Book Review — ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss

Image“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.”

So it began, and I was hooked.

A page-long prologue begins this story, and you feel a shiver of anticipation, a burning curiosity, a certain knowledge that what follows will be something wonderful.

‘The Name of the Wind’, by Patrick Rothfuss, was recommended to me by a good friend months ago. Our tastes differ on occasion, yet coincide often enough to be interested by his profession that this was his favourite book. He also sent me links to Rothfuss’ blog every time we talked online. Still, I haven’t been reading as much lately through lack of time, lack of concentration and general laziness. I’m working on it. I was wary when I saw how large this book was. I have been a fan of fantasy, but my problem with it is often that it relies a bit too heavily on my curiosity lasting long enough for the story to be begin properly. This large epic fantasy seemed like an investment of my time and energy, as well as the oft-unwilling efforts of my scarce concentration. I was wrong. This was impossible not to read.

I read the prologue a week ago, because I saw it was only a page long. I regretted it. I had to go back to college and do a million essays and read other, far less intriguing stories. I did not have the time, and I know myself well enough to assume that I would not be able to read this book in stops and starts. No, I would need to keep reading, and nothing else would be done. Regretfully, I set it back down.

I came home this weekend, checked my emails, said a perfunctory ‘hello’ to my family, and curled up with this book. I finished it two days later, and was very proud of myself for resisting the temptation to skip meals and sleep.

It is subtitled ‘The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One’, which causes brief panic that we might have another ‘Ulysses’ on our hands but several times larger. But no, the day passes within the novel, but the story mostly takes place over flashbacks that span several years. I won’t spoil the particulars of the this epic — I wouldn’t know where to begin — but I laughed, cried, felt suspense and fear and rejoiced in the beauty of this book. There is no gratuitous description, but enough to make the story live and breath and positively glitter in your mind’s eye. It is possibly the most beautifully written fantasy epic I have ever read. The characters are full of bravery, cruelty, folly and love in the most delicately demonstrated ways. They feel heart-breakingly possible. Within a page, I wanted to know the story of Kvothe the Kingkiller, the Arcane, the Bloodless. I needed to know.

Fantasy always has magic, and it needs to be carefully handled. If the magic is too carefully applied, the reader is bored. If the magic is too powerful, it feels untrue. The magic within this novel is wonderfully conceived, wonderfully controlled and utterly believable — almost scientific in its intricacy, working along with existing physics. Nothing appears made up for the convenience of the plot — the laws of this world appear rigid and uncontrolled by the author. He never breaks them.

Despite being a fantasy novel, this book’s true magic lies within language, realism, harsh truth, beauty, human cruelty and horror and only occasionally within the extraordinary. I would have kept reading even if Kvothe was just going on a walk. That’s the power that lies in this brand of artful storytelling. I was bewitched.

I shall halt my ramble, and must simply end with an eager recommendation to one and all. This book is worth any time  you have to spare. Read the prologue, and see if you can stop there. I bought the sequel yesterday, and if I didn’t have more work to do, I’d already be reading it. It’s beside me now, tempting me …

Book review — ‘Coraline’ by Neil Gaiman

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” ~ Neil Gaiman, paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton

This quote, which I’ve often seen attributed to G.K. Chesterton, is to be found at the beginning of the children’s novel Coraline, by Neil Gaiman. The sentiment is indeed Chesterton’s, but according to Neil himself,* the original quote is quite different. The words are Gaiman’s, and they are beautiful.

Our favourite childhood books teach us a lot about the world — how it is and how it is imagined and the little fantasies that help protect us from a vast and uncaring universe. Reading Coraline with that quote in mind, I could see what this book would have meant to me as a child, sometimes being so afraid (of comparatively inconsequential battles and hardships) and wondering how I was supposed to just … battle on anyway. Gaiman doesn’t offer a divine solution, but sometimes what you need to know is that some things you have to do, even though they’re hard. I think that would have meant a lot to my ten year old self. It means a lot to my twenty year old self.

