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.



Sub-Tropics:

  • 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 "...to 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.  
HelcaraxĂ«: 
  • 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 hte 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.

Conclusion

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.

* * * 
Reference

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
Raptured?
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.

Magnolias
Lilacs
Wisteria
Roses
Weeping Cherry
Shinto Gate
Wisteria Hysteria
Tulips
Bamboo
Wasp Nest
Spoor in Snow
CICERO
A Strange Butterfly