Tuesday, May 29, 2018

To Have and Have Not - a minor theme

I probably won't have time to re-watch the movie before the rental period expires, so these thoughts are necessarily a bit sketchy.  But in between admiring the two dazzling megawatt stars at the film's core, from time to time I couldn't help noticing the non-white actors.  They are mostly background, portrayed "positively" -- supporting or helping the good guys, or pursuing their own neutral interests.

  • Early on, many of them are fishing off the dock with simple rods and lines, a contrast to Harry's fishing boat and the $275 rod and reel he rents to paying customers.
  • When Cricket (the headliner piano man) starts playing and singing, the man on drums and the man on base are genuinely pleased, and pick up their instruments happily.  There is perhaps a sort of equality and appreciation among the musicians?
  • Some of them are there simply to serve the white clientele (e.g. the bartender).
  • Virtually all are nameless; I'm thinking Horatio (in Harry's fishing boat, whom Harry defends economically to Johnson for his skill and speed in tying) may be the exception.
  • In their residential area, a woman and her young boy actively collaborate to protect the wounded Resistance fighter Paul.  This seems significant, as they are surely risking death and disproportionate reprisals if they are caught.  (Presumably others in the neighborhood are aware as well; the white folks certainly stand out.)

Other miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Eddie is carefully portrayed as a man with no redeeming usefulness and no arc of character improvement.  There is a moment early on when Harry is telling Johnson how much he owes.  Eddie seems to be doing the arithmetic on his fingers at the same time, and starts to disagree, when Harry tells him essentially to shut up.  I thought at first perhaps this was intended to show Eddie's honesty relative to Harry, but actually the math is exactly right.  Overall, overtalkative Eddie's only positive contribution to the adventure is that he somehow does not manage to sabotage things by spilling the beans to the Gestapo (though this seems to be due more to forgetfulness than anything else