The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

I love autumn. This is my first house with a fireplace. Last week, Josh took a plank of wood, stained it and attached it with supports over the fireplace. I love it! This is my favorite time of the year. Josh says that if you go into the bathroom and turn out the lights, look in the mirror and say “Pumpkin Spice Latte” three times, a white girl will appear in the reflection and tell you everything she loves about autumn. That’s me! Including pumpkin spice lattes!

Last Thursday our town had art walk and I exhibited my paintings and the latest cards. I didn’t sell any paintings this time, but I sold all my holiday cards.

However, the local Italian restaurant where my table was set up wants me to hang some of my paintings in his restaurant, so I’m happy about that.

I still have not written any new reviews, so once again I’m recycling an old review from my other blog.

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I had to write a review of The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald because of the impact it had on my sons. At the time I read this book I had two sons: my biological son, Derek and my foster son Coleman. Coleman has since gone back to live with his mother but while he was here we had a ritual of reading the Bible, saying our prayers, and reading a book before going to bed.

At first I was reluctant to read such an “old fashioned Victorian” sort of book. I mean, a book like this cannot rate very high on the “cool” scale, right?

Wrong. My sixteen and twelve year old sons loved this book. Let me give a synopsis and then I’ll tell you why they enjoyed this book so much.

Princess Irene has been sent to live in a palace away from her father, the King. Why? Because underneath the ground in a mountain is a whole city of goblins who intend to kidnap the princess and force her to marry the Goblin King’s son. What Princess Irene’s father does not realize is that for many years the Goblins have been slowly tunneling toward the palace where the princess lives and plan to come up from the basement of the palace in order to snatch her.

Luckily for the princess she has some help. First of all, she has a grandmother who lives in a tower in the palace. To everyone but Irene this tower is deserted and decrepit. Only Irene can see her grandmother. Although not explicitly stated, it seems the grandmother is angel from heaven come to help and protect Irene.

And then there’s Curdie. Curdie is a boy, not much older than Irene, who works in the mines with his father. While the other miners are wary of the goblins, Curdie isn’t afraid at all. He knows that the goblins are cowards and retreat if anyone puts up a good fight. And rhymes. They hate poetry. So Curdie cheerfully works through the night. If goblins surface from underground, he fearlessly “fights and recites” back at them. Curdie turns out to be an invaluable friend to Princess Irene and ultimately protects her from the Goblin King.
Lest you think Princess Irene is a wilting wall flower with no personality of her own, she is a vibrantly, strong young girl who knows right from wrong and how to stand up for what she believes in.

But she is a girl and never has to prove her worth by acting like a guy. Unlike just about every movie out in Hollywood today where the female protagonists  prove their equality with men by emasculating them. Let’s be honest: today’s movie ‘heroines’ are basically men with female parts.

Curdie is very strong in who he is and isn’t afraid to fight goblins, or care for and protect Irene. But while Curdie is Irene’s hero, she is his heroine because she has many qualities that he benefits from as well, such as her strong sense of propriety and how to act based on those principals. She teaches him to trust in the unseen and follow her even when his practical mind says they’re going the wrong way. In point of fact, throughout the story Curdie and Irene take turns “saving” each other from danger but without Irene sacrificing her innocence or femininity.

My! How counter modern culture.

I was concerned that my teenage boys were going to roll their eyes at this Victorian depiction of nascent love. Wrong again.  They wanted to be Curdie. Boys aren’t inspired by movies that depict the women as smarter and stronger than they are. They want to be heroes.

Curdie and Princess Irene are still kids at the end of this book but MacDonald promises a sequel where they grow up and get married. My boys’ response?

“Let’s go buy the sequel!”

JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis both credit Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and it’s sequel, ThePrincess and Curdie as the inspiration for their fantasy books. That’s reason enough to read them, but if you want your son to read how young boys use to “man up” back in the day, I suggest you read them The Princess and the Goblin.

I published this back in 2013. Derek and Coleman are both grown and gone. Coleman is living in Houston and Derek is in China. But I have good memories of those years and I hope they do, too.

West With the Night by Beryl Markham

West with the Night by Beryl Markham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Beryl Markham led an extraordinary life. As a child she grew up in Africa on her father’s horse race farm. From him she learned to breed and race horses. She stayed in Africa after her father left for Peru and continued the business at the age of seventeen.

