Saturday, June 27, 2015

That Ten-Dollar-Bill Thing

So, back from Arkansas, and utterly exhausted. So thought I'd do just a quick little post today, about that replacing Hamilton from the $10.00 bill thing that's been going around.

First off, I think it'd a bad idea to remove the person who created our banking system from the currency.

Second, if they had to remove somebody, I'd prefer it were General Grant, from the fifty -- a man famous mainly for killing a lot of his fellow Americans and then going on to preside over a notoriously corrupt and incompetent administration.

Third, if we're going to put a woman on our currency (a good idea in and of itself), I'd vote for Jeannette Rankin:* the first woman elected to the US Congress. A suffragette who served two terms twenty years apart, Rankin was a pacifist who voted against U. S. entry into World War I, for which she got booted out. She finally won re-election twenty years later, just in time to vote against U. S. entry into World War II (the ONLY member of Congress to do so). It's rare for a politician to stand by his or her principles, whatever the political cost.

So, it they were to make the best of a bad idea, I'd say leave Hamilton where he is, boot Grant from his current spot, and put Rankin in his place.


Friday, June 19, 2015

R. R. Martin is Munificent

So, when reading about the record-breaking auction of a first edition, first printing, signed and inscribed presentation copy of THE HOBBIT, I saw the link to another story about another record being set, again with a first edition copy of THE HOBBIT.

In brief, Martin has just donated a copy of the first edition HOBBIT to the Texas A&M university library. This is not just extremely generous of him but marks a significant milestone for the library, being their five millionth book.

Their millionth book seems to have been essentially random: PROSE AND POETRY OF THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES. So too perhaps the two million mark: A VOYAGE TO THE ISLANDS MADERA, BARBADOS, NIEVES, S. CHRSTOPHERS AND JAMAICA (1707-25) by Sir Hans Sloane. But it's v. clear that the three millionth was a careful choice: a first edition of Walt Whitman's THE LEAVES OF GRASS [1855], as was the four millionth: Cervantes's DON QUIXOTE (both volumes).

So, it's a big deal that Tolkien's work should be deemed worthy of being in such company and world-renown classic authors as Whitman and Cervantes, a point made explicitly by Martin in his presentation ("Martin expressed him pleasure at a long overdue acceptance of fantasy 'into the canon of world literature'"). It's almost as if, now that Terry Pratchett is dead, R. R. Martin has become the go-to face of fantasy guy.

Here's the link.

--John R.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Guardian Knows My Name

So, turns out that the first-edition, first-printing, autographed presentation copy given by JRRT for his student Katharine Kilbride (one of his original author's copies) didn't go for fifty to seventy thousand pounds, as estimated. It went for more than double that: £137,000


What's more, I was surprised to find myself being quoted by THE GUARDIAN.  Being referenced in an online forum or cited in an academic piece is one thing (and I'm always interested to see how others use my work); to be quoted in a world-class newspaper is oddly disconcerting. At any rate, glad to see the reference to Tolkien's THE LOST ROAD being picked up; it'd be great if that leads someone out there to discover Tolkien's strange and fascinating time-travel stories.

Here's the piece:

--John R.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Cat Report (W. 6/17-15)

I was remiss and didn't write up last week's cat report or one from the week before. Our current cats are EMMA, our little grey tabby with an outsized personality, CHESSA, a beautiful longhair orange cat who's blind (she can apparently see light and dark some, so she doesn't run into things, but she can't tell what they are), bonded pair MONTE (a dignified but friendly tuxedo cat) and sister MAISY (a torbie who's on the shy side), plus the two remaining Kittens from Oman, bonded pair sisters BLOSSOM and BUTTERCUP.

It was still the same six cats this week, who have pretty well worked out who's boss cat (EMMA), who hides and hopes she doesn't get hissed at (MAISY), who minds his own business (MONTE), who waits patiently for attention (CHESSA), and who's out and about and all over the place (BLOSSOM & BUTTERCUP).

