Archive for June, 2012

Tea with the Black Dragon by R.A. MacAvoy ~1983. This edition: Bantam, 1987. Paperback. ISBN: 0-553-23205-3. 166 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

My first introduction to contemporary fantasy writer Roberta Ann (R.A.) MacAvoy was through her alternative world fantasy, Lens of the World (1990). That novel was so satisfactory that I went on to seek out the other two books in the Nazhuret trilogy, King of the Dead (1991) and The Belly of the Wolf (1993).

Now actively chasing down MacAvoy’s work, I was more than pleased with her lone science fiction attempt, the imaginative The Third Eagle (1989), and her epic alternative-Renaissance fantasy trilogy published in 1983-84: Damiano, Damiano’s Lute, and Raphael. Then followed the Celtic-themed  The Grey Horse (1987), and The Book of Kells (1985).

Eventually, going back to the beginning at the end, as it were,  I finally read MacAvoy’s 1983 debut novel (and likely her best-known work), Tea with the Black Dragon, and its 1986 companion, Twisting the Rope.

Then, after that creative 1983-1993 decade, nothing, except for a brief 2005 novella, The Go-Between (re-published in slightly different form in 2009 as In Between), both of which I have sporadically searched for but so far have been unable to obtain.

Doing another routine online search this past month hoping to perhaps come across a printed copy of either of those titles, MacAvoy’s name lit up the page. She’s back in the game, with a brand-new full-length novel: Death and Resurrection, December 2011, in softcover or ebook from fantasy, science fiction and “cross-genre” publisher, Prime Books. Death and Resurrection apparently includes The Go-Between as its first episode, so I can now neatly round off my to-date R.A. MacAvoy collection.

Bibliographical introduction over, I will now focus (briefly! – I need to learn to condense these rambling reviews somewhat – I do tend to run on) on Tea with the Black Dragon, which I have just re-read for the somethingth time with the usual quiet enjoyment. It is not my favourite MacAvoy work by a long shot – that position is jointly filled by Lens of the World and The Third Eagle, which I cannot choose between – I love them both equally for very different reasons – but a few hours spent with Oolong and Martha is never a bad thing.

The internet abounds with longer reviews so anything I say will have already been said, and often much more cleverly, elsewhere. Here is my take.

Middle-aged Martha Macnamara, classical violinist turned Celtic fiddler, has been sent for by her grown daughter, Elizabeth (Liz), with an urgent request for them to meet and talk.

Landing in San Francisco after her flight “racing the sun” from New York, Martha is mystified to find that though her own room in a luxurious hotel is booked and paid for, her daughter has apparently vanished. Not sure how to proceed, and not knowing anything of the pressing concern which Liz wanted to share, Martha falls into an acquaintanceship with a mysterious silk-suited, Eurasian-appearing older gentleman staying at the same hotel, one Mayland Long.

An immediate positive chemistry results, and the two are off on a quest to find Liz which results in a delving into the fledgling 1980s’ computer subculture of Southern California, and encounters with several unlikely gun-toting villains.

More of a suspense thriller than a classic fantasy, the world of Black Dragon is instantly recognizable, if somewhat dated by its 1980s’ references. The fantasy element comes into play as we find out that the mysterious Mr. Long is (perhaps?) the human form of an ancient Chinese Imperial Dragon, with unexpected but rather useful abilities.

An unlikely but perfectly satisfying love story is at the heart of this novel, and that is what we are left with, long after the rather forgettable computer-fraud plot and gunshots and car chases are forgotten. Intriguing Zen references (Martha is a zazen practitioner; Mayland has a long history of association with Buddhist Zen masters) added to the quirky tone (in the very best sense) of the story.

Very much a first novel, with the expected flaws, but there is a certain something about this story that keeps it close to the front of the book stacks. In interview, MacAvoy has said that plot does not interest her as much as characterization and conversation. One can definitely see that in all of her books, what gaps there are tend to be plot-related, nowhere quite as evident, though, as in Black Dragon; the plot is decidedly contrived, and it is interesting to see how this author has dealt with her predilection to concentrate on character in her subsequent novels.

This novel seems to have a very strong fan base on internet book review sites; a bit puzzling as there is not much there; it’s a slender piece of  what might be classified as “urban fantasy” mixed with old-style “thriller”. But it shows this author’s strong promise and unique literary voice, more than fulfilled in her later works. A very thoughtful writer, with a strong sense of humour, though she unflinchingly puts her later characters into positions of deep despair and is not afraid to realistically portray tragedy.