Coraline, for those who don’t know, is the story of a girl who is bored and ignored in her house as an only child with busy parents. She is constantly called ‘Caroline’ by well-meaning and inattentive old neighbours. One might get the impression that not one person actually listens to a word Coraline says. The story changes into something out of a dream — or a nightmare — when the lonely child discovers a strange and twisted version of her home through a magical door, complete with strange and twisted versions of her parents. These ‘other’ parents pay her a great deal of attention and listen raptly when she speaks. This seductive and false ‘other’ world — where people have buttons for eyes and rats watch your every move — wishes to keep Coraline forever.

This plotline is very relatable for a child. When children don’t get what they want, they might wish that they had different parents. When they are ignored, it hurts. Her parents aren’t perfect. They do need to work, but their child needs attention, company, love. But they do love her, even if they aren’t always there, and she loves them. There is a huge emphasis on family connection, and such frank appraisals of loving but stilted family relations is ultimately very touching.

One thing I would worry about is that I, as a cowardly adult, was frightened by this book, though that may have been more a maternal, protective instinct than anything. But I would perhaps avoid giving this to very small or easily frightened children. Then again, fear builds character, so … you’d have to judge for yourself, there.

Coraline was a beautifully conceived, beautifully executed story full of suspense and wonder. It made me want to find my parents and give them a hug, and then find my little brother and tell him to not ever go outside — the world is dangerous.**

Highly recommended to all.

 

End note *WARNING SPOILERS FOR THE MOVIE*:

I must confess that I saw the movie long before I read the book (scandalous!), which I usually try not to do. But there was one major difference between the book and its adaptation that cannot go unmentioned. In the book, there is no Wyborne. I don’t know if he was created for the purpose of the movie, or if he appeared in perhaps the graphic novel, but this had several effects: 1) Coraline was a kinder figure in the book, as we didn’t see her lashing out at another lonely child, 2) The resolution was a bit less … happy. She had learned to appreciate her life, but she was still alone — though this is perhaps more realistic. There are no convenient solutions, but simply a change in perspective, 3) The ending was scarier, because partners in crime make the suspense less suspenseful, and 4) Coraline herself was a little bit less fleshed out, through our limited knowledge of her interactions — we only ever really see her speak to adults, ghosts, cats and monsters. Not mundane, childish interactions. None of these differences are inherently good or bad, but it did create a notably different atmosphere in the story. But, having seen the movie first (though it was a while ago), I missed Wyborne.

 * I find the phrase ‘Neil himself’ funny because I think his name on Twitter is @neilhimself.  I think he actually mentioned the quote paraphrasing on Tumblr, though.

**  This may be extreme — he’s 15.

The gift of words …

“We read to know we are not alone” ~ C.S. Lewis*

When I was five, I hated reading. I loved stories, but others had to read them to me — it was just too much work. It was so much easier to just make up my own stories (and act them out using my hands — my parents are still talking about this, for some reason).

That all changed with one book. My brother read the first Harry Potter to me (he was only eight at the time — retrospectively I’m really impressed by his patience), and then refused to read out the second.  So, if I wanted to find out what happened next to Harry and his friends (who seemed so brave and cool, being a whole 11 years old) I would have to, horror of horrors, read the next one myself.

I like to tell my brother that he created a monster, but really he gave me my love of reading, which I think has defined me as a person more than anything else in my life, except perhaps for my family. It’s entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that I would have discovered the joy of literary endeavour anyway, but I don’t think as soon, or with such a passion.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” ~ John Green

I think the most important thing about books is that they can be an insight into the mind of the Other. An insight into a mind completely unlike your own unlocks thoughts, and the realisation that everyone thinks, just as you do. That everyone remembers and dreads and hopes and dreams. That the same thoughtless fury that provokes your own harsh words can be why others lash out — books taught me that the villain can be human, and that the hero can be flawed. They taught me that my own flaws must be recognised and overcome. And even better when you discover a like mind, a kindred spirit, and realise that you are not some bizarre abnormality for thinking the way you do.

