19 April 2007

Gifts in the Attic

I had planned to write something about Project Gutenberg and how I've found some of my favourite things on it anyway, though after yesterday's post perhaps it takes on a little extra poignancy.

PG is dedicated to the electronic distribution of books and periodicals in the public domain. They are absolutely respectful of copyright; no royalties are being stolen from living authors or their estates. There are subsidiary sites for some countries (I know there is a PG Australia, for example) designed to keep things legal. PG is also entirely non-profit; the books are free. They do accept donations to offset operating expenses.

I have always looked at PG in much the same way I would the attic of a large house which has belonged to the same family for many years -- as a storehouse of the all the strange and wonderful things that have piled up. Here, a stack of old textbooks. In that trunk, some knitting patterns. Over there, under the eaves, a bundle of novels.

I am not sure how someone like Howard V. Hendrix would view it. With disdain? Horror? As a sort of memento mori reminding us that profit from our writings, like life, does not last forever?
As I was, so are ye,
As I am, you shall be.
That I had, that I gave,
That I gave, that I have.
Thus I end all my cost,
That I left, that I lost
('Old Epitaph' from The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction Volume 12, No. 337, October 25, 1828; other issues of The Mirror can be browsed on its Project Gutenberg bookshelf).

At any rate, here are a few of my favourites:

John Kendrick Bangs, The Water Ghost and Others. Humourous ghost stories, but without making fun of the ghosts. Good stuff. 'The Spectre Cook of Bangletop' is a particular favourite of mine.

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon's Mines, Queen Sheba's Ring, and Maiwa's Revenge. Haggard has most of the flaws you'd expect from a Victorian novelist, but he's still a good read, and in his defence he's less racist and sexist than some. (Far less obnoxious than Kipling, in my opinion). The latter two novels I mention contain some of his better female characters, Maqueda, queen of the Abati, and the titular Maiwa, who might be compared to Boudicca, if Boudicca had won out at the end. Maiwa's Revenge is an Allan Quatermain novel. Queen Sheba's Ring is not, but it's an interesting parallel to the Quatermain series, especially King Solomon's Mines, if you want to look at Haggard's stock characters and formulae.

George Macdonald, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdie, and Phantastes (which succeeds where Lilith fails, partially because the narrator, Anodos, is a more appealing character than the narrator of Lilith and partly because the work is not so heavy-handed with allegory)


  1. My favorite is the Online Books page which compiles listings from Project Gutenberg, the WOmen Writers Project, and everyone else they can find who's putting books up on the Internet.

  2. A bit late to this post, but H. Rider Haggared was a good friend of my grandmother's - I have a gorgeous garnet and crystal pendant he gave her on her wedding day. They both lived in the same parish on the border of Norfolk/Suffolk, Ditchingham.

    It's nice to see a shout out to someone who seems almost forgotten these days. And yes, he was a hell of a lot less sexist than Kipling. From family stories, he seemed like a really wonderful man.

  3. attack_laurel: wow, that's so cool! I've been a fan of Haggard's for years -- I used to keep a paperback copy of KSM in my carry-on while I was shuttling back and forth across the Atlantic. It was a good antidote to flight delays and long layovers.


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