Later she became a pilot, an unusual occupation for anyone, much less a woman in the 1930s. She may be best known for flying solo non stop across the Atlantic to North America from England, even though her plane, due to fuel freezing crash landed.

While quite the elite bohemian in her youth, she eventually became poor and was living in Africa alone and obscure in her 80s.

She was rediscovered in the 1980s when George Gutekunst, a wealthy restaurateur, happened across some letters by Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote,

“Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night? …She has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer. I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen. But this girl, who is to my knowledge very unpleasant and we might even say a high-grade b–, can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers … it really is a bloody wonderful book.”

Gutekunst got Markham’s book reissued. He discovered Markham in Kenya where she was still training thoroughbreds. The republishing of her book allowed her to end her years in relative comfort.

I got the above from online sources. The book, originally published in 1942, deals only with Markham’s life in Africa, horse training and flying.

I don’t know if I agree with Hemingway’s assessment of Markham’s writing, but the content of her book is certainly interesting.

We learn a lot about Africa, the bush, hunting, her relationship with the native Kenyans and her entanglements on more than one occasion, with wild lions.

She deftly describes her life so that one can see all that she saw in vivid terms.

She creates a graphic, if terrifying, even if it is vicarious experience for the reader as she describes the mechanics of the plane as well as her own feelings, as she flies. Especially when she flies across the Atlantic. Her courage is pretty amazing. What an unusual woman.

She had many friends then. She mentions no love affairs, although other sources say she had quite a few. She rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous and slept with more than a few of them.

I’d like to know how she became poor and unknown. What happened in her life where she seemed to have lost all her friends and lovers? Did she grow too old? Or as they died off, she became more reclusive?

I suppose a good biography will answer these questions.

If you enjoy non fiction adventure. I’d say this book is for you.

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That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

I have not gotten all my strength back since I got sick in August and it seems I am really sluggish in getting my reviews up. I’ve read a bunch of books, but haven’t reviewed them yet. So I am recycling a review from a couple of years ago. I hope you enjoy it.

That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I first read That Hideous Strength, it was my least favorite of Lewis’ Science Fiction trilogy. Now I believe it is my favorite.

Evil forces have gathered for a showdown on Earth. We have seen some of this in the first two books but now the “bent” Eldil and their minions are showing their hand in hopes of destroying Earth.

It is insightful to see how much the evil Eldil hate mankind, because, of course, they hate mankind’s Maker.

They are a pragmatic sort, however, and tell whatever lies, power hungry, perverse men are willing to swallow to achieve that end.

Our story starts out with a young couple, Jane and Mark. Jane and Mark are a modern, progressive couple and they have no patience with old fashioned notions of women and men’s roles. Jane’s ambition is to finish her thesis and Mark’s ambition is to join the “inner ring” at the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or N.I.C.E. for short.

This starts the trouble because Mark is invited to join N.I.C.E. He thinks. They certainly have invited him and have intimated that they want him, but for what? He cannot get a definite answer as to what his occupation would be or that he is even hired. When he demands clarity, he is warned that he will offend the director. Anxious to please, Mark subsides.

Meanwhile, Jane is having some very non progressive, non modern dreams. They are strange and disturbing and it seems they have something to do with an ancient man lying in a tomb.

All is not as it seems, to coin a phrase. It turns out the institute is not interested in Mark but want Jane. Her dreams will tell them the location of this mysterious man. Why do they want him? They believe he possesses power that will help them control the world.

At least that is what the men think. In reality, it is the Eldil who want the man to help them destroy the world. They play on certain men’s lust for power to achieve their ultimate goals.

Lewis creates a brilliant expose on human nature and our reality on a metaphysical level.

Each person is a type and Lewis reveals their nature by narrating their thoughts to the reader. We smile and sometimes laugh in acknowledgement because we recognize ourselves and others in the different characters. We also are filled with loathing as we recognize the perversity and arrogance that characterizes so many people in our world.

I especially appreciate his descriptions of the men at N.I.C.E. Each one wants something from the Eldil. One wants superior knowledge and scientific advancement; another seeks supernatural experiences, a third wants freedom to experiment on animals and humans for his personal increase in knowledge and biogenetic engineering. Not one cares how many people they expend to achieve their selfish goals and they see the Eldil as a means to their own ends without considering that they are actually meeting the Eldils’ ends.

In the end each of them find themselves, their person, individuality, and finally their soul, absorbed by the Eldil.

