A Game of Thrones Re-watch Marathon!? Part 1 (1st half of Season 1)

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This post is Part 1 of 6, for Part 2 click here.

As the premiere (4/6/14) of season four of HBO’s popular “Game of Thrones” series rapidly approaches, I thought the opportunity was ripe for me to gush about how much I have come to enjoy the series and the “Song of Ice and Fire” books upon which it is based. It’s a daunting task to find time to watch – and write about! – three whole seasons but I’ll see how far I can go. I’ve also enlisted the help of another Game of Thrones fan (and in his case the word “fan” may be inadequate!) to help write some of the intended re-watch posts.

A popular debate that, I suppose, goes as far back as the the beginnings of the film industry is the one that goes something like “Did you like the book better, or the movie?” As we might expect, avid readers tend to prefer the books while others prefer the films. In my experience, one format generally outdoes the other. There are rare cases where both seem universally loved or admired. (Gone With the Wind? The Lord of the Rings? Can you think of others?) Rarer still, however, might be the case where a sort of symbiosis occurs. Filmed versions of a literary work help you come to enjoy the written version, which returns the favor. Something like this has occurred with me and George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series “A Song of Fire and Ice” – a.k.a. “Game of Thrones” if we use its TV moniker. If you’ve read some of my prior posts on the book series (here and here) written before I’d watched the HBO show, you’ll know I wasn’t always 100% on board the Westeros Train.

****SPOILERS FOLLOW****. This and any subsequent re-watch posts assume you have seen seasons 1-3 AND have read the corresponding depth into the books (about 2/3 of the way through book 3, “A Storm of Swords”)

Okay, with that preamble out of the way, today I’d like to just try to come up with Four Things I Loved (or Loved to Hate) about the first half of season one. Here goes:

1) I LOVED the characters  Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark (and I’ll admit it was somehow gratifying for me to learn that these favorite characters of mine in the books also turned out to be my favorites on the screen. And, as a book blogger, doesn’t one have to love Tyrion? As early as episode two, when he’s on the way to The Wall and Castle Black, young Jon Snow asks him, somewhat disdainfully, “Why do you read so much?” His answer is worth remembering:

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“My brother has his sword and I have my mind, and a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone. That’s why I read so much…”

Unlike most Lannisters, Tyrion also has redeeming qualities. E.g. he is sympathetic to the injured Bran, sharing schematics for a special saddle that will allow the young prince to be able to ride a horse again. And Tyrion is at his wisecracking best, even when faced with the adversity of imprisonment in one of the Eyrie’s “sky cells” (one of the more stunning visual effects in the series).

(The dreaded “Sky Cell” of the Eyrie)

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And feisty little Arya Stark – who cannot love her character? Energetically portrayed by actress Maisie Williams. A tomboy in a world that doesn’t permit them, she prefers swords to the more traditional forms of “needle”point.  A favorite scene is when she’s on the stairs with her father, Eddard (“Ned”) Stark and he tells her that someday she’ll marry a prince and be a mother to little princes and princesses. She looks at him rather disappointedly and says “That’s not ME.” I also loved that Ned is such a good father that, realizing Arya’s preferred path, he hires the charismatic swordsman, Silvio Forel of Bravos, to be her “Dancing Master” (that’s “fencing instructor” to you and me). The interplay between Arya and Silvio is great.

(Arya & Silvio’s Pas de Deux)

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2. I loved to HATE the characters Joffrey, Peter Baelish, and Theon Greyjoy. The latter was an easy call, as he seemed a little too eager to “euthanize” a direwolf pup in episode 1 and later, after Bran’s injury, when Theon visits Bran’s room, Bran’s direwolf, Summer, growls at him. If dogs can sense the difference between good and evil, surely direwolves must know the difference too. Yes, I’m sure they do.

(Kill a puppy? Sure, I’ll do it! – Theon Greyjoy)

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Then we get to the smarmy and unctuous duo, Prince Joffrey and Peter Baelish (a.k.a. Littlefinger). Joffrey’s true colors are shown right away in the incident on the King’s Road in episode two, while Baelisch’s are more slow-cooked over a low flame, I can’t stand either one of them!