For those of you interested in “official” opinions, Tea with the Black Dragon was nominated for the Phillip K. Dick, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards. MacAvoy won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction/Fantasy writer in 1984.

Recommended, with the reservation that this is not MacAvoy’s strongest work despite the (sometimes) gushing fan base.

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Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely.  Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
 
 
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.
 
 
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone.  They are gone to feed the roses.  Elegant and curled
Is the blossom.  Fragrant is the blossom.  I know.  But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
 
 
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.
 

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1928

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TIME

‘Established’ is a good word, much used in garden books,
‘The plant, when established’ . . .
Oh, become established quickly, quickly, garden
For I am fugitive, I am very fugitive – – –
 
Those that come after me will gather these roses,
And watch, as I do now, the white wistaria
Burst, in the sunshine, from its pale green sheath.
 
Planned. Planted. Established. Then neglected,
Till at last the loiterer by the gate will wonder
At the old, old cottage, the old wooden cottage,
And say ‘One might build here, the view is glorious;
This must have been a pretty garden once.’
 

Mary Ursula Bethell

From a Garden in the Antipodes, 1929

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The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden ~ 1975. This edition: Viking, 1976. Hardcover. 243 pages.

My rating: 7/10

Two English half-sisters are sent from boarding school in England to join their divorced U.N.-diplomat father in India.

15-year-old Una and younger sister Halcyon (Hal) are respectively gifted in mathematical ability and singing; Una in particular worries that their new Eurasian governess-teacher will not be able to teach to the standard required to qualify her for entrance to Oxford. This proves to be the case; Miss Alix Lamont turns out to have other qualities which the girls’ father, Sir Edward Gwithiam, has chosen her for; namely her beauty and personal charms. He is openly infatuated with Alix, and the girls’ presence is meant to give a plausible reason for her inclusion in his household.

Una and Alix find themselves in the position of jockeying for position in Sir Edward’s affections; Alix is strongly entrenched, and Sir Edward intends to marry her. Una, smarting from her father’s rejection (she was always his confidante, but he has distanced himself from both of his daughters since Alix gained his interest), becomes involved with Ravi, a young Indian gardener on attached to the U.N. estate, who is actually a well-born Brahmin student in hiding for his part in a violent political protest. Meanwhile, Hal has become infatuated with the son of a deposed Rajah, Vikram, who is in turn in love with Alix. This seething mass of emotional undercurrents leads to Una’s disastrous flight with Ravi and the laying bare and reworking of all of the relationships thus involved.

Quite a well-done story; generally plausible and sympathetically told. All characters are well-developed and complex, and are treated very fairly by their author in that we see the multiple facets of their personalities and fully understand their motivations. The ending is quite realistic, though not perhaps what one could call “happy”; the various characters move out of our vision with these particular issues resolved but many more looming. All in all I thought it was one of Godden’s better coming-of-age novels; I enjoyed it more than I initially thought I would from the reviews I had read.

Suitable for young adult to adult. Frank but not explicit sexual content including extramarital relationships and the sexual involvement between a schoolgirl and an older man; pregnancy and abortion are discussed though mostly by implication. Rumer Godden in this novel has kept abreast of the times; she was 69 when this novel was published and though a bit dated here and there the tone is generally contemporary.

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Spring Came on Forever by Bess Streeter Aldrich ~ 1935. This edition: D. Appleton-Century Company, 1935. Hardcover. 333 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

Nebraska writer Bess Streeter Aldrich, 1881-1954, was well-known for her portrayals of Mid-West American pioneer days. Her novels and short stories generally featured strong heroines who met adversity with grace and strength. Aldrich herself knew tribulation and great grief; widowed suddenly at 44 with a family of young children in the midst of the Great Depression, she supported her family with her writing.

Spring Came on Forever is a tale of missed chances and second choices. It follows star-crossed lovers Matthias Meier and Amalia Holmsdorfer as they fall in love, are separated by circumstance, and marry other people. Their descendents’ lives are eventually intertwined, bringing their youthful tragedy to a gently satisfying, much happier conclusion, though they themselves are not aware that they started the chain of events.

Aldrich excels at illustrating the march of progress through the years; her characters both embrace and lament time’s changes; the good and the bad are matter-of-factly portrayed.

