couple of days. The book, called Meditations on Middle Earth is a collection of essays by various authors of the genre today compiled by a Karen Haber whose work I am not familiar with. But when the table of contents revealed that Terry Pratchett, to my mind easily the most intelligent writer of fantasy fiction today, not to mention really funny as well, I hit the one-click purchase button (dangerous tool that!).

Pratchett mentions his first experience reading the books, a 23-hour readathon during which time he surfaced not at all. I too can remember something similar, foregoing sleep, or making appearances in the department .. everything in fact except meals, while I devoured the entire book (I like some of the other essays refuse to call it a trilogy for its NOT. There is and can be only one Trilogy and that is Asimov’s classic Foundation trio – the original three only) and ended with a whole posse of new friends that I revisit periodically in shorter or longer spurts. I only have to pick up a copy and flip through a few pages and it pulls me under again. No other book until then or since has done that with such completeness at Lord of the Rings.

The essays themselves are a mixed bag, the afore-mentioned Pratchett’s offering stellar as expected, and a few others  simply ho-hum. Orson Scott Card, whose stuff I have read and have found intriguing, has received particularly miserable feedback from the readers, and I am hesitant to read it. The one that resonates with my own experience was one called “A Bar and a Quest,” by Robin Hobb – more than resonate, in fact, I feel as if I were reading something I wrote some other time: “opened to any page, the words still have the power to draw me in, pull me under, and ultimately to take me home.” (Note identical phrasing to my own in the earlier paragraph – not plagiarism I assure you). Or the fact that she’s lost track of the number of times she’s reread them over the years or bought and gifted copies to friends and favorites over the years.

Its gratifying to share this experience with this particular author, because her novels and the world of the six duchies and beyond, have had a similar pull on my attention. I began with her earliest trilogy (only somewhat misnamed ) the Farseer trilogy – called Assassin’s Apprentice and found myself unable to put it down. I didn’t cut classes or anything but was deep into them, reading them throughout my holiday in Istanbul for instance. Her books have a depth often lacking in other offerings in this genre and while definitely not feel-good they do pull you (well me at any rate) in and under for hours. I’ve not read all her books but I do like the worlds-within-the world she’s created with some unusual critters and relationships. I won’t say “not since Tolkien” but she is one of the more enduring authors I have encountered in the world of fantasy for a time.

George Martin (another contributor to the Middle earth volume) was getting there, but he’s dragged out his Fire and Ice series too far and left me waiting and hanging for far too long wondering about the fates of Jon, Aria and the others and I’m irritated. J.K. Rowling was a nice combination of my past – at first rolling together as it were, Enid Blyton and Tolkien in Harry Potter’s world. Not nearly as much depth as Hobb but still very engaging. The series of seven was uneven, my favorites in the series being The Prisoner of Azkaban and the last one because she ended it satisfyingly.Terry Brooks’ Shannara was too close an imitation of Tolkein’s world but entertaining for all that and I will say his magic Kingdom books were good fun, and I also have to mention Guy Gavriel Kay who mixes in Celtic/Arthurian mythology rather nicely into his stories.

Happy travels everyone, I must be on my way and pay one of these worlds a visit