What’s New for the 23rd of December: Ursula LeGuin’s The Books of Earthsea, Unicorns, The Feast of Seven Fishes, a Fairy-Tale Opera, Jennifer Stevenson’s ‘Solstice’ and other Winter matters

The storyteller in me asks: what if? And when I
try to answer that, a story begins.

 Jane Yolen, author of The Wild Hunt


Let me set my blue chai and breakfast curry with roti and poached egg aside for a minute. Yes, it’s an unusual breakfast but I got to like it travelling in Southwest Asia some decades past and the Kitchen here is quite used to offbeat whims when it comes to culinary desires among the staff here. Getting in fresh coconut was they said somewhat difficult but not impossible …

Chris has a review this edition of LeGuin’s The Books of Earthsea which Saga Press just published this past month. It got me thinking about her being around for as long as most of us have been reading fantasy, and yes I think of her as a fantasy writer primarily, and she more than many writers shaped how we think about the genre by making us actively think about what we’re reading. And that enriches all of us immeasurably.

So let’s turn to this Edition…


As promised above, Chris has a review of The Books of Earthsea. We of course got several copies for the Kinrowan Library as it’s going to be very popular reading this winter. So what did he think about it? ‘In October, Saga Press released Ursula LeGuin’s collected Earthsea works, beautifully illustrated by Charles Vess. This collection includes the original trilogy: A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), The Tombs of Atuan (1971 ) and The Farthest Shore (1972), as well as the novels in which LeGuin revisited the trilogy, Tehanu (1990) and The Other Wind (2001), which conclude the saga many years after the events of the originals. Also included are Tales from Earthsea, LeGuin’s 2001 collection, and four other stories, including the never before published “Daughter of Odren.” Her illuminating essay, “Earthsea Revisioned,” which she delivered as a lecture in Oxford in 1992, is also here, along with an introduction from the author. In short, this giant of a volume includes everything you need to know about Earthsea, and it’s a delight to see it all collected in one place.’

Jo says that ‘Folk legend merges with Jane Yolen’s creative world to create a work of pure magic in The Wild Hunt, which should be destined to become a classic in the world of children’s literature. Pitting the forces of light and dark against one another is a common theme, but it is rare for those forces to acknowledge the other as essential to their own existence, as done in this delightful tale. Yolen’s use of time and words have woven a masterpiece from the ancient threads of an old tale together with the modern threads of something totally new and different. The resulting tapestry is beautiful to behold.’

Grey looks at Susan Cooper’s award-winning The Dark is Rising series; ‘When I was a teenager I often repeated these lines to myself as a kind of charm. It wasn’t that I expected them to make something happen; the words were a “happening” in and of themselves, and just saying them put me into the middle of it. They were a door into Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising cycle, one of the most compelling stories I had ever read. The story compels me to this day, and I continue to re-read it every few years.’

Robert brings us sequel that fits the season. Really, it does — it even has an angel: ‘Tanya Huff’s The Second Summoning is, as might be expected, a sequel to Summon the Keeper. It is just as wryly funny, with the attitude we’ve come to expect from Huff, and is sometimes surprisingly insightful about the trials and tribulations of growing up.’

We didn’t have anything on reindeer, but we have something even better. Our newest reviewer Warner bring us The Unicorn Anthology: ‘An anthology is always an interesting read, filled with multiple narratives and styles and as a result uneven by nature. The Unicorn Anthology, edited by Peter S. Beagle and Jacob Weisman, is one which comes with a plainly stated theme.’


Cat loves an offbeat Christmas film: ‘I don’t do movie theatres for various reasons, including audiences that chatter too much and the smell of that weird stuff that’s not really butter. And so it is that I’m watching an animated film released several Christmas seasons past called Rise of The Guardians which features a Russian Father Christmas, an Australian Easter Bunny (complete with boomerang), The Sandman, and a really cute (in a fey way) female Tooth Fairy. All Guardians of the hopes, wishes and dreams of children everywhere.’

Despite the untimely death of its lead actor Heath Ledger, I think this film review by Liz points to one of the feel-good films of all time: ‘Oyez, Dudes! The Renaissance Rockz! This film is not for the literal minded, nor for students looking for an easy way to do research on the Renaissance. A Knights Tale is writer/director Brian Helgeland’s attempt to create a sort of early-Renaissance Rocky, only with jousting, not boxing, as the central sport and metaphor. Oh, and the soundtrack is a mix of Early Music and 1970’s pop tunes.’


Hey all, and Happy Merry! Denise here, taking over the Food & Drink section yet again. This time I’m adding to my Feast of Seven Fishes with two more fishy reviews. I’ll continue with four more scattered through the next few issues, so’s not to overwhelm you. But for now? Dig in to these!

First, I’m taking a look at Specially Selected’s Cold Smoked Salmon. Store-brand salmon? From low-price wonderland Aldi? Yep yep. And before you turn your nose up, read my review. Here’s a taste (pun intended); ‘…I wasn’t able to stop myself with this salmon.’ Why not? Well now, you know what to do next.

To balance things out, I also devoured some Specially Selected’s Hot Smoked Cajun Flavored Salmon. Because why not? ‘This salmon was a tough to review, because the moment I opened the packet the delicious smell of smoked fish and cajun spice I wanted to devour the entire thing in one go. Willpower and I have never had more than a passing acquaintance.’ Read my full review to find out exactly why I’m now a fan of smoking (edibles) however I can get ’em!