“It always shocked me when I realized that I wasn’t the only person in the world who thought and felt such strange and awful things.” ~ John Green

I was not a neglected child, by any means, but we all have our hardships, and I found solace in the stories of others, feeling like Matilda as I escaped to Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Time City, the amazon and even rural Britain. Books made me think about the world, and its complexity.

The first time I truly began to think about my own morality, or my own possibly passive immorality, was when I was 12, and read a heart-breaking book called Is Anybody Listening by Larry O’Loughlin. Almost anyone in my class who read this book seemed to say, “It was good, yeah. Sad, though.” I cried at least once an hour for about two days. It made me think of horrible things happening in other places, it made me think about how privileged my own existence was, and it made me feel achingly guilty for the fact that I ever forget this, or ever ignore the suffering in the world.

I came to realise that, in fairness, I was only 12, and there’s a limit to what a 12 year old can do. A cause for current guilt is that I still don’t do a lot to help in various matters. But if ever I make any sort of difference or impact in this world, I think it will be because of that book, and others like it that I stumbled upon in later years.

Another advantage to reading: people often assume that I’m smarter than I actually am, and I attribute this directly to a rather good vocabulary. You really don’t need to be smart to have a good vocabulary, you just need to read a shit-load of books. But this can be a serious asset when writing essays or engaging in debates — if eloquent and verbose sentence construction is second nature to you, you will be able to more accurately convey your precise meaning and thoughts. So, on a purely technical level, reading helped me with my writing and those silly comprehensions they make you do throughout secondary school. Also, good knowledge of English can help with comprehensions in French, or Italian, or other Latin-based languages. They can have very similar roots.

So yeah, reading is good from that aspect. But I think the true value will always be emotional, historical and intellectual. Books taught me to think in the way I do. Books taught me why others might think in the way they do. They taught me about historical events — not with dates, but from psychological and sociological perspectives (Animal Farm, by George Orwell. Good book). Books were my first peek into philosophical thought.

The Discworld series (by Terry Pratchett) taught me folklore, sought out the absurdities in both foreign and familiar cultures, taught me the beauty of parody, and taught me that no matter how silly a character, or how flawed a person, they have the ability to inspire with their own quiet determination. Also, for comedic works, Pratchett’s books contain an astounding amount of philosophical insight — no, really! (A philosophy lecturer of mine even quotes Discworld from time to time).

The Lord of the Rings (by J.R.R. Tolkien) taught me that heroes can come from anywhere. That bravery, especially in the face of fear, is far more admirable than physical strength or worldly knowledge (especially Samwise Gamgee — my hero).

“Sam: It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
~ The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

A Little Princess (by Frances Hodgson Burnett) taught me the strength of the will, the strength of the imagination, the desperate need for it in the darkest days.

And Harry Potter … well, Harry Potter teaches me new things every time I read it. Honestly. It taught me to re-evaluate my first impressions. It taught me the importance of forgiveness, the value of friendship, the bravery of necessity, that people are people no matter where they’re from or what gifts they possess.  It taught me that

“It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” ~ Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling).

These lessons cannot be undone, and nor would I want them to be. Sometimes they were hard to learn (the tears — good god, the tears), but they’re important, and I will endeavour to always remember them.

This post is about books, but by no means do I wish to ignore other media of expression, I simply express that which had the most profound effect on me. Graphic novels can also be powerful (Sandman by Neil Gaiman, and Watchmen by Alan Moore are very much recommended). Films, while falling short of books in some areas, surpass them in others (Groundhog Day. Don’t even get me started. Everyone should see that film). Art, photography, plays and poems (Emily Dickinson’s where it’s at) all help to shape the world, and describe it in a way that our own minds cannot.

Tonight, I am going to a Harry Potter quiz. 14 years and infinite re-reads later, it’s still one of my favourites.

“Not all those who wander are lost.” ~ J.R.R. Tolkien

A little doodle depicting one of my favourite quotes of all time …

*Attributed to C.S. Lewis in the film ‘Shadowlands’ — my lazy researching (by which I mean Googling) did not verify whether he actually said that.