An excerpt from the Vachel Lindsay poem The Chinese Nightingale gives the novel its title:

“Years on years I but half-remember…
Man is a torch, then ashes soon,
May and June, then dead December,
Dead December, then again June.
Who shall end my dream’s confusion?
Life is a loom, weaving illusion…
 
One thing, I remember:
Spring came on forever,
Spring came on forever,”
Said the Chinese nightingale.
 

Though often predictable and occasionally straying into melodrama, Aldrich’s novels are quiet works of everday people dealing with the everyday problems. Encouraging and supportive of the trials and rewards of wifehood and motherhood, her novels are as much loved by readers today as when they were published in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. While realistic regarding tragedy and disappointment, Aldrich always highlighted the deep and quiet joys of womanhood, and the inner rewards of “keeping on” through difficult times.

Spring definitely has some flaws as a literary work. The characters are sometimes a bit one-dimensional, and so much is packed into a relatively short story that the years whip by at lightning speed with only small vignettes to mark the many stages of the protagonists’ journeys. However, those vignettes are well presented enough to give us a clear understanding of events as they unfold; by the end of the novel the whole story is spread out before us in all its interweavings, rather like the patchwork quilts Amalia crafts with such care.

An old-fashioned writer of old-fashioned tales, Bess Streeter Aldrich’s often-poignant words still resonate today, particularily with those of us past our first youth and embroiled in our own family affairs. Not to everyone’s taste; a sophisticated modern reader may dismiss Aldrich’s sometimes dated style and storylines; but there are rewards hidden in the pages of her tales for those with the temperament to appreciate them.

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The New Moon with the Old by Dodie Smith ~ 1963. This edition: Atlantic – Little, Brown, 1963. Hardcover. 367 pages.

My rating: 6.5/10

I have just laid down The New Moon with the Old with something like a delicate revulsion; I am subsequently wrestling with the dilemma of how best to describe this fantastic tale. “Fantastic” in this case meaning contrived and highly improbable.

That said, damning as it is, I’m going to keep this book, and I know I will re-read it, both to give it a second chance to redeem my first impression of its awfulness and because, despite that very awfulness, it has frequent moments of a quite appealing charm and clever turns of phrase that almost (almost!) redeem the awefully (fantastically!) bad bits.

Confused yet? If so, we’re on the same page.

Dodie Smith’s first novel, I Capture the Castle, is, in my frank opinion, more than a minor masterpiece of the “light novel” genre. There is so much that I like about that work that I have been eager to get my hands on some of Smith’s other, much more obscure titles, hoping that they would have something of the same delicate touch and deep appeal of Castle.  Sadly, New Moon did not meet expectations.

The New Moon with the Old is set in contemporary times, the early 1960s, though the heady atmosphere of that change-filled era is nowhere apparent in the story. A young woman, Jane Minton, has just been engaged as an assistant to wealthy Rupert Carrington. Her duties will be to act as occasional secretary and general overseer of the domestic arrangements at his country home, Dome House. Also in residence are Rupert’s four children: 14-year-old schoolgirl Merry, who is actively planning a stellar acting career; 20-year-old Drew, an aspiring “Edwardian-era” novelist; twenty-something Clare, unsure of her natural bent but toying with the romantic idea of being a “mistress to a king”; and slightly older Richard, a musician and neophyte composer. Two devoted elderly sisters acting as cook and general maid round out the cast of characters.

Jane arrives at Dome House and is immediately impressed by the quiet luxury which surrounds her. Absentee lord of the manor Rupert is more than generous in his provision for his dependents, but this is very soon to change. On her first full day in residence, alone in the house, Jane is surprised by Rupert’s sudden clandestine appearance. He hurriedly explains that there is suddenly no more money to pay for his family’s luxurious lifestyle, and he asks her (or, rather, she spontaneously volunteers, due to her unspoken crush on Rupert) to look after the young Carringtons and try to launch them into their careers. Rupert himself is about to flee the country to avoid prosecution for some undefined financial transgression related to his handling of his clients’ affairs. Jane, who fell in love at first sight with Rupert at her job interview and now welcomes a chance to openly show her rather sudden devotion, jumps in to the situation cheerfully, going so far as to seek outside employment so she can assist with Dome House’s operating costs.

