“What are we looking at?”
“But there’s nothing here!”
“There will be! Now be quiet!”
Cindy covered Joey’s mouth with her hand. He brushed it off, but did as she told him nonetheless. The two children huddled closer as they stared over the rocks at the empty field ahead.
“I still don’t get why you brought me here,” Joey whispered after five uneventful minutes.
“You will.” Cindy glanced up at the full moon just beginning to poke through the clouds. “It’s almost time.”
They sat quietly for another several minutes, waiting. Joey opened his mouth, about to complain that it was cold and this was boring and he wanted to go home, but the words never left his throat. Just then, a circle of light appeared in the middle of the field, in the very spot Cindy had pointed out when they arrived.
“C-Cindy?” Joey stammered, suddenly afraid. “W-What’s happening?”
But Cindy didn’t seem to notice her friend cowering beside her. She was too busy grinning as she leaned over the rock for a better view.
“Here they come!”
She quivered with excitement as little balls of light began to appear across the field. One by one, the floating lights materialized into tiny glowing figures with wings. Joey’s eyes grew wide as he stared into the field, unable to believe what he was seeing.
“Are those…?” he gasped. Cindy nodded without taking her eyes off the scene ahead.
The fairies all gathered around the circle of light in the middle of the field. One of them, who was slightly brighter than the rest and wore a crown on her head, raised her hands to call for silence, a request immediately respected by all the others. Cindy turned to Joey, who was now leaning over the rock beside her.
“That’s the fairy queen!” she whispered. The two of them watched quietly as the leader of the fairies began to speak.
“My children!” she said in a kind yet authoritative voice. “Tonight, let us give thanks to our Mother Earth for her bounty. Let us praise her, that we may never find ourselves wanting of her generosity. Let her know that we are eternally grateful for her kindness. So sing and be merry, my children! Tonight, we dance!”
The queen raised her hands again and all the fairies cheered. A small group beside her began to bang and strum on tiny instruments, and soon the air was filled with music. Cindy and Joey watched, enthralled, as some of the little glowing figures joined hands and danced around the center circle while others twirled through the air in pairs. It was a sight to take the breath away.
“Aren’t they beautiful?” Cindy sighed dreamily, her head in her hands. Joey nodded without even realizing.
“They really are.”
The children giggled as they watched the fairies dance and sing. Before long, they too found themselves getting caught up in the spirit of the music.
“May I have this dance?” Joey said in a mock grown-up voice as he stepped back and bowed to his friend. Cindy curtsied and waved an imaginary fan.
“I thought you’d never ask!”
The two friends laughed as they imitated the fairies, twirling around in circles until they were dizzy. Then…
Cindy and Joey froze, their smiles vanishing instantly. They turned around slowly to see two glowing figures floating before them, watching them with wide, pale blue eyes.
“What are you doing here?” one of the fairies asked, his brow raised in suspicion. While Cindy and Joey exchanged awkward looks, the other fairy turned to her companion.
“Don’t frighten them, Eldan!” she said in a much softer tone, taking him by the arm. “They’re not hurting anyone. They’re just children!”
“Human children, Shea,” said the first fairy as he turned to his friend. “You know we don’t allow humans here. What would the queen have to say about this?”
“Why don’t we ask her?”
“You want to take them to the queen?”
“Why not?” Shea smiled. “They clearly like to dance too! I’m sure she wouldn’t mind. She might even be delighted to have them join us!”
Eldan glanced at the nervous children, then turned back to his companion and sighed in defeat. “Fine, if you say so. But if we get in trouble for this…”
“We won’t.” Beaming, Shea fluttered over to Cindy and Joey and extended her hand to them. “It’s okay, don’t be afraid. Come with us! We don’t bite!”
“Speak for yourself,” said Eldan, sparing a piercing look at Joey. The boy drew back at those words, but Shea calmed him with a gentle laugh.
“He’s joking, sweetie. This guy couldn’t hurt a fly if he wanted to!”
The fairy fluttered down between the children and reached out to touch their hands. Dazed, Cindy and Joey stepped forward as Shea led them by their forefingers out from behind the rocks and into the field, Eldan following close behind. They didn’t know what to expect, but of one thing they were certain: the night was about to get far more interesting.
