Monday, October 3, 2016

The Cozy Book Corner No. 10: The Dark Hero: The Fascination of the Metaphor

Welcome to my Monday 
bookish feature!

In each weekly post, I explore 
my thoughts on several 
book-related topics.


Now that October has rolled around, many people are turning their attention to the upcoming Halloween holiday. Thoughts of pumpkin carving, trick or treating, spooky decorations, and decisions about what costume to wear to this year's parties come to mind. Those of us with a literary bent will also be thinking of what Halloween-related books we might read this season.

In my case, I don't like the horror genre at all. I do, however, enjoy reading paranormal romance and urban fantasy, which I review at my other blog, A Night's Dream of Books. All three of these genres have their roots in the Gothic Literature of the 19th and earlier centuries.

The quintessential 19th-century Gothic novel is arguably Dracula, by Bram Stoker. This novel set in motion the tradition of literary vampires. I'm not interested in reading this book, however, since I dislike the type of vampire portrayed therein. I do, however, enjoy reading about the vampires in contemporary paranormal romance novels. Although I don't review them on this blog, I would still like to address here the reasons for their great popularity. The question has been asked before: what is it about vampires in romance novels that is so fascinating?  There are several books on the subject of the Twilight obsession, for instance.
I think that the Twilight phenomenon, and indeed, the whole subject of vampires, has deeper, psychological roots.  I read an article dealing with this a couple of years ago.  You can find it here.  The author, Michael De Groote, a staff writer for "Deseret News", makes an excellent point that all men are vampires.  This might sound ridiculous, but he means that romantic vampires are metaphors for that part of a man's personality or psyche that can hurt a woman very, very badly.  The metaphor also encompasses a man's superior physical strength.  In other words, men have a terribly great capacity to hurt the women they are close to, most especially those who are in a romantic relationship with them.  Of course, some people might immediately point out, women can hurt men, too.  However, I would say, in answer to this objection, that a man's capacity to hurt a woman is far greater than that of a woman to hurt a man.  A man can inflict inner scars on a woman, scars that, although invisible to the eye, often take years to heal.  Sometimes they never do heal...  Furthermore, men have been known to kill their wives or girlfriends with a single blow.  They are also much quicker to kill with weapons.  Wars are started by men, after all, as we all know.  Little boys have an innate potential for violence that little girls might at times try to emulate, but are not entirely able to.  Has there ever been a female equivalent of Hitler in the history of the world? I sure can't think of any!

So Edward Cullen, the male vampire in The Twilight Saga, for instance,  is a metaphor for that part of a man that can inflict great harm on a woman.  All other fictional, romantic vampires are also metaphors -- Christine Feehan's Carpathians, for example, as well as Amanda Ashley's dark heroes.  What do they all have in common?  They strive to control the monstrous part of themselves.  They try to keep the women they love safe....from themselves.  This, I believe, is the heady attraction that pulls Isabella Swan toward Edward Cullen.  This is what pulls the readers of The Twilight Saga, most of whom are female, toward Edward Cullen, as well.  For we the readers readily identify with Bella.  We become Bella as we read. 

Is there anything more attractive, to a woman, than a man leashing his great physical and mental powers in order to be gentle with her?  In spite of considering myself a feminist, I cannot help but be obsessively attracted by the idea of such a man.  Perhaps this is an innate trait in all human females that no amount of feminist proselytizing can ever do away with.  Yes, I, along with my fellow feminists, want to find my own power, and be independent.  And yet....I am totally fascinated by the thought of a powerful, wildly attractive man controlling his own power in order to avoid hurting fact, taking every precaution so as not to do so. 

Feminism or not, we women still love to read romance novels, and there's nothing dearer to our hearts than the stereotypical "happily ever after".  It's what moves us to tears, whether or not we're willing to admit it.  At the end of the day, after the corporate grind is over, we can kick back with a good romance novel, and enjoy being sweetly ravished by a dark hero who is intent on pleasing us, on making sure that we are not harmed, especially by him.

