Monday, November 26, 2007

Seasonal Tales And Skeining Yarns

I was struck by how many people responded joyfully to my mention of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence and how many of you read this wonderful fantasy series regularly. I loved the thought of it being read and enjoyed every Christmas, (as Rosie certainly does, and Chris as well and many more) and that got me thinking of all those other books which I traditionally bring out at this season to pile by the fireplace and browse through between now and the New Year. What are your festive favourites?

Top of the list for me, every year since childhood, is Dickens' Christmas Carol. At first I read it for those wonderful descriptions of a Victorian Christmas - the shops crowded, everybody full of goodwill for mankind, the delights of the Cratchits' festive table - but now I see far more in it - a plea for genuine good feeling for all our fellow creatures and a generous heart for those less fortunate than ourselves. It's been filmed many times, but nothing can beat the sheer magic of the original 1840s tale. I've read this in many editions, in many parts of the world around Christmas Eve - London, North Africa, the Tirol, Tobago, California, even Kathmandu - and it never fails.

For the past decade or so, Lucy M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe has come out of the juvenile bookcase in early December and into a place of honour by the fire. I only discovered this classic in relatively recent years when I saw that perfect gem of a BBC production one winter. I wish, oh I wish they would repeat it, or if not, bring out a DVD; fortunately a friend had taped the series and gave me a copy, but it's not very good and I live in fear of its disintegration. The BBC film is such an exquisite interpretation of an amazing book - everybody should read of this wonderful ancient house in the Norfolk Fens where children of different centuries play together and dark dangerous powers emerge late at night.

Then of course there is the evergreen 'Twas The Night Before Christmas. I have loved this poem ever since I saw an old black and white movie version for the first time as a toddler; now I have picked out a really well illustrated large-format copy and open a different page for each day in December.

Susan Cooper's Dark Is Rising volume will of course be there, with its wonderful evocation of woodlands and whisperings and strange happenings one Christmas when a young boy realises his destiny. There is so much of the old knowledge, the old wisdom in this book that I think Susan Cooper must have been - well, if not of the old religion, then certainly very well versed in it.

And another poem, one very dear to my heart, Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. I've always loved that, and when, some years ago, I discovered a beautifully illustrated version in an American bookstore, I made Richard buy it for me. I could have bought it for myself, but I felt very strongly that it should be a gift. The pictures are heart-turningly lovely. I'll get Richard to copy a few and put them on for you to enjoy over the next few weeks.

I'm sure there are more but I can't think of them right now. Do tell me your festive special reads - the books you choose to curl up with when the wind is blowing outside and the fire is flickering brightly. There is something about reading that television can never replace. (Although I will admit to watching Polar Express several times during December - have it on DVD. Yes, and Ghost Train too.)

It's been a very busy couple of days, skeining up a whole bunch of glorious mohair yarns to list on eBay. I've been trying to do this for a week, but work commitments simply wouldn't let me. However, made a real push last night and eventually this morning it was just about fine enough to photograph them. Richard had to lend a hand - the watery sunshine wasn't sufficient to do justice to the colours, so he had to bring in his flash photography know-how.

Here is one of the finished results of his work:

Two fine kid mohairs there, to left and right, lavender and pale pistachio green respectively; the others are all heavier gauge. Two variegateds from the Elements range - Earth to the left, Fire to the right, with that unusual greeny-blue mohair in between (Ms. Knitingale you recognise that one, don't you?) Plus turquoise, black and a lovely silvery grey that positively shimmers like a dewy spider's web.

And here is a rare picture of the photographer in action, snapped quickly by me while he was otherwise occupied. He'll not be best pleased to see this up on the post; it is his firmly held conviction that a photographer does NOT himself get captured on screen.

All up and listed now, so I can relax on that front for a while. Next week I'll list some more sock yarns and a few colours in that lovely merino 'mousse' yarn which I think would be ideal for kimonos and the like, being soft, warm and very very light. I'm certainly going to use that for my proposed charcoal/poppy red kimono creation - WHEN I get round to it!

In the meantime, although several pairs of socks, St. Enda, Dogi Vest and Ragna are all clamouring for my attention, I am having to restrain myself forcibly from winding up dear Roggey's Seasilk, threading on the beads, and starting straight into a Swallowtail...


Rosie said...

An illustrated "Stopping By Woods"??!! that sounds amazing. Even just reading the poem's title in your post made me go all tingly: that "and miles to go before I sleep" at that end, I can almost hear the narrator being lulled into a fatal sleep, just by the rhythm of the verse!

As well as my Christmas must(re)reads, (Has anyone else read "The Land of Green Ginger?")I have a couple of must-listen: many, many years ago I taped a dramatisation of Alan Garner's "Weirdstone of Brisingamen". I really must copy the tape before it snaps!