Dr. Ransom, the man who traveled to the planets in the first two books, is keeping a group of people safe from N.I.C.E in his house. These are the few that have not either capitulated to N.I.C.E.’s side or been jailed. Jane, at first unwillingly, then later most willingly joins them.

Ransom informs his small group that the scientists and professors at N.I.C.E. do not realize that the Eldil hate them as much as they hate everyone else and as soon as their usefulness is gone, these “intellectual” men will find themselves deserted and finally destroyed.

There are moments of real horror. The Head of the institute turns out to be exactly that; the decapitated head of a criminal who was executed in France. One scientist obsessed with creating life from dead men, like his own Frankenstein, has invented a method to infuse the head with saliva, blood, and oxygen. The Head then speaks and gives orders.

This is scary enough but worse revelations about the Head are around the corner and I won’t reveal anything else so as not to spoil it for the reader.

There are also turning points. This happens primarily in Jane and Mark who at first are against Ransom’s side and his group in that they dismiss them as antiquated and backwards in their “old fashioned” thinking about morals or believing in a Spiritual world. Both come around as they personally experience undeniable evil.

Mark’s conversion is the best part. He transforms from being a self-absorbed toady to seeing N.I.C.E. for what it really is and no longer fears rejection of the “inner circle” or losing his job. Once he becomes fearless, he stops thinking only of himself and the reader sees Mark become more fully a man, more fully human as though the character change fleshes him out to where previously he was merely a thin out line of a person.

I should point out that not all Eldil are evil. As we learn in the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, most Eldil are good. Only the ruling Eldil of planet Earth is “bent” as the good Eldil call it.

And we eventually learn that Earth is not completely deserted by good Eldil. They are also here on Earth. They have traveled from other planets to battle the evil Eldil, something the bent Eldil did not anticipate.

I find the whole story a perfect analogy to the battle going on Earth now between good and evil.

And, as with all of Lewis’ work. The reader is never deserted. We are reassured that good and the Author of good conquers evil. And again, we learn to love Lewis’ characters as much as Lewis obviously loved people and consequently made lovable reflections of humans in his stories. We love them because we see them around us.

Lewis once said of Nathaniel Hawthorne that “he shows the darkness in men without ever providing light to pierce that darkness” (I am paraphrasing because I wrote it down from memory).

Lewis succeeds in piercing the darkness with his light-suffused stories.

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Postcard. I sent it to someone in Russia.

Mere Christianity: A Biography by George M. Marsden

C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity by George M. Marsden

C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity: A Biography by George M. Marsden

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cutting to the chase:

What I liked about the book:

I learned about the early years when Lewis was asked to create a series of talks for the BBC during WWII. I think Marsden does very well describing how the book came about. I also found his list of yay and nay-sayers to be interesting.

What I did not like:

After a while it feels as though the nay sayers get way too much credit and too much attention devoted to the sneering detraction of Lewis and all of his work, including Mere Christianity.

What I found most interesting as well as deplorable was that none of his detractors argued a single point Lewis made. Instead they settled for making unsubstantiated assertions that could be summed up as:

” C.S. Lewis is not a theologian. He is not a sophisticated thinker as we, the theologians, are. Therefore we are scornful of anything he has to say. He wants to drive the church back into the middle ages with his silly notions of Biblical inerrancy, the divinity of Jesus and all the other nonsense that requires one to take Scripture seriously. 20th century Christianity has moved way beyond that, no wonder it’s only backwards fundamentalists in America that read him and so forth…”

What they don’t seem to recognize is that their ilk is as old as the gospel. The writers of the Bible, Paul, James, John and Peter were already dealing with the same doubts and denials that today’s “sophisticated” aka liberal theologian believes.


I liked the first half and not so much the rest.

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More book reviews thrown together: The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini; The United States and East Asia by Richard W. Van Alstyne

The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini by Benvenuto Cellini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was quite the biography. How much of it happened as Cellini recorded it is a matter of question. I guess it would be good to read a biography of someone else who knew Cellini.

What a braggadocio! He sounds like the Renaissance Iron Man, just beating up hordes of men coming after him.

If half of what he says about himself is true, then half of Italy was blind with jealousy, wanted to kill him, but he was too strong, and every woman wanted him for a lover. And if what he records about his sexual prowess, he must have been riddled with STDs and fathered half the country.

In between all that horseplay, we get to learn about his art. Cellini was the finest goldsmith and one of the finest sculptors and artists of the high Renaissance.

