Fantasy/Sci-Fi, Sanderson, Brandon

Review of Elantris

Elantris eBook by Brandon Sanderson - 9780575097452 | Rakuten KoboWhen I was a child, I only read fantasy novels. I was totally obsessed with the genre. But in middle school, I abandoned fantasy for classical literature of the Victorian era. Then, at university I discovered the research library and I stopped reading novels altogether. Since starting this blog, I have obviously returned to reading fiction. But until about 6 months ago, I had not read an adult fantasy novel. This all changed with Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Yesterday, I finished my second major high fantasy: Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. Unlike Rothfuss, Sanderson finishes his series. He also appears to respect his readers more. I decided to try Sanderson’s works after following several of his live-streams. Sometimes, the personality of an author makes all of the difference.

Elantris was not Sanderson’s first novel. As he likes to tell his fans, he had written 6 novels before Elantris, but couldn’t find anyone interested in publishing them. So while Elantris was his debut, it was not the first book he had ever written. Not by a long shot. Nevertheless, there are certain clichés in the work that a more recent fantasy author would probably avoid, such as a “not like other women” protagonist and casual ableism (deformity as curse). Elantris was published in 2005, before readers went public with their criticism of these clichés.

Summary

Raoden, the prince of Arelon, wakes up cursed in the neighboring former kingdom of Elantris. 10 years earlier, Elantris had been placed under a curse by Lord Jaddeth, the god of this universe. The damned of Elantris suffer but never die. Raoden discovers that an early foot injury only becomes more and more painful as the months go by. Consequently, the new Elantrians lack all hope and only live by their belly. There are three major gangs that fight over the little food brought into Elantris. Raoden, however, has a different vision for the people. Always the optimist, he believes that giving people tasks – such as cleaning the slime from the stones of the city – will give the Elantrians a reason to live. It will restore their humanity.

Our second protagonist is Sarene, the woman who had been betrothed to Raoden before he had been taken by the Shaod to Elantris. She is a princess of the kingdom of Teod. Recently, a priest named Hrathen has arrived to convert Arelon to his version of the Derethi religion before the kingdom is cursed by Lord Jaddeth. Hrathen threatens the sovereignty of Arelon because his religion, Shu-Dereth, is also the official religion of the Kingdom of Fjorden. Sarene is bound and determined to prevent Fjorden from conquering Arelon and destroying Arelon’s alliance with Teod.

Reaction

My favorite character was actually a secondary character: Galladon. Galladon is Raoden’s friend in Elantris. He is a pessimist in the manner of C3PO. I hope to learn more about him in a spin-off series or a sequel. I loved how loyal he was to Raoden despite his reservations. Raoden and Galladon had an interesting friendship.

My least favorite character was Sarene. Like I said, I am not a fan of the “not like other women” cliché. She made some dismissive remarks about the other women in the Arlene kingdom. She also lacked flaws. A female character can be strong without being stoic and a master of martial arts.

I knew before reading Elantris that I would probably find a few elements lacking. This is not Sanderson’s most famous book and it is a debut However, I hoped that it would be a fun stand-alone and would encourage me to read more of Sanderson’s works. Elantris succeeded on both counts. The battle scenes were well-written and Hrathen was a fairly complex villain.

3 Stars.

Favorite Quote

Do not dash if you only have the strength to walk, and do not waste your time pushing on the walls that will not give. More importantly, don’t shove where a pat would be sufficient.

Literary Fiction, Tournier, Michel

Reflections on The Erl-King (spoilers)

Image result for le roi des aulnes bookLe Roi des Aulnes (The Erl-King) is the second novel I have read by Michel Tournier. The first was La Goutte D’Or (The Golden Droplet), which I reviewed two years ago.

Michel Tournier’s novels are unsettling. The characters seem to come straight out of a fairy tale. This is especially true of The Erl-King. The protagonist Abel Tiffauges is a mechanic who admits in the first pages that he is an ogre. He’s a large man with an underdeveloped sexuality. His sexuality – or lack thereof – is a sign in this novel of his otherness. The first half of the novel is a series of journal entries. Tiffauges writes his secrets with his left hand. In these so-called “sinister writings”, Tiffauges describes his childhood at a boarding school. He meets a boy named Nestor who saves Tiffauges from many unpleasant situations. At school, Tiffauges develops an obsession with scatology and children. Yet, Tiffauges has no sexual interest in children. Instead, he turns to children as symbols of purity and innocence. Much like St. Christopher, the patron saint of his childhood school, Tiffauges dreams of carrying children to safety.

