Archives for Blogs

“My cause of death today is Beauty”: Mr. Sunshine

“Yesterday seemed like a distant past, today felt unfamiliar and tomorrow was terrifying. It was a time of turbulence. All of us, each in their own way, were living through the rapidly changing Joseon.” For the “Little Gang.” 🌸 [Note: I was careful not to include any significant spoilers here, but only to discuss the characters as they are introduced early on ~ with a warning.] In the midst of a rewatch of my first K-drama, My Mister, my brother and I started the 2018 historical drama, Mr. Sunshine (미스터 션샤인) and were shortly after joined by several others, including
Read More

In Defense of Woundedness, of Failure, and of Frodo: A Personal Reflection with Tolkien’s Letters

[ALERT: If you are not familiar with the end of The Lord of the Rings, do not continue…] I originally published this post on my now-too-Dickensian site around Hobbit Day, 2021, and thought that our #TolkienReadingDay would be a good opportunity to republish it at its new home. At the time, I was reflecting on the nature of friendships near and far, including once-inseparable friends I hadn’t seen in a long time, and on friendship in general, of the beauty hidden in human (and hobbit) failure, and of Frodo. His image was haunting me then, particularly on a Sunday when
Read More

Re-reading “Foucault’s Pendulum” in the Age of Q-Anon: Pt. 2 – Ur-Fascism and the Russia-Ukraine Connection

Apologies, but work on my little blog series on Re-reading Foucault’s Pendulum in the Age of QAnon has been delayed by a family emergency and the all-absorbing news of the barbaric Russian invasion of Ukraine. Like many of you, I have been glued to CNN and the various print media this last week, in a quest to wrap my head around what is happening, why, and what it means for a suddenly changed and (on the heels of Covid and January 6) increasingly dangerous world. But the dreadful situation has also induced me to take a moment for a relevant
Read More

All Relationships are Precious: A First Encounter with K-Drama and “My Mister”

My Mister opens in a typical office setting, bright and bleak as a winter afternoon, everyone absorbed and professionally distant in their open-office “teams.” The only signs of anything green and growing here–passing shots, no more; the merest hint of new life springing up–are the office plants, watered by someone who is mostly invisible to the viewer. Shortly after, a comical sequence ensues as some of the office staff are sent into a panic by a flying bug—turns out, it is only a ladybug—as if something as vulnerable and colorful and living as that little ladybug has no place in
Read More

Archive81 and Cosmic Horror

Archive81 proved a surprise Netflix hit, a slowburn horror series that wears a number of influences on its sleeve: Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Ring, The Twilight Zone, Alex Garland, David Lynch and Mike Flanagan. Never less than engaging (thanks primarily to superb lead performances and polished production values) the cumulative effect over eight episodes is like playing a game of genre Bingo: witches, haunted houses, cult rituals, cursed recordings, spooky corridors, snuff films, evil tomes, seances and sacrifices, possibly mad and unreliable narrators, and ancient evil deities. The last ingredient, readers may recognize, marks the series’ most conspicuous influence:
Read More

Chill, this is Ashland!

Ashland, Oregon is a small, artsy “destination town” in southern Oregon, just north of the California border. Home to Southern Oregon University, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and gorgeous Lithia Park, it (before Covid, at least) welcomes some four hundred thousand visitors a year. It’s also attracted a number of resident artists and writers, including two of your blog hosts, Rail and Wren—this, in no small part because of its easy-going and sometimes eccentric character. Not to mention, characters, who often refer to their hometown as “Ashlantis,” or “Ashlandia,” or sometimes, when they object to some city ordinance, “the Peoples Republic
Read More

Re-reading “Foucault’s Pendulum” in the Age of QAnon – Pt. 1, The Plan

I just finished my third or fourth reading of Umberto Eco‘s classic esoteric suspense thriller and sublimely wacko-satirical thought experiment, Foucault’s Pendulum. The Premise First published in 1988 in Italian, Foucault’s Pendulum tells the story of three editors at the fictional Garamond Press in Milan (and its aptly named vanity press twin, Manutius Press), who are brought an esoteric manuscript purporting to include a secret coded Message regarding the fabled Knights Templar and their alleged centuries-spanning occult Plan. (Here be potential but necessary Spoilers – Caveat Lector!) The Message is highly ambiguous—imagine a purposefully vague Nostradamus quatrain written in a
Read More

The Day I Fell in Love

January 18 is Winnie-the-Pooh Day…Huzzah! I’m one of those folks who remembers little of early childhood. I have, however, one sun-bright memory of sitting rapt at my school desk in Mrs. G’s second grade class, aged seven, as she read aloud, over a period of several weeks, A.A. Milne’s House at Pooh Corner. That was the day I first fell in love. With books.  And now that I think of it, with fantasy literature as well. I loved Pooh so ardently, back in second grade, I begged for him for Christmas. Santa kindly came through with the hardcover edition of
Read More

Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi: Some Initial Reflections

“The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.” ~ Piranesi, pg. 5 I warn the reader that, although I will try not to give overt spoilers—except to name a certain character, a name which we learn part way through the book—it is impossible not to discuss Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi without risking that the very ideas brought up might constitute spoilers in some way. So, perhaps these reflections are better saved for a post-reading discussion. (And I use the words “discuss” and “reflections” because I cannot possibly review a book by Clarke. One simply follows her along the mysterious
Read More

