Friday, January 28, 2011

Evangelion 2.0

So, Saturday night (the 22nd) three of our previous weekend's group of four (Monte, Stan, and myself)* headed back up to the U-district to see the second part of EVANGELION. As before, we went out to eat first -- this time at The Shawarma King. It's been a good while -- more than ten years, I'd say -- since I had shawarma, and I was a bit afraid it'd be too much like the gyros sans pita I'd had the day before, but although it looked similiar the spice mix and taste were quite different, and much better.I also liked the Egyptian nick-nacks scattered all throughout the shop.

Then, after a mostly pleasant walk (we got harassed by a belligerent drunk at one point) and a cup of tea (since the Grand Illusion, being a v. civil place, allows you to buy a cup of tea and take it into the theatre itself with you), it was time for the show. We sat up in the next-to-the-front row, which seemed a good choice at the time but proved to be not quite as good as we thought, given that some folks came in just before the show started and sat in front of us, with the end result that Monte and I both had only partial view of the subtitles as viewed around head-shaped silhouettes, though Stan got lucky (the person in front of him slouched down a lot). This wasn't too bad for me, since I knew enough of the story from the tv series to be able to mostly follow along, but it was a real challenge for Monte, who was coming fresh to the films with no prior knowledge of EVANGELION.

So, how was the second film, EVANGELION 2.0: YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE**? Pretty good, but not as coherent as the first one. Things are thrown at you at a faster clip, with few transitions. This is also where the story starts to diverge in major ways from the original. If their goal was to retell the series in punchier, more compact form, they've certainly succeeded. If, as I've read, they wanted to make a stand-alone set of films that you could enjoy and understand without knowing its earlier incarnations, then here's where the train leaves the tracks. There's simply not enough exposition to tell you what's going on; you have to guess who various people are and why they're doing what they're doing to whom. On the plus side, it's good to see the third Evangelion pilot, Asuka, arrive and liven things up. And the new character they introduce who wasn't in the original -- a fourth pilot, Mari, who's even more gung-ho than Asuka -- is fun, though she really only shows up for three scenes.

All in all, it's enjoyable enough that I'm still looking forward to the third installment (which apparently has been delayed -- typical of this director -- with no official release date as yet). The plan seems to be that the third film will cover the events in the rest of the series, then the final film will tell what happens after that -- so the story will be not just apocalyptic but post-apocalyptic, as it were, if they keep to that. We'll see.

Oh, and seeing this solved one puzzle from last week. Why had they been playing music from a different series, HIS & HER CIRCUMSTANCES, in the theatre before the film started? Because they've included pieces from that earlier soundtrack into the second EVANGELION movie. For those who knew both series, like myself and Stan, this was v. disorienting -- like watching a Star Trek movie and suddenly hearing the Star Wars theme in one scene. Still, it's good music, and it's being recycled from an entirely different show won't matter to most viewers of this.

And, speaking of music, I enjoyed the closing theme so much that I went on Itunes afterwards and tracked it down: "Beautiful World" (PLANiTB Acoustic version). Very nice!

--John R.

*sans Ben, who had a D&D game that ran long, but plus Anne and Sigfried, who joined us there.

**Janice quipped that the third film shd be called YOU CAN(NOT) PASS GO, YOU CAN(NOT) COLLECT $200, or something like that.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Le Guin's CHEEK BY JOWL (Todorov, Adams, Pullman)

So, earlier this month I got to run by the University Bookstore for the first time in quite a while, on my way to Suzzallo-Allen to return a v. bad book I'd borrowed (more on this one later) and check out some better ones. I didn't find the one I was looking for (a modern translation of Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH),* but I did come across a book of essays by Le Guin I hadn't heard of before, CHEEK AND JOWL, published by Seattle's own Aqueduct Press [2009].

It's an interesting collection, as one wd expect of Le Guin, who's one of the most eloquent and quirky authors writing science fiction and fantasy today -- the latest in a line of collected essays starting with the brilliant THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT [1979] (which includes "From Elfland to Poughkeepsie", "A Citizen of Mondath", "The Staring Eye", &c) and continuing through the disappointing DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD [1989] and THE WAVE IN THE MIND [2004], which I have but have not read.

On the plus side, Le Guin is an intelligent and amusing writer. I enjoyed reading her various comments about Tolkien, her two brief references to Dunsany (an author we both greatly admire), her perceptive observation about Spenser. But I was distressed, at one point in her essay "The Critics, the Monsters, and the Fantasists" (which is obviously greatly indebted to Tolkien's "The Monsters & the Critics"), to read her dismissive remarks about Tzvetan Todorov (p. 31) and realize that she apparently hadn't actually read Todorov -- or, if she had, she utterly misunderstood, and misrepresents, his thesis.

That, I admit, shook me, but at least Le Guin was only repeating canards I've seen elsewhere about Todorov's work, which is more widely referenced than read. And I can see why she's a bit terse in her comments on the Harry Potter books being praised for inventing the idea of a school for wizards (though it wd have been generous for her to mention Terry Pratchett's Unseen University as well as her own School for wizards at Roke as honorable predecessors). What really pulled me up sharp was her attack on Richard Adams' WATERSHIP DOWN.

Now, I freely admit to being a great admirer of Adams' book, which makes my list of the ten best fantasy books of all time.** And I'm not at all bothered that an author I like (Le Guin) dislikes another author I like (Adams) -- after all, literary history is full of such examples. H. G. Wells mocked Henry James' style and Jules Verne disparaged Wells' science fiction. Twain disliked Austen, and Austen admitted that having learned Burns was a cad got in the way of her enjoying his work. Barfield never had much use for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and so forth. But the bizarre thing here is that Le Guin attacks Adams for something that doesn't even occur in his book.

