Posting the Book?

This is a series of questions called “The Ultimate Book Tag” which I preferred as a holiday post to trying to solve problems of theological praxis or how to sew zips in so they don’t tear back out.  It makes a change from posting a photograph of an animal!

1. Do you get sick while reading in the car?

Not usually.

2. Which author’s writing style is completely unique to you and why?

Uh, what?  If that means, “Which of the authors I have read has the most unique style?”, then, um, probably Shakespeare.

3. Harry Potter Series or the Twilight Saga? Give 3 points to defend your answer.

I haven’t read the Twilight Saga, and I didn’t finish Harry Potter.  I suppose that counts as a vote for Harry Potter, but it might be hard to justify it at length.

4. Do you carry a book bag? If so, what is it in (besides books…)?

No.  I put books in my bag.  I do not carry a book bag.

5. Do you smell your books?

Not on purpose.  Well, not usually.  At least, not on a daily basis.

6. Books with or without little illustrations?

With if the illustrations match the text and have artistic quality.  Without if not.  I never appreciated the type of book which described a golden arrow resting on a red velvet cushion, but accompanied the text with an illustration of a silver arrow resting on a gold and blue brocade cushion.

7. What book did you love while reading but discovered later it wasn’t quality writing?

Goodness, I’ve enjoyed a lot of books enormously which I’d hardly feel were exactly masterpieces of literary composition.

8. Do you have any funny stories involving books from your childhood? Please share!

There was the time when I tried to borrow a book on pregnancy (an age-appropriate book about biological development, not a book depicting graphic or inappropriate sex) from the primary school library, and got forbidden in case my parents objected!  They didn’t.  Despite having established that, the teacher the following year tried to forbid it all over again.

Why on earth the book wasn’t marked reference if they objected to its being borrowed, or kept out of reach of the younger kids if they thought it wasn’t appropriate, I never found out.

9. What is the thinnest book on your shelf?

On my shelf?  In the singular?  What?

10. What is the thickest book on your bookshelves?

Probably “The Complete Works of Shakespeare”, though at least one of the Bible commentaries runs it fairly close.

11. Do you write as well as read? Do you see yourself in the future as being an author?

Yes, I write.  But being “an author” or not is something of an “how long is a piece of string” question.

12. When did you get into reading?

As soon as I could read, though I didn’t enjoy stories until I was probably 9 or 10.  The school made such a fuss about that.  Somehow not wanting to read stories is a sign of depravity!  Or something.

13. What is your favourite classic book?

Probably “The Lord of the Rings”, though “The Blue Castle”, “Alice in Wonderland”, and “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”, run it pretty close.

14. In school was your best subject Language Arts/English?

No.  It really was not.  Though I did better at secondary school because I actually liked literature.  Not that this always helped because people were obsessed with the notion that we’d find it boring.  So instead of being allowed to enjoy something like the Ancient Mariner and write on it and how it worked we had to carve it up and turn it into a film.

(Yes.  I do have strong opinions on education.  Moving on…)

15. If you were given a book as a present that you had read before and hated…what would you do?

Leave it quietly on a bookshelf somewhere for sentimental reasons.  Though it might find its way to a charity shop in the end.

16. What is a lesser known series that you know of that is similar to Harry Potter or the Hunger Games?

The Worst Witch.  Which I think is actually better composed than Harry Potter* from a literary point of view.  It is more coherent, the text is more tightly composed without unnecessary happenings or words, and the characters and the plot fit together better.

*Such of it as I’ve read.

17. What is a bad habit you always do (besides rambling) while blogging?

Forgetting to tag the posts.  It happens about half the time and then I have to go back and edit them.

18. What is your favourite word?

Well, if you mean, “what word do I use most often?” I would guess probably “it”?  Or perhaps “to” or “the”.

If you mean “what word do I like the most,” well, difficult.  I like five syllable words which have nice assonance and rhythm once you’ve worked out how to pronounce them, and mean something it would usually take a whole sentence or more to express, or is very difficult to describe without a specific word.  “Impassible” is fun, though it only has four syllables.

