Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ruthlessness of the Light and the Dark #TheDarkIsReading

Here, both Light and Dark can be ruthless. But (to play on Frodo's words to Strider), Light may "seem fouler and feel fairer" for those who perceive truly (like Will).  Hawkin, of course, is deceived by the surface of things, by the fair seeming and promises of the Dark.

That is, in this book, Light's ruthlessness is short-term, and of necessity (they deeply regret harm). So a death may be required, but they hope or try to avoid it to the extent their mission permits. The Dark is at best indifferent to long-term suffering and torment.

As I noted in a previous post:
by the end of the novel, Will is no longer a child in any meaningful way -- he has come into his own as an Old One and has cosmic responsibilities beyond his family's ken.  Indeed, Merriman admonishes him to "remember yourself.  You are no longer a small boy" (III, "The Joining of the Signs" 288).  Will's separation from family is sharp and painful.   Before the story ends, he wipes Paul's memory (II, "Christmas Day" 180) and is prepared to sacrifice his foolish sister Mary (III, "The King of Fire and Water" 256).   Perhaps the worst moment is when Will considers the qualities that make his brother Paul uniquely worthy of trust, and decides not to confide in him (III, "The King of Fire and Water" 238).  Needless to say, Will has quickly learned to deceive and manipulate his relatives to protect his mission; his love for them, like Merriman's for Hawkin, has been subordinated to the battle against the Dark. 

Other manipulations of his family include:

  • freezing them in time - all of them, in their own home (III, "Christmas Day" 160) and
  • "clos[ing] off the minds of his brother [Paul] and the rector behind a barrier that no power of any kind could break through," even though it would leave them "like vegetables, incapable of any communication, forever" if anything happened to him (id. 174). 
These actions are motivated by a desire to protect his family; and the unexamined assumption that he, unseely-Will, knows better than they what is best for them.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

In the Bleak Midwinter

Since before Thanksgiving, I'd been feeling more grim than festive.  I was actively dreading Christmas, because I had trouble coming up with gifts for everyone and thus felt wildly underprepared and Scrooge-like.  I did not think of anything for Dad in advance.  (When I finally came up with an idea, Dad did not take it seriously and accidentally ended up preventing me from giving it to him.)  The gloom lifted considerably on December 26, but I still wish our family's timing had been better this year.  At least I was able to be helpful to my parents before the rest of the crowd arrived, so there's that.  And I've gotten in a fair amount of reading and blogging.


  • Downton Abbey exhibit w/ Susan S. - lots of fashion, a few artefacts (props) and video clips across 3 stories.  Highlights were the gowns, harem pants, and clips of Lady Violet.  Lowlights were the crowds and the bouncer who had people waiting outside in 17-degree weather long past their official entry time.  Also went to the lounge at the Parker Meridian, where the service was very slow, but my bourbon-ginger-lime drink was quite nice and we met a British woman named Deena who was in from Hong Kong with her kids.

The keys of the housekeeper...

dining en famille is a white tie affair

an important telegram

Even if you really like riding,
don't let it become a habit

"Hammer, don't hurt them!"
Belgian lace for Edith

deciding between suitors

X marks the spot!

