This month we’re going to look at some epic fantasy. The Wheel of Time turns throughout fifteen monstrously huge books (well, fourteen and one shorter prequel novel) that make the A Song of Ice and Fire books look like novellas in magazines. Seriously, I could kill someone with one of the hardbacks without much effort. The first eleven were written by James Oliver Rigney Jr, also known as Robert Jordan; after his death the series was finished by Brandon Sanderson. Mitchell gets to have some input this time too. Cut for length, though this is nowhere near as long as the Pratchett post.
Initially I planned to cover something else this month. I was going to tackle another big fantasy series, but after last month I didn’t want to do that. Then I was going to look at a Young Adult author, but I’ve just got hold of her latest book and want to wait until I’ve finished it. So instead this month’s spotlight is the author I’m currently reading, who I suspect many of you won’t have heard of.
Georgette Heyer (1902-1974) is one of the main reasons Regency romances exist, essentially, though she wrote across other genres as well. (In particular she’s written some mysteries set in the Roaring Twenties that I want to read once I’ve finally finished the Regencies, as well as various novels from much earlier in history.) Her Regency novels are pretty similar to Jane Austen, but 1) with a lot more detail and context, since Austen was writing for an audience who already knew the setting whereas Heyer had to explain it for her readers; worldbuilding! Very well done worldbuilding, too; Heyer was a real historian. And 2) straight up funnier.
Because these books are funny. Not necessarily laugh-out-loud, the way Pratchett’s are, but – well, I’ve created a new tag; ‘books to make you smile’. I would say charming if that didn’t sound so patronising. They’re real feel-good books; her characters are warm and funny and often slightly absurd. And the romances are usually surprisingly healthy, remarkably so given the time they’re set in and the time they were written. Not always, but so far I’d say easily a 95% success rate as far as I’m concerned. There’s always an actual plot above and beyond the romance, ranging from the mundane to the surprisingly action-packed; it’s often easy to work out the end of the story, but usually not how it gets there.
These books make me happy to read them, it’s as simple as that. I owe my mother and my grandmother an apology, since they both separately recommended Heyer to me many years ago and I only recently finally got around to them. I doubt you’ll find physical copies very easily, but they’re all on Kindle and presumably other e-readers.
My grandmother always particularly recommended Arabella; my mother’s favourite was The Convenient Marriage. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them and would also urge you to look out for False Colours, The Unknown Ajax, Frederica, The Quiet Gentleman and The Nonesuch in particular. Though honestly, all of them have been wonderful (with the slight exception of the Alistair-Audley trilogy, since I didn’t particularly like the characters).
In other news, I am currently rejoicing that Cormoran Strike: Career of Evil is going to air this week and I don’t have to watch it. Also I’m sure nobody is surprised that the next HP post is going to be a while yet.
Once a month, I pick something from my bookshelves and talk about it. There’s no better choice to kick off this series than the work of my favourite author of all time, Sir Terry Pratchett. This post is going to be insanely long because there’s just so much to talk about – no future spotlight is even going to get close.
Mostly I’ll be focusing on the Discworld series, easily his best-known books – 36 adult novels and 5 young-adult novels (broken down into character arcs), plus 4 science-based novellas, TV adaptations, animated adaptations, plays, music, computer games, diaries… you can see why this is going to be a long post. Before jumping into that, I’m going to talk briefly about his non-Discworld books, under the cut.
[Mitchell here. I don’t have a lot to add, as I unfortunately haven’t read a lot of Pratchett’s work. He was a thoroughly admirable human being and brilliant writer, and I’ve appreciated what I did read of his. I have issues with depression and I’ve found that interferes with my enjoyment of the humour: I tended to notice in the abstract that it was clever and I should be laughing without actually reacting, so I’ve been putting them off until I’m in a better mental place to experience them. That’s not going to stop me from seconding the recommendation, though, his books are great.]
Been a while, hasn’t it?
The chapter illustration purports to show a mandrake. We’re going to be talking about those later. For now let’s jump into what turned out to be a pretty tedious chapter that was almost entirely padding. Try not to step in the foreshadowing.
Chapter Six: Gilderoy Lockhart
You get this absolutely amazing literary masterwork.
Words can’t do this justice, you really have to read it for yourselves. I’m actually crying.
“I’m Harry Potter,” Harry began yelling. “The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!”
[Loten, you tagged this ‘poetry’? Really? On second thought, sure, I can’t argue it. I can’t stop laughing. Seriously, readers, just go read it. I promise it’s better than Cursed Child.]
Of course I tagged it as poetry. It’s fucking poetic.
Hey folks, time for something new now that the Strike nonsense is a thing of the past.
In addition to the ongoing Harry Potter coverage, I’m going to start doing one post a month showcasing something from my bookshelves, be it an author, a series, or (rarely) a single book. I can’t decide which of them, if any, should replace the aforementioned Strike nonsense as my side series here, but doing this should help me pick, as well as showing me which of my books you’re all familiar with and/or want to know more about.
(No, it’s not a cheap way of giving myself potentially years of blog content! Well… not just that, anyway.)
I’m thinking at the moment they’ll mostly be spoiler-free, for the benefit of people who want to discover them on their own, but for some of them it might not be possible to do it that way. We’ll see when we get there.
Mitchell is allowed to comment on posts about things he’s familiar with, IF he behaves himself! Because I know before I start that he has quite strongly negative opinions about at least some of the things I’m planning to write about. Certainly generally valid opinions, but we already have enough posts ripping things to shreds here, and there will be plenty of time for that if and when I take any of them on as full deconstructions.
