Can you imagine Peter Pan without Neverland?
Lemuel Gulliver without Lilliput and Brobdingnag?
The Pied Piper without Hamelin?
A good setting is more than just a backdrop!
Join us every Saturday as we write about our favourite settings and the books that make them come alive!
Lemuel Gulliver without Lilliput and Brobdingnag?
The Pied Piper without Hamelin?
A good setting is more than just a backdrop!
Join us every Saturday as we write about our favourite settings and the books that make them come alive!
Still not convinced? Here are some great reasons to link up a post . . .
It's a great way to write an insightful post about a book (or a movie!) without producing yet another review.
Note that a "hot" title will get scores of reviews all over the blogosphere. Pretty soon, they'll all start to blend together. There are lots of ways to make your review stand out from the pack--and I'm sure you already use some of those clever tricks--but my own favourite is to let your review play dress-up in Locus Focus clothing. =)
It will give you a chance to revisit old favourites.
I'm sure that if someone asked you to name a book with a really vivid, memorable setting, you'd pick an old read that has stuck with you through the years. While I don't always reread these familiar favourites, I like finally being able to focus my thoughts on why their settings really work for them. So if all the new, hyped books aren't really your thing and you'd like to write about some older books, please consider creating your own Locus Focus post.
With all due humility . . . I make a pretty good blog friend. =)
That is to say, I read every linked up Locus Focus post, leave a meaningful comment, and go back for participants' other posts. If you have your own meme, I'll definitely join it in the future, too--although I can't promise to be as regular as I'd like. If you've been wondering where all the chatty bloggers have been and been hoping for more combox conversation, I'm your girl!
You're very welcome to post whatever setting resonates with you each week, but if you enjoy a bit of a twist, you can also join me as I explore different themes.And please feel free to browse through these old Locus Focus posts. They contain the links to other bloggers' Loci Foci from the same week, so knock yourselves out with all the settings you feel you can handle! =)
November 2015The theme is Conspiratorial Corners--the places where people lay their secret plans!
* * * * * * * * * * *
#1 Two Mills (Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli)
. . . a real sense of urban geography--which totally suits this novel about a boy who is a walking urban legend. Indeed, there is something mythical about someone who is at home in both the West End, the white part of town, and the East End, the black part of town.
#2 Tadfield (Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)
. . . the feeling Tadfield gives off is the opposite of the spooky feeling one gets when passing a haunted area. It is "a cherished feel." Indeed, it's not the setting one would imagine for the Apocalypse itself.
#3 Sunday's Home (The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton)
. . .a very vague description of the most important setting in the novel--and Chesterton knows it! He deliberately writes it that way. For how else could any one place match the childhood memories of six different men?
#4 Loob Bunga (Owl Friends by Carla M. Pacis)
. . . could be any of the many resettlement villages which cropped up after the 1991 Mount Pinatubo eruption. I suppose it's very "genericness" is supposed to make it more universal; but I don't think she achieves that.
#5 The Escolta (The Manila We Knew edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio)
What really makes me sad is that local movie studios have neither the desire nor (it seems) the imagination to bring this pocket of the Philippines' genteel past back to life--at least on celluloid.
#6 Number 75, Ortega Street (Barefoot in Fire: A World War II Childhood by Barbara-Ann Gamboa Lewis)
. . . it had been looted of water pipes, window shutters and wiring before the Gamboas moved in; so by that time, all it had to offer were walls, floors and a roof . . . and a chicken coop . . . and a big backyard extending into a wide field . . . and a ratilis tree in the front yard. On the whole, it wasn't a bad place for a child . . .
#7 Northanger Abbey (Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen)
Don't we all have a dream setting? A place where, if we could only reach it, we'd certainly be perfectly happy? But dream settings, personal "genres," and our own characters do not always line up to give us our ideal happy ending.
#8 St. Andrew's Convent (The Woman Who Had Two Navels by Nick Joaquin)
There is something so perfect about this religious house, which reminds its monks that the real challenge of religious life has always been to be in the world yet not of the world--as Jesus Himself saw no contradiction between His public ministry and His attendance at weddings and parties with tax collectors and prostitutes.
#9 FAMILY HOME CHALLENGE Ramsay House (Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas)
In the same way that people and their pets can grow to resemble each other, I think that people and their houses can age in similar patterns. But this is when they meet when one party is young. In this story, both the home and the family are relatively old . . .
#10 The Home under the Ground (Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie)
. . .a home enhanced by a tree and an adventure enhanced by a girl, all wrapped up in the warm mystery of mothers and children that is the very heart of one of the best children's classics ever written.
#11 The Wynand House (The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand)
This house, which is not quite a home, applies another meaning to the word setting. It turns the novel's heroine into a jewel to be both shown off and locked up--which is exactly why her husband commissioned the house in the first place.
#12 The New House (The Moffats by Eleanor Estes)
. . . the family is willing to give it a fair chance, starting with Jane, who practices walking home from school to this house, going all the way to the back door and pushing it open. Yet it doesn't really feel like home, and she finds herself crying in its tiny back yard . . . under the branches of the new neighbours' tree because they don't have one of their own.
