Red Riding Hood, Again Revisited

Red stepped briskly along the path. It was early, and she thought she could get to Granny’s by late morning. Granny hadn’t been feeling so well this past week, and Red was bringing her a few things to lift her spirits.
The forest was deep and dark, but Red knew she would be fine as long as she stuck to the path. That was the first rule of travelling through the forest—stick to the path. The second rule was not talking to strangers, especially large, hairy strangers who pretended to be kind and helpful. But in case she did meet such a stranger, Red had just what she needed in the pocket of her cloak.
Red came to a giant oak in the path. It was a tricky spot because she couldn’t see ahead or behind as she came around the tree. The path went down into a little dell, and came up and around the far side of the oak.
Red reached inside her cloak and pulled out her phone. If she was going to have company, then she would have it here. Sure enough, Red saw a tall, slouching figure come onto the path just ahead.
Red stepped quickly back behind the giant oak. She thumbed her phone.
“Hello, Red,” came Granny’s voice. “Are you on your way?”
“Yes,” said Red in a half whisper. “But I have company on the path.”
“You know what to do, dear,” said Granny. “I’ll see you soon, and we can have tea.”
Red repocketed her phone, and once again stepped out onto the path. Reaching again under her cloak, she took the can of bear-spray in hand. This stranger was about to get a surprise.
Looking wide-eyed and innocent, Red walked along the path towards the wolf that waited. He tried to smile ingratiatingly. Red almost felt sorry for the big brute.
“Good morning, little girl,” said the wolf. “And where are you off to this fine morning?” He was working his jaws hard to hide his slavering chops.
“Good morning,” said Red. “I’m just off to visit my Granny.” And with that, she pulled the bear-spray from beneath her cloak and let him have it full in the face.
Well, that wolf howled and yowled, and stumbled back off the path. Red repocketed her spray and carried on, and for a long time she heard the wolf yammering and crashing through the forest.
That’s the end of that, thought Red, smugly. But little girls are not as wise as old grannies in the ways of Wiley wolves.
The wolf found a pool in the forest and ducked his head repeatedly until the sting lessened in his eyes and nose. “The little wretch,” he said to himself, grimly. “I’ll have that little brat—and her granny as well.” And with that the wolf loped through the forest in search of Granny’s house.
By that time, Red had reached Granny’s, and she was busily unpacking her basket and telling Granny all about her adventure in the forest. But Granny was less impressed than Red expected. Remember that grannies are wiser in the ways of wolves and other unpleasantness in the forest than little girls.
Granny patted Red’s cheek. “Very good, dear,” she said. “But we have more to do.”
Granny had Red help her with a large cauldron that they maneuvered onto the fire. They filled it with water and stoked the fire. Soon the water in the cauldron was roiling and boiling, and Granny’s face took on an expectant expression. They didn’t have to wait long.
A knock came at the door. Red looked with alarm at her Granny, but the old woman simply sat on by the fire.
“Oh please, old granny,” said a plaintive voice from outside the door. “Open up and let in a poor, starving stranger.”
Granny rolled her eyes. “Always the same trick,” she muttered.
The wolf, for it was indeed the wolf outside the door, stared in disgust at the little house. He knew the old lady was too cunning to just open the door. He thought of huffing and puffing, but that one didn’t always work. Eyeing a tree beside the house, he thought of a better plan. He scrambled up the tree, and with a swing and a grunt, he stood next to the chimney.
He didn’t like the look of the smoke coming from the chimney, but he was bent on revenge and a meal, so in headfirst he went.
Red was still standing watching Granny by the fire. She heard the wolf on the roof, and feeling suddenly afraid, she heard him scrambling down the chimney.
Now, if you know anything about chimneys, you will know they are full of smoke and soot. That gave Granny her edge. When the wolf popped his head out of the chimney, he shook his head and gave a terrific sneeze. Quick as a flash, Granny reached out and gave his ears a terrific tug. The wolf fell straight into the pot of roiling, boiling water. And that was the end of him.
When the local woodsman, swinging his great, sharp axe came striding through the forest, he knocked at Granny’s door. There he found Granny and Little Red having tea and cake at the table. He was a little disappointed not to have a shot at the wolf, but he was very glad to join them for tea.