Essentially, Le Guin criticizes Adams because his rabbit-society is male-dominated, whereas wild rabbits are actually matriarchal. Fair enough; the first half of his book is certainly male-dominated, and I'm willing to accept her assertions about real-life rabbit behavior without going to read Lockley's Private Life of Rabbits for myself. But Le Guin goes much further, accusing Adams of "systematically misrepresenting" rabbit society (p. 80) and
claiming that

"Doe rabbits, in [Adams'] book, are mindless breeding slaves. Their only function is to dig holes, provide sex, bear litters, and raise the kittens. The buck rabbits do all the thinking, planning, and acting and are in unquestioned control of the females at all times. The does are so far beneath notice, in fact, that a band of bucks fleeing the home warren to establish a new one doesn't even think to bring any does along; the guys go on for two hundred pages before it dawns on them that it may be hard to establish a new warren without females. So, in good militaristic fashion, they go and rape the Sabines: they carry off females from another warren. That the females might have any voice in the matter is not even considered."

Contrast this final sentence with what actually happens in the book: having learned of a neighboring warren, Efrafa, our heroes (who had fled nilly-willy from their old home to escape impending doom) first send an emissary asking if any rabbits from that overcrowded warren, especially does, would like to come join theirs. When this open approach is rebuffed, their embassy arrested and barely escaping, the heroes come up with a new plan: one of their members joins Efrafa undercover in order to contact does who want to leave and start a new, freer life elsewhere. Given that Efrafa is a police state where all does are subject to what amounts to state-enforced prostitution with officers, many are indeed willing:

Thlayli (Bigwig), a buck from Watership Down: "Don't you want to get out and come and live on the high downs with us? Think of it!"

Hyzenthlay, a doe from Efrafa: "Oh, Thlayli! Shall we mate with whom we choose and dig our own burrows and bear our litters alive? . . . I'll come! I'll run any risk." (WATERSHIP DOWN, p. 296)

So, Le Guin's claim that Adams does not give his female rabbits "any voice in the matter" is simply wrong, an error in fact. Far from a rape of the Sabine Women, all the rabbits who leave Efrafa to throw in their lot with Hazel's group do so by their own choice, bravely escaping from an intolerable and dehumanizing life. Even in the earlier episode where Hazel and his friends free some tame rabbits from their hutch on a farm is preceded by their asking first if the domesticated rabbits want to join them:

"We've come to let you out. Will you come with us?"
There was a pause and some movement in the hay and then Clover [a doe] replied, "Yes, let us out." (p. 191; cf. also 181-182 for the initial invitation)

Finally, Le Guin completely ignores TALES FROM WATERSHIP DOWN [1996], in which Hazel hears the story of a warren with a female Chief Rabbit (p. 155ff) and, after another such a warren is founded as a satellite-colony of Watership Down's rabbits, decides it'd be a good idea to share power with a female Chief Rabbit (p. 207) within Watership Down itself, offering the job to the same Hyzenthlay who was promised a freer life way back in Efrafa days.

Le Guin, however, sees no difference between Hazel's group and the Efrafan police state ("I see both as unrighteous, unrabbitlike, and inhuman") and claims Adams presents a dichotomy between romantic protective love and "a 'natural' use by males of females as owned objects, breeding stock -- thus justifying rape. No other possibility is imagined, such as a relationship of equality, or a relationship that the female initiates or controls some aspects of" (p. 82). That, of course, is simply, demonstrably, false. Her conclusion is equally harsh:

"Adams cheated. He wanted to write a fantasy of male superiority" but could only do so by misrepresenting what rabbits are really like. "That is cheating" (p. 82).

I don't know why Le Guin decided to go all Edmund Wilson on WATERSHIP DOWN, or portray Adams as a sort of latter-day John Norman of Gor, but Adams deserves better: to be judged for what his characters actually say and do in the novel, not for some projection that wildly distorts the facts.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Given how egregious her attack on Adams is, Le Guin's dismissal of Philip Pullman is relatively minor by comparison, though baffling in its own right. The context, like her assault on Adams, is as part of her long survey of "Animals in Children's Literature",*** in the course of which she makes the baffling statement that Pullman's work contains almost no animals, dismissing the daemons as merely "fragments or images of the human psyche given animal shape . . . having no independent being and therefore incapable of relationship. Lyra's much-emphasized love for her daemon is self-love. In Pullman's world humans are dreadfully alone . . ." (p.102-103).

If that were true, all Lyra's conversations with Pantalaimon are simply exercises in narcissism: she's just talking to herself out loud. But once again, as with Adams, that's not at all the experience a reader takes away from Pullman's book. Pantalaimon is presented with a vividly realized personality of his own, and his exchanges with Lyra are real conversations; the same is true of other human/daemon one-on-ones throughout the book. And, besides, Le Guin herself offered up a superb example of real exchange between different parts of a person's psyche in her short story "Intercom".****

So, while there are good things in this collection -- for example, the scorn she pours upon "[t]he notion that a story 'has a message' . . . that . . . can be reduced to a few abstract words", or that such a 'message' is any substitute for reading and experiencing the story itself (p.126) -- I hesitate to recommend it. It's like looking forward to eating a piece of pecan pie by a really good cook whose cooking you like, only to find pecan shells in it when you bite down. Ouch.

