Posted in book review

‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, by Diana Wynne Jones – review

Howl's Moving Castle (Howl's Moving Castle, #1)Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Whether it is for the pursuit of artistic aestheticism or indulgence in sheer egoism, writers tell their stories in books where, in the peculiar alchemy of words dipped in imagination, they blend the real with the ideal. That said, Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle is a beautiful world of magic and witcraft that cast a spell on the gloomy reality to make it a gorgeous fantasy.

A melancholy of vertiginous existential crisis in a life fraught with responsibilities and duties morphs into a fantastic narrative of the imaginary world where magic, wizards, witches, and demons mingle with ordinary people and even fall in love with them like those of Olympus gods with mortals until Hesiod’s Heroic Age. Sophie Hatter, the book’s heroine, is Jones’s alter ego, only younger in age and freer in status. Still, everything else about her is Jones herself, most prominently her being the eldest child responsible for all things adult – by alas, birthright. Sophie’s self-analysis of being the oldest for the principal cause of misfortune applies to Jones’s family background, being the oldest of three sisters just as Sophie is for Martha and Lattie. I remember reading elsewhere that at the time of writing this book, Jones was going through the crisis in adulthood: a sickly husband, live-in mother-in-law, friends in need, children to take care of, etc. Despite Jones’s degree in English Literature from Oxford University, she felt injustice for her talent and mind eroding in the seemingly endless Sisyphean maneuvering of rolling up a daily boulder. So she took a pen to paper and wrote the book to spur her reservoir of existential frustrations on writing her story in the guise of fiction.

However, after the book’s success, Jones withstood from telling it a reflection of her inner world. She referred it to a certain boy who wanted to create a moving castle. Although the integrity of the inspiration belongs to the author’s literary license, Jones appeared to be reluctant to admit that she told her story in the book due to her celebrity. On a personal note, I could understand her volition to employ a more lovely pretext in safely hiding her existential frustration in privacy. Still, the book’s background written at the time of a crisis of adulthood puts together tesserae in a fanciful puzzler. The agency of magical elements in the story enables Jones to free herself from the mental inhibitions to depict the world’s realism, which seems too dreary and drab, gloomy and harsh, for the reader to be burdened with the author’s frustrations. Instead, Jones created the world populated with witches and wizards not looking like creepy worshippers of the devil and a fire demon far from being diabolic. All the menageries of wondrous characters neutralize the pathos of Sophie.

I read the book with a kindred spirit of being the firstborn child in the family, so it was a pleasure to know that I was not the only person who felt burdened with family and others’ cares. Witch of Waste’s turning Sophie into a ninety-year-old spinster adumbrates Jones’ feeling of oldness in her soul that affects her appearance due to her continuously solitary labor of care. Yet, Jones is kind to Sophie with the eccentric but wonderful Howl and other helpful characters, including Calcifer, a fire demon, all of whom recognize Sophie’s worth and beauty of heart with respect and care that she deserves so much. Jones does a fabulous job of transforming a vehement narrative of angst as an adult in the real-world into a fairytale of love and luck, where those who feel burdened with the weight of life will be awarded fabulous surprise long overdue.



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Posted in book review, Miscellany

Who discovered America?

 

The question of “Who discovered America?” lends itself to enlightening trivia pastime, spawning a series of plausible answers. Leif Eriksson and Christopher Columbus contend the discoverer’s title, possibly followed by Walter Raleigh and Francis Drake, except one John Cabot whose name is lost with his ship somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean just as his mysterious disappearance during the final voyage. 

Giovanni Caboto, aka John Cabot, was a 15th-century Venetian maritime merchant, emigrating with his family to Tudor England in search of substantial royal sponsorship for his ambitious Far East expeditions. The age of expedition was imbued with the spirit of enterprise that propelled colonialism. England was no exception to the European competition. Spain and Portugal were the contenders for uncharted lands and undreamed waterways discovered by Christopher Columbus, Casco de Gamma, and Fernando Magellan. Cabot promised Henry VII that he would find the ways to the Shangri-La in honor of the land to the king with portions of profit for the homage. The king granted his royal patronage on the expedition in the hope of establishing a British mercantile empire around the world. After two misfortunate voyages, Cabot finally made it to what is now known as America in 1497 and called it “New Found Land.”



However, unlike his contemporary peers whose deaths are recorded either orally or textually, Cabot’s end as an explorer is undeservingly clandestine and amorphous. It is said that Cabot was a victim of mutiny among the seamen on his ship or that he settled in the New Found Land and died there. What is more confounding than the mystery of Cabot’s whereabout is the seemingly less recognizance of his achievement than that of the rival explorers of his time and posterity. Cabot was the first explorer who paved the transatlantic waterways between America and Europe, principally the British Isles, for the progeny.