We also learn a lot about the politics and the way the rich patrons operated. Cellini definitely saw himself as an underdog who valiantly defends himself. Maybe it was fantasy, maybe it was his way of feeling better after being cheated of his art from rulers and other wealthy patrons. Then again, maybe he was a big jerk.

This is one of the livelier autobiographies you’ll ever read and in the meantime get to time travel and vicariously live in a most colorful bygone age.

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The United States and East Asia by Richard Warner Van Alstyne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was written around the time of Nixon’s presidency, so that in itself makes if valuable read, because Nixon was the first president who figured out that the United States was going to have to come to terms with Communist China and develop some kind of relationship with them. It’s really a shame that Watergate overshadows this profound accomplishment by this admittedly tainted presidency.

Van Alstyne deals with America’s relationship with the Chinese, tracing it back to early trade agreements with our founding fathers and also with the missionaries who traveled there. The second half is Chinese and American relationships during WWII.

It seems very easy to look in retrospect and see what decisions our leaders would have made. According to Van Alstyne, our missionaries and pro Chang Kai-shek citizens blinded us to any practical discussion and strategy to exercise. However, Alstyne fails to even suggest what a viable alternative could have been and if the outcome would have been much different.

His opinion is somewhat slanted and definitely opinionated towards a socialist bias. He suggests that if Roosevelt had focused on working with Mao Zedong instead of Chang Kai-shek, than the Japanese would have been defeated much earlier in WWII and our Cold War would not have extended into mainland China.

The author blithely ignores that fact that Mao Zedong did not contribute much to fighting the Japanese, instead preferring to wait and take advantage of the ensuing chaos to take leadership over the mainland.

However, while considering the source and keeping in mind the author’s personal cognitive biases, the reader will learn quite a bit about the historical relationships between the US and China and eventually the People’s Republic of China. Although I would only use this book as one source among many and make sure to read more recent publications.

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First sunflowers in my garden.

Perris of the Cherry Trees by J.S. Fletcher, The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek and a couple of skinnies.

I am still recovering from an upper respiratory infection. I’m off antibiotics but still tired. I hate being sick. It’s like entering a time warp where my schedule and life is in a grey zone. Tomorrow I’m going back to work and I think that will perk me up a great deal.

In the meantime. Here’s four books I’ve just finished.

I read this on my kindle

Perris of the Cherry-trees by J.S. Fletcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this story. It’s heavily written in Yorkshire dialect and the story looked like it was going to be kind of depressing:

A beautiful woman, Rhoda Perris, is married to a lazy good for nothing, Abel Perris. He has not worked on their land as he should and now the rent is due and they don’t have the money. Rhoda goes to their nearest neighbor, Mark Taffendale, to beg a loan. This is very humiliating for her, but she has no choice.

Mark Taffendale is a wealthy landowner and prosperous. He generously gives her the money insisting she need not pay him back.

Well, to cut to the chase, one thing leads to another and Rhoda falls in love with Master Taffendal, whom she cannot help comparing to her lout of a husband.

A couple of things develop at this point. One, Rhoda and Taffendale begin seeing each other on the sly in the woods. Another, and this is rather unexpected, Perris turns into a hardworking man.

Perris’ turn about seems to be from a hiny chewing his wife gave him.

Thanks to his diligence Rhoda and Perris are able to keep up the land (which has a grove of cherry trees, as the title indicates) and their living goes from being desperate to congenial.

However, Rhoda takes Perris and his newly found work ethic for granted, not to mention the relative ease of the lives now that they no longer live in financial straits. She has fallen for Taffendale and is contemptuous of her husband.

For a long time Perris is ignoranct as to his wife’s “excursions”. He believes her when she tells him she’s going to choir practice Sunday nights.

However, inevitably, this does not last. A farm hand for Perris, a miserable excuse for a man named Pippany Webster, sees Rhoda and Taffendale, chuckles to himself as he schemes to turn his knowledge to his advantage.

The fact that both Taffendale and Rhoda saved his life not that long ago (which is how they met in the first place- that’s called an irony) doesn’t seem to affect his conscience any.

And that’s all you’re going to get. I don’t want to give anything away, because you should read this story for yourself. It’s free on Gutenberg. Here’s some ingredients:

A murder takes place shortly after.
The affair is discovered, but not the way you think.
Perris disappears.
And the village performa a “Stang” on the individuals they deem guilty of sin.

A Stang is an old pagan practice, carried over from primitive times into 19th century England. Basically it’s a lynch mob. That’s all you need to know, except that no good comes from it, needless to say.