  • The Dr Who Christmas special, in which #1 and #12 resist regeneration and encounter a British soldier from the Great War who was supposed to die.  The emotional highlight of the episode for me was its depiction of the Christmas Truce, which happened about 5 months into a war that would rage for just over four years.  I was fairly indifferent to Capaldi and his companions, and I'm equally indifferent about Whittaker replacing him, although she does get a great line when she first sees her reflection.  Unfortunately, the episode itself was sandwiched between two painfully tedious and repetitive BBC documentaries -- and because the episode ended with the words " be continued" onscreen, it took me a while to realize I would not lose anything by leaving the theatre.
  • The Last Jedi - I had low expectations and found it quite enjoyable.  
  • Many delicious meals (and some delicious FIKA chocolates) with family. 
  • "The Winter Wonderettes," featuring an all-female cast:  Three store employees (and a friend) are performing a Christmas routine for their co-workers (us), only to discover the store is closing and everyone has been laid off.  How cheerful for the holidays!  But of course there's a happy ending, it's only a question of how they'll get there.  It's a bit of fluff, really, just a cute excuse for lots of Christmas songs.  The "big reveal" gimmick is depressing if you think about it in a real-world setting, but if you consider it a deus ex machina you'll be fine.  Highlights included audience interactions - at one point, three volunteers from the audience each "led" portions of the crowd in noise-making whenever certain key words were sung ("bell", "jingle", and "ring").  Two men from the audience were chosen to flirt with throughout the show; one of them was brought up on stage for a rendition of "Santa Baby" where one of the women got rather handsy with him.  I watched his partner in the audience during that number - she was mostly amused, but perhaps also a little chagrined.
  • "It's a Wonderful Life," staged as a radio broadcast.  This was quite well-done, though some of the sound effects (esp. footsteps as performed by children banging shoes on a platform) were less than stellar.  (The miniature door for slamming was quite good though.)  
  • Portland Museum of Art - enjoyed some seascapes, trompe l'oeuil and more.

  • Szechuan Kitchen: Ants Climbing a Tree.  That is all.
  • "Fantastic Mr Fox," chosen by Clara.  The third time I've seen it, and perhaps her 14th time. My parents' first time.  I was truly underwhelmed the first time I saw it, but found some humor in it on the second and third viewings.  My favorite line still made me laugh -- but no matter how hard I try, I really have trouble seeing why so many people love this film.    
  • Wii bowling, with my dad, nieces, and brother.  This was fun, though it was not wise for my shoulder.  I actually came in first place, and thought of my maternal grandfather.
  • A close encounter with boiling coffee sludge, in which I managed to (a) waste six cups of coffee, (b) spend half an hour mopping up the floor, counter,  cabinets and cleaning out a drawer and all of its contents, and (c) burn my arm through two long-sleeved knit sweaters.  It was intensely painful at the time, and the pain lasted several hours after I changed clothes.  The next day, it was painful to take a hot shower when the water hit the burned section of my arm.
  • A close encounter with a guardrail on a snowy highway.  I got to experience the sensation of my brain hitting the front of my skull -- it gave me a bit of a headache, but I was also really anxious and worried about possible short- or long-term effects until I was able to do some google searches and find out what symptoms I needed to look out for.   Fortunately none of those symptoms appeared over the next few days.  Phew! 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Theology and #TheDarkIsReading

The underlying theological worldview in Susan Cooper's novel The Dark Is Rising seems to be a non-theistic dualism; all gods and religions are seen as human creations (and thus not beyond Time as the Old Ones are).  I base this largely on the views expressed by the Old Ones, who seem to be held up as knowledgeable far beyond ordinary mortal humans.  Some preliminary thoughts. 

PART 1 - Worldview of the Old Ones:

Although Will is a choirboy and churchgoer, the Old Ones seem to be, at best, non-theists.  They seem almost to be granted some superior knowledge that causes them to "see through" Christianity and other religions, so to speak (e.g. they know a house of worship is neutral ground, but provides no defense against the Dark).  The crucial point, for me, is that they find it difficult to respond both tactfully and truthfully to the rector's confident assertion that the Signs could not have been made prior to God's existence.

This moment comes after Paul and the rector return to normal consciousness.  They are relieved that the evil, otherworldly influence is gone.  The rector
looked at the Signs on Will's belt, and he glanced up again, similing suddenly, an almost childish smile of relief and delight.  "That did the work, didn't it?  The cross.  Not of the church, but a Christian cross, nonetheless." 
"Very old, them crosses are, Rector," said Old George unexpectedly, firm and clear.  "Made a long time before Christianity.  Long before Christ." 
The rector beamed at him.  "But not before God," he said simply. 
The Old Ones looked at him.  There was no answer that would not have offended him, so no one tried  to give one.  Except, after a moment, Will. 
"There's not really any before and after, is there?" he said.  "Everything that matters is outside Time.  And comes from there and can go there. [...]  Yesterday is still there, on that level.  Tomorrow is there too.  You can visit either of them.  And all Gods are there, and all the things they have ever stood for. And," he added sadly, "the opposite too." 
"Will," said the rector, staring at him, "I am not sure whether you should be exorcised or ordained."
(II, "Christmas Day" 180).