Indeed, Columbus found the West Indies and the American continent by happenstance. Still, Cabot proved that rapid Atlantic travel was possible by sailing the west through the ocean, more substantially practical and influential than America’s ideologically symbolic discovery by Eriksson and Columbus. Would Cabot’s discovery of America under Henry VII’s banner be an issue for the recognizance of his achievement for independent minds of Americans liberated from the English sovereignty? Or, to put more blatantly, would the English royal sponsorship of Italian native Cabot’s exploration mar the spirit of American liberty? If England were still a Catholic country, would Cabot’s achievement have been of lesser brilliancy than those of his contemporary explorers? The questions of history require answers, but often they remain unheard and trail off in the wind of zeitgeist.

Posted in book review

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Search for Truth

Sometimes the truth is so strange and mad that you wish yourself dreaming when you awake. That is what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle must have realized when he got a letter from one George Edalgi. The story read springing from Doyle’s Holmesian stories. Britain’s beloved author, partly curious and mostly indignant at the case’s stupendousness, felt responsible for searching the truth as the creator of his alter ego, Sherlock Holmes. So Doyle met the client Edalgi face to face in a hotel in January 1907. 



George Edalgi, the eldest son of Parsi-English vicar in the small mining village called Great Wyrley in England and former solicitor, served seven years of penitentiary servitude for the Great Wyrley killings of 1903 he claimed innocent. Edalgi’s case was an ipso facto example of miscarriage of justice on indubitably evident grounds of racially imbued personal vendettas against him and his family for who they were. The Edalgi family, despite Charlotte, the mother, and wife, being white, were regarded as heathen Indians encroaching upon the comfortable life of the English, or more precisely, the white privileges, which was the bastion of the eyes of the most villagers. Since the beginning of Reverend Edalgi’s vicarage, the family had been constant targets for racial slurs and hostility that perpetuated the peaceful family life. Even after George became a lawyer, the villagers continued to disrespect his presence, culminating in the notorious Great Wyrley killings of 1903 in which livestock, including horses and cows, were atrociously mutilated and left dead in horrible agony. As Wyrley was a closely-knit village of miners, the easy target for the blame goes for the Edalgis, especially for their eldest child George. He was a loner with distinctively ethnic physical features roving around alone in rumination on evenings. Any white person doing the same ritual would seem philosophical, sentimental, or poetic even, but it did not apply to George’s leisurely ceremony.


Upon consulting George, who must have thought Doyle as the only person on the British Isles to listen to his truth, Sherlock Holmes’s writer has the hunch that the client could not possibly have committed such an abdominal crime for the following reasons. The trappings are so fitting to a conspiracy that they stink:

  1. George is noticeably near-sighted when reading. The animals’ mutilations indicate only good eyesight can perform such surgically precise cuts.
  2. The ethnic backgrounds of George and the cultural environment of the village are circumstantial evidence that the case is racially motivated from the beginning. If not, then the real culprit used George’s vulnerability to camouflage his crime.
  3. The police framed George for the killings, knowing the real culprit because of racialism led by the local aristocratic police chief GA Anson.

Doyle’s real motivation for campaigning for George’s amnesty is curious speculation. Yet, it was the darkest night of the soul when Doyle answered the call for justice. He lost his wife Louise to tuberculosis while he was in love with Jean Leckie. Doyle took Louise’s death as a pang of his consciousness for seeing another woman at the time of her illness and regarded the letter from George as redemption of his soul to redirect the ship adrift after maelstrom. Whatever it might have been, Doyle was one of the most ardent campaigners for George’s pardoning to reinstate his legal career and restore his tainted honor. The fruition bears two tastes of the victory: the case led to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1907, and George was allowed to practice law again, which he did in London. However, the official government’s compensation for George’s time from the malice of injustice yielded nothing. Soon the case and the name George Edalgi became a thing of the past unless Arthur Conan Doyle chimes the bell with the forgotten.

This story I read from a British history magazine makes me think of what an author should be. An author sees the corrupt humanity and ills that cause it, stands furious with the honest minds, and speaks to the corrupt minds amid the chaotic order of nature that goes against truths. Charlotte Bronte posited that an Author has a faithful allegiance to truth and nature. Bestselling or obscure, an Author represents humanity who can see what others oversee or trivialize in preference to magnitude in power and splendor in fame. In that light, Conan Doyle deserves special homage for his search for truth. That is why he is still a great author in posterity.