Ask Nifty: Sage Advice for Fictional Problems

Hello, dear readers! I’m feeling a bit whimsical today and I love to give advice, so I thought I’d dispense some common-sense solutions for some troubling fictional problems. Happy reading!

Dear Nifty,

Weird stuff happens around me all the time, but I never got my letter from Hogwarts! I’m in my thirties now, but still feeling really bummed about it. What gives?

–Sad Muggle, Birmingham, England

Dear Muggle,

I get the sense that you are feeling down on yourself and questioning your abilities. I know it’s disappointing not to get into the schools you want, but remember, when one door closes, another opens: if you’d become a wizard, you’d never have gotten the probably very exciting job you have now, right? RIGHT? On a more serious note, if you turned 11 in the 1990s, it’s important to remember that the English wizarding world was experiencing great upheaval due to the events of the Second Wizarding War. The Owl Post Office would have been in disarray, Hogwarts was at that time undergoing several rapid changes in headmasters, and in that dangerously prejudiced political climate, it simply would not have been safe to accept new Muggle students into magical society. The fact that you didn’t get a Hogwarts letter is not a judgement of your magical abilities and you have nothing to be ashamed of.

I never got one either.

I never got one either.

Dear Nifty,

I was so excited about having my first real guest for tea that I accidentally gave my bosom friend currant wine thinking it was raspberry cordial, and she drank three tumblerfulls! Her mother thinks I got her daughter drunk ON PURPOSE and won’t let us be friends anymore. I’m in the depths of despair. Why do I keep getting into these terrible scrapes?

–Lady Cordelia, Avonlea, P.E.I.

Dear Cordelia,

Anyone who gets to a third glass of anything before she realizes she’s drinking wine probably isn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer–you might be better off without her. This would give you more time to focus on your intellectual pursuits and be top of the class at school.

But if you still miss your friend, don’t worry. I have a feeling that in an emergency your “bosom friend” would be about as useful as a box of hair. Eventually her annoying younger sibling will get the croup and you’ll come out of THAT scrape looking like an effin’ rockstar. Just make sure you have plenty of ipecac on hand.

Derp derp.

Derp derp.

Dear Miss Nifty,

I am the third of five unmarried sisters who are all out in society at once. My two older sisters are very beautiful, capable and graceful and I just can’t compete. Meanwhile, my two younger sisters don’t seem to care about anything but men and parties, and my mother just encourages them! There’s always so much chatter at our house, but whenever I want to say something, nobody listens to me! I don’t really feel like I have anything to connect to (apart from my piano forte) and no one seems to take much notice of me. What should I do?

–Mary B., Hertfordshire, England

Dear Mary,

Don’t take it personally, but you seem like a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. Is it possible that’s why you’re feeling ignored? No one likes a party-pooper, Mary! Maybe, instead of focusing on whether or not other people take notice of you, you should focus on finding ways to be happy with yourself.

In the meantime, it’s likely that your family situation will improve on its own. If your older sisters are as beautiful and competent as you say, they’re sure to marry rich, saving your family from poverty in the event of your father’s death, and saving YOU from having to marry out of desperation. Also, if your two younger sisters are really that silly and man-crazy, there’s a good chance at least one of them will go off and do something stupid, trapping her in a loveless marriage, yes, but also helpfully removing her from your day-to-day existence at home. Don’t use this occasion to gloat; rather, see it as an opportunity to forge a better relationship with your remaining sister and to set a good example for her.

Wow, Mary, you sure look happy to be here.

One of these things is not like the other ones.

Book Review: Joseph Boyden’s “Three Day Road”

In a quick and dirty nutshell, Joseph Boyden‘s Three Day Road tells the story of Xavier Bird, a young Oji-Cree man from the bush near Moose Factory, Ontario. Together with his best friend Elijah, he travels far from home with the South Ontario Rifles and becomes an accomplished sniper. Afterwords, his spirit and body broken, Xavier returns to his aunt Niska, who paddles him deep into the bush towards the home of his childhood. Experiences in the trenches of the First World War are interspersed with memories of Niska’s coming of age as a diviner and healer for the few remaining “bush Indians” who continue to resist the pull of the white towns and the rum, exploitation, and prejudice that came with them.

A striking theme in this novel is the shock of Niska’s spiritual and natural world colliding with that of white Ontario–with its religion, RCMP, and residential schools. Through Boyden’s telling, it is obvious that the systems imposed on the First Nations of Canada were grossly out of touch with the practical and natural realities of life in this country. A familiar theme, yes, but its representation in Three Day Road took my breath away with its absurdity and immediacy.

In another quick and dirty nutshell, I liked this book. I liked Xavier, a quiet young man whose inner jealousies, comforts, fears, and joys play across the mind and heart we are privy to, but remain hidden from the soldiers in his company. I liked his Aunt Niska, a wise woman whose strength comes not necessarily from taught knowledge but from careful and close observation, a firm sense of self, and an ability to do, under any circumstances, what must be done. I loved the descriptions of the bush Niska and Xavier call their home, I loved its almost otherworldly beauty. I loved that this beauty is here, in Canada, though in smaller and smaller spaces now. I hated the war and the futility and brutality of trench life and the various suicidal “pushes” the soldiers were ordered to participate in, but then, who wouldn’t? I was taken by the sensuality of the book–physical, natural, spiritual.

I liked this book. What’s not to like? I suppose that Three Day Road is long, so if you don’t like long books, you may not like it, and it’s heavy, so if you don’t like literature that takes a more serious tone, you may not like it. But if you allow yourself to be pulled in by the beauty of the telling and the emotional threads of the story you will find yourself whizzing through the novel, dodging bullets and yearning for a comforting voice in the din and a warm fire in the rainy night.

If you like Canadian literature and/or history, or literature by and about the First Nations people of Canada, or action scenes and technical descriptions of early 20th-century warfare, or sensual descriptions of intimacy and the natural world, Three Day Road is a book you will like.

Or perhaps “like” is the wrong word. You will respect this novel, you will be pulled by it, you will be struck by it. You will start a long journey and reach the end sooner than you think. And like me, you will recommend this book to others.