Leading up to that crucial moment, other hints in this chapter all point in the same direction:
  • In an internal debate, "Will the Anglican choirboy" contends with the grim pessimism of "Will the Old One" (id. 169-70).  Specifically, human-Will is "incredulous" that "the sound of the besieging Dark" can be heard "in a church" (id. 169), while unseely-Will "unhappily" counters that "any church of any religion is vulnerable to their attack, for places like this are where men give thought to matters of the Light and the Dark" (id. 170).  Readers are expected to credit unseely-Will, who is portrayed as having vastly superior knowledge to human-Will.
  • While "no harm could actually enter its [the church's] walls" (id. 170), the air inside becomes thick with the oppressive force of the lurking Dark and "the voice of the Dark was so loud that even humans could sense its power" (id. 172).  Indeed, the rector and Paul experience it as a physical force inside the church: "Paul staggered, as if someone had pushed him in the chest, and grabbed a pew for support" and the rector "stumbled a few paces nearer the church door, like a man struggling through waves in the sea" (id.).
  • Indeed, traditional Christian signs and prayers are utterly ineffectual and powerless against the Dark, and again the Old Ones seem to have superior knowledge of this:
    • The rector's blessing at conclusion of the service "could not bring Will peace, for he knew that something was wrong, [...] and that when it came to the point he must meet it alone, unstrengthened" (id. 170).
    • The rector makes "a sweeping sign of the Cross" and prays for help (id. 172-73).  To his invocation "that we, surely trusting in thy defense, may not fear the power of any adversaries," Farmer Dawson responds "very quietly but clearly from the group beside the door, 'No, Rector.'" (id. 173).
    • The rector tries to direct the Old Ones to a book in the vestry which will assist in exorcism, but John Smith dismisses this pityingly in the Old Speech: "Poor brave fellow.  This battle is not for his fighting.  He is bound to think so, of course, being in the church." (id.).
  • More subtly, it is suggested that Old Ones' response to the rector (before Will wipes his memory) has "disturbed" his "theological assumptions" (id. 180).  That is, the rector's orthodox Anglican Christianity is merely assumptions, as if in contrast with the Old Ones' actual knowledge.


Within the confines of the novel, the Old Ones are supposed to see more clearly and accurately than humans; we are not given any reason to doubt their view of things.

The Old Ones seem to be dualists, not theists; and they seem to regard all gods and religions as human creations and thus not beyond Time as the Old Ones are.

So this would seem to be the theological underpinning of the world depicted in The Dark Is Rising.

* * * 

PART 2 - Some additional observations about religion and (possible) biblical references in the novel:

Maggie Barnes:

She is initially described as "the farm's round-faced, red-cheeked dairymaid, who always reminded Will of an apple" (I, "Midwinter's Eve" 10).  Makes me think of temptation in the Garden of Eden, though I'm not sure that particular reference is intended.

The Stantons and Religion:

Of the 10 household members:
  • James and Will attend church regularly, as they are one-third of the choir.  Max refers to them as "the nightingales" (II, "Christmas Day" 167).  
  • Paul seems to be a regular attendee, whether as a "ringer" at the church or otherwise.  
  • Most family members do not regularly attend; Paul refers to them light-heartedly as "you heathen mob" when inviting them to accompany him and Will (id.).
  • Mrs Stanton likes to go, but usually can't; Gwen taunts Max into taking on "some useful task like peeling the potatoes" to free her up so she can attend (id.).
  • Mary goes with them today, but is "more interested in avoiding housework than in making her devotions" (id.).
So ultimately, just 5 Stantons -- half the household -- set out "into the thickening snow" to attend church on Christmas Day (id.), even though the church is "only just around the corner" (id. 183).

St James the Less:

It's a small church, with a six-person choir.  It's usually "Christmas-crammed" (II, "Christmas Day" 168), but there are only four or five cars and the place is only half-full, apparently because "few villagers outside walking range had chosen to brave this swirling white fog" (id.).

