Tag Archives: fantasy

Mennyms (A Book Review)

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This is the book I have really read, though I intend to acquire the rest.

Sylvia Waugh is a British writer of children’s books who has a lot in common with me.  She spent her career as a teacher of grammar.  In her late fifties she became a published author.  Her book series of the Mennyma is a charming fantasy adventure about dolls so loved by their owner, they actually come to life… and survive her…. and then have to make their way in a world that would be horrified by them and might easily seek to destroy them.

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Hopefully none of my dolls come to life after I croak. After years of collecting, they nearly outnumber humanity.

But rest assured, the dolls in this sweet-natured children’s book series would never prove evil.  The books are more fantasy-comedy than horror story.  In fact, they are impossibly far away from horror.

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The original book.

Joshua Mennym is the head of a family of life-size rag dolls.  He pretends to be a middle-aged man.  He generally keeps his distance from the general public, because, up close, his basic rag-doll-ness would stand revealed.  Rag dolls are not supposed to walk and talk, let alone have families and live in a home of their own.   His wife is Vinetta Mennym, also a rag doll.  Together they are parents to the ten-year old twins, Poopie, the boy, and Wimpey, the girl.

The teenage twins are Pilbeam and Soobie.  Pilbeam is the girl and constant companion of the elder teenage sister, Appleby.  Soobie is the boy and  blue.  Why their former owner, Kate Penshaw, made him with a blue head and blue feet and blue hands is a mystery both to the Mennyyms and to me.   It causes him to be the one most likely to cause exposure of the family secret because even at a distance he does not look like a “real people” person.

Baby Googles is the smallest of the family, constantly cared for by the nanny, Miss Quigley, who is also considered a Mennym because she is also a doll.

Grandpa Magnus Mennym lives in the attic with Grandma and takes care of the household bills.  He writes scholarly works on the English Civil War and publishes them for a modest income which comes through the mail.  Granny Tulip is also relied upon for her wisdom and experience whenever a problem with keeping the family secret comes up.

Each book in the series contains a different adventure revolving around the realistic comedy generated by impossible people trying so hard to be real.  I absolutely love the adventures, even the ones I haven’t read yet.  And I know that the only way you could possibly love these books too is if you share my loony love of the fantastically impossible that turns out to be real.  After reading these books, I fully intend to keep a very close eye on my own doll collection.

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Filed under artists I admire, book review, doll collecting, good books, humor, imagination, old books

More Books to Make You Crazy

I have now written several goofy book reviews in which I explain some of the goofy books I have read that I blame for my current state of crazily unbalanced intellectualism.  If you decide you would like to be as goofy and crazy as me, for some totally inexplicable reason, you can read some of these oddball choices.

34504Michael Beyer‘s review

Sep 13, 15  
Read in September, 2015

 

Terry Pratchett wrote books of magical power and satirical alchemical wit, but not a single one of them tops Wyrd Sisters. I believe this is the best book he ever wrote from a collection of several of the best books ever written. The three witches, Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat Garlick call up visions of the witches in MacBeth. But no Shakespearian special effect ever captured the searing ridicule of kings and kingly aspirations as this book about king-making, or king un-making, or witchly interference with the best laid plans of mice and would-be kings. Granny Weatherwax is a witch you never want to meet in real life, but this book portrays the practical-minded old witch so talented at headology with such clarity, that you realize that you have indeed met her in real life… probably more than once. And the book has as unlikely a plot as ever underwent loop-the-loops and barrel rolls in its flight through a book. I have now smeared loopy gushings of hyperbole and weird wordy praises all over this book, and hopefully you will take time out from feeling nauseous long enough to give it a look.
I am also guilty of having a great love for non-fiction books and learning.  So here is a singularly weird choice to obsess about.

Michael Beyer‘s review

Sep 13, 15  
461434by Dennis Craig Smith
Read in September, 2015

 

Back in the 1980’s, I had a girlfriend whose sister lived in a clothing-optional apartment complex in Austin, Texas. Visiting there was an exercise in absolute embarrassment and near apoplexy. But it made me curious as well. There were children as well as adults there. Family-oriented nudity? I needed to know more. So, on advice from friends I located a naturist society based in Florida and corresponded with them. I bought a copy of this book from them. It contains a fascinating study, told mostly through collections of anecdotal data, of the effects, and possible effects of living parts of your life completely naked. And the effects it could have on kids. Having grown up with considerable burdens of shame and trepidation about being seen naked, this book helped me to understand that being naked is not necessarily the bad thing I thought it was. I confess to becoming a closet nudist… er, if never letting anyone else see you naked qualifies as being a nudist. And I have met, over time, wonderful people who are totally nutty about being nude. I will never become one of them. But this book helped me to at least understand them better.
I basically got the notion that books make you insane from the next author, a favorite of mine for reasons I can’t begin to explain.

