My latest reading from the books I gave myself at Christmas is the new YA fantasy, Tyger by S. F. Said. It is set at Midwinter in the harsh London of an alternative universe, where Muslims must live in a Ghetto and aristocrats own slaves. It is anti-colonial, for sure, and demonstrates the harm done by in prejudice and injustice. Yet unlike R. F. Kuang's Babel (see previous post), it is full of love, courage, and loyalty.
Picturing a World
R. F. Kuang's Babel has scope and ambition. Its plot moves with many melodramatic surprises. I wanted to like it. Too soon, however, it became apparent that it was driven primarily by anger at the all-too-obvious injustices of colonialism. To be fair, such concerns suit the taste of readers who value politics over other aspects of art. I don't.
Babel by R. F. Kuang is another of my presents-to-myself. I've only read a few pages; but so far, it's a yes, even though reviews (like this one) make clear that the story is very dark. Well, black-and-white art is obviously appropriate for a noirish novel; and what I want to call attention to today is the jacket illustration by Nico Delort, shown here in two versions.
My copy of The Boy Who Lost His Spark by Maggie O'Farrell arrived today from Blackwell's (an excellent non-Amazon source of books from Britain). It has illustrations by Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzini on nearly every page, the sort of thing I have loved since childhood. Looks like a good bedtime story now that the holidays are over—and, yes, I do have a stack of presents-to-myself books to carry me through January. Happy reading, one and all!
As the year wanes and fireside reading appeals, I take pleasure in some of my favorite fantasy novels, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings among them. A notice that the engraved medieval ring pictured here will be auctioned on November 29th tipped me off to the whole category of love rings or poesy rings—rings with inscriptions meant to be enhanced by being worn against the skin. This one, for instance, has a French inscription that can be translated, "As I hold your faith, hold mine." Rather different from Sauron's ring! Yet I suspect Tolkien had seen such things and bent them to imaginative use. For another example, click here. For a goldsmith's history of "posy rings," click here. And for a collection of medieval rings at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, click here.
Artist Karrie Fransman and her husband, IT guy Jonathan Plackett, collaborated on Gender Swapped Fairy Tales. He devised an algorithm to swap the genders of characters in fairy tales. She illustrated the results. To learn how two creative people work together, check out the video at the link above. It's charming and just might stimulate your own work.
A muddy ford where a small rill crosses a green track in Wales—on Bilbo and Frodo's birthday, it calls to my mind a tramp across the Shire, with maybe a distant vision of The Mountain. Or taking a different but related tack, one of the green roads maintained by Wend in Diana Wynne Jones's Crown of Dalemark. Less fancifully, the picture is a reminder of just how much very small features of the landscape give specificity to places.
A friend of mine is something of an expert on Alexander the Great in history and legend, so references to him always catch my eye. Then there are dragons, one of my special interests—along with illustration, of course. Medieval comic strip, anyone? In the story depicted here, Olympias, the wife of Philip of Macedon, is seduced by a sorcerer named Nectanebo, who comes to her in the shape of a dragon. Result? According to this illuminator anyway, a little hatchling Alexander! For the story in full, click here.
A story I'm working on is set in an imaginary world based loosely on Renaissance France and Tudor England. So why show you a drawing of Florence? Well, because my capital city has three bridges, one of which is built over with shops and houses. Images like this help me to visualize what my characters see, whether they illustrate exactly what I have in mind or not. In this case, I'm pleased by the representation both of buildings and a glimpse of the surrounding countryside. It helps me with scale as I send my characters up the river, over the bridge, and into neighborhoods on either side.
Image via MetMuseum
I don't need to write a blog post about what fantasy I read as a child and how it affected me because Theodora Goss's post, Deep Magic, does it for us both. I discovered her work through a narrative poem, "The Dragons" in The Book of Dragons (2020), in which a lawyer is rescued from a life of tedium by a clutch of baby dragons left on her porch. Now I'm reading Goss's Snow White Learns Witchcraft, twists on traditional fairy tales (love the idea of the princess who herself turns into a frog when she kisses one). Coming next? The Collected Enchantments. My advice? Dive in anywhere.