(Below: Peter Baelish. Eewww!)

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One candidate for a favorite scene of the first half of season one would have to be “the slapping scene” where Joffrey is reprimanded by Tyrion. Yep, I had to rewind that one several times before I was done with it. 🙂

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3. I LOVED the “showdown” between Ned Stark and Jaime Lannister, which ends episode five (and is the halfway point in season one) and the slow build-up to it. We first see Ned and Jaime interact with each other at Winterfell in episode one, where their distrust and antagonism is thinly veiled, if that. They have another (verbal) showdown in the throne room (or should I say the Iron Throne Room?) in episode three and you get the sense they may “draw down” (swords in this case, not guns – and what is their eventual showdown if not a classic western gunfight?) on each other even there. Delaying the showdown made me enjoy it even more when it finally happens. And who do you think would have been victorious, if not for the “interference” by one of Jaime’s men? Though an older guy, Ned certainly seemed to be holding his own.

(“High Noon” – King’s Landing Style)

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(Oh, Jaime Lannister, the things you do for love…)

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4. I loved to HATE King Robert’s “management style.” If you could even say he has one. His ineffectiveness as King is the source of much of the woe that my favorite characters are forced to endure. Ned should have turned him down flat when Robert asked him to serve as The Hand of the King (I loved that title too, and the little stick-pin insignia that gets passed around to the various “HotK’s” throughout the series). Robert’s pathetic kingly traits are showcased after the incident on the King’s Road when he impotently admits “I forgot about the damn wolf” just prior to commanding Ned to kill Sansa’s Direwolf, Lady. Ass.

A bonus “love to hate” would be George R.R. Martin’s shameless rip-off of the culture of the Mongolian Hordes of Genghis Khan and his successors when developing/writing the culture of the savage Dothraki people. Savage in war but not in their language, that is, which was “invented” for the series and sounds beautiful, especially when spoken by Daenerys Targaryen (portrayed by actress, Emilia Clarke). She even looks good with “silver” hair, too.

(below: Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen)

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Well, those are “a few of my favorite things” from the first half of season one. What are some of yours? Who did you love, and who did you love to hate? Are you as eagerly anticipating the start of season four as I am?

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Deal Me In – Week 13 Wrap Up

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Ready for our first quarter results? 🙂 Thirteen weeks in means we’re 25% done with Deal Me In 2014. By my calculations, our little band of short story readers’ earnest efforts have covered over ONE HUNDRED stories thus far. Something to be proud of!

Below are links to new posts since the last update. Please consider doing your fellow bloggers the courtesy of visiting and reading their posts, leaving a comment or “liking” them if you wish.

James has better luck with Isak Dinesen this week, reading her story “Peter and Rosa” and also Raymond Chandler’s “Red Wind” http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/03/24/isak-dinesen-vs-raymond-chandler-for-the-deal-me-in-short-story-challenge/

Dale read John Steinbeck’s “Junius Maltby” which, like Caesar’s Gaul, he found could be divided into three parts 🙂 http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/john-steinbeck-junius-maltby/

Katherine read “Fat Man and Little Boy” by Gary Braunbeck in the anthology “Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury” http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/deal-me-in-week-13-fat-man-and-little-boy/

I read a story with local flavor Marianne Halbert’s “Dark Cloud Rising” found toward the bottom of my Indiana Horror Underground post. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/indiana-horror-underground/

Returning Reader got two stories in this week: O. Henry’s “The Coming Out of Maggie” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/short-story-13-the-coming-out-of-maggie-o-henry/ and “An Snamhai” by Katherine Duffy http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/short-story-14-an-snamhai-katherine-duffy/

Hanne read “The Lost Order” by Rivka Galchen from a 2013 issue of The New Yorker http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/week-13-the-lost-order-by-rivka-galchen/#more-1247

Candiss’s eight of diamonds served up the Katherine Mansfield story “Blisshttp://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/deal-me-in-challenge-story-13-bliss-by-katherine-mansfield/

“Indiana Horror Underground”

As a fan of words, I enjoy it when double meanings are employed. But how about a triple meaning? Such is the intention of the title of this blog post. Let me explain. A local bookstore, “Bookmama’s” in Irvington on Indy’s east side, hosted an event last weekend that featured seven or eight local authors who specialize in the horror genre. They read excerpts from their work, answered questions, mingled with the audience, etc., etc. Bookmama’s is a small store with little extra room on the main floor, so this event was held UNDERGROUND in their appropriately named “Underground 9 Studio.”

