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Archive for the ‘Neil Gaiman’ Category

This book is Neil Gaiman telling these familiar stories, just telling the stories. They are not cheery stories, and the terrible last battle, Ragnarok, is when everything and everyone dies in a series of terrible catastrophes–the wolf Fenric devours the sun, the seas cover the earth. But not quite everyone dies! Two humans survived, hiding within the world tree Yggdrisil, a Norse Adam and Eve.
The stories are filled with giants, witches, magical swords, ravishing goddesses and gods: Baldur the beautiful, killed by a tiny dart made of mistletoe–the one plant that his mother didn’t make promise not to harm her beautiful son. The whole world mourns his death, and it is a harbinger of dread Ragnarok.

But my favorite story is of magnificent Thor, the thunder god, with his fabulous hammer–feasting with the giants, he competes in a drinking contest (one of his many skills, drinking). They bring him a horn of mead and he tries to drain it–three times he tries, but each time the level is barely reduced. He is humiliated. Except, as they are leaving, the giant king tells him that he had been drinking the sea, and with his enormous gulps he lowered the level so much that he caused the tides. HA!

I read about Thor and Baldur and Odin as a child, along with stories of the Greek gods–and so many others, Bible stories, Aesop’s’ fables, Grimm’s fairy tales–humans telling each other stories, thrilling one another since the beginning of time with terrifying wonderful stories.
Someone has just to say the words: ‘once upon a time’–and everyone turns toward the story teller, and sits down to listen.

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That was a very pleasant book club, as usual! Here is what I have been reading since last we met:

Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Which I have read before, but picked it up to reread as an example of harmless merriment to get me through some difficult days, which it did very well—a charming and very entertaining book. The birth of the Anti Christ, and planned subsequent Armeggeddon, all set going except–FOILED by a nurse accidentally switching babies in the hospital. The demon and the angel who have been working on earth since the beginning have basically gone native, and are not keen on the whole Armaggeddon concept. The melding of Pratchett and Gaiman is brilliant.

One of my favorite scenes is the arrival of the Hound of Hell, fated to be the dread companion of the Anti-Christ. He prowls about seeking his Master, sizzling saliva dripping from its jaws–and hears his Master’s Voice. The Hound peers through a clump of nettles, and spots the group of kids in a quarry.

“I’m going to get a dog,” said his Master’s voice, firmly. His Master had his back to him; the Hound couldn’t quite make out his features.

“Oh, yeah, one of those great big Rottenreilers, yeah?”, said the girl, with withering sarcasm.

“No, it’s going to be the kind of dog you can have fun with”, said hi Master’s voice. “Not a big dog”

–the eye in the nettles vanished abruptly downwards—

“—but one of those dogs that’s brilliantly intelligent and can go down rabbit holes and has one funny ear that always looks inside out. And a proper mongrel, too, A pedigree mongrel. “

Unheard by those within, there was a tiny clap of thunder on the lip of the quarry. It might have been caused by the sudden rushing of air into the vacuum caused by a very large dog becoming, for example, a small dog.

The tiny popping noise that followed might have been caused by one ear turning itself inside out.”

And so on. Lovely stuff. Though the apocalypse almost happens—and the ghastly riders are all in place, and the heavenly hosts are ranged in all their splendour against the forces of hell—the world is saved because the anti-Christ is after all a nice boy who has been raised in a happy family, who loves his family, friends, and neighborhood. And, his dog.

And then I read a book where the apocalypse DOES happen:

Lucifer’s Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle

This book is too long and too prolix for me, but the scientific detail about comets is fascinating, and the authors have done a good job with realistically envisioning the aftermath of a catastrophic comet hit—I’m sure their research was profound. The impact causes tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic action: Europe is drowned, as are the coasts of America. The only human survivors are those who managed to escape to the high ground. And the long term survivors are those who manage to build a community, and salvage as much from the lost civilization as possible, including the respect for justice and decency it takes to keep people from eating each other. Literally. There is a large cast of characters whose struggles to overcome dreadful adversity is interesting enough. I am skipping through it, I admit—but, still at it!

The Last Light of the Sun, by Guy Gavriel Kay

Another excellent book by Kay; again drawn from real events, but with the addition of the mystical and magical, as in the other books–indeed, it is in the same world as Sailing to Sarantium, but a couple centuries later–there are references to the earlier time. This book is based on the Viking invasions of the British Isles and the Saxon resistance, including King Alfred and his court. Kay dutifully includes the iconic scene where King Alfred burns the cakes, and very well done it was, too. The characters are well drawn and engaging, the dialogue crisp, the descriptions clear and vivid. Like the Sarantium book, this led me to read more about the actual events of the time, and to look at the artifacts. Another winner.

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