#13 SUBTERRANEAN SETTINGS CHALLENGE The Downside (Downsiders by Neal Shusterman)
It is a world made almost entirely of Topside junk--old subway tokens, discarded bottle caps, rags and tatters from old clothes--and yet it is not drab or dingy. The Downsiders know how to take the broken, unwanted pieces of a civilisation which discards what it ought to save and to transform them into things of oddball yet breathtaking beauty.
#14 Circle VIII (Inferno by Dante)
It is true that we have no guarantees about what the afterlife will be like for anyone; but we cannot dismiss Dante's imaginative portrayal out of hand. He wrote the Inferno not out of a perverse desire to revenge himself on everyone who had ever pissed him off, but out of an intense longing for justice to be done and for the truth to be told.
#15 The Country at the Back of the North Wind (At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald)
At the very end, when we find out North Wind's deepest, truest nature, we finally figure out what this mysterious country at her back (yes, literally at her back) actually is. . . The story finally crosses over the line between fairy and faerie.
#16 Locus Focus-Top Ten Picks Cross-over (Favourite Fictional Places)
J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth . . . Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea . . . Kresley Cole's Lore . . . Brian Jacques' Mossflower Country . . . Norman Juster's "Tollbooth" World . . . Johann Wyss' New Switzerland . . . Neal Shusterman's Downside . . . J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry . . . C.S. Lewis' Cair Paravel . . . and Madeleine L'Engle's Star-watching Rock
#17 SCHOOL SETTINGS CHALLENGE Alberto's Apartment (Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder)
. . . the classroom--or if you wish to be less structured, the learning environment--should reflect the student. Jostein Gaarder is more ambitious: in Sophie's World, the learning environment reflects the whole world. Indeed, it potentially is the whole world, although the characters don't set foot out of Norway.
#18 Metron Ariston (A Wind in the Door by Madeleine L'Engle)
In our age of cyber classrooms, I suppose we can see Metron Ariston as the first (or one of the first) virtual classrooms in literature--one in which the students' and teacher's age, size and distance from each other don't matter in the least.
#19 Sword & Cross Reform School (Fallen by Lauren Kate)
. . . it's no surprise that she warms up to what is supposed to be a hell on earth rather quickly. A school that unapologetically edgy can't help but be loved. Heck, I want to go to school there, even if the price of admission is having to wear a metal bracelet that will give me an electric shock if I seem to be starting trouble.
#20 Classroom Nineteen (The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier)
. . . Trinity High School is . . . being eaten alive from within by secrets, intrigues and the psychological games of both the headmaster and the pupil who runs the student body's "shadow" government. To these two figures, high school is like a chess match and everyone in it who isn't a big enough player is just a pawn.
#21 SCARY SETTINGS CHALLENGE Our Lady of Perpetual Reflections (Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman)
A hall of mirrors gives the illusion of infinity even when one is in a tight, enclosed space--which is exactly what you're trapped in when hell exists only in your own mind. And what else would there be to look at but your own self-image, distorted even at best: endless reflections of your worst thoughts about yourself . . .
#22 Circle IX (Inferno by Dante)
And this is where it gets really personal--for what is more personal than betrayal? I like the reading that says that these sinners are frozen forever in ice that will never melt because acts of treachery are devoid of human warmth . . .
#23 The Imperial Suite (The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe)
. . . at the close of one night of revelry--which the guests can mark only because of a "gigantic clock of ebony" in the last room--these chambers that seem so perfectly sealed off from the world and from the implications of life, are visited by the most gruesomely possible reminder of the guests' mortality.
#24 Thornfield Hall (Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte)
Thornfield is a cruel sort of house--but like Jane herself, it is cruel to be kind, and very rigidly moral. And as loyal as it is to its first mistress, it admits that Jane could have been very happy there, had things only unfolded differently.
#25 SCARY SETTINGS CHALLENGE: THE MOVIE EDITION Hollywood (Scream 3)
Every Horror movie that comes out of Tinsel Town only distracts us from the fact that the scariest setting of all, filled with some of the sickest psychos of all, is Hollywood itself.
#26 NON-FICTION CHALLENGE JFK Stadium, Philadelphia (Wild Boy: My Life in Duran Duran by Andy Taylor)
Live Aid, 1985 was a rock epic that mustered a force of two billion . . . and did not win a single war. That it was also the backdrop of the demise of a rock band that could have then laid claim to the title "Biggest Band in the World" seems only typical.
#27 Pemberley (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith)
Yes, it's still Pemberley--the setting which both marks and triggers the turning in Elizabeth's feelings toward Mr. Darcy--but it's Pemberley as you've never seen it before. For it is the home of Darcy as you've never seen him before: one of the fiercest and most dedicated zombie slayers in England.
#28 China (Homesick: My Own Story by Jean Fritz)
The writer L.P. Hartley has described the past as "a foreign country" where people do things differently. Who better to understand that than Fritz, whose past literally is a foreign country?