The Erl-King is ultimately a myth that explores Nazi ideology, especially its obsession with purity. Tournier suggests that this obsession with purity was not unique to the Nazi party but is behind all forms of hatred. Tiffauges is drawn to Nazi stories about a mythological Germany with Teutonic knights and boreal forests. These myths give Tiffauges greater meaning in his life. They also speak to his odd interests. He eventually kidnaps children for the Nazi Youth. The ogre of the first letters becomes the Erl-King of Goethe’s poem.

Tournier’s novels are highly philosophical. His characters explore the values that the Western world holds dear. The grotesque in The Erl-King exposes the carnavalesque nature of evil. The quest for beauty and goodness becomes complicity in the Holocaust. For all his unsavory characteristics, Abel Tiffauges has a child-like wonder that is unsettlingly human.

I’ve always been struck by Nazi Germany’s obsession with the Middle Ages, Joan of Arc, and fables. The Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales served to promote German nationalism in the 19th-century. Tournier suggests that the stories we tell each other can indeed be harmful.

The Erl-King is not a pleasant read. Abel Tiffauges is highly unlikable and some critics have condemned the book for humanizing and mythologizing evil.

But I think this novel remains relevant. I am concerned about the myths young men are taught on certain social media sites. These are vulnerable people whose personal challenges are exploited to further movements that promise a restoration of purity. In a dark, broken world the desire for purity is tantalizing but dangerous. It leads to the very subversion of goodness. I simply can’t wait to read more of Tournier’s novels.

Miscellaneous

The “I should Have Read That Book” Tag

It’s been a while since I did a tag, so I’m doing one today. The “I Should Have Read That Book” tag was created by Beth@BooksNest.

1) A book that a certain friend is always telling you to read.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

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Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf is one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve read it several times. My last reread (and one of the very few Classics Spins I actually completed) inspired a creative review. But I haven’t read The Hours, which was inspired by Mrs. Dalloway. It won the Pulitzer and was adapted into an award-winning movie. I have a friend who’s always raving about this retelling, so I’d better get on it.

2) A book that’s been on your TBR forever and yet you still haven’t picked it up.

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This book has been on my bucket-list since high school. For the past few years I’m made it my resolution to read Les Misérables in French. I read the first few chapters, but I got distracted by other shiny books. Will 2020 be the year when I finally read this classic?

3) A book in a series you’ve started, but haven’t gotten around to finishing yet.

The Golden Wolf by Linnea Hartsuyker

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The series that I started but haven’t finished yet is Linnea Hartsuyker’s Half-Drowned King series. I read and loved the first two books, but haven’t yet read the last book in the trilogy: The Golden Wolf. The final book came out in 2018, so I should read it soon before I forget the plots of the first two. This is a historical novel set in 9th-century Iceland. We follow Ragnvald Eysteinsson and his sister Svanhild as they struggle to take back their father’s kingdom. Although this story is very violent (lots of content warnings), the female characters are written very well. There’s none of the misogyny of The Song of Ice and Fire.

4) A classic you’ve always liked the sound of, but never actually read.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

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I’m not entirely sure why this classic appeals to me. Perhaps, it’s the wintery setting. Or maybe it’s the fact that this book inspired an award-winning film.

5) A popular book that it seems everyone but you has read.

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

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I’m pretty sure I’m the only person who’s never read 1984. I read Orwell’s Animal Farm years ago and found it very disturbing. It actually reminded me quite a bit of Lord of the Flies by William Golding. But since everyone has already read 1984, I feel like I already know the plot. I’ll get to it someday.

6) A book that inspired a film/TV adaptation that you really love, but you just haven’t read yet.

Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton

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I don’t watch many book-to-film adaptations, so it was hard for me to come up with an answer to this question. But I rewatched the Disney film “Bedknobs and Brooksticks” recently, so I’ll go with the book Bed-Knob and Broomstick by Mary Norton, the author of the Borrowers series.

7) A book you see all over Instagram [YouTube] but you haven’t picked up yet.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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I am hardly ever on Instagram, so I’m going with a book that I’ve seen discussed all over Booktube: The Handmaid’s Tale. I guess I’m not a huge fan of the dystopian genre, seeing that two of the books on this list are dystopians.

