“The Flight From the Enchanter” round-up and “The Sandcastle” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Welcome to the new #IMReadalong update, where we’ll put “The Flight From the Enchanter” to bed and move on to look at “The Sandcastle”. Left is a photo of the lovely hardback first edition I ordered for myself after enjoying a tax rebate. Hooray!

I might have reviewed “The Flight from the Enchanter” a bit late in the month, but we’ve had some lovely discussion and comments on it, with lots of detailed reactions and info on how people’s reading of the book has changed, especially in light of recent events with workplace harassment, etc. Do pop over and have a read of the review and comments here.

As well as the comments on the post itself, Jo put this review up on Goodreads.

I’ll add more links if any come in in the meantime. If you have comments to make or links to blog posts to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Sandcastle”

“The Sandcastle”, our January read, is a treat of a book, with a great discussion of art and one of Murdoch’s really good complicated arrangements involving physical feats (as in the hospital escape and chandelier-swinging we’ve seen so far). I have three copies of this book, with one on the way.

Sorry for the wonky blurb but this 1960 Penguin edition (bought at Arcadia Books in Oxford; I am trying NOT to collect all of there, there is a limit) but it’s a tiny bit fragile. This is the closest to the original publication date I’ve got (at the moment!) and has great quotes from Raymond Mortimer and a puff from the Catholic Herald!

This is my dear old original paperback, a Triad Granada published in 1985 and I assume bought a little after that, as I read my first Murdoch in around 1986. Raymond Mortimer is still being quoted, plus the New Statesman. The woman on the front is “Miss Lynn” by Claude Rogers.

And here’s my Vintage edition with an introduction by Philippa Gregory – a shorter blurb, as seems common with these.

If you have any covers to share of these or any others of the novels, do pop them over via Twitter, Facebook or email (find contact details for email on the Contact Me page).


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along. Who’s starting “The Sandcastle” soon? Have you read it before?

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Flight from the Enchanter” #IMReadalong

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First of all, I’m sorry this is a little later than planned – I have had a funny old month and a poor reading month, with a great big biography and a reviewing commitment taking up a load of reading time and energy. I hope you haven’t all been waiting anxiously to post your reviews!

Oh – and do please share any cover images you’ve got of your copies of this one – inexplicably, I’ve only got ONE copy of this, and I’d love to see what’s on yours. Tweet them to me, pop them on Facebook for my attention or use the email address you can find on my Contact Form.

On to the review. I had some interesting thoughts on the different ways I’ve read this one and my different allegiances to characters as I’ve read and re-read it over the years …

Iris Murdoch – “The Flight from the Enchanter”

(14 October 2017)

What a dense, absorbing read this was. I found it more of a succession of scenes concentrating on one particular character or strand rather than the single coherent narrative that “Under the Net” provided, no doubt because we had an omniscient narrator rather than a character-as-narrator, so we were free to flit around London looking at what people were up to.

There are, of course, so many Murdochian themes – in this one, the sea, stones (Annette’s jewels and the pebbles on the beach), doublings (two suicide/attempts, two arms in water, brothers, two pairs of brothers and sisters, plus Peter Saward and his dead sister, two burnings, two heads of department, two main ex-suffragettes, two breast-barings, two scenes in Annette’s green dress), siblings (as before), in fact breast-barings (there’s one in “The Italian Girl” and surely some more), women’s hair, either long and falling out of its pins, horribly constricted into weird waves or short and gamine, girls looking like boys, terribly messy rooms (Peter Saward’s almost-sapient study), netsuke (for the first time? They will reappear again and again), artificial women (generally “bad” rather than “good” characters, right?), and even fast cars!

“Tworavensrose” has posted an amazing report which I hope she’ll copy here about all the links with “Under the Net” but I was particularly struck by Jan and Stefan’s story of the schoolteacher they pursued being just visible in her white dress in the dark, like the woman Jake followed in Paris. I feel there is a link in all the running around London but the book is maybe more traditional and is certainly less philosophical in that there aren’t treatises and bits from books included. Murdoch’s love of detail and describing complicated physical arrangements is here again with Annette swinging on her chandelier in the first scene.