After this sketchy set-up, the story continues as a series of multi-chapter interludes, following each Carrington as he or she attempts to pursue each driving ambition, or, in Clare’s case, to find an ambition to pursue.

The characterizations of Jane, Rupert, and the two maids are extremely superficial; the author insists on telling rather than showing the reasons for their actions, and, in the case of Jane and the maids, their over-the-top dedication to a rather offhand employer and his ineffectual, over-indulged (though endlessly sweet and charming) brood. The four young Carringtons are better presented; we do get more of a chance to get inside their heads as we follow them on their precipitous fledgling flights from Dome House.

The story takes off (as much as it ever does) with the first decision by the youngest child (Merry) to seek her fortune elsewhere. The adventures of Merry and her three siblings  are rather unusual and require a serious suspension of disbelief from the reader. New Moon’s world is one in which love at first sight is a commonplace, and serendipity and coincidence reign supreme. Great wealth, often unsuspected, abounds to save the questing characters from more than superficial worry and discomfort.

This collection of vignettes is tacked together by visits back to Dome House to see how Jane, the maids, and the rest of the family are making out; as the characters move out of their downy nest they generally fall into others even more generously feathered, much to this reader’s perpetual annoyance.

Near the end of the novel,  after waiting in vain  for the whole thing to jell into something a little more cohesive, the author did provide a spot of conversation between several of the main characters wherein they admit their own anachronistic traits, and poke a bit of fun at themselves. This went far with me to renew my flagging interest. I thought, “Aha! Dodie Smith realizes what a mess these people are, and she’s deliberately allowing them this exposition with a view to a stronger, more artistically satisfying and marginally more realistic ending.” But it was not to be.

By the novel’s end, everyone is neatly paired off with a friendly and/or romantic interest; everyone has found a solution to their financial woes. Though reasonably open-ended, the conclusion is quite clear in its optimistic tone for all concerned, most appropriate to this fluffy little fairytale.

I see that this title, as well as two others, The Town in Bloom and It Ends with Revelations, have been reissued in March, 2012. If the other two titles are at all like The New Moon with the Old in tone and complexity (or lack thereof) I would think that here we have nothing more than a trio of nice little beach or lawn chair reads, of value for several hours of light entertainment and inventive nostalgia.

The New Moon with the Old serves to display the perfection of I Capture the Castle as a diamond among literary rhinestones. Rhinestones being pretty enough for a bit of shine and dazzle, as long as they aren’t confused with the genuine thing!

And a bit of a heads-up here for the reader expecting a story as morally upright as I Capture the Castle turns out to be. New Moon shows Dodie Smith in a much more laissez-faire moral mood. She uses as a rather feeble plot device Rupert Carrington’s financial dishonesty, and she ignores the reality that his actions have doubtlessly injured many innocent parties; she offhandedly arranges for him to be bailed out of his disgrace by a wealthy connection who can afford the best lawyers and counsel; and her characters have surprisingly permissive views on sex and sexual arrangements. One of the most off-putting passages (to me) was near the story’s conclusion where Jane is scorned for her “frigidity” concerning extramarital sex: “No wonder she hasn’t been able to catch a man!” is implied. But I wasn’t shocked so much by the sophistication of the characters’ amoral sex lives as by their offhand acceptance of the “easy ride” that money brings; all concerned seem quite happy to act as sweetly smiling and endlessy charming parasites on various wealth-engorged hosts.

A strange little novel in so many ways.

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Stories to Remember, Volumes I & II, selected by Thomas B. Costain & John Beecroft ~ 1956. This edition: Doubleday, 1956. Hardcover. Volume I – 409 pages. Volume II – 504 pages.

My rating: 10/10. Excellent anthologies; something for everyone.

I have read the companion Stories to Remember  volumes many times over the years. This anthology was purchased new by my mother in 1956, likely through her long-time Doubleday Book Club involvement, and was some of the first “adult” material I dipped into as I expanded my childhood reading horizons. I still have the original books, and now my own family, adults & teens, re-read and enjoy them. And yes, I remember most, if not all, of the selections with deep fondness!

Looking at this collection with a critical eye 56 years after its publication, I fully suspect that some of the selections might no longer appeal to the average modern audience – would a typical 2012 teenager even “get”, or more to the point, even want to “get” many of the societal and historical references in Alexandre Dumas’ Man Who Lived Four Thousand Years, or Maugham’s Lord Mountdrago? –  but there is enough good stuff in here to keep any reader engaged for quite some time, even if one cherry-picks their way through the collection. Overall, an interesting vintage read containing a number of familiar authors & stories, as well as an introduction (or a remembrance?) of several writers now fallen out of public notice.

