#WitchWeek2021 Day 6

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find the final Witch Week post. Jean (from Howling Frog Books) reviews a sci-fi novel by John Verney that was published more than 60 years ago. Looks like I’ll be spending time in used book stores until I find a copy of this one.

At last it is Guy Fawkes’ Day, appropriate for the end of our game of Hangman, with Mr. F meeting his destiny. Because only one guess was submitted yesterday, and it was incorrect (on purpose perhaps?), this game has ended as you see. But, in honor of Bonfire Night in the UK, I decided to have a bit of fun. Slide the arrow to the right and then to the left to see both images.

Obviously I can’t draw

No more guesses will be accepted, but come back tomorrow for a surprise finish.

For your musical entertainment, I believe you’ll recognize this tune, Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette.” A perfect finale for another Witch Week.

Taipei Symphony Orchestra, Conductor: Ibrahim Yazici

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 5

We’ve passed the half-way point of Witch Week, with reviews that I hope have given you a few chills.

Today, you’ll find my own Witch Week post, about two fantasy novels — Diana Wynne Jones’ The Merlin Conspiracy and Rachel Hartman’s Seraphina — over at Calmgrove. Royalty certainly has a way of attracting trouble, don’t you think? Oooh, and there are dragons.

As for our game, Mr. F is but one bad guess away from a bitter end. The hangman seems to enjoy his job.

Obviously, I can’t draw.

Have you figured out the phrase? If so, DON’T REVEAL IT. Just write it down and allow yourself to feel superior in private. Or, as others have done, you can reply that you’ve solved it — but feel free to make another guess anyway. Who knows? Your guess might help someone else figure it out. Unless, of course, you propose a wrong letter, just for fun — Competitive Hangman! (© Lizzie Ross 2021)

For today’s musical interlude, I give you Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain, with animation by the geniuses at Disney (from Fantasia). (BTW, the date in the title is wrong — Fantasia was released in 1940.)

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 4

It’s Science Fiction Wednesday, with Ola and Piotrek, from Re-enchantment Of The World, assessing Roger Zelazny’s classic sci-fi series, The Chronicles of Amber. In any of the 10 novels written between 1970 and 1991, you’ll find royalty threatened by conspiracy across parallel universes. Their review is at Calmgrove.

And now an update on Mr. Fawkes, whose situation gets worse each day. Will he live out the week? I see that more observers have arrived. I believe that woman has set fire to the stack of wood.

I think Mr. F is getting worried; there might not be many days left in his future. He’s begging you to make careful guesses! Unfortunately, he’s unaware of the unseen hand that’s stirring the pot, so to speak.

Scale is physically impossible.

No video today, but if you’d like to dance along with some ghosts, skeletons, and jack-o-lanterns, try this link.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to work on my NaNoWriMo project.

Posted in Science fiction, Witch Week | Tagged | 8 Comments

#WitchWeek2021 Day 3

As you read this, I’ll be at the polls, doing my bit as an Election Day worker. If you haven’t voted yet, get yourself out there and do it. Don’t let anyone convince you that your vote doesn’t matter.

Today, Chris himself at Calmgrove hoists the pitchfork to lead us into Katherine Addison’s empire of elves and goblins. Royalty again is threatened, but not from the expected quarters. You may find your empathy lands on unexpected characters.

For those of you just joining us, you should know that we’ve been playing a game of Hangman during Witch Week, with Guy Fawkes as the potential hang-ee. Each day, readers guess a letter that might be in the phrase, and from the submissions I choose one correct and one incorrect letter, adjusting the drawing accordingly. (Ok, ok, I’ll admit to being biased — you can probably guess where I stand, just from the drawings.) Just remember: if you figure out the phrase DON’T REVEAL IT.

I started the game on 30 October, so it has entered the 4th day. Mr. Fawkes’ situation is dire, as you can see. An audience is starting to assemble. I worry they have something awful in mind.

Absurd sense of scale

Here’s a little treat that will, perhaps, entertain Mr. Fawkes as he awaits his doom: a surprisingly adorable animated version of “Hall of the Mountain King”, from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite. Animation is by Witold Giersz.

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#WitchWeek2021 Day 2

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find our discussion of The Tempest. Ola, Jean, Chris and I had a great time talking about stormy double-dealing, back-stabbing, machinations, and just plain old devilry happening in what’s considered Shakespeare’s final solo project. A suitable Read-Along for Treason and Plot, no?

While I have your attention, let’s see how things have progressed for Mr. Fawkes. Two mores spaces have been filled in, but also — uh oh! — another wrong guess. Is the hangman looking altogether too eager? And what’s that woman doing next to the pile of wood?

