MZB, Morgaine and Me

“For all the Gods are one God,” she said to me then, as she had said many times before, and as I hae said to my own novices many times, and as every priestess who comes after me will say again,” and all the Goddesses are one Goddess, and there is only one Initiator,. And to every man his own truth, and the God within.” — Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

I was fourteen when I first encountered MZB’s take on Arthurian legend, and it was those words from the preface, spoken by the woman most people know as Morgan le Fay, but whom we meet as simply Morgaine, that sold me on it.

I tend to buy books more than borrow them from the library because library books always smell musty, or they absorb the smell of cigarette smoke, or they’re just creepy, and this book was no different. It looked interesting, and I already knew I liked the subject so I bought it.

Was I in for a treat! Arthur’s story from a female perspective! Arthur’s story from a perspective that wasn’t just black and white, but many many shades of grey, with tonal nuances that only a woman could write. I was in love.

Only later did I discover that MZB had authored the Darkover series, which I also love. Like the Anne McCaffrey PERN books I’d read the year I was thirteen, Darkover featured a low-tech society, but a much more believeable one – well, if you consider telepathy and breeding with ocean-dwellers ‘believable’ – and unlike AnnieMac MZB’s female characters don’t all become babymaking machines and give up their identities.

In any case, The Mists of Avalon stands as one of my favorite books of all time, especially since it’s satisfyingly LONG. I’d skip the sequels and prequels though – they don’t have the same magic.

Belinda’s Dragon

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

–Ogden Nash

Strictly speaking, Ogden Nash did not write for children. Strictly speaking, Ogden Nash should not be read by children, at least not without parental supervision, but, the truth is, he was a very witty poet, and some of his stuff should not be missed. A lot of it, btw, is either so silly or so gross, children will love it.

A dear family friend (Yes, HMF, I mean you) introduced me to “The Tale of Custard the Dragon” so long ago, I don’t remember it clearly. For that matter, I’m betting SHE doesn’t remember it clearly, if at all.

But the poem’s been stuck in my brain for years, decades, eons – since dirt, really – and I cannot resist the temptation to share a bit of it here.

And yeah, Ogden Nash is also the guy who actually wrote Peas & Honey.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.


“I’ve stolen a garden,” she said very fast. “It isn’t mine. It isn’t anybody’s. Nobody wants it, nobody cares for it, nobody ever goes into it. Perhaps everything is dead in it already; I don’t know.” — Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden

When a thing is wick and someone cares about it
And comes to work each day, like you and me,
will it grow?

It will.

Then have no doubt about it.
We’ll have the grandest garden ever seen.

— from “Wick,” from the musical version of The Secret Garden

She was sallow, selfish, solitary and snarky, the orphaned daughter of two parents who never really paid attention to her upbringing, and she was cast into a life on the Yorkshire moors with no real information about how the rest of the world behaved.

She was Mary Lennox, and she was a brat when she arrived in my life at the beginning of The Secret Garden, but as Burnett’s classic tale spun out, Mary became more and more human, and less and less annoying, until, by the end of the book, she is a wonderfully dear little girl. Like Burnett’s other popular work, A Little Princess, one of the messages in Mary’s story is to be true to yourself, but also to take responsibility, and Mary does both with much charm and grace.

As a child, I always wanted a robin to lead me to a magic door in the fence.

As an adult, I still do…sort of.

2:00 Pledge Break

The last six hours are the hardest. This is when the posting becomes less coherent and the sugar and caffeine flow more freely. Help me through it by logging onto YIM (ymedath) AIM (ymedath), MSN ( or ICQ (missmeliss) and chatting with me.

OR leave comments on my posts.

OR, and this is the preferable one, make a pledge.

I’m doing this to help raise money for First Book, and I need you to sponsor me. Don’t feel like you have to pledge the farm, $5 buys two books. That’s two kids who get hooked on reading, and on the special pride that comes with their OWN books. (As a comparison, $5 is only slightly more than the average venti coffee drink at Starbucks, and a book lasts a lot longer than a cup of froufrou coffee.)

As an added incentive, I’m offering sponsorship gifts. At the end of the blogathon, I’ll be tossing the names of all my sponsors in a hat, and drawing some names. Three people will get copies of one of the books I talk about during this project, two people will get the a book along with a special gift box that goes with the book (details are a surprise), and one person will get the book, the gift box, and a $10 gift certificate to their choice of, Barnes and Noble, or Borders.

So, join me in supporting First Book.
Click here, and sponsor me today.

A Horse is a Horse?

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned overit, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one sie, we looked into a ploughed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master’s house, which stood bye the roadside; at the top of the meadow was a plantation of fir tres, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank. –Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

Little girls and horses seem to be one of life’s inevitable combinations, like peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, or cream and sugar. I was no different.

My first horse books were the Marguerite Henry series about Misty and Phantom and the rest of the Chincoteague ponies. I loved those books, and could taste the salt air and feel the damp sand while I read them, but Black Beauty was a far more satisfying story.

Written from the horse’s POV, it’s essentially the autobiography of a thoroughbred, and while there is abuse and neglect enough to wring tears from any small girl, there is also a gently told tale with a happy ending.