Started off the morning by giving EMMA her walk. She initially didn't want to go anywhere but just hung out right outside the door. When I sat down with my back to the door she climbed up in my lap immediately (impressive, given that she's not a lap cat) and got some serious one-on-one petting. After a while she decided she wanted a walk after all, so we worked our way up by the drinking fountain -- where she found not one but two doors she wanted to go through: one with its door temptingly ajar and the other closed (leading into the kitchen, where she can't go). Her manners are good, though: she scratched at the closed door and mewed politely.

Next up it was CHESSA's turn. She had a good long walk and was much admired; seems that the store's entire staff knows about her and many stopped and petted her as they went by. After she was back in the room I cleaned her ears, which badly needed it but which she didn't enjoy at all. Did as much as she could stand, but it'll need doing again when someone has time. Poor Chessa!  Afterwards I rubbed her back with a wet washcloth to get a lot of that loose fur off; much less of it than had been the case last week or especially the week before.  She got hissed at by the kittens several times and swatted once before I could intervene. So she did something really clever, though I don't know if she planned it or it just worked out that way. The kittens had been giving her trouble in her usual place in the basket, so she slipped out and went into their cage. Given that they were exploring everybody else's cages, this turned out to be the one place on the ground level where she was free from being bothered by them, and she happily stayed in there quite a while. 

MONTE and MAISY had both on the kittens' hit list last week, and they've developed opposite strategies of dealing with it. MONTE picks a spot and defends it, so after a hiss or two they leave him alone. His favorite spot seems to be atop the taller cat-stand near the door; he considers the other tall cat-stand near the cabinet an acceptable substitute but more likely to be interrupted by kittens going up and down. He loves catnip, and games, and attention. In short, he's pretty much a perfectly normal cat in a room full of touchy cats, and responds warmly to petting and attention in general.  MAISY the kittens frankly bully, and last week she kept retreating until she finally found a spot where she held her ground: the carry-home box atop the cages (on the side of the room near the door). Today she went right to that box and stayed there all morning; the kittens found her once and beat a hasty retreat from her defensive hissing. I let her enjoy her peace and quiet most of the morning, only disturbing her when it was time for her to come down and go in her cage. I found she wanted attention and welcomed petting, which made me sorry I hadn't petted her more: I'll be sure to do so next time.

That just leaves THE KITTENS FROM OMAN (BLOSSOM and BUTTERCUP), who were a little less boisterous than last week, when they were little terrors. They've now decided to stay away from EMMA at all costs, so she reigns supreme down at that end of the room. They're allowed down around the floor once she's gone up on a cat-stand, but have to retreat if she wants to come down and spend some time in her Box. I can only admire her grip: she's laid down the law and intimidated them into behaving themselves when she's around. Didn't put up the 'catio' today, since they've become such escape artists, but didn't do too badly just within the room. They played in the box and with the crinkly paper once Emma was through with it, tore back and forth on the floor, went into every cage that was opened to supervise my cleaning, poked their noses into the cabinet, and played lots of games. They especially liked bug-on-a-stick: one of them kept carrying it off, like prey to her lair. They finally settled down not long before noon (though they still objected to being put back in their cage, which I can't really blame them for).

health concerns: Chessa's ears are the main one. One of the kittens threw up, but I don't know which one.  Other than that everybody seems to be okay. 

Note: I'm off next week (in Arkansas) but should be back as usual the week after.

--John R.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

So That's Where That Is! (a book from CSL's library)

So, it's well known that when C. S. Lewis was dying, he let some of his closest friends take a book or two from his library to remember him by. So far as I know no one made a list of who took which books, though the remainder of his collection (those his brother Warnie didn't want) were sold as a lot to a school and some of these were identified years later and are now in the Wade.

I therefore took note when I came across what seems to be a reference to one of those books Lewis gave away, which I thought I'd share here for those interested in such things.

