Imagining hope, the books

imagesBoth Ursula Le Guin and Diana Wynne Jones have said that “writers of the imagination” can inspire hope as they imagine alternatives to destruction and despair…Marina Warner said something similar in From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers, and probably so have plenty of other people. In honor of the sun moving into Sagittarius, the sign of optimism, what follows is a short, random list of hope-inspiring books and/or worlds, that offer alternative solutions to a number of things:

Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed, The Lathe of Heaven, Always Coming Home, The Telling, Tehanu, Dancing on the Edge of the World, etc. (science fiction and literary criticism)

Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Hemlock, Black Maria, The Dalemark Quartet, long story short, pretty much everything (fantasy)

Stanley Cavell, Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage (essays about the classic romantic comedies — mostly starring Cary Grant, often with Katharine Hepburn.)

Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (using anthropology, literary criticism, fairytales, and the kitchen sink, Hyde looks at what it means to be an artist, healer, teacher, or anyone else whose work is based on the gift, living in a money economy.)

Isabel Allende, Eva Luna (magical realism, the story of a girl who is born a servant and becomes a writer)

Peter Kropotkin, Mutual Aid (written in 1902, a scientist’s alternative to social Darwinism)

Emma Goldman, Living My Life (“If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution.”)(autobiography of an anarchist)

Terry Pratchett, Nation, Going Postal, A Monstrous Regiment, Witches Abroad, A Hat Full of Sky, etc., etc. (fantasy)

Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time (essays about work with heart)

Carolyn See, The Handyman, Golden Days, There Will Never Be Another You (fiction: in which many of her protagonists fight despair with hoping outside the box)

Marion Milner, A Life of One’s Own (the journal of a pioneer of lucid dreaming in 1920s London)

Kim Stanley Robinson, Lucky Strike (science fiction novella; alternate history of Hiroshima and the atom bomb)

Starhawk, Dreaming the Dark (essays) and The Fifth Sacred Thing (fantasy, a future California where San Francisco is run by little old ladies and Wiccans; L.A. is the evil empire where those who own the water run everything)

Nancy Farmer, A Girl Named Disaster, The House of the Scorpion (fantasy and science fiction: an 11-year old girl in Mozambique runs away from an arranged marriage, survives with the help of animals and spirits; the early life of the boy who is a clone of a 140-year old drug lord in a land called Opium, in what is now Arizona)

Francisco X. Stork, Marcelo and the Real World (fiction: Marcelo lives in a treehouse behind his family’s home; he hears inner music and is happiest working with the Haflinger ponies at his special school; what happens when his father puts him to work at his corporate law office for the summer so he can get some experience in the real world.)

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being (fiction: a Japanese-American girl named Nao is the time being; so is the woman named Ruth who reads Nao’s diary when she finds it on a beach in Vancouver; so is Nao’s great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun)

Robertson Davies, Fifth Business, World of Wonders (fiction: see earlier post)

Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night (mystery featuring Lord Peter Wimsey: set in a fictional women’s college at Oxford in 1935, the theme is women’s education, equality between sexes, and the course of true love)

Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita (fiction, or a very strange roman a clef: the Devil comes to 1920s Moscow — where no one believes in him — except a woman named Margarita and a nameless writer who was driven crazy when his novel about Pontius Pilate was ridiculed by the powers that be. This book was banned in the USSR for 30 years, censored for even longer, and Bulgakov officially known as “a slanderer of Soviet reality”.)

Doris Lessing, The Four-gated City, particularly the appendix, where she veers into an s.f. future (fiction, the fifth novel in her Martha Quest series, roman a clef)

Sheri Tepper, The Margarets, Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, The Fresco, The Family Tree, Beauty etc. etc. (science fiction and fantasy, focused on gender and environmental issues, funny and sometimes sad)

Eleanor Arnason, Changing Women (science fiction: a group of anthropologists from a reclaimed earth land on a planet inhabited by matriarchal ‘fur-people’)

 

 

 

 

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Shadow and Character: Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

It turned out to be no coincidence that I was unable to write a novel until I had not just taken on board but embraced the idea of the flawed protagonist. (Actually by that point I was only interested in seriously flawed – as bad as me! – protagonists.) To see how this writing theory (which I had read about but ‘forgotten’; nothing teaches like experience) played out, I went through some of my favorite books at random to see if, from the very beginning, the shadows in a main character informed the stories I loved and read over and over again. What follows for the next few days are the first paragraphs of these books, and comments about how character shadows helped make the story.

5118sffVqkLFifth Business (book 1 of The Deptford Trilogy), Robertson Davies

My lifelong involvement with Mrs. Dempster began at 5.58 o’clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old.         I am able to date the occasion with complete certainty because that afternoon I had been sledding with my lifelong friend and enemy Percy Boyd Staunton, and we had quarreled, because his fine new Christmas sled would not go as fast as my old one.

One of my favorite first pages. The precision of the memory shows how important it is and pulls you right in, because what is the deal between a ten-year old boy and a person named Mrs. Dempster? (You meet her on the second page.)  You immediately get the rivalry between Dunstan Ramsey, who is telling the story, and his friend Boy Staunton. Not a perfect friendship by any means, but a ‘lifelong friend and enemy’. The difference between the two of them is shown in the way they react to the accident that occurs on the next page as a result of their rivalry. This accident (which Ramsey sees as his fault, due to his need to have the last word) and its consequences is the event that drives the trilogy, and the lives of Dunstan Ramsey, soldier, scholar, and hagiographer, the fool-saint Mrs. Dempster, and her son Paul, who becomes the greatest magician in the world. (See World of Wonders for his story.)