Tove Jansson (1914 – 2001)

Tove-Jansson

© Aftonbladet

Yes, another Scandinavian writer of children literature – but what can you do? I was enchanted by the Moomins a long, long time ago, and the enchantment still holds, even when I read them now aloud, to kids. We’re talking about books here, mind you – not that dreadful Japanese-European animated series, nor the gloomy Polish puppet animated show (although I still remember the Groke from this show – with a memory of lingering terrified fascination).

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Actually, Tove Jansson wanted to be a painter; she studied art in Sweden, Finland and France, and she painted intermittently throughout her life, both commissioned and private works. The images of the Moomins’ world were also created by her – apparently the prototype for Moomin was Jansson’s caricature of Immanuel Kant. She drew “the ugliest creature imaginable” on the toilet wall and named it Kant after she lost a discussion about the philosopher with her brother. Fortunately, the final image of the Moomin is much more friendly and blobby, with a big, round nose, a big, round belly, short, fat arms and legs, and a thin, slightly incongruous tail. Tove Jansson’s illustrations form the world of Moomins as much as the text – and they are in perfect harmony with each other.

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Astrid Lindgren (1907 – 2002)

ASTRID LINDGREN

Foto: Jacob Forsell COPYRIGHT PRESSENS BILD

Today’s post will be a short but heartfelt tribute occasioned by the recent birthday anniversary of Astrid Lindgren, falling on 14th November. Astrid Lindgren was – and still is – one of the most popular, prolific, and influential authors of children’s literature, one of the most translated, too, right on the top with the classics: Grimms and Andersen. And most empathetic, and humane, of them all ;).

But why do I write about her on a blog dedicated to fantasy and science fiction? I have my reasons, rest assured :).

Although she didn’t write many fantasy books, Astrid Lindgren was an exceptional fantasy writer, one of the greatest among all authors of books for children, and probably the best the whole Swedish literature has to offer. Period. And don’t tempt me, I could forever go on about Shakespeare, Goethe or Mickiewicz being great fantasy writers as well :D.

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Stanisław Lem (1921 – 2006), part 2

First, a picture of Stanisław Lem:

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The second part of my list of favorite novels by Lem seems more lightweight – and indeed, the books listed below are definitely easier to read than those described previously. That said, these novels and short stories compilations still tackle all of the principal themes in Lem’s work: ideas of consciousness, identity and intelligence, human morality, philosophical problems of life and death and all that is in between. Continue reading

Roger Zelazny, A Night In The Lonesome October (1993)

Zelazny_A NightZelazny was a literary master, that’s an undisputable fact, period. The Lord of Light, an ingenious sf masterpiece, or first five books in The Chronicles of Amber series – these are first in a row of books being not only milestones in the evolution of sf/fantasy genres, but also wondrous works of art and literature in general. This review, however, is about something entirely different – a very short (280 small pages, medium font plus illustrations!), stand-alone novel, Zelazny’s last – and one of his own favorites.

It’s illustrated by Gahan Wilson and the illustrations are apt. Very simplistic, maybe even going over into the field of caricature, and capturing some of the dark humor of the book. Could they be better? Yeah, certainly – but anyway they are a quite handsome complement to the text of the book. And let me tell you, A Night In The Lonesome October is a rare gem indeed, Koh-i-Noor of quirky fantasy, smallish but 100% pure.

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What could I say to preserve the sense of wonder and ultimate relish coming from reading that book for a first time? I really don’t want to spoil the experience for anyone who hasn’t yet read it. That means that this review won’t be digging deep into plot construction or characters – if you want to know it, read the book 😉

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Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell (2004)

Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. „I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, „but a gentleman never could.”

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I don’t read books like this one for action. Not even for characters, although some characters in “Jonathan…” are very good. Slow-paced behemoths like that – I read for atmosphere and quotes. It’s a cross of… Dickens, Austen, and a bit of Connie Willis if her all books were the length of the “Doomsday Book”. I’d recommend, probably for the first time, to watch TV show before reading the book – it takes all the action and excitement and condenses it in a relatively short (seven episodes) form. And since action is not the main point of the novel, you can safely reach for the book after that, to savour all the details – the language, the irony, the literary references. And illustrations! Portia Rosenberg did a great job, illustrations look great and match the tone of the novel. I strongly advise to read paper, preferably hardcover version. Leather-bound edition would be perfect, it would look and feel like one of the books of magic we read about in the novel. Maybe Folio Society will get to it 🙂

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