#29 NARNIA DAY Deathwater Island (The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" by C.S. Lewis)
. . . Lewis is drawing not just from the Midas myth, but also from the great tradition of adventure stories set on the high seas. Whether or not we realise it, we expect far-flung, obscure islands to hold secret caches of gold. Lewis knows that and seems happy to write to our expectations--even if he does use a heavy-handed (heavy-pawed?) approach.
#30 WILD CARD DAY Mount Snowdon (Thirteen Book Prelude by William Wordsworth)
. . . a seemingly straightforward hike becomes a natural contemplative's pilgrimage with luminous intellectual fruits. Whenever I reread Wordsworth, the world seems more beautiful, the human mind more sublime, all problems more fixable.
#31 New York City (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand)
A great man looks at a great city he did not build and concludes that it is he who is to give it its meaning--if not its name. Never mind that it already has a name--and forget about the meek inheriting the earth. In this world, the cities have always belonged to the great.
#32 Platform Nine and Three-Quarters (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling)
It's the first real test of Harry's ability to do magic--his true initiation into the wizarding world that completely makes up for his having been a stranger to it for ten years. If he had failed at this point, all the learning in Hogwarts could have done nothing for him. But he makes it through . . . and it is this point, more than any other, that marks Voldemort's ultimate failure.
#33 NARNIA DAY: THE RETURN Cair Paravel (The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis)
Cair Paravel is possibly the most wonderful castle in all of literature--if only because . . . we never see it the same way twice. It is the sort of place we could live in and be happy in forever: I think Lewis knew this, which is why he took pains to make this castle as elusive--and transitory--as it is desirable.
#34 St. Paul, Minnesota (The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman by Louise Plummer)
This novel has been one of my favourite holiday reads since I first read it in 1998. Call me a sentimental fool, but I'm a sucker for a Perfect Christmas myself, and this book seriously delivers.
#35 FUTURE SETTINGS CHALLENGE The Palace of Green Porcelain (The Time Machine by H.G. Wells)
. . . in the desolation of this once-proud testament to the human intellect, the last man of science left in the world--possibly the greatest scientific mind of his age--has no greater delight than the matches which can give him fire . . . and a broken lever which he can use as a club.
#36 North American Confederacy (The Probability Broach: The Graphic Novel by L. Neil Smith and Scott Bieser)
But for all its fascinating features, this parallel future is only as wonderful as its history. Indeed, I'd say that half the fun of reading this novel is playing "spot the differences." So let's see . . . In the North American Confederacy, George Washington was shot for treason . . .
#37 Mr. Charrington's Shop (Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell)
. . . [Orwell] makes us forget that the room is probably filthy, the bed definitely full of bugs. As he has made the junk shop stand in for the past, he makes its upstairs room another Garden of Eden, where Winston and Julia can be another Adam and Eve.
#38 FUTURE SETTINGS CHALLENGE: THE MOVIE EDITION Old Detroit (RoboCop)
. . . remember that this Detroit is . . . in a whole other world, where it is not barbaric to take the body of a dead man and use it to build a cyborg meant to render those who are merely human obsolete. You can't expect beautiful historic buildings to have escaped demolition.
#39 ROMANTIC RENDEZVOUS CHALLENGE Grand Olympus Resort (Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb)
When the bride is a homicide detective who isn't about to quit her job, the groom is a billionaire who knows lots of creative ways around the law, and they meet when he is a suspect in a murder investigation . . . where can they have a honeymoon that is meaningful to both of them?
#40 Highlands of Scotland (Kiss of the Highlander by Karen Marie Moning)
There was no point in the entire novel when I believed her story was taking place in Scotland--whether the Scotland of our own time or of the sixteenth century. Yet although Moning can't deliver an authentic sense of place, she still expertly sets the stage for romance.
#41 Hawaii (Eden Burning by Elizabeth Lowell)
In a genre full of "wallpaper" settings, Lowell's Hawaii is a fresco worthy of a Renaissance cathedral. The landscape of Hawaii, its flora and fauna and most of all its volcanoes, are as essential to the story as the two leads.
#42 Stony Cross Park (Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas)
It is a very encouraging place for lovers, willing to arrange "accidental" meetings, keep their secrets, and make sure everyone is shown to best advantage, whether it takes the torchlight of its centuries-old May Day festival or a bright spring morning and a really angry goose.
#43 BATTLEGROUNDS CHALLENGE Quebec, Late 1750s (My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley)
I've long been haunted by the image of Cyn's "house of corpses." It says so much about the kind of man he is--and because it is the one story of his campaigns that he chooses to tell the woman he wants to marry, it also reveals what kind of husband he will be.
#44 The Village by the Sea (Number the Stars by Lois Lowry)
. . . even this rural setting, once content to be simply pleasant and pretty, has joined the Resistance against the Germans, and it matches [ten-year-old] Annemarie in its readiness to yield its own childlike face to the scars of courage.
#45 The Refugee Camp (The Pirates of Pompeii (Roman Mysteries #3) by Caroline Lawrence)
Thanks to the international media, we don't have to have lived through a natural disaster to know what a refugee camp looks like. After a week of watching the rescue and aid efforts in Japan on the news, this first-century setting doesn't seem too long ago or too far away.