Mystery, Reflections

I’m Terrible at Guessing Mysteries

Gray Magnifying Glass and Eyeglasses on Top of Open BookAm I the only one who can never decode a mystery? I’ve been reading mysteries off and on for years, and I am still terrible at connecting the dots. At times, I manage to guess the identity of the perpetrator, but I never know why they stood out to me as guilty.

In the past, I have rarely been concerned about my inability to figure out mysteries. Good mysteries keep the reader guessing, anyway. That’s the fun. But my goals for reading crime novels have changed in the last few weeks. I now want to try my hand at writing a murder mystery.

The difference between reading a mystery and writing one is the difference between enjoying magic shows and performing magic yourself. As a spectator, you are expected to buy into the illusion. But a magician has to know how to create the illusion. I have always been impressed by the intricate plot structures of whodunit mysteries, but I am ignorant of the narrative tricks that mystery writers employ. I don’t know what is considered “fair” in the genre.

I recently finished my first Inspector Maigret mystery: Les vacances de Maigret (Maigret on Vacation). Like most readers, I found it a very fun read. I stayed up until 2 am, finishing the last 100 pages of the novel (basically the second half of the book). That is pretty typical for me. Once I get to the interviews, I don’t put the book down until I’ve reached the big reveal. But unlike many readers, I could not piece together the mystery. I asked myself several questions throughout: Which details are important and which details are not? What are the different characters’ intentions? Why do the characters behave this way? I was totally off.

Perhaps, I should reread the story with a pencil. I’ve enjoyed rereading Agatha Christie mysteries in the past. If I reread Maigret on Vacation, would I be able to piece together the plot like so many readers claim to have done?

Writing a mystery sounds fun. I love the detective-work of research. That is what I love about doing a PhD. But can a terrible detective write a good detective novel?

What are your suggestions? Am I alone? Have you ever tried writing a mystery yourself?

Reflections

La Fontaine’s “The Wolf and the Lamb” (Le Loup et L’Agneau)

I’ve been having a hell of a time finding something to blog about. But a few minutes ago, it occurred to me that I have never discussed my favorite La Fontaine fable “The Wolf and the Lamb” on my blog. Although “The Crow and the Fox” is the most famous French fable, “The Wolf and the Lamb” is my favorite because it gets at a disturbing social dynamic.

I am including both the original poem and an English translation.

                         Le Loup et L’Agneau
La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure :
Nous l’allons montrer tout à l’heure.
Un Agneau se désaltérait
Dans le courant d’une onde pure.
Un Loup survient à jeun qui cherchait aventure,
Et que la faim en ces lieux attirait.
Qui te rend si hardi de troubler mon breuvage ?
Dit cet animal plein de rage :
Tu seras châtié de ta témérité.
— Sire, répond l’Agneau, que votre Majesté
Ne se mette pas en colère ;
Mais plutôt qu’elle considère
Que je me vas désaltérant
Dans le courant,
Plus de vingt pas au-dessous d’Elle,
Et que par conséquent, en aucune façon,
Je ne puis troubler sa boisson.
— Tu la troubles, reprit cette bête cruelle,
Et je sais que de moi tu médis l’an passé.
— Comment l’aurais-je fait si je n’étais pas né ?
Reprit l’Agneau, je tette encor ma mère.
— Si ce n’est toi, c’est donc ton frère.
— Je n’en ai point.
— C’est donc quelqu’un des tiens :
Car vous ne m’épargnez guère,
Vous, vos bergers, et vos chiens.
On me l’a dit : il faut que je me venge.
Là-dessus, au fond des forêts
Le Loup l’emporte, et puis le mange,
Sans autre forme de procès.

                         The Wolf and the Lamb
The reason of those best able to have their way is always the best:
We now show how this is true.
A lamb was quenching its thirst
In the water of a pure stream.
A fasting wolf came by, looking for something;
He was attracted by hunger to this place.
—What makes you so bold as to meddle with my drinking?
Said this animal, very angry.
You will be punished for your boldness.
—Sir, answered the lamb, let Your Majesty
Not put himself into a rage;
But rather, let him consider
That I am taking a drink of water
In the stream
More than twenty steps below him;
And that, consequently, in no way,
Am I troubling his supply.
—You do trouble it, answered the cruel beast.
And I know you said bad things of me last year.
—How could I do that when I wasn’t born,
Answered the lamb; I am still at my mother’s breast.
—If it wasn’t you, then it was your brother.
—I haven’t a brother.—It was then someone close to you;
For you have no sympathy for me,
You, your shepherds and your dogs.
I have been told of this.I have to make things even.
Saying this, into the woods
The wolf carries the lamb, and then eats him
Without any other why or wherefore.
-Trans. Eli Siegel

Admittedly, this is a pretty pessimistic fable. But which Aesop or La Fontaine fable isn’t? French fables do not teach children how the world should be but how it really is. Consequently, children are forced to confront the injustices of the world from a young age.

