The Magician’s Land

magicianslandcoverWritten by Lev Grossman; published 2014.

The Magician’s Land is the final book in a trilogy written by Lev Grossman. I read and reviewed the first two books a few years ago (The Magicians and The Magician King) and loved them both. I was thrilled to finish up the trilogy and was even more thrilled by how well it finished.

The Magicians trilogy unashamedly rips off two of the big fantasy stories, Harry Potter and Narnia. We first meet Quentin Coldwater as a brilliant and cynical teenager who is invited to attend Brakebills, a college in upstate New York that teaches magic to the best of the best of American students. The second half of The Magicians takes place in Fillory (a Narnia-like fantasy land), as Quentin and his friends discover Fillory, save it and become its rulers. The Magician King takes place primarily in Fillory where Quentin and his old friend Julia are needed to save Fillory from the loss of magic. The end of the book finds Quentin banished from Fillory and sent back to Earth. It’s a bittersweet ending and a bit of a cliffhanger- Quentin has been obsessed with Fillory since he was a child. What is he to do now that he no longer has it?

So The Magician’s Land begins about 6 months after the end of The Magician King. Quentin is back on Earth and, after a short stint as a Brakebills professor, agrees to help steal a briefcase with ties to Fillory and the Chatwin children that first discovered the magical land. It’s a excellent book, and probably the best of the trilogy, that wraps up the story lines of all the major characters. I know that many readers found Quentin and his friends to be obnoxious, selfish, and self-absorbed, but that was actually one of my favorite things about this series. It gets a little boring when fantasy heroes tend to be either lone wolf types with a heart of gold or else they are nobodies that actually turn out to be super special and the only ones that can save the world. But here we’ve got characters that are just as messed up and fallible as, well, normal, real life people. This was the first book I’ve read in a long time that I wanted to keep reading until I finished it.

I would love to hear what other people thought of this book or the entire trilogy!

The Turnip Princess

Almost exactly three years, I wrote about the discovery of a collection of previously unknown fairy tales by Franz Xaver von Schonwerth. At the time, a small collection had been published in German but there was no word on when an English translation would become available. But I just found out a paperback collection of 72 of the tales was published this past February and it is now available to purchase! That is very exciting news. I hope to purchase a copy for myself soon and look forward to adding new fairy tales to my repertoire. The book is of course available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and probably anywhere else that sells new books.

PrincessTurnip

Here is a review from NPR: It’s All Charm and Wolves in “The Turnip Princess”

Here’s a review from the Washington Post: A newly discovered trove of unknown fairy tales: “The Turnip Princess”

And here’s a story from the collection called “Tricking the Witch” that was originally published on the Slate Book Review.

An evil witch kidnapped three princesses and would not set them free. While they were in captivity, the girls learned a few magic tricks from the witch.

One day a young prince lost his way in the woods, and the two-faced witch welcomed him warmly, but she was actually plotting to kill him that night.

Although the princesses were not allowed to speak, the youngest of the three, Reinhilda, alerted the prince to the perils facing him. She had taken a liking to him, and she whispered in his ear: “When the old woman takes you to your room, don’t step on the threshold but jump over it! When she gives you something to drink for the night, don’t touch it because it will be a sleeping potion. Don’t sleep in the bed but under it. Leave everything else to me!”

After dinner the witch took the stranger up the stairs to his bedroom, and the youngest of the three sisters lit the way with her candle. The young man jumped over the threshold, and when the witch handed him something to drink, the candle went out, as if by accident. The prince poured the brew into his boot and settled down to sleep under the bed. Later that night the princess woke the prince up and fled with him using the magic she had learned while in captivity.

The two were able to soar through the air, but just as the day was dawning, Reinhilda realized that they were being followed. And indeed the witch, as soon as she had woken up, had known exactly what had happened with the prince and the youngest of the three princesses. She had sent one of the two other princesses out to catch her and bring her back.

It looked as if the two were about to be caught, when the princess said: “I’m going to change into a rosebush, and I’ll turn you into a rose. My sister is chasing us, and she won’t be able to do a thing because she can’t stand the smell of roses.” Just when the girl was closing in on them, a fragrant rosebush sprang up right in her path with a magnificent rose in bloom. The girl had been tricked, and she had to turn back. The witch scolded her to no end. “You stupid girl,” she grumbled angrily. “If you had just plucked the rose, the bush would have followed.” And then she sent the eldest of the three to find the two fugitives.

In the meantime the couple returned to their human shapes, and they continued on their way. Reinhilda turned around at one point, and she saw that they were still being pursued. She decided to take advantage of her magic powers again, and she said to the prince: “I’m going to turn myself into a church, and you are going to climb up into the pulpit and hold a stern sermon about witches and their sinister magic.”

When the third sister caught up with the pair and was just about to overtake them, she suddenly found herself near a church, and right there in the pulpit was a preacher raging against witches and their black magic. The sister returned, and when the old woman asked her what she had seen, she said: “I could see her from a distance, but when I reached the spot where she had been, there was nothing but a church there with a preacher denouncing witches.”