Red Riding Hood Revisited


He preferred the dream. In the dream, he could run, he could play, and he could watch the fall of water through the canyon and smell the scent of growing things as he joyously pelted through the forest with the others. But when the dream ended, he would get pulled once again into the story, and there his choices would cease. He would be compelled once again to play out the story to its end. And the end was always the same—the screaming, the taste of blood, the running, and finally being hunted down by the man with the axe. And the man always killed him—every time, the same ending to the same story.
He never minded the end. Meeting the man with the axe meant that once again he would dream. He would again run with the others through the forest; he would feel the joy in his heart that came with the forest smells and the silence beneath the trees. And he would be free from the terrible appetite that drove him whenever the story took him.
He never remembered dreaming while he was part of the story, but he always remembered the story while he dreamed. Many others lived this dream with him, old men and old women, handsome young men—barely more than boys—who strode through the trees looking wonderingly at everything about them. There were maidens, too. Young girls with serene expressions, untroubled by desire, who occasionally stopped to look at him and smile. Not often, but sometimes he would trot up to one of these maidens, and they would exchange a silent greeting. The maid would scratch behind his ears, and he would close his eyes in rapture. But he often felt an uneasiness at such times, remembering the story and what it did to him. And not just him, but all of the others who dreamed the same dream.
And it never lasted. The dream always came to an end, and in exactly the same way. He would feel the pull of the story. It caught him like a trap, like a fist around his heart—clenching and constricting.
He would feel himself being pulled out of the dream to emerge in another forest. But he was no longer himself. He had forgotten the dream, and his mind had shifted into something more savage, more primitive and cunning, filling him with the desire for the blood of young girls.
In the story, he was no longer four-footed. There was usually just enough of himself left upon entering the story to register his two-footedness. But then he simply stood tall, quivering with the hunger that burned him through and through. He stepped from the trees onto a path, just as a young girl came around a bend beneath the shadow of a giant oak.
She was young, barely more than a child, and still carrying baby fat in her face and belly. Her blonde hair was braided tightly over each shoulder, and the red cloak she wore was ill-fitting. A basket looped one arm, and her blue eyes were wide and curious as she walked along.
The blood-lust filled him, causing his mouth to run with saliva. Dissembling carefully—dropping his head and slouching his shoulders—he stepped forward to greet the little girl, to pretend concern for her well-being, and hungering all over again for her sweet, young flesh, to once again follow the story to its unwavering conclusion.

Is Listening to an Audio Book Still Reading?


Somebody asked the question on Twitter recently, is listening to an audio book still reading? I appreciated the question. My first response is an emphatic, yes. But the question itself raises other questions around accesibility and literacy that are, I think, worth asking. But perhaps later.
For now, think of your favourite book. Book lovers are lovers of books—not just the stories they discover, but lovers of the books they hold in their hands—the ones they take to bed, the ones they take on the bus, and the ones they read at every opportunity. Many people have an intense, physical relationship with their favourite books, something which I’ve always envied.
I remember spending time in libraries as a kid. They were quiet places where you never wanted to fool around. Sometimes I never got further than staring at the shelves—those rows upon rows of books. And sometimes I would get dizzy from looking at the endless spines until I finally pulled one down to leaf through its pages.
I’ve been totally blind since the age of ten, but I still have a similar experience inside a library today. I stand at a shelf and run my hand over the books, and I recapture that early sense of wonder at the endless stories and wealth of information that would take more than a lifetime to absorb. But my experience doesn’t end there. All of these books, all of this information is so much paper that I can’t access without the help of technology or another person.
Which brings me back to my opening question. Is listening to an audio book still reading?
Again, I would answer with an emphatic, yes. But I would add something else. Books are no more defined by their physicality than I am defined by my blindness. A recorded book is still a book; a Kindle book is still a book.
According to a friend of mine, as technologies go, a book is difficult to beat. They are affordable, easily stashed in a bag or coat pocket, and they always work. On the other hand, a book is more than just its physical pages. How do I know? Because a book continues to occupy your inner landscape long after you’ve read it, and long after you’ve returned it to the library or lost it in a move. Does how it get there matter?
One of the first books I read as a newly blinded ten-year-old was on an old open reel tape recorder. That was J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. These days, I download audio books from Audible and talking books from the CNIB Library. I get books from the Internet, and I download books to my IPad from Kindle. Suffice it to say that I’m operating on a number of electronic platforms.
As an instructor at a university, I use all of these formats in the classroom. And in every class I make sure somebody reads out loud from whatever we are studying. Ask yourself this, is being read to still reading?
People read audio books for many reasons. they read them while they drive, while they cook, or while they walk. I read audio books because I have to, and that has become one of the ways I define myself—as a reader. And reading is reading, however you manage it.

