Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov by Robert Chandler


My third book in this year’s classic novel challenge, Russian Magic Tales, was a delight. I wandered dark forests, met evil stepmothers, learned riddles, and—happily—found the Russian mermaid, who draws travelers to death with her weeping.

More interesting than the stories were the biographies of each featured author. Many lived dank lives, suffering illness and imprisonment. During those stretches of despair, they worked on collecting stories.

One man finished his collection while quarantined for tuberculosis; another was banished to Siberia and, in what is perhaps the coldest town in the world, interviewed locals for their tales. He wrote them during his stay in order to keep sane.

What does this tell us about fiction? Just because a story is “made up” does not mean it’s worth less than a biography. A story based on truth can strengthen the human spirit—and where is truth stronger?

The fairy tales in this collection often seemed overwhelming; many did not make sense. Tell me, when does the human spirit make sense? Have we not all wished to speak with animals? When angered, are we tempted to get revenge? Everyone has a witch in their interior forest.

You were a child; you knew times when the imagination went where it wanted. Fairy tales, fiction novels, things the world thinks ridiculous, are reflections of our nature—part of our nature that we’re prone to deny, embarrassed by how illogical it can be.

Fiction helped one man survive the coldest town in the world. Today it gives comfort when monsters and witches appear in our lives. It helps where worldly logic does us no good; sometimes we just have to talk to the birds and chipmunks. They might help us out of trouble, for a favor.

Do not be hasty to write off fiction. You never know when you might need it. Caught in our blank offices, sooner or later we all need magic to help us keep going.

My next read for the challenge is going to be The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, and I’m very eager to read one of his books again. Considering its length and the beauty of his writing, I am sure it will be worth two or three blog posts here.

I’ve also managed to read some novels on the side by authors who are not yet dead—a historical romance and a YA sci-fi. I will be posting reviews for those books, too, when I write them.

I hope the month has treated you well! What are you reading?

The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle


Mounted Knight By Howard PyleThe second book in my 2019 classic novel challenge was The Story of King Arthur and His Knights. These stories were released in serial form for a children’s publication; they are characterized by their bold protagonists, as well as their focus on virtue and morality.

It is not a novel, but a compilation of tales following a handful of powerful characters. Aside from King Arthur himself, we meet remarkable people including Merlin, Lady Guinevere, and Sir Gawaine.

No two characters were the same, even when they shared a goal. Though the stories were written for children, the characters’ personalities were bold and controversial. The stories were meant to inspire children to live honorable lives; it’s fitting that they were given serious heroes.

These stories seemed relatable to me in the way that my heart reacted to their decisions. They stirred a desire in me to do good for the people I know. Our instinct for good has not change over the years. We still strive to be honest. We fight for causes we believe in and protect the people we love. Each of us wants to save the world in the way we think is best. In these Arthurian stories, I encountered traits most people respect, qualities we look for in a leader.Arthur And Excalibur

Don’t we all dream of slaying the dragon and taking care of the monster? Don’t we all have a rebellious side like Sir Gawaine, who resorts to unconventional means for victory? These stories reflect what we are; we still have these instincts.

Arthurian literature became a subcategory because of its heavy moral focus. I am pleased to know there are more tales of characters I met in this book. I will be looking for them, because the world of King Arthur and themes explored in it encouraged me.

They gave me hope that we are capable of creating a better world. All we need is to find courage and bring forth those ancient qualities our ancestors admired.

Next, I will be reading Russian Magic Tales. I’m excited for this one! Thank you for following my journey so far, and I will post again soon.

The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy


thomas_hardy-the-mayor-of-casterbridgeThe first book I read for my 2019 reading challenge, The Mayor of Casterbridge, is compelling because of its characters. Though there are many, it focuses on a man named Michael Henchard, a man none of us would envy. It is the story of a mistake he made as a young man and how this mistake haunted him, even when he achieved success and power.

The first chapter in which he made the mistake stood out to me in color. Henchard’s great mistake was to sell his wife and daughter to a sailor for some coin. Word choice made the drama play out before me in shades of brown and gray. It is one of the best introductory chapters I’ve read, setting a consistent foundation for the novel to follow.

Chapter one makes Henchard look pathetic, rather than evil. The colors in word choice reveal that he is not taking the quarrel seriously. He thinks it’s one of many others he’s had with his wife. By the end of the chapter, when Henchard wakes up to find his wife’s wedding ring on the pub floor, I did not hate him. I pitied him.

Consumed by remorse for his great mistake, Henchard achieved power but never shed his chains. His jealousy of competition, his desperation to regain the trust of his daughter, and the defeated manner in which he ended his life—it all made him real. Though I wanted to hate him, I had the sense he needed someone to love him found no one willing.

Sometimes the protagonist of a great novel is not himself great or impressive; sometimes he’s a man you wouldn’t trust with your life, your money, or an ounce of your time. Memorable characters are defined by flaws. They become famous because we want to slap or hug them. The best characters tap into the saddest aspects of humanity.

The novel has a depth I’ve noticed in many classics which began as serialized publications, such as Dickens’ work. The Mayor of Casterbridge was long enough to keep me immersed, but not so long that I wanted to fling it away and read something else. It pulled me into the amusing society aptly painted by Hardy’s word choice. Punctuated with love triangles, humorous mistakes, and the ever-present threat of gossip, it was never boring.

The Mayor of Casterbridge has made it to my list of favorite novels, along with Swann’s Way and David Copperfield. These books are about more than characters. They’re about setting and time period, prose and morality. An attentive read of these books reveals why they made it to the title of classic. Written at a time when life was slower, these novels have elegance that will never grow outdated.

I have already started my second read for the challenge, The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle. This trip through literary history is being enjoyable as I had planned. Wait for a post about King Arthur in the next week or two.