“Oh, you foolish thing!” the old woman said. “If only you had just shoved the preacher out of the pulpit, the church would have come back with you. Now I have to go after them. Well, they don’t stand a chance against me.”

The princess resumed her natural form, but now the old woman was chasing the two of them, and she was hot on their trail. “My magic is not as powerful as a witch’s,” Reinhilda said to her beloved. “Give me your sword. I’m going to turn myself into a pond and you will become a duck. Just stay in the middle of the pond, no matter how much the old woman tries to lure you to come on shore. Otherwise we will be lost.”

The old woman did what she could to bring the duck on land, using terms of endearment and throwing tasty morsels on the water, all in vain. The duck stayed in the middle of the pond and would not paddle any closer. Then the old woman climbed to the top of a dam in the pond and drank every drop of water in sight. The princess was now in the belly of the witch. She turned back into a human and cut the witch open from inside with the sword the prince had given to her. The witch was now as dead as a doornail.

The loving couple were reunited and in safety. The princess gave her hand to the prince at the altar, and the two lived happily together with the sisters, who had been freed from the spell.

The Magicians on Syfy

Exciting news!

I’m a big fan of Lev Grossman’s books The Magicians and The Magician King. They’re both really wonderful, dark books and take an adult look at some of children’s fantasy favorite topics (learning magic, traveling to other worlds). As The Magician King ended with somewhat of a cliffhanger (kind of?), I’ve been looking forward to the release of the third book in the trilogy for some time. And I found out recently that it’s coming! The Magician’s Land will be officially released on August 5 and is already available for pre-ordering on Amazon.

TheMagiciansLand

In additional really good news related to the Magicians trilogy, the first book, The Magicians, has been picked up by Syfy to make a series. Hooray! Apparently this has happened before with Fox and nothing really came of it but this time it seems pretty serious. So here’s hoping! This could be a great show if done well. Read the article on acquiring the pilot here.

And if you haven’t yet, you might try and get your hands on a copy of Grossman’s short story “The Girl in the Mirror”. I’m sure it won’t be necessary to enjoying the plot of the The Magician’s Land, but extra back story never hurts, right? I know it can be found in the Dangerous Women compilation of stories edited by George R. R. Martin, which is full of stories from other fantastic authors. Check your library for it!

And it never hurts to add: Lev Grossman is very active on twitter and always posts information there for his fans. He’s worth following.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland

GirlwhoCircumnavigatedFairylandCoverHave you ever known someone who you should be best friends with? As in, on the surface, this person has everything in common with you? They like the same things, they read the same books, they listen to the same music. But for some reason, you just don’t mesh well together. Why is this? Because this seems to be the case with me and Catherynne Valente.

I began hearing about Valente sometime last year because of her book The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Well, Fairyland! I thought. That sounds interesting. And eventually I read her book Deathless. It was good, but not great, and it made me wonder if I would actually like Fairyland. So I finally got the book from the library to read and I’m now wondering why it is so popular.

There is so much about this book that I should love. September is a twelve year old girl living in Nebraska who is taken into Fairyland. Once there, she is left on her own and begins a series of adventures that ultimately lead her into direct conflict with the current ruler of Fairyland. Along the way she makes friends with a wyvern (like a dragon but not quite) and a marid, as well as getting help from fairies, spriggans, panthers and various other sentient creatures. The story owes an obvious debt to old Victorian morality and fairy tales but has a healthy dose of modernness to it.

So why don’t I love this book? I really can’t say. It’s not the first time this has happened- I never could get into the Inkheart books by Cornelia Funke. Valente’s tone bothers me a bit, as it did with Deathless. She seems to patronize a bit and whether that’s intentional or not, I can’t tell. And everything seems so…precious. I don’t really know any other way to explain it. Half the time I’m trying to enjoy the story I just end up rolling my eyes. I also have a hard time connecting or caring about many of the characters.

There is a sequel recently published, also saddled with a horribly cumbersome title: The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There. Will I read it? Probably. But I fear I’m just setting myself up for another disappointingly flat tale.

The 10th Kingdom

Part of my job involves selecting new A/V materials for the library system I work for. I’m part of the committee that chooses new CDs, audiobooks, DVDs, etc. and I love that it gives me a heads up about new things coming out and specifically what’s coming to our library. As I was looking through one of our supplier’s catalogs, I happened to notice this one: The 10th Kingdom.

Oh my goodness. Guys. I love The 10th Kingdom. I’ve been thinking a lot about it for the past year or two, probably due to the influence of watching Once Upon A Time, but I’ve been unable to find it. Netflix was not carrying it, copies on Amazon were exorbitantly expensive, and our old VHS copies from home were not even an option (I don’t own a TV, much less a VCR!). But it has recently been re-released on DVD and Amazon copies are now an entirely affordable $6. Or check your local Target! They’re not selling it online but they do have some copies available in store for a dollar less and the benefit of immediate gratification! (Or if you’re super cheap and lazy, apparently the whole thing is available on youtube. Did I know this before? Maybe. But somehow the idea of sitting in front of a computer to watch a 7 hour miniseries seems horribly unappealing.)