*I found this later in the week up at Third Place Books; cf. my earlier post
**see my entry on WATERSHIP DOWN in my Classics of Fantasy series (which also included a piece on Le Guin's A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA).
***At over sixty pages in length, this is by far the lengthiest piece in the book, stretching for nearly half of the whole. Oddly enough, while she surveys a huge range of books, she omits any mention of Brer Rabbit.
****which I know through multiple listenings of the old Caedmon Records recording, which I checked out many times from the Milwaukee Public Library (being then the poorest of poor grad students and unable to actually buy the thing for myself), rather than the print version appearing in THE COMPASS ROSE [1982]. Highly recommended (the audio version, that is)!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Am The King of Footnotes!

So, one of the many small but pressing tasks I've been dealing with over the past few days has been the request from the editor of a volume I've contributed an essay to that I add a footnote to take into account two sources I didn't otherwise cite.* I've now worked out a satisfactory way to incorporate both into an existing footnote,** but the event caused my wife to observe that this is the first time anyone's ever asked me to add MORE footnotes to anything I've written.

It's true: I like footnotes (or, more accurately, endnotes). I like to include additional pieces of evidence, small clarifications, interesting tangently related bits, and the like. Sometimes a note is like a mini-article of its own, carefully researched and placed in a subordinate position to the main point of the essay.

This tendency reached its peak in my dissertation, which was about two hundred pages long (double-spaced), plus about another hundred pages of endnotes (single-spaced). One of my committee members, the late Dr. John McCabe, observed as he was congratulating me after the dissertation defense that I'd never get away with that again. Instead, I think over time it's become a hallmark of my work. As the editor of the volume I was talking about before just observed, I'm one of the few -- perhaps the only -- person he knows who has footnotes to my footnotes.***

That's when it occurred to me: I shd embrace my desire to 'load every rift with ore', as Keats put it. Or, to put it another way,

I am the King of Footnotes.

Do I get a t-shirt?


*since my citations weren't intended to cover everything ever written on the subject, but rather a sampling of representative pieces
**unfortunately now including a criticism of a critic I'd hitherto silently omitted -- which is worse, I wonder: to be left out altogether, or to be included with your piece's shortcomings noted?
***doesn't everybody?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The New Arrivals

So, things having been v. busy here of late; with a deadline three weeks away and a handful of do-this-right-away smaller projects having clustered round demanding immediate attention, posts have been light on the ground. I shd have a string of posts up starting tomorrow -- but in case I get delayed again, in lieu of waiting till I have time to complete a proper post, here's a quick list of the sudden onslaught of books and Tolkien-related journals that have arrived here within the past week.

(1) THE RING & THE CROSS: CHRISTIANITY & THE LORD OF THE RINGS, from Fairleigh-Dickinson Press, ed. Paul Kerry. [2011]

(2) CATALHOYUK by Ian Hodder [2006]

(3) BOOK GIRL & THE FAMISHED SPIRIT by Mizuki Nomura [2006; tr. 2011]

(4) PARMA ELDALAMBERON Vol. XIX: Quenya Philology [2010]

(5) FINGAL: AN ANCIENT EPIC POEM IN SIX BOOKS by "Ossian" (=James MacPherson) [facsimile of 1762 edition]

(6) THE TOLKIEN COLLECTOR, issue thirty-one. [December 2010]

(7) MIRKWOOD: A NOVEL by Steve Hillard [2010]

—some of these I've known about and had on order for a long time (e.g., the Fairleigh-Dickinson book) or made previously unsuccessful attempts to get (Catalhoyuk, Fingal), while others are recent orders (Mirkwood) and still others arrived unexpectedly though v. welcome (Tolkien Collector).

More later.

--John R.
current song: "Beautiful World" from EVANGELION 2.0

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Evangelion 1.0

So, Friday night (the 14th) I got to go with three friends (hi Stan. hi Monte. hi Ben) up to Seattle to see an anime film at The Grand Illusion, the University District's micro-theatre. It's pretty rare that I get to see anime in a theatre -- I think the last time was when Miyazaki's PONYO came out -- and even rarer to get to see it with the original Japanese voice-actors, as in this case.

This was a good event in several ways. First, I like the U-district and don't get up there that often (about once a month or so, maybe a little more often), and then it's usually straight to Suzzallo-Allen (returning books, doing research among the stacks, working on the laptop in the grand Reading Room w. the stained-glass windows) -- last time's brief side-trip to the Univ. Bkstre reminded me how long it'd been since I'd been there as well. I also enjoyed the company, and conversation, and our stroll around the area between dinner and the movie. The restaurant (Pam's) was a discovery; I've never had Trinidadian food before and, while it's higher-carb than I wd have liked, it's also v. good stuff. I'd heard of pigeon peas before but never seen, much less eaten, them: they remind me of crowder peas, though darker and a little smaller. Plus, of course, it'll be easy to remember a restaurant with the same name as my sister (who runs her own restaurant in Waskom, Texas).

The main event, of course, was the show itself: EVANGELION 1.0: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE. I'd heard about this, of course, when it came out a few years ago [2007], but not paid much attention because I'd been under the misapprehension that it was a re-release of the first few episodes of the 1995 tv series packaged together as a movie (shades of MAN FROM UNCLE!). And, while I liked the original well enough, I never bought into the line that it was the greatest anime of all time,* though it did play a big role in the big upswing of anime in the late '90s and early '00s. Still, it'd be nice to see it all cleaned up, and there was always a chance they'd cut down on the angst and whining in the edit.

Well, it turns out this is less a clean-up than a remake of the original -- the first of four, which between them will retell the whole story of the series. Don't know what the whole set of films will be like: this one at least follows the original closely for the most part, but speeds things up to concentrate on the story, rather than the main character's woe-is-me's that form so much of the original. They've also improve the look-and-feel a lot, and made small but significant changes throughout, which open up some interesting possibilities for what'll happen down the line.

