Book Review: The Creation of Anne Boleyn

The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan Bordo is one of my favourite books, and definitely my favourite historical book. For lack of a better description, I would call it a deconstruction of the historical character of Anne Boleyn and her many portrayals in history and media ever since her turbulent life.

Divided into three sections, the book outlines the historically known facts of Anne’s life, her depiction in history after her reign, and then her various portrayals in media (books, movies and tv shows) ever since.

The premise alone however can not capture the witty, intelligent and clever writing that makes this book so enjoyable. Susan Bordo doesn’t hold back in her critiques of historians, historical fiction authors or screenwriters, producers and directors. She brings a fresh gaze to the recent and not so recent tropes often repeated about Anne, and draws patterns and connections in a way only someone who has dedicated a far chunk of their life to studying Anne’s portrayals can.

Bordo does the hard, fatiguing work of digging through the historical record, and then manages to organize and present her findings in a way that is clear, concise and entertaining even to someone who hasn’t spent the last few years of their life buried in Anne Boleyn related texts.

In case this hasn’t already been made clear by my raving review, I would sincerely recommend this book to anyone – anyone. Interested in history, media, fiction, popular culture or even just how a figure like Anne Boleyn can develop and change over time? This book will not let you down.


Book Review: The Blue Castle

I know, I know – I am incredibly late to the game in discovering this delightful story. Written by L. M. Montgomery (think Anne of Green Gables), set in the wild beauty of Canada and the odd societies people create, it’s possibly my new favourite. At the very least, I can envision it being one of stories you return to again and again.

All you need to know in terms of the ‘plot’ of this book, is that Valancy is 29, unmarried and unhappy. Events prompt her to drastically change her life, and this story is the result. Valancy grows in character and heart page by page, to the shock, amazement and slight dismay of her various family and friends.

Like with most of Montgomery’s work, there are detailed and captivating descriptions of the landscape and natural locations of the story. Even more captivating is her ability to describe people – physically and psychologically – in such a way that you immediately can picture them, mannerisms and all, in your mind.

If you haven’t read any of her work before, I’d highly recommend it. While the Anne sagas are understandably my favourites, I know they can be a bit overwhelming. Perhaps starting with The Blue Castle, this short, stand alone novel, is more manageable. If you are an Anne fan, but haven’t read any of Montgomery’s other work, I again highly recommend it. I especially enjoyed The Story Girl, but I think The Blue Castle has now overtaken it in my affections.

Do you have a favourite Montgomery book I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know. If you read The Blue Castle and enjoy, also let me know!

Book review: Literary Allusion in Harry Potter

For Christmas I was given Literary Allusion in Harry Potter by Beatrice Groves, which a) is the perfect present for me, and b) is one of the best books I’ve read recently. Here’s a brief review that tells you what I liked about it without giving away all the fun parts.

If you have any interest in Harry Potter or literary traditions ranging from Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, Jane Austin, Tennyson, Homer, Plato, Ovid, and of course, the great literary work known as the Bible, then you will find something in this book to interest you. It takes the approach of analyzing both the works JK Rowling has explicitly referenced, the works she would have studied in her English Literature and Classics degree, and other works whose influence can be seen lurking beneath the surface of the Harry Potter text. It deconstructs major themes and plot devices, as well as character arcs, motivations and development and then builds up a picture of the rich literary text that is Harry Potter.

Reading this book has given me a deeper understanding of the story, themes and characters of Harry Potter, but it has also given me a greater appreciation for many of the literary works that inspired it. Links and connections that hadn’t been clear to me before now seem obvious (for example, Hermione’s parallels to Jane Austin’s Emma) (or her and Ron’s bickering relationship and it’s echo in Beatrice and Benedict in Much Ado About Nothing). Not surprisingly, I especially enjoyed the section on Harry Potter’s allusions to the biblical story, and how Milton’s work in Paradise Lost gives a clear blueprint of Voldemort’s character.

Despite the vast arrays of literature covered and referenced in this short volume, it is incredibly readable even if you’ve never encountered any of these works previously. It helpfully summarizes, translates and explains where needed to ensure the reader (you) gets the most out of what is being conveyed, without having to wade through dense text to get to it. Before reading, I was familiar with maybe 60% of the texts references, but found it easy to follow even those I’d never read or understood before. Reading this book has even inspired me to go back and read or re-read a number of texts.

The main thing that it has reinforced is that to be a lover of English literature is to be a lover of Harry Potter (and vice versa). For part of what appeals to me, and to so many others about these stories is the way it reflects back our shared consciousness and our shared stories. The stories Harry Potter tells are the stories we have always been telling – of good conquering evil, of friendship, loyalty, monsters and magic. Only Harry Potter manages to tell the familiar old stories in new and exciting ways, so different and fresh that it might take us a moment to realize that they are there at all.