19. Are you a nerd, dork, or dweeb? Or all of the above?

I’m probably a geek.

20. Vampires or Fairies? Why?

Fairies.  Vampires give me nightmares.

21. Shapeshifters or Angels? Why?

For amusement, shapeshifters.  I spent too much time on the (rather speculative but nevertheless interesting and informative) metaphysics of angels.  I don’t know how many shapeshifters you can get on the head of a pin!  This makes reading about them more relaxing.

Admittedly, I do tend to notice if fantasy writers haven’t thought their story-world’s metaphysics through in a reasonably coherent way, regardless of what they’re writing about.

22. Spirits or Werewolves? Why?

I don’t mind.  So long as it is fantasy and not horror…

23. Zombies or Vampires?

For preference, neither!

24. Love Triangle or Forbidden Love?

Now I want to start comparing “Frozen” with” A Midsummer Night’s Dream”…

Forbidden love occurs in both, though with a rather unusual twist in “Frozen”.  There’s sort of a love triangle in both too, if the Kristoph-Anna-Hans thing counts.

Perhaps it isn’t so much of an “either-or” thing?

25. Full on romance books or action-packed with a few love scenes mixed in?

I definitely prefer romance as a side dish rather than a main.

 

Cherry Foster

The Improbable Policy of Ebenezer Scrounge

On the difficulties of reducing all claims to property to “greater need”.

Bob Crouch shivered nervously as he waited for his boss. Ebenezer crashed in and slammed the door, tearing a hole in his ancient suit.

“Bother,” he said. Then he looked at Bob. “What is it? I’ve only got half an hour – then I need to go and join the trustees of the fisherman’s fund.”

Bob swallowed. “I’ve been with you now for twelve years,” he said.

“And very good work you do too,” said Ebenezer, who valued Bob, and never hesitated to praise him.

“And I feel that it is fair I ask you to increase my wages, which have not been increased in that time. I have a large family, as you know, and my son Tom is disabled.”

“Oh, come on, Bob,” Ebenezer said. “If I raise your wages, I’ll have to decrease the donation to the East African Famine Fund. At least your family are in no danger of starving. Their children have a greater need than yours.”

Bob had known he would probably get an answer of this type. He felt momentarily ashamed of himself, wondering what right he had to money that was preventing others starving. Then he wondered if Ebenezer thought he should give the money he, Bob, spent on food for his children to charity, until his children were in a greater state of malnutrition than any other children in the world. Probably not. Ebenezer did eat enough, if not a crumb more – and he never expected anything of others he didn’t do himself. Remembering his son’s unhappiness, his daughter’s probable illness, and his wife’s worried face, he pressed on.

“Yes, but that isn’t the point…” he began.

At that moment there was a knock on the door. “Oh bother,” said Ebenezer. “It’s the soldiers’ orphans’ missionary charity rep. I must see what he wants.”

Bob sighed, and went to his work. He’d known he was probably wasting his time. Even huddled in his coat, he felt cold. The allowance of coal was minimal. Ebenezer didn’t seem to suffer much from it, rushing about as he did, but Bob did. He was glad when it was time to go home. Not that home was much warmer.

His wife Martha met him at the door. All his children were in the tiny living room clustered around Tom, talking eagerly to him of their day at school. Martha could teach him herself, but never had there been a child less well suited to being taught at home rather than going to school. His half-wistful, half-angry eyes followed their neighbours’ daughter, born without legs, being whirled home from school in her wheelchair by a laughing crowd of brothers and friends. Bob had applied to the same charity for one for Tom, but Ebenezer being the chair of trustees, he had been told that as Tom could walk a few steps, they must save their grants for those who could not walk at all, who thereby had a greater need. Had Bob been earning a fair wage for his work, he could easily have purchased a wheelchair for his son himself, but as things stood, they could pay for little but food and shelter and essential clothing, and as Tom could not walk the mile to school and back, he could not go.