So, my ultimate verdict is thumb's up: this improves upon the original while still staying close enough to it that if you haven't watched the series in a while (like me) you won't even notice most of the differences, other than a general impression that the art looks better and the story moves more quickly (both a good thing in this case). I'll be looking forward to the second installment, EVANGELION 2.0: YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE [2009], which we're planning on seeing, same bat-channel, same bat-time, this coming Friday, Angels willing & the creek don't rise.** I hope they complete the whole set, though I'm concerned that Anno will flake out at some point -- after all, he had three tries to finish the original story and blew it all three times: in the final two episodes of the original series, in the single-episode ova that followed, and in the END OF EVANGELION film that followed that. Some folks are great at keeping the balls in the air but haven't the ghost of an idea how to catch them at the end of the act. But at least, like Blake's 7, they had the courage of their convection not to choose an easy ending. We'll see if they do better this time around -- I hope.

--John R.
current audiobook: none, having just finished THE BOOK OF REVELATIONS
current book: Le Guin's CHEEK & JOWL
newest book to arrive: see tomorrow's post.

*for my money, it's not even the best work of its director or studio (Hideaki Anno of Gainax): that'd be HIS & HER CIRCUMSTANCES

**why yes, we did get three more flood warnings -- two Stage Two and one Stage Three -- both by e-mail and via early morning automated phone calls over the weekend. Driving along the Green River in Kent between the 'fishing hole' and strawberry farm is quite a sight, with the river only a foot or two below the level of the road. Glad it's higher on this side, what with the levee and sandbags and all.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Today's Word: Genizah

So, a week or two back Janice saw an article in the local (e)paper that she thought wd interest me, how a local author was going to do a reading about his new book in an area bookstore.

Since the topic was one I've been interested in for years -- I suppose it's fifteen years or so since I first heard about the Cairo Genizah, back when I was working for Gareth Stevens* -- we decided to brave the dark and the rain for a long drive (about thirty miles each way) up to Third Place Books after work that evening to see the author do a reading
I'd never been to, or even heard of, Third Place Books before, and I have to say I was impressed. We had a few minutes before the Reading began, so I took the time to poke around and found a modern translation of Verne's JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH I'd been looking for, along with a reasonably good Tolkien section.** One good idea they have that I'd like to see put into practice elsewhere is that used and new books by the same author are shelved together. As usual in a good bookstore, I had to restrain myself, but I not only left w. two books from that first visit but when I came back two days later (to retrieve the scarf I'd inadvertently left behind under my chair) I picked up two more: POE ABROAD (which reviews Poe's foreign reputation country-by-country***) -- an impulse buy I knew I'd regret not picking up -- and a mystery novel for light reading: Rhys Bowen's ROYAL FLUSH, one of her 'royal spyness' series**** The cafe/food court alongside the bookstore makes for a pretty good away-from-home place to work w. a laptop, I discovered on this second visit, though I was somewhat thrown off my game when a gospel choir started up nearby (apparently the food-court stage hosts a lot of events on weekends).

In any case, the presentation soon started, and turned out to be a talk rather than a reading per se. That was fine by me: I'd never been able to find out much about the genizah, mainly because I cd never remember the name and didn't know how to pronounce it, so I was glad to finally have the chance to learn more than what I'd been able to gather from passing references over the years.

For those unfamiliar w. the story, there's a longstanding tradition in medieval Judaism against throwing away sacred books. So, instead of tossing worn out scriptures or prayerbooks in the trash, the synagogue in Cairo had an opening in the wall through which old writings could be pushed into the storage room beyond, rather like the 'book return' slot beside most public library doors. Except in this case, the room beyond was unusually large, and the papers deposited there (over the course of several centuries) were left undisturbed until modern times. I'll let you read Rabbi Glickman's book, SACRED TREASURE: THE CAIRO GENIZAH, if you want the details on just how they were rediscovered and brought to scholars' attention, what treasures were eventually recovered from among its more than 300,000 pages of worn-out old manuscripts (handwritten letters from Moses Maimonides, pages from the Hebrew original of a Deuterocanonical book only known to survive in Greek translation, &c); it's quite a story.

The only discordant note was the presenter's rather dismissive attitude towards the remarkable Gibson/Lewis sisters, the ones who actually deserve the lion's share of the credit for the discovery (they also earlier discovered the CODEX SINAITICUS, now in the British Museum*****). Janice had earlier read what she tells me is a really good book about the sisters:

That, and someone behind me who seemed upset that Rabbi Glickman said that the Jewish community in medieval Cairo was relatively fortunate, in that they were spared the pogroms and waves of persecutions their co-religionists in Europe were periodically subjected to (he rose during the question-&-answer period to assert vigorously that it'd been "no Paradise" -- e.g., they'd had to pay special not-a-Muslim taxes -- but then no one ever said it was). In fact, the same person had started to voice some objection out loud earlier in the presentation, when Glickman said the reason this genizah had survived so long was that anti-semetism in the Muslim world was a relatively modern development, but had subsided when he went on to talk about the expulsion of Muslims from what is now Israel being matched by the suppression and destruction of Jewish communities around the Mid-east, some of them hundreds if not thousands of years old.

All in all, a v. pleasant evening. I ended up being lucky enough to buy the last copy the bookstore had of the book, which I got the author to sign. I'm looking forward to reading it and finally getting the whole story about this remarkable stash. Having bought a good book on the Dead Sea Scrolls a while back, and now having this on the Genizah's contents, I suppose I'll need to start looking for one on the third of the remarkable Mid-east document recoveries, the Nag Hammadi texts.