To be concluded next Friday
For Christmas 2013, I received a copy of Neil Gaiman’s newest acclaimed novel released in the same year. Unfortunately, though I wanted to add it to my Off The Bookshelf segment as soon as possible, other priorities in my life have been delaying my leisurely reading time, so that I only just managed to finish the book last month. It’s a shame I couldn’t get through it quicker, because the truth is that it was a delight to read. So without further ado, here’s my review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman
Published in June 2013, The Ocean at the End of the Lane tells the story of an unnamed man and a strange experience he faced in his youth. After returning to his childhood home for a funeral, the middle-aged narrator pays a visit to the farmhouse down the lane, where he met an extraordinary girl named Lettie Hempstock and her mother and grandmother when he was seven. While sitting at the edge of the pond behind the house – a pond Lettie had called an ocean – he suddenly recalls the details of the most fantastic and terrifying event of his past – “a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy”.
First off, I have to thank Vanessa Levin-Pompetzki for the book recommendation on her blog, since that’s where I first heard about this novel. I’m glad I stumbled upon her post, because the book really is a wonderful read. A fantasy tale narrated from the memories of a seven-year-old boy, the story touches on such themes as existentialism, the struggles between good and evil, and the discrepancies between childhood and adulthood.
What drew me in most about this book is the way it so subtly yet realistically depicts the simple qualities that make us human, such as curiosity and fear. The author does an excellent job of portraying the theme of self-identity throughout the story without emphasizing it too greatly; it was more of an impression left on me after finishing the book than a prominent point to focus on with every turn of the page. In that respect, I believe the author made a wise decision in creating a seven-year-old protagonist, as few adults in this world experience life as purely and innocently as children do.
This is another favorite theme of mine from the book: the divide between the world of children and the world of adults. From the beginning of the story, it’s implied that the middle-aged narrator sitting by the Hempstocks’ “ocean” feels somewhat disconnected from his youth, which he vaguely remembers as not being a particularly happy time in his life. Throughout his childhood memories, references are made to how differently grown-ups behave compared to children, as well as how difficult it would have been for him to make his parents understand what was happening at the time the strange events took place. Yet the author makes a point of illustrating how these differences are merely superficial; one of my favorite excerpts in the novel comes from a conversation between the narrator and Lettie about the true nature of adults:
Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.
– Lettie Hempstock, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman, 2013)
Overall, Mr. Gaiman has constructed a beautiful work of art that readers of any age group can appreciate. Personally, I believe this novel would appeal mostly to adults for its deeper message of understanding the world and one’s own self, which many of us tend to forget as we grow older. Whether we need reminding to search for our true identities or to compare our past perspectives to our present outlook on life, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a captivating read with the potential to leave its readers asking the simplest questions they didn’t even know were hidden in the depths of their minds.
In a way, The Ocean at the End of the Lane reminds me of The Little Prince in that the story centers on life and existence from the perspective of a child, with a gentle hint of fantasy to add to the intrigue of the narrative. I love stories that depict the world from the eyes of children, as such tales remind me of how I used to live when I was younger. For artists in particular, it’s interesting – if not essential – to remember the past once in a while, and there’s nothing like a well-written work of fiction to take us there in ways we never even imagined.
So if you too enjoy stories that can make you see the world and even your own life in a different light, I highly recommend giving this book a read. You may just catch a glimpse of yourself within the pages of Gaiman’s mysterious “ocean”.
Remember when you were a kid, how you enjoyed reading or listening to holiday stories with your family at the end of the year? That was a good part of my childhood, as we had several Christmas-themed books sitting on our shelves when I was growing up. So to celebrate the season, here’s a brief review of a Christmas book we had when I was a kid: Treasury of Christmas Tales. Enjoy!
