November 6, 2010

It Can’t Be Friday . . .


. . . there have been no bells.  My world, in Peter’s phrase, is the wrong shape.*  There were some perfectly adequate Guy Fawkes fireworks earlier which I watched somewhat languidly out the window.**  Fireworks*** are just not on my list of necessary ingredients to a happy, fulfilled life.†

            So since my world is on backwards and I can’t think of anything to tell you about†† let me tell you a little about a book I really enjoyed:  THE ENCHANTMENT EMPORIUM by Tanya Huff.   I’ve read a fair amount of Huff over the years and she’s always good value.  But this one’s pretty special even with the bar set high.

            Allie is a member of the scary Gale clan, who really do run the world, or at least their portion of Ontario, Canada, in their own inimitable, matriarchal fashion, mostly involving home-made pies and meddling.  Allie has recently lost her job and gone home because she has nowhere else to go, and is only barely managing not to be made seriously crazy by the Gale Aunties, when she finds out that her grandmother has (probably) died, or at any rate has left her her rather unusual shop—one might almost say emporium—in Calgary, with the request that Allie go there and keep an eye on it because it has ‘become crucial to the local community.’  As much as a way to escape aunts, pies and meddling as anything else, Allie goes.  And discovers, first, that the emporium is about as mad and enchanted as anything concerning a Gale woman is likely to be and, second, that the community it’s become crucial to is the fey community, and Gales don’t mix with feys. . . . And, three, that the local evil sorcerer’s magic-bound assistant is trying to find out what Allie’s up to for his master’s nefarious purposes . . . and that she’s falling in love with him.  The assistant, not the sorcerer.   And have I mentioned the dragons?  And the end of the world?

            It’s funny, charming and delightful.  And jammed with characters:  not only Allie and too many Aunties, but Allie’s cousin Charlie (another Gale girl) and best friend Michael (a mundane), the occasional dangerously powerful Gale man (Gales mostly run to girls), a leprechaun, the evil sorcerer and the cute assistant, a strangely clued-in coffee shop proprietor and a lot of dragons.  And a clearly sentient mirror with a strange sense of humour.

            I also like the dialogue: 

            ‘Allie’s eyes widened.  “Mom, there’s a signed photograph of a minotaur on the wall behind the counter.”

            “Probably Boris.”

            “He’s dotted his i with a little heart.”

            “Definitely Boris.  Your grandmother seemed very fond of him.”

            Given the way Boris was built, Allie didn’t doubt that in the least.’

            . . . Which brings me to a Special Mention.  I think most kinds of non-standard sex are very hard to pull off in fiction.  (Never mind reality.)  And by non-standard I mean pretty much anything that isn’t committed pair-bonding (homo or het) or some version of singledom, either active or chaste.  I’ve seen non-standard sex done well—and usually in F&SF—but I still think it’s unusual.  I think Huff gets it (as one might say) bang right.  The Gales do like their sex, and it’s also mixed up in their power—and as a woman not merely of a certain age but past it myself, I like the idea that being a little grey and wrinkly doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t notice a well-built minotaur making eyes at you.  Oh yes, and Gale women also seem to have a fondness for Chuck Taylor’s All-Stars, which makes them good in my, uh, book.††† 

* * *

* And it’s bent and pummelled more than that because my piano lesson was an hour and a half early.  This was because Oisin was going to have to play the organ for a funeral.  And then he wasn’t going to have to play organ for a funeral, but he had to Stand By in case the designated organist fell in a hole or got a flat tyre.  Result was that since the designated organist did not fall in a hole or get a flat tyre, I stayed almost as long as I would have if I’d come at the usual time.  There is so a story in an Enchanted Organ or possibly a School of Organists wherein you are taught to handle the dangerously powerful King of Instruments.  Organs of course are manifestations of the earth spirits^;  they are part natural phenomena and part built or shaped by human intervention. . . .   It must have already been done, but that’s never stopped me.  But the point is that Oisin is always ready to talk about organs.  All you have to do is keep asking him questions.  A bit like me and bells.  And yes, there is a magical-bells story in the queue:  THE BELLS OF MAZAHAN.  I’ve told you about it before.^^

^ Hey!  Maybe I can get an EARTH ELEMENTALS story out of this! 

^^ And how it started life as an AIR story and got long.  Siiiiiigh.   And organs are also part air—extrusions of earth, but powered by air.  Hmmmm.

** I am happy to say that hellhounds are not bothered by fireworks, although Chaos tends to wake up and look around in the hopes that the noise might involve something he can play with.  I was bothered this morning when some yobbo let one off about three feet behind us in the churchyard for pity’s sake and I briefly reached a speed that would not unduly shame a hellhound.  Although speaking of turns of adrenaline-charged speed, as we were circling back toward the cottage through one of the rec fields a pair of hellhound admirers approached and permitted themselves to be gambolled upon^ and then in a dazzle of excitement hellhounds flaming shot off and hit the end of their leads full peltWhich they never do!  I almost frelling died.  And I really do have whiplash.  Ow.  Ow.  Geez

^ No!  Off!  Feet on the floor, you frellers! 

*** Except when provided by Gandalf

† I’ve just been listening to Jacqueline Wilson^ give the keynote speech for the kick-off to this year’s free-thinking festival, which is supposed to be contemplating happiness.   During the questions at the end the pursuit of other insubstantial goals came up, and the announcer did an impromptu audience poll of wisdom vs happiness.  How many of you would—or perhaps do—prefer to seek wisdom?  Almost no hands went up.  Happiness?  Lots of hands went up. 

            This really startles me.  I’d’ve put it totally the other way around.  The audience is, after all, self-selected for being interested in such questions, or they wouldn’t be showing up for a free-thinking festival in the first place.  After I’d blinked a few times I wondered what the average age of that audience was?^^  Is this just me, or don’t you get more interested in wisdom and less interested in happiness as you get older?  It’s not that you’re not interested in happiness, far from it^^^.  But happiness is a fickle, whimsical little git whereas wisdom gives you a place to stand.  Pursuing happiness won’t get it.  Pursuing wisdom . . .  might.  If you’re lucky, and have a good map.  Maybe it’s just semantics.  But I’d say, for example, that it’s wisdom that lets you notice when you’re happy.

^ If you don’t know her you should

^^ If they’re all devoted 13-year-old fans of Wilson’s, then I’m not surprised.

^^^ Menopause has taught me far more about depression than I had any desire to know.  No, telling yourself it’s just your hormones is not helpful.

†† The odd footnote aside

††† In fact, it makes me happy.  If no wiser.


Please join the discussion at Robin McKinley's Web Forum.