Oh, and something I didn't realize until afterwards is that I think this marks the first time I've met a Rabbi. About time! Better late than never, I suppose.

--John R.

current/recent reading: ROYAL FLUSH by Rhys Bowen (a 'royal spyness' mysthery) [#2889], THE THREE COFFINS by John Dickson Carr (a Dr. Gideon Fell mystery) [#2890], and Le Guin's CHEEK & JOWL (in progress)
current audiobook: New Testament epistles (finally done with Paul, who's given to too many senior moments)
*probably while fact-checking the backmatter of their CHILDREN OF THE WORLD: EGYPT.

**I later realized it was somewhat better when I saw the 'collector's items' shelved had several of the HME volumes, along w. the Folio Society LotR set.

***turns out his popularity took a big downturn in Maoist China. Who knew?

**** set in the early 1930s in which the thirty-fourth in line for the British throne, the impoverished sister of a duke, gets assigned odd jobs and tricky tasks by the royal family -- such as, in this case, trying to keep apart the Crown Prince and the American, Mrs. Simpson, he's currently in hot pursuit of.

*****and hence now one of the most famous stolen books in the world

Thanks to one of the comments, I now see that what I heard as 'Codex Sinaiticus' must in fact be the Codex Syriaticus, also known as the Old Syriac, or the Syriac Sinaitic, among other names; Glickman (p.48-49) calls it "the Lewis Codex" and "the Sinaitic Palimpsest". It sounds quite interesting -- as interesting in fact as the Codex Sinaiticus itself. So it was a fortuitous error, for me at least. -- JDR

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hobbit Movie: Coming Together Nicely

So, thanks to friend Jessica (thanks Jessica), I saw the following link today, which brings up to date the various casting announcements for who's reprising roles from Peter Jackson's LORD OF THE RINGS movies in his new HOBBIT.

Here's the run down

Ian McKellan as Gandalf: check
Ian Holm as old Bilbo: mooted as possibility
Andy Serkis as Gollum: check

Kate Blanchett as Galadriel: check
Orlando Bloom as Legolas: check
Christopher Lee as Saruman: check*
Elijah Wood as little Frodo: check

missing in action?
Hugo Weaving as Elrond.

Of these, it's great that McKellan and Serkis will be back, as well as Blanchett and (hopefully) Lee. I hope Holm is there as well, given that his was one of the best performances in the original film trilogy. I've been wondering if Bloom wd show up in the Battle of Five Armies, slaying a hundred goblins with a single arrow -- though a million dollars for a two-minute cameo seems kinda steep. The only one returning character I'd expect to see who isn't mentioned here is Hugo Weaving as Elrond, and frankly I'd be just as happy to see somebody else play the part --they certainly improved Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies by a change in cast (although there it was of necessity, when the original actor died). And while not as disastrous as the film trilogy's Denethor or Faramir, once past the opening battle-scene Weaving's Elrond cdn't seem to rise above petulance as characterization. Maybe he'll lighten up for the prequel.

Given this update, it's interesting to check the IMDb entry for the forthcoming movie, which includes the news (news to me, anyway) that Howard Shore is returning as composer -- I guess it's like Carroll/Tenniel. Here's the link:

I'd been wondering who might do the voice of Smaug (Richard Boone being long gone); the rumor of Nimoy is an intriguingly odd choice. I'd still prefer Tom Baker, myself. I guess we'll see soon, though -- filming is due to start next month.


*while the article linked to above lists Lee as pending, Kristin Thompson's site today carries a story confirming that Lee is indeed returning:

Monday, January 10, 2011

Celebrating a Birthday

So, this week we celebrated Janice's birthday. As opposed to some years where we've gone out in a group or gotten together with friends, this time we had a low-keyed, but still v. enjoyable, weekend. Among the highlights were a trip out to Black Diamond to the Black Diamond Bakery for freshly made cinnamon rolls bigger than our heads.* We followed this up w. a nice poke in Baker Street Books next door -- nice place; wish it were closer -- and then headed on home, where I spent the next few hours making home-made rolls,** by request, from my Grandmother's recipe; once they were done, I made up some skillet potatoes (potatoes, mushroom, bacon, onion, and cheddar).*** A quiet, pleasant day.

Sunday was much the same, except that our expedition today involved art, not food. We hardly ever go down to Tacoma, for some reason, even though from here it's just as close as downtown Seattle, which we find our way to probably about once a month or so. A few years back we'd gone with the extended Baur family down to the Museum of Glass, where I saw for the first time the work of famed local artist Dale Chihuly, whom I'd never even heard of before. We also on that visit walked over to the nearby History Museum and saw a v. bad exhibit on Japanese popular culture (good topic, bad exhibit. it happens). This time, as part of our do-something-new-&-different pledge, we went to the third museum in the district: the Tacoma Art Museum. They were having what turned out to be a deeply interesting display of Japanese woodcut art. I'd known about Hokusai's famous 'Twenty-Four Views of Mt. Fuji", but had not realized that sets of art around a theme were an accepted genre, just as you might buy a themed book of art today. The faces and portraiture element of the art didn't do much for me, but the designs on the robes were spectacular -- often different patterns on the inside and outside of the same robe, plus another for the underrobe worn beneath it. The backgrounds were also nice, esp. the landscapes and scenery. One striking piece shows Mejii Japan: a scene in a railway station, where all the men had adopted American/European style clothes, while some women had also gone the Victorian bustle dress route but most of the women still wore traditional Japanese clothes. I guess it's always the way of things that women are expected to keep up the old ways of dressing longer than the men do, as is still evident in immigrant communities around us today.