Treasury of Christmas Tales, by Carolyn Quattrocki
Treasury of Christmas Tales is a children’s book published around 1994 and consisting of a collection of classic Christmas stories. The book was put together by author Carolyn Quattrocki, and includes colorful illustrations by Susan Spellman and adaptions of works by writers such as Charles Dickens (“A Christmas Carol”), Clement C. Moore (“‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”), the Brothers Grimm (“The Elves and the Shoemaker”) and Hans Christian Andersen (“The Little Match Girl”). Written in simple text, Treasury of Christmas Tales contains 19 stories, all themed around Christmas and the winter holiday season:
- A Christmas Carol
- The Wishing Star
- The Little Match Girl
- The Christmas Mouse
- Jingle Bells
- The Magic Toy Shop
- The Littlest Angel
- The Twelve Days of Christmas
- The Christmas Bear
- ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas
- The Nutcracker
- Santa Claus is Coming to Town
- The Tiny Elf
- O Christmas Tree
- The Elves and the Shoemaker
- The Little Drummer Boy
- Christmas Carols
- The Happy Snowman
- Rudolph’s Adventure
I remember I enjoyed reading this book with my mother and sisters when I was a child. Around the end of the year, my mom would read some of these tales to us while we followed along with the pictures, which really made for a fun family experience.
The 1994 edition of Treasury of Christmas Tales from my childhood
What I especially enjoyed about this book was how accessible the text was for us at our young age. Originally complex tales like “A Christmas Carol” were adapted into language that we as children could easily understand, but that didn’t lose the Christmas spirit of the story. Even sad tales like “The Little Match Girl” were told in a way that was uplifting and heartwarming. I also liked the colorful illustrations on every other page of the book, which made the stories even more comprehensible and memorable. It isn’t a broad collection for sure, but it does have good stories and illustrations that made it a joy for us to read every holiday season.
Though I hadn’t read this book since I was a kid, recently rediscovering it among my childhood belongings brought back pleasant memories of enjoying the holiday season with my family. It’s always fun to revisit stories from a happy time in your life, and the tales I enjoyed as a kid usually have a way of inspiring me to create stories of my own as an adult. So if you have some good holiday stories from your childhood, I encourage you to read them again this season. You may find just what you need to write your own cheerful Christmas tale!
I wanted to start this year’s Off The Bookshelf posts with a review of a beautiful story that I finally got around to reading recently. I know I really should have read it (or rather, finished reading it) a long time ago, and after I did, I realized what I had been missing since I was a kid. So long overdue, here is a review of a classic tale by a French aviator and author: The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince (or Le Petit Prince, in its original French title) was first published in 1943 by Reynal & Hitchcock, in both English and French. Narrated in the first person, the book tells the story of a pilot who ends up stranded in the desert, where he meets a strange boy from a distant and tiny “planet” (which is really an asteroid). Over the eight days it takes him to fix his plane, the narrator gets to know the story of this “Little Prince”, from the life he had on his planet to the journey that brought him to Earth. The Little Prince enchants the pilot with his eccentric and poetic outlook on the world, and when the time comes for both of them to return home, the narrator is utterly heartbroken to lose the only friend he’s ever known who could appreciate life with the beautiful innocence of a child.
What stands out most about this book is how it criticizes the “adult” way of thinking. The story begins with the narrator telling his readers how he was discouraged from pursuing art by grown-ups who couldn’t comprehend his drawings when he was younger. Since that time, the Little Prince was the first person he ever met who understood the vision he had as a child. Still very young himself, the Prince thus represents the simple way children see the world in contrast to the analytical views of adults, and does so in a way that makes the former much more appealing.
The Little Prince and the Fox
(Illustration by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Though appearing to be a children’s book, The Little Prince is arguably targeted at adults who have forgotten how to understand the world the way they should. We as mature readers have it constantly pointed out to us that our manners are flawed, that we are too concerned with “matters of consequence”. Basically, we’ve become so focused on trivial details that we’ve lost sight of the things that are truly important. Perhaps this idea is most evident in a scene involving another well-spoken character of the story: a fox that the prince meets on his journey through Earth.
One sees clearly only with the heart. What is essential is invisible to the eye.
– The Fox, The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)
The Little Prince is a charming tale fit for readers of all ages. For adults, it’s a reminder of the lessons that can be learned from youth, many of which may have been lost long ago. As for children, they can find embedded in these pages the encouragement to keep living their own special way, and, if nothing else, a friend who can teach them the real matters of so much importance.