I believe there's another very important aspect of the vampire ethos, however, and that is a woman's innate compassion.  Where a man might simply write off another man as incorrigible, a woman will be more willing to give him a second chance, as well as the benefit of the doubt.  So the heroines of the vampire romances we so love to read will always strive to see the good in their vampire boyfriends.  The boyfriends appreciate this, of course, and it makes them fall even more in love with their human girlfriends.

This all goes back to the old fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast".  We women still nurture the fantasy of redeeming a bad boy with our love, of seeing the good buried in him.   So we have the enduring myth of the romantic vampire, going through lonely centuries, enduring his own inner torment -- the realization that he is a monstrous anomaly --  until he finds that woman who is willing to give him a chance, who is able to go beyond the monster to find the good man in him.  I know I keep referring to vampires as male, but the thing is, most of the ones I've encountered in vampire romances are male.  I don't know about other readers, but I prefer vampire romances in which the woman is human, and her love interest is a vampire.  I believe that's because of the reasons I have detailed above.  

Every writer of vampire romance has her own unique take on the vampire myth.  Some adhere to the traditional version, with all the trappings of superstition such as the vampire's inability to stand the sunlight, which will, in fact, destroy him in a burst of flame, the use of crosses and garlic, sleeping in a coffin, etc.  Other writers create an entirely new world for their vampires.  Some of them even use humor in their stories, like Lynsay Sands and Kerrelyn Sparks.  I love the brooding, tortured vampire, as written by Amanda Ashley.  Stephenie Meyer has traveled a middle road.  Her vampires are not entirely of the traditional sort, except, of course, for the Volturi, who actually enjoy killing.  The Cullens, while not entirely in the brooding category, carry with them a sense of morality and social responsibility that brings them into very close affinity with Ashley's vampires.  Meyer's fertile imagination has created a very original reason for their avoidance of bright, sunny days -- they sparkle in sunlight; therefore, this would reveal them for what they are.

Along with the allure of the man who controls his dark urges to protect his beloved is the whole aura of darkness and mystery surrounding the vampire.  The heroine of a vampire romance is also attracted to this.  Even though mystery has been touted as a feminine attribute, which fascinates and attracts men (thus the phenomenon of the 'femme fatale'), women, too, are pulled in by it.  The lure of the unknown, the possibly exciting, the unusual, the fantastic -- this fascination is one of the characteristics of the human species.  We are innately curious.  We want to explore, discover, experience, that which puzzles us.  When coupled with the possibility of romance and love, the lure is nearly overpowering....

Another dark hero is Erik, from The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux. However, he is more of a romantic hero in modern re-workings of the novel. Although he is not a vampire, he is surrounded by mystery and the darkness of his own despair, because of his deformed face.  As originally written by Leroux, he is no more than a horrible monster who must possess Christine, the opera singer he is obsessively in love with, no matter who or what he destroys in the process.  Not so the Phantom as reinvented by Andrew Lloyd Webber.  In the famous musical and movie, Erik emerges as a man tortured by his darkness, who nevertheless loves Christine enough to ultimately free her so that she can go away with the handsome, young Vicomte, who is not tortured by any inner darkness. 

Numerous fan fiction writers, including myself, have attempted to rectify what we see as Leroux's failure to have Christine fully accept and love Erik,  in spite of his deformity and inner darkness.  We have thus written stories in which this is exactly what happens.

It was the Lloyd Webber Erik, the fan fiction Erik, who lured me to the romantic vampire's lair -- the hidden domain of the man who thinks of himself as nothing more than a monster, the man who is completely unaware of the polished diamond he carries within -- his true, inner goodness.  Only his soul mate, that woman who is brave enough to venture into the monster's lair, can awaken him to his true self.  Only that woman can bring him back to who he really and truly is -- a man who is not a monster at all, and instead, one capable of love and all the virtues he cannot see in himself...  His soul mate, then, becomes a mirror for him, since, in many of these romances, the vampire casts no reflection in a real mirror.  His soul mate thus gives him his true reflection back to him.  His soul mate is his only hope, his only salvation.  Interestingly enough, this ties in quite well with the current spate of books about the return of the Sacred Feminine. 

