In a new series of posts, Dispatches from the Secret Library, our founder-editor Dr Oliver Tearle considers a surprising title from his bookshelves
When the British fantasy author David Gemmell died in summer 2006, he had been hard at work on Fall of Kings, the final volume in his epic trilogy retelling the story of the siege of Troy from Homer’s Iliad. His widow, Stella, heroically took on the task of completing the novel, working from her late husband’s notes. When Troy: Fall of Kings (Trojan War Trilogy): 3 was published the following year, his legions of fans thought it was the last new David Gemmell title we would ever see published.
The announcement last year that a previously unpublished David Gemmell novel, Rhyming Rings, would be published by Gollancz in 2017, prompted both surprise and excitement. A new Gemmell novel? But this would not be a fantasy, the genre in which he had made his name, but a crime novel. Even more surprising. Gemmell had excelled as a writer of heroic fantasy – if you’re a fan of the genre and have never read his work, I recommend getting hold of Legend, Waylander, and Wolf in Shadow right away – but would Rhyming Rings offer the same sort of addictive reading experience as a Druss or Rigante novel? Read the rest of this entry
The meaning of a classic fairy tale
Child abandonment, poverty, gingerbread houses, and an enterprising hero: the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel has it all. It arguably has one of the most satisfying plot structures of all the fairy tales. Yet as with the other fairy tales we’ve discussed in previous posts, such as the 4,000-year-old tale of Rumpelstiltskin, a number of the plot features of ‘Hansel and Gretel’, and the evolution of the fairy tale, are more complicated than we might remember from the nursery. And a summary and analysis of ‘Hansel and Gretel’ throws up some interesting details concerning the story’s plot and meaning.
One of the most familiar parts of the story is undoubtedly the gingerbread house. But the most familiar version of the tale, namely that by the Brothers Grimm, published in 1812, is ambiguous on this point: they mention bread and cakes, but the bread may well be savoury rather than sweet. Not that this makes much difference to the titular children, who begin devouring the house all the same. Read the rest of this entry
The origins of a classic children’s rhyme
‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’: we all know these words that call back our early childhoods so vividly, yet where did they come from and what does this rhyme mean? It can be dangerous to try to probe or analyse the meaning of nursery rhymes too deeply – much like analysing the nonsense verse of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, we are likely to come upon a hermeneutic dead-end. But ‘Jack and Jill’ is so well-known that a closer look at its meaning and origins seems justified.
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.
Up Jack got, and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
With vinegar and brown paper. Read the rest of this entry