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Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

uprooted_cover_picture

Most authors want discussion and buzz to swirl around their books upon release. Understandably so, attention leads to book sales and reaching a larger audience, but the flip side for readers is that the hype around a book can negatively impact the reading experience. As much as I like to think I give each book a chance based on its merits, there are undeniable instances where the articles, reviews, tweets and forum posts I see about a book have changed the way I approach the text. Hype played a big part in my making me dislike Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (2015) more than I probably would have otherwise. (more…)

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At the tail-end of second term during my MA I re-watched the much-maligned Polish television series Wiedzmin (2002) i.e. The Witcher to see if it still held up. I saw the first few episodes on a trip to Poland when I was 14, which would have been a year after the theatrical release of the film, the same film that cut a two hour running time out of thirteen one-hour episodes, resulting in what I would charitably call an incomprehensible mess. The movie wasn’t well-received in Poland, especially not by fans of the books it was based on. The show, unsurprisingly, didn’t attract a very large audience as a result.

The Witcher is adapted from The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny, two short story collections by Andrzej Sapkowski. They centre on the albino mutant monster-hunter (AKA “witcher”) Geralt of Rivia and his encounters with various twisted fairy tales. The subsequent novels got a lot more serious in tone, but the chief draw of the stories, for me, is the humour–the situations you get into by dropping a grim and overpowered character straight out of a 60s sword and sorcery novel into a world ruled by Hans Christian Anderson. At least, that’s the chief draw until the last two stories in The Sword of Destiny, which pack a huge emotional punch that I can’t say I was prepared for.

The show isn’t much like that.

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Wiesiek Powaga, ed. and tr. The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy. New York: Dedalus/Hippocrene Books, 1996.

I’ve talked up Polish fantastika on this blog before, so it was probably only a matter of time before I got around to reviewing The Dedalus Book of Polish Fantasy, translated and edited by Wiesiek Powaga. Being in Canada, it is of course easier to get hold of translations of Polish works rather than the original texts unless we’re talking classics. This, of course, is a welcome book simply because it makes otherwise unknown materials available to an English-speaking audience.

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Benedykt Chmielowski’s Nowe Ateny (The New Athens) is one of the stranger books I’ve stumbled across in my research. Printed in four volumes between 1745 and 1746 in Lwów, Poland, it resembles medieval bestiaries and other compendia of natural philosophy from the likes of Isidore of Seville than it does any of the vernacular encyclopaedias coming out of England and France at around the same time. Organized in scattershot fashion, more of a compilation of various anecdotes rather than a cohesive set of descriptions, The New Athens freely mixed together current scientific knowledge with folklore and the occult, offering us a fascinating glimpse into the intellectual atmosphere in the Polish popular audience before the dawn of the Enlightenment. If it reads like a work three centuries too late for Europe’s elite, who were busy applying a systematically more rational approach to the world, it also speaks to a continuing desire for marvels among readers and a keen curiosity on the part of the author, who seemed reluctant to rule out anything. The same human-like creatures who populate The Travels of Sir John Mandeville get their own entries here, and medieval fascination with the cynocephali, the dog-headed humans, remained alive and well in at least one encyclopaedist from the eighteenth century.

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Slavic Fairy Tales

One reason I haven’t bought an e-reader is my fascination with the book as a physical object. That, and because I buy nearly all my books used. Each one has a story separate from what’s contained within its pages. A book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle with a note from 1915 inked on the inside cover. A 1919 edition of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King. My copy of Howard Pyle’s The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (probably the single most important book in my life) has pencilled scribbles in the early chapters—my dad’s Polish translations of various words from back when he was learning English; he remembered the Polish translation of the novel so well he thought it would carry over. He still has his Polish copy somewhere.

I’ve kept Klechdy Domowe (Domestic Fairy Tales) on my shelf, a collection of Polish fairy tales and legends. The book was a present for my sister in 1989, though I’m the one who ended up with it. Most notable are Zbigniew Rychlicki’s handsome illustrations, which have an oddly Slavic air about them.

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Fantasy scholarship concentrates so much on works in the English language you’d think that William Morris and Lord Dunsany were the only ones writing this sort of thing in the 19th century, and everything that came later sprouted from English influence. You’d also be wrong. Independent fantasy literary traditions have developed outside of the English-speaking world with little in the way of influence from the west; or, if so, drawing on local literature to give them a unique flair. We’re missing out on a great deal of it because, while English fantasy novels often get translated into many languages, fantasy novels in other languages aren’t often translated into English.

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Sketches from Europe

Some sketches of various locales from my travels: (more…)

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