Hostages, Dragons and Ransoms

It’s been a bit frantic of late but rest assured that the Bedside Table has not fallen into disuse.  But I’ve neglected to tell you what has been catching my interest.

As is my want I occasionally delve into other worlds, and it’s been the turn of the dragons recently, two separate batches of them.

First up was Naomi Novik.  The seventh in her Temeraire series, Crucible of Gold, was out recently, and I realised I had missed the sixth last year.  But the second hand outlets did the trick and I got right up to date.

These novels are set during the Napoleonic Wars, with the twist being that the Navy has a coterie or two of dragons to help out, as do the French.  The dragons of course hail from China, and so we travel the world, from the English Channel to the Highlands of Scotland, to South Africa and beyond, to the new colonies Down Under, and across the ocean to the remnants of Inca Gold.  Good fun, and cunningly mingling with history.

I was drawn to another part of the world by John McCarthy.  He was relating his own experience of spending five years in the Middle East, denied access to his home, a captive, a hostage, eventually freed.  In You Can’t Hide the Sun he returns to the area to talk to indigenous tribes, the Palestinians, denied their own homes in the Israel that evolved since 1948 at a time when his own father was part of the British Control.  McCarthy elicits a deep and profound understanding of the issues in the area, that seems to hold no solution, or at least not an easy one after 60-odd years of strife.  It’s a fine read and you might just look at the problems of the area from a different angle.

I was minded of a couple of essays by Amos Oz, who at one time served in the Israeli army, and who later looked at it a-new, from eyes not dissimilar to McCarthy.  I must get those essays back from Mistress Ghamellawalla, who may not have taken from them what I did, she being somewhat less than impartial on the matter, and understandably so.

And then it was dragons again, in the magical world created by Robin Hobb, who I have been reading for many years.  It all started with The Farseer Trilogy, a series I have in tatty paperback, longing to be replaced by hardback firsts, but there is quite a value to them now and it hasn’t happened, yet.  Farseer introduced the concept of dragons and she developed the theme through the sea serpents of her Liveship Traders, then back to the Farseer days with the Tawny Man, and finally into the current Rain Wild Chronicles. 

City of Dragons is the latest delicious instalment.  Leave all the problems behind and delve in.  There’s more to follow, for sure.

Currently I’m enjoying a new author, well new to me though long since deceased.  A year or so ago I picked up a volume newly published after a manuscript had been lost for 75 years or so.  The subject matter was RLS, and the author was one Arthur Ransome. 

I have vague memories of a grainy TV adaptation of Swallows & Amazons, but confess to never having read the books.  So I’m enjoying discovering Ransome now.  Perhaps there’s a new project in there, for I see he went to Russia, in 1914, with a role as war correspondent, and remained through the Revolution, publishing a couple of works, including Russia 1919, which I need to find, though it’s not looking easy, at least not at a price I can afford.  But the end of the Romanovs is like a shit to a flea and the quest is on.  As is the modern way though there’s a Print on Demand version with Faber Finds, which might let me read it, but get me that First, with the dustwrapper preferably.

Anyway, Ransome’s marriage was disintegrating.  His soon-to-be-ex-wife sent the unfinished manuscript of his study of Robert Louis Stevenson, a follow up to previous studies of Edgar Allan Poe (another one that sparks my interest) and Sir Walter Scott.  The publishers eventually released him from the deal and gave the job to Frank Swinnerton.  The ms eventually turned up, in 1990, in a lawyer’s strongroom, wrapped in brown paper.

It gives us an insight of one young author, before he started writing his childrens’ works, of an influence on his writing life.  Ransome was 10 when RLS died in 1894, and like all children ever since learned to love the tales and the poems of the scrawny Velvet Coat.  They influenced his own writings and at last we can read his views on the life and works of the master.  And in so doing I get a first glimpse of the craft of Ransome, and want more.

As always one book leads to another.  Weir of Hermiston will be next up, for it has been some time since I last delved in there.  This was the work that Stevenson was engaged in when the hunter returned from the hill that fateful day in Samoa.  I want also to track down his Essays of Travel.  But more than that there’s the whole world of Arthur Ransome opening up in front of me; perhaps for The Urchins too.


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