19 02 2018

I took this idea from “Madame Writer” – please visit her HERE to see her responses.

  1. An overhyped classic you really didn’t like:

One I started a couple of times but didn’t like and never finished is Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.

  1. Favorite time period to read about:

I especially like to read about the medieval period, but we are talking classics here, not Historical Fiction, so I’d say the 19th Century from Jane Austen, the Brontë Sisters and Mrs Gaskell through Dickens to Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy, Kipling and the rest.

Time already for a bit of colour, so out of all those I’ll select my favourite Emily Brontë Wuthering Heights cover:

  1. Favorite fairy-tale:

Hans Anderson’s The Snow Queen.

  1. What is the most embarrassed classic you haven’t read yet:

Tolstoy’s War & Peace – though I’ve read his Anna Karenina twice, and loved it.

  1. Top 5 classics you would like to read (soon):

Dostoevsky’s The Brothers KaramazovCervantes‘ Don Quixote, Mary Shelley’s The Last Man and The Fortunes of Perkin Warbeck, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Catriona. (And War & Peace, but not “soon”!)

  1. Favorite modern book/series based on a classic:

I’ve read two so far of Martin Davies’ series featuring Sherlock Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs Hudson and young Flotsam (Flottie), the girl she has taken under her wing. Highly recommended!

  1. Favorite movie version/tv-series based on a classic:

David Suchet’s definitive rendering of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot – the books being classics, surely, by now. Also Viviane Leigh as Anna Karenina in the 1947 black-and-white film.

  1. Worst classic to movie adaptation:

Maybe The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy (2005) but that is almost impossible to adapt successfully to the screen – it started as a radio programme with all the freedom that medium gives the writer. It leaves everything to the listener’s (or, later, reader’s) imagination, while a film version is simply how one person’s visualised it with all the constraints and limitations of that medium.

  1. Favorite edition(s) you’d like to collect more classics from:

I love the Everyman’s Library editions. Click on the ikon!

  1. An underhyped classic you’d recommend to everyone:

Laurence Durell’s Alexandria Quartet – in my view one of the greatest works of the 20th century. Durell’s poetic portrayal of Alexandria in Justine, Balthazaar, Mountolive and Clea ranks right up there with Joyce’s portrayal of Dublin in Dubliners and Ulysses, and personally I much prefer it.



God Help Us All!

17 02 2018


17 02 2018

Two “gentlemen of the road”, vagrant warrior/mercenaries with their trusty swords and horses – almost knights errant, almost Don Quijote and Sancho Panza, but equals in most ways, and both essentially con-men. They have to be in order to survive.

One – Amram – is a gigantic African who, it transpires, set out years ago in quest of his daughter, taken by raiders. He never found her, and is no longer really looking. But he cannot go home without her.

The other, Zelikman, is a Jew – a Jew with a sword.The author seems to find this paradoxical, I am not sure why.

Perhaps it is the self-image of the New York Jew – the wise-cracking cowardly comedian at one extreme, the awe-inspiring pacifism of The Last of the Just at the other. But in fact, since Abraham fought Chedorlaomer and his allies more than three millennia ago, and Joshua and David among many other generals and kings conquered the land of Canaan and much of the surrounding area, and centuries later they fought back against the all-conquering Assyrians and Babylonians and were deported from their land to Babylon (where, finally, they sat down and wept), and centuries later again Jewish freedom-fighters like Judas Maccabeus and Simon bar-Kochba caused the Seleucid and Roman Empires so much trouble that the whole might of the empire had to be sent against them not once but repeatedly and finally the city of Jerusalem razed to the ground and the inhabitants of Israel and Judah – again! – deported en masse, and this time dispersed to the four corners of the earth.

This is not a passive people.

Then, for many, many years, they had no homeland, they were no longer a “nation” as such, but a religion, a culture, an ethnic minority (“race”) that kept themselves separate here, there and everywhere.

Our second hero, Zelikman, then, comes of one such community in France. Everywhere he travels he is thought of as and referred to as a Frank;  but back home in France, to the Franks he is a foreigner. He is also a physician, the last in a long line of physicians, and the first, it seems, who has not stayed at home and practised as one.

Then they rescue and, having rescued, take on the burden of helping, a fugitive prince, the rest of whose family have all been murdered in a bloody coup d’état. How could Zelikman say “No” when he learnt that this was the heir to the Jewish Kingdom – yes, Jewish Kingdom! – of the Khazars. All right, Amram is at first reluctant to get involved in “politics”, but for some strange reason he finds himself growing very fond of the efeminate and infuriating young prince.

