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Archive for the ‘Books and Reading’ Category

Today’s post is inspired by a trip to the supermarket to replenish the cereals cupboard. Mr Kellogg must be feeling festive, as the normal Cornflakes packet design now features one of Norman Rockwell’s illustrations of the Christmas carol Deck the Halls, brought together in a book in 1997. The packet also features Clement Clarke Moore’s ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (1844), which begins

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house       
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;                                  The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,                                In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;                                  The children were nestled all snug in their beds;

Today’s feast is in the next line:

FInal sugarplums
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Yesterday’s blog post was, quite literally, sugar sweet, so today seems like a good day as any to spice the dish with something rather more sinister.

When I was still in primary school, I occasionally went to the secondary school in which they worked, where, to my delight, there was a school library, run by one of my earliest real life childhood heroes, Mrs MacKay. I spent a lot of time in there, and while I had already read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I was, at age 7, yet to encounter the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia. Mrs MacKay lent me the rest, and, when there was a fire in the school – don’t panic: the library survived intact, and replaced the small amount of smoke-damaged stock. For me, despite the initial horror, there was a silver lining to this dark cloud of smoke, as she sent home with my parents a full set of the Chronicles which smelt only slightly smoky. They were wrapped in strong plastic covers, and still have the typed library cards inside them. They are some of my most treasured possessions.  The Magician’s Nephew and The Silver Chair are my two favourites, and to my mind definitely the strangest.  As a lifelong medievalist (albeit unconsciously, at first), I suspect that part of the attraction are the mysterious women to be found loitering in woods and by lakes; for an authentic medieval example of such a woman, may I direct you to my post about Marie de France’s Lanval, also part of this Christmas Feast blog sequence? Given that C. S. Lewis was a real medieval scholar, not a dabbler like me, I’m pretty sure that such stories were, at least partly, his inspiration for Jadis and the Lady of the Green Kirtle, but that’s a discussion for another day. Now on to the feast! (more…)

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SnowQueen_EdmundDulac8

The Snow Queen, by Edmund Dulac, appearing in Stories from Hans Andersen by H. C. Andersen (Hodder and Stoughton, 1911). Via Project Gutenberg.

When it came to writing today’s post, I had it in my head that Gerda in Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen had a great variety of food in her travels through the seasons to find Kay. But Andersen makes only passing mentions of the girl’s food. When living in the house with the wondrous flower garden, she is allowed to eat all the cherries she wishes. In a brief aside, these may be one of the ways in which she is enchanted into forgetting Kay, as when mortals, when in faery lands, eat the food and drink made available, and thus forget all about their homes. In the palace, she begins with scraps of bread provided by crows, but leaves on her quest in a coach “well stored with sweet cakes, and under the seat … fruit and gingerbread nuts”. In contrast, the robbers live simply on what they hunt and forage in the forest – rabbits and hares, and the little robber girl herself gives Gerda hams and bread as a leaving gift. There aren’t any details of the food provided by the Lapland and Finland women, but it seems plausible that fish was involved somehow. (more…)

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A true feast must look beautiful as well as taste beautiful. It must take place in rich surroundings, and those attending should wear their finest raiment. While yesterday’s post focused on the hard work of kitchen staff creating the feast, today’s is all about the setting of the stage.
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For today’s feast, I had a distinctly floral theme in mind. Somewhere, there is a book which describes a meal with food and drink made all of flowers. But I cannot remember what it is, and have given up on identifying it for now, on the basis that there may not otherwise be a post. But if any of you have suggestions, please write in.

I have therefore turned to another of my childhood favourite books, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess (1905). Sara Crewe, a princess in her heart and mind if not in reality, is our hero, and her imagination is the key to her survival in dark times. Today’s feast takes place on one of the worst days in the story, and for a while renews her, before leading to greater despair. But there is always the Magic to make things right. I apologise for the length of this excerpt, but it’s the full story of the feast, and proof that good food by itself is not always enough to make a real banquet.
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Little White Horse

The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge – Folio Society edition. Book original published in 1946).

If you know me away from the computer screen, and I have not yet recommended that you read The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge, I apologise, and don’t know what I have been thinking. It’s a wonderful book, so consider this a universal recommendation. At the same time, I feel obliged to discourage you all from watching The Secret of Moonacre (Warner Bros, 2009) for any other reason than to enjoy the gorgeous images on the screen. The story is a poor shadow of Goudge’s tale.
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I seem to have started every blog post in recent years – yes, years; that’s how bad it has been! – with an apology for not having written in so long. Despite all my good intentions, I have not been able to turn things around to start writing more regularly. Life and work are equally busy, and there was no sign that was going to change, until … (more…)

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