There is one story and one story only
That will prove worth your telling,
Whether as learned bard or gifted child;
To it all lines or lesser gauds belong
That startle with their shining
Such common stories as they stray into
Robert Graves, first stanza of
‘To Juan at the Winter Solstice’
Come in and get dry. It’s a nasty night and no good folk shouldn’t be warm, listen to the Neverending Session playing their idea of seasonal music and have a drink of their favourite libation.
Our Brewmaster Bjorn has dug up a few extra special Winter ales from his private stock and the oversized fireplace is kept roaring to bring warmth and cheer to all in this Pub. If you’d instead like something rather special, Reynard’s got Kilbeggan Traditional Irish Whiskey which is made using a hundred-and-eighty-year-old pot still at the oldest distillery in Ireland.
So it’s Irish for you? A drink, a roaring fire and music sounds like a winning combination to me! Ahhh there’s your Irish now, served neat as you asked, so do enjoy it while I put together this edition…
Let’s start off the book reviews this time with a look at Charles de Lint’s Newford Stories: The Crow Girls. Of all the immortal shapeshifting being that inhabit the Newford stories, the most charming at least for me are Maida and Zia, the two crow girls, who look like pinkish teenagers all in black naturally. After you read Cat’s review, you can experience them first hand in A Crow Girls Christmas written by (obviously) Charles de Lint and charmingly illustrated by his wife, MaryAnn Harris.
He also offers us a review of one of his yearly readings: ‘Jane Yolen has set The Wild Hunt in the dead of winter, a winter where the weather is very, very bad — as bad as it will be at Ragnarok itself. The story told here is that Herne the Hunter, He Who is The Lord of Winter, is battling… a cat… a rather small cat at that. Ahhh, but not just any cat.’
A stocking stuffer for the SF fan you’re purchasing gifts for comes courtesy of Richard: ‘The point of Bruce Sterling’s Pirate Utopia ois clear and simple: revolutionary fervor is inevitably co-opted by existing power structures and ultimately by the commercial impulse. That’s it, that’s the hard part, and you don’t need to read the rest if the thesis statement is all you were there for.’
Robert brings us a collection that fits the season — in fact, it fits almost any season. About Glen Cook’s Winter’s Dreams he says: ‘Glen Cook is known for his series — Dread Empire, Black Company, Garrett, P.I., Starfishers, and the like. What we tend to forget is that he has also written short fiction, which is fully up to the standard set in his novels. His newest collection, Winter’s Dreams, offers a good look at his range as a storyteller.’
From the frozen North comes a study in history/anthropology/lifeways, Piers Vitebsky’s The Reindeer People: ‘Siberia, that vast tract that covers the Russian North from the Urals to the Pacific, is one of the most inhospitable places that humanity has found to live, equaled only by its American counterpart (although Siberia does hold the record low temperature for any inhabited part of the earth). In its southern reaches it was the site of one of the most significant events of animal domestication in human prehistory, and one that is little-known in the West: the domestication of the reindeer.’
Richard looks at what is a now a best beloved for many here: ‘For those who haven’t seen the filmed version of the play (and shame on you if you haven’t, stop reading right now and go watch the bloody thing), The Lion In Winter details one rather dysfunctional family’s Christmas gathering in France. Of course, the family is that of Henry II of England (including Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionhearted and the future King John, among others); the invited guest is Philip Capet of France, and the holiday gathering takes place at Henry’s castle of Chinon.’
It’s no secret that Denise adores dark beers. And while the warmer months may make the body happy, her taste-buds sneer at all the light beers those months have on offer. So when things start to get cool, she starts to anticipate all the porters, stouts, Scotch ales, and holiday selections brew masters inevitably hold for the chillier parts of the year.
This year, as Yule approaches and thoughts turn to fireplaces and friends, why not take a peek at her thoughts on few of this season’s offerings? There’s Egg Nog Ale and Holiday Milk Stout from Flying Dog Brewery, and Shiner’s Texas Warmer for folks who are more worried about sixty degree temps rather than minus sixteen.
Jack treats us to a seasonally appropriate review of The Winter Child: ‘Once upon a time, Wendy Froud & Terri Windling did an illustrated novel entitled A Midsummer Night’s Faery Tale, and now we have the sequel to that book, which chronicles in loving detail the adventure upon that magical night of one unassuming but oh-so-important faery called Sneezlewort Rowanberry Rootmuster Boggs the Seventh. Sneezle may be but a minor member of the Faery Court that inhabits the Old Oak Wood — and this is, as noted in the book, the very, very oldest of the Courts that inhabit the British Isles — but he takes the Midwinter Festival very seriously, as should any good faery.’
Triakel’s Wintersongs says April is a ‘beautiful follow-up to 1998’s eponymous Triakel celebrates not just Yuletide, but Advent, St. Stephen’s Day, New Years and Epiphany with a glorious blend of tunes and words old and new, both joyous and somber.
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 has a Celtic seasonal album for us: ‘Smithfield Fair’s never been a band that over-produces its work. Sure, they go in for clever arrangements now and again, but for the most part their previous discs have featured an honest, workmanlike approach to the music. On The Winter Kirk, a collection of sacred and Scottish seasonal songs, they go even beyond that and strip all the tracks down the their barest, rawest essentials. For the most part, it works fairly well.’
Kathleen has some not merry Christmas music for us in Claude Debussy’s ‘Noel des Enfants Qui N’ont Plus De Maisons (Christmas Carol for Homeless Children): ‘This war carol — which is an oxymoron if there ever was one – is the least joyful Christmas song I know, a hymn of gloom and doom that makes ‘Mary and Joseph’ sound positively giddy. It sounds better in French, of course, especially if you don’t know what the words mean.’ Read her full look at it to see why it’s worth hearing.
In contrast to our previous offering, Robert brings us Julevariasjoner which ‘translates as “Christmas Variations,” and that is just what this disc by Norwegian pianist Wolfgange Plagge is: a set of variations on Christmas carols, some Norwegian, but many that will be recognized anywhere that Christmas is celebrated.’
Here’s another Norwegian collection to fit the season. Says Robert: ‘Magnum Mysterium is a collection of choral music around the celebration of the birth of Christ – the “Magnum Mysterium” that has provided such a rich heritage for Christmas celebrations. Although Grex Vocalis is a Norwegian group, the disc also offers carols from France and England and includes a “Norwegian” hymn, “The Infant King,” that originated in the Basque country.’
Our What Not this time is 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.
So let’s take our leave this time with a bit of seasonal music that’s not terribly traditional, to wit ‘Fairytale of New York’ with vocals by Shane Macgowan and Kristy McColl as backed by the Pogues of course. It’s from their concert in London at the Town and Country Club on St. Patrick’s Day nearly thirty years ago.