Saxon Slade

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Saxon Slade

Saxon Slade’s book reviews

The completion of the King James Version of the Bible in 1611 is a high-water mark of Western Civilization--really in the history of human culture, and this is no overstatement.

Remarkably, we don't have the names of the translators commissioned to create an English language version of the ancient Hebrew and Greek writings. Yet their work is transcendent, still beloved after 400 years and still regarded as reasonably accurate in translation from the oldest of the known manuscripts. Yes, our language has evolved; some would say devolved. We have more modern, more accessible translations of the Scriptures, but never more beautiful.

I read the Bible on a daily basis. Even if if my life had not been enriched by it, the sheer poetry on each of its pages would delight me. Take in the emotional resonance of the Psalms; the sheer loveliness of 1 Corinthians 13; the narrative power and tragedy of Kings and Chronicles. It has been said that you don't read the Scriptures as much as they read you.

"The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of God endureth forever." Isaiah 40:8
04/30/2008
There's something very warm and compelling about the writing of Francis Hodgson Burnett. In The Secret Garden, for example, we have a children's story that adults can understand as an allegory that works on social, spiritual, and sexual levels. No Victorian writer understands the secret worlds and sensitivities of children better. "In the Closed Room" is a little gem of a story, a beautiful ghost story that is ultimately a meditation up death. Those who don't understand the Victorian mindset, as usual, will not find this to their liking; but for me, the foundational values that nourished the Victorians often make for refreshing reading today.
04/03/2008
An excellent ghost novelette by Le Fanu, my favorite Victorian purveyor of the classic ghost story. Ghost stories are dependent upon mood and atmosphere; therefore the short story is their best form. It's difficult to maintain a mood of dread over a longer word-count, but Le Fanu shows how to do it here. Think I'll reread this one soon.

Note: Don't expect modern horror. This is fairly subtle British supernatural fiction. It won't spoon-feed cheap thrills a la Stephen King, but give you something more substantial and thought-provoking.
03/23/2008
If you have a curiosity about classic ghost stories, this is the place to start. M. R. James is considered the greatest of the post-Victorian ghost story writers. These stories were actually written for Christmas Eves, upon which he would read them by candlelight to a gathering of his students and other professors.

It's interesting that, while we consider him a "ghost story" writer, James often gives us something other than a ghost. His true interest is antiquarianism (ancient documents and histories) and his characters are usually pursuing some discovery along those lines when they unearth something best left undisturbed. More often than not, it's not quite a ghost--but it's something quite unpleasant just the same. James had a number of followers who attempted just this formula for writing the supernatural tale. We call them Jamesians.

Read one of these late at night (one is plenty), with a nice glass of wine and perhaps a wavering candle. Then sleep with the lights off. I dare ya.
03/23/2008
Elizabeth Gaskell was a Victorian novelist who was beloved in her time and underappreciated in ours. Like so many of her circle of female authors in that time, she loved a good ghost story. Not all these five tales involve ghosts, but they all include the sense of atmosphere and suspense we enjoy in such a tale. The five stories are:

The Old Nurse's Story
The Poor Clare
Lois the Witch
The Grey Woman
Curious, if True

The first is an oft-anthologized, classic ghost story. Some modern readers will find it overwrought, but it certainly delivers the goods. "Lois the Witch" is more about psychology and the persecution, Salem-style, of suspected witches than it is about the supernatural. "The Grey Woman" is a thrilling novelette of a persecuted young woman who unknowingly marries an evil man. All the stories were recently dramatized on England's BBC radio, because nearly a century and a half after writing, they're still great stories.

03/20/2008
I always hope discerning readers know how to ignore the reviewers like Leo who can be found all over the Internet dissing things that they aren't capable of appreciating.

This book is a classic page-turner that will keep you guessing. It is one of four exceptional novels that Collins wrote before his personal life, particularly a laudanum addiction, began to catch up with him. Anyone who enjoys a Victorian pot-boiler (not an oxymoron; they were known as "sensation fiction" novels) should read Wilkie's greatest: Woman in White, The Moonstone, Armadale, and No Name. You won't be sorry, unless you are like Leo.
03/19/2008
Outstanding. I don't know how I came to read an e-book by an author with whom I was unfamiliar, and with a title that sounded like a Harlequin Romance. But I was glad I came across this one. It has a little bit of everything--thrills, comic dialogue, a nicely-handled romance (for its time; it's an old-fashioned book, and I mean that as a compliment).

The book begins as a survival tale, kind of a male and female Robinson Crusoe, and develops into an action thriller. I recommend this for a good, enjoyable time-passer.
03/17/2008
Edgar Wallace had a high old time writing this one. We love the humble heroine, but we don't admire her cranial powers. Several attempts on her life are insufficient to arouse her suspicions. Her antogonist, the femme fatale, is quite a piece of work as well. I like the way Wallace seemed to make things up as he went along, and defied the expected moral ending which I will not spoil for you here.

Plot in a nutshell: Heroine comes into the money in unlikely fashion; greedy society leech stands next to inherit it, and seeks to do away with her while they vacation together. Nice surprises, fun characters.
03/14/2008