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.
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
Tuesday, November 8, 2022
From the Sublime to the Ridiculous.
So, along with watching an excellent live performance of MACBETH, I've been poking around on the net looking at a slew of postings about DOCTOR WHO. This was my favorite show for a long time, but I drifted away in recent years, watching it in spurts. The last episodes I watched came about mid-way through Whittaker's first season. I'm trying to stir up my enthusiasm for another plunge.
Anyway, in the course of looking at a lot of overviews and best of's and compilation clips hoping to remind myself why I liked this show so much, I came across the following twelve-Doctors-together one-off.
I'd always liked the episodes that included multiple Doctors, so this was very much my cup of tea. Here's the clip:
Have to say I thought they had some good voice imitations, esp Tom Baker, Pertwee, and Troughton (certain others, like Davidson, not as good). And the figures appearing as companions was a fun touch (e.g. Beatles Paul and Ringo with Troughton, Laurel and Hardy with Smith)
Surprisingly, of all the Doctors Colin Baker, whose tenure marked the bottom of the barrel, came out best here, closely followed by John Hurt's so-called 'War Doctor'.
My favorite Doctors, just so everyone knows where I stand:
Tom Baker, of course, by a country mile.
Christopher Eccleston, who relaunched the show after it'd died a lingering humiliating death.
John Hurt, who may have had the shortest tenure but made the most of it.
Honorable Mention: Patrick Troughton, who was better than his scripts.
--current reading: BABEL (about a third of the way through, and still don't know where he's going with this).
Sunday, November 6, 2022
So, today Janice and I and friend Jeff made our way down to the Armory in the Seattle Center* to see MacBeth, perhaps my favorite Shakespeare.* I'd seen it three times before, I think, and this was by far the best performance. It's a matter of deep personal satisfaction that I finally got to see the ghost. The other stagings all dropped Banquo's appearance at the banquet, instead having MacBest react to various blank spots on the stage. Several film versions make the same cuts, unfortunately. I'd always thought from reading the play that having the audience see what MacBeth sees wd be more effective, and I now feel I was right. Indeed, they added a new ghost: that of Lady MacBeth, who puts in a silent, chilling appearance before her husband, just as he is receiving word of her (offstage) death.
As for the performances, Banquo was outstanding. Lady MacBeth was very, very good. A standout performance in a second tier role was Lord Ross, who comes across as a reasonable man in a time of tyranny. The witches were a little low-key. The one performance among the major characters that I thought a bit lacking was MacBeth himself.
As an added bonus, we ran into our friend Allan (a former Mithlonder***) at the interval and again after the performance.
Aside from having to wear a mask, a good experience, and one that encourages us to take in more of their plays this year as opportunity offers.
--current reading: BABEL
*the old 1962 World's Fair ground.
**though AS YOU LIKE IT is a competitor, and Hamlet close behind.
***from back when Mithlond was still meeting on a semi-regular basis.
Friday, November 4, 2022
So, here are two photos by Janice of one of our new arrivals in the Cat Room, who arrived on Wednesday and got adopted today, along with his partner.
I barely got to know Spirit Bear and Angus --the one all white, the other all black-- but I'm glad they so quickly found a new home. And it makes more room for the ten other cats and kittens currently in the adoption room:
Tuxedo cat near-senior brother-sister pair BINGO and BONGO, who got their usual walk around the store and lots of attention, which they love.
ELEANOR and ERWIN, the Wobblies (one a bright torbie, the other pastel), who have motor-control problems but don't let that let them down; they too went out for walks.
SEVERUS and ONYX, a pair of deeply shy all-black cats who are still in the hide-under-their-blankets stage, not at all convinced there might not be Cat Eating Fiends about.
There's also the little family group of OLYMPIA (the mother, a year old and just a big kitten herself) and her three kittens, SAN JUAN, ORCA, and BLAKELY, who all came out and played with all kinds of toys and especially each other: Olympia revealed a great love of catnip.
Many thanks to K, my fellow volunteer, for taking care of cat necessities and freeing me up to get the leash on and get the cats out for a stroll to explore the big building, get lots of petting from by-standers, spreading the word of cats in need of new homes.
So, on Tuesday I filled out my ballot, and Wednesday took it down and dropped it in the drop box down by the Regional Justice Center (a sort of courthouse annex). Election Day itself won't be till next week, but Washington state encourages early voting, which spreads the work of ballot-collecting and counting across several days.
We're lucky that a lot of the folks on the ballot here are incumbents who've done a good job and deserved re-election. And there were relatively few cranks opposing them: most of these got weeded out in the primary. Instead, the challengers who made it to finalist tended to be of the 'never held elective office'/ 'I-have-no-governing-experience' school of candidates. I've never understood why some people feel that boasting of their inexperience and incompetence is a selling point, but so it goes.
Now to wait and see what the results will be, here and across the nation.
Wednesday, November 2, 2022
So, Sunday I picked up the new Tolkien Calendar for 2023. I was a bit surprised (and pleased) to see it on the shelves at the Federal Way Barnes and Noble, since for several years now it's been hard to pick up any way other than special-ordering it.
To my surprise, rather than a single-artist themed collection such as we've seen most years, it features a variety of artists, most of whose work I'm not familiar with:
"depictions of scenes from Middle-earth by a growing international collection of artists have never slowed down, and this year's calendar is devoted to celebrating a selection of them."
He also notes that, like Naismith himself, Rasmussen
"believes The Silmarillion can be made more accessible by way of illustrations"
One final element that struck me came in the artists' mini-bios in the back, which show that two out of six contributors (Gerard and Donato) have worked in the gaming industry. Donato even singles out KEEP ON THE BORDERLINE as one of his influences.**
In addition to the coming year's Tolkien calendar, I also picked up a write-things-down-on calendar for the kitchen. For this I went with the Van Gogh: full of artwork I've mostly seen before in calendars past, but (a) I like Van Gogh --in fact I'd have to say he's one of my favorite artists -- and (b) he's been having a hard time of it lately --is it possible to bully a dead man?
current reading: THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD (finished re-reading), BABEL by R. F. Kuang (still in early stages).
*Of these, I know I have at least one of Donato's art books; I think I've seen a good deal of his work on collectable card games as well