Weekly Geeks #9: Challenges

This week’s Weekly Geeks was purposely a little relaxed after last week’s mad rush.

The theme this time around was ‘Challenges’; essentially, to work on and clean up the challenges each Weekly Geek participates in. Since I’m pretty good about keeping A Chain of Letters as organized as I can, I spent the week focusing on working toward the end of A Midsummer Night’s Challenge, hosted by your’s truly.

The outcome? Well, while I managed to read and review 3 of the 4 works I had intended, I’ve only heard back one other participant. I suppose I could have put more effort into reminding the others of the deadline, but I had intended this to be a relaxed challenge. And frankly, chasing down voluntary participants is closely akin to tilting at windmills. All I care about is that people had fun, and at the very least, I exposed a few more people to the concept of derivative fiction.

Oh, and good luck to all the participants in this weekend’s 24-hr Read-a-Thon!

A Midsummer Night’s Challenge Wrap-up

So here’s the Midsummer Challenge Wrap-up!

Becky did an amazing job reviewing the manga adaptation of A Midsummer NIght’s Dream. A link to it can be found on her challenge wrap-up post. She included some images so you can get a real good look at what the adaptation has to offer.

Jessi read and reviewed Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies. Pratchett is one of my all-time favorite authors, and Jessi did a stellar job of passing on her impression of his novel. She also posted a hilarious Animaniacs episode focussing on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I had no idea they had done one! Thank you Jessi!

Francesca outdid any expectations by reading Puck of Pook’s Hill in ITALIAN! Kipling is always an interesting read, and The Jungle Book is one of my favorites, but I can’t imagine how he must come across in another langauge.

As for myself, I reviewed three works related to Shakespeare’s classic: The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey, Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman, and Magic Street by Orson Scott Card. Each novel offered a intriguingly unique reflection on Shakespeare’s Dream. While I didn’t get to Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist, it sits on my bookshelf, waiting to be read.

A HUGE thank you for everyone that participated, whether or not they completed the challenge.

Magic Street

38. Magic Street by Orson Scott Card. 397 p. Published June 2005.

Strange things have begun to happen in a small African American suburb of L.A. Under the influence of a homeless stranger, Byron comes home to find his wife magically pregnant. The homeless “Bagman” takes the baby, cleaning the event from the family’s memories. The baby is found by Ceese, a young boy of the neighborhood. While at the hospital, Ceese is approached by a strange woman, and manages to resist her magical suggestions to kill the child. The baby, now known as Mack Street, is adopted by Ceese’s neighbor and Ceese spends his young life raising Mack.

As Mack grows, he begins to find that he can see the secret dreams of his neighbors – and through them can grant their deepest wishes. But when a girl in the neighborhood is almost killed as a side effect, Mack swears not to use his powers again. Because while he can grant your deepest desire, the power will twist it into a fate far worse than any other.

As he grows older, Mack becomes a fixture in the neighborhood. Everyone knows him and he’s welcome in almost every home for supper. While wandering the area, Mack discovers a secret house, only visible through the corner of his eye. While there he meets the same homeless man and discovers a doorway to Fairyland. But when The Bagman is attacked, Mack must reveal this world to Ceese and enlist his aid to save the strange man. Mack and Ceese soon discover that this troublesome vagrant is, in fact, Puck. As they begin to research the Faerie through the works of Shakespeare, Mack comes to understand that he is a changeling – one created by Oberon in an effort to remake the world into one for the Fairie. Now, unable to trust even himself, Mack must team up with allies both Fairie and human to try and save the people he has come to love.

As a modern invocation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Magic Street serves to bring Shakespeare’s characters into contemporary fantasy. Even more amazing, Card uses many of the same plot points as the  classic comedy, but in a new, more literal manner. Card’s reflection in this manner actually enlightens us more about the original play, and the role dreams have as an interaction with magic. Another interesting exchange involves Ceese and Mack questioning Puck on Shakespeare. They are told of the playwright’s tortured existence at the hands of Oberon and how the play itself came about. With a modern twist, Card develops a story that is both gripping and deeply reflective on the original work.