Here, yet another reason for the hypnotic allure of these tales emerges -- the theme of the woman as savior of the man.  This is a woman's true power -- not the power of brute strength, but the power of love.  It is the power to see the best in a man, to urge him toward the light, and out of the darkness. 

Christine should have reflected Erik's true nature to him in this way.  Leroux, perhaps because he was a male himself, failed to see the inherent beauty and power of such a concept, and wrote a story of twisted obsession, nothing more than a typical tale of horror.  Had he been a woman, he would have immediately latched on to the opportunity to write a sublime romance instead. 

Lloyd Webber is a male, someone might object, and yet, he has turned the original story into the romance it should really have been in the first place, although, alas, there is no happy ending; at least, not for Erik.  Could it be that, since Lloyd Webber is a child of the century that gave birth to Carl Jung, who brought forth the concept of the animus (a woman's inner male), and the anima (a man's inner female), he was able to see what Leroux could not?  This is definitely food for thought...

The dark hero's soul mate brings him out of the pit of despair and darkness he has thus far been trapped in.  Able at last to love, because he himself has been loved, he is transformed, even if he remains a vampire, even if, as in the case of Erik, his physical deformity is not cured.  At the end of the story, the hero is no longer mysterious, no longer as dark as he seemed.  For he has become that most wonderful of creatures -- a man eternally united with his beloved, eternally devoted to her....

To reiterate, I find it very interesting that, at this point in time, in which we have already gone through several waves of feminism, this type of literary fare should still appeal to many of us women. I'm beginning to wonder, even as I fondly recall the previous paranormal novels I've read, whether this is altogether healthy, in an emotional sense. Why should women in particular be so willing to find the best in a man, in spite of obvious evidence to the contrary? In other words, why are women  still attracted to 'bad boys', in this age of increasing female power? (Although it's very obvious that we still have a long way to go....) Why, when first meeting a man, we seem to feel an instant attraction to brooding, silent types, ignoring the nice guys who would obviously not be "high-maintenance"? Could it be that we, like men, love a romantic challenge? It would seem, though, that we have a much harder obstacle to overcome -- that of 'transforming' a man, who is not exactly the loving type, into one who is. We think we can polish 'a diamond in the rough'. Why should this be so?

Perhaps this whole idea of the transformation of a dark hero by a woman's love works only in the realm of fantasy, and not in real life.

In a paragraph above, I mentioned women's innate compassion. Unfortunately, this very compassion can often override a woman's self-protective instincts. So she might give a man chance after chance after chance, when he has not shown any signs of changing, and never will. This is why emotional and other types of abuse are so prevalent in male/female relationships.

Perhaps a first step in dealing with this deplorable situation is to stop romanticizing the dark hero. But this is not easy at all.... So we women continue to be 'swept away' by these tortured, brooding men who end up really being as sweet as we had hoped they would be.

Perhaps what we need to do is to readily identify which men really are 'a diamond in the rough', and which ones only appear to be. In fiction, of course, they are all dark heroes with hidden hearts of gold. And they all think of themselves as monsters, until that 'special woman' comes along to let them know that they aren't. So it seems that there's one very important factor here: distinguishing -- in real life -- between those men who are aware of their inner darkness, and those who are not, and, even worse, refuse to acknowledge any personal flaws at all.

I can see that I will need to explore this theme further in future posts. It has so much to do with psychology, stereotypical gender roles, and even politics, whether in the board room, the office secretarial pool, or the national political scene.

Meanwhile, as Halloween approaches, I'm turning to my collection of unread paranormal romances, to see which one I might pick In my own defense, I will definitely stop reading any book in which a dark hero crosses any abusive lines!

What are your thoughts 
on this topic?
Please leave a comment
and let me know!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Shelf Control No. 4: The Summer of the Barshinskeys, by Diane Pearson

Welcome to Shelf Control!

This wonderful book meme is hosted by Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies! It features books that are sitting right on our shelves or e-readers, that we want to read, but have just not gotten to as yet.
For the guidelines, just click HERE!

Here's my pick for this week!