#46 MIDDLE-EARTH DAY Rivendell (The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien)
. . . anyone can build a home in a "Deep Dale of the Cleft" (which is the literal translation of its name) and the Elves have many great dwellings all over Middle-earth; but to have established the last house that feels like home at "the very edge of the Wild"--the last safe harbour before the realm of great adventures and peril--is a rare and special thing.
#47 "PLACES OF PRAYER" CHALLENGE The Genesee Abbey (The Genesee Diaries by Henri J.M. Nouwen)
. . . as these upstate New York monks fasted in solidarity with persecuted Buddhist monks in Vietnam and prayed for starving farmers in Nigeria, he found himself living the concept that a cloistered contemplative community . . . can become a prayer centre of the whole world.
#48 St. Michael's Church (The Spell of the Sorcerer's Skull by John Bellairs)
A secret ritual? In a Catholic church? On an ordinary Wednesday night in the suburbs? Well, this is an 80s Gothic novel written by a practicing papist. Bring on the rites, I say!
#49 The Church High on the Bluff (The Black Pearl by Scott O'Dell)
. . . the whole place's sense of identity comes as much from its devotion to its patron as to its main source of livelihood . . . We see this in the village's devotion to Mary, whose image among them is half-Indian, half-Spanish and whom they honour with a grotto of seashells and processions to the sea's edge.
#50 St. Peter's Basilica (What Katy Did Next by Susan Coolidge)
. . . through a combination of circumstance and symbolism that was probably unconscious on Coolidge's part, Katy never gets to the inside of this great church. And isn't the sad thing that the whole point of the dome is to stand under it and look up at it--which one can only do from the inside?
#51 MOVIE SETTINGS CHALLENGE Shermer High School Library (The Breakfast Club)
I've started listing the evidence that our developed world is actually a dystopia, and the first entry on it is the fact that institutions of learning are difficult to tell apart from centres for juvenile detention.
#52 Crystal Lake (Friday the 13th Franchise)
Ah, don't you hate it when incredible beauty is just a mask for something else? . . . Pamela Voorhees certainly did, on the first morning she realised she would never be able to look at Crystal Lake again without remembering how her son died . . .
#53 "Salzburg, Austria, in the Last Golden Days of the Thirties" (The Sound of Music)
Today's setting is a true intersection of space-time: a place which still exists today, but presented as it was in a time that we will never recover.
#54 The Bottom of the Ocean (The Abyss)
On a human level, the conflict is between ruthless (and increasingly paranoid) military men and slightly anarchic (but completely sane) civilians. You can find that drama in lots of movies--but The Abyss is likely the only one which sets the story so deeply under water.
#55 FOREIGN SHORES CHALLENGE Ifugao (The God Stealer by F. Sionil Jose)
This is a rice bowl with more grandeur than actual grains. But to Philip, it is also home. And to Sam, it is the last exotic stop he must make before he returns to his own home in the United States.
#56 The Grade School Building (The Secret by Lin Acacio-Flores)
I can't think of a more fitting setting for a scare [than] a Catholic boarding school during the early days of World War II in the Pacific: a place where only prayer can dispel the fear of hell and a time that drives home the dread of death.
#57 The Cave (Cave and Shadows by Nick Joaquin)
The cave in the novel is the cause of a dispute between Manila's most devout Catholics and her most passionate neo-pagans . . . The Catholics want to use it for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; the pagans want to use it for their ritual sacrifice of white chickens.
#58 Foreign Shores Wrap-up
. . . at least twelve different ways of looking at the Philippines . . . Banana Leaf Summer . . . Barefoot in Fire: A World War II Childhood . . . By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II . . . Cave and Shadows . . . The God Stealer . . . The Manila We Knew . . . Owl Friends . . . Po-on . . . The Secret . . . Smaller and Smaller Circles . . . Tall Story . . . The Woman Who Had Two Navels
#59 DISTANT ISLES CHALLENGE The Island of the Blue Dolphins (Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell)
. . . remember that Karana is not stranded in some hostile environment she has to adapt to, but is simply home alone and having to make the best out of a horrible domestic situation. This isn't "Man vs. Nature" but "Woman + Home".
#60 Surprise Island (The Boxcar Children #2: Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner)
. . . the waters that seem to isolate them from the mainland might as well be the encircling arms of a guardian. Surprise Island is the world's biggest, safest free-range daycare . . . but don't let on to the children. ;-)
#61 DISTANT ISLES CHALLENGE: THE MOVIE EDITION "Skull Island" (King Kong)
I really love the Lost World element . . . In the span of half an hour, we see our heroes endangered by a stampeding stegosaurus, a bloodthirsty brontosaurus, a giant serpent, and even a pteranodon thrown in for good measure. Oh, yeah, and Kong, too.
#62 WIZARDING WORLD DAY The Great Hall (Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling)
. . . the enchanted ceiling? Everyone will tell you that it closes the deal. There is no ambiance like what you get from thousands of floating candles and a night sky silvery with starlight.
#63 Camp Green Lake (Holes by Louis Sachar)
As the desert monks of the early Church understood implicitly, the stark, barren settings of the world always contain great potential for spiritual work--and that is what Camp Green Lake is ostensibly for . . .