Thoughts on Perception

Sometimes I wonder if others live in the same world as I do. I mean, even in a purely physical sense, we could actually be seeing different things and no one would know. Colours, for example. We could all identify that chair over there (cue hypothetical chair) as being blue … but what I learnt as ‘blue’ might be what you think of as ‘purple’ if you saw it through my eyes. We don’t have a purely objective way of viewing colour. And that baffles me, frankly.

Yes, I actually hunted down a picture of a blue chair … just in case you were confused, or something …

So, there’s definitely wriggle room over physical perception … so it surely all gets a whole lot fuzzier once we bring the mind into it. ‘Cause as we know, people’s minds all seem to work veeeeeery differently. I, for instance, am terrible at the sciences. I mean, I’m interested to a certain extent (and can very much see why they would be so intensely fascinating) but if I even try to delve one layer beyond basic knowledge of a phenomenon … you lose me. Completely. I zone out. I don’t understand. And then someone else tells me philosophy is a waste of time and I yell, “NO NOT MY BABY,” and … yes *cough*

So, different minds work differently. We’re wired differently somehow.

But when we descend to, say, moral issues … this can become a problem. Am I wired ‘right’? I mean, how do I know that my reasoning isn’t just another example of how my mind works differently? Does the same reasoning even make sense on a purely objective scale? Because I would have said, originally, that colours were, technically, objective. I mean blue’s blue and nothing more can be said about it, right?

“Perception is created and twisted so quickly.” ~ Louis C.K.

And this can frustrate me, because I wonder if my arguments are wasting everyone’s time. Is it that we’re both obtusely refusing to submit to the other’s reasoning (they, of course, are in the wrong …) or is it actually that it could never make sense to us? I will never know how things work in someone else’s head (I don’t know how things work in my own head, let’s be honest).

Other times I wonder … is reason the exception to this subjectivity? I mean, there’s always a point you come to where reason can go no further (why is happiness good? Um … it just … is?) and if someone doesn’t agree with that … well, nothing more can really be said. But a lot of the time I think people just don’t think about things. This is possibly extreme arrogance on my part — that I’m suggesting I’ve thought more than others. But some people don’t think. And others think way more than I do, I know. I think we’re all learning, though some don’t like to admit that. I mean, five years ago I held opinions that I really think are awful now. We all have prejudice, we all suffer from lack of experience about something. We all make mistakes. We all learn.

“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” ~ Samuel Butler

So, if I make a mistake, if I offend someone with this blog … please forgive me. My learning process is slow and stumbling, but I do my best. I want to be a good person.

But keep in mind … if you disagree with me, there’s also the chance that your learning process is the one that’s behind the times.

For example, if you try to tell me that homosexuality is evil or that I will burn in hell for atheism or … I don’t know. Things like that. They will earn you a condescending head-shake, if not rage.

… I never claimed to be a good person, just that I try 😀

Sorry, this was a rant, a ramble, a spewing of thought into the abyss. Carry on.

Though by the way … if you, like me, find science vaguely interesting but too difficult to study, Hank Green’s ‘Sci-Show’ can be really informative and hilarious. Or just watch them anyway, they’re just awesome. Also ‘Crash Course’ is great — learning history with John Green. Yay knowledge!

… I’m oddly enthusiastic about learning, sometimes. The world is a crazy interesting place. Just sayin’.

Any thoughts? Do share …

Is it good to exist?

He’s adorable *_* And exists …. That is the only relevance, to be honest.

Is it good to exist?

This was a question put to my philosophy class today, while we were studying the environmental ethics of Hans Jonas, a German philosopher.

When discussing whether it’s wrong to destroy a rainforest or a species or even the future of our own race … all arguments for preserving nature are null and void if existence is not a good thing.

My lecturer told us that for the Buddhists, life is suffering (which is why detachment is the way to enlightenment — if you don’t have something you are not sad when you lose it). I cannot refute this. Life is suffering. Some have suffered more than me, some less — but we all suffer.