The Summer of the Barshinskeys
Hardcover, 465 pages
Crown, First Edition
August 22,1984
British Literature, HIstorical Fiction,

From the Goodreads Synopsis

"Although the story of the Barshinskeys, which became our story, too, stretched over many summers and winters, that golden time of 1902 was when our strange, involved relationship began, when our youthful longing for the exotic, for the fulfillment of dreams not even dreamed, took a solid and restless hold upon us."

So recounts Sophie Wolloughby as she remembers that magical English summer afternoon in the season of King Edward VII's coronation and at the end of the Boer War; that dreamlike lull in time when the hedgerows were smothered in elderflowers and the meadow air was sweet with haymaking. With her brother, Edwin, her sister, Lillian, Sophie listened to the seductive strains of the wild Russian violin tune Mr. Barshinskey played and watched spellbound as the ragtag Barshinskey family-Ivan, sullen and dirty; Mrs. Barshinskey, pale and withdrawn; and Galina, sensual, wanton, beautiful-made their way across Tyler's meadow and into the Willoughby's world.

The delighted Willoughby children could not know that this day and the Barshinskeys' arrival would change their lives forever-much as a breathless Europe could not anticipate that in a few short years, winds of revolution and war would whip across continents, sweeping away the old familiar way of life.

It is at this enchanted moment that The Summer of the Barshinskeys begins. A beautifully told, compelling story that moves from the small village of Kent to teeming London, from war-torn and revolution rocked Moscow to St. Petersburg, this is the unforgettable saga of two families whose destinies are fated to entwine in endless combinations of friendship, passion, hatred and love.

How I Got It
I've tried to remember, but I really can't....I've had this book sitting on my shelves for at least 15 years!! I must have gotten it at some used books bookstore.

When I Got It
I don't remember the exact date, either. All I know is that it's been sitting on my shelves much too long, waiting to be read!

Why I Want To Read It
I really need to read more historical fiction, as this is one of my favorite genres. However, I've allowed paranormal romance and urban fantasy to take control of my reading to such an extent that I haven't read historical fiction for the longest time....I HAVE read historical romance, but that's not quite the same thing. This particular novel strikes a chord with me, for some reason. Perhaps it's because there are Russian characters in it. I've been fascinated with 19th-century Russian culture for the longest time....Hopefully I'll get to this book soon!! 

What do you think of this book?
Have you read it, and if so, 
did you like it?
Please leave a comment and 
let me know!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Shelf Control No. 3: Storm Warning, by Mercedes Lackey

Welcome to Shelf Control!

This wonderful book meme is hosted by Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies! It features books that are sitting right on our shelves or e-readers, that we want to read, but have just not gotten to as yet.
For the guidelines, just click HERE!

Here's my pick for this week!

Storm Warning
Hardcover, 403 pages
DAW Books, Inc.
August 1,1994
Fantasy, Science Fiction

From the Goodreads Synopsis

In war-ravaged Valdemar, Queen Selenay struggles to overcome years of hatred, hostility, and superstition to forge an alliance with Valdemar's long-time enemy, the neighboring kingdom of Karse, to combat a mutual enemy from the mysterious Eastern Empire.

How I Got It
From the bargain book section at Barnes & Noble. The price was $5.98 + tax.
The original price was $21.95 + tax!

When I Got It
Gosh, I really don't remember.....
All I know is that I've had it for a couple of years now -- maybe 4 or 5.

Why I Want To Read It
This author's work has been compared to that of J.R.R. Tolkien. That automatically makes a book worthy to join my collection! Also, I think that this cover is one of the MOST beautiful I've ever seen!  I really need to get this one under my belt pretty soon.....

What do you think of this book?
Have you read it, and if so, 
did you like it?
Please leave a comment and 
let me know!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Shelf Control No. 2: Toward The Gleam, by T.M. Doran

Welcome to Shelf Control!

This wonderful book meme is hosted by Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies! It features books that are sitting right on our shelves or e-readers, that we want to read, but have just not gotten to as yet.
For the guidelines, just click HERE!

Here's my pick for this week!