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The featured speaker – or maybe emcee is more correct – was James Ward Kirk (above) who in recent years has published several anthologies (horror, sci-fi, crime) featuring Indiana authors and stories. I actually owned two of them (e-copy) before I’d even heard of this event. Other authors present included Horror Poet Roger Cowin (below), whose “Vincent Price has Risen from the Dead” from the 2011 Indiana Horror anthology was one I had enjoyed (and did not find “abominable”), Murphy Edwards, whose short story “Bumper Music” in the same anthology provided both humor and horror, and Matt Cowan, whose story “Dark Attraction” helped bring some of the classic fears surrounding “carnivals” to the surface.

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Authors who I’d read in the 2011 Indiana Science Fiction anthology were Paula Ashe, whose story “Ladies Room” provides an answer (that you may not want to hear) to the age old question “why do girls always go to the restroom in twos?” and Matt Cowan again with his story “Unearthed” where maltreatment of an ET leads to trouble. These anthologies also featured other authors that I’d read elsewhere: Eric Garrison, Joanna Parypinski, and R.J. Sullivan, whose novel “Haunting Blue” I enjoyed last year but never blogged about. It is this last author who also wrote an introduction to the Indiana Horror 2011 anthology titled “The Hidden, Horrific Pulse of Indiana,” in which he correctly points out that,contrary to what people most would guess, the biggest annual event in Indy (judged by tourist revenue) is NOT The Indianapolis 500, but the Gen-Con gaming convention, which has called Indy its home since 2003. Sullivan notes that the “normal” people are sometimes taken aback by the (often costumed) attendees and are even glad when it’s over and the so-called “weird people” have left. Sullivan observes, however, that they haven’t left. They’ve “just returned to the UNDERGROUND. They’ve just changed costumes.” Heh heh.

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Anyway,this is just kind of a long-winded way to get around to talking about my week 13 story for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I drew the two of spades. In this challenge, “deuces are wild” and spades are my suit for darker stories. I was fortunate that in talking to author Matt Cowan (below) at the aforementioned event he had recommended another author in this volume, Marianne Halbert. So, with this event fresh in my mind, I proceeded to read her short story “Dark Cloud Rising” in which the action takes place … UNDERGROUND. 🙂

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Have you ever been “spelunking?” No? How about caving? Same thing. I’ve been in several caves in my life, but most of them have been “commercial” sites – well trodden by huge numbers of visitors. Like the tiny “Wolf Cave” in McCormick’s Creek State Park, just down the road from Indianapolis, or Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave at the other end of the size spectrum.

Once, though, I went caving FOR REAL with my Dad and brother. I was pretty young at the time – maybe fifth grade – and I think the cave we went to was Sullivan Cave in southern Indiana. I survived it, but I can’t imagine willingly doing it for “fun and adventure” as an adult. I remember at one point during the “expedition” I was directed to a small hole – about half the size of a manhole cover – in the cave floor and told that that was the passage to the next level of the cave. I remember thinking “Now who was the first person crazy enough to lower himself into there?!” Anyway, Dad was already familiar with the cave so I guess that fact, along with the fact that I was probably too young to know enough to be scared, allowed me to make it through the outing.

I do have a distinct memory of experiencing a strange phenomenon that night as I lay in bed trying to fall asleep. Whatever faint light existed in my room conspired with bookshelves, lamps, chairs, clothing, and my imagination to form a continuation of the subterranean landscape wherein I had spent most of the hours of the day. I knew it was a trick of the faint light and furnishings in my room, but it felt so real. I don’t retain many distinct memories from my youth, but that evening is one of then.