The book in question is by Charles Williams, the first of his theological books (the first to be published, anyway):  HE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN (1938). Alice Mary Hadfield, in her biography of Williams, notes that

On the flyleaf of C. S. Lewis's copy of He Came Down 
From Heaven, in Charles's hand, is written 'At Shirreffs, 
2.10, 4th July 1938'. He must have been spending a lunch
-hour with Lewis at his favourite restaurant-bar,* Shirreffs,
 at the bottom of Ludgate Hill, under the railway bridge
 across the road from the King Lud pub, and have given
 him a copy of this new book to read in the train home. 
At the end of his copy Lewis wrote 'July 26 1938', 
probably the date when he finished his reading and 
making notes. Sadly, Shirreffs has gone, and the site 
no longer holds a restaurant 
[Hadfield p. 164-165]

Hadfield's source for this is identified in a note on p. 245: 'By courtesy of Mr. George Sayer.'

If follows, then, that Sayer must have Lewis's copy of this book, and it seems likely that he was given it by Lewis himself.

As it happens, we have Sayer's own account of that event, in his biography of Lewis (JACK: C. S. LEWIS AND HIS TIMES), in which Sayer describes making as his initial pick George MacDonald's UNSPOKEN SERMONS, which Lewis was apparently too attached to to be able to let go, hence Sayer "hastily withdrew my choice and asked to be allowed to have something else" (JACK p. 249). That 'something else' now looks likely to have been the Charles Williams book -- an odd choice, I shd have thought, for Sayer. As Chuck Berry says, it just goes to show you just can't tell.

--John R.

P.S.: By the way, Lewis himself left an account of this lunch-meeting in his Preface to ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS (p. viii):

[During the period 1936-1939] There were many meetings
 both in my rooms at Magdalen and in Williams's tiny office
 at Amen House. Neither Mr. Dyson nor my brother, Major 
W. H. Lewis, will forget a certain immortal lunch at Shirreff's
 in 1938 (he gave me a copy of He Came Down From Heaven
 and we ate kidneys 'enclosed', like the wicked man, 'in their
 own fat') nor the almost Platonic discussion which followed
 for about two hours in St. Paul's churchyard.

--thus we know not only that two more Inklings were in attendance (Hugo Dyson and Warnie) but even what they ate! Happenstance rarely preserves so much; a pity that in documentaries on the Inklings we see so many re-creations of CSL's midnight walk with Tolkien and Dyson and none, so far as I am aware, of this lunchtime meeting.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Something I've Learned

Working on my current paper, I've learned that there's no casual way to introduce a discussion of an author's bondage poem into a general discussion of his work.  Friday I tried all kind of ways of easing into the subject and it was just no good: a certain awkwardness kept intervening. I've concluded that it's just going to have to be abrupt. And disconcerting. Kind of like the poem itself.
Oh well.
John R.
current reading: SAILS OF GLORY rulebook
current viewing: a documentary on Pullman's GOLDEN COMPASS -- surprisingly dull, given the liveliness of the subject matter and the controversy it's caused.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Happy 150th Birthday to W. B. Yeats

Yesterday I found out quite by chance that today is Wm Butler Yeats' one hundred and fiftieth birthday.  So it seemed appropriate to give one of his poems here. Yeats gets my vote for the greatest poet of the last century, a man who was constantly re-inventing himself and forging ahead into new territory: lyrical late Victorian, Irish mythologist, personal confessional poet, war poet, witness to the modern era, poet of meditations on old age and endings. Which means there are so many to choose from. Some value the early wistfulness of "Down by the Salley Garden" and "Lake Isle of Innesfree", some the evocation of Irish legend in "Fergus and the Druid", the Cuchulainn poems, or "The Stolen Child". Perhaps his most famous poems convey something of the terrible upheavals of World War I, the Irish Rebellion, and the Irish Civil War: "Easter 1916" ("a terrible beauty has been born") and "The Second Coming" (which summed up the age: "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity"). But more than anything I think of Yeats as the poet of letting go: "Sailing to Byzantium", "Politics", the last two parts of Under Ben Bulben" (including his own epitaph), and above all "Lapis Lazuli".

But when I came to pick a poem to celebrate the day, I decided on one of his lesser-known works which, though deceptively simple, has haunted me since I first read it back in Dr. Kimpel's class during my time at Fayetteville.

"Two Songs of a Fool" [1919]

A speckled cat and a tame hare
Eat at my hearthstone
And sleep there;
And both look up to me alone
For learning and defence
As I look up to Providence.