Who is the enchanter? Superficially, it’s Mischa, but Jan and Stefan are reliant on Rosa and she worries about her power over them, and Peter Saward seems to have power over Mischa, chiefly by telling him his own story (like naming someone in myth, perhaps?). Annette seems to cast some kind of spell over people but eventually runs from herself and everyone else and indeed spends most of her time flying from people. Or is it Marcia, who always seems to swoop in and make everything better, but never looks her husband in the eye or lets him know what she’s thinking? Peter is definitely the Saint, in my opinion. I loved his self-knowledge that he was “lost” in his researches, but in his acceptance of the loss of his study of hieroglyphics he is accepting rather than passing on defeat or “failure” and thus showing himself to be passive and “good”. He’s given the final word, “One reads the signs as best one can, and one may be totally misled. But it’s never certain that the evidence will turn up that makes everything plain. It was worth trying” (p. 287). Of course, he can’t be the enchanter, because he never uses his powers to affect or influence others, but they come to him – he’s the only character who remains static, with everyone else running around him.

There’s so much humour in this novel again. I loved the description of Annette “trying to catch in the depths of her large restless eyes the flicker of a tragic discontent” (p. 59)in the mirror and indeed the description of her by her headmistress is hilarious “Your style of entertaining is distinctly Continental , and as I had occasion to remark the other day, you still go upstairs on all fours like a dog” (p. 12). Rainborough, “had never been able to distinguish typist. They all looked to him exactly alike. He could see their smile, but no other features,” (p. 83) in the way that some people can’t tell undergraduates apart. Indeed, the rise of these women through SELIB is very funny, and something I kind of missed last time, I think. I particularly like the way that Miss Casement starts a trend and it repeats, but dimming, through all the other women. Miss Wingfield is often hilarious in her directness and you have to smile along with her, redoubtable to the end. And of course the scenes at the Artemis AGM are very funny – “This young man is under the impression that women have been emancipated!” (p. 173). Rainborough is often the butt of Murdoch’s jokes, always being undermined by taxi drivers, etc.

There’s also so much lovely and precise writing: I’m thinking of the descriptions of the sea, but also when Annette is making a long-distance phone call: “… beside her ear a long corridor of sound was opening out telescopically, section after section, and the last piece was to contain the voice of Nicholas” (p. 243).

The introduction, by Patricia Duncker, makes much of how you can’t really judge what you’re meant to think about the book, and quotes the passage said by Peter Saward that I quoted above. Well, that’s fine by me, as I’m not looking to be told by the author what to think, given my espousal of Death of the Author and reception theory. It claims that no one is changed by the book and that we don’t care about Nina’s fate, something I don’t necessarily agree with. It’s also horribly relevant in the portrayal of the refugee’s tenuous experience.

How has my reading of this changed? I had a lot more sympathy with the more middle-aged characters – I was slightly horrified to find that the “elderly” Peter Saward is in fact, at 44, a good year younger than me! When I first read this as an early teen, I found Annette the central and fascinating character, but now I find her precocious, arch and self-obsessed, and I even had more sympathy with the weird, damaged, two halves of a whole Calvin and Mischa, and with Rainborough and Peter. Well, not so much Rainborough, because he’s a bit of a weirdo, always lunging at women, and although he makes pronouncements about accepting randomness and contingency, I’m not sure he follows that through, but certainly Peter Saward, the central “good” character to my mind. I’d remembered the plot well and loved the old feminists as much as ever.


OK, over to you! Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

“Under the Net” round-up and “The Flight From the Enchanter” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Well, it’s the end of the first month and I feel like we’ve had a good discussion on “Under the Net”. How did you get on? If you’ve blogged about it, please pop a link in the comments here, and you might want to contribute to the discussion under my review, or post thoughts here, it’s up to you. I will add any links to blog posts here as they still come in.