The children were cheerful enough most of the time with their rag dolls and hand-me-down clothes, but he knew his youngest daughter had wept all the last night at not being able to go to her friend’s birthday party for want of a gift and a dress. She was thin and pale, and coughed frequently. Bob and Martha both feared she was becoming seriously ill. Ebenezer would undoubtedly pay thousands for her to be treated, but probably not until it was too late.

“Did you get anywhere?” Martha asked him anxiously?

Bob shook his head, his worried eyes passing over his children.

“Oh, it isn’t fair,” she said passionately, “I wish you could find work other than for that old miser.”

“Oh come,” said Bob, who had a fair amount of affection and respect for his employer, “you know he means what he says. He probably lives on a poorer diet than us. And all to give the money to people who are in need.”

“If he wants to live like that himself,” said Martha, “then I respect, yes, admire it immensely. But he has no business imposing it on our children by refusing to pay you what you earn. That money isn’t his to give to other people.”

“Well, there’s nothing we can do except plod on,” said Bob. “There’s no-one else to work for here, and…”

There was a knock on the door, and one of the neighbours’ children poked their head around.

“Letter for you, Mr. Crouch. Got left with us by mistake this morning.”

Bob looked at the letter and slowly broke the seal. Martha looked up to see his face transformed.

“This is from an old schoolfriend of mine. He’s inherited an estate – not sure I quite get who from – and wants a manager, and he says the job’s mine if I want it. Twice the salary I’m earning now, and a cottage provided.”

“Oh wonderful,” cried all the children together.

“Yes,” said Bob, half to himself, as he tried to realise that their current problems, at least, were over. “I’ll never hear the words ‘greater need’ again.”

Crysanthemums photo credit Ramon F Velasquez no copyright source wikamedia commons
Photo Credit: Ramon F. Velasque; Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Cherry Foster

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Inconsistently Applied Assumption

“Isn’t Grandpa coming up the spire with us?” asked the boy.

“No,” said his mother, “He doesn’t think he’ll be able to manage the stairs.”

“He does the stairs at home,” said the boy introspectively, “And at his house.”

“Yes,” said his mother with a laugh, “But there are only 14 steps in our stairs, and there are 223 steps up the spire. It would be too much.”

“I see,” said the boy, nodding as he filed away this new and interesting fact.

 

 

“But,” the runner said to her new manager in dismay, looking up from her race schedule, “Those Marathons are on the same day. Didn’t you check the dates?”

“Yes, of course I did. But they are close together – you should be able to get from one course to another in time. So that will be three races on the 2nd, and another three on the 3rd. Should be fine.”

The runner looked blank. “I can’t possibly run six Marathons in two days.”

“Why not?” asked the manager. “You have a consistent finish time of less than three hours.”

The runner looked utterly bewildered. “But…” she stuttered.

She turned to her trainer, who had just come in.

“What’s this?” said her trainer. He looked at the schedule.

“Don’t be ridiculous. Of course she can’t run six Marathons in two days. It would be far too much.”

 

Three new students were enjoying their first field trip to a barely visible ruin. Most of the old walls were gone, their former whereabouts only clear from lines of darker grass, but periodically, a long ridge of a broken flint and stone wall still stood, running from one side of the site to the other like a miniature terrace.

One of the students, a girl with black curly hair, was using an electronic-assist manual wheelchair. She carried crutches on the back, but they looked new.

“Oh dear,” she said, as they approached the fourth of the walls, an impassable step for wheels. One of her companions looked at her in surprise.

“We can lift the chair over like we did the others,” he said.

“Yes, if you get out and use the crutches,” said the other student with them, who was wearing jeans and a floaty top.

The girl with curly hair shook her head. “I can’t keep on doing that. It gets too exhausting,” she said.

The girl in jeans looked at her crossly. “But you did it just now.” The boy nodded assent.

