November 20, 2017

reading between wild stars and the sea



When I was eighteen, I lived alone on an island of ghosts and trees. All night I would lie awake within the shelter of candlelight to compose strange, rambling stories about lost children, ensorcelled castles, singing stars like the stars that sang over the forest hunkered all around me. During the day I wandered the lonely stony paths and read in warm shadows. One lot of books I clearly remember from that time was the Isle series by Nancy Springer.


The White Hart, The Silver Sun, The Sable Moon : these titles alone enchanted me. (The series also included The Black Beast and The Golden Swan, but I only read them later.) Nancy's gentle, lyrical language and characters won my heart. Bevan the son of the moon, Hal the troubled prince, Meg and Maeve and the other wild-souled aspects of the goddess. I loved also the small details - plinsets, wolves, haunted swords, unicorns. Really, there are no other books in my collection that are as poetically, freely magical as these.

I have recently been rereading them yet again. (The cover of The Silver Sun finally fell off as I did so.) But I made the mistake of looking them up on Goodreads to see what other people thought of them. Readers these days are so clever, so educated about the fantasy genre, so cynical - the reviews left me downcast. They proclaim the books cliched, unintelligent, too much like Tolkien. (I've noticed that any story containing elves or magic is "like Tolkien", which is ridiculous.) The Isle books are written in a detached style which modern readers dislike, but for me that adds to the sense of them being an old story, told aloud on some moonless night, stirring magic in the hearthfire and the hearts of those who listen. They belong to a different age of storytelling ... or perhaps just a different age in me ... or perhaps they will always have to my mind the eeriness of island nights festooned with wild stars and paced by spirits.

When I read the Isle books I feel like I am reading a memory, a beautiful ghost of what used to be, and no one it seems believes in ghosts these days. We are all too clever.

20 comments:

  1. “...too much like Tolkien”

    Too much? Tolkien is great!

    I have never read Nancy Springer. She sounds fantastic.

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    1. Well ... I personally think Tolkien is great at world building but not really so wonderful as a storyteller. But that's just my rebellious opinion. :) The Hobbit was good but LOTR and The Silmarillion were really just excuses to create his world and languages.

      Lol, apparently blogger disagrees with me as I'm having trouble publishing this comment ...

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  2. Did you really live alone on an island?

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    1. I did :-) I lived in a house made by my great grandfather from scavenged wood and windows, a house so haunted that three generations of women on the other side of my family won't go there (including me, now). I was 18 and had silver hair and no shoes, and really it sounds like a story, I know! :-)

      Only two of us lived on the whole island while I was there, I and an old lady who also lived alone, about two miles from me, on the headland of my bay. I met her once by moonlight, feeding wallabies. (She made a guest appearance in Suburban Magic). Neither of us had electricity but I think she was hardier, and witchier, than I. One day maybe I will write a book about that place, it is very beautiful and very powerful.

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    2. 18 years of age... Silver hair... A house so haunted, that you will not go there now...

      Ohhhh.... Please... Do write about it.

      Luna Crone

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    3. Yes, please write about it!

      ... Why was it haunted? ...

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  3. "We are all too clever."

    What a sad commentary, on "us"....

    It's been a while, since I had the ... What? Patience perhaps...? To sink into a complex book.

    Since synchrinosity is working in my life, at the moment, perhaps your post, is trying to show me something? Perhaps I should look into these titles...?

    I certainly adore the cover art, which you show!!!!

    So, thank you.

    I certainly hope I am not one of the too-clever-ones. -smile-

    Luna Crone

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  4. Ugh... Not enough proof reading...

    Use of 'certainly' twice, way too close together.

    -sigh-

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    1. Lol, I know how you feel about too many "certainties". When I was an English lit student, I had a lecturer point out that Shakespeare never used the same word in close quarters - ie, within a couple of lines or so. The lecturer was a world-class expert and said it was one of the ways he could discern whether a disputed piece of writing was really by Shakespeare or not. That level of quality composition. Ever since, I have been hyper aware of doing it myself! And when I see it done in published books I can't help but cringe, although even the greats do it.

      (But I don't think comments should be judged for their grammar. For example I am typing this on my phone while fending off a kitten. Good grammar under such circumstances would be heroic.)

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  5. I meant "certainly"s. My phone's spell checker is too pedantic.

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  6. I meant "certainly"s. My phone's spell checker is too pedantic.

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  7. Thanks for sharing those books. They look so magical and beautiful, and I want to start reading them :) I'm always looking for magical words and sentences to drink it.

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  8. oh! ohohohohoh! somehow I have never heard of these books, which makes no sense considering the libraries both home and municipal with which I grew up... I will be looking these out right away, your recommendation being all I needed to have.

    I know what you mean about the Tolkien comparisons...they seem inevitable for certain types of stories, however unmerited.

    your island sounds amazing! it would indeed make a wonderful story...

    (and yes, good grammar whilst fending off kittens is not to be expected!)

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  9. My childhood copy of The Silver Sun is one of the books that survived my ruthless pre-move culling and made the journey to Portland with me. I can see it from my bed and it gives me that *ahhh, just right* feel. But would you believe I've never read the other two in the series??!!!

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    1. Oh my goodness, I've never come across any other person who has read the book! What a delight!!

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  10. I can't read a book based on the reviews of others. I scan for books in the library/bookshop and if the title or cover capture my attention, I'll read the synopsis on the inside/back cover and if it sounds interesting I'll read it. I have found a lot of duds this way, but it seems to work for me.
    blessings
    ~*~

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  11. It has everything to recommend it!!! Your recommendation first and foremost of course, but also it is part of a trilogy or more to lose oneself in, and the blurb on the cover by Marion Zimmer Bradley! likening it to Stephen Donaldson and the Thomas Covenant chronicles! My Christmas holiday reading list is sorted!!

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  12. And my comment worked for the first time in an age!! ;-)

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    1. Yay! (Just a side note - I got The Black Beast from the library last week and remembered why I never bought it. Her writing from that point on became quite dark, with lots of cruelty and madness. I tried reading three of her later books and had to put all of them down. They are so completely different from the early ones.)

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    2. Thank you for the heads up <3

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