I think that most if not all of these will be mainly positive (while still acknowledging that there are problems, because I have yet to find an actually perfect book/series/author and I really don’t think it exists). Most of the things I’m planning to cover are long-established favourites, while some are things I used to like a lot more than I do now, and I’m sure along the way I’ll find new things to feature too. Anything I feel mostly negative about doesn’t deserve a spotlight, after all. I expect the vast majority of features will be at least passingly familiar to most of you, but hopefully I can recommend some new things as well.
So, starting at some point in January, that’s hopefully what I’ll be doing. I think it’ll be fun and a nice change of pace.
As for Harry Potter, I was hoping we’d have the next chapter ready by now… but it’s December and I work in retail, so my time and energy levels are about what you’d expect and falling every day. Mea culpa. Keep commenting on the arbitrary death count so far if you like, and what passes for normal service will hopefully resume soon. Happy end-of-year festival of your choice in the sadly possible event that we don’t update again until after Christmas, and let’s hope that next year is better.
One of the (myriad) reasons for the Harry Potter coverage being delayed was my decision based on your feedback from the last update to start a count of all the times the characters really should have died had various scenarios been written realistically. After some thought and discussion we decided not to include a lot of the more obvious ones simply because the narrative does provide a way for the problem to be dealt with – for instance, fighting the troll would probably have killed three first-years, but the book acknowledged the danger and showed an actual solution so it gets a pass. Likewise, Harry fighting Quirrell should have killed him but there was an explicit in-universe reason why it didn’t. (And Harry being alive at all, of course, but let’s not completely invalidate the entire series. At least not yet.)
[Basically, if the narrative acknowledges the danger and provides an in-story explanation for why the characters survived and/or weren’t badly injured, we’re probably not going to count it. We’re focusing on evidence of authorial neglect (and, in-story, things like supervisory neglect at Hogwarts), the dangers that should be there if the setting adheres to any level of realism but are elided or glossed over by the narrative.]
I finally found a coherent way of explaining this – we’re explicitly counting things that Rowling didn’t realise would have killed her characters, not things she explained away.
So let’s see the body count so far. Lots of head injuries, as you might expect…
- Harry dies of exposure after being abandoned overnight on a doorstep in Britain in November at the age of one.
- (Edit: Neville dies the first time from being thrown off a pier in Blackpool as a toddler. This could have been an honourable mention but there’s nothing in seven books to support the idea that his family care enough to fish him out before he drowns.)
- Neville dies again from a broken neck after being dropped out of a window by his uncle as a child – he may well have bounced but he still explicitly hit the ground head first.
- Neville dies a third time in the present day after falling twenty feet off an out of control broom during his first flying lesson.
- Katie Bell and Marcus Flint both take cannonballs to the head during a Quidditch match.
- Harry, Ron and Hermione fall an unknown distance of at least four stories down the trap door.
- Ron dies again shortly afterwards when a giant stone statue bashes him in the head.
Honourable mentions: Vernon, Petunia and Dudley probably drowned trying to swim back to the mainland after Hagrid stole their boat, but it is theoretically possible that the old guy who owns the boat realised they hadn’t come back and sent help, or that there was a lifeboat patrolling nearby after the storm. [Or they could have died of thirst or starvation if they were stranded there long enough without rescue. But there’s enough ambiguity around how to count this that we’ve decided to let it slide.]
Harry nearly swallowing the Snitch likewise gets an honourable mention, since although it would have sliced his face up nicely and caused some damage through choking it wouldn’t have killed him per se. Nor would the resulting fall, since he’s probably the only student anyone would bother trying to save instead of the usual Hogwarts method of letting them splatter.
Scabbers gets an honourable mention for being thrown into a window after biting Goyle. We decided not to include animals because the counts would be sky high, nobody feeds their pets or gives them anywhere safe to sleep and all owl owners constantly make them fly way too far in unsafe conditions, but this one stood out. [Loten didn’t want to include this one, but I argued for it and this was our compromise. I think it’s relevant because Scabbers will later turn out to be (or be retconned as) a human character who is important to the plot, and instances in which he should really have died or sustained brain damage are relevant to assessing how stupid his plan is (and/or how sloppy the retcon was).]
Possible honourable mention, this might be moved to the main count later – any of the kids could have tripped over and broken their necks or fallen on broken branches in the Forbidden Forest detention. The narrative insists the monsters are no threat, and Quirrellmort were too incompetent to be a danger to anyone, but wandering around proper ancient woodland in total darkness isn’t safe regardless of external hazards.
Final count: Neville: 3. Ron: 2. Harry: 2. Minor characters: 2 (Katie and Marcus are unlikely to feature here again). Hermione: 1.
[It’s worth keeping Katie in mind though, for when we eventually get to Half-Blood Prince in something like a decade’s time. She barely exists as a character but might still have more than one entry on the death tally. Though the second one might be better counted for a different tally, “would have been a death if not for Snape’s intervention.”]
I think that tally would be a little redundant since by the end of the series it would comprise literally every character still alive…
Interesting that Neville racks up the highest count despite not being a major character and – according to the narrative – not having the angstiest backstory to ever angst. Yet another argument in favour of his being the superior protagonist.
Chamber of Secrets:
- Harry and Ron die of dehydration and heatstroke in the flying car that the book insists is more of a flying oven, or alternatively die of dehydration and hypothermia in a more realistically written one.
- Harry and Ron die again almost immediately when the car crashes.
- Ron then dies a third time from complications caused by his untreated serious head injury. He’s not doing well.
Count so far: Ron: 3. Harry: 2.
Honourable mentions: Hedwig and Scabbers were both in the car, though Hedwig’s already died from malnutrition and again from exhaustion.
Overall total so far: Ron: 5. Harry: 4. Neville: 2. Minor characters: 2. Hermione: 1.
Feel free to jump into the comments if we forgot something, or if you think something should/should not be included – our criteria were pretty arbitrary and I’m happy to tweak this before we return to the main series.