First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday: The Casual Vacancy

How surprised I was when this showed up in my mailbox at work today. I’d totally forgotten I’d added it to my cart this summer, only half intending to buy it, and now here it is: J. K. Rowling’s latest, The Casual Vacancy.
Here is a taste of the first page, as the first paragraph will not give enough indication of the first chapter:
“Barry Fairbrother did not want to go out to dinner. He had endured a thumping headache for most of the weekend and was struggling to make a deadline for the local newspaper.
However, his wife had been a little stiff and uncommunicative over lunch, and Barry deduced that his anniversary card had not mitigated the crime of shutting himself away in the study all morning. It did not help that he had been writing about Krystal, whom Mary disliked, although she pretended otherwise.
“Mary, I want to take you out to dinner,” he had lied, to break the frost. “Nineteen years, kids! Nineteen years, and your mother’s never looked lovelier.”
Mary had softened and smiled, so Barry had telephoned the golf club, because it was nearby and they were sure of getting a table. He tried to give his wife pleasure in little ways, because he had come to realize, after nearly two decades together, how often he disappointed her in the big things. It was never intentional. They simply had very different notions of what ought to take up most space in life.”
Are you sufficiently intrigued to read the book? How do you feel about J. K. Rowling’s latest if you’ve already read past this point? (I’ll tell you that just because I received it today doesn’t mean it’s moved up to the top of the stack I have planned to read in October. I’m not saying I don’t respect what J. K. Rowling’s done, but I will say that the children I’ve taught have appreciated her writing far more than I have. So far.)
First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday is hosted by Bibliophile of The Sea.

The Tales of Beedle The Bard

Title: The Tales of Beedle The Bard
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: fairy tales
Number of pages: 107
Release date: Today! December 4, 2008
Rating: 5 out of 5 (and I’m not even crazed about Harry)
Price: $12.99 at Borders, $7.15 at Amazon.com
I’ve been greatly anticipating this book, mostly so that I can share it with my class. Imagine my surprise then, upon reading it tonight, when I discovered how truly magical this is. Fairy tales? Yes! Stupendous, glorious, high level vocabulary stories with a lesson? YES!
From the Introduction itself:
“The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a collection of stories written for young wizards and witches. They have been popular bedtime reading for centuries, with the result that the Hopping Pot and the Fountain of Fair Fortune are as familiar to many of the students at Hogwarts as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty are to Muggle (non-magical) children.

Beedle’s stories resemble our fairy tales in many respects; for instance, virtue is usually rewarded, and wickedness punished. However, there is one very obvious difference. In Muggle fairy tales, magic tends to lie at the root of the hero’s or heroine’s troubles-the wicked witch has poisoned the apple, or put the princess into a hundred-year’s sleep, or turned the prince into a hideous beast. In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, on the other hand we meet heroes and heroines who can perform magic themselves, and yet find it just as hard to solve their problems as we do. Beedle’s stories have helped generations of Wizarding parents to explain this painful fact of life to their young children: that magic causes as much trouble as it cures.

Another notable difference between these fables and their Muggle counterparts is that Beedle’s witches are much more active in seeking their fortunes than our fairy-tale heroines. Asha, Altheda, Amata, and Babbitty Rabbitty are all witches who take their fates into their own hands, rather than taking a proglonged nap or waiting for someone to return a lost shoe. The exceptions to this rule—the unnamed maiden of “the Warlock’s Hairy Heart”—acts more like our idea of a storybook princess, but there is no ‘happily ever after’ at the end of her tale.

Beedle the Bard lived in the fifteenth century, and much of his life remains shrouded in mystery. We know that he was born in Yorkshire, and the only surviving woodcut shows that he had an exceptionally luxuriant beard. If his stories accurately reflect his opinions, he rather liked Muggles, whom he regarded as ignorant rather than malevolent; he mistrusted Dark Magic, and he believed that the worst excesses of wizardkind sprang from the all-too-human traits of cruelty, apathy or arrogant misapplication of their own talents. The heroes and heroines who triumph in his stories are not those with the most powerful magic, but rather those who demonstrate the most kindness, common sense, and ingenuity.”

We find five fairy tales in this work: “The Wizard And The Hopping Pot”, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart”, “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump”, and “The Tale of The Three Brothers”. Interspersed with these stories is a commentary from Albus Dumbledore “which include observations on Wizarding history, personal reminiscences, and enlightening information on key elements of each story, (that) will help a new generation of both Wizarding and Muggle readers appreciate The Tales of Beedle The Bard.”

Truly, it’s a special book. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s what I’ll begin reading to my class first thing tomorrow morning, anyway.

A review of this book, from the Chicago Tribune, can be found here.