“I really can’t go on doing it,” said the girl with curly hair. “You go on without me. There’s plenty to look at back the way we came.”

“You’re just making a silly fuss,” said one of the others crossly, and they walked off.

The girl with curly hair sighed, and turned round to go back the way she had come. If she was fortunate, this would just blow over. If not – she knew well the spite and difficulties that would come her way once her fellow students had decided she was just pretending to get sympathy.

Her lecturer came striding across the grass. “On your own?” she asked. “I’m sure you were with some others a moment ago.”

“I sent them on without me,” she explained. “I can’t go on clambering over these walls on crutches. It gets too much.”

Cold, hard suspicion and anger entered the lecturer’s eyes. “But I know you can do it,” she said, “I saw you.”

 

Cherry Foster

Cinderella, Crisis, and Conditions

Some thoughts on L. M. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle”. (Contains spoilers).

800px-3_mile_lake
View of a Lake in Canada. Source, Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3_Mile_Lake.jpg

The Blue Castle is an odd book. It is, on one level, Cinderella warmed over and served up with early-twentieth-century sauce, but it is so beautifully done that it has all the inherent satisfaction of Cinderella, with all the interest of a new story. I wasn’t certain, the first time I read it, that Valancy wasn’t going to die.

The Cinderella figure, Valancy Stirling, is at the beginning of the book, an “old maid”. This designates, as far as I can see, a woman over twenty-five who doesn’t seem to have any prospect of getting married – and in this context, it does seem to be generally pejorative rather than merely descriptive. Her mother treats her badly, controlling her every move, nagging, requiring useless work of her simply in order that she should not be idle. Not merely is she controlled to a very unreasonable extent, but her mother does not love her and does not need her, and is continuously unpleasant to her, going into long, silent sulks whenever Valancy, however reasonably, attempts to assert herself. Amelia Stirling could give Mrs. Norris a run for her money. The rest of the family (various uncles, aunts, and cousins) are the same, or rather, they each have their own distinctive way of being unpleasant. The stepsisters are represented by a cousin, Olive, who is beautiful, wealthy, and engaged to be married, though, unlike the stepsisters, she is not the chief cause of Valancy’s difficulties or suffering.

Valancy, daringly, goes to a doctor without her mother’s knowledge. The doctor is called away in the middle of the consultation, and sends her a letter informing her she has not more than a year to live. Valancy’s reaction to this is to break through the boundaries her unpleasant family set her – she changes her style of hairdressing, moves her bed from one corner of her room to another, and refuses to piece unnecessary quilts.

She eventually leaves home to nurse a school friend, whose illness, combined with a drunken father, has resulted in her not having anyone to wait on her. After the school friend dies, she marries someone she has got to know while living with her: Barney Snaith, probable criminal, who lives on an island in the middle of a large lake. Her marriage is a fascinating study of the fact that her instinctive judgement – that this man is a decent person – is far better than her reasoning. He is good to her, and she is in love with him, and doesn’t care whether he is a criminal or not, as she hasn’t long to live and doesn’t really need to consider the possible consequences.

Her relatives are not at this point being that unreasonable in objecting, but it is cleverly brought out that, with one exception, her relatives are hurt in their pride rather than worried about her welfare. One of the things which I find interesting about the book from the ethical point of view, though it isn’t really a theme of the book as such, is the boundary between convention and immorality. The conventions which ruin Valancy’s reputation because she has gone to nurse a girl who has had an illegitimate child (the result, apparently, of ignorance rather than guilt, at least on her part), and whose father is a drunk, she criticises with energy, and with considerable justice. But it is hardly morally irrelevant if she is paying her household expenses with stolen or counterfeit money. This doesn’t impinge on my enjoyment of the story, but I find it interesting. Social norms and conventions have changed so much since, that it is sometimes difficult to feel the full force of the way she is disobeying them – as when she asks Barney to marry her.