Enough about me. What about this story, “Dark Cloud Rising,” by Marianne Halbert? This story begins with a flashback to three years before the main action. An expedition of unknown purpose is apparently coming to a gruesome end, but the details are not complete. This expedition is linked across the years by three intrepid young caving enthusiasts – Topher (also an expert on bats), Garrett, and Moxie – when they find a cellphone “artifact” from that earlier expedition. Literary license is employed and the phone happens to be the same brand as Moxie’s, and she also has a cordless charging “doo-hickey” on her. This bit of luck is necessary to advance the story, though, and the three learn that the earlier expedition was involved with White Nose Syndrome (WNS) – a real world condition and a serious problem for bat populations (learn a little about it at Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_nose_syndrome ). The three are shocked to learn from the memo-pad on the phone that the earlier expedition was associated with a Dr. Lutz, who “developed White Nose Syndrome.”
One says, “You mean developed a cure for WNS don’t you?”
The one searching the phone says, “No. He developed the spores for the disease. In a lab.”
But why? The reason seems precipitated by the fact that “global warming’s effects on the Earth’s tectonic plates” (yeah, I know) had “awakened” something. Something called Megachiroptera… When the three discover they’re not alone in the cave things really get interesting.

I liked the story a lot as it brought back some personal memories – and fears. The few stretches in scientific credibility or good fortune (hey, I have a cordless charger for that three year-old cellphone!) did not diminish my enjoyment of it. And, after reading, I continue to have zero interest in the sport of cave exploration.:-)

The anthology with this story and others can be found for sale on line at Amazon (Kindle version only 2.99!) http://www.amazon.com/Indiana-Science-Fiction-Anthology-2011/dp/1466397276

(Below: gratuitous picture of Vincent Price as “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”)

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Top Ten Tuesday: My Bookish Bucket List

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme: my top ten “bookish” bucket list items. Should be fun…

10. Read Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”
I’ve managed to cross off a lot of the other notoriously long – but great! – books but not this one. I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina last year and didn’t like it as much as I’d been led to believe I would. That may make me put this off even longer…

9. Found/Launch the perfect book club
I’ve started or helped start two good book clubs in my life, but they both fizzled out eventually. Interest in joining my planned “Jay’s Benevolent Dictatorship Book Club” has been lukewarm so far, though.

8. Finally incorporate “Jay’s Future E-Publishing Company”
Yeah, that’ll never happen.

7. Read the Bible front to back
Of course, I’ve read almost all of it at times, but never cover to cover. An old friend of mine once gave me a foldable, bookmark-ish card that listed what you needed to read each day to be done in exactly a year. I need to dig that out and do it some year.

6. Visit the Lew Wallace Study in Crawfordsville, IN
I mean IN THE DAYTIME (see my old blog post). One of many literary treasures in my part of the country that I have yet to take advantage of.

5. Visit “Washington Irving Country” in New York
I’m talking Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson River Valley. The land of van Winkle and Crane. Ah…

4. Attend one of the Big Book Conventions in New York
I might as well do this the same trip as #5, huh? I always joke that if I go to New York, though, I’ll just disappear into that city and never return. Several employers have asked me to delay this trip.

3. Have a nice home with a Big Library
I’m talking a dedicated room for my library of course. It would also have maps of the world (from different eras) on the walls, comfortable chairs, and a huge globe in the middle of the room. “Nerd alert!”

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2. Go on a road trip that retraces some of Kerouac’s “On the Road” travels
Why not? I will point out that I would be better behaved than he and his crew were, though. Doubt I’d do the Mexico route in my version, either. It may be my favorite part of “On the Road,” but probably a wee bit more dangerous these days.

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1. Visit “Poet’s Corner” in Westminster Abbey
This would be my literary Mecca. So many great authors there…

So… What’s on YOUR BBL?

