Saturday, November 26, 2022
Friday, November 25, 2022
So, I was queried in the comments (Hi Paul W) to the effect that using a header like 'Something Kuang got right' implies there are other things she got wrong. It seems like my response to that is better treated in a post of its own (hence this) than in a comment. --John R.
re. 'Something Kuang Got Right'
re. 'Something Kuang Got Right'
It wd be more fair to say I disagree with her than that she got it wrong.
A key fulcrum in the book is the hero's dilemma: if you find yourself part of a repressive regime, one that you've come to feel is a force for evil in the world --such as the British Empire during the Opium War of the 1830s, is it
(1) better to stay in the organization and work to change it from within
(2) rebel against the group, acknowledging "the necessity of violence".
In Kuang's book the hero vacillates between these two poles for the first half of the book before committing himself absolutely to one of these options throughout the second half.
A secondary point I wd have expected her to make more of was the issue of collateral damage, but it's a relatively minor concern.
As a pacifist, I'm not sympathetic to "the necessity of evil". I think violence shd not be our starting point but our last resort. Hence I struggled with this book.
--current reading: THE ROOK
Wednesday, November 23, 2022
So, I found a lot of things about R. F. Kuang's BABEL problematic. In retrospect, I shd have kept the book's subtitle, THE NECESSITY OF VIOLENCE, front and center when reading the novel. But one thing I whole heartedly find myself in agreement with are the closing words in her introduction:
"Some may be puzzled by the precise placement of the
Royal Institute of Translation, also known as Babel.
This is because I've warped geography to make space
or it. Imagine a green between the Bodleian Libraries,
the Sheldonian, and the Radclilffe Camera. Now make
it much bigger, and put Babel right in the centre.
If you find any other inconsistencies, feel free to
remind yourself this is a work of fiction." (emphasis mine)
In short, she has followed Pullman's example of basing a story in Oxford but changing some things so that the Oxford described in her book does not correspond in every particular with its real-world counterpart: she alters things as needed for purposes of the story.
--Happy Thanksgiving, all
Tuesday, November 22, 2022
So, about a week ago I picked up RECIPES FROM THE WORLD OF TOLKIEN by Rbt Tuesley Anderson (Thunder Bay Press, 2020). Tolkien cookbooks and Middle-earth recipes have been around for a long time; I was curious to see how this one handled the balancing act of what to leave out and what to put in, given that Tolkien includes some New World ingredients in his Middle-earth works. Despite the examples in LotR and H (potatoes, tomatoes), it's disconcerting to see Anderson's claim that lembas is a kind of cornbread. This he justifies as follows:
According to The Silmarillion, Lembas is first made by Yavanna,
the Valarian queen responsible for all things that grow on the earth,
using a special corn that grows in Aman. It is therefore likely that
Lembas would have been similar in texture and appearance to a
deliciously comforting cornbread (.54)
This they back up by listing a cup of cornmeal alongside a cup of flour in the list of ingredients (.55).
--It seems pretty obvious here that the folks who put this book together didn't know that in UK usage, which we have no reason to doubt Tolkien follows, 'corn' refers not to New World corn (maize) but is a generic term for grain in general (e.g. wheat).
As for the claim that maize grows in Valinor, my memory has a vague recollection of a line about 'corn-lands of Numenor' but a quick search of THE SILMARILLION failed to turn it up.
Cram, by the way, is mainly made of oats (.52).
'Dragon Eggs' (their version of deviled eggs) is described as having 'Chinese-inspired flavors' (.35), which seems to me rather to break the book's premise.
I think they're on much more solid ground when they ascribe Gollum a sushi dish ( .90-91), though I'm doubtful re. Smeagol's access to vinegar and wasabi.
So far as I cd tell, there are no ent-draughts nor any orcish cuisine, which is perhaps just as well.
So, while I was thinking about Williams (cf. my last post), I came across a passage by Wms himself that sums up nicely the difficulties faced by Wms and his designated biographer:
When the devoted Raymond Hunt proposed writing his biography,
Williams sent a brief outline of his life, centering on a paradox:
his love for Phillis was of immeasurable value, yet it must never
'If I were to choose now, I should, I fear, still say:
"Never, never that. Let all the work go; let us lose Taliessin & the
Dove and the E. P. M. & all—only never that." But 'for god Almighty's
sake never mention it to anyone unless I say they are safe. And
especially never to my wife.' And he stipulated, 'no word like
Celia or Celian or Phillida or Phillidan should appear in your MS.
and any reference to the Masques should be small. I don't like
saying so for myself; I would write it over the earth & sky.
But there are others.'
Lindop, THE THIRD INKLING, page 324)
The core difficulty here was that Wms wanted his biographer to omit any mention of what he considered the most important event of his life -- the Beatrician moment in which he experienced the love of his life --because he didn't want his wife to find out.
Monday, November 21, 2022
So, recently my attention was drawn to a piece of mine published as far back as 1996: an essay on what I consider to be Charles Williams's best play, a Pentecost piece called TERROR OF LIGHT.* It's an unusual play, in a much more colloquial idiom than most of C.W.'s drama. In fact, it's his only play in prose, which I argued was one reason for its success. Success, that is, as a work of art: it's generally been dismissed by Wms scholars --unfairly, I think.
I hadn't looked at my essay for years and found the experience of going back and reading it now an interesting one. I think my critique of the play and my arguing that it merits praise stand up well pretty well, thought I think I've improved a good deal as a writer and cd do a better job of it today.**
This being the first of three pieces I've written about Wms has made me want to go back and reread the other two:
The second, delivered at the Wheaton Mythcon in 1985 and collected into the informal proceedings from that conference, was my piece arguing that Tolkien and Williams were friends -- which is generally agreed upon today but was going against the consensus at the time.
The third was my Mythcon Guest of Honor speech for the Colorado Springs Mythcon in 2015 where I really went out on a limb, suggesting a whole new way to read Williams that I thought solved a lot of difficulties and contradictions in his life and works.
The first of these three essentially disappeared like a pebble thrown into a puddle.
The second was favorably mentioned in a number of places and helped Inklings scholars get a better understanding of Tolkien's and Williams' relationship.
The third, the most radical and I think most important, had the misfortune to come out right about the time two major books on Ch.Wms. came out, which more or less buried it. But it wd have been a hard sell in any case, since it goes against the current.
Still, it's been interesting to go back and look again at old work.
--current reading: THE ROOK by O'Malley (re-reading), BABEL (just finished), PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE (just started).
*this appears in the volume THE RHETORIC OF VISION, edited by Charles A. Huttar and Peter J. Schakel; my piece was originally titled "TERROR OF LIGHT: Williams' Prose Play", changed by the editor to "Rhetorical Strategies in Charles Williams's Prose Play"
**I had the same experience when I went back and revised "SHE and Tolkien", my first essay of Tolkien criticism (1981 & 2011)
Wednesday, November 9, 2022
So, earlier this week I came across a video on PBS about woodpeckers. It's something my mother wd have loved. Since I can no longer share it with her I thought I'd shared it here. Not only is the content interesting and the nature photography stunning but it confirms that I'd been pronouncing the name of the pileated woodpecker right all these years:
We've had a resident pair of woodpeckers, a male and female flicker, come up on a regular basis outside our place for as long as we've lived here, over twenty years now. I know they can't very well be the original birds, but they do show how a family of birds can persist so long as their habitat survives.
Here's the link:
--current reading: still BABEL