Michael Beyer‘s review

Sep 13, 15
Read in September, 2015

 

H.P. Lovecraft gives me real nightmares because he is such a master of the arcane arts of creating unease and worry. I have never read another author’s work where the atmosphere of the story leaks toxic chemicals of fear and loathing into your brain quite the way this story does. As you experience the rotting, festering, tainted town of Innsmouth through the eyes of the narrator, your entire being is slowly sauteed in a stew of creepy details, unsettling characters, and an architecture of decay. It is decay of both the actual seaport town, and the mouldering culture of a humanity that long ago yielded to the temptation of ultimate corruption. Frog people from the ocean’s depths could easily be humorous or simply bizarre. But Lovecraft’s slow, relentless reveal makes the unwinding plot absolutely horrifying. If you like a good scare, this book may be too much for you. If you love a bad scare that makes your very skeleton shiver, then this is the perfect book.
All of this book-review nonsense can be found on Goodreads, a critical website for readers and writers, and I have peppered this post with enough links to it that you probably can’t avoid accidentally ending up there.

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Terry Pratchett, the Grand Wizard of Discworld

image borrowed from TVtropes.com

image borrowed from TVtropes.com

I firmly believe that I would never have succeeded as a teacher and never gotten my resolve wrapped around the whole nonsense package of being a published author if I hadn’t picked up a copy of Mort, the first Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett that I ever encountered.  I started reading the book as a veteran dungeon-master at D&D role-playing games and also as a novice teacher having a world of difficulty trying to swim up the waterfalls of Texas education fast enough to avoid the jagged rocks of failure at the bottom.  I was drinking ice tea when I started reading it.  More of that iced tea shot out my nose while reading and laughing than went down my gullet.  I almost put myself in the hospital with goofy guffaws over Death’s apprentice and his comic adventures on a flat world riding through space and time on the backs of four gigantic elephants standing on the back of a gigantic-er turtle swimming through the stars.  Now, I know you have no earthly idea what this paragraph even means, unless you read Terry Pratchett.  And believe me, if you don’t, you have to start.  If you don’t die laughing, you will have discovered what may well be the best humorist to ever put quill pen to scroll and write.  And if you do die laughing, well, there are worse ways to go, believe me.

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Discworld novels are fantasy-satire that make fun of Tolkien and Conan the Barbarian (written by Robert E. Howard, not the barbarian himself) and the whole world of elves and dwarves and heroes and dragons and such.  You don’t even have to love fantasy to like this stuff.  It skewers fantasy with spears of ridiculousness (a fourth level spell from the Dungeons of Comedic Magic for those fellow dungeon masters out there who obsessively keep track of such things).  The humor bleeds over into the realms of high finance, education, theater, English and American politics, and the world as we know it (but failed to see from this angle before… a stand-on-your-head-and-balance-over-a-pit-of-man-eating-goldfish sort of angle).

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Terry Pratchett’s many wonderful books helped me to love what is ugly, because ugly is funny, and if you love something funny for long enough, you understand that there is a place in the world even for goblins and trolls and ogres.  Believe me, that was a critical lesson for a teacher of seventh graders to learn.  I became quite fond of a number of twelve and thirteen year old goblins and trolls because I was able see through the funny parts of their inherent ugliness to the hidden beauty that lies within (yes, I know that sounds like I am still talking about yesterday’s post, but that’s because I am… I never stop blithering about that sort of blather when it comes to the value hidden inside kids).