Bookish Beck has reviewed the book on her blog. She’s read four other Murdochs and placed it squarely in the middle in terms of favourites, which is fair enough! She also shared her sadly rebound library copy – but although I have four copies of my own of this one, I love seeing all the different ones you all have, so keep sending me images (you can do that via Twitter or email, see my contact form for the email address). Jo also added a great review on Goodreads and Brona over in Australia reviewed it on her blog, too!

I had a couple of submissions of other copies people have – thank you! Thomas from Hogglestock sent me the photo of the lovely American first edition (what a glorious cover!) above, and Maria Peacock sent me a picture of her fabulous paperback – I love this! Does the picture really make a comedy man with a hat as well as the image of Jake and the stuff from the theatre, or have I made that up? I have a couple of paperbacks of early books to share later on in the series, but this is a cracker.

So, if you’ve read “Under the Net” and have yet to join in the discussion, please comment here or on my review and share your URL if you’ve reviewed it on your blog.

The Flight from the Enchanter

Moving on to December’s read, it’s time for “The Flight from the Enchanter”. This was another early one I read, and I’ve loved it ever since. Slightly shockingly, I only have ONE copy of this one. I have no idea where my original (to me) paperback has got to – I know I had it last time I read it in 2008, but where it’s gone is a mystery. I can’t afford any of the first editions on the market at the moment – this had a small print run and is I think the rarest one. But never mind, I treated myself to the Vintage reprint and what a lovely cover this is!

Here’s the blurb from the back – hope you can all read it …

… and here’s my terribly illuminating review from the last time I re-read it, in February 2008:

Second novel by IM and second in our Iris Murdoch a Month project! I enjoyed doing a closer re-reading of this intriguing novel. IM novels are not like anyone else’s – this is not a love story, not a satire, who knows what it really is, or the nature of the enchanter.

I’d forgotten one whole, very pivotal scene in the book – another reason these are all due for a re-read!

I wonder what that scene is …

So, are you joining me for this one? Have you read it before or is this your first time? I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks of it!

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “Under the Net” #IMReadalong

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I noticed I was a little nervous about posting this first review, under the bright gaze of all the people who are joining me in this readalong. So I think it would probably be useful to state here and now that I’m very much not setting myself up as some kind of expert: Murdoch is my favourite author and I get a lot out of reading her, but I am a fan more than I’m a scholar. And these threads and this project welcomes everyone’s opinion: the expert professors and researchers who have read everything multiple times and spent an academic lifetime studying literature in general, Murdoch in particular, the fans like me, the first-time reader and the person who doesn’t get what the fuss is about. While I’d rather keep things positive than inspire a well-spring of anti-Murdoch ranting, I am very clear (and should be, given my own research on the value of the “common reader”) that everyone’s opinions are equally valid. I hope we all approach this project in a spirit of sharing and that dissent, where it arises, is respectful.

By the way, thank you to the people who have kindly shared their book cover images with me. I will use these in my round-up post at the end of the month.

OK, on to the review.

Iris Murdoch – “Under the Net”

(14 October 2017)

It’s always a good sign when you’re rereading a book for the umpteenth time and you STILL can’t put it down, isn’t it (I recall my husband asking me why I was gasping at a point in “Jane Eyre” when I’d clearly read it a million times before). I read this alongside said husband, so tried to keep to an even pace, but really, I could have sat and read and read and READ.

In essence, the thing that really struck me this time (and I think this is my fourth time of reading – once in my teens, once in my 20s, in around 2008 when doing my last readalong and now, and having, I suppose, read all of her other books more recently than I had at each other reading of this one) was that it felt so very much like an overture, a distillation of all her themes. Of course I know that she did not go back in time and write this one last, as composers do with overtures, weaving in her themes, but it felt weirdly like that.

