Lost tales

Tales Before Narnia
Tales Before Narnia

I’ve never been a big one for short stories but when perusing the New Titles last month I was struck by this one – Tales Before Narnia – the roots of modern fantasy and science fiction. To be honest I wasn’t sure what to expect but having taken a week off to loaf around home I thought some stories that I could pick up and put down would be a good distraction.

And it was. The tales vary in length immensely but most can be read in a short sitting and were mostly fantasy with a couple of early science fiction stories that could almost be classified as steam-punk now. Many of the stories were first published in the 19th century, one or two even older, and the one that I particularly enjoyed, Undine (1811) had the feeling of almost Arthurian literature. There are tales by Longfellow, Hans Christian Andersen (The Snow Queen), William Morris, Robert Louis Stevenson, Tolkien, Dickens, Kipling and some less well known authors.

Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun
Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

On reading the introduction I discovered that the editor, Douglas A. Anderson, had previously edited a similar book of Tales Before Tolkien, which the library has a copy of at Akaroa library. But that will have to wait because first I have to read the new Tolkien book The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrun. This has just been published and is Tolkien’s version of the Norse sagas of the Volsungs and of the Niflungs, both from the Elder or Poetic Edda. This will be my third version of this story having read it as the Volsung Saga, and also as the 12th century Germanic version The Nibelungenlied – if you want full immersion try Wagner’s Ring Cycle opera, based on the same story.

The new Tolkien version is written as a poem. Translations often lose this element but this is not a translation. These poems, there are two, have never before been published, in fact for a while Tolkien thought he’d lost them. It’s presented with a lot of additional material including the text of a lecture on the Poetic Edda that he gave at Oxford University, a bit of history of the story itself, and commentary.

And if epic heroic poetry interests you let me also recommend Seamus Heaney’s award-winning translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf which we have on CD so you can hear the poet (Heaney) reading his own work.

Celebrity to the rescue … or maybe not

I’ve been gleefully devouring Hello magazine since the early 1990s, while simultaneously despising every celebrity sell-my-story sad-sack in there. This dual love/loathing for celebrity culture creates contradictory forces which miraculously, in my case, seem to live in happy co-existence. Yes, I read, actually inhale, New Weekly but I also have “read it, enjoy it but never, ever believe it” etched onto my cortex.

I have long suspected I am not alone in this. For example highly educated and cynical librarians have many hidden shallows; the Central library staff room is groaning under the weight of frothy celebrity mags. Who needs Dostoyevsky when there is an Australian Women’s Weekly to gobble?  But one thing I cannot stomach is celebrity do-gooders, and Celebrity: How entertainers took over the world and why we need an exit strategy explains in a much more coherent and entertaining way than I ever could just exactly why people like that Bono need to shut their yappers and give world peace a wide berth.

Marina Hyde, the author of this rollicking good read, writes a celebrity column for The Guardian called Lost in Showbiz; she also mercilessly parodies celebs in a mock diary column A peek at the diary of… Like the Dr Doolittle of Celebsville, she attempts to decipher celebrity grunts and gobbledygook to find out if their forays into the world outside the movie studio or catwalk have any real meaning or long term benefit.  The resounding answer is no. Hyde then hilariously proceeds to bash celebrity in all its self-serving attempts to “give something back” or use their fame to highlight or bring focus to issues, issues they regularly fail to understand.

Hyde is a little light on answers to the celebrity conundrum: how do we get them back in their box, back to what the famous have always done well- wear sparkly frocks, go to orgies and generally brighten up our drab little lives? Nonetheless this book will make you snicker out loud and roll your eyes at the fatuous arrogance of the celluloid chosen ones. Angelina, Sharon Stone, Richard Gere etc you have been rumbled.