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I have made it a personal goal to read every book ever written by Terry Pratchett.  And that goal is now within reach because even though he is an incredibly prolific writer, he has passed on withing the last year.  He now only has one novel left that hasn’t reached bookstores.  Soon I will only need to read a dozen more of his books to finish his entire catalog of published works.  And I am confident I will learn more lessons about life and love and laughter by reading what is left, and re-reading some of the books in my treasured Terry Pratchett paperback collection.  Talk about your dog-eared tomes of magical mirth-making lore!  I know I will never be the writer he was.  But I can imitate and praise him and maybe extend the wonderful work that he did in life.  This word-wizard is definitely worth any amount of work to acquire and internalize.  Don’t take my convoluted word for it.  Try it yourself.

borrowed from artistsUK.com

borrowed from artistsUK.com

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Troll Treasure

Troll Treasure 2Here is an old Paffooney revisited.  Here Prince Robin leads a team of adventurers deep into the darkling wood where they find and take on a troll.  The two dwarven filchers are no match for the man-beast, but two of the rogue’s well-placed arrows bring him down.  And the treasure is magical and valuable beyond their wildest dreams.  But is that an evil glow on the diamond known as the troll’s heart?  Will it corrupt the beautiful young rogue?  I simply do not know.

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Pirate Fantasies

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Dungeons and Dragons (Revisited)

Since I have been writing a lot about old D & D lately, I decided to repost this essay about playing Dungeons and Dragons.  It is reworked slightly to help mesh with recent posts.  Of course the names of students have been changed to protect the innocent.  I don’t expose real people in my blogging.  I tend to fictionalize everything.  After all, no one should have to suffer the damage to their reputations that Mickian goofishness can cause.

Back in 1982 I first started dungeon mastering for my younger brother and two sisters.  We bought a family set with both the red book and blue book.  It was the beginning of a lifelong love of storytelling games.  You can’t give fanboy dynamite to an Ubernerd and not expect some kind of big old explosion.

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The thing that caught me so completely was the way that you could share the development of the characters and story, everybody at the table adding their two cents until you had a whole lot more than six cents… More like priceless.  And you never knew for sure how it would turn out, no matter how much you planned the plot and plotted the plan.  Events could turn out entirely opposite to what they should have, and inspiration on the spot could alter the essential course of a campaign.

In the beginning it was all about wizards.  The original game featured power that left wizards weak and vulnerable in the beginner levels, but fearsome with fire-balling ferocity after only a few levels of experience.  My brother’s wizard, LeRoy became powerful enough to make himself the king of all of Balindale and the Southern Kingdom .  When the dungeon master raised up armies of undead and ogres and undead ogres to bedevil old LeRoy, the bearded Lord of Balindale could simply summon meteors from the sky and burn them to the ground.  If I presented him with rival wizards who had armies and kingdoms of their own, he pulled a fast one and used his diplomatic dipsy-doo to make them into allies… even the evil ones.  He convinced them to sign treaties with him and eventually to accept him as their sovereign lord.  Thus the Wizard Ganser from mighty Gansdorf was tamed and turned.  When the evil Black Wizard refused to cooperate, Ganser and his army helped to invade and destroy the stronghold of Fort Doom.

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So stories came to be dominated by wizards and wizard personalities.  And then I began recruiting former students to play the game.  The personalities changed.  Goofy Gomez chose to be the wizard, the typical classroom clown who could never do anything straight.  Fernie the Flunkie, a particularly destructive personality, also took up the way of magic with Asduel the Sorcerer.   So in some games, Asdok the Bumbling made jokes and got his fellow adventurers into situations where only the last minute appearance of a kindly, all-powerful Titan could keep them from being roasted in a pot with carrots and potatoes.  In other games, Asduel the Merciless burned cities and castles, made orphans into servants and slaves, and generally frowned quite a lot when the dungeon master  suggested that some Non-player characters needed to be spared or the over-all adventure would be lost for all players.

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So, because of the power of wizards, we all learned that stories could be easily unbalanced and abused by the personalities in them.  We learned how important it was to learn to work together.  When Sir Hogan, the Knight of Tol Arriseah, and Sin Gard, the fighter of the many magic swords got sick of old Asduel, they let the bullywugs and locathah of Eary Marsh first take him prisoner, and then roast and eat him with carrots and potatoes.   And when Asdok the Bumbling set fire to the base of the tower in which he was trying to wring the treasure from the top, trapping his little thief friend, Artran the Halfling up there with him in the body of the ugly girl he had turned him into with a polymorph spell, they allowed him to take a ride in the tower-turned-skyrocket into another dimension entirely.

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Dungeons and Dragons taught us that the difference between good and evil can be learned.   We learned that hitting your problems with a sword or dropping a fireball on top of them did not always solve them.   We learned to negotiate, to feel what others feel, and how to become a different person than the one you are.  I truly believe that the most important lessons you can learn about life can be learned playing D&D.  Morality, camaraderie, and cooperation are not really taught in school, but they can be taught in D&D.

