Friday, May 2, 2014

Books Read in April 2014

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

Although I enjoyed this book, I thought it was by far the weakest of the Bradbury books I've read so far (the others being Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, and Dandelion Wine). Bradbury's writing is brilliant as usual and there were plenty of moments that I loved, but the book as a whole didn't come together for me as much as I would have liked. The imagery wasn't quite as haunting or evocative as the images in The Illustrated Man and it didn't stir my nostalgia like Dandelion Wine or become my bookworm battle-cry like Fahrenheit 451. Regardless, Bradbury's writing is always a pleasure to read, even if I felt a bit relieved when I was finished this one. This is just my opinion, but I think the ideas in Something Wicked This Way Comes could have been used better in a short story or two, because while the ideas were good, they weren't enough to interest me for the entire book. In fact, Bradbury combined a couple of short stories he had already written to make this this book. And by the way, I thought Will's father, Charles Halloway totally stole the show from the two protagonists, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade.

Kings, Bishops, Knights, and Pawns by Ralph Arnold

Kings, bishops, knights, and pawns: Life in feudal society: Ralph Arnold
This was a short book about medieval feudalism. It was written with appreciated sensitivity, as the author tried to put his readers into medieval people's shoes. Granted that feudalism was a system that was often abused and used as a means of injustice, during the Dark Ages it gave much needed stability and security in a chaotic world, following the fall of the Roman Empire. I think the most interesting part of this book for me was actually the section focusing on the lives of peasants. When reading about the Middle Ages, my main interest is in knights, followed by nobility and monks. I have nothing against peasants, I just thought reading about their daily lives would be relatively boring. I was wrong.

The Journey by Kathryn Lasky (re-read)

I found a bunch of Ga'Hoole books at a thrift store and because of this I finally got around to re-reading the second book, The Journey. I'm really enjoying my re-read of this series and I'm already on to the third book. The Journey is a slower book, the first third being about Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, and Digger's journey to the Great Ga'Hoole Tree and the final third being about life in the Tree. The villains of the last book, the owls of St. Aggies, aren't a threat to the characters anymore, and the Pure Ones, the major villains of the series, are only hinted at ominously in this book. In many ways it's a book of setup, getting to know the owls at the Tree, learning how things work at the Tree etc. but the way Lasky writes about the Great Ga'Hoole Tree is so enjoyable that I don't mind.

I've decided to focus on my favourite character Otulissa as I re-read the series and do a mini character study of her. The Journey is the first book Otulissa is in. Otulissa is a Spotted Owl from the Forest Kingdom of Ambala. She apparently fell out of her nest as an owlet, her parents never returned, and she was then rescued by a Ga'Hoole search-and-rescue patrol and brought to the Tree. Otulissa is very proud of her ancient and distinguished lineage and, truthfully, is a snob - often judgmental of those she consider unrefined. She is prim and proper, a teacher's pet, and doesn't know when to shut up. She is also a lover of knowledge and books. Otulissa is convinced that she will be tapped into the navigation chaw, the chaw she considers most prestigious and the chaw her idol and fellow Spotted Owl, Strix Struma, teaches, but is horrified when she's tapped for the decidedly non-prestigious colliering and weather-interpretation double chaw (at Ga'Hoole a "chaw" is an owl's area of specialty, kind of like a career, and owlets are "tapped" or selected for a particular chaw). You may be wondering why such a character would be my favourite. First of all, Otulissa's book smarts immediately make me sympathetic to her and, for whatever weird reason, I have an affinity for snobby characters, so her pretentiousness wasn't as off-putting for me as it would be to most people. I often felt sorry for the snobby characters as a kid, as they're so often the "bad guy" in family movies and usually get tar-and-feathered or some equivalent at the end and all the "good guys" laugh at them. Towards the end of the book I really do feel sorry for Otulissa on a couple of occasions, the most notably when Otulissa clumsily tries to comfort Soren by giveing him bookish information about the condition Soren's delirious sister might be in. Soren snaps at her that she's giving him useless information to which Otulissa, in tears, responds, "Oh dear. None of this is coming out right. I was just trying to be helpful." Otulissa could have so easily been just a foil for Soren and co., but Lasky developed her into a layered and complex character and I respect her for that. Most importantly, this is only the beginning. Otulissa probably goes through the most growth of any character in this series, and does become a rather awesome character later on. I dare anyone not to fall in love with her character if they keep reading.

The Rescue by Kathryn Lasky

Otulissa undergoes significant character development in this book, although a lot of it happens "offscreen". The first sign of the change comes when two of the owlets rescued from the last book are stating their belief that Glaux, the firstborn owl was a Tyto and that all Tytos (Barn Owls, Masked Owls, Sooty Owls etc.) are descended from him. The owlets are speaking as they have been taught by the Pure Ones, the Nazi-like villains of the series, but Otulissa is upset by what the owlets are saying. She firmly tells the owlets that all owls are descended from Glaux, not just Tytos. The main characters are surprised at Otulissa using the phrase "all of us", since she herself seems to believe that Spotted Owls, especially certain ancient families of Spotted Owls, are the best. It could be argued that Otulissa is simply refuting a mistaken belief, which in itself is very characteristic of Otulissa regardless of what the belief is about, but I think it becomes obvious later on that this moment is starting to show a real change in Otulissa. Later on, when the major characters Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, and Egalntine decide to form the Chaw of Chaws (sort of an updated version of the Band established in the first book to potentially include more owls than just the four) and search for Ezylryb, the missing scholar and weather interpretation ryb, Otulissa, who had apparently been eavesdropping, tells them she wants to join as well. She tells the others that she hates everything she has been hearing about the Pure Ones, and their belief that Tytos are the supreme species of owl. It's a good thing Otulissa joined the Chaw of Chaws on their mission because her  knowledge of metals and higher magnetics was instrumental in finding Ezylryb and destroying the Devil's Triangle created by the Pure Ones. So what caused Otulissa to change? Like I said, it wasn't made explicit, but I think it's safe to say that her time spent at the Great Ga'Hoole Tree softened her ideas of the importance of lineage. It's obvious that Otulissa learned these ideas before coming to the Tree, probably from the culture she was raised in as an owlet, because one of the key virtues of the Tree is humility and most of the Guardians are not pretentious in the least. After spending so much time among such noble owls of a variety of species, many of Otulissa's assumptions must have been shattered. I also think Otulissa being picked for the colliering/weather interpretation chaws was no accident. Being picked for a less prestigious chaw would teach Otulissa the value of certain things that are often less respected and give her a much needed lesson in humility.

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