Something very different, then, from the usual medieval whodunit or romance, and very strongly recommended.


No Atheists

11 02 2018

TO THE TOWER BORN by Robin Maxwell

11 02 2018

England, 1483

Bessie’s mother was bristling with indignation, but there was, underneath it, all-encompassing fear. News of Lord Hastings’s horrific execution for plotting the protector’s downfall had unnerved her. Clearly Richard of Gloucester was capable of anything. And now he had come to Westminster Sanctuary demanding an audience.

‘What can I do but see him?’ she said to Bessie as she checked her image in the looking glass. ‘If I do not, he will break the sanctuary of the church, breach the walls, and come in by force.’

But Bessie had heard the other side of her mother’s logic. Afraid of the Duke of Gloucester as she was, she trusted him in one important respect. She believed that Richard would do anything to place his brother’s son on the English throne. And was that not what she herself wanted above all?

Bessie had begged her mother to allow her to be present at the audience, and appraising her eldest daughter quickly and finding the eighteen-year-old as much of an ally as she was likely to find, the queen had agreed.

‘Let him come in,’ announced the queen dowager.

And in he came.

I first read this book several years ago and have just re-read it, and have been wondering how it is that Richard III gets so much attention and so many books written about him considering that he was king for less than two years.

Shakespeare depicted him as an evil hunchback who murdered his way to the throne, another MacBeth, but worse; and this is the image most people have of him. However, more recently many books have appeared, both fiction and non-fiction, defending Richard, and it is obviously true that Richard was the victim of Tudor propaganda to the effect that he usurped the throne, done in order to draw attention away from Henry Tudor’s usurpation.

Still, it must have been obvious to most people at the time that while Henry Tudor had seized by force of arms a throne to which he had no claim whatsoever, Richard may not have been a usurper at all if his nephews, the two young princes, were genuinely illegitimate (and it seems that they were) and the crown was thrust upon him by the Church and what passed for a government. Richard had had no intention of seizing the throne: he it was who proclaimed Edward King Edward V and arranged for his coronation.

Then the princes disappeared.

And nothing has been heard of them since (unless you believe the claims of poor Perkin Warbeck). The much-vaunted bones discovered in the Tower were just some among many, and even Sir Thomas More, who pointed the way to the site of the boys’ captivity, said the boys had been taken from the Tower before their death.

A mystery indeed.

Robin Maxwell presents a new solution – which I cannot of course give away. Enough to say that her Richard is neither the tragic hero of Daughter of Time, We Speak No Treason, The Midnight King, The Medievalist, etc, nor the villain of Shakespeare and conservative historians. He is weak and vacillating, a tool in the hands of treacherous men like Buckingham and Margaret Beaufort’s husband Lord Stanley. I like this. To me it rings true.

I also like very much the depiction of the friendship between Princess Bessie (Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s eldest child, who at the age of eighteen was possibly the most eligible princess in the world, then suddenly finds herself declared illegitimate, a nobody) and Nell Caxton, independent and highly educated only child of  the man who introduced the printing-press to Britain and printed the first books in English. The story is told through the eyes of those two wonderful girls, Bessie and Nell, and it will be very hard ever to see that episode again through any other eyes.


Tolkien: The Languages of Middle-Earth

11 02 2018


J.R.R. Tolkien. Three initials and one name, known all over the world as the author of the famous books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Within these books, he achieved his greatest work, even greater than writing the books themselves: he created languages. And we’re not talking about a couple of words in one or two invented languages. He invented proper languages, with grammar and vocabulary ,and lots of them.

Tolkien was a linguist who was fascinated by languages. It appears he may have started to create some languages as early as 1910, and his major work in the field is the creation of all the languages spoken in the world he invented for The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings: Middle Earth.

This work is colossal and answering the question “how many languages did Tolkien create?” remains difficult, even today. But let’s try to…

View original post 449 more words

Lewis and Tolkien – The Inklings

11 02 2018


This statement from the book, Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter, is spoken of Charles Williams, who was a regular participant in the informal discussion group, the Inklings, formed by CS Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien at the University of Oxford, England. The group met at various times in Lewis’s classroom and a local pub from the late 1930’s to 1949. Charles Williams was an early member of the group and continued as a regular until his death in 1945. Williams grew up “a devout churchman” but was encouraged by his father “to appreciate the force of atheistic rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine”.

Lewis, of course, was an atheist when he arrived and began teaching at Oxford. His journey from materialism to agnosticism to Christian theism is chronicled in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy. Tolkien was already a Christian when Lewis joined him as a professor at Oxford, and…

View original post 955 more words