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And now I play Dungeons and Dragons with my own children.  How better to get to know them and mold their characters?  How else can you let them learn why you shouldn’t blow up your neighbors or slay your uncle with an axe except in an imaginary world where the ultimate oops can be fixed with a lawful-good cleric who knows a convenient raise the dead or resurrection spell?

So now I can officially post my Paffooney where Samosett the girl archer and little Prince Robin have murdered Unkel the Magical Ogre to get his chest full of treasure.  Oh, I shouldn’t forget Boffin and Bimbur the dwarves.  They are the ones that brought the group through the Wilderness of Zekk to find Old Unkel’s tower.

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The Ancient Lost Kingdom

In our original Dungeons and Dragons campaign back in the 1980’s, the player characters followed a series of clues until they discovered the land was once civilized under the rule of Castle Starnor, and Arthur, the White Stag King.  The wizard Merlini revealed to the heroes that the Raggedy Prince whose army of monsters they defeated was actually descended from the White Stag King, which was strange because people believed the myth that Arthur had actually been a spirit stag, a ghost deer with arcane powers.  The prince was cast into the dungeon in the city of Balindale, the city they had liberated from his monstrous army.  The wizard Merlini was able to study the prince up close and learn more.  

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During the Black Wizard Crisis, the heroes captured the Black Wizard’s right-hand witch and cast her into the same dungeon where the Raggedy Prince dwelt.  The two villains fell in love.  Their child, young Sarris, was determined by Merlini to be the rightful heir of Starnor.  He possessed magic from the time of Arthur which turned him into a werebear, suggesting that there was truth to the tale of Arthur’s ability to transform into a stag.  Merlini removed the baby from the dungeon and raised him personally, aided by his young apprentice Pip.  For years they groomed the boy to rule as the heroes searched for the ruins of mighty Starnor.

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It was discovered that the southern section of the kingdom of Starnor was still ruled by the Lich King Frakkus, known widely as Nightmare.  Frakkus had been the Necromantic adviser to Arthur and may have had a hand in Arthur’s ultimate demise.  From Frakkus the heroes learned that Starnor could be magically revived by defeating the demon who had carried it off to another dimension.  They also learned that the only way to succeed was to make an alliance with Frakkus.  The Lich King would remain in control of the South and the fortress of Rau’s Bones.  So, instead of slaying the evil necromancer, the heroes helped him defeat and imprison the demon.  Starnor was revived.  Sarris was placed on the throne and was given the most trustworthy of advisers, including the Grizzled Wizard Gristhane.  Sarris, in the form of a bear, would rule Castle Starnor benevolently, potentially forever.

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Comic Book Fever

I have long wanted to tell my stories in comic book form, a thing that causes no little difficulty.  Problem one, my arthritis makes 64-page stories difficult, let alone the hundreds of pages needed for a graphic novel.

I do have a couple of things that I have worked on over the years, though.  Here are a couple of things;

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Sorcerer’s Duel is a tale of Dungeons and Dragons players, while Hidden Kingdom is a sword and sorcery tale set in the tiny world of fairies and mythical creatures (made small over the centuries by the disbelief of most humans).  Both are graphic novels that will probably never see publication.  I can expose them on this blog, however, and maybe generate interest in my fiction.

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The Blue Dragons of Somber Ceremony

The Blue Dragons of Somber Ceremony

Today the faculty of Naaman Forest High School held a retirement reception for me and four other teachers. All of us around 30 years of work in education. The school is losing 150 years worth of experience. Math, English, and Special Education… I managed to go through the thing without crying, but stiff upper lips get melted by the blue dragons of sadness. I will cry yet before the year is out. I still haven’t faced the final goodbye with students. How do I do that? I will bite holes in my lower lip and still fail to stop the waterworks. What a hopeless ball of wimpishness I am! But I’ve fought dragons all my life… dragons of one sort or another. Remember the intestinal gas contest started by Little Slick Pooflinger? Oh, wait, you weren’t there, were you…. Well, believe me, fart dragons are real. So, it was sad… blue dragon sort of sad… and I fought dragons one more time.

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May 8, 2014 · 12:37 am

The Elf with the Bow

The Elf with the Bow

Sometimes I just get all Middle Earthy!

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April 23, 2014 · 1:04 am