After enjoying a wonderful year exploring the woods and the lake with Barney, it becomes suddenly apparent to both of them she isn’t going to die. She goes back to the doctor, and it turns out the letter was not meant for her but for someone else. Twelve o’clock has struck. She goes back to her mother’s house, assuming that her husband will want to divorce her. And this is where one of L. M. Montgomery’s real strengths comes through. Her characters are never one dimensional. Valancy’s mother, unpleasant, controlling, ordering her life to false values, stops short of shutting the door on her daughter. Valancy’s husband – who is actually a millionaire’s son and a famous author, with quite innocent reasons for living as he does – comes after her. Eventually he convinces her he does actually love her, and they live “happily ever after”, or at least, the closest equivalent to it that’s actually possible in a story set in the real world.

Much though I love the book, I find the crisis leading to the ending (that of Valancy’s leaving Barney) deeply frustrating in some ways. I tend to feel its emotional force – which it certainly has – second hand. I admire this part of the book greatly as a piece of writing, but I don’t really empathise with what’s happening. The characters as she has set them up would act like that. They aren’t people who would sit down sensibly in front of a good fire and talk about what to do next under the changed circumstances. Barney is very reserved, and doesn’t talk openly with her when she needs him to, at the point they realise that she isn’t going to die. She misconstrues this as anger. She also has what we’d probably call “low self-esteem”; it isn’t surprising she finds it impossible to believe a man should be in love with her. And she has acted so far out of the conventions by asking someone to marry her, that her being utterly horrified by the fact that what she had said wasn’t true, however sincerely she believed it, is natural enough; it is also natural that, coming from a changed culture, I should find it difficult to feel the implications of this and the burdens it lays on her, even with a certain amount of intellectual comprehension of what’s going on.

Part of the reason I find this crisis difficult to enter into is that I find it extremely jarring that she is behaving as if it is possible for either of them to add extra conditions to Christian marriage. It is reasonable to assume they will have sworn “until death do us part”*. They will not have added “so long as one of us dies within the year, and otherwise this is not binding”!** It is not a new problem for cultural conventions and assumptions to be stronger than the values stated in the Christian liturgy. However, this is perhaps rather like a sailor complaining that the knots were of the wrong type on the ropes on the sails in a boat on the stage! It may be a valid observation, glaring to anyone who frequently deals with sails, but it isn’t really relevant to the story: it is an in-character incident not tied to the values advocated by the novel when taken as a whole.

The other thing which makes it difficult for me to enter into what she is going through is the fact that there is no obvious need for her to return to her old life as a “vegetable”, with the result that I feel that the crisis is overdone, as it dwells a lot on that aspect of things. It probably isn’t overdone internally – that is how she would see it and how she would think. But I find it difficult to believe that having once broken the shackles of being a perpetual minor, and her mother having had to accept that, they could ever be mended. Nothing is stopping her taking on work, until perhaps, she’s earned the money to train as a nurse or a teacher. Possibly I misread the situation, in that it may be that the way she has ruined her reputation would prevent or make it difficult for her to find employment – though it is difficult to see people like her old school friend declining her on those grounds. And, as I also felt it was obvious that Barney isn’t really going to divorce her, while I grieve over the way she’s suffering, it feels to some extent imaginary, as it is the result of the anticipation of a bleak future that is obviously not going to happen to her from the reader’s point of view.

It is beautifully written, however, and completely in character; I suspect whether or not people find these chapters easy to enter into emotionally depends a lot on their own personality, and whether they are more inclined to live in the moment or to think all around everything from every possible angle. And despite the fact that it is fairly clear that things will sort themselves out, I remained interested in how right through to the end. And have enjoyed rereading it quite a few times. While the book sounds rather dark from a simple description, it is in fact very varied in its tone, from the weariness of the dying school friend, to the sheer fun of Valancy’s breaking out and saying what she thinks to her unpleasant relatives, to long descriptions of the natural beauty around her at her married home, and the excitement of the events leading to the end. It is perfectly constructed as a story, and everything that happens has a good reason for happening: there’s nothing that feels contrived.