I start out of my sleep to think
Some day I may forget
Their food and drink;
Or, the house door left unshut,
The hare may run till it's found
The horn's sweet note and the tooth of the hound.

I bear a burden that might well try
Men that do all by rule,
And what can I
That am a wandering-witted fool
But pray to God that He ease
My great responsibilities?

I slept on my three-legged stool by the fire,
The speckled cat slept on my knee;
We never thought to enquire
Where the brown hare might be,
And whether the door were shut.

Who knows how she drank the wind
Stretched up on two legs from the mat,
Before she had settled in her mind
To drum with her heel and to leap?

Had I but awakened from sleep
And called her name, she had heard,
It may be, and had not stirred,

That now, it may be, has found
The horn's sweet note and the tooth of the hound.


--at first this seems a straightforward account of a simple man worried about something which does in fact come to pass. But then again, it could just as easily been called "Answered Prayers": he prays to be eased of his burden, and his burden is taken away in a way he had not intended. Free and rejoicing, dead and devoured; he'll never know. And that we're told Providence is to us like the speaker is to his cat and rabbit is a final chilling thought.

The Red RIver RIses

So, when I was growing up in Arkansas the nearest river, and the one from which I get my instinctual ideas about rivers,* was the Red River, over near Texarkana. When my father was growing up,** this river still flooded on a regular basis, and I remember him telling me of times when he stayed out all night on the levee when the river was high (and presumably his father and brothers on other parts of the levee). And this was not to raise the alarm in case the levee gave way, he said, but patrolling it to prevent its being dynamited. The way he explained it, if the levee on one side held, it meant the farmers on the other side had their fields flooded. Whereas if the folks from the more vulnerable side could break the levee on what was for them the far side it'd protect their own side and cause the other to flood instead.

All that was long past by the time I was growing up, with the levee system having the river firmly under control (but also channeled to the extent that it no longer enriched the whole floodplain with its periodic floods). The only time I can remember a massive flood in SW Arkansas was from Hurricane Betsy, about the time I was in first grade (circa 1965-66). I didn't see the flooding myself, given that I was in Magnolia at the time, a town which happens not to be on a river, but I remember my father (who was working on his PhD down at Baton Rouge) wanted to check on his mother, who was living somewhere in the Red River region (probably over at Bodcaw), so he drove as far as he could (prob. Lewisville or that area) and then borrowed a rowboat to make the rest of the trip by water.

And now the Red River is flooding again, and on such a massive scale that they evacuated Garland City (where the road between Magnolia and Texarkana crosses the Red River) entirely:

Further downriver, near where my sister lives now, the Red River has been flooding in Shreveport/Bossier City (the west and east banks, respectively:

All this makes me grateful, for the first time, that Magnolia's not on a river. And that my mother, and sister, and nieces are all safe. And to want to check our own earthquake/flood supplies. Just in case.

current reading: some poems by W. B. Yeats

*along with the Arkansas River, later on and to a lesser extent -- and, more recently, the Green River (or Duamish), which I'm much closer to and see more often than had ever been the case with the other two.

**this would probably have been in the decade 1941-1951 or thereabouts.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Another One Bites the Dust

So, Saturday I turned on the car radio and found that something had gone wrong with one of my two default stations, 104.5 FM. I didn't recognize any of the songs they played, and in the stead of their usual music were a string of mild, soothing, and vaguely uplifting songs. In short, the rock-and-roll station had been taken over by a Christian Rock station (with emphasis on the Xian and precious little of the rock). But hope springs eternal, and I hoped that perhaps it was just a one-time weekend thing. No such luck: Monday brought the same bland Xian elevator music, so I've had to face the sad fact that one of my favorite stations is no more and begin the search for an acceptable substitute.

This has become a theme lately, since The Mountain (103.5 FM) went off the air about a year and a half ago. The nearest thing I found to a replacement was 104.5, which had a softer rock than The Mountain (e.g. you might occasionally hear The Grass Roots) as well as some Motown. But that's now changed formats in turn. The Mountain had been my favorite station out here, followed by 96.5 JackFM as two reliable rock stations, both with a good mix of older music with some newer stuff.