Worldbuilding with Specialists, Polymaths, and Dilettantes

The pace at which scientists are breaking down their foci of expertise into increasingly narrower fields is breathtaking. Kinda like the way fictional genres become increasingly niche-ified. (Can you say "Cat Mysteries," boys and girls?) It's all quite wonderful, but I hope all these specialists are still talking to specialists in other fields, else the forest will be missed for the trees. Nay, the leaves.
Read More

The Genius of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

“Two magicians shall appear in England…” I tend to catch the tail-end of trends, like an enthusiastic gate-crasher at a party long since broken-up. When friends and family suggest—nay, insist—that I must, I absolutely must watch such-and-such a movie, listen to such-and-such a CD, or read such-and-such a book … well, I generally accept the generously proffered item with a nod of thanks, only to let the item gather dust on my desk or else serve as an improvised coaster. Passionate readers are a persistent bunch, however, so eventually I was browbeaten into picking up the bestselling fantasy novel by
Read More

Epic Storytelling at 10 Cents a pop

My family home was a boxy old turn-of-the-century three-story turned-student rooming house two blocks from a lively state university campus—Pig Heaven for a shy introvert who craved intellectual stimulus and some elusive beauty amid the drab and the ordinary surroundings of a working class upbringing. So it was that I spent most weekends at the movies, or in campus bookstores and record shops, or checking out the latest DC and Marvel comics at the corner drugstore. Comic books were a dime in my earliest youth, then maybe a quarter, back when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby scribbled and sketched their
Read More

Mark Your Calendars, because “Two Magicians Shall Appear in England…”

…and those Magicians are Neil Gaiman and Susanna Clarke. (Surely there are author-magicians, just as Clarke tells us there are gentleman-magicians?) I nearly jumped out of my seat to see that they would be getting together to discuss Clarke’s new novel, Piranesi, on September 2, via 5X15’s online platform, and you can register here. Having recently finished Neil Gaiman’s Masterclass on The Art of Storytelling, and being a huge fan of his writing and his exquisite audio narrations, I can’t think of a better duo to discuss the wild, almost heartbreakingly beautiful, melancholy magic that is Piranesi. Gaiman and Clarke
Read More

Arresting Strangeness: The Green Knight

This will be a short post, no more than an update. (Honestly I don’t think I’ve tried posting with this new WP format on the app before ~ in the midst of travels and adventures of my own ~ so it may come out a mess anyhow.) My own adventure began earlier this week, when our band of scattered siblings (my brother John said, “Muster the Rohirrim!”) came to answer the call of one of our own ~ my brother and his wife and newborn ~ in making their move from North Dakota to Oregon.   The journey West…there is
Read More

Remembering Roger Rees, and his Nicholas Nickleby

“Is this a theatre?” whispered Smike, in amazement; “I thought it was a blaze of light and finery.” “Why, so it is,” replied Nicholas, hardly less surprised; “but not by day, Smike—not by day.”  ~Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby by Sydney Wren Originally published at All the (Dickensian) Year Round It begins so innocuously with those quirky, slightly dated-sounding notes (now forever beloved) of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1981 filmed stage production of The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. Who knew that this brainchild of Trevor Nunn, in collaboration with John Caird and adapted for the stage by David Edgar,
Read More

Current Delights and Distractions in Genre Fiction

Well, I have promised the start of a long Dickens reading marathon, beginning with his earliest published serial novel, but I confess that my current novel-in-progress, and a couple in gestation, have led me down the rabbit hole of genre reading. (But I almost always have some Dickens reading or listening in the works anyway, and I have indeed restarted Pickwick, which always “illumines the gloom” of daily life!)
Read More

Down the Nazi Occult Rabbit Hole

Have you ever noticed how fascinated Speculative, SciFi/Fantasy, and Thriller writers are about Nazis? From Marvel's Hydra to PKD's The Man in the High Castle, from Indiana Jones to Wolfenstein, from The Boys from Brazil to Arrowverse's Earth X to...you get the idea. You could spend years working through that reading list. And to be honest, I have.
Read More

The Impact of Dickens: An International Conference

It was a joy to drop in this morning on the opening of the Zoom-based international conference on The Impact of Dickens, which will continue today and tomorrow, and to hear the introduction by the delightful Pete Orford, and that of Ian Dickens, the great-great-grandson of the great man. Before getting ready for work, I was able to view a good portion of the first panel, including Katie Bell‘s presentation on the impact of Dickens on the southern gothic novelist and short story writer, Flannery O’Connor. She pointed out that the dark humor of both Dickens and O’Connor depends on
Read More

Fulfilling Little Nell’s Wish During Quarantine

Our state, Oregon, went into full lockdown in the middle of March this year (2020), and has been in the gradual reopening process over the past months. As I’m among those who was never able to work remotely, working as I do with superheroic adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (or, different-abilities!) in a group home setting, I’ve not been able to focus as much time and energy on writing and on research as I’d like. However, I have been delving into a big Dickens readathon ~ or, perhaps more appropriately, re-readathon. I’ve recently started the renowned Dickens biography by
Read More

A Victober for John Henry Newman

“The heart is a secret with its Maker; no one on earth can hope to get at it or to touch it.” John Henry Newman Reading challenges have not often been on my to-do list, even though I can see how they could be great opportunities to find inspiration from others doing something similar. It’s entertaining and inspiring to see the different takes and offshoots from each challenge, and perhaps–just perhaps–one will find the Holy Grail: a real gem of a book that you otherwise might never have found. While doing my own prep for NaNoWriMo this year–or was I
Read More