The themes I spotted in this book, recognised with glee, included: London, London vs. Paris, animals, siblings, pairings, opposites, pubs, river/wild swimming, artificial women, coils of hair, hairstyle changes, farce, complicated plans and procedures (the entry into the hospital in particular), stones (OK, one monolith), humans needing to live by “clear practical means”, Jewish people and Irish people, men with massive head, philosophers, “good” people absorbing pain and information (I’m thinking Mrs Tinckham here), Eastern objects and Buddhas, the virtue of detachment, pondering life in front of art works, Hamlet, weird sidekicks (Finn), institutions (the cold cure clinic, the theatre, the hospital), depictions of working life, chaotic rooms. I always felt that Murdoch’s oeuvre revisited many themes over and over: there are few here that are missing (incest, the sea, (although water obviously still figures), country vs city) but it’s really striking how many of them are already here.

Jake reminded me of Charles Arrowby from “The Sea, The Sea”, in his pronouncements, maybe more than Bradley in “The Black Prince”. And his description of Anna very much reminded me of descriptions of Hartley: “She was plumper and had no defended herself against time. There was about her a sort of wrecked look which was infinitely touching. Her face, which I remembered as round and smooth as an apricot, was become just a little tense and drawn, and her neck now revealed her age” (p. 41).

It is also a funny read – with Jake and Hugo arranging “to have the cold alternately” in the cold cure clinic (p. 71), Jake asking himself whether he belongs to the social class that steals tins of foie gras (he does), and having a morbid fear of losing his trousers. I had remembered this but had forgotten some of the concentration on romance, chasing a woman he thinks is Anna through Paris, and falling on Sadie with a whoop (not that romantic, as such), having considered it to be more about male friendship, philosophy and London adventures. Is there another character like Mrs Tinckham in the whole of Iris Murdoch’s novels?

I felt that Jake had accepted the contingent at the end, not knowing the answer and being happy – even amused – not to know. I don’t think I’d have thought that before, as that follows me having done more reading and conference-attending. So it’s very nice to feel that my engagement with the secondary literature and the IM Society have informed my reading. The author of the Introduction to this book (I bought these new copies in part for their introductions) considers this to be her best novel: I’m not sure I agree with that, but I did very much enjoy it, and I can’t wait to read on.

Matthew’s views

My husband is not going to read all of the novels alongside me: he has already read and loved “The Sea, The Sea” and “A Good Apprentice” and not loved “The Book and the Brotherhood”. He read this on audio book (read by Samuel West, as noted by a commenter on my first post – thank you – and had some comments to make, which I summarise below. He’s very much not an Iris Murdoch reader and although he’s read Russian classics prefers sci fi and modern novels to mid-century stuff, to give some background. He states he would not have come across IM, much less read her, without my influence.

Was Finn real? That was a great question I’ve never considered before! And who was the person Jake was considering going to live with at the end? Do they (like Hugo Bellfounder) pop up in another novel? He also thought Jake seemed like Charles Arrowby at the start, but became less self-centred. The book didn’t seem like it was written by a woman (when pressed, he said he didn’t feel the empathy he’d expect from a female writer). They are definitely books that need analysing and you can understand why people want to read them more than once. They don’t give up their secrets or intentions easily. The philosophy and politics went over his head, but then he’s not particularly interested in those for the sake of it.


OK, over to you! Please feel free to either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I will gather these together in a round-up post at the end of the month. If you have a cover image to share, please post it on your blog or email it to me using the email address on the contact form. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this one and what you think of it, and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects.

Book review – Stuart Maconie – The Pie at Night plus MORE books in #amreading #books #bookconfessions #IMreadalong

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I seem to have been talking about reading this one for absolutely ages, I’m not sure why it took me so long to read, apart from the fact that it’s got quite small print so had more text than I expected. Anyway, it’s done now, and was a good read, acquired via BookCrossing and going back on a shelf soon (note: I spent some time doing BookCrossing admin today, as I found I had five pages on the site of books marked Available which are clearly not in the house. Oops. Next step: registering and releasing some of the books I do have here). Read on for one book confession (which I’ve ALREADY READ) and some Iris Murdoch Readalong news.