At the service, we know of 18 individual attendees (the 5 Stantons, 4 Old Ones, the rector, and another 8 by name or function).  At least two (but no more than four) other choir members have made it, bringing the total known attendance to 20-22.  "Assorted village children" are also present with "their best-hatted mothers" (id. 171).

A single rector serves this and several other parishes (id.); I believe this is or was typical for rural areas, especially in the UK.

* * * 

Edition Used:  Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising.  Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1999.  (That's based on the ISBN 978-0-689-82983-3, but the book is obviously printed in 2013 or later, since it includes an introduction by Susan Cooper that was copyright in 2013.)

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Old Ones - a Pattern? #TheDarkIsReading

Will Stanton is the youngest of the Old Ones, and - at age eleven - starts to know or sense things intuitively without consciously learning them.  It's part of his inheritance and burden as an Old One.

Moreover, he has, in some mysterious way, actually participated in events that took place long before his own birth, even though he was not even aware of them until now (II, "The Book of Gramarye" 117-18).  In essence, he knows far more than he knows.

This same pattern also manifests itself on a smaller, human scale when he finds Farmer Dawson's small flat box of Christmas-tree ornaments:
"I've never seen them before," said Will. 
"Well, you have really," his mother said.  "But so long ago that you wouldn't remember.  They disappeared years and years ago."
(II, "Christmas Eve" 95).

Edition Used:  Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising.  Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1999.  (That's based on the ISBN 978-0-689-82983-3, but the book is obviously printed in 2013 or later, since it includes an introduction by Susan Cooper that was copyright in 2013.)

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Books: Hoarding vs Re-Reading

About five years ago, after being reunited with my Dr Who books, I realized that reading them no longer brought me joy.  Instead, it left me a little depressed at the loss of that childhood pleasure.  I thought about keeping them for the sake of having an impressive collection -- I'd picked most of them up at second-hand bookstores in the UK over a three-year period during my early teens, and supplemented them with another half-dozen novelizations in the US edition on our return.  But I'm not really a collector at heart; I'm a re-reader.  So I chose five to keep, gave the rest away, and felt a lot freer at the end of it.

Book hoarding is, for me, hanging on to books for the sake of owning them, with no realistic expectation of reading or referencing them in future.  I'll generally make an effort to keep books that were given as gifts, but otherwise, I'm trying to make room for books I love.

As usual, C. S. Lewis is good on re-reading:
"The re-reader is looking not for actual surprises (which can come only once) but for a certain surprisingness. [...] It is the quality of unexpectedness, not the fact, that delights us. It is even better the second time. Knowing that the 'surprise' is coming we can now fully relish the fact that this path through the shrubbery doesn't look as if it were suddenly goingto bring us out on the edge of the cliff. [...] The children understand this well when they ask for the same story over and over again, and in the same words. They want to have again the 'surprise' of discovering that what seemed Little Red Riding Hood's grandmother is really the wolf. It is better when you know it is coming: free from the shock of actual surprise you can attend better to the intrinsic surprisingness of the peripeteia."
-- Lewis, Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories, "On Stories" (1947)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Getting a Jump on #TheDarkIsReading

Distant Echoes in Harry Potter?

Age 11 - An Age of Magical Awakening

Will Stanton, like Harry Potter, learns he is special on his 11th birthday. But the specialness manifests itself slowly, eerily, without the bluntness of "Harry - yer a wizard."  Some info-dumping follows, but it's parsed out gradually.

Eleven years old is a shrewd choice of age, perhaps, for a child protagonist to discover magical abilities  -- the child is old enough to be smart and capable, but is young enough to avoid the complications and distractions of romance.  (And obviously a magical awakening may potentially presage, replace, sublimate, and/or symbolize a sexual awakening.  Yawn.)  But Cooper, unlike Rowling, calls attention to her hero's pre-pubescent state, particularly Will's high clear unbroken voice:
  • "And just as he began to wonder, through the strange sweet accompanying music that seemed to come out of the air, how the next verse could be done, unless a boy soprano were expected to sound like good King Wenceslas as well as his page, a great beautiful deep voice rolled out through the room with the familiar words..." (II, "Christmas Eve" 106)
  • "The room had stilled dramatically as he sang, and the boy's clear soprano that always seemed to belong to a stranger soared high and remote through the air." (III, "The Coming of the Cold" 217)
  • "'Will has a lot better voice than me. [...] Till we both break, at any rate. Neither of us might be any good then.'"  (II, "Betrayal" 142)