The ending is not predictable and the story, which started out a little boring, quickly accelerated into a good hearty suspenseful story.

J.S. Fletcher is known for being one of the Golden Year Detective writers. This story has many mysterious elements in it, although it cannot be called a murder mystery, even though there’s a murder.

I did end up enjoying the colorful dialect and customs of a Yorkshire that is undoubtedly long gone.

At least it is preserved among the pages of this writer’s works.

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Dragons: Legends & Lore of Dinosaurs by Bodie Hodge

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a wonderful book and I loved the illustrations and the presentation of each country and their folk lore of dragons.

I also like how they tie together the obvious, yet willfully ignored by many, observation that dragons resemble dinosaurs and originally the two words were used interchangeably.

Anyone who is curious about dragons and dinosaurs and their authentic place in history, based on historical and legendary accounts from every continent will enjoy this book.

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Korean History in Maps: From Prehistory to the Twenty-First Century by Lee Injae

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really liked the illustrations and photographs in this book. The time periods were broken down according to dynasty and the relevant leaders, both political and cultural of each time.

The 20th century part was the most interesting to me, simply because I’m more familiar with it and curious about the breaking of north and south and their global relationship.

The one thing that surprised and disappointed me was the comment about North Korea’s constitution guaranteeing religious freedom for Christians and Buddhists. That’s an outright lie.

Also, there was no mention of North Korea’s prisons and gulags that make up a significant percentage of the population and provide a slave labor class with a high mortality rate.

Other than that serious flaw. I found the book worth reading.

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The Good Soldier Švejk by Jaroslav Hašek

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jaroslav Hasek was Czech writer largely known for the writing of this novel, which as been translated into 60 languages.

Svejk is a naif or a fool who does not seem to be able to comprehend the atrocities that are happening around him. If he is sent to jail, that’s a good thing. If he is interrogated by the police on suspicion of subversive activity, he has every faith the officials know what they are doing.

He spends an inordinate time in jail as different governing officials try to figure out what he has done wrong, torturing him to get him to admit crimes that he has no clue about. Yet his faith in the eptitude of government work never falters and he congratulates and celebrates all the horrible things that happens to him.

He is sent to a mental asylum, because his answers are so simple and silly, he must be mentally incompetent.

Later when he is freed, he is followed by policemen to try to catch him committing crimes against the state. He even joins the Austrian Army, although he has rheumatic athritis and must go to war in a wheelchair.

The book is an exercise in buffoonery, but like Court Jesters and other buffoons, it makes clear that the absurdity lies in the “sane” people who abuse their authority over common citizens.

Really the whole method of writing is a very acute and deft satire on the atrocities committed to helpless citizens who have no means of exercising their rights as human beings.

The situations and calamities that befall Svejk made me think of Stalin’s mock trials and gulags, but I had to remind myself that this was written before the Soviet Empire really got rolling, since Hasek died in 1922.

Which shows that governments ignoring basic human rights pre-dates many of the later despotic regimes. Anyone reading about the welfare of soldiers during the Crimean War will understand that.

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Latest books I’ve been reading

Hello! No, I have not fallen off of the face of the earth, I only feel as though I have. Josh and I took a road trip to Illinois where we visited family and friends. It was fun: the visiting, the traveling…I especially enjoyed reading ghost stories by M.R. James to Josh as we were driving through corn fields at night and the road was foggy (Aaaaahhhhh! It’s Malachai!)

We got home last week and promptly became sick. No it wasn’t CoVid or any flu virus. I know the flu. The flu makes me feel as though I’m going to die, or wish I was dead. I didn’t feel that bad, but I did have a really bad upper respiratory congestion and was knocked out of commission for all of last week. Today is the first time I’ve felt like doing anything other than laying down and sleeping.

I’ve read quite a bit, but I’m too tired to make long reviews so here’s the skinny on the last few things I’ve been reading:

Superb biography of King Edward Longshanks. If all you know of him is the brilliant performance rendered by Patrick McGoohan in Braveheart, then you will certainly enjoy reading about the colorful life of King Edward I as well as the surrounding history of Medieval England.

The Long Suffering of Frederic Chopin - CHEST

Chopin: The Man and His Music by James Huneker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A fairly flowery account of the life of Chopin. He does not go in chronological order, but rather according to subject. It starts with his life in Poland, then his love life with George Sand, then an analysis of his music and others viewpoints, including audience members and other composers.