If there’s one thing I loved most about this book, it was the way it constantly reminded me how I used to see the world when I was a little girl (and how I probably should see it again as a woman). Living in a world that seems to demand we grow up as quickly as possible, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to experience life through the innocent eyes of children. The Little Prince’s questions and observations, coupled with the grown-ups’ awkward answers, served as a lesson on how I should never lose touch with the curious child still in my heart, for to do so would be like losing a very special friend.
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. Though it did break my heart a little, it was wonderful to read a story that could effortlessly shine light on the poetry children can bring to the world. The Little Prince has a lovely perspective on life, and after reading his story, I only hope I can remember to keep setting my inner child free. She is, after all, a very important friend to the grown-up writer I’ve become.
It’s the holiday season, and that means it’s the perfect time to share a blog post about a Christmas-themed story! I had originally planned this post for next week (Christmas Day), but when I realized Christmas is also the last Wednesday of the year, I decided to bump this review up and save next week for a special post instead. So here it is a week early, a review of another of my favorite Dr. Seuss books: How The Grinch Stole Christmas!
How The Grinch Stole Christmas!, by Dr. Seuss
Every Who down in Whoville liked Christmas a lot,
But the Grinch, who lived just north of Whoville, did NOT!
– How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (Dr. Seuss, 1957)
Originally published by Random House in 1957, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! tells the story of a grouchy creature known as the Grinch and his plot to ruin Christmas for the town of Whoville, located just south of his cave on Mount Crumpet. Annoyed every year by the festivities of the warm-hearted Whos, he dons a makeshift Santa Claus costume and descends into Whoville on Christmas Eve to steal all their presents, food and decorations, in the hope of stopping the holiday from ever arriving. Come Christmas morning, however, he is surprised to find that despite his best efforts to discourage them, the Whos still have the spirit of Christmas in them, and that day, the Grinch learns a valuable lesson about the true meaning of the holiday season.
I’ve always appreciated How The Grinch Stole Christmas! for its uplifting message about the holiday spirit. With all the commercialization that Christmas has undergone over time, it’s easy to lose sight of the simpler things we should enjoy during the holidays, such as the company of our loved ones and all the possibilities that come with a new year. Puzzled to hear the Whos singing on Christmas morning, the Grinch starts to wonder why his plan didn’t work, and comes to a heartwarming revelation.
Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.
It probably goes without saying that the author’s intention with this story was to criticize the commercialization of Christmas. Interestingly, the Grinch has been compared to Seuss himself, who claimed to have found inspiration for the character after seeing a “Grinchy” face in the mirror on December 26th. His idea was to write this sour character in order to rediscover the meaning of Christmas, which he felt had been lost on him at some point in the past. The same way he did with Horton Hears a Who!, Dr. Seuss drew from his own life experience to tell a heartwarming story that readers of all ages can enjoy for its important lesson.
The Grinch and Cindy Lou Who, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966)
Like most of Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is written in rhyming verse and illustrated with colorful and bizarre characters, making it a fun and memorable read for the whole family. A noteworthy adaptation of the book is the 1966 TV special directed by Chuck Jones (of Looney Tunes fame). I remember watching it often as a kid and smiling every time the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes at the end of the story (not to mention Cindy Lou Who was probably the sweetest little thing I’d ever seen in a classic cartoon). It’s an adaptation I’d highly recommend, so if you haven’t seen it yet and it runs annually on TV in your region, be sure to watch it this holiday season! And while you’re at it, you may want to read the book again; it’s truly a Christmas classic!
What I find most inspiring about this book is the way it never fails to fill me with holiday cheer, regardless of the time of year. I enjoy a good story where the villain is the main character, and seeing the Grinch embrace the Christmas spirit helps me remember that there’s more to the holidays than presents (not that I ever needed much reminding, with a wonderful family like mine).
Overall, How The Grinch Stole Christmas! is a very enjoyable read, and one that should definitely be on every Seuss fan’s bookshelf. Whether I’m in the mood for his fun stories and illustrations or for his good life lessons, I always find something wonderful to enjoy in Dr. Seuss’s charming holiday tale! Enjoy, and have a very Merry Christmas!