Toward The Gleam
Hardcover, 481 pages
Ignatius Press
March 1, 2011
Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Mystery

From the Goodreads Synopsis

Between the two world wars, on a hike in the English countryside, Professor John Hill takes refuge from a violent storm in a cave. There he nearly loses his life, but he also makes an astonishing discovery — an ancient manuscript housed in a cunningly crafted metal box. Though a philologist by profession, Hill cannot identify the language used in the manuscript and the time period in which it is was made, but he knows enough to make an educated guess — that the book and its case are the fruits of a long-lost, but advanced civilization.

The translation of the manuscript and the search for its origins become a life-long quest for Hill. As he uncovers an epic that both enchants and inspires him, he tracks down scholars from Oxford to Paris who can give him clues. Along the way, he meets several intriguing characters, including a man keenly interested in obtaining artifacts from a long-lost civilization that he believes was the creation of a superior race, and will help him fulfill his ambition to rule other men. Concluding that Hill must have found something that may help him in this quest, but knowing not what it is and where it is hidden, he has Hill, his friends at Oxford, and his family shadowed and threatened until finally he and Hill face off in a final, climactic confrontation.
A story that features a giant pirate and slaver, a human chameleon on a perilous metaphysical journey, a mysterious hermit, and creatures both deadly and beautiful, this is a novel that explores the consequences of the predominant ideas of the 20th Century.

How I Got It
I purchased this book Amazon U.S.

When I Got It
I placed the order on August 25, 2013.

Why I Want To Read It
This novel reminds me somewhat of the work of J.R.R. Tolkien, who is one of my literary idols! The cover is not only GORGEOUS, but also has a very "Tolkienish" feel to it. The main character is a philologist, just like Tolkien was, and, also like Tolkien, he was fascinated by ancient languages. Of course, I find the plot totally fascinating, as well, with its mix of  fantasy, intrigue, and philosophy. I hope to be able to read this book before this year ends!

What do you think of this book?
Have you read it, and if so, 
did you like it?
Please leave a comment and 
let me know!

Book Review: Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power, by Elizabeth Clare Prophet

Kabbalah: Key to Your Inner Power
(Mystical Paths of the World's Religions)
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, Patricia R. Spadaro, Murray L. Steinman
Trade Paperback, 302 pages
Summit University Press
January 1, 1997
Judaism, Metaphysical, Mysticism, Nonfiction, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality,Self Help, 
Theology, Theosophy

Book Synopsis:
This notable work explores the rich mystical tradition of Judaism, known as Kabbalah, and shows how to apply its extraordinary insights to one's own spiritual quest. It describes Kabbalah's Tree of Life and its theories on the creation, the origin of evil, the feminine aspect of God, the mysteries of the soul, and soul mates.

My Review

I've been interested in the Kabbalah for a very long time, although I have not read about it on a consistent basis. This book captured and held my interest throughout. The authors -- the main one being Elizabeth Clare Prophet -- quote from Kabbalistic texts such as The Zohar and the Sepher Yetzirah, as well as from the works of authors well-versed in the concepts of this fascinating mystical topic. The book is extensively annotated, which is something I greatly appreciated.

At first, I  wasn't sure about reading this book. Prophet was the head of a controversial New Age religion known as the "Church Universal and Triumphant", which is still in existence, although, from what I've read about it online, it does seem to be dwindling. It's basically been categorized as a cult. Even her own children have repudiated the church's teachings, and Prophet herself was mired in controversy during her lifetime, especially after her false prophecy about the coming of a nuclear strike on the U.S., back in the 90s. This so-called prophecy prompted the building of underground bunkers by the church, at the cost of millions of dollars.

I was therefore surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, in spite of the above, as well as in spite of some of the material included within its pages. 

Prophet doesn't limit herself to an analysis and explanation of the Kabbalah itself. She interweaves its insights with the teachings of her own church, which were heavily influenced by Theosophy. For those who are unfamiliar with this philosophical quasi-religion, it was founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a 19th-century Russian mystic. She claimed to be in contact with "Ascended Masters" who regularly gave her messages, which became the basis for her books. 

Later on, Alice Bailey continued to channel the Ascended Master teachings, as did Guy and Edna Ballard, of the "I Am" Movement. Various so-called masters have been identified, such as El Morya, Saint Germain, Kuthumi, and even Jesus.  Prophet and her late husband, Mark L. Prophet, incorporated these masters, as well as some new ones, into their own religious philosophy.

