Baroness Orczy

There are books stacked left, books stacked right
Their covers gleaming in the light
I scan through their pages, trying to tell
Which book report will be less like Hell

I find a book with the French Revolution
A mysterious figure at its core
Who’d spoil every gruesome execution
Sold! Do tell me more…

To the Estimable Baronness Orczy,

I was going to try and just keep going with that bit of silliness, playing upon the delightful poem you gave to Sir Percy Blakeney in your classic adventure novel. But it does set the stage: I was in eighth grade and had been assigned my first ever book report project. My English teacher had said it would take up the entirety of our final quarter of the school year and that we would work in groups although, if we wanted, we could opt to work alone at her approval. The kicker of it all was that she had a selection of books already laid out upon a table, so we were not only limited to her selection, but she was going to limit how many people could work on each book. I suspect this is because the majority of my class wanted to read Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

I, on the other hand, made a point to pick up each book and flip through the first few pages. It’s like going on a first date with the book: you’re getting to know the writing style, pacing, and tonal gist of the whole thing. Near the end of the line I picked up a book with a cover I already knew I liked: A man, half-hidden in shadows, with a piece of paper bearing a seal that looked like some kind of red flower. He was clearly in France, given the decor of the soldiers who also graced the cover, and it was clearly sometime in the late 1700’s, one of my favourite eras of history. But then I quickly scan the back and it mentions something about a rogue character, known only as The Scarlet Pimpernel, snatching aristos from the fate of the guillotine.

Well colour me intrigued.

I opened your book and by the very first sentence I was completely hooked — I remember that sentence even now because the dark, mellifluous cadence of the words rings in my head like music:

“A surging, seething, mumuring crowd of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate.”

The effect those words had upon me was instantaneous: chills, inexplicable glee, and a physical need to know more. I took that book home and read it in one sitting which, while not wholly unusual for me, had never really happened a “school book” before. But your story transported me, and that was something I desperately needed in that moment. Thirteen wasn’t a great year for me: I had a bully, I was lonely and angry and had developed bad behaviours as coping mechanism (hello, Dad’s liquor cabinet)…and I was thirteen, full of all those hormonal changes, physical developments, and general state of confusion that comes with being thirteen. Yeah, it just wasn’t a great year.

But it was also the year I discovered your book; it was the year I first met Sir Percy and Lady Marguerite Blakeney. The first year that I got swept away on a swashbuckling, high-stakes adventure of cat-and-mouse, with people’s necks quite literally hanging in the balance. I laughed, I cried, I held my breath, I fell in love, I shook my fist at Chauvelin, and when all was said and done, I started it all over again. Your book gave me my own private adventure, and also made me first think the thought “I’d love to make a movie version of this,” which, in retrospect, is a pretty big deal.

To some people it may seem funny that I say a classic adventure novel is one of the best books I’ve ever read in my life, and that I make a point to re-read it every year without fail — especially when, if you really look at the novel, it’s not some milestone in literature. It’s considered a classic and it’s an adventure, but nobody hailed you as the successor to, oh I don’t know, Dickens or something. But I don’t think you get enough credit for the characters and story that you created. I don’t think enough people have had the chance to enjoy the ride you wrote down in The Scarlet Pimpernel.

But I did. And it’s one of those books that shines bright in my memory as a literary milestone: a place where I can mark my life as “before this book” and “after this book.”

So thank you, Baroness Orczy. Thank you.


Nota bene: The poem at this letter’s start was a pastiche of the musical number “They Seek Him Here” from the 1997 musical adaptation of Baroness Orczy’s novel, The Scarlet Pimpernel. The song itself is adapted from the poem included in the novel. Please forgive the author of this letter for her general silliness.

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Banned Books Week: Wrap-Up

So, here it is: the end of Banned Books Week. We’ve discussed a variety of topics and hope that our readers are inspired to join the conversation or check out some of the books we’ve recommended. But now it’s time to get a little introspective and think about our own histories with Banned Books Week. Was this the first year we really engaged with Banned Books Week? Have we seen library or school displays of banned books? Do we celebrate by baking a banned book cake and reading Huckleberry Finn out loud?


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Gods Forbid We Talk About Sex

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Madeleine Cassier
Producer
Website | Twitter | GoodreadsBookTube

Every year, I make a point to re-read one of my favourite book series’ of all time: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. Consisting of three novels (Northern Lights — entitled The Golden Compass in the US — The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass), this series marketed for young readers and young adults is a brilliant literary reversal of John Milton’s classic epic poem, Paradise Lost, even taking its own series’ title from the same poem:

Into this wild Abyss
The womb of Nature, and perhaps her grave–
Of neither sea, nor shore, nor air, nor fire,
But all these in their pregnant causes mixed
Confusedly, and which thus must ever fight,
Unless the Almighty Maker them ordain
His dark materials to create more worlds,–
Into this wild Abyss the wary Fiend
Stood on the brink of Hell and looked a while,
Pondering his voyage; for no narrow frith
He had to cross.

I love this series. I’ve loved it since I first picked it up back when I was in elementary school. However I often find it difficult to talk about this series without needing to acknowledge the…notoriety this series holds with many (usually religious) societies
and people. One publication actually called the His Dark Materials the “stuff of nightmares Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 7.42.09 PM.pngand worthy of the bonfire.” Wow. Them’s fightin’ words — and, for the record: I believe book burning is the stuff of nightmares and demonstrates nothing more than a level of ignorance and hatred so great, that there are not enough superlatives in the world that can, in any way, encompass it.

Bringing it more close to home, I can speak from experience the reactions that even seeing someone else reading this series can have upon the intolerant. While I spent my childhood in the suburbs of Buffalo, New York, my young adulthood was spent in the suburbs of Richmond, Virginia. Now, when I started reading this series in New York at the tender age of around nine or ten, nobody bothered me about it. But come the age of seventeen-ish, when I picked up this book to re-read it? I got spewed with quite of bit of religious diatribe and verbal vitriol, a lot of it from people who hadn’t even read the books.

But despite all that, I don’t want to talk about the issues various religious groups have with these novels, or even the ridiculousness I have experienced over the years when people see me re-reading Pullman’s trilogy — you may take those as you will. Instead, what I want to discuss is the more insidious form of censorship that this series has experienced in North America: the invisible kind of censorship. I say invisible because, unless you were to own multiple versions of the series, or happen to like looking at books’ Wikipedia pages (as I do), you might not have known that several lines in the North American publication of the third novel in the series, The Amber Spyglass, were censored by the publishers. 

Spoiler-warning

CAVEAT EMPTOR: This post will contain spoilers for the His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, specifically details relating to the character arc of the protagonist in its concluding novel, The Amber Spyglass. You have been warned.

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What Harry Potter Taught Me About Satanism

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Rebecca Kordesh, Director
Twitter | Blog

Personal observation: my chosen photo has never been more relevant than it is in this moment.

I went to Catholic school for 16 years. This provided me with a somewhat different school experience than many of my friends, and certainly with myriad stories that friends still love to hear about the different things I learned and the different classes I took than my public school peers. One such class was a morality class I took as a junior in high school, during which we discussed pretty much any topic under the sun, with special emphasis on the Big Ones. You know, the ones that come up in the news all the time.

Like Harry Potter. When I was a junior in high school I was waiting eagerly for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which would come out over the summer before my senior year. The Order of the Phoenix movie was released that same summer.

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