January 25, 2008

Poetry Friday - Edgar Allan Poe

A cipher - a code - secret writing - played an extremely important part in The Case of The Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery. One of my favorite poets, Edgar Allan Poe, was a celebrated cryptographist. He is considered one of the first to write a detective story which in a sense is breaking the code of mystery surrounding a crime - solving the question of who committed it; so it is perhaps natural that he contributed to the popularity of cryptography during his lifetime. Poe’s short story “The Gold Bug” published in 1843 relates the story of a man who finds buried treasure by solving a secret code or cipher. His "Valentine" is not only contains a cipher but much word play.

Can you solve the mystery of

"A Valentine"
For her this rhyme is penned, whose luminous eyes,
brightly expressive as the twins of Loeda,
Shall find her own sweet name, that, nestling lies
Upon the page, enwrapped from every reader.
Search narrowly the lines! - they hold a treasure
Divine - a talisman - an amulet
That must be worn at heart. Search well the measure -
The words - the syllables! Do not forget
The trivialest point, or you may lose you labor!
And yet there is in this no Gordian knot
Which one might not undo without a saber,
If one could merely comprehend the plot.
Enwritten upon the leaf where now are peering
Eyes scintillating soul, there lie perdus
Three eloquent word oft uttered in the hearing
Of poets, by poets - as the name is a poet's too.
Its letters, although naturally lying
Like the knight Pinto - Mendez Ferdinando -
Still form a synonym for Truth. - Cease trying!
You will not read the riddle, though you do the best you
can do.
from Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Poems
(Library of Classic Poets)

Note from the text:
[To translate the address, read the first letter of the first line in connection with the second letter of the second line, the third letter of the third line, the fourth of the fourth, and so on to the end. The name will thus appear.]

If you solved the cipher, you might enjoy knowing that the address was an American (1811-1850) poet and one of the most popular women writers of her day who exchanged romantic poems with Poe.

In my book . . .
Ah - Sweet mystery! Yet, the untangled mystery hints at more mystery. It sent me searching for information about Osgood. It seems that Poe’s young wife approved of their flirtatious poetry exchange and was even friends with Osgood. A valentine can be simply a tribute or warm praise through words. So, to Poe, whose birthday was January 19th, I send this valentine!

January 23, 2008

Enola Holmes

As previous posts have indicated, I am a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. I am also a purist when it comes to my favorite characters. I am not a great fan of adding to or taking away from their known history. Therefore, I was very hesitant to read an Enola Holmes mystery. As conceived by Nancy Springer, Enola is the much younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. My curiosity finally won out and I read The Case of The Missing Marquess. I was pleasantly surprised and extremely glad that I did.

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery
by Nancy Springer
A 2007 nominee for the Edgar Best Juvenile Mystery

Enola is everything that you would imagine a Holmes family member to be - intelligent, resilient, self-reliant, and quick witted.

The first few chapters are a little slow moving but necessary to prepare the reader to accept and understand why a younger sister of the famous brothers could be unknown to their admiring public. But when the action eventually begins, it begins with a bang and never lags until it reaches a satisfying conclusion.

On her fourteenth birthday, Enola Holmes’ mother mysteriously disappears. Enola has for all intents and purposes been left to take care of herself on the Holmes' country estate, Ferndell Hall. She has had no contact with her brothers since their father’s death ten years earlier. But her telegram to them telling of their missing mother brings them back into her life. They arrive to find things very different from what they expected. The estate is neglected. There are only two servants. As Enola tells her horrified Victorian siblings, she had educated herself by reading “every book in Ferndell Hall’s library, from A Child’s Garden of Verses to the entire Encyclopedia Britannica” including Shakespeare, Aristotle, Locke, and the essays of Mary Wollstonecraft. This was definitely not the proper education for a young lady of those times.

Mycroft and Sherlock reached the conclusion that their mother had embezzled all the funds they had been sending for the upkeep of Ferndell Hall and the care of Enola and had run away to live a life of freedom few women at that time could have. They decided to transform Enola into a proper Victorian young lady. She was to be dressed appropriately (corseted) and sent to boarding school. However, Enola had other plans. Her name, as her mother had often reminded her, spelled backwards reads alone and that Enola was capable of caring for herself - alone. Which she did, ingeniously escaping her brothers’ clutches to begin her own search for their mother.