Deal Me In – Week 12 Wrap Up

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First, how about a Short Story QOTW?
Haruki Murakami: “My short stories are like soft shadows I’ve set out in the world, faint footprints I’ve left behind.”

Below are links to all the posts I saw as of the time of this writing. If there’s one I missed, feel free to link in the comments to this post. As always, I encourage everyone to visit and read the posts of your fellow participants, leaving a comment if you wish.

Hanne five of spades (Napoleon!) led her to share the William Trevor story “On the Sreets” http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/week-11-on-the-streets-by-william-trevor/

James takes a break from connecting his stories – or does he? – with Isak Dinesen’s “The Fish” and Grace Paley’s “The Long Distance Runner” http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/03/17/grace-paley-vs-isak-dinesen/

Dale’s three of spades treated us to Ray Bradbury’s tale “Long After Midnight” http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/03/20/ray-bradbury-long-after-midnight/

Returning Reader’s King of Clubs yielded another story from the Granta Book of the African Short Story, Camara Laye’s “The Eyes of the Statue” http://returningreader.wordpress.com/2014/03/18/short-story-12-the-eyes-of-the-statue-camara-laye/

Katherine at The Writerly Reader joins the mind of Edgar Allen Poe in his story/essay “Maelzel’s Chess Player,” about a chess-playing automaton that was a touring sensation for many years. And she also shares another video with us. http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/deal-me-in-week-12-maelzels-chess-player/

(below: “The Turk”, a.k.a. Maelzel’s Chess Player)

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Candiss drew the three of hearts and so offers us a seat at “a banquet for the open mind” with Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Library of Babel” http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/deal-me-in-challenge-story-12-the-library-of-babel-by-jorge-luis-borges/

Hanne’s second (week 12) story was Margaret Atwood’s “Stone Mattress” http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/week-12-stone-mattress-by-margaret-atwood/

For my part, I took the train to Ottignies when my four of hearts led me to “From Brussels to Ottignies” by Monica Westeren. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/03/23/from-brussels-south-to-ottignies-by-monica-westeren/

See you all next week!

“From Brussels South to Ottignies” by Monica Westeren

This week I drew the four of hearts for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. I’ve dedicated the hearts suit to women authors this year (though I also have a smattering of them in other suits as well). Where did I discover this story? A couple years ago, I learned from fellow blogger Alex (at The Sleepless Reader) of a collection of short stories set in Brussels. Now, I’ve alighted in many countries of the world in my reading, but I can’t think of anything I’ve read with a Belgian setting, so I decided to buy it and planned to use it as “fodder” in my future DMI projects. This is the third (of nine) I’ve read so far, and I also have Edina Doci’s story, “Bear Dance” waiting to yet be drawn this year. The name of the collection is “The Meantime” and info may be found here: http://www.themeantime.be.

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I had no idea what this story would be about, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised (based on the title) that the main character works on a commuter train as a ticket inspector. The story is subtitled “The Story of Lia'” and Lia is a young woman working that dead-end job and harboring unfulfilled dreams of being a linguist and scholar. It opens with the following warning:

“If by living your dream you risk seeing it shatter to pieces, then better to remain frozen. For ignorance is bliss, and so are frozen dreams that live forever.”

Reading through the story, however, I doubt that the author believes this philosophy to be true. More likely is that the “warning” is placed in the story as a potential explanation of how so many people in the world choose the “remain frozen” option. I found the story interesting (and the main character’s current job is an ideal time-killer as she considers her preferred career path of linguistics, for she encounters many passengers of many nationalities speaking many languages in the daily performance of her duties). In an early heart-to-heart talk with her brother, when discussing their father’s discouraging her interest in languages, Lia’s brother says, “Don’t you see through dad? He’s shit scared you’ll make it, while he played it safe.” (See? He chose to “remain frozen” as well)

The majority of the story takes place on a train (see title) and also includes the gimmick of dividing sections of text with times – like a train schedule would be presented. There is also a mystical interlude thrown in near the end which took me by surprise as it felt a little out of place and left me wondering if its inclusion was a late decision by the author. Speaking of the author, I searched for her online, but she appears to have fallen silent for now, with the most recent stuff I found being a whole year ago. I hope she herself hasn’t retreated to the choice of remaining frozen…

What short stories have you read recently? Where in the world have YOUR reading travels not yet taken you?