Anonymous said...

Since the age of six (I am now 37!) I have read Mr Snow by Roger Hargreaves every Christmas eve! Not quite the literary heights I know, but it still gets me all excited about Christmas in the same way that it did all those years ago. After reading your comments about The Dark is Rising I immediately went on to Amazon and ordered a copy...I am waiting its arrival with bated breath!

Leslie said...

I too appreciated you pointing me to The Dark is Rising. My 20-something sons have read Tolkien and CS Lewis and found Rowland - dare I say... somewhat lacking. You've helped me decide on a Christmas gift for my DS1. Can't wait to read it myself!

Sharon Jones said...

I, too, was unaware of The Dark is Rising Sequence until you mentioned it in your previous post. I've received mine from Amazon and read the first 2 so far. I'm thoroughly enjoying them. My Christmas reading list has to include "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" -- I'm a teacher so I know a few Herdmans -- and "The Christmas Box." I know I have more, but it is early in the season and I haven't gone hunting through the shelves yet!

Angeluna said...

More than reading, although my grandmother's copy of Dickens Christmas Carol is always on hand, Christmas is music for me. Medieval chants or Renaissance ensembles, bass recorder, cello. My favorite carol is the one to the music kidnapped from Greensleeves. And if in those hectic days I find myself alone for a bit, I will listen to Bach's incredible B-minor Mass. It never fails to touch the deepest emotional chords. I cannot even knit, but must listen carefully to every note.

Must lay my hands on a copy of The Dark is Rising. I am intrigued.

cindyl said...

Oh, and I have the most wonderful red leather-bound copy of all of Dickens' tales dealing with Christmas. A story I LOVE in this volume is The Cricket and the Hearth.
I'm going to order The Dark is Rising right now. I tried to find it at the library, but no luck.
And of course, for illustration, anything Tasha Tudor.
Okay, gotta get on Amazon. And check out the new yarns on E-bay.

Lynn said...

Like Angeluna, for me it's more about the music than the books. And that would have to include my CD of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing favorite arias from "Messiah", Kenny Rogers and Wynonna's duet "Mary, Did You Know?", Barbra Streisand's Christmas album, and Vince Vance and the Valiants' "All I want for Christmas Is You", followed [for comic relief] by their "Christmas Time in Texas".

For *singing*? Of course the old favorite Christmas hymns [we started yesterday in Relief Society but will have to wait until next week to start singing them in sacrament meeting], and the lovely kanon, "Dona Nobis Pacem", which we learned when we lived in the Texas Hill Country in 1991.

Anonymous said...

I love Dicken's A Christmas Carol too. When the kids were still at home, we read it on Christmas Eve, taking turns reading a chapter. I also love the cozy type of mysteries and reread all my favorites that take place at Christmas. As far as t.v. goes, I watch all my versions of A Christmas Carol (George C. Scott, Patrick Stewart, Muppets and Mickey Mouse), The Polar Express and A Christmas Story.

cindyl said...

As corny as it is, A Muppet Christmas Carol (dvd) is delightful. And one of the highlights of my past is taking our granddaughters to see Polar Express on Imax. You can see every pore on each child's face. As for music, The Carpenters' Christmas Portrait is like a symphony in its precision from start to finish. I also adore all the 60's rat pack renditions of Christmas favorites. Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. were suckers for Christmas, and it shows in their recordings.

LaLa said...

I also read the Dark is Rising right before Christmas along with A Wrinkle In Time and A String in the Harp

Tan said...

I think you've hit all my favorites except "A Child's Christmas in Wales." I know, wrong country, you can be excused.

Two years ago my husband saw Dickens's Christmas Carol on CD read by Jim Dale (of Harry Potter fame). That's now a tradition for us. We have favorite movies, too. Years and years ago we taped a BBC production of "The Christmas Box" which we still haul out and watch every year; and there's a nice video adaptation of "Child's Christmas in Wales" that we like, too. And it wouldn't be Christmas for me without watching my beat-up old VHS of Amahl and the Night Visitors. When Amahl and his mother are singing "feed my bird," "yes, I promise," it always makes me cry because I took care of my son's bird while he was in South America for several years. "Yes, I promise," is another way of saying, "I love you."

Anonymous said...

I third Angeluna and Lynn - it's the music for me, too! Mostly not modern songs, though; it's the old Medieval carols and Gregorian chant that get me, plus more out-of-the-way world music.