Of the other stations, there's still Jack FM, which is good most of the time albeit with a somewhat smaller music library than I'd prefer. But alternative to it are thin on the ground. There's 102.5 (a.k.a. 'all Led Zeppelin, all the time'*). There's 101.5, but it had a format shift of its own a while back and now has more contemporary music (women singing through synthesizers) and less rock. And there's 95.7, which is unabashedly an oldies station.

It's not so bad in the silver car, since it has a cd player and I almost always bring cds along as back-up music in case the radio lets me down (as it too often does this past year or two). But the cassette player in the old white car gave out more than a year ago, meaning I'm sometimes left high and dry and Musicless While Driving.


Time to search the dial again and see what might have popped up out there since the last time I looked. Maybe there's a good Seattle station I'm unaware of.

Or maybe I'll just wind up doing a lot more singing in the car (today it was "Stagger Lee"). But only when the windows are rolled up, for my sake and everybody else's.

--John R.

just finished: the Crow book. current reading: the Hadfield biography.

*this is an exaggeration. They sometimes play The Who as well, or even The Rolling Stones once in a while. But you get the idea.

P.S. Just for the record, I have no objection to gospel or spirituals or hymns or classical music written for religious occasions: it's Xian Rock I dislike as a parasitic form, closely modeled on rock and roll (or occasionally mid-road country) but repurposed to an agenda. I'd much prefer it develop its own idiom.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Wandering Dates

So, I'm glad to have read TO MICHAL FROM SERGE, though there was less return for the time spent than I'd hoped for. There was surprisingly little about the Inklings, and the parts about books he was writing are almost all external (e.g., he tells us he's written another 5000 words on project x over the weekend, but not about the ideas or expression thereof therein). But if we choose to read a man's letters to his wife, and find he spends most of his pages telling her how wonderful she is and how much he misses her, I suppose that's our look-out, not his.

Did want to flag one problem that does not interfere with reading the book but does make it tricky to rely upon as a source. Reading through, I noticed some mistakes in this book, mostly to do with dating. For example, the back dust jacket prints an excerpt from the first letter, written by CW upon his arrival at Oxford in the first days of the war. On the dust jacket the letter is dated "March 30 1939", which is wrong. From the letter itself, it's clear Wms wrote it around September 1st through 3rd (his next letter, written a few days later, is dated "6 Sept"). The cause of the error is simple enough: Wms gives the time he wrote it as "3.30", and the editor has mistaken this time of day (three thirty in the afternoon) for the date (March 30th).

Anyone can make a slip, and dust jackets (not being under the author's control) aren't generally fair game.  But what are we to make of the statement that the first of Dorothy Sayer's novels Williams read was THE SEVEN TAILORS? Or the information that Ben Jonson lived from 1707 to 1866 (O rare Ben indeed)?  Or the introduction's quoting from a letter it says Wms wrote in 1949 (unlikely, unless it was via a spirit medium)? Or the statement that Williams objected to the Hoare-Laval pact when it was announced in December 1945? --again, unlikely, given that (a) Wms died in May 1945 and (b) the Hoare-Laval pact turns out to involve the Abyssinian war and dates from 1935.

Such slips with dates wd be relatively harmless, given that most are self-evidently wrong. The problem is that they create a suspicion that the many other references to dates within the volume might have their own share of errors which could only be detected by a good deal of outside work. It's not the obvious errors that stick out (like my own blunder over Langland/Gower in H.o.H., or here the title of Sayers' book) that you have to worry about; it's the invisible ones that seem to make perfect sense unless you know otherwise.

So, there's worthwhile information to be extracted from this book, albeit somewhat unwillingly, but double-check the dates if possible.

--John R.
current reading: Hadfield's biography of C.W. (a re-reading)

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Charles Williams: Some Puzzles Remain

So, I've now finished reading Wms' wartime letters home to his wife (TO MICHAL FROM SERGE, ed. Roma King [2002]), I find myself left puzzling over a few points.

