The Power of Princesses: Robin McKinley’s The Door in the Hedge

The Door in the Hedge is a collection of four longish short stories, all reimaginations of fairytales, and first published in 1981. I must have first read it not long after that. Way back then, not many people were retelling fairytales, and the only other such book I’d come across was Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. The Door in the Hedge isn’t that at all, and it’s interesting to think why not. They’re both unquestionably feminist reimaginations of the same kinds of European stories. But Carter was dragging her fairytales kicking and screaming and thrusting them bloody before us, while McKinley wants them still to be fairytales. Just… fairytales where the princesses have agency, where they are active and do things rather than having things done to them, but where they can still, after all, live happily ever after.

What McKinley has always been brilliant at is the kind of close ...

Revisiting the Recently Rediscovered 1956 Hugo Awards Ballot

When I wrote my post in 2010 about the Hugos of 1956, the nominees for that year were lost in the mists of time. Last month they were found again, by Olav Rokne in an old Progress Report, which is very exciting, because it gives me the chance to compare what I thought they might be to what they really were. It’s great to be wrong, and goodness me I was wrong!

Here’s my thinking on Best Novel, from 2010:

Looking at the Wikipedia article on 1955 novels, I think there are six other likely books that might have been nominees: Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity (post), Frederic Brown’s Martians Go Home, Arthur C. Clarke’s Earthlight, Frederik Pohl and Cyril Kornbluth’s Gladiator-at-Law,  J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King and John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids (post). All of these have since become classics, ...

The Merry World of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit

The Hobbit isn’t as good a book as The Lord of the Rings. It’s a children’s book, for one thing, and it talks down to the reader. It’s not quite set in Middle-earth—or if it is, then it isn’t quite set in the Third Age. It isn’t pegged down to history and geography the way The Lord of the Rings is. Most of all, it’s a first work by an immature writer; journeyman work and not the masterpiece he would later produce. But it’s still an excellent book. After all, it’s not much of a complaint to say that something isn’t as good as the best book in the world.

If you are fortunate enough to share a house with a bright six year old, or a seven or eight year old who still likes bedtime stories, I strongly recommend reading them a chapter of The Hobbit aloud every night ...

A Moment in a Life: Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Day Before the Revolution”

I have always loved “The Day Before the Revolution,” now online to celebrate the Library of America two volume edition of Le Guin’s Hainish novels and stories.

I first read it in the British collection The Wind’s Twelve Quarters Volume 2, in 1979, where it is the concluding story and the best of a very very good set of stories. I had already read The Dispossessed and was thrilled to find this story set in the same world. But that’s not why I loved it.

If you asked me now what’s great about it, I’d say it’s because it is that unusual thing, a character story set in another world. It is a moment in a character’s life, that shows you that character’s whole life, and her whole world, and it isn’t our world. I want to say that it’s an intensely human story, which it is, but ...

Revisiting Old Friends, or: Why I Re-read

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who re-read and those who don’t. No, don’t be silly, there are far more than two kinds of people in the world. There are even people who don’t read at all. (What do they think about on buses?) But there are two kinds of readers in the world, though, those who re-read and those who don’t. Sometimes people who don’t re-read look at me oddly when I mention that I do. “There are so many books,” they say, “And so little time. If I live to be a mere Methusalan 800, and read a book a week for 800 years, I will only have the chance to read 40,000 books, and my readpile is already 90,000 and starting to topple! If I re-read, why, I’ll never get through the new ones.” This is in fact true, they never ...
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Revisiting Old Friends, or: Why I Re-read

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who re-read and those who don’t. No, don’t be silly, there are far more than two kinds of people in the world. There are even people who don’t read at all. (What do they think about on buses?) But there are two kinds of readers in the world, though, those who re-read and those who don’t. Sometimes people who don’t re-read look at me oddly when I mention that I do. “There are so many books,” they say, “And so little time. If I live to be a mere Methusalan 800, and read a book a week for 800 years, I will only have the chance to read 40,000 books, and my readpile is already 90,000 and starting to topple! If I re-read, why, I’ll never get through the new ones.”

This is in fact true, they never ...

necessity-thumbnail

Revisiting Old Friends, or: Why I Re-read

There are two kinds of people in the world, those who re-read and those who don’t. No, don’t be silly, there are far more than two kinds of people in the world. There are even people who don’t read at all. (What do they think about on buses?) But there are two kinds of readers in the world, though, those who re-read and those who don’t. Sometimes people who don’t re-read look at me oddly when I mention that I do. “There are so many books,” they say, “And so little time. If I live to be a mere Methusalan 800, and read a book a week for 800 years, I will only have the chance to read 40,000 books, and my readpile is already 90,000 and starting to topple! If I re-read, why, I’ll never get through the new ones.”

This is in fact true, they never ...

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