After that, we breezed through their Impressionists exhibit (I love Impressionism, but this wasn't really an eye-catching display and spent the rest of our time in their Chihuly room. Glass art is not really my thing, but you have to be impressed by brilliance even in an art form that doesn't speak to you personally. They had an interesting documentary about Chihuly playing in one corner so you cd see his team at work (ironically enough, because of injuries Chihuly himself can't actually blow or spin glass himself anymore, so all the pieces are made under his direction by his team).

After that, we stopped for one more non-Atkins dinner out, then came on home and wound down for the evening. A good week-end. Tomorrow, it's long walks and eggs for breakfast as we get back to the diet.


*well, not really, but they kinda felt like it, especially during those last few bites. Did I mention that this was a non-Atkins/Feast day?
**see above re. feast day
***ibid, feast day


So, we'd been thinking, a few months back, about how the SouthWest (which we mainly know from Tony Hillerman novels) is one part of the country neither of us has ever visited. And there's a lot of interesting, indeed spectacular, things to see in that area that wd make it well worth a visit.

Then came the Juan Crow laws, a sudden outpouring of anti-immigrant rhetoric, and a string of racist incidents that made us decide that if we did go to the Southwest sometime in the next few years, it wouldn't be to Arizona -- more likely New Mexico, which shares a lot of the same problems but hasn't become unhinged in facing them.

States do go through crazy seasons: McCain & Brewer's Arizona, George Wallace's Alabama, Faubus's Arkansas, John Brown's Kansas, John C. Calhoun's South Carolina. That's not to overlook the decent, sane, honorable people who live there during such times; it's just to recognize that they're not in control of events. And this current spate is not altogether unprecedented in the state's history -- people tend to forget that Barry Goldwater ran on a states' rights platform opposing the pending landmark civil rights bills; his strongest support in the 1964 election came from white supremacists in the Deep South, which provided him with 90% of his electoral votes. Now there's been another upsurge and, like the local sheriff said, Arizona has become "a Mecca for prejudice and bigotry".

So, while the horrific news this weekend of attempted Congressional assassination, which included the murder of a federal judge and nine-year-old-girl, is shocking, it's not surprising. Hate speech has its consequences.* Or, to put it another way,

"Guns don't kill people: People with guns kill people."


current audiobook: Acts of the Apostles
current book: TROY & HOMER [still!]
current project: "Macpherson & Tolkien: A Tale of Two Legendariums" [Kalamazoo paper]

*The Wife Says:
Anyone who doubts that words have consequences should consider the effect of calling the estate tax a "death tax".

Or, in the wise words of John Stewart, our national court jester:
"Take it down a notch for America"

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Tolkienian Puzzle

So, I've recently been thinking about some of the twists and turns that went into the creation of Tolkien's legendarium, and I've just about decided that the strangest of all is Tolkien's abandonment of the Lost Tales for the Long Lays. That is, not that he left the Lost Tales unfinished (this, alas, would prove to be characteristically Tolkienian) but his shift to an altogether different genre, that of narrative verse, to replace the prose tales.

While Christopher Tolkien's work through the HISTORY OF MIDDLE-EARTH series does a brilliant job of explicating all the various stages and how the multitude of texts relate to each other, the why must always be more allusive. Had Tolkien first written the Lost Tales in verse and then adapted them into prose, he would have been more closely following what I see as his primary model for THE BOOK OF LOST TALES, Wm Morris's THE EARTHLY PARADISE.

Each author has to follow his own muse, I suppose, and what a writer writes, and in what sequence, is often a complex interplay of internal and external forces. But while the other shifts in focus and genre make sense to me as I retrace Tolkien's career, this one doesn't. I can think up a lot of possible explanations, but none that really seem to ring true. So, for now, file this under "pondering". One day a little lightbulb may suddenly light up and all the pieces may fall plausibly into place, or this may remain one of those "Why? Because!" imponderables. I guess we'll see (or not, as the case may be).

today's music: "The Tourist" by Gerry Rafferty (dec'd.) [alas, not available on i-tunes]
today's audiobook: The Gospel of John

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Censoring Twain

So, I recently saw a news story about a new bowdlerized edition of Mark Twain's classic THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN that's just out. Why would anyone censor what's widely considered the single greatest American novel? Because in portraying racists, like Pap Finn, Twain lets them rant and reveal their shortcomings out of their own mouths. Which means that some of the things his villains say are (and are meant to be) deeply offensive, as is the language they say it in. That those characters say such things, and in such language, is meant to demean them and undercut their position. But inevitably this means children that read the novel get exposed to some rough stuff. The new editor's solution? Remove the N-word and replace it with "slave" or some similar elocution throughout. Leaving aside the more-politically-correct-than-thou response of some who even object to the use of slave (they feel it's more respectful to say "enslaved person" -- as if Twain meant ignorant bigots to sound respectful!), I see their point but don't think bowdlerizing is the solution.

What I'd suggest is to follow the practice of Twain's own time. Twain was very fond of using a favorite profanity which cdn't be printed in books and papers in his day and so was indicated by an initial followed by a dash: d---.* Why not replace the offensive word in HUCK FINN with N+dash, just as news reports do as standard modern practice? Maybe someday we'd actually get to the point where a reader might genuinely not know what word this stood for. And that would be a happy day.

Even better would be to leave the text alone. If we're to assume that readers Huck's own age can't handle the use of racist language, wait until they're a little older to let them have the real book, not some watered-down version that distorts the reality the author was attempting to convey. Racism was ugly and to neutralize the ugliness of his portrayal of it distorts the picture. Twain famously maintained that the importance of using just the right word was the difference between lightning and a lightning bug; he deserves better than to be abandoned to the Bowdlers of the world.