Separation from Biological Family, Allowing Room for New Family By Selection/Affinity

Both are sundered from bio-family: Harry by death (his parents) and disaffection (his hateful aunt and uncle); Will by ignorance (his parents and siblings, even his very perceptive brother Paul).

Harry's initial circumstance is, of course, horrific, and he is well out of it.  Will's situation is far more poignant.  His family is warm and loving, boisterously human.  But by the end of the novel, Will is no longer a child in any meaningful way -- he has come into his own as an Old One and has cosmic responsibilities beyond his family's ken.  Indeed, Merriman admonishes him to "remember yourself.  You are no longer a small boy" (III, "The Joining of the Signs" 288).  Will's separation from family is sharp and painful.   Before the story ends, he wipes Paul's memory (II, "Christmas Day" 180) and is prepared to sacrifice his foolish sister Mary (III, "The King of Fire and Water" 256).   Perhaps the worst moment is when Will considers the qualities that make his brother Paul uniquely worthy of trust, and decides not to confide in him (III, "The King of Fire and Water" 238).  Needless to say, Will has quickly learned to deceive and manipulate his relatives to protect his mission; his love for them, like Merriman's for Hawkin, has been subordinated to the battle against the Dark.

(Harry's friends and mentors become his new family -- particularly the Weasleys.  Will's fellow Old Ones -- a strikingly diverse and numerous group -- become his new family.)

Opening Chapter - Style Time

Noticed a lot of alliteration, assonance, and consonance in the opening chapter - e.g.

  • "their mother was bent broad-beamed and red-faced over an oven" (p. 4)
    • This seems to have a bicolon as well (broad-beamed and red-faced)
    • To my ears, the phrase over an oven does something similarly poetic, ringing changes on the vowels (o and e) on either side of the v.
  • "Will dipped out a pail of pellets from the bin in the farm-smelling barn" (p. 4)
  • "a long, low building with a tiled roof" (p. 4)
  • "they seemed restless and uneasy, rustling to and fro, banging against their wooden walls; one or two even leapt back in alarm" (pp. 4-5)
  • "the animal scuffled back away from him and cringed into a corner" (p. 5)
  • "raucous with the calling of the rooks and rubbish-roofed with the clutter of their sprawling nests" (p. 6)
  • "James heaved at the handcart" (p. 7)
  • "a hoarse, shreiking flurry was rushing dark down out of the sky" (p. 11)
  • "the head-splitting racket from the frenzied flock" (pp. 11-12)
Opening Chapter - Foreshadowing (SPOILERS)
  • "He was a shambling, tattered figure, more like a bundle of old clothes than a man" (I, "Midwinter's Eve" 11)
  • "[The rector] and Paul carried the Walker to the gate, like a muffled heap of ancient clothes" (II, "Christmas Day" 184)
  • "As he jerked at the rein, the Rider seemed to cast something impatiently from his saddle, a small dark object that fell limp and loose to the ground, and lay there like a discarded cloak. [...] Still wondering, Will peered closer, and saw with a shock that the dark heap was not a cloak, but a man."  (III, "The Hunt Rides" 273-74, 275)

Edition Used:  Cooper, Susan. The Dark Is Rising.  Margaret K. McElderry Books, 1999.  (That's based on the ISBN 978-0-689-82983-3, but the book is obviously printed in 2013 or later, since it includes an introduction by Susan Cooper that was copyright in 2013.)