Stuart Maconie – “The Pie at Night”

(BookCrossing, 28 January 2017)

Subtitled “What the North Does for Fun”, this is an affectionate look at leisure, as partaken in by the Northern (mainly) working classes, taking in the Midlands and upwards and starting and finishing in two of his favourite pubs. It has themed chapters which start with one on museums of working life and moves on through other more standard activities, along with potted histories of bank holidays, the rise of workers’ rights, etc. Mixed sports, football in its own chapter (including a section on a completely grass-roots, crowd-funded team called FC United of Manchester which was formed as a protest against the commercialisation of Manchester United), walking, art, music and food are main themes, and he meets a lot of interesting characters, noting these often include “the kind of bloke you find often in our urban working communities: genial, matey but with an edge that means you are never fully at ease in case the handshake turns into a headlock”.

I liked the list of things he doesn’t cover: “orienteering, amateur dramatics, go-karting, the growing of prize leeks, raffia work, home brewing, civil war re-enactment or the tango” although he also doesn’t cover running, in fact (which is a shame as the Great North Run is iconic and fell-running a well-known terrifying sport in the North). It’s a genial look around which highlights the cultural centres of Wakefield, Huddersfield, etc. and I loved the mention of Huddersfield’s contemporary music festival and the band Henry Cow: it’s amazing how topics I’ve worked on in my job do pop up in my reading now and again.

A decent read with a nice laugh and no sloppy sentimentality: I’m afraid I agree with Sian, who passed it to me, that it could have done with a final edit / proofread as there are some dodgy sentences or wordings which undermine it a bit.


I was sent Mary Beard’s “Women & Power: A Manifesto” to review for the lovely online book magazine Shiny New Books, and will link to my review when it’s published there. A good and powerful read which packs a lot into its 100-odd pages and would be a good Christmas present for the person in your life who’s interested in gender politics and power.

A quick reminder of my Iris Murdoch Readalong which starts on Wednesday 1 November with “Under the Net”. You can read about the project here and I will be doing a little post on Tuesday with information about the book and how I will be keeping up with the project on this blog. Exciting!

Book haul #amreading #books #bookconfessions #AusReadingMonth #IMReadalong

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Yesterday I wasn’t happy with my book review and didn’t want to tag on fun-packed book haul stuff. So here’s what has arrived in Dexter Towers over the last week or so.

So, first off, we have Colleen McCullough’s “The Ladies of Missalonghi”. Look at its cute bookmark! I ordered this one second-hand because the lovely Brona’s Books is having an Australian Reading Month in November – I never seem to manage to join in with this, and Brona is going to take part in my Iris Murdoch challenge, so it seemed only fair to take part! It’s a slim volume and looks like a good read – I think a few of us will be reading it in the first week of the month.

Talking book challenges, I’ve ordered brand new copies of the first five books for my Iris Murdoch Readalong. I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that they’ve all been made out of the original text blocks, so they don’t match and some of the text is pretty small. But they do have lovely new cover illustrations (and, let’s face it, some over the years have been seriously odd: I’m going to want participants to share their cover art as we do each book!) and each has a new Introduction, something that’s missing from all of my original paperbacks.

Now for two that took a while to come.

I feel like I ordered this AGES ago. “What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing” edited by Peter Ginna would be an interesting read anyway. But there’s a chapter by my edibuddy Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, so how could I not buy? Except it’s published in the US, they’ve all had their copies forever, and Amazon kept sending me upset little emails saying it was having trouble ordering it until they all of a sudden produced it and gave it to my next-door neighbour while I was otherwise engaged running a marathon!

I won “Running the Smoke: 26 First-Hand Accounts of Tackling the London Marathon” by Michael McEwan in a Runners’ Bookshelf Facebook group I’m in, quite a while ago. Now, I’m not one to complain about competitions being run slowly, because it took me an age to sort out the one I ran recently, not to mention some BookRings for BookCrossing. It could have been bad timing that it arrived two days after my own (second) marathon, but I’m all enthused and ready for the next one (Manchester, in April) so it’ll be a nice inter-marathon read. And the author signed it, which is nice.

A few naughties crept onto my Kindle via NetGalley when I was away, too. It’s when they send you those emails!