*this particular taboo was not broken until a half-century or so after HUCK FINN, in Clark Gable's closing line in GONE WITH THE WIND.

The Day's Canto (Canto 5)

. . . on the barb of time.
The fire? always, and the vision always,
Ear dull, perhaps, with the vision, flitting
And fading at will . . .

--Ezra Pound [circa 1930]

UPDATE (Friday Jan. 7th)
I've turned off the comments, since several of the posters used the very word I'd carefully avoided. I'm simply not comfortable having what is, after all, a racist slur included in anything that has my name attached to, like this blog, whatever the context. I apologize to the posters, who to a man were thoughtful and well-informed; I hope they'll repeat their points on their own blogs, which I'd happily link to from here.

Also, after I'd posted, it occurred to me that I'd wound up agreeing with Tolkien's point of view, which probably won't surprise anyone who knows me. When discussing in OFS whether some of the more disturbing of the Brothers Grimm's tale shd be re-written to avoid exposing children to things like cannibalism, parents murdering their own children, & the like, Tolkien can down firmly on the side of no: keep the tales as they are, and if they're too strong for today's audience then hold them back until they're ready for them (cf. p. 48 of the Fleiger-Anderson edition, esp. the footnote at the bottom of the page). --JDR 1/7-11.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blackbird Dying in the Dead of Night

So, recently I've been following the weird news out of Arkansas: thousands of red-winged blackbirds plummeting from the sky in Beebe, not far from Searcy, between Little Rock and Jonesburo. It's apparently co-incidental that the day before there'd been a massive fish-kill on the Arkansas River, since that was all the way over on the far side of the state, or that the next day there was a smaller similar sudden death (amounting to several hundred) of red-wing blackbirds, grackles, and starlings in SE Louisiana (down near Baton Rouge). So far the various explanations have been singularly lacking in plausibility -- so much so that you can actually hear the skepticism in the NPR reporter's voice (a rare thing in itself) when the Arkansas official explains that birds drop dead all the time from "stress".
Here's the initial story:

And here's a follow-up:


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mannin Veen

So, writing up my post about Breton music got me thinking about some other Celtic music, and in particular my favorite Manx music, an old folktune we played in band years ago, called Mannin Veen. I tried a few years back to find this, without success, but this time I found it pretty quickly -- suggesting that either there's a lot more available online now than just a few years ago, or that search engines have improved, or that I simply guessed better on how to spell the name this time around.

It turns out that what I liked so much when we played it in band is a 'tone poem'* that adapts four old Manx folksongs: "The Good Old Way", "The Manx Fiddler", "Sweet Water on the Common", and "The Harvest of the Sea". The tone poem compilation/orchestration is by Haydn Wood, a once-popular composer in the earlier parts of the twentieth century, and dates from as long ago as 1933 (and hence was already more than forty years old when the Magnolia High School Band tackled it).

The question now becomes, how to get it? Itunes has several versions available, but one is the Vaughn Williams piece and the others are somewhat syrupy performances. One online site ("The Sheet-Music-Store") has the sheet music available, but only if you buy the entire band score (all thirty-two parts); there doesn't seem to be a way of getting just, say, the clarinet part or the master (band director's) score., an invaluable source for out-of-the-way classical music (e.g., Joseph Holbrooke) has a recording of it on one cd, but again their version errs towards the softly symphonic.

A much better idea of what the piece should sound like comes from various entries on you-tube; here's the one that I thought sounds the best:

So, now I've found it again, but the search for a good recording I can put on my i-Pod or play on the stereo will continue for a while.

--John R.

current audiobook: The Gospel According to Luke.
current book: TROY AND HOMER

*not to be confused with the choral piece of the same name by Vaughn Wms

Monday, January 3, 2011

Lord Nann

So, some days you just can't find a Breton melody.

Last year, as part of my Kalamazoo paper, I did some work on Tolkien's "The Lay of Aotrou & Itroun", his reworking of the traditional Breton ballad Aotrou Nann hag ar Gorrigan ("Lord Nann and the Corrigan"), which comes from Vicomte Hersart de la Villemarque's BARZAZ-BREIZ. One of the things I found interesting was that in the first English translation of Villemarque's book, by Tom Tyler,* Tyler's wife Laura (a talented composer in her own right) had included as an Appendix to the book as a whole a page of sheet music for most of the songs contained therein, including "Aotrou Nann (The Lord Nann)" (p. 222).

Unfortunately, I've never been one who could hear music just by looking at the score: I have to actually play it to find out what it sounds like. And being woefully out of practice on the clarinet (my embouchure is shot), and without access to a piano, meant that I still don't know what the original tune to this piece sounded like.

That's when I found a reference to a French edition of the book (BARZAZ BREIZ: CHANTS POPULARIES DE LA BRETAGNE), which came with a cd of people performing the original songs. Accordingly, I ordered this -- only to find when it arrived from France that the accompanying cd, while it covers a dozen pieces, didn't actually include the one I was looking for.** Alas.

So here's a query for folks: does anyone out there have, or know where I could find, a recording of "Lord Nann" in the original Breton?

Oh, and Happy Tolkien's Birthday, everybody

--John R.

*better known today as an early editor of PUNCH and the author of the play OUR AMERICAN COUSINS, which Lincoln was watching when he was shot.