Informative, but written in an archaic style which I found a bit boring.

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Great Ghost Stories: 101 Terrifying Tales by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Pretty good anthology and mix of known and unknown authors and ghost stories. They largely date from the 19th and early 20th centuries, which is fine, because that’s my favorite time period.

I got this pretty cheap at Barnes and Noble, probably because these stories are all public domain and B and N probably just paid to have them printed. I will say that there are a number of typos and might have benefited from a more fastidious editor.

Still, a large collection of cozy night reads.

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Then there’s one of my all time favorite authors, William Sydney Porter, better known as O. Henry. For my money he has the greatest mastery of the American dialect of the late 19th, early 20th centuries. Partly because of his versatility. He writes of life in New York City, the South, where he hales from, the West and finally, South America, where he ran to after embezzling money from a bank he once worked at. A complicated man and perhaps not a paragon of morality, but his stories are so funny and there’s always the unexpected ending.

Burton: A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton by Byron Farwell

Listening to Faure.

 I visited my sister over the 4th of July weekend.  Great visit as always.  We talked politics, that gets intense, and we talked books; that also gets intense but in an enjoyable way.

On the way home I could not resist topping by Recycled Books, which is a used bookstore housed in an old Opera House on the town square in Denton.  I had 45 minutes before closing so I had to act fast.  

I was able to get a few little somethings for myself.

I wasn’t sure how to rate this book. I didn’t really like it, but I sort of liked it, hence the three stars.

The writing was superb and I have ordered other nonfiction books by the author: one on the life of Henry Stanley who found Livingston and another about the Gurkha warriors.

So if you want a well written biography this is one.

But the subject…blech.

I read Arabian Nights as a child. They were great adventure stories filled with magic carpets and genii granting wishes…Lots of fun.

So as an adult I saw a beautifully illustrated of a volume of selections of the Thousand and One Nights (Burton wrote several volumes) and bought it.

And, to my credit, I finished it. It is probably the most misogynistic and racist book I’ve ever read.

All women and Africans were villainous animals. Fate plays a huge role and all sorts of mishaps and tragedies happen to the heroes involved that by the time you’ve read “En Shallah” -or after someone has just has had their arm ripped off by an ogre and their response is “All thanks to Allah, the Merciful One,” you begin to wonder if the narrators are not being sarcastic.

There are no happy endings, but all that I could forgive if the story telling wasn’t so tedious. I don’t know if that is the fault of the folk tales or the translator, which brings me back to this biography.

Sir Richard Burton seems to have popped out of the womb rebellious and just plain odious. As a child his behavior knew no boundaries. He delighted in tormenting his tutors, governesses and fellow classmates. He was expelled from Oxford, which is what he wanted. His father finally caved into his unruly son’s will and bought him a commission in the army.

Burton had an insatiable thirst to learn languages (he learned almost thirty) of the Middle Eastern culture. He disguised himself as an Arab and went on many adventures with native tribesmen and Muslims throughout Saudi Arabia, Egypt- he claims to have found the source of the Nile, but this was disputed by other claimants-Syria and Afghanistan. Plus many other countries, including central African countries and also at one point, North America, where he lauded the polygamy of the Mormons. He went to India.

He was the first European to make it to Mecca and Medina, although when certain Arabs saw through his disguise he had to claim to have converted.

Although other explorers challenged Burton’s claim to have found the Nile, he did discover Lake Tanganyika in the Congo. So I don’t mean to imply that Burton accomplished nothing.

But as far as his writing goes, other than his translation of the Arabian Nights, I don’t know that he made much of a contribution to the rest of the world, unless you like reading the sordid sexual practices of the Middle East and India and you don’t care how boring the writing is.

His devoted and silly wife burnt all that had not been printed immediately after his death. This caused an uproar throughout England, which surprised her. Considering that, apart from the Nights, few people bought the books of Burton that were published, I can understand why.

I did enjoy the descriptions of the different cultures and people that Burton encountered, but that is to Farwell’s credit, not Burton’s.

I plan on reading Edward Rice’s and Thomas Wright’s biographies of Burton. I have started Wright’s and so far have found his writing entertaining even if his subject isn’t. 

Yes, yes.  I know you’re thinking, “What?  You just said you hate the subject.  I know, but I’m curious to see how much the slant the author took influenced my attitude.  Maybe in another biography he’ll turn out to be a nice guy. 

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