I found a lot of great music on AOL Radio, which I recorded, so I have several gigs of gorgeous, gorgeous music: performers like Loreena McKennit, Ensemble Galilei, Ashley MacIsaac, Mediaval Baebes, Ensemble Alegria, the Nat'l. Geographic collections, the NY Ensemble for Early Music, the New Scorpion Band...and then there are the artists they played on the World Christmas station, from all over - Triakel, Women Of The Calabash, Capercaille, Sukay, Carlos Nunez, Hedningarna, Fiamma Fumana, Bukkene Bruse...and one real gem, from an old BBC broadcast collection, Star & the Wise Man, performed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo at a Royal Albert concert. Plus, of course, the Benedictine Monks. Whoo! Glorious stuff!

Although I still need some Mannheim Steamroller. Hm. I'll have to get some this year. Thanks for the reminder!

Jocerane said...

I LOVE Elizabeth Goudge, and when it's time to stay at home and read on the couch, I take one of her books. In french, or in english. I'm trying to get all of them in both langages, searching on amazon, or E-bay. And she wrote shot-stories for chrismas too.

Jocerane said...

RE : While searching for"Green Knowe" on Amazon, amongst the books, they indicated this :
I dont know what it is, but I thought that maybe the DVDs have not the same titles as the books? At the botom of the page, they talk about other titles . In case this could help!

pacalaga said...

I don't have a favorite Christmas read, but after your comments about Dark is Rising, I emailed DH and put it on my Christmas list. It's mostly the music for me, and the cartoon specials. The Charlie Brown Christmas one is a favorite - I have clear memories of sitting with my family, with the hallowed Chocolate Milkshakes and Popcorn, watching them while the Christmas tree sparkled in the other room.
PS - your husband is so cute, you need to snap more photos of him for us!

Tan said...

Jocerane, you're right! It IS "The Box of Delights." (You can tell I hadn't pulled it out yet). I've ordered a DVD. That should be a big improvement over our old tape. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Since books were mentioned first, I'll stick with a reading list since a discography would run on far too long. So: "A Christmas Carol" of course, but also many titles that most people don't connect with the holiday. "The Lord of the Rings": a spiritual epic is especially good reading when weather-bound. "The Wind in the Willows" for its evocation of friendship; the chapters "The Wild Wood", "Mr. Badger" and "Dulce Domum" are particularly seasonal. "Emma" is great at any time of year, but the comedy of misunderstanding following a Christmas party is welcome at the holiday.
I also re-read favorite books that were given to me or my family at Christmas, including a Charles Addams collection "Nightcrawlers" which serves as a palate cleanser if one has had too much sugar.
Btw, my high school choir once SANG a version of "Stopping by Woods" (male chorus only; we girls waited backstage) which I still sing to myself (but it really was most beautiful with men's voices only). Lovely, but I can't remember the composer. Anyone?

Anonymous said...

"A Child's Christmas in Wales" is a favorite, and I especially love the version with illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. I like to listen to Bach's Christmas Oratorio, and sing to myself the way I first heard the German words "Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen" as "Here is thy dear goat, Gesungen". Much more fiber-y that way.

Needles said...

I always pull out the Laura Ingalls Wilder books and reread them around Christmas. Young people books to be sure, but they were so much a part of my childhood. Its like I hide out in them for a few hours. And then for no reason at all, I re-read Jane Austen.

Dez Crawford said...

I have dearly loved "Stopping By Woods" since childhood, and all of Frost in general.

Every autumn since I first read them at age 13, I've re-read Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" and "Walden." The only autumn I failed on my annual re-read was during the recovery from Katrina when I scarcely had time to breathe, much less read.

Every few years I re-read "The Origin of Species." It never ceases to fascinate me.

Autumn turns me to the classics (Pride and Prejudice, Emma, etc.) but Christmas really makes me dust off the poetry volumes.

I always turn to Poe on Louisiana winter nights when it is cold, windy and rainy.

"Annabelle Lee" is my favorite poem.

When I was a young woman, I always asked a suitor what his favorite poem was. If he didn't have one, I didn't consider him worth pursuing. The finest men I've known have always come right out with it, without even pondering the question for an instant.

Married one of them; the others remain dear friends.

Pam said...

I have "Stopping by Woods" illustrated by Susan Jeffers - it's truly a gem.

We also read What Child is This, by Barbara Cooney, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and when my children were younger, a beautiful story by Madeleine L'Engle called "The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas".

Unknown said...

Oooow, nice colours! I just wish I could wear mohair :(

I found my old copy of The Dark Is Rising and am reading it again now, (the whole series).

Anonymous said...

The book that I've returned to during this season since about 13 years old is Patricia St. John's _Treasures of the Snow_. A beautiful story that never fails to grip my heart.

I too have enjoyed Madeleine L'Engel's _The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas_

PS Rubbish on Blogger for being so exclusive with commentors!

Jocerane said...

I forgot to talk about a DVD "l'orange de Noël" (Christmas's orange). I love to watch it again before Christmas.
I'm happy to know that the DVDs I saw on Amazon were the good ones!