Summer Reading: Be a Literary Tourist


Summertime is a time to read—a time to read new books, reread old books, or finally get to that series you’ve been wanting to read for months. You can travel to half-imagined places, and never get stuck in an airport.
Summer reading comes with a freedom that I don’t experience at any other time of year. Since I teach children’s literature at a university, much of my reading during the fall and winter months is dedicated to kid’s and young adult books. But now it’s July. That means I can read what I want. My MP3 player is my mini-library, so I read where ever I am—and whatever I want.
Two summers ago I decided to read everything in the Dune series by Frank Herbert. I read the original six books by Herbert, and then I read the rest of the Dune saga written by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It was bliss. I told someone at the university what I did, and he thought it was such a good idea that he read everything by Philip K. Dick the next summer.
I spent part of last summer reading Bernard Cornwell’s The Warrior Chronicles, and I ended August with Stephen King’s Under the Dome. No offense to Stephen King fans, but I thought the ending ridiculous. Far too much like The Squire of gothos in Star Trek, the Original series.
Here are some of my picks for this summer:
Margaret Atwood, The MaddAddam Trilogy
Why haven’t I read this series? I’ve mostly been avoiding it up to now. All part of my Atwood eversion.
Trudi Canavan, The High Lord
I’ve read the first two in the trilogy, and I want to finish it. The series has a slower pace than most, but I highly recommend it.
Robert Galbraith, The Silk Worm
In case you didn’t know, this is J. K. Rowling. I read The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of the Cormoran Strike books. The big reveal at the end was painfully convoluted, but I still liked the book.
Guy Gavriel Kay, The River of Stars
I’ve read one of Kay’s books every summer for several years now. It’s something of a tradition, so I’m happy to revisit Kay’s world. The River of Stars follows Under heaven, which I read last summer.
There are some of my summer picks. Where ever you are this summer, whatever you are doing, remember to pack a book. And if you read something good, then convince your friends to read it too. Books change people’s lives, so never deny someone the possibility of a new life by keeping your best reads to yourself. And, of course, enjoy.