Saturday, December 09, 2017

First Snow of the Season: Prospect Park Edition

Fitzhugh Karol, "Searches"
Don't look now, but there's a snow-wight behind you
Not Hercules Poirot; the moustache is all wrong
"For a couple o' pins," says Troll, and grins,
"I'll eat thee too, and gnaw thy shins.
A bit o' fresh meat will go down sweet!
I'll try my teeth on thee now.
Hee now! See now!
I'm tired o' gnawing old bones and skins;
I've a mind to dine on thee now."
Landscape dotted with people, dogs, and snow-wights

Parent and Child

Dogs off-leash bounded joyfully to greet other dogs and romp in the snow;
I couldn't stop smiling.

Oh rats, and here I was with my catcher's mitt

Not quite Narnia

Winter Field Guide: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Etc.

Weeping Cherry
Shinto Gate
Wisteria Hysteria
Wasp Nest
Spoor in Snow
A Strange Butterfly

Monday, November 27, 2017

An "odyssey" in The Odyssey

So, I was looking for a copy of Emily Wilson's new translation of The Odyssey the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Fortunately, I didn't find one in any of the bookstores I checked, because it turns out I'd already long since purchased the e-book and it was waiting for me on my iPad when I headed off to Florida.

My dad had read me The Odyssey when I was a kid (I'd have been 10-12 years old, based on where we were living at the time), but I had never read it for myself.

I still recalled the general concept (Odysseus goes on wacky adventures while his wife Penelope fends off rowdy suitors by unweaving her weaving every night) and many of the episodes (e.g., Cyclops, Circe, the sirens, the need to go between the twin dangers of Scylla and Charybdis - though I didn't remember exactly what Scylla was).  Also Calypso, though I'm not sure I'd have remembered her and Ogygia without the reminder from Rick Riordan, who gives Calypso a requited love with Leo Valdez, a demi-god son of Hephaestus.

But I'd completely forgotten that the whole thing starts off Telemachus on his own mini-quest, and that Odysseus's adventures are told in a series of flashbacks rather than contemporaneously and/or in chronological order.  And I was astonished to see that Odysseus's return and revenge constitutes a good 50% of the story.

All this means that I didn't really have a great basis for comparison between the translation I'd heard as a kid (from ye olde "Harvard Classics" series, a 51-volume set which my parents still own but do not read or refer to).

Still, one line of the translation really got my attention.  It's in Book 5, where the goddess Ino says: "Poor man! Why does enraged Poseidon create an odyssey of pain for you?" (5.339-40).

What an odd choice, I thought, since our word "odyssey" is directly derived from The Odyssey.  What could be true about the original Greek, for Wilson to choose this word?

Sure enough, she addresses that issue in the notes:
5.340 create an odyssey of pain for you?: The original uses a verb that puns on our hero’s name: odysat, which means “he hated” or “he was angry at.”
I didn't look at the notes until after I'd finished the poem, however, so in Book 19 I likewise became very curious about what in the original Greek compels Autolycus to say: "I am disliked by many, all across the world, and I dislike them back.  So name the child ‘Odysseus.’" (19.406-8)

Fortunately, this too is addressed in the notes: 
19.408 I dislike them back: Autolycus uses the same verb odussomai as in 19.274, which sounds like the name “Odysseus” and can mean either “I am angry at” or “I am the cause of anger (in others).” See also the note to 1.63. 
The other referenced notes are:
19.274–75 Helius / and Zeus despised Odysseus: The verb here, odussomai, is the same one associated with the name Odysseus elsewhere in the poem (1.63). It means “to be angry at [somebody]” or “to hate,” and it is a cognate with a noun for “pain” (odune). See also the note to 19.408. 
1.63 why do you dismiss Odysseus?: The word in the original for Zeus’ hostile treatment of Odysseus, odussomai (“to hate” or in this version, “to dismiss”) is reminiscent of the name “Odysseus.” See also the notes to 19.274–75 and 19.408.

Sunday, November 26, 2017


I just watched Drout's 2014 video about How to Read Tolkien. It was pretty entertaining.

Since he mentioned Catharine Stimpson's famous line "To an eyot they came" (a semi-parodic complaint about Tolkien's diction and syntax), I searched LotR for all the "eyot" references I could find.