Debbie Macomber – “An Engagement in Seattle” – I can’t resist her, basically. Published 26 Dec 2017.

P.Z Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” – a woman with an AI assistant find it’s giving her tips on finding a man. I’m always interested in how novels absorb new world events and technologies: is this the first “Alexa” novel? Published 04 Jan 2018 and there’s a reviewing embargo until 2 weeks before the publishing date.

A.J. Pearce – “Dear Mrs Bird” – set in 1940, Emmy answers an advert to become assistant to an agony aunt as bombs rain down in London and kindness is needed. Looked cute. Published 05 Apr 2018.

Georgette Heyer – “Snowdrift and other Stories” – short stories by Heyer? I  had no idea until I read about it on She Reads Novels‘ blog, and I just had to seek out and request it. Published 03 Oct 2017 and next to read, I just can’t wait!


Fortunately, because of my great swathe of reading done while resting up before the marathon, my TBR shelf is looking pretty much the same as it was at the start of the month. Oh, and the Murdochs and MacCullough haven’t gone on the actual shelf as they will be read out of order.

Have you read or acquired any of these? How is YOUR TBR looking?

The Great Iris Murdoch Readalong Project November 2017 – December 2019 @IrisMurdoch #IMreadalong

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It’s here! I can’t wait! I just can’t! Attending the Iris Murdoch Society Conference in September reminded me that I haven’t re-read her novels for ages. So I decided to do so, starting in January 2018. And then I couldn’t wait. So I’m going to start in November 2017 (there are 26 novels, so that will take us nicely to December 2019. Whoo hoo! Christmas fun with … ah).

I’ve created a hashtag for use on Twitter which didn’t already exist! Use #IMreadalong when you share your blog posts.

And please comment here if you’re taking part.

How will it work?

I’ll post about the book at the start of each month then do a round-up of reviews at the end of the month, so comment on the starter post or, if you blog yourself, post a link to your review on the starter post each time and I’ll pull them all together at the end of each month. Feel free to add comments and reviews after the month in question if you get a bit behind, and no one has to read them all. There are no rules!

I am NOT doing any kind of academic study on this. I’ve promised myself that this is ONLY FOR FUN. But I am doing this as a re-read and so I’m particularly interested if you’re re-reading one or all of the books in your thoughts on it being a re-read, what has changed in your reading of the book over the years, etc. Do bring that out in your comment or blog post!

November 2017 Under the Net (1954)

December 2017 The Flight from the Enchanter (1956)

January 2018 The Sandcastle (1957)

February 2018 The Bell (1958)

March 2018 A Severed Head (1961)

April 2018 An Unofficial Rose (1962)

May 2018 The Unicorn (1963)

June 2018 The Italian Girl (1964)

July 2018 The Red and the Green (1965)

August 2018 The Time of the Angels (1966)

September 2018 The Nice and the Good (1968)

October 2018 Bruno’s Dream (1969)

November 2018 A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970)

December 2018 An Accidental Man (1971)

January 2019 The Black Prince (1973)

February 2019 The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974)

March 2019 A Word Child (1975)

April 2019 Henry and Cato (1976)

May 2019 The Sea, the Sea (1978)

June 2019 Nuns and Soldiers (1980)

July 2019 The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983)

August 2019 The Good Apprentice (1985)

September 2019 The Book and the Brotherhood (1987)

October 2019 The Message to the Planet (1989)

November 2019 The Green Knight (1993)

December 2019 Jackson’s Dilemma (1995)

So, how it works again:

Start of the month: I’ll publish a reminder to start reading and then you read the book. Comment on the starter post with your thoughts or a link to your review if you’ve blogged it elsewhere.

End of the month: I’ll publish my review and a round-up of everyone else’s thoughts on it, with links.

All clear! I hope so! Comment below if you’re considering joining in. I’d love to have some company!

PS I can’t find my copy of The Flight From the Enchanter. This obviously means I have to buy a whole new set of the recently republished ones, right?

PPS Does someone want to design a lovely logo for the readalong?