#64 The Great Desert (King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard)
There's something about crossing an arid wilderness that really separates the men from the boys, whether this passage is a rite of adolescence or a rite of adventure.
#65 Malpais (Brave New World by Aldous Huxley)
The World State may be sterile by choice, but Malpais is a horrible place to raise a child. Perhaps the cultural memory of the latter was the direct cause of the former--just like a traumatic childhood that convinces one who survives it never to be a parent himself.
#66 Phoenix, Arizona (Twilight by Stephenie Meyer)
If Bella had met a vampire in Phoenix, she could have written him off as a hallucination; havng met a vampire in Forks, she accepts him as a dream come true.
#67 SETTINGS IN SONG CHALLENGE Hotel California (Hotel California by The Eagles)
. . . my high school Music teacher, a "first generation" Eagles fan, told my class about the freaky 1970s legend that the famous hotel in the song was a metaphor for hell.
#68 The Flat above a Shop (Common People by Pulp)
Have you ever been somewhere so wonderful that you thought of it as "a place where anything can happen" or "a place where dreams come true"? Well, this setting is just the opposite: a place where nothing will ever happen and where dreams go to die.
#69 Wonderland (Ultraviolet by McFly)
. . . "Wonderland" is not only New Orleans, but also a state of success and fame in youth that precious few ever achieve. It just took the tangible strangeness of the former to give them the metaphors they needed to write about the intangible strangeness of the latter.
#70 Where Rocking Horse People Eat Marshmallow Pies (Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds by The Beatles)
My discovery of Lucy is also tied up with an old book I found in the same attic: Poems of Childhood by Eugene Field. And the poem I always remember with this song is The Dinkey Bird . . . "In an ocean, 'way out yonder . . ."
#71 MAY AT THE MOVIES: PART II The Library (Beauty and the Beast)
Disney . . . has raised the bar on faerie castles. Unless they come with libraries, they are not quite as magical--or as romantic--as before.
#72 Fox & Sons Books (You've Got Mail)
. . . as much as I'd like to say I support my local indie book seller, my own six-word memoir of the day seems to be: I buy cheap books. Sue me.
#73 Pageant Books & Print Shop (Hannah and Her Sisters)
. . . the perfect backdrop for the moment when two people who would be good together manage to find each other in the heart of a huge city . . . Never has the scene of an adulterous, backstabbing wooing been filmed so beautifully.
#74 Mr. Fairchild's Rooms (Sabrina [Remake])
. . . Mr. Fairchild, the Larabee family's faithful English chauffeur . . . would have shown me around his rooms, with their bursting bookcases and other book stacked surfaces, and set me straight about what the best careers are for a passionate reader.
#75 FOREIGN SHORES: THE REVISIT Batanes (Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions)
. . . Batanes food is "survival food"--dishes cooked to keep for several stormy months, while the Ivatan people wait for the weather to get better . . . This means a diet rich in root crops, dried fish, and pork preserved in rendered lard . . . and a lot of gin!
#76 Mount Mayon (The Volcano by Bienvenido N. Santos)
The truth of the matter is that [the natives] don't mind [the volcano] . . . Perhaps they even like it. What the bemused American Paul Hunter calls the Bikolanos' "way of looking disaster in the face and smiling" may be a "lava-rich" trait!
#77 The Bedroom (Guardia de Honor by Nick Joaquin)
Josie wants her own life to be as "modishly bare" and "coyly hygienic" as the design she has imposed on Natalia's formerly cluttered bedroom. And she knows that the first thing to do is to pretend that the past never existed . . .
#78 The Orphanage (Ermita: A Filipino Novel by F. Sionil Jose)
You might have heard the saying that the Philippines spent 300 years in a convent and fifty years in Hollywood . . . Jose has little use for the Hollywood bit, but he understands the importance of the "convent years" . . . an overture to a Golden Age that never came.
#79 BURIAL GROUNDS CHALLENGE A Tomb (Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters)
She senses that the tomb is not just the resting place of one dead individual, but a time capsule of an entire dead civilisation. And possibly a despoiled time capsule: not so much a Memento Mori as a You Really Can't Take It With You.
#80 Commander Rodney's Grave (A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle)
Sometimes burial grounds are also battle grounds, where the living fight for the dignity of the dead . . .
#81 The Coral Cemetery (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas by Jules Verne)
. . . unless they manage to escape their watery prison, the coral cemetery will not only be the final point of their adventure, but also the final point of their lives.
#82 BURIAL GROUNDS CHALLENGE: THE MOVIE EDITION Evans City Cemetery (Night of the Living Dead)
You see, it's not just logical that a zombie outbreak would begin at a burial ground; it's also chilling. If there's one thing we expect the dead to do, it is to rest. And zombies defy that expectation more thoroughly than ghosts ever have.
#83 DINING ROOMS CHALLENGE The Brown Family's Dining Room (The Encyclopedia Brown Series by Donald J. Sobol)
Chief Brown is certainly not the only father in the world (or even in literature) who has ever discussed the details of his job with his son over the cream of mushroom soup, in the hope that the boy will follow in his crime-fighting footsteps.