In most La Fontaine fables, the first line is the moral. The first line of Le Loup et L’Agneau is “La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleure”. A literal translation is “The reason of the strongest [person] is always the best.” The fable beneath tells the story of a wolf who chastises a lamb for troubling his water supply. Never mind that the lamb has done absolutely nothing to deserve the wolf’s wrath. The two animals are so far from each other that the lamb is not at all in the way. Nevertheless, the wolf claims that he is.

The wolf’s complaint is far from reasonable. The lamb was already at the stream before the wolf arrived. When the lamb defends himself, the wolf’s accusations become even more ludicrous. He claims that the lamb insulted him the previous year, even though the lamb hadn’t even been born.

So why is the wolf’s reason (ie. the reason of the strongest) the best? It’s certainly not the best because it is the most logical. It’s the best because the wolf has the power to get what he wants. The lamb, on the other hand, lacks the power to escape from the wolf; nothing he might say can prevent him from being eaten.

Thus, the reason of the strongest is the best because the strongest always wins. The irony of the moral points to an unpleasant social reality. Those with the power to get what they want, will.

Many scholars believe that La Fontaine’s moral was an allusion to the case of Nicolas Fouquet, the Superintendent of Finance under Louis XIV. Fouquet was an ambitious administrator and an extravagant spender. He built himself the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, which eventually became the model for Louis XIV’s Versailles. Indeed, King Louis was so afraid that a subordinate might become a Richelieu-type premier ministre that he imprisoned Fouquet and confiscated his castle. Fouquet ended his days in prison.

Fouquet may have been one of the wealthiest men in King Louis XIV’s court, but his wealth could not save him. Nor could the reasoning of his friends and acquaintances. Of course, calling Fouquet a lamb is more than a little disingenuous. He certainly acquired his wealth through unjust means. Nevertheless, the moral of the fable holds true: “The reason of those best able to have their way is always the best” (trans. Eli Siegel).

People who get away with saying and doing the most ludicrous things are those who have the most power in our society.

Read-A-Thon

My Spin Pick: Grapes of Wrath

I’ve only read one work by John Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men. I have never cried as hard or as long as when I read the final chapters of that book. John Steinbeck is famous for his depressing plots, so I need to be in the right head-space to read Grapes of Wrath.

Nevertheless, I am excited to pick it up in the next week. Grapes of Wrath has been on my physical TBR for many years. My edition was given to me by a high school teacher before she retired.

Here is what Goodreads has to say about the book:

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First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

The Great Depression is an era that I don’t know much about. Hopefully, this work will inspire me to learn more about this important time in American history.

___________________

The Reading Spin challenge is hosted quarterly by the Classics Club blog.

Read-Along

Classics Spin #22 List

I have only completed one classics spin ever. But new year, new start. I am bound and determined to complete the first spin challenge of the new year. Besides, most of the books on the list are either required reading for my PhD exam or are on my physical TBR.

1) Notre Dame de Paris (The Hunchback of Notre Dame) by Victor Hugo

2) Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) by Choderlos de Laclos

3) L’Amour, La Fantasia by Assia Djebar

4) La Chartreuse de Parme (The Charterhouse of Parma) by Stendhal

5) W, ou Les Souvenir d’Enfance (W, or the Memory of Childhood) by Georges Perec

6) Wicked by Gregory Maguire

7) Atonement by Ian McEwan

8) Bleak House by Charles Dickens

9) Barnaby Ridge by Charles Dickens

10) The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

11) The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

12) The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

13) Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

14) East of Eden by John Steinbeck

15) The Aeneid by Virgil

16) The Waves by Virginia Woolf

17) The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass

18) A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

19) The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

20) The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

 

Classics club spin page: https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/2019/12/15/cc-spin-22/