Even without the connection to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Magic Street stands as an excellent work of modern fiction. With Card’s singular ability to develop a world, this novel is both mystifying and stunningly revealing. Mack himself is puzzling while simultaneously deeply insightful, and as the main protagonist, provides a suspenseful narrative. Every chapter bring the reader a little closer to the truth, a little closer to the connection with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, without revealing anything until Card is ready.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Other Reviews of Magic Street: Wishes in the Night

The Sandman: Dream Country

GN 12. The Sandman Vol. 3: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman. Illustrated by Steve Erickson and Kelley Jones. 160 p. Published September 1991.

The third volume of Sandman focuses on the world. But more specifically, it involves the role of dreams, and Morpheus’ place as a force of existence. The first story, Calliope, centers on an author so starved for material that he captures a muse – a mystical spirit of inspiration. The muse, named Calliope, was once kindred to Morpheus, and calls upon his newly developed morality to aid in her bid for freedom.

The second story, A Dream of a Thousand Cats, presents an alternate view of our reality. A kitten undergoes a nighttime pilgrimage to hear a tale. A tale of loss so devastating that it drove the storyteller into Dreamland seeking a means of making sense of the world. There the cat meets Morpheus and learns a truth that sparks a movement among felines to turn the destiny of their species – and the world – away from mankind.

Yet another tale, Facade, involves a female Metemorpho whose transformation has kept her from entering society. Wishing for her own end, she is visited by Death, Morpheus’s older sister, who brings revelation and clarity to this characters destiny.

The third tale in Dream Country, tying into our challenge, is entitled A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This tale focuses on Shakespeare, who met Dream in the last volume The Doll’s House, and engaged in a deal with him. We now find out what part of the deal was, as Morpheus’s patronage has Shakespeare producing the play A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Led into the middle of the countryside, Shakespeare’s troupe of actors find themselves preforming before an audience like no other – for Morpheus has taken the opportunity to gather his friends the Faerie, who rarely find themselves in the mortal realm. Entertained by a parody of their own existence, Faerie meddling changes the production into something truly magical.

This third volume of The Sandman begins to describe the “normal” existence of Morpheus. While the last two volumes were singularly set on repairing the damage caused by Dream’s absence, Dream Country brings the reader a different vision. Here we begin to see Morpheus as he truly is – as a focussed reflection of those who step into his realm. Interacting with man, animal, and Faerie, Dream provides each with that they truly require to maintain a balanced existence.

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Wizard of London

37. The Wizard of London by Mercedes Lackey. 342 p. Published October 2005.

This is the 4th book in the Elemental Masters series. I know I haven’t posted book 3 (Brightly Burning) yet, but as this is part of A Midsummer Night’s Challenge, it takes precedence.

The Wizard of London, a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen”, features two paralleling stories that merge to become one fantastic tale. Set in Victorian England, Sarah Jane arrives at The Harton School. Her parents, missionaries in Africa, have decided that it is time she receive an education more pertinent to her particular powers – clairvoyance and telepathy. Along with her grey parrot, Sarah finds herself immersed in a wonderfully enriching atmosphere. But she soon finds Nan, a street urchin wish abilities of her own, and wishes the same life for her. A sudden turn of events finds Nan in danger, and as she seeks refuge with the school, she becomes a student and Sarah’s best friend.

While on a school trip to The Tower of London, Nan befriends one of The Queen’s Ravens – mystical birds that are linked to the security of the kingdom (side note, these are real. It is believed that if the Ravens ever leave the tower, the Kingdom will fall). The Raven decides that Nan is better company that the tower gaurds, and joins her, Sarah, and Grey at the school.

In our second plot line, we meet a younger version of David Alderscroft (met previous Elemental Master books), leader of London’s Wizard’s Circle. Alderscroft, a fire mage, is under the tutelage of Lady Cordelia, the only other Fire Mage in his circle. But rather than teaching him about conflagration, she has him supress his emotions and approach magic through the cold logic necessary for Ice Magery – removing heat instead of creating it.

Alderscroft has a history with the madam of The Harton School, and a sudden reunion sets him at odds with himself. As Alderscroft is also responsible for his position in society, he travels to the country to attend a hunting party and get away from Mrs. Harton’s presence in London.

As the girls progress through their training, word of Sarah’s ability to speak with the dead spreads among the occult-oriented gentry. But someone is obviously threatened by the girls’ abilities, and a devious plot is set to ensnare them and upset the school. Only Sarah and Nan’s own cunning, aided by a holy order of warriors, can keep them safe. As such, the school decides to take a prolonged trip to the countryside.