#84 The Isaacs Family's Dining Room (Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee)
. . . this dinner which (white, middle-class) Lurie shares with the (black, bourgeois) Isaacs family seems like the entire country [of South Africa]--past, present, and perhaps even future--sitting down together . . . and finding it agonisingly difficult to do.
#85 The Cratchit Family's "Dining Room" (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens)
The Cratchits may have had to improvise a special area for the first night in a long while they could all be together, but when they are all sitting down and sharing the goose, they are in the most real room in their entire home.
#86 DINING ROOMS CHALLENGE: THE MOVIE EDITION The Hillard Family's Dining Room (Mrs. Doubtfire)
What we have here is a nice bit of theatre--and there have been many dining rooms which have doubled as stages. But the family dining room feels wrong as one of them.
#87 OUTER SPACE CHALLENGE Mr. and Mrs. K's Home (The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury)
It doesn't feel like a setting in outer space, but like a dwelling in a dream. Indeed, it is in the very literal dreams of Nathaniel York, an astronaut on the First Expedition to Mars: dreams that might embarrass his rational scientist self, should he share them with anyone else upon waking.
#88 Godspeed (Across the Universe by Beth Revis)
. . . the ship Godspeed . . . practically is another earth, inasmuch as both are self-sufficient worlds floating in the vastness of space, whose inhabitants are as unsure of the future as they certain they are right on course.
#89 Asteroid B-612 (The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
The little prince's planet--no more than an asteroid, really--is hardly a realistic creation. It is, however, an endearing allegory.
#90 OUTER SPACE CHALLENGE: THE MOVIE EDITION LV-426 (Aliens)
. . . a ghost town is . . . as unnerving in the SF genre as it would be in a Western. Of course, there's one really big difference between an abandoned city somewhere on terra and an abandoned city on a whole other planet, which is that the latter can involve aliens.
#91 MAY AT THE MOVIES: PART 3 St. Louis (Meet Me in St. Louis)
[The] World's Fair . . . is just the cherry on top. The whole movie is a series of episodes highlighting what [the Smith family] love about their home and climaxing with the fair.
#92 East High (High School Musical)
When even the best choreography starts to seem like lockstep conformity and any attempt to improvise something else is met with "Not another peep! Not another word! Not another sound!" in flawless three-part harmony, then there may be a problem.
#93 Paris (Funny Face)
It may or may not dawn on the viewer that while the characters . . . are turning Paris into a backdrop for their magazine spread (not to mention their musical numbers), everything in the foreground was deliberately manipulated so that no other city in the world would do for the setting.
#94 The Muppet Theatre (The Muppet Show)
. . . the musical numbers for which The Muppet Show was famous may have all taken place on the stage of the Muppet Theatre, but they would have been less magical if they hadn't been framed by what was going on backstage at the same time.
#95 The Agnas Family's Homestead (A Season of Grace by N.V.M. Gonzalez)
Doro has already planted a field of rice and another of sweet potatoes; and without walking very far, Sabel has found more free food than she can carry. Their basket seems full in every way . . . So why are they still so poor? . . .
#96 Quiapo Church (Skyworld, Volume 1 by Mervin Ignacio, illustrated by Ian Sta. Maria)
It makes sense that this hotspot of history and culture, this seething mess of semi-pagan humanity (Credo, Domine, adiuva incredulitatem meam!), should also attract a fallen skygod, a heroic Tikbalang warrior, his mischievous Duende sidekick, and the vengeful queen of the Asuang.
#97 Carlos P. Garcia Avenue (C-5) (Trese: Murder on Balete Drive by Budjette Tan, illustrated by Kajo Baldisimo)
Last night, I asked a few questions and learned that illegal drag racing (and the gambling that goes with it) are still quite popular among university students of means . . . and that, yes, these often happen after midnight on the Carlos P. Garcia Avenue. Give Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo points for gritty accuracy!
#98 The House on Zapote Street (Kisapmata)
. . . one of the characters, who has just said goodbye to her fiance at the front gate, gets the sleeve of her blouse caught in the barbed wire along the top and has trouble tearing herself away. She has been hoping that marriage will be her ticket out of that house. If only, the gate seems to be taunting her, it were that easy!
#99 MOTHERS' BIRTHPLACES China (The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan)
. . . knowledge of where you come from is essential to your identity, and it's clear that the daughters are as just as frustrated by their inability to reconcile their American half with their Chinese half. The resolution that Tan sets up for this conflict is . . . you guessed it . . . a trip back to China.
#100 Stoneybrook, Connecticut (BSC#5: Dawn and the Impossible Three by Ann M. Martin)
We all get what it means when a character who has failed at something in the big world returns to his hometown . . . but what does it mean when a child whose parent has failed at something in the big world has that less-than-triumphant homecoming?
#101 Burgess, Alabama (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares)
As expected, Burgess, Alabama gets to be the long-locked box containing the missing clues to a young woman's identity . . . It could have phoned in this role and been fine. But Burgess does one better than that, also being an unexpectedly motherly town.