**it's still well worth having, of course, since it does include sheet music for twelve bars of the "Aotrou Nann hag ar Gorrigan" melody in the back (p. 536), which shows that Laura Tyler adapted the melody slightly to match the English translation.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Conan Doyle's Favorite Weird Tales

So, as part of my recent spate of reading several quirky little minor books by Conan Doyle, I read THROUGH THE MAGIC DOOR --something I'd picked up maybe a decade ago, I think down near Pike Place Market, in the assumption it dealt with his spiritualism (a la PHENEAS SPEAKS). Turns out it's him reminiscing about his favorite books and why he likes them. There's far too much in it about manly men displaying magnificent manliness (as Napoleonic solders, as bare-knuckle boxers, &c) but also some interesting comments on what the eighteenth and nineteenth century classics means to one particular writer of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century. He has a lot to say about some authors (Scott), and almost nothing about others (Austen is only mentioned once, dismissively; Twain not at all). Many of the names and titles he covers are still held in high repute today (Dr. Johnson, Richardson, Pepys), while others have faded to specialty interests only (Macaulay, Borrow, Reade).

One chapter that particularly interested me was Doyle's take on short stories. He was himself a master of the short story in its detective story form, and also wrote a few interesting other pieces of short fiction ("The Horror of the Heights" is a pretty gd Cthulhu Mythos precursor-tale, while "Danger!" dramatizes England's vulnerability to unrestricted submarine warfare in the years leading up to The Great War.

Of them all, it's Poe Doyle admires the most,* calling him "the master of all . . . Poe is, to my mind, the supreme original short story writer of all time . . . the world's supreme short story writer." As he goes along, Doyle singles out his favorites, his "list of masterpieces", which turns out to have a strongly weird-tales bent. Here are the stories Doyle includes in his listing:

Poe: The Gold Bug
Poe: The Murder (sic) in the Rue Morgue
Bret Harte: The Luck of Roaring Camp
Bret Harte: Tennessee's Partner
Stevenson: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Stevenson: The Pavilion on the Links
Kipling: The Drums of the Fore and Aft
Kipling: The Man who Would be King
Bulwer Lytton: Haunted and the Haunters
[anon; Blackwoods Magazine]: Metempsychosis
Grant Allen: The Reverend John Creedy
Quiller-Couch: Old Aeson
Maupassant: La Horda
Bierce: In the Midst of Life

All in all, I found it surprising how many of these might be considered horror stories, or at least weird tales. There are obvious omissions -- for example, he dismisses Hawthorne, saying that he always preferred his son Julian's work. A few are now considered classics (the Poe, Bierce, Jekyll & Hyde), while others I'd never heard of ("The Pavillion on the Links", "The Reverend John Creedy", "The Drums of the Fore and Aft"). After having read the whole book, despite some points of agreement I'm dubious that I'll find Doyle a guide to my tastes, but nonetheless I may at some point track down some of the short stories he praised and give them a read.

So, if anyone wants to put out a 'Doyle's Favorite (Weird) Tales', like the several Lovecraft's Favorites volumes from a few years back, the raw material is ready to hand.

--John R.
*not surprising, given that Doyle's most famous work, the Sherlock Holmes series, derives directly from Poe's work.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Global Warming in Your Cup

or, A Tempest in Your Teacup

So, the last day of the year Janice shared with me an interesting, though ominous, sign of Things To Come. People often talk about Climate Change in the abstract (e.g., projected rates of icemelt), which is easy to discount or deny, rather than looking at specific examples (e.g., wintering ranges of birds), which remove all doubt. Now here comes another manifestation that really hits home for some of us: climate change is now affecting the tea crop in India. Specifically, the amount of tea being grown and harvested is dropping precipitously, by 100 million tons in three years in one area (Assam) -- and that's a LOT of tea. What's worse, the remaining tea is turning out to be second-rate, producing a weaker brew.

What does all this have to do with the price of tea in China, you may ask? Well, Assam produces more than half of India's tea. And India produces about a third of the whole world's tea. So a dramatic change, in both quality and quantity, in Assam tea has a direct impact on about one-sixth of all the tea out there. Image if you drank a modest three cups a day: now every other day one of those would be bland. If that happened with coffee at yr local coffee shop -- one in six cups was seriously off -- you'd probably switch to a new coffeeshop. The fact that the change happened in such a short time is particularly worrying for remaining tea plantations in, say, Ceylon.

For that matter, I've been having trouble buying good Keemun and Yunnan lately. My favorite tea shop has been out of both for months, forcing us to make do with trying other suppliers who so far have come through with some pretty good Yunnan substitutes but only the mildest of Keemuns, alas. I'd heard this was because after centuries of making black tea for the export market, the Chinese had recently begun drinking it themselves, so that less of the really good stuff is available outside China these days.

Given that tea is a fairly delicate crop, I hope the troubles in Assam don't spread. I'm not that big a fan of India teas -- Assam tastes flat to me, as does Ceylon (though they can be pretty good when doctored with cream and honey), while Darjeeling is too weak for my taste (always excepting the excellent Darjeeling we used to get in the old days from The Coffee Trader in Milwaukee, alas long gone). Most of America's tea, in teabags, comes from Argentina of all places, or so I understand from James Norwood Pratt's account -- but if the home of one of the world's two main strands of tea-plant, Assam, is in sudden decline, what must be in store for those places it's been transplanted to where it's less well adapted?

Do I think this news will serve as a wake-up call? Having read Jared Diamond's COLLAPSE, I'd say: Not really. As the saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see. Now if the same sort of thing were to befall coffee or wine drinkers, then maybe folks wd get serious about trying to mitigate the damage (the idea that there's still time to "stop" climate change is like suggesting drawing up blueprints for an avalanche-prevention sytem after the snow and rocks are already heading down the hill).

Here's the original post:

Happy 2011, all!
--John R.

current reading: TROY & HOMER
just finished: THROUGH THE MAGIC DOOR by Conan Doyle