Still not drawn to scale

What do you think of our man’s chances? Don’t forget to respond with your guess for today. And remember, you can repeat an earlier guess, if it wasn’t selected as either right or wrong.

As I sign off, I give you your daily musical interlude, this one (keeping with the tempestuous theme) is Benjamin Britten’s “Sea Interludes/4/Storm”, from the opera Peter Grimes, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

PS: NaNoWriMo starts today: 30 days of literary abandon! I’m working on a little something but will say no more here, for fear of jinxing my chances of finishing on time. It’s going to be a busy month.

Posted in Fantasy, Shakespeare, Witch Week | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

#WitchWeek2021 Day 1

Over at Calmgrove, you’ll find our first guest post for Witch Week, by Lory from Entering the Enchanted Castle. She reviews Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. The first book in the series, The Thief, is about an expert thief hired by a wizard to steal a … no, I’ll not reveal what he’s hired to take. Just believe me when I say the heist is better than any of Ocean’s various escapades, with all kinds of twists and betrayals.

Only one letter was submitted yesterday, and it was incorrect — so I’ve added the head to the drawing. A fair likeness, eh? Since there was only one guess, I took pity and gave poor Mr. Fawkes a free correct letter. He politely requested an E (I ignored his wrong guesses). You can see the changes on the updated drawing.

Figures not drawn to scale

Hmmm. There’s the hangman. And I don’t like the looks of that pile of wood. Witch Week ends on Bonfire Night, so it looks like things might be heating up for our saboteur. Is there time to save him? Do you want to? Don’t be shy! Submit a letter. You’re allowed one guess per day, and deadline is 10 pm NYC time.

And, because today is Halloween, I’m posting here a little something that the Socially Distant Orchestra recorded in October 2020, mid-pandemic: an excerpt from Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. You can find the SDO on Facebook.

PS: That’s my daughter on the left, playing the “chimes”.

Posted in Bonfire Night, Fantasy, Halloween, Witch Week | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

#WitchWeek2021 starts tomorrow

Let the Hangman Game begin!

For an overview of what Chris and I have planned for this year’s Witch Week — honoring Diana Wynne Jones and fantasy writing of all sorts — check out his blog at Calmgrove. You’ll see our theme is TREASON AND PLOT, which inspired our guest bloggers’s delightful reviews, with at least one rebel.

Meanwhile, the scaffold on the left signals the start of the game of Hangman that I promised. The victim this year will be Mr. Guy Fawkes himself (currently in his cell at The Tower).

Engraved English playing card, 1659

Rules are the same as ever, but with these slight differences.

1) If you think you know the full phrase (3 words, 5-2-7 letters), please just write it down on a piece of paper and set it aside. DO NOT POST IT IN THE RESPONSES. If you do, I’ll kill the Guy right away! Believe me, I’ll show no mercy. If you can’t stand the suspense, you can email your guess to me (my email address is in the right-hand sidebar).

2) Each person is allowed one guess of a single letter (vowel or consonant) per day. Just put it in a response to this post.

3) Each day, from all the responses, I’ll chose one correct letter and one incorrect letter; the chosen correct letter will be placed in its appropriate spot/s in the red blanks at the bottom, and the chosen incorrect letter will be added to the upper left corner of the drawing. If there are no incorrect guesses, I’ll choose a random incorrect letter. If there are no correct guesses, well, that’ll be a shame. (I already said I’ll show no mercy.)

And now for something musical: A performance of Schubert’s “Erlkönig” (The Erlking, or Elf-King), from the 2014 Oxford Lieder Festival (OLF’s 2021 festival ended just a week ago), with gorgeous animation by Jeremy Hamway-Bidgood. Go to this link for the lyrics in German and English.

Posted in Bonfire Night, Halloween, Witch Week | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Don’t look now …

From my Halloween Collection. New Yorker cover image by James Stevenson

… but Witch Week is almost here!

This year’s theme is TREASON AND PLOT (when Chris and I decided on this last year, we certainly didn’t expect it to be so apt), and our read-along is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, with treasonous plots in every act.1

On 30 October, Chris at Calmgrove erects the gallows by introducing this year’s guest bloggers, from as far away as New Zealand, Poland and Switzerland, as well as the UK and the US. Witch Week ends with a bang on 06 November, with our announcement of next year’s theme.

Meanwhile, on my blog, sticking with the Guy Fawkes’ Day theme, I’ll be playing a little game of hangman with my readers, just to put everyone in the mood2. Try to guess the word or phrase before the Guy is hanged and thrown on the bonfire.

I hope you’ll join Chris and me in this annual week-long celebration of fantasy, science fiction, and all things horrible.

Oh, and by the way:



1If you don’t have a copy of The Tempest, you can find the full play at Open Source Shakespeare. The blog post here links to an annotated PDF of The Tempest, created by the blogger, Luke Bartolo of The Amber of the Moment. Thanks, Luke!

