The Reader

Her parents had no money to waste on books. Electricity and water bills arrived every couple of months, food had to be bought, not to mention stuff to clean the house and clothes with. Raising a child wasn’t cheap. 

When she turned twelve, she discovered ‘pocket money’. All the other children at school seemed to have it and had had it for years. They laughed at her for not knowing what it was. So did her cousins. 

Grabbing courage with two shaking hands, the child timidly went to her mother, and asked about it. After weeks of consultations – days and days of walking on tiptoe, of ‘being good or you can forget any pocket-money’, it was decided. Father gave mother money every week to buy food. She in turn would give the child two Maltese lira a week out of the food money. If she was good. And did as she was told. And did not ‘answer back’.

That money was her life-line. All it took was three weeks. Maybe four. And with her carefully saved hoard she could finally buy a book. One book. 

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The lady at the shop saw her every week. Maybe twice or three times each week even. Peering assiduously at the shelves. Hair tucked back. Pinching shoes forgotten as glistening eyes devoured each and every corner. Reading the book titles over and over again. Touching the pages, looking at the spines and covers. And of course, the blurps at the back. She must have known the sequencing of all the books on all the shelves by heart. And by the fourth week, when the price of the chosen book had been reached, the money would be handed over, as would the much awaited paper-wrapped treasure.

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In her room, she would unwrap it slowly, marveling at its heavenly smell. That particular scent of new paper and stationery. First, she’d introduce it to the other books, then the soft toys, one by one, each one by name. And finally, with a flourish, she’d present it to the room in general, imagining ovations and applause as the new addition to the small family was placed in its particularly chosen spot.

Then she would wait.

She waited for her father to go out. For her mother to be engrossed in one of her soaps on the T.V or in some long-winded conversation on the telephone. Then, and only then, would she crack the book’s spine.

And be lost.

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Re-reading Narnia – Misogynistic but Pleasant

It’s 2018 and I’m sick in bed. For a change. 2017 was characterized with health problems and currently, 2018 doesn’t look to be much different. On the bright side, this gives me more time to read (and watch K-dramas).

Being in the mood for Xmassy children’s books to end the year, at the end of 2017 I started re-reading the Narnia books. I hadn’t read them in years and having purchased a second hand quasi-new copy at a very good price, thought this the perfect opportunity to do so.

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If you have only watched the Narnia movies, you have missed a lot. In case you did not know this, there are a total of 7 Narnia books (and only 3 movies). Speaking of the movies, the first movie to come out, and the most famous of the Narnia books, is ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Although most people believe this to be the first book in the Narnia series, it is actually the second, that is, in Narnian chronological order. Let me explain – the American published Narnia books number the series in order of publication. And in that case, yes the ‘Wardrobe’ book would be the first one. C.S Lewis himself however, preferred to look at the books chronologically, meaning that ‘The Magician’s Nephew’ is to be considered the first book, which is how UK publishing houses do it.

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I myself own a UK version of the box series (thank the Goddess), in which the books are numbered chronologically, which is how I prefer to read them. This means that the books should be read like this:

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Movie No. 1)
  3. Prince Caspian (Movie No. 2)
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Movie No. 3)
  5. The Horse and his Boy
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

While books 2, 3 and 4, which were made into movies, tackle the adventures of the Pevensie children in Narnia, the other books concern other main characters. The Pevensie children feature in these books sometimes as well, but they mostly do this as Kings and Queens of Narnia and they are not the main characters.

I love the books HOWEVER there are some things which bug the hell out of me. For example, no one can deny that almost every book treats the female gender as though it was made of glass. This mentality is not surprising since the author was writing these books in the 1950s, however reading sentences like ‘it is a sad day when women must go to war’ really irritates me. War is ALWAYS terrible, no matter who actually fights in it. Also, why are the boys always given swords and weapons, while the girls have to make do with bows and small daggers, or even face seriously scary foes with no weapons at all??

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As author Philip Pullman himself writes, these books are ‘monumentally disparaging of girls and women’. And what about the baddies who always seem to be powerful women who have gotten ‘above themselves’ defying the patriarchal institution of Aslan? I am of course talking about the White Witch and the Lady of the Green Kirtle. Prince Caspian’s wife, another powerful woman, is not even given a name in the series! The only ways she is referred to is as someone’s daughter or someone’s wife! Very disturbing to say the least!

That being said, another thing which irritates me is the whole Aslan – Jesus metaphor, but that’s just me and it is mostly portrayed in the last book… at least in my perspective since I tried to ignore it as much as possible till the end, and considered the whole thing as fantasy.

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Apart from that, re-reading the series was a blast, and I also discovered echoes of Neil Gaiman, which leads me to believe that the series must have inspired Gaiman to write and develop certain ideas, such as the star-woman concept in ‘Stardust’ for example.

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After Alice by Gregory Maguire – Review

We all know The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. Penned by Oxford Professor Lewis Carroll (whose real name was actually Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) in 1865, this quirky children’s fantasy has inspired multitudes of adaptations, movies, artworks, music and even fashion styles.

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Having been an avid fan and reader of Gregory Maguire ever since I read his novel Wicked, which had inspired the popular musical, and his Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, which is an adaptation of Cinderella, I immediately jumped at the chance to read his latest work, After Alice. As is apparent from the title itself, the story is inspired in part by Carroll’s Adventures in Wonderland, and yet, Alice is NOT in fact the narrator or the main character.

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We meet Ada, Alice’s neighbor, who was in fact very briefly mentioned by Alice herself in the eponymous tale. Ada is a troubled child, constrained by Victorian precepts and tenets and by her unconventional household. In hushed whispers, we hear that her mother is a drunk and possibly suffering from postnatal depression. Her father, the Vicar, scarcely takes any notice of her, her baby brother is a squalling brat, and her governess is a simpering fool. In short, Ada has to fend for herself. Her only friend is Alice, whom, Ada discovers, has disappeared.

Maguire paints a very vivid picture of Victorian England. On the one hand, we travel with a surprised Ada to Wonderland, trying to catch up with Alice whilst encountering the consequences of her passage. On the other hand, we also meet Lydia, Alice’s older sister, throughout whose eyes we face such issues as the slave trade, women’s rights, and the British Victorian mentality. Fantasy is interposed with reality in a very interesting narrative. Picturesque and informative, Maguire’s style is nostalgic to Carroll’s, and yet totally his own.

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Now for the negative part – I must be honest, I have mixed feelings regarding this novel. I started reading it with very high expectations, having previously already been wowed by Maguire’s fairytale adaptations, his ingenuity, creativity and whimsical perspective. Also, being an avid Alice in Wonderland aficionado, I generally try to read, watch, or purchase anything related to my favorite fairytale. While Maguire’s story was marvellously written and illuminating with regards to Victorian society and beliefs, I found it sadly lacking with regards to the Wonderland part of the narrative.

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Carroll’s iconic Wonderland is spectacularly special because it simply makes no sense. As the Cheshire Cat once maintains in Alice in Wonderland, “We are all mad here.” And that is the beauty of Wonderland and the point of fantasy and fairytales – they’re not realistic, because they don’t have to be. Maguire on the other hand, tries to make sense of Wonderland, introducing puns and explanations where none are needed. Wherever he cannot find an explanation, he merely copies characters, situations and almost entire dialogues from Carroll’s original novel.

This article has been published on EVE.COM.MT – If you want to read the complete review, please goto – http://www.eve.com.mt/2016/12/18/after-alice-a-book-review/