Ciphers have been very popular in young adult books in recent years - Chasing Vermeer and The Mysterious Benedict Society are two that come to mind. For Enola’s birthday, her mother left her a gift that made no sense to Enola - drawing materials, a hand made book entitled the Meaning of Flowers, and a book on ciphers. Enola would cleverly learn that this was her mother’s cipher - clues to a means that would allow Enola to continue her independent lifestyle. Enola eventually arrived in London where after rescuing a missing young lord she decided on a course that would completely change her life.
I knew things Sherlock Holmes failed even to imagine. . . . In fact, while Sherlock Holmes dismissed 'the fair sex' as irrational and insignificant, I knew of matters his 'logical' mind could never grasp. I knew an entire world of communications belonging to women, secret codes of hat brims and rebellion, handkerchiefs and subterfuge, feather fans and covert defiance, sealing-wax and messages in the positioning of a postage-stamp, calling cards and a cloak of ladylike conspiracy in which I could wrap myself. I expected that without much difficulty I could incorporate weaponry as well as defense and supplies into a corset. I could go places and accomplish things Sherlock Holmes could never understand or imagine, much less do.

And I planned to.

I enjoy well researched mysteries. They allow me to be an arm chair traveler not only of beautiful geographical locals like national parks and the architectural wonders of distant cities but also of fascinating time periods both past and future. This is a well researched mystery. Springer took me into the dark areas of late nineteenth century London in a most realistic way. Young readers should be aware that this is a London of danger and cruelty and horrors.

In my book . . . Enola is a worthy Holmes, a worthy early warrior in the battle for the recognition of women as beings capable of intelligent thought and decisions, and a worthy sister to be adopted by Nancy Drew. I eagerly look forward to more of her adventures. Let the games begin!

January 11, 2008

Poetry Friday - Strange Weather

What a week here in south Mississippi - a very warm week - reaching 80° on Tuesday. It is 58° today, and the predicted high for next week, seven days from that 80° day is also 58°. How about that? Thursday afternoon the students of my elementary school spent two hours in their safe places because of tornado warnings. Heat, torrential rain, scary wind, and now extreme cold - all in one week of this new year.

Ironically, first grade students at my school started their Ezra Jack Keats study with
A Snowy Day this strange week. So in honor of snow:

"Winter Morning"
by Ogden Nash
Winter is the king of showmen,
Turning tree stumps into snow men
And houses into birthday cakes
And spreading sugar over the lakes.
Smooth and clean and frost white
The world looks good enough to bite.
That's the season to be young,
Catching snowflakes on your tongue.

Snow is snowy when it's snowing
I'm sorry it's slushy when it's going.

"Snowy Morning"
by Lilian Moore
gently this morning,
to a different day.

There is no bray
of buses,
no brake growls,
no siren howls and
no horns

There is only
the silence
of a city
hushed by snow.

both poems from
Snowy Day: Stories and Poems edited by Caroline Feller Bauer

I have been lucky enough during my lifetime to experience a city hushed by snow - this very self same city which experienced 80° this week.

In my book . . . the silence is preferable to the howl of the wind.

January 4, 2008

Poetry Friday

Two Poems in honor of stalagmites in my bird bath (Here in south Mississippi we had a morning with a temperature of 14°!):

"Welcome to the New Year"

by Eleanor Farjeon
Hey, my lad, ho, my lad!
Here’s a New Broom.
Heaven’s your housetop
And Earth is your room.

Tuck up your shirtsleeves,
There’s plenty to do-
Look at the muddle
That’s waiting for you!

Dust in the corners
And dirt on the floor,
Cobwebs still clinging
To window and door.

Hey, my lad! ho, my lad!
Nimble and keen -
Here’s your New Broom, my lad!
See you sweep clean.
from All the Silver Pennies
edited by Blanch Jennings Thompson

"Fire and Ice"
by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
from the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry
edited by Richard Ellmann and Robert O’Clair

Eleanor Farjeon an English author was a friend of Robert Frost whose summer home near Middlebury, Vermont was vandalized December 28, 2007. The Associated Press reported that many items were damaged or burned by vandals who apparently broke into the home for a drinking party. Frost summered at the home from 1939 until his death in 1963. Thankfully, the cabin located on the property where Frost wrote was not damaged.

The phrase “a new broom sweeps clean” was used quite frequently by my mother to encourage me to begin anew - appropriate for a new year. Farjeon’s poem certainly infers this. Frost’s words were somewhat prophetic. Hate almost destroyed his home on a cold winter’s night.

In my book . . . Our world needs a new broom.