And for those of you who are done with fish, how about cakes? Soulmass-cake, aka Soul Cakes, are a medieval tradition that The British Bake Off has resurrected. These cakes were typically baked for All Hallows Eve and Christmastide, to pass out to the poor. But how does one make these things? A quick Google search shows that there are more recipes for this classic cake than you can shake a candy cane at. So if the tradition of handing out food to those less fortunate than you appeals – and at this festive season it should – feel free to hand out whatever type of cake, bread or item you feel would best help those in need. Donate to your local charity. Clean out your closet and drop off your unwanted pieces to a shelter. Whatever you decide, if it comes from the heart, you’ll be in keeping with the soul cake tradition. Joyeux Noël, one and all.


Richard has a choice few words for us about a DC series: ‘To read Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers as a straight narrative, or to take it at face value, is really to miss the point of the series. It is a deconstruction of the classic superhero team-up comic, done with malice aforethought and the intent of ripping down every cliché and classic trope of the genre. Which is to say that if you actually like that sort of world-spanning super-smorgasbord, you’re probably going to think Seven Soldiers is awful. If, on the other hand, you think that anyone at DC who even mentions the word “Crisis” needs to be put on six months’ sabbatical, this might be more your cup of tea.’


Gary, who says he’s not usually one for holiday music, enjoys the new Valse de Noël, An Acadian-Cajun Christmas Revels. In addition to some carols from those traditions, it features Acadian dance tunes and ballads, some Cajun two-steps, and some songs and tunes shared by French-Canadian and Cajun cultures.

Jayme looks at what I’d say is essential listening for Celtic music fans: ‘There’s no gloss and polish here like you’d find on, say, an Altan disc, no studio jiggery and double-tracked harmonies that are so commonplace on a Clannad release. Not that those are necessarily bad things, mind you, but every one of the 11 tracks on The Best of Silly Wizard sound like they were recorded in one take in the studio, with the entire band playing at once, rather than the more common practice of laying down each instrument separately and mixing later. Now, I don’t know if that’s actually the way Silly Wizard recorded the music here, but the end result.’

Maddy Prior’s Arthur The King draws this note from No’am: ‘This disk tries primarily to separate the fact from the fiction. “The historical Arthur is a highly controversial figure. Theories abound as to his region of activity and his ancestry.” are the first two sentences in the well written sleeve notes. Arthur also tries to provide in music a feeling of what it was like to have been alive in time of Arthur. Thus we have songs written from the point of view of Arthur himself: “The poet and the troubadour have stolen my name” are the opening words from “The Name Of Arthur,” from what constituted the aristocracy of the time — people who were more Roman than British, from the warriors, and also from more artistic and legendary viewpoints. “The Hallows” begins with the words “From my name has come a dream, a fable, a myth.”

If you’d like something different this season — not the standard Nutcracker or Messiah — see if your local opera company is performing Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hansel und Gretel. Robert says: ‘It’s one of those Christmas things that people do, like The Nutcracker and Handel’s Messiah. It also happens to be a lot of fun. Humperdinck made extensive use of folk melodies in the score, which certainly adds to the opera’s charm (I don’t think anyone would not recognize the music to “Ra-la-la,” the dance song in the first act), and the story, of course, is well-known.’


OK, you do know that we have a resident hedgehog at this Scottish Estate by the name of Hamish MacBeth? If you did,  it wouldn’t surprise you that Robert reviewed this puppet: ‘Well, I finally got my first Folkmanis puppet to review, and appropriately enough, it’s the Little Hedgehog — and let me tell you, he’s a real charmer.’

Denise mentioned soul cakes in our Food & Drink section, so I’d be remiss to not mention that Kage once pondered upon them as well: ‘Barm Brack is a soul cake — traditional Scots recipe calls for a bean or silver coin or some other token to be baked into it and the person getting the winning slice gets fame or good luck or sacrificed or whatever, deciding on how much of The Wicker Man you take seriously.’

I’m feeling generous this time so I’m going finish Our What Not this time with a look at something that was very special to Vonnie: ‘The Christmas Revels is a special event, an annual tradition on par with performances of the Nutcracker, only tailored to lovers of folk traditions. After 42 years, it has accreted tradition of its own, which helps audience members to feel like part of the holiday community — which is the point of the Revels. The culture on which the performance focuses changes from year to year but the basic shape of the performance — and its professionalism — remains constant.’ Her look at the Irish Christmas Revels is here, and her review of Strike The the Harp: An Irish Christmas Revels can be found thisaway.P

The only choice to leave you on is Jennifer Stevenson reading her ‘Solstice’ tale of a small town musician who gets dumped by her boyfriend in apparently the middle of nowhere who had the most magical night one could hope for. If you prefer to read it, it’s one of our offerings in the Words menu on the top left side of this site.

About Reynard

I’m the Pub Manager for the Green Man Pub which is located at the KInrowan Estate. I’m married to Ingrid, our Steward who’s also the Estate Buyer. If I’m off duty and in a mood for a drink, it’ll be a single malt, either Irish or Scottish, no water or ice, or possibly an Estate ale or cider.

I’m a concertina player, and unlike my wife who has a fine singing voice, I do not have anything of a singing voice anyone want to hear!

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