Basically, here’s the story: Virginia and her father Tony share an apartment in the building he takes care of. Virginia’s mother left them some years before and they have not heard from her since. They discover a magic mirror that transports them to the fairy tale kingdoms we have all heard so much about. We meet all kinds of fairy tale characters like trolls, charming princes, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Bo-Peep, Snow White, and so on. It’s probably been 10 years since I last saw the show but I still remember how much fun it was and what a good story it had to tell. So tonight? I’m heading to the store. I’ve got a long (rainy) weekend coming up and this seems like a pretty good way to spend it.

Happy Independence Day, American friends!

The Beauty of the Illustrated Word

It’s no secret that I love beautiful art and, especially, beautiful book illustrations. I’m a fan of Susan Cooper on Facebook (the author of the fantastic The Dark is Rising sequence) and she occasionally posts information about new editions of the books. A few months ago, new editions from the Folio Society caught my eye. Once I went to the website to explore their other offerings I was quickly sucked into the beauty of their editions.

In their own words, The Folio Society believes that “great books should be outstanding not only in literary content but also in their physical form: this has been the philosophy of The Folio Society since it was founded in 1947 by Charles Ede, with a dream of publishing beautiful books that would be affordable to everyone.” At $40 plus for most of the books, these editions are, unfortunately, out of my purchasing range. I encourage you to visit the website and drool over the books though. And if you’re in a generous mood, let me know! I will send my wishlist to you immediately.

Some highlights from the books (click on the picture for more info on the book and more pictures):

HisDarkMaterials

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman;
Illustrations by Peter Bailey

HitchhikersGuide

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams;
Illustrations by Jonathan Burton

ArabianNights

The Arabian Nights;
Illustrations by Edward J. Detmold

BackNorthWind

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald;
Illustrations by Maria L. Kirk

NarniaBynes

From The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis;
Illustrations by Pauline Baynes

DarkisRising

From The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper;
Illustrations by Laura Carlin

Pinocchio

Pinocchio translated by Mary Alice Murray;
Illustrations by Grahame Baker-Smith

OliveFairyBook

From The Olive Fairy Book by Andrew Lang;
Illustrations by Kate Baylay

MerlinOnceFutureKing

The Once and Future King by T. H. White;
Illustrations by John Lawrence

PerraultsFairyBook

From Perrault’s Fairy Tales;
Illustrations by Edmund Dulac

LOTREowynills

From The Lord of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien;
Illustrations by Ingahild Grathmer

HobbitSmaug

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien;
Illustrations by Eric Fraser

Yikes. Maybe I went overboard a little bit. But so many beautiful illustrations! Oh and in light of that last one have y’all seen the new Hobbit trailer yet?

The Future of Dreams

Whilst perusing the Internet the other day, I stumbled upon this article: Neuroscientists successfully control the dreams of rats. Could humans be next? Seems pretty terrifying to me. But it did get me thinking about two movies that I absolutely love.

Paprika

I remember when this movie came out in theaters and, reading the reviews, thought it was something that I would really want to see. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to watch it until several years later when I happened to catch it at a local anime convention. It was just as good as I was hoping.

Directed by Satoshi Kon, Paprika tells the story of a psychotherapist who uses her alter-ego (named Paprika) to help patients with their problems through dream therapy. One of her colleagues invents a device that could revolutionize the process, but when one of the prototypes gets stolen, it becomes clear very quickly how dangerous the devices are in the wrong hands. Beautifully made with an excellent soundtrack, Paprika is definitely worth watching. Be warned though, some of the movie is unsettling and this is not a movie for children. To whet your appetite, here are the opening credits:

 

Inception

I’ve heard a lot that Inception is a copy of Paprika. I disagree. I’d be willing to bet that Chirstopher Nolan is a fan of Paprika, but beyond the fact that both movies deal with the manipulation of dreams, I personally don’t see much similarity between the movies (Disclaimer: it has been a year or two since I last saw Paprika. I would welcome examples proving me wrong on this).

Most likely, you’ve seen the movie. But in case you haven’t, Dom Cobb used to be incredibly skilled in dream espionage. After a personal tragedy, Cobb has been on the run until he is offered the chance of a lifetime: Inception. If Cobb can successfully implant an idea into his employer’s business rival, his employer will see that Cobb is given the only thing he wants: to go home. Possibly featuring the most handsome ensemble cast EVER, Inception also lays claim to one of the most amazing fight scenes I’ve ever seen.

 

So. Paprika and Inception may just be sci-fi/fantasy movies, but considering the original article, they certainly seem a lot more disturbing don’t they?