#102 Maine (Skylark by Patricia MacLachlan)
. . . for two years, it has been a cold shadow in the happiness of [Sarah's] two adoring stepchildren, who knew as early as their first meeting that the biggest threat to their home on the Kansas prairies would be their new mother's longing for her first home by the sea.
#103 Atisan (Eight Muses of the Fall by Edgar Calabia Samar)
The barrio of Atisan isn't just stubborn; like all ancient places, it is also mysterious. That is, it holds on tightly to memories that predate written history, but it isn't sharing what it remembers.
#104 Sulucan (The Praying Man by Bienvenido N. Santos)
My mother and sister vehemently disagree with the following translation, but given the context of the novel, I think that it's safe to think of a "sulukan" as a dead end that you don't even know is there . . . just like today's featured setting, which is a slum.
#105 Suburbia (Balikbayan by Nick Joaquin)
. . . even the suburbs are not as new to the world as they seem to be--not when they were built from the stones and bricks of the old houses torn down to make room for the new. And there's always the issue of what the land was before developers, those anti-historians, came in to change it up.
#106 The Monkees' Beach House (The Monkees)
. . . it's exactly the sort of run-down place you'd imagine four young men who live from gig to gig, with a few supplementary odd jobs in between, would find themselves living in. Not just because it's the best they can afford, but also because it's a place that can match their quirky characters with one of its own.
#107 UNSCHOOLING CHALLENGE Monongahela, Pennsylvania (Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto)
How can a place be a school when it doesn't have a proper syllabus? And how could the men who worked there be teachers when they didn't give grades? . . . I realised that "school" is a terribly limited--and limiting--word for the place where your entire perspective on life is shaped.
#108 Hill Country Texas, 1866 (Jake by Leigh Greenwood)
Jake, Isabelle and the boys still have to deal with some farmers who greatly dislike ranchers and who aren't afraid to murder children for a claim to the land . . . with Comanches and Apaches who aren't too happy with the white and black men who have been moving out west . . . and of course, with the ornery steers themselves . . . [No] more than what a bunch of unschoolers can handle!
#109 The Catskill Mountains (My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George)
Woods and mountains are already some of the best "unclassrooms" there are and don't need much more to improve them . . . but if they also happen to be woods and mountains where your great-grandfather once tried to start a farm, then you've really got something special.
#110 The Metropolitan Museum of Art (From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg)
. . . Claudia prefers to run away in comfort and so she picks a place where she will get to sleep in a bed and have access to indoor plumbing. The bed just happens to be an ornate four-poster from the sixteenth century (where someone was allegedly murdered!) and the indoor plumbing is public restrooms and the elegant restaurant fountain.
#111 RETURN TO FAERIE LAND CHALLENGE The Gentle Lord's Castle (Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge)
. . . would you enjoy wrecking a castle with an enchanted ballroom that lets you dance on water, tiny pinpricks of light swirling around you, all night long?
#112 The Royal Palace (Entwined by Heather Dixon)
. . . I can't fault [the author] on the palace, with its secret passages reminiscent of the portal in C.S. Lewis's famous wardrobe, its sensitivity to silver, and even its shabby gentility in an age when parliament insists that it is "governmental property."
#113 The Country (Spindle's End by Robin McKinley)
The real question is what a world in which magic/technology has such drawbacks would be like--and McKinley's answer is more than satisfying. For it is definitely a world in which "magic-workers" play an important role--not because we've made ourselves need them, as is the case with IT professionals, but because we naturally need them, as is the case with medical specialists.
#114 The 74th Hunger Games Arena (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins)
Some elements are cleverly masked, but others are just on steroids. Take the dark forest in which Snow White escapes the huntsman who was charged to kill her: it's an easy match to the woodsy 74th Hunger Games Arena with its twenty-two other "huntsmen." (The twenty-third tribute is, of course, her Prince. Who does double duty as a dwarf.)
#115 MAY AT THE MOVIES 4: YOUR ENTERTAINMENT The Colonial Theatre (The Blob)
You know, if you really think about it, the projection room is scarier than the screen. Not for some philosophical reason, like its being the fountainhead of the Horror movie . . . but for the very practical reason that it's located behind an unsuspecting audience, who therefore never see the threat coming until it's too late.
#116 Paramount Theatre, Hollywood (Ed Wood)
Edward Davis Wood, Jr. was a real Hollywood director, and so any movie about his life requires scenes in real Hollywood locations. A quick online search will tell you that his project Bride of the Monster premiered at Paramount Theatre--the same place which got to be the first to screen Orson Welles's Citizen Kane.
#117 Cinema Paradiso (Nuovo Cinema Paradiso)
. . . coming together as an audience creates a communion among people. We definitely see that among the cinephiles in Giancaldo. Indeed, the full movie house is such a microcosm of humanity that it's a mess--sometimes a literal mess . . .
#118 Aero Theatre (Dance Till Dawn)
As a substitute for prom night, this movie house stands up pretty well. For it offers not just a sense of communion, but also a rite of passage! . . . Don't you like it when settings are co-conspirators in the formation of virtue?