“Life is a disease: sexually transmitted, and invariably fatal.”~ Neil Gaiman

So why is existence good? Why do we strive to live? Why do all things strive? Why do we think killing is one of the highest sins? Why is the destruction of the human race to be feared, rather than desired? There is a clear way to end all suffering, yet most of us deny it with every fibre of our being.

I’ve thought about this before, perhaps more than is healthy. The conclusion I’ve come to, the only true answer I can find … is one of potential.

Sure, most of us will experience happiness at some point, but it will not last, before we descend once more into sadness, stress and general angst. So is the sadness balanced out by this happiness? Not necessarily, perhaps for some of us.

But when we are at our worst … death offers us nothing. I do not believe in an afterlife (you may differ from me, here), but death … leads to nothing. It means that your life had an imbalance of sadness. But if you choose to live … there is a chance. It might be small, it might be vaguely irrational, depending on your circumstances, but it is there. This hope of happiness. That is what we strive for.  And as someone who has experienced what I believe to be both intense joy and intense sorrow … I think the joy is worth waiting for. A gamble. We exist for all those little moments in which we are happy, or hope to be happy. We live to see it in others, see it for others when they can’t see it for themselves.

“All things strive.” ~ Terry Pratchett

I believe life is worth it for that chance. Because nothing compares to that joy. We have all heard Sartre’s famous quote, “Hell is other people” yet he fails to mention that only with other people, choosing life alongside us, will we reach a form of heaven. It may be fleeting, it may fade, but it existed, and it was utterly beautiful.

We may see it again.

“FOR THE SAKE OF PRISONERS AND THE FLIGHT OF BIRDS. WHAT CAN THE HARVEST HOPE FOR, IF NOT THE CARE OF THE REAPER MAN?” ~ Terry Pratchett

While I don’t dislike Buddhism, I could never adopt it for myself. Life is suffering, true. And you minimise this suffering through detachment. However … when you are detached, you lose that chance at euphoria. I don’t think it’s worth it.

Image

Someday … we shall all be gone. All that we know, all that we have done, all that we have thought and dreamed and achieved shall have faded. But not yet. There is beauty to be found that has not yet come to pass.

I ask only that you give it a chance.

“After all this time, it still seems to me like straight and fast is the only way out — but I choose the labyrinth. The labyrinth blows, but I choose it.” ~ ‘Looking for Alaska’ by John Green.

So … is it good to exist? Not always. Existence can be good or bad. But who are we to deny anyone, including ourselves, that chance?

Let me know what you think. Let me know if you have questions. I wrote this at 1am. Bear that in mind, please.

If you have a thought that you think is relevant, or might change my own view, I might write something else on this topic incorporating your philosophies.

Influences: Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, John Green, Sartre, moral philosophy, life, Buddhism, etc.

The first photograph is not mine. The second is (it’s of Stephen’s Green Park, in Dublin, Ireland).

That first step …

This is my first ever post, which follows far too long a period of bugging my friends to help me pick a name and assuring me that they will, in fact, read my blog. I am writing to you today, oh void of the internet, due to a need to structure my thoughts, to share them. To fathom the stars of my thoughts into constellations, as it were (as John Green would put it).

I wanted my first post to be something ground-breaking, my first foray into open exploration of my personal, philosophical, openly-nerdy and vaguely political opinions on this glorious and shitty world in which I live. I’m not always sure that it’s the same world in which everyone else lives, but that’s another issue.

I wanted my first post to be deep and meaningful and instantly engaging, to be a perfect representation of all I want this blog to be. Unfortunately, life is not that simple, I am not so easily summed up, and that much pressure on my first post was crushing me under a familiar terror of creation. Therefore …

This post is my metaphorical first step on the road to actually writing what I want to write. It can be scary, but otherwise I’ll never do anything.

“It’s a dangerous business … going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ Tolkien (well … the film of The Fellowship. Been too long since I read the books. Can’t remember).

Embarking on an adventure …

Things I refer to that are not mine: the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, a movie adaptation of the same, John Green (author, nerd, beautiful human being) and a vague reference to a video by Charlie McDonnell about the terror of creation (titled ‘I’m Scared’. It and the many responses are all pretty awesome).