Drout already defended the diction, so I just considered the syntax of these sentences. They seem relatively straightforward (rather than "wrenched"), but judge for yourself:
  1. "That night they camped on a small eyot close to the western bank." 
  2. "A long whitish hand could be dimly seen as it shot out and grabbed the gunwale; two pale lamplike eyes shone coldly as they peered inside, and then they lifted and gazed up at Frodo on the eyot."
  3. Aragorn: "But if I am right in my reckoning, those are still many miles ahead. Still there are dangerous places even before we come there: rocks and stony eyots in the stream. We must keep a sharp watch and not try to paddle swiftly."
  4. "There were three lines of flat stepping-stones across the stream, and between them fords for horses, that went from either brink to a bare eyot in the midst."
  5. "And they saw that in the midst of the eyot a mound was piled, ringed with stones, and set about with many spears."
  6. "Far to the west in a haze lay the meres and eyots through which it wound its way to the Greyflood: there countless swans housed in a land of reeds."

Inherited Memory

I'm fairly certain the first time I came across the concept of "inherited memory" was through Tolkien.  As Flieger describes (414):

Now, having re-read The King of Elfland's Daughter, I find myself wondering if Dunsany, like Tolkien after him, had some experience(s) he considered "inherited memory," based on this passage (238):
"[F]or only a moment the houses held back that wonderful tide, for it broke over them with a burst of unearthly foam, like a meteor of unknown metal burning in heaven, and passed on and the houses stood all quaint and queer and enchanted, like homes remembered out of a long-past age by the sudden waking of an inherited memory."
Of course, inherited memory may have been part of the standard scientific view of the 1920's, for all I know.  (If so, I could imagine it might have become associated with racial ideologies, in which case it would likely have fallen out of favor along with phrenology and various all-too-manipulable pseudo-sciences.)

Then again, even now we occasionally see news reports about scientific studies suggesting that some memories might potentially be inherited, as in this 2013 BBC article.

Works Cited

Dunsany. The King of Elfland’s Daughter. 1924. 1st Del Rey trade paperback ed, Del Rey Impact, 1999.

Flieger, Verlyn. “Memory.” J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment, edited by Michael D. C Drout, Routledge, 2007.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

G.K. Chesterton "Fairy Tales" (from All Things Considered)

In G.K. Chesterton's "Fairy Tales" essay, he writes:
I think the poets have made a mistake: because the world of the fairy-tales is a brighter and more varied world than ours, they have fancied it less moral; really it is brighter and more varied because it is more moral.  [...] But suppose a man were born in a modern prison, and grew accustomed to the deadly silence and the disgusting indifference; and suppose he were then suddenly turned loose upon the life and laughter of Fleet Street.  He would, of course, think that the literary men in Fleet Street were a free and happy race; yet how sadly, how ironically, is this the reverse of the case!  And so again these toiling serfs in Fleet Street, when they catch a glimpse of the fairies, think the fairies are utterly free.
(He attributes their "apparent gaiety and [...] delusive beauty," their seeming "lovely and lawless" nature, "too exquisite to descend to the ugliness of everyday duty," to a mere "illusion created by the sudden sweetness of their presence."  In his usual exuberant way, Chesterton goes on to suggest that fairy-tales, "so far from being lawless, go to the root of all law.")

But it's primarily the illustration he has used -- a man born in prison who is suddenly loosed upon Fleet Street -- that strikes me here.  Because it reminds me (just a little) of Tolkien's description of the function of Escape in "On Fairy-stories":

Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls? The world outside has not become less real because the prisoner cannot see it. In using escape in this way the critics have chosen the wrong word, and, what is more, they are confusing, not always by sincere error, the Escape of the Prisoner with the Flight of the Deserter. Just so a Party-spokesman might have labelled departure from the misery of the Führer's or any other Reich and even criticism of it as treachery. In the same way these critics, to make confusion worse, and so to bring into contempt their opponents, stick their label of scorn not only on to Desertion, but on to real Escape, and what are often its companions, Disgust, Anger, Condemnation, and Revolt. Not only do they confound the escape of the prisoner with the flight of the deserter; but they would seem to prefer the acquiescence of the “quisling” to the resistance of the patriot. To such thinking you have only to say “the land you loved is doomed” to excuse any treachery, indeed to glorify it. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Hats in Literature: A few examples

Dunsany - The King of Elfland's Daughter

"They listened spellbound to the ways of men; and every now and then, as when he told of hats, there ran through the forest a wave of laughter."