#119 Chicago (The Day the Dancers Came by Bienvenido N. Santos)
I wish I could tell you more about Acayan's tour of the Windy City . . . or even about his humble West Sheridan flat's transformation, through Filipino home cooking and Filipino song, into a tiny corner of his lost homeland . . . but as I hinted in the first paragraph, Santos's exiled Filipinos have mostly sad stories.
#120 Kyoto (Viajero: A Filipino Novel by F. Sionil Jose)
Yes, past and present come together for Buddy in Kyoto--and not just for Japan, but also for the Philippines . . . What is missing, however, is the future. Japan welcomes Buddy as a paying tenant, but makes it clear that it is not, for him, a home where he can put down new roots.
#121 Miyajima (Confessions of a Volcano by Eric Gamalinda)
Can a tourist really complain that other tourists are ruining his sightseeing experience? Probably not, but Filipino tourist Daniel isn't too happy with his first experience of Miyajima anyway. On the other hand, his new friend Luisa, a Filipina worker he met on the train in Tokyo, seems quite at home in the anonymous crowd. Instead, it is two Japanese men who get to ruin her day, when they corner her on the island's "Monkey Mountain" (Oh, Lord, is this significant?) and ask to see her passport.
#122 Germany ("Celebrating Lechon" by Jack Catarata)
After having the first six birthdays of your life observed by the entire town as a minor fiesta, having to share the spotlight with St. Nicholas (who is undoubtedly cooler than you) can be quite the letdown.
#123 SIGHTSEEING IN SEPTEMBER Venus (The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth)
. . . the vast majority of people are so stupid that the only thing the remaining intelligent people can do to protect themselves is to provide endless bread and circuses to keep the mobs pacified and at bay. But Venus isn't a circus. It's a new idea. And a desperate one.
#124 Grand Canyon (The Moon by Night by Madeleine L'Engle)
Isn't it sad when places don't live up to their hype? ... . In the case of Grand Canyon, all that publicity comes with a second stinger in its tail--for hype is meant to bring the big crowds, but big crowds are the last thing you want to see in a place that is supposed to be about majestic nature.
#125 The Malabar Caves (A Passage to India by E.M. Forster)
. . . the Marabar caves cannot be "the real India" inasmuch as E.M. Forster completely made them up. Yes, he based them on the Barabar caves, which are a minor holy site in Buddhism . . . but this only begs the question of why he didn't go with the Barabar caves in the first place. I'm no Forster scholar, of course, but I'd like to share my two hypotheses anyway . . .
#126 The Shrine of St. Swithin (Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Janet Gray)
When you've put down roots in a place, poured your sweat and tears into it, learned to call its other inhabitants your brothers, and even committed yourself to being buried in it with them, you'll have an appreciation of it that a mere visitor can't hope to have.
#127 SIGHTSEEING IN SEPTEMBER: TV EDITION "Dragon Valley" (Grisu Il Draghetto)
If you decided to come along on one more adventure, well, here you are now with me in Scotland . . . a Scotland that is thoroughly modern, with a single "medieval" holdout . . .
* * * * * * * * * * *
Your pick of the week may be an amazing fantasy world, like J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, or a great depiction of a real-world setting, like Nick Joaquin's post-war Manila.
No setting is too small or too big! Give us a peek into the small locked rooms of one of G.K. Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries or take us on a tour of the rambling landscape of Thomas Hardy's Wessex.
You might choose a setting that dominates its whole book, like Emily Bronte's Gothic moors--or one which makes a fleeting appearance before the characters move on to somewhere else, like J.K. Rowling's magical King's Cross Station.
Have some fun with time, which is, after all, the fourth dimension. Look into the past with a Historical novel, into the future with a Dystopian tale, or into a fantastic blend of both with a Steampunk story. Alternate universes are always welcome!
And because some excellent descriptive writing can be found in memoirs and travelogues, you're also welcome to spotlight the recollections and impressions of non-fiction.
Can't think of a setting that you especially love? Hey, we can be flexible! Share a critique of one you didn't find very convincing, such as--oh, I don't know--maybe a certain best-selling author's Forks, Washington. Ahem! ;-)
Sold on it yet? I hope so! Grab the badge and schedule a Locus Focus post for this Saturday. It'll be fun. I promise!
Image Sources: a) Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, b) The Manila We Knew, edited by Erlinda Enriquez Panlilio, c) Mine Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas, d) Downsiders by Neal Shusterman, e) Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, f) Full Tilt by Neal Shusterman, g) Wild Boy by Andy Taylor, h) The Major Works by William Wordsworth, i) The Time Machine by H.G. Wells, j) Rapture in Death by J.D. Robb, k) My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley, l) The Genesee Diary by Henry J.M. Nouwen, m) The Breakfast Club poster, n) The God Stealer by F. Sionil Jose, o) Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell, p) Holes by Louis Sachar, q) Hotel California by The Eagles, r) Beauty and the Beast DVD, s) Slow Food: Philippine Culinary Traditions, t) Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters, u) Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Disgusting Sneakers by Donald J. Sobol, v) The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury, w) Meet Me in St. Louis poster, x) Eight Muses of the Fall by Edgar Calabia Samar, y) Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gatto, z) Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, aa) The Blob poster, ab) The Marching Morons by C.M. Kornbluth