Black Beauty remained my favorite horse book until I started reading Dick Francis mysteries when I was fifteen. Last Christmas, I sent a copy to my niece. I hope she loves it as much as I do.

Go Ask Alice

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings.”

– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

I was fascinated with full-length mirrors before I ever encountered the Alice books, but once I had, I would spend long moments gazing into reflective surfaces wishing there really were magical lands on the other side. My first introduction to Alice was, again, not through Disney, though I did have the book and record set in a collection of such albums that my grandfather gifted me with when I was quite small, but through the poem “Jabberwocky,” with it’s twisting rhyme and nonsense words that seem so real.

At first it was just a story, and I read it, and put it away. I encountered it again soon after I turned twelve. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had just come out on video, and I was crushing on Chekov (just…don’t even go there), and of course I read the novelization, where it was mentioned that David had invented a video game called Boojum Hunt, with two of the other scientists, based on the poem, “The Hunting of the Snark.”

I went looking for the poem, and found Alice instead, this time, an annotated version that explained the puns and social commentary – and I was hooked. Satire, puns, logic puzzles, Carroll really knew how to engage the whole brain, and Alice was no wuss, but a girl who figured out what she needed to do, and did it, and while she didn’t really like getting her hands dirty, she wasn’t afraid to try ANYTHING.

There are worse role models.

But I still like the Snark poem better.

And, because I’m that much of a geek, here’s the relevant passage from the novelization of STII:TWOK:

“Come, listen, my men, while I tell you again
The five unmistakable marks
By which you may know, wheresoever you go,
The warranted genuine Snarks.

“Let us take them in order. The first is the taste,
Which is meager and hollow, but crisp:
Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
With a flavor of Will-o-the-wisp.

“Its habit of getting up late you’ll agree
That it carries too far, when I say
That it frequently breakfasts at five-o’clock tea,
And dines on the following day.

“The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
Should you happen to venture on one,
It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
And it always looks grave at a pun.

“The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
Which is constantly carries about,
And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes–
A sentiment open to doubt.

“The fifth is ambition. It next will be right
To describe each particular batch:
Distinguishing those that have feathers, and bite,
And those that have whiskers, and scratch.

“For, although common Snarks do no manner of harm,
Yet, I feel it my duty to say,
Some are Boojums–”


My last audio post, for those who haven’t listened, was about Jane Eyre. I logged into my desktop computer and started Trillian a few minutes ago, and was instantly greeted by Rana, who IM’d me with the kind of textual tone only former history professors can have when dealing with former English majors:

R: Jane. Fricking. Eyre? Miss Meliss, Miss Meliss, Miss Meliss.
R: Fell in love?
R: She fell in love with a guy who kept his first wife in the ATTIC!
R: And then he got his sight BACK!
R: I threw that book across the room.
R: Now Wuthering Heights
R: That was a book!

Me: I was ELEVEN.
Me: When you’re ELEVEN, Jane Eyre is romantic. But then, you’re talking to someone who write romantic Snape FanFic.

R: Yeah, I try not to think about that.
R: And I was about eleven too and I thought it was tripe.
R: And having been to menudo cook offs I know about tripe.

I’m thinkin’ I probably shouldn’t tell her I actually liked Canterbury Tales, too.

Kitchen Tables

We’re all still sitting at dinner, and there is storytelling going on all around me. It’s the kind of easy storytelling among people who’ve known each other for a long time, similar to the kind grownups tell and kids eavesdrop on.

To me, it’s reminiscent of the scenes in the various Little House books where Laura and Mary are in bed in the wagon, or in their room, listening to Ma and Pa talk into the night. Especially this reminds me of all the scenes in Little House in the Big Woods when there were cousins filling the house, and people were crammed in, but still having fun.

I remember similar evenings at my grandmother’s house, with the mix of New Jersey Neapolitan and just New Jersey accents, and the softer tones of my aunt and my mother, talking laughing, and then, shocked silences at odd moments when lulls in conversation bring out the embarrassing whispers that kids aren’t supposed to hear.

I miss those summer nights. I’ve been able to experience similar moments with Fuzzy’s family, but the accents are wrong, and the stories aren’t mine.


I ate less than half of my chicken tetrazzini tonight, and I’m already stuffed. If I were Winnie the Pooh (see, I said I’d come back to him) I’d so be stuck in that door in Rabbit’s house.

Winnie the Pooh…is there any story more representative of childhood innocence than that of Christopher Robin and his honey-addicted bear of very little brain? I think not.

I’ve been reading Milne (or having his work read to me) as long as I can remember, but if Alcott was an author I shared with my mother, Milne is the author I consider to ‘belong’ to my aunt. I remember being five-and-three-quarters years old and knowing that my Aunt Patti would send me Now We Are Six for my sixth birthday. The book wasn’t at all a surprise, no book was really, because Patti is The Book Aunt (every family has one), but the personal note she always wrote in her loopy blue handwriting always was.

To this day we exchange Pooh-themed cards on major holidays.
It’s not sappy; it’s tradition.