While touching at times, the two stories now come into direct conflict, and in a sudden battle involving all parties, Alderscroft is brought to realize the perversions his twisted magic has caused.

Here is where this novel ties in with A Midsummer Night’s Challenge: as Sarah, Nan, and the rest of the school are enjoying their time in the countryside, they decide to hold a little play for the locals. You guessed it: A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And, as the greatest surprise, Robin Goodfellow himself has taken a liking to Sarah and Nan. As a gift to them he takes on the roll of Puck (i.e. himself) in their production.

 As the novel progresses, Puck confronts Alderscroft, warning that his twisted magics would not be tolerated. The engagement that culminates the book begins as a battle between Puck and Alderscroft – a battle that could mean the end of Puck’s presence on Earth if he wins.

The first half of this book, focusing on Sarah and Nan, is quite possibly my favorite of the Elemental Masters series. But as Alderscroft begins to take on more significance, the scenes that involve him dilute Lackey’s grip on the reader. With so much focus on the youngsters and their school (I believe this is the foundation of another Lackey series, but I haven’t checked), the bland characters and occurrences of the Alderscroft plot-line comes off as brittle and ill constructed. Thankfully the characters of The Harton School shine brightly enough to carry the book through to the end.

Rating: 3 out of 5

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

36. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. 309 p. Published by Arden Shakespeare in 1979.

I am reading this as part of A Midsummer Night’s Challenge.

I will admit, I skipped the majority of this book in an effort to read only A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The first half was an in depth analysis of the classic work and a latter part focuses on the sources Shakespeare may have used to compose the play.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a play set in ancient Athens. The plot involves three separate batches of characters whose circumstances bring them together.

The initial scene involves Theseus, Duke of Athens, as he prepares for his marriage to Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons. While holding court, Theseus is approached by Egeus, the father of Hermia. Egeus has promised his daughter to Demetrius, but Hermia protests, claiming she loves Lysander. Lysander argues on his behalf that marriage to him would be just as beneficial, and that Demetrius is stringing along Helena, Hermia’s lifelong friend. Theseus holds by Athenian law, ruling that Hermia, as property of Egeus, must either marry Demetrius, swear herself to a nunnery, or die. Lysander and Hermia, unable to accept this ruling, conspire to run away together, swearing to meet in a glade outside Athens.

In the second scene, we meet a troupe of part-time actors. These men, tradesmen of Athens, seek to conduct a play in celebration of Thesues’s wedding. They decide to act out a tragic romance, and each person takes their part to study, agreeing to meet later on.

Out third scene unveils Oberon, King of the Fairies. He is attended by his jester and lieutenant Puck, also known as Robin Goodfellow. Oberon is angry with Titiana, his wife, for she has denied him one of her attendants, a young changeling boy from India. Seeking to teach Titiana a lesson, Oberon sends Puck to collect a rare flower touched by Cupid’s arrow. When this flower’s juice is placed on the eyes, that person falls madly in love with the first person they see.

While Puck is away, Oberon spies upon Demetrius and Helena. Helena, in a desperate attempt to gain his favor, has told Demetrius of Hermia and Lysander’s plan. Demetrius and Helena go traipsing through the woods, and Oberon is swayed by Helena’s plight in this one-sided romance. Upon Puck’s return, Oberon charges him with taking some of the flower’s dew and placing it on Demetrius, so that he may love Helena. Oberon himself then enchants Titiana’s eyes as she sleeps. Puck, however, mistakenly enchants Lysander, turning his heart from Hermia to Helena.

Thinking his job well done, Puck finds the troupe of actors, and selects Nick Bottom, a weaver, to fulfill Oberon’s plan. He turns the actor into a beast, giving Bottom the head of a donkey. As Titiana awakens, she falls in love with the transfigured man, much to the glee of Oberon and Puck.

The remainder of the play focuses on the ensuing drama and how each situation is resolved. While not Shakespeare’s greatest work, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is memorable for his depiction of faerie and humorous reflection, via Bottom, on the nature of man. But more than anything, rereading this Shakespearean classic reminded me just how much his plays work one’s vocabulary.

Rating: 4 out of 5