I have seen these volumes numerous times in 2nd hand bookshops, generally priced very reasonably. Worth picking up for dipping into, and for leaving on the guest room nightstand, if your guests are the type to appreciate a non-electronic reading experience.

The double-column format and smallish print takes a bit of adjustment on the part of the reader; it appears that the publisher tried to squeeze as much text as possible onto each page to limit the ultimate length of the book while still providing generous content. Occasional nicely rendered realistic line drawings throughout are an attractive feature.

A nice balance of dramatic, humorous and “darker” stories; not at all a depressing collection, which cannot be said for many other short story anthologies of more recent vintage!

Volume I

  • The General’s Ring (complete novel) – Selma Lagerlöf, 1925Written by the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1909. This is the first installment in a trilogy concerning a ring given to General Bengt Löwensköld by King Karl VIII of Sweden. After requesting that the very valuable ring be buried with him, it is soon discovered that the ring has been stolen from the General’s grave, with tragic consequences to everyone who subsequently comes in contact with it. A morality tale, a ghost story, and at least one love story make up this intriguing and well-paced novella, set in eighteenth century Sweden.
  • Mowgli’s Brothers Rudyard Kipling, 1894From The Jungle Book. A lost woodcutter’s child is adopted by a wolf family in the Indian jungle.
  • The Gift of the Magi O. Henry, 1906. Most of us will remember this one, stock story of countless anthologies! Della and Jim both sell the thing they love best to buy the perfect Christmas present for each other.
  • Lord Mountdrago W. Somerset Maugham, 1939. Lord Mountdrago consults a psychiatrist to help him deal with disturbing dreams. But are they really just dreams, or is something much more sinister going on?
  • Music on the Muscatatuck and The Pacing Goose (excerpts from The Friendly Persuasion) – Jessamyn West, 1945. Quietly humorous stories concerning Quaker fruit tree nurseryman Jess Birdwell and his Quaker minister wife Eliza.
  • The BirdsDaphne du Maurier, 1952. What if all the birds in the world banded together to revenge themselves on humans for the harm done to their kind throughout their shared history? Chilling. 
  • The Man Who Lived Four Thousand Years (excerpt from The Queen’s Necklace) – Alexandre Dumas, 1850. Count Cagliostro, who claims to have lived four thousand years, predicts the “unbelievable” futures of a group of royals and nobles gathered to dine with Maréchal de Richelieu in 1784.
  • The Pope’s Mule Alphonse Daudet, c. 1894. The humorous fable of a good Pope’s pampered mule, who gets her revenge on a tormentor after seven years’ patient waiting.
  •  The Story of the Late Mr. ElveshamH.G. Wells, c. 1911. The sinister Mr. Elvesham seeks immortality by continually switching bodies. 
  • The Blue CrossG.K. Chesterton, 1938. Clever but often underestimated Father Brown brings a jewel thief to justice. 
  • Portrait of Jennie (complete novel) – Robert Nathan, 1940. A struggling young artist encounters and adopts as a muse a mysterious girl who apparently has been travelling through time.  A ghostly love story.
  • La Grande Bretêche Honoré de Balzac, c. 1831. A convoluted telling of the tragedy of a grand old ruined house and its history regarding a Spanish nobleman, a jealous husband and a betraying wife.
  • Love’s ConundrumAnthony Hope, 1899. An ironically humorous, very short story concerning a self-absorbed scholar who completely misunderstands a confession of love and proposal of marriage.
  • The Great Stone FaceNathaniel Hawthorne, 1889. A young boy, inspired by a legend concerning a cliff resembling a strong human profile, waits his entire life for the human embodiment of the noble edifice to appear. It does, but in a way he has not suspected. (The Great Stone Face was an actual New Hampshire rock formation, known widely as “The Old Man of the Mountain” until its collapse in 2003. This story is one of the more dated tales in this anthology, though it is classic Hawthorne and enjoyable as such.)
  • GermelshausenFriedrich Gerstäcker, c. 1850. A wandering artist stumbles into a remote German village, the cursed Germelshausen; doomed to sink beneath the earth for eternity, only to arise for one day in each century. (This is one of my personal favourites in this anthology.) This story has been credited as the inspiration for the musical Brigadoon, though the setting in that case was changed to Scotland.
  • I am Born (excerpt from David Copperfield) – Charles Dickens, 1850. The title character describes his coming into the world. Irresistable – your next step will be to read the whole novel.
  • The Legend of Sleepy HollowWashington Irving, 1820. Itinerant schoolmaster Ichabod Crane sets his romantic sights on the lovely Katrina and meets a harsh fate for his folly in aiming too high.
  • The Age of MiraclesMelville Davisson Post, 1918. Injustice and retribution. A wronged heiress, a sudden death, and a clever onlooker who sorts it all out.
  • The Long Rifle (excerpt from The Long Rifle, a novel) – Stewart Edward White, 1932. Fictionalized account of the life of the legendary Daniel Boone.
  • The Fall of the House of UsherEdgar Allan Poe, 1939. A gothic horror tale. Roderick Usher and his sister Madeleine are the last of their family; they fulfill a prophecy which predicts their dramatic demise.
  • The Voice of Bugle Ann (complete novel) – MacKinlay Kantor, 1935A very short novella set in contemporary Missouri about an unjust conviction for murder and its surprising resolution. Fox hounds feature strongly.  