2With links each day to Chris’s blog, of course.

Posted in Shakespeare, Witch Week | 3 Comments

Banned Books Week 2021, 7th day

This is it, the last day of BBW2021. I hope you’ve learned something new here, or at least found a new source of information that deepens your understanding of something familiar.

Today’s link in this week honoring the Right to Read takes you to The Week, a magazine that summarizes political stories from around the world, and from a range of viewpoints. This particular article, “17 of America’s most surprising banned books“, was originally published in 2011, and then updated in 2017.

If you know Americans, you probably won’t be surprised by any book that appears on this list. And if you’ve visited the sites I linked to in my earlier posts this week, you’ve already seen some of the titles. Perhaps you’re surprised by the ruckus caused by that bottle in Little Red Riding Hood’s basket — until you remember Prohibition. And I assume the unhappy witches who wanted to ban “Hansel and Gretel” have been assuaged by Harry Potter’s popularity. The objections to a minuscule drawing of a partially nude sunbather in a Where’s Waldo book make me embarrassed for the states of Michigan and New York.

The oddest publishing commotions have involved dictionaries, which gives me an excuse to feature a dictionary as my banned-book-for-the-day. American Heritage Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, and Dictionary of American Slang were each at some point challenged and/or removed from school libraries (not many), starting in the 1980s. In a 2010 article on their website, OIF/ALA point out that, “If not the most insidious book to censor, [a dictionary] certainly ranks among them.”

In addition to its editorial board, American Heritage Dictionary has a Usage Panel (currently at almost 200 members, from literature, news media, education, politics, and publishing) who are polled for opinions on such issues as further vs farther, noisome vs noisy, etc. The panel provides the linguistic version of two-thumbs-up — or, in the case of the AHD, 200-thumbs-up. For example, my 1976 edition (with a 117-member Usage Panel) comments that “Awhile is not preceded by for, though the noun while can be. Each of the following is possible: stay awhile, stay for a while, stay a while (but not stay for awhile).” The Panel points out that “irregardless, a double negative, is never acceptable except when the intent is clearly humorous.”

But the bannings weren’t about esoteric issues of usage, but instead about inclusion of certain words. Specifically, sexual terms. I imagine that these days, what with cell phones and the internet, parents have bigger things to worry about. I know of no dictionary challenges after 2010, which relieves me. Now I can get back to worrying about which works of fiction are facing the firing squad.

School Library Journal, September 18, 2019. Illustration by Mark Tuchman

This concludes my celebration of Banned Books Week. Thanks for coming along with me. I’ll give you one more link, to a School Library Journal article with advice for teachers and librarians about how to talk about censorship with students. The advice applies to conversations with any group of children, including one’s own.

Good luck out there, and keep reading!

Posted in Am reading, Banned/Challenged Books | 2 Comments

Banned Books Week 2021, 6th day

Today, a quiz. In 2019, the New York Public Library added a Banned Books Quiz to its website, and it’s still available two years later. Only 7 questions, so any trivia fiend can probably finish it in under a minute. You can access it here.

Speaking of public libraries, I made a quick, very unscientific survey of state public libraries in the US, looking for any content on this year’s Banned Books Week. Of the five states I checked, I found two.

In August, the Oklahoma Library Association (affiliate of ALA) announced a Banned Books Week 2021 photo contest here. The first photo was tweeted (@oklibs) earlier this week. I love those caution tapes around the stacks of books, and I want to thank the librarians of the state I grew up in for doing their part this year.

The Delaware Division of Libraries has a full page of links, images and videos here. Some of what they include you’ve already seen in my earlier posts, but scroll down to find the Library Bill of Rights, originally created in 1939 and then updated regularly since then. Well worth reading, and it won’t take long. And play the Jason Reynold’s video, less than 3 minutes long. One comment: “The things that are actually different about us should be celebrated, because they are what makes this tapestry of life.”

There must be other state library systems or associations that are participating. If yours is, feel free to add a link in the comment section.

Next up, my last ALA infographic, which suggests that book challenges are exactly like any other crime, in that a high number of them are unreported.

Infographic Courtesy ALA

And, as usual, I end by highlighting a banned book. This one appeared the NYPL quiz I mentioned at the beginning, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2000). If you’ve never read this terrific graphic autobiography, find a copy and immerse yourself in a funny, frustrating, frightening story of modern-day religious repression. When you finish, take the next logical step and pick up Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran (2003). If you care about reading (and you must, because you’re still with me), you’ll love this book.

You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. — Ray Bradbury

Posted in Am reading, Banned/Challenged Books, Graphic Novel | Tagged , , , | 5 Comments