Thursday, January 23, 2014
St. George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges from Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, illustrated by my hero, Trina Schart Hyman. Little, Brown and Company, 1984. As you can see from these photos, Trina Schart Hyman is a master illustrator. We had this book when I was a kid, and ever since then, these are the kinds of illustrations that I have wanted to do. The way she handles landscapes, light, detail, and her characters' forms and faces is just amazing. This is perhaps my favorite page of the book. It is so exciting! Can't you just feel the warmth that is still rising from the ground as the day closes, and the cold breeze that is snapping the banners and making the standing wheat sway? Don't you just love the drawings of the hills, the peasants, the children? And what's that over there ... a bank of clouds blowing in for the night? ... That's what I took it to be, for years. But perhaps it is ... smoke from the dragon! "The dreadful dragon lay stretched on the sunny side of a great hill, like a great hill himself, and when he saw the knight's armor glistening in the sunlight, he came eagerly to do battle." This amazing picture is accompanied by a solid paragraph of description of the dragon. In a modern book, we would consider it over-written, but bear in mind that this story would have been told without any pictures or film. The teller had to create a picture in his hearers' minds. The kids will sit patiently through the old-fashioned prose, because they have such an amazing illustration to look at meanwhile. And while they sit, their ears will be bathed in phrases that bear the features of old Anglo-Saxon poetry: strong rhythm, assonance, and pairs and even triplets of alliterating words. "In his tail's end, two sharp stings were fixed. But sharper still were his cruel claws. Whatever he touched or drew within those claws was in deadly danger. His head was more hideous than tongue can tell ... He snatched the spear in his claws and broke it off, throwing forth flames of fire from his nostrils. He hurled his hideous tail about ..." If experience is any guide, little girls will sigh at this picture. Una looks all of eighteen; George, twenty. They got started young back then. Look at the red braid on the king, and the carved Celtic face on his chair. That's why this is one of my favorite books.
Wednesday, January 8, 2014
This is a book about abusive relationships. You will notice that ‘abuse’ is nowhere in the title. I suspect this is because everyone has their own definition of what constitutes abuse, and it almost never covers what they themselves are doing – or being subjected to – are seeing and are concerned about. So, with a title like “angry and controlling men,” they are more likely to pick up the book, thinking, “Hey, this might apply to the confusing situation I am facing.” Can a man abuse a woman without physically harming her? Yes. He can scream at her. He can throw things around the house. He can vandalize her property. He can routinely blame her for everything that goes wrong in his life, or he can constantly critique her and tear her down, or he can call her names that when I tried to put them in this review, got it banned from Amazon. This does not mean that just any unpleasant behavior earns the title abuse. Bancroft uses the word “abuse,” but he does not use it irresponsibly. For example, he says that if someone is angry all the time, “I would not like it,” but it is not necessarily abuse. Abuse is not a binary kind of behavior that is only invoked when the fists fly, but a deeply ingrained, unrepentant attitude of ownership, entitlement, contempt and resentment that a man displays, not toward most people in his life, but toward “his” woman (including past women). I have never witnessed physical violence, but I have definitely heard conversations similar to the ones you will read in this book. And that is disturbing. Does this sound hard to read? It is. Despite being written in a very readable style, this book is in some ways torture to read. The only thing worse would be to live it. I recommend that everyone who can stand to, should read this book, because it clears up so much of the confusion that prevails in abusive situations … confusion in the mind of the victims, the observers, and even (especially?) the professionals. Even if you only read the first three or four chapters, you will be far ahead. The very first chapter, titled “The Mystery,” begins with the confusion felt by victims (who might not see themselves as victims) and their friends, as they try to understand the situation and the abuser. “He says I’m too sensitive. Maybe I am.” “Have I changed or has he changed?” “Why does he DO that?” This confusion is created by the abuser himself, in his highly successful attempts to justify himself to himself, to his victim, and to the people around him. Bancroft did not did start out with this assumption, by the way, but came to it after years of working with abusers in mandatory counseling groups. When he started out, he believed what the abusers told him about how their behavior was caused by their wives’ failings, their traumatic childhoods, their unemployment, or the hurts done them by past girlfriends; that they didn’t know what they were doing; that they “lost control.” Only after several years did the author start to cotton on to the lies. Also confusing is the fact that many abusers can actually be kind (yes, kind) in between abusive incidents. Add to this the fact that the victim may indeed have some mental problems of her own (alcoholism, depression, etc.), either predating the abuse or brought on by it. If she has lived with abuse long enough, she may be barely functional. The abuser, meanwhile, is functional in his life at large (except when it comes to treating his wife well), and appears to be a sane, trustworthy person. To top it all off, he has told her many times that his behavior is her fault. (In fact, he may accuse her of abusing him … referring to her attempts to defend herself.) Small wonder, then, that the abused woman, her friends, and society at large cannot figure out what her problem is. If they start from the assumption that the abuser is a decent guy who means well, they will never figure out the situation. There are decent guys who mean well. This book is not about them. This book is admirably free of psychobabble. For example, in one chapter Bancroft examines in some detail a frustrating conversation between a whiny, controlling man and his wife, which ends with him insisting on walking home in the cold, even though she would be willing to drive him. The author then analyzes why the man chose to walk home and resent it. Of course, his main motive is to maintain the role of victim, to keep himself in the right and his wife in the wrong, so that he can tell himself (and tell everyone else later) how she “left him” to walk home in the cold. Bancroft then adds, “Also, deep down inside [the man] there is a human being who knows that what he is doing is wrong.” In another place, he says, “Most people, when you confront them about something they are doing wrong, get defensive and deny it at first. But later, when they have had some time to cool down, they will come back and admit you were right. Abusers do not do this. They use the passage of time to find additional arguments about why they are right.” One last note. There is a fascinating, counterintuitive warning (late in the book), that women in abusive situations should not seek couples’ counseling. “Couples’ counseling is designed for problems that are mutual.” Abuse is not mutual. It is unilateral. It is not the result of a communication problem. Furthermore, couples’ counseling can be dangerous (!) for the wife. The reassuring presence of the counselor might get the wife to open up and say things to, or about, her husband that she would never otherwise dream of uttering. Then, when they get home (or even, in one chilling case, in the car on the way home), she can face violent retaliation. This book will haunt you, but definitely read it. It might help you someday to help someone else, even if it is only by being the only person who believes her.