Volume II

  • The Bridge of San Luis Rey (complete novel) – Thornton Wilder, 1928. A suspension bridge in the Peruvian Andes gives way, sending a group of travellers to their demise. Who were they, and what chances of fate led them to their rendezvous with death at San Luis Rey? Excellent story.
  • Basquerie – Eleanor Mercein Kelly, 1927.   A lovely, not-so-young American girl in Europe must decide between love and (possibly?) a more financially wise match. This author is worth further investigation.
  • JudithA.E. Coppard, 1927. Aristocratic Judith meets  and dallies with a handsome young schoolmaster, to his eventual tragic downfall.
  • A Mother in Mannville – Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, 1936. Touchingly poignant short story about an orphan boy and his integrity and pride.
  • Kerfol Edith Wharton, 1916. The tragic tale of a jealous French nobleman and his faithless wife. Supernatural elements – something of a ghost story.
  • The Last LeafO. Henry, 1905. Platonic love among a group of artists. Touching nd memorable.
  • The Bloodhound Arthur Train, 1923. Shrewd New York lawyer Mr. Tutt defends a client. Badly dated, one of the less memorable stories in this collection.
  • What the Old Man Does is Always RightHans Christian Andersen, 1861. Clever Danish peasants get the better of a condescending Englishman.
  • The Sea of Grass (complete novel) – Conrad Richter, 1936. Feuding between cattlemen and incoming small farmers in New Mexico at the turn of the century. Told from the point of view of the nephew of one of the most outspoken cattlemen, and with a crucial role played by Lutie Cameron, newly arrived from St. Louis to marry into the cattle-baron hierarchy.
  • The Sire de Malétroit’s Door Robert Louis Stevenson, 1877. In cavalier France of 1429, a case of mistaken identity and the equivalent of a shotgun wedding. Vintage Stevenson.
  • The NecklaceGuy de Maupassant, 1884. Vanity and social ambition lead to a young French couple’s downfall. An ironic small masterpiece of a story.
  • By the Waters of BabylonStephen Vincent Benet, 1937. Post-apocalyptic America seen through the eyes of a young man on a quest. A “rebirth of civilization” theme; definitely a precursor to the many similar stories which are hitting high popularity today.
  • A.V. Laider – Max Beerbohm, 1920. A palm-reader forsees the death of four friends, but chooses not to warn them. Or at least that’s his story… Nicely done! 
  • The Pillar of FirePercival Wilde, 1925. A clever method of cheating at cards is discovered and nipped in the bud. A bit rambling.
  • The Strange Will (excerpt from The Man With the Broken Ear) – Edmond About, 1862. The rather macabre tale of bringing a mummified murdered man back to life.
  • The Hand at the Window (excerpt from Wuthering Heights)- Emily Brontë, 1847. A short, decidedly gothic episode from the novel.
  • “National Velvet” (complete novel) – Enid Bagnold, 1935. 14-year-old Velvet Brown wins a horse in a raffle and decides to race him in the Grand National steeplechase. Beautifully written portrait of family life; the horses play second string to the human relationships. Excellent.

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