Below: the action of the story takes place between Brussels and Ottignies (where the red stick pin is in this map). I wanted to know where it was, okay? 🙂

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The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins

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A couple weekends ago, I found myself between “required” reads and thought I’d give this book a try. The Frozen Deep actually began its life as a play, co-written by Collins and his good friend Charles Dickens, but what I read was Collins’ later adaptation of the play into a novella. I haven’t read much Collins before, either, though his most famous work, The Lady in White, is sitting on my bookshelf. I did read his short story, “A Terribly Strange Bed” as part of the 2011 edition of my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge, but I think that’s about it.

I chose this novella, honestly, because of its title. “The Frozen Deep” seemed to fit in perfectly with the winter we’ve been having here in the American Midwest, and I had also realized I’d been reading (not consciously) a lot of “winter” material. (George R.R. Martin’s song of fire and Ice to name just a couple thousand pages)

It’s loosely based on the real life events of the English “Franklin Expedition” of 1845, which was charged with finding the Northwest Passage and disappeared to an unknown fate. (Later, not wholly substantiated reports from native Inuit people gave some hints of a perhaps grisly fate of the expedition.)

So, how to make a popular stage drama from all this? Its a simple recipe: Take one rising young officer (who declares his love for a charming lady on the eve of the expedition’s departure), then add a last minute volunteer for the expedition (who also had once entertained hopes in regard to this same young lady – hopes that were crushed also on the eve of the expedition), add a dash of the gift of “the second sight” to the young lady. Mix these ingredients together and place them in a large, remote and harsh wilderness lined with privations and conflict and let simmer for about 100 pages. Presto! You have the story “The Frozen Deep!”

I enjoyed the book for the most part. The conflict between “the spurned” and “the chosen” lay beneath the surface for the greater part of the book but blossomed nicely toward the end. An easy read also – perhaps you should make a note of it for next winter in case you find yourself with a spare couple hours on a cold and blustery day.

Have you read anything by Wilkie Collins?  What were your favorites, or what do you recommend by him?

(below: From wikipedia, a portrait of Wilkie Collins. I think he wrote remarkably well for being just a disembodied head…)

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Deal Me In – Week 11 Wrap Up

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We had a full house at DMI2014 this week. If you throw out (er, I guess I mean “discard”) my seven of clubs, we’re “jacks full” of eights. Although, we might not have left the table in one piece if this were a real poker game – two of our jacks were the jack of clubs. Try explaining THAT while raking in your winnings. 🙂

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Anyway, on to the stories. Below are links to all the posts I saw as of the time of this writing. If there’s one I missed, feel free to link in the comments to this post. As always, I encourage everyone to visit and read the posts of your fellow participants, perhaps leaving a comment if you wish…

James read two “stories”, Grace Paley’s “An Interest in Life” and George Orwell’s essay, “England, Your England.” George and Grace? That has a familiar ring to it…http://jamesreadsbooks.com/2014/03/10/deal-me-in-short-story-challenge-george-orwell-vs-grace-paley/

Dale read another classic, “The Celestial Railroad” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/nathaniel-hawthorne-the-celestial-railroad/

Katherine read “The Eight of December” by James Smed, another story from her David Copperfield collection. Appropriately, she also links to a video of another great, “magic” card trick. http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/03/15/deal-me-in-week-11-the-eighth-of-december/

Jay (that’s me) read another Russian short story (I’m loving these!), “Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev. https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/lazarus-by-leonid-andreyev/

Candiss’s eight of spades led her to the story “Brownies” by ZZ Packer http://readthegamut.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/deal-me-in-challenge-story-11-brownies-by-zz-packer/

And… late breaking from Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 just after I posted this… is Andre Dubus’s “A Father’s Story” http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/03/16/week10/

“Lazarus” by Leonid Andreyev

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This week i drew the seven of clubs for my Deal Me In Short Story Reading Challenge. Clubs are my suit for Russian authors this year, and this card was assigned to Leonid Andreyev’s story, Lazarus. I’m going to borrow an idea of Hanne at Reading on Cloud 9 and share the opening lines of this story:

“When Lazarus arose from the grave, after three days and nights in the mysterious thraldom of death, and returned alive to his home, it was a long time before anyone noticed the evil peculiarities in him that were later to make his very name terrible.”