(1) For example, when Williams expressed a wish to own slaves [p.220], was he serious? Or should this be put down to the extravagant babble he sometimes resorts to to fill the page of yet another letter home?* I wd say the latter, were it not for not one but two poems in his Taliessin series idealizing the master-slave relationship. And certainly Roy Campbell, who memorably visited the Inklings, was ardently pro-slavery long after the point when everyone else abandoned such positions.

*(of which he wrote almost seven hundred during their wartime separation -- and that's even though he and his wife got together in London most weekends)

(2) Speaking of Campbell, we know that Williams was present when Campbell gate-crashed a Tuesday Eagle-and-Child Inklings meeting [Tues. Oct 4th, 1944], yet he makes no mention of it in his letters home [cf. p. 225]. This is odd, because Williams devotes a good deal of space in the letters to mentioning important people he's met and what they had to say about his work. He does avoid topics that he knows are likely to upset his wife, so perhaps she shared some of Lewis's suspicion and dislike of Campbell.** Perhaps he did mention it, and the editor omitted this passage from these selected letters (King mentions having made "a judicious selection" from among the 680 letter total). Still, the omission seems odd; a bit of a mystery there -- a good reminder that even when we have a lot of evidence, we still don't have everything we'd like; things fall through the gaps.

**it's one of the few times I can recall CSL using the word loathe

(3) Towards the end of his time in Oxford, he muses about how few Oxford people he's met during his five years there, aside from the people who are boarding him and his fellow Oxf.Univ.Pr. workers at the (temporary, wartime) office:

"4 at Magdalen (whom I knew before),"
 David Cecil
 Eugene Lampert
Lionel Ovenden
Gervase Mathew
Miss Morrison & Miss [Helen] Gardner

Of these, "Magdalen" is Williams' name throughout these letters for The Inklings, but it's interesting to see that he doesn't think of Lord David Cecil or Gervase Mathew as members of the group. Lampert and Ovenden appear only this one time in the entire correspondence, with brief descriptors of who they are. Morrison and Gardner are the ones who arranged for Williams to give tutorials at the women's colleges, which also seem to have made up the main audience for his lectures.

The intriguing question remains re. the four Inklings whom he knew before the war. We know three of them must be CSL, Tolkien, and Warnie, but who's the fourth? Coghill, Wrenn, and Fox are all possibilities, but I'd say it's overwhelmingly likely to have been Havard.

(4) And finally, the whole business of Williams' thinking he was going to get the Professorship of Poetry [p. 227, 252]. I've seen this referred to before, but I've never seen any sign that it was more of a pipe-dream on Williams' part, like his wistfully hoping to become Poet Laureate [p. 125, 193]. But apparently he thought it was a serious possibility, and that he wouldn't even have to stay in Oxford to hold the post but could commute back and forth from London. It all seems wildly improbable to me. He seems on much more solid ground in his hope that he'd get a Readership (though I'm not familiar enough with the Oxford system to know whether this would make him a Fellow as well), but his reasoning for this was odd:

I found myself this morning thinking how admirable 
it would be if I could get a Readership here when I retire.
I know it may be only a dream; on the other hand, CSL 
& Tolkien are only human, and are likely to take more
trouble over a project which would enable them to see
a good deal more of me than over anything that didn't.
And I think, in the future, they may take steps. Let
me know your reaction . . . O I know; a thousand
things may go wrong. Still . . . we have not altogether
failed to put ourselves over Oxford. And Oxford
might . . . it just might . . . want me
[p. 189]

--when I first read this, I took it as saying that Lewis and Tolkien were "only human" and so might fail in their attempt to secure Williams the post. But going back and rereading it, I see that he's actually saying that, being only human, they won't be able to resist taking any steps which will secure for them the pleasure of his company. Which seems a bit much.

--John R.
current reading: TO MICHAL FROM SERGE (just finishing), CHARLES WILLIAMS: AN EXPLORATION OF HIS LIFE AND WORK by Hadfield (just started re-reading)
current music, from the haven't-listened-to-in-a-long-long-time: MODERN TIMES by Jefferson Starship, STATE OF CONFUSION by The Kinks