 

 

*Valancy and Barney are married by a Free Methodist minister in Port Laurence: the words of the marriage service are not actually stated, and I haven’t worked out any way of checking the detail of the vows they would have made. It is likely they are similar to those I am familiar with, at least on this point, but I cannot be absolutely certain.

** I suppose some might make a case for annulment on the grounds of lack of real consent under such circumstances, which would allow people to add conditions, but I find it rather worrying that it should be possible for competent, responsible adults to make a vow in the presence of God, take all the advantages of that vow for a time, but be able to refuse to treat it as binding on the grounds that they had added conditions. This is at least hardly in the spirit of “let your yes be yes, and your no, no”. However, that type of issue is more the province of theologians than philosophers, and certainly the reasons for which Valancy acts as she does are cultural and emotional rather than theological.

 

Cherry Foster

The Nature of God’s Commands

Three young children were playing with a ball and tennis racquets in their front garden, when a man they did not know came up to them and spoke to them over the fence.

After talking about their interest in learning to play tennis properly, the man suggested he should take them to the local park where they could play on the tennis court and he could teach them some skills. They were delighted at the idea.

“We must just go and ask Daddy,” they said. “Mummy and Daddy say we must ask them before we leave the garden.”

“Oh no,” said the man, “I don’t have time for that. You must come at once or not at all.”

The three children stared at each other in dismay.

The first said “We’d better not go. Daddy will punish us if we do. Nasty Daddy. He doesn’t really love us.”

“Daddy does love us,” said the second. “So he would want us to go. It would be fun and we’d learn something. He wouldn’t want us to miss out, even though he told us not to.”

But the third said “Daddy does love us, so he must have told us to ask because it would be best for us, even if it’s not nice sometimes.”

 

Cherry Foster

 

Two tales of a not quite accident

Tale one

A lady in a red coat was about to step down from the train to the platform.

A lady with a large patchwork bag came along behind her.

“Do be careful,” she said, worriedly, “There’s a gap.”

She put down her bag and put her hands around the head of the lady in the red coat, covering her eyes so she could no longer see the depth of the step or the size of the gap.

The lady in the red coat was naturally terrified.

“Get off me,” she yelled, “Get off me at once.”

A man using his laptop in the corner of the carriage looked up and saw what was happening. He got up.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he said angrily to the lady with the patchwork bag, who let go of the other lady’s head.

“I was only trying to help,” she said, in injured tones.

The lady in the red coat, freed of the dangerous grip of the lady with the bag, stepped down safely onto the platform and walked off in an angry huff.

The man with the laptop said, “I think I should call the police.”

 

Tale two

A lady in a red coat was about to step down from the train to the platform using her long white cane.

A lady with a large patchwork bag came along behind her.

“Do be careful,” she said, worriedly, “There’s a gap”

She put down her bag and took hold of the cane arm of the lady in the red coat so she could no longer feel the depth of the step or the size of the gap.

The lady in the red coat was naturally terrified.

“Get off me,” she yelled, “Get off me at once.”

A man using his laptop in the corner of the carriage looked up and saw what was happening. He watched with a smile on his face.

The lady in the red coat pulled herself out of the dangerous grip of the lady with the patchwork bag. By sheer luck, she stumbled onto the platform without falling down the gap and walked off in an angry panic.

“I was only trying to help” called the lady with the patchwork bag after her in injured tones.

The man with the laptop said, “Don’t worry.  She just can’t accept her disability and resents needing help.”

 

The end.

 

 

 

N.B. The vast majority of dangerous situations of this type can be avoided by:

  1. asking verbally and from a respectful distance if the person would like help
  2. not assuming a lack of response is assent to being touched/grabbed (!)
  3. taking “no” or “I’m fine” for an answer

If you feel you ought to offer help but find the situation socially incomprehensible, try imagining you are a shop assistant not sure whether a customer wants service or prefers to browse.

 

Cherry Foster