Isn’t it better to let the dead rest in peace? Certainly in literature that appears to be the case. Zombies, vampires, etc? – these stories never end well. Not to mention Stephen King’s Pet Sematary or W.W. Jacobs’ story “The Monkey’s Paw.”

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Maybe these types of stories are our echoes of the biblical story of Lazarus, a man from the town of Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem. In the gospel of John (found in chapter 11, if you wish to re-read), we learn that Lazarus had been sick while Jesus was visiting his sisters, Mary and Martha, and him. After Jesus leaves, news reaches him that Lazarus has died. Jesus returns to Bethany. Moved by the tears of Lazarus’s sister Mary, he asks to be led to the tomb, where the stone is rolled away and, following his command, Lazarus (dead four days, not the three days in Andreyev’s story) walks out, trailing strips of linen and grave clothes. We don’t hear much about what happened to Lazarus afterward.

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Andreyev (above), however, proceeds to speculate in his story. “It was evident that the disintegration of the body had been halted by a miraculous power, but that the restoration had not been complete; that death had left upon the body the effect of an artist’s unfinished sketch seen through a thin glass.” Lazarus, as you might imagine, is quite the sensation and – at first anyway – everyone wants to see him and ask, “Why do you not tell us,Lazarus, what was There?”

Of course there is a dark side to Lazarus being brought back. Meeting this Lazarus has a dreadful effect on people. His gaze is worse than Medusa’s and Andreyev writes that “men thus stricken by the gaze of Lazarus began to fade away listlessly and quietly and pass into a slow death lasting many years.”

(Below: Medusa from classical mythology)

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This was a very disturbing story, and I almost feel that, just by reading it, I too have suffered at least a glancing blow of this dreaded gaze. The very reading of it cracked open the door to thoughts about what really does lie There, on the other side of life. It seems also that it is only with forceful effort that this door may be shut again. I hesitate to recommend this story to anyone except those who are prepared for their equilibrium to be perturbed. It is available in the public domain and may be found for free on line. One such place is at east of the web: http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/Laza841.shtml I own the story as part of my electronic copy of “Best Russian Short Stories.”

A bit of trivia I learned when “researching” this blog post is that the day before Palm Sunday is known as “Lazarus Saturday.” (In 2014, Lazarus Saturday will fall on April 12th – mark your calendars!) Maybe I’ll read this story again on that day in a few weeks. Coincidentally – or perhaps not – Saturday is the day of the week I’ve been drawing my card from my short story deck for the past few years.

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“But what of Lazarus? What of Lazarus?” (famous last words of Captain Kirk in an otherwise forgettable episode – “The Alternative Factor” – of Star Trek, the Original Series, which featured an alien character named… Lazarus)

Thomas Hardy Rocks

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Lately there seems to be an unbridled avalanche of animal videos posted on Facebook, most with some teasing tag line like “This will make you cry!” or “You won’t believe what this dog/cat does!” (Okay, not just lately. It’s been like that forever, I know.) Anyway, it made me think about how easily and readily we assign human motives and personality to the actions of our beloved pets. I suspect at least in some cases we are even correct, but often we may not be. I recalled a poem by Thomas Hardy that reminds us we can also be mistaken…

Ah, Are You Digging on My Grave?

Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? — planting rue?”
— “No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said,
‘That I should not be true.'”

“Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?”
— “Ah, no: they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin.'”

“But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? — prodding sly?”
— “Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.

“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say — since I have not guessed!”
— “O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog , who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”

“Ah yes! You dig upon my grave…
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place.”

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