Walk, Read, Think


Walking and reading is one of the best things you can do. You get to enjoy the walk; you get to enjoy a book; you just need to watch where you’re going.
When I’m walking and reading, I of course think about what I’m reading, but what I’m reading often reminds me of something else I’ve read. Here’s an example.
I’m reading Trudy Canavan’s The Black Magician trilogy as I’m walking. It’s a slower paced fantasy that takes place at a university for magicians. It sounds derivative, I know, but it’s a good series.
A particular scene gets me thinking. Some of the novices are gathered in the university’s arena, practicing various warrior and combat spells on one another. Guess where my brain went with this one: University for magicians—school for wizards—competitions—Hunger Games—Triwzard Cup.
Reading about a school for wizards—or in this case magicians—of course gets me thinking about Harry Potter, but Hogwarts isn’t the first school for wizards I’ve encountered. The first school for young wizards I met was the school on Roke in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. This is a series that has become part of my literary map.
But back to my walk. I start thinking about competitions. The 75th Hunger Games and the
Triwizard Cup are both competitions, although the stakes are of course considerably higher in the Hunger Games. And then something occurs to me. Katniss is aware all through the games that her every move is being watched by both the Capitol and the districts. She uses that knowledge to help her manipulate the games.
In the Triwizard tournament, things are a little different. The first task in The Goblet of Fire has Harry retrieving a golden egg from a dragon, a vicious Hungarian Horntail. But what about the other two tasks?
The second task takes place beneath the lake on the grounds of Hogwarts, while the third task happens inside a maze. The school gathers for all three tasks, but interestingly enough, they can’t actually observe either the second or the third task.
What’s the good of a competition you can’t actually watch? I wonder if anyone ever pointed this out to J. K. Rowling. Does the lack of a crowd to observe the competition diminish Harry’s victory? Don’t get me wrong, I love The Goblet of fire. It might be my favourite book in the Harry Potter series. But this is a point that irks me.
There you have it. The random thoughts of a walker/reader. If you want to meet the thoughts of someone else who walks and reads, check out what Lev Grossman has to say.
The third book in his Magician’s trilogy comes out this summer. That’s a summer read I’m looking forward to. And I will probably be walking while I read it.

Who Wants to Read a Best-Seller, Anyway!

Every kid’s book I find these days seems to have made it onto a best-seller list—that or made into a film after becoming a best-seller. It’s disheartening—to say the least. Does a kid’s book have to be on a best-seller list to be good? Not likely. Does a book have to be a movie in order to get some attention? I sincerely hope not.
I heard somewhere that Veronica Roth received a movie deal for Divergent before it was even published. A tale to make any author salivate. This might be an Internet myth—I hope so—but true or not, it helps to make my point.
I’m sure you, like me, have books close to your heart that have never been turned into a film, never raved about on the Internet, or—imagine this—no one else has read. The Internet being what it is, you can, of course, find those personal treasures out there. Shockingly, other people will have read those books over which you have claimed personal ownership, and Wikipedia will more than likely have something to say as well. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to avoid the Internet.
All this in mind, having favourite books that only you seem to have read is empowering. When your friends have never heard of a particular book that is one of your all-time-favourites, you get to tell them all about it. It’s like being a pioneer, going, dare I say, where no one has gone before.
Two books I remember reading as a young person were The Runaway Robot by Lester del Rey and A Walk Out of the World by Ruth Nichols. I’ve only ever met one other person who read The Runaway Robot, and I’ve never met anyone who has read A Walk Out of the World. I’m sure some of you have read one, or maybe even both.
The Runaway Robot is a book about Rex, a robot who is the property of Paul, a boy living with his family on Ganymede. The book is told from the point of view of Rex, which I think made me like the book even more. A Walk Out of the World is about Toby and Judith, brother and sister, who find their way into a fantasy world, and discover they belong there. I was a newly indoctrinated Tolkien freak at the time, so I was looking for anything that would take me into other worlds that were far away from my own. But as a new reader, every book was a new world, and every author a new discovery. Even still, I was desperate to create a list of books I had read that not everyone else in the world read first. I remember, with admitted nostalgia, feeling as though it was just me who was trying to understand the strange and compelling world of Lord of the Rings. But that’s what it’s like when you’re twelve.
Fortunately, I have grown somewhat as a reader since then. I no longer want to hoard a list of books that only I have read. Sounds too much like some dragons I have known. Better by far to share obscure and lesser known books, to talk about them, to rave about them, to tell anyone who will listen that they simply have to read one of your favourite books. And those pioneers you meet along the way will no doubt want you to read theirs.
So here’s to books that were never a best-seller, never made into a movie, and never, never seemed to get the credit they deserved. You can no doubt find them on Amazon, but leave cyberspace for a while and go to your local library.