Monday, March 17, 2008

Daughters of the Stars

It's Elizabeth C. Bunce week over at the 2k8 blog, and since A Curse Dark as Gold is about a take-charge woman I thought I'd tell you about my all-time favorite kids' book, The Daughters of the Stars by Mary Crary. (Phew--that sentence wins the Link Award, for this blog anyway.)

A neighbor gave me Daughters for my ninth birthday on behalf of her dog, a basset hound named Gorgeous George. It (the book, not the dog) dated from 1939, and had a cover and two interior color plates by Eduard Dulac. It had only two plates, I found out years later, because it was published in wartime and the book was rushed into production before the paper ran out.

Where the Role of Women in Society is concerned, this is an hysterically subversive book. To capture the setting, think Thin Man movies or "My Man Godfrey," except all the bejeweled. begowned, black-tied sophisticates are up in the sky or under the sea.

It seems that all of nature (the progression of sun and stars across the sky, the workings of the sea, the rain, the thunder) is governed by a bureaucracy rivaling the British raj. Most of the cleverest bureaucrats are women, and the men in positions of power tend to be ruled from behind the throne by mothers, sisters, or wives. None of this is stated outright, you understand--it's just the norm.

A foreword by the author comments that few fairytales feature mothers--they're always dead or lost or otherwise absent, leaving the heroine to fend for herself. Depressed by this in childhood, Crary writes, she "made an early resolve to create a young heroine whose Mother should possess, besides beauty and rank, the additional and stupendous virtue of being alive."

That mother is Astrella, Daughter of the Stars and Luminary of Two Continents. In the first half of the book, she and her daughter, Perdita, must travel from the First Continent to the Second Continent so that Astrella can illuminate it properly. They follow a shining path through the sky, tangling en route with the evil Moon Queen and her minions. Astrella accepts help from a man at one point, but only the way Indiana Jones accepts help from some adoring damsel. Otherwise, she's perfectly capable of taking care of herself and her daughter, thank you.

In the second half, Perdita goes off on adventures of her own with a young sidekick (Noel, Prince of Two Planets) whose most useful attribute seems to be that he has pockets that button. Perdita rescues people all over the place and reunites her disgraced aunt with the rest of the family, all the time keeping her hair tidy, her hands clean, and her promise to learn French irregular verbs firmly in mind.

Here's a typical speech, when Astrella's father has attempted to forbid the restoration of his disgraced daughter.

"Very well," said his wife. "I hope I am not a disloyal woman when I say that this must and shall be. I have been your wife for nine hundred and twenty-one years, and although I disapprove of you in many ways, I am sincerely attached to you. But I am not to be commanded, nor will I permit you to come between me and either of my Daughters at any time. I am sorry to say this, but Mamma is now at a distance of only three thousand miles, and I am certainly going to send for her."

The Star's face lengthened considerably.

I remember reading somewhere that, back in the 50s and 60s, females in picture books and early readers seldom had hands. Little girls stood with their hands behind their backs and watched little boys play with trucks. Moms had their hands in their apron pockets.

I don't think Mary Crary would have approved.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Ender's Game

Here I am again, rushing to get a post done before an entire week has passed. (I will do better, I will do better, I will do better....) Part of the problem is that it's March and life is boring. Here's what I've done this week: Revise. Teach. Revise. Walk the dog. Revise. Play with my new DSL (at last! Jon Stewart clips! Because, yup, no cable or satellite). Revise.

Oh yeah, I did laundry. Want to hear about it? Didn't think so.

So all I have to write about is books. I did finish Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, a sci-fi about a bunch of children trained to save the world from an expected alien invasion. I loved it and have been pondering The Hero ever since. Usually, I like my heroes to be enough like me in the beginning that I can imagine myself performing the heroic feats they manage by the end--the Harry Potter model, or better yet Frodo Baggins, who doesn't even have wizard parents.

Ender is introduced right off the bat as spectacular in brain power and strategic ability. Card gets you on Ender's side because he's initially the target of bullies. And his response to the bullying starts him torturing himself about whether his extraordinary talents might be accompanied by an underdeveloped moral sense. It crosses your mind that he may be right, and that the bureaucracy that has trapped him may be banking on that fact. You have to keep reading to find out whether he keeps his soul.

I was further entranced by the quality of Card's thinking about his world, in this case a couple of academies on space stations. He devotes a lot of ink to the way one would fight in zero gravity, for instance, and his conclusions are pretty cool.

Also on the bedside table: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman, The Gollywhopper Games by Jody Feldman (2k8er!), The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones, and Shakespeare the Thinker by A.D. Nuttall. That last one's going to require a rainy Sunday, I'm afraid. It's too dense for bedtime reading, which is all I seem to do these days.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Procrastination Can Be Fun

OK, so I'm a bad blogger again. But it's because I had a pretty good writing week, so I get extra points for that. I wrote 15 pages worth of chapter headers from the point of view of my two main Filioli (small winged ladies and gentlemen, infesting a pub), figured out why a couple of characters aren't working and sort of fixed them. (Actually, the fix on one of them is going to be trouble--it may mean we have to see more of his parents and then we'll need more backstory on them...and it could go on that way forever.) And revised, revised, revised.

And hooked up DSL! My little town enters the 21st Century! (I personally am in the slow lane, but still...) And taught my writers group at the school.

And managed to fit in a touch of procrastination.

Back in the 1920s or so, Robert Benchley devoted one of his columns to a lesson on "how to get things done." I haven't read it for a while, but my recollection is that he'd make a list of things he MUST do, putting the least important at the top. Then he'd sneak off and work on the second thing in order to procrastinate on the first, then tackle the third thing while procrastinating on the second, and so on down the list until he got to the last item, which was the one that really needed doing and that actually got done.

So that's why I had such a good time writing this week. What I was supposed to do was organize all my tax stuff for the accountant. (I's wimpy for a midget like me to have an accountant. But I'm a terrible form-filler-outer.)

Now it's 4 p.m. on Friday and I came in here after a walk vowing to get serious about the taxes once and for all.

Which is why I'm writing a blog entry.

See how that works?