Prophet does do a creditable job of making this bogus New Age "theology" fit in with the teachings of Kabbalah, but only to a point. I did not like her inclusion of these teachings, which assert that we all have a "Holy Christ Self", as well as an "I AM Presence". As a Christian, I would have to say that these teachings are totally heretical. They imply, or sometimes even state directly, that we are all gods. Paradoxically, Prophet sounds like a solid orthodox Christian in many parts of the book. However, she categorically denies that Jesus Christ is the "only" Son of God. Instead, she affirms, as many New Age gurus do, that we mere humans can someday attain "Christhood". Of course, I found this very offensive, as she's totally denying the work of Jesus as Savior of the world.

Still, something about this book called out to me, so I began to read it.

At the beginning of the book, Prophet ties together the theory of The Big Bang with Jewish mysticism. This is nothing new, however, as another author, Migene Gonzalez-Wippler, has done the same thing in her own book about the subject, A Kabbalah for the Modern World, which was first published in 1974, and has gone through several editions. Still, it was interesting to read Prophet's take on this correlation. 

Prophet also traces the beginnings of Jewish mysticism from what is known as "Merkabah Mysticism", which is based on Ezequiel's vision of the Throne of God in the Old Testament. 

She then goes on to discuss the Tree of Life itself, the Shekhinah (this is the feminine aspect of God), the three parts of the soul, and several other topics, all of which I found totally fascinating. She also correlates the Sefirot (the emanations of the Tree of Life) with the Indian system of chakras, something that was also fascinating

I found the last four chapters of the book very satisfying, in the spiritual sense. In Chapter 7, which is titled "The Practical Path of the Mystic, the authors (as mentioned above, Prophet co-wrote this book with two other people) describe the process of emulating the virtues of each sepfirah (this is the singular form of the noun "sefirot") in our daily lives. Chapter 8, titled "Prayer and the Power of God's Names", deals with the combination of prayer and meditation. Chapter 9, "The Mystic Ascent", and Chapter 10, "The Creative Power of Sound", are also very spiritually satisfying. These chapters discuss a method of "ascending" on the Tree of Life through prayers directed to each sephirah, which are all aspects of God.

In short, this book presents a very beautiful, elucidating, and engaging presentation of the Kabbalah, in spite of its (the book's) basic shortcoming, in my opinion -- the mixing in of Theosophical concepts of "the Christ within" and the Ascended Masters. 

As with all of the books Elizabeth Clare Prophet has penned, whether alone or with other authors, this one is not only well annotated, but includes an extensive bibliography, as well. She references such Kabbalistic authors as Moses Cordovero, Gershom Scholem, who is the most important modern scholar on Jewish mysticism, Aryeh Kaplan, author of The Bahir, Daniel Chanan Matt, a modern translator of The Zohar, and Z'ev ben Shimon Halevi, a current teacher of the Kabbalah, who resides in England. 

For those interested in this ancient mystical philosophy and spiritual practice, this book offers much of value. Readers of different faiths can simply overlook those things they find jarring or even too ridiculous to accept, and plunge into the spiritual riches of the Kabbalah.

If I were to rate this book, I would give it four stars.

About the Author

 From Goodreads

Elizabeth Clare Prophet (née Wulf) (April 8, 1939 - October 15, 2009) was an American spiritual author and lecturer.

She was a modern-day mystic, author, lecturer and spiritual teacher. She has been featured on NBC's Ancient Prophecies, A&E's The Unexplained, and has talked about her work on Larry King Live. Her lectures and workshops have been broadcast on more than 200 cable TV stations throughout the United States.

Among her bestselling titles are Fallen Angels and the Origins of Evil, How to Work with Angels, Soul Mates and Twin Flames, Creative Abundance, Saint Germain On Alchemy, and Violet Flame to Heal Body, Mind and Soul.

Elizabeth Clare Prophet’s autobiography is entitled, In My Own Words: Memoirs of a Twentieth-Century Mystic.

Online Links