Books

AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is an early seventies collection of Lord Dunsany, emphasizing his secondary world stories more than Gods, Men and Ghosts did and providing lots of biographical detail and story background (several of the later ones were written after artist Sidney Sime came up with the illustration instead of first).Sime01
The stories show that even within secondary worlds, Dunsany had a lot of range (from a traditional epic such as “The Fortress Unvanquishable Save for Sacnoth” to a fantasy boat ride in “Idle Days on the Yann”) though certain themes, such as the endless destruction by Time and futile quests, did crop up over and over (“In the Land of Time” and “Carcassonne” have much in common with the prince’s doomed search in King of Elfland’s Daughter). In any case, a charming collection.
WONDERS OF THE INVISIBLE WORLD collects Patricia McKillip stories from multiple themed anthologies (Christmas fantasy, Wizard stories, fairy stories) and I must say I don’t find her as good at short length as full (that may reflect that these are mostly real-world fantasies rather than the secondary worlds of her longer works). The best ones are “The Kelpie,” in which 19th century artists find their competition for a beautiful fellow painter complicated by the title bear, and “Twelve Dancing Princesses” for a rather dark take on the tale; the worst is from the Borderlands anthology, which really doesn’t work away from the source.
A MARGINAL JEW: Rethinking the Historical Jesus—Volume One, The Roots of the Problem and the Person in which John P. Meier covers the basics for studying Jesus as a historical figure (which he notes is not the same as the Jesus of Faith) such as the lack of source material (“But David and Solomon aren’t mentioned at all outside the Old Testament and nobody questions their existence.”), Jesus’ relationship to the Essenes (not much he concludes, given their strict adherence to the law has little in common with Jesus’ more freewheeling approach), the mystery of Jesus’ Hidden Years (“It’s possible the Gospels don’t say anything because nothing important happened.”) and the challenge of putting dates on Gospel events (he concludes that the evidence makes the Last Supper almost certainly not a Passover meal). Interesting, particularly for giving a pre-Da Vinci Code discussion of Jesus’ celibacy or marriage (Meier concluding that the former is more likely, though not certain). Very good.
THE COMPLEAT ENCHANTER: The Magical Misadventures of Harold Shea by L. Sprague Decamp and Fletcher Pratt collects three adventures of Harold Shea, a young psychologist who figures out how to shift his perception of reality so as to enter into parallel worlds where, as he discovers, magic works (the weakest part of the book is the technobabble at the start explaining all this—fortunately it gets better). In The Roaring Trumpet, he arrives in Norse myth shortly before Ragnarok and has to help the gods recover their lost weapons before the final battle. In Mathematics of Magic, he and his mentor Reed visit the world of the Elizabethan fantasy The Faerie Queen, become better mages and meet their respective dream girls (these two were later released as one book). In Castle of Iron, the rather selfish Reed yanks Harold and Belphebe into the Orlando Furioso, where Belphebe gets amnesia and Harold has to win her back while negotiating a path between belligerent Muslim and Christian warriors. The stories (except for that first part) are solidly entertaining and well done—and much closer to deCamp’s solo fantasy in light-hearted tone than Pratt stories such as The Blue Star.

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6 responses to “Books

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