Tolkien - The Fellowship of the Ring

"Presently Sam appeared, trotting quickly and breathing hard; his heavy pack was hoisted high on his shoulders, and he had put on his head a tall shapeless felt bag, which he called a hat."
* * * 
"There was another burst of song, and then suddenly, hopping and dancing along the path, there appeared above the reeds an old battered hat with a tall crown and a long blue feather stuck in the band."

* * * 
"So [Tom Bombadil] sang, running fast, tossing up his hat and catching it, until he was hidden by a fold of the ground: but for some time his hey now! hoy now! came floating back down the wind, which had shifted round towards the south."

* * * 
"[The hobbits] begged [Tom Bombadil] to come at least as far as the inn and drink once more with them; but he laughed and refused, saying:
Tom's country ends here: he will not pass the borders.
Tom has his house to mind, and Goldberry is waiting!
Then he turned, tossed up his hat, leaped on Lumpkin's back, and rode up over the bank and away singing into the dusk."

* * * 
"Arrows fell among them.  One struck Frodo and sprang back.  Another pierced Gandalf's hat and stuck there like a black feather."

Chesterton - "On Running After One's Hat"

"[T]here is a current impression that it is unpleasant to have to run after one's hat. Why should it be unpleasant to the well-ordered and pious mind? Not merely because it is running, and running exhausts one. The same people run much faster in games and sports. The same people run much more eagerly after an uninteresting little leather ball than they will after a nice silk hat. There is an idea that it is humiliating to run after one's hat; and when people say it is humiliating they mean that it is comic. It certainly is comic; but man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic [...]. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing [...].

Now a man could, if he felt rightly in the matter, run after his hat with the manliest ardour and the most sacred joy. He might regard himself as a jolly huntsman pursuing a wild animal, for certainly no animal could be wilder. In fact, I am inclined to believe that hat-hunting on windy days will be the sport of the upper classes in the future. There will be a meet of ladies and gentlemen on some high ground on a gusty morning. They will be told that the professional attendants have started a hat in such-and-such a thicket, or whatever be the technical term. Notice that this employment will in the fullest degree combine sport with humanitarianism. The hunters would feel that they were not inflicting pain. Nay, they would feel that they were inflicting pleasure, rich, almost riotous pleasure, upon the people who were looking on. When last I saw an old gentleman running after his hat in Hyde Park, I told him that a heart so benevolent as his ought to be filled with peace and thanks at the thought of how much unaffected pleasure his every gesture and bodily attitude were at that moment giving to the crowd."

Lewis - The  Magician's Nephew

"'Womfle - pomf - shomf,' came Uncle Andrew's voice from inside the hat.

'None of that now,' said the policeman sternly.  'You'll find this is no laughing matter.  Take that 'at off, see?'

This was more easily said than done.  But after Uncle Andrew had struggled in vain with the hat for some time, two other policemen seized it by the brim and forced it off."

(Note: The hat in question just happens to be Uncle Andrew's "best tall hat" which he'd polished up to impress Jadis.)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Shades of Watterson?

I'd seen this before, but I had to get off the train and take a photo this time.

"Education is not a crime!"

I find it incredibly beautiful - the blue is so arresting, and the oh-so-familiar tiger pulls at my heartstrings.

The #notacrime website explains:
Swiss artist Bustart joined the Not A Crime campaign with his monumental – four storeys tall – mural at the ABC school in Harlem. His picture of a schoolgirl with her toy tiger shows a series of drawings falling away. The drawings are copies of actual drawings by the children of the ABC school. And the fact that they're falling away represents the stolen dreams of young Iranian Baha'is denied their right to go to university by their own government.
(126th St & Park Ave)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Nothing's Simple in Brooklyn

Why not just secure all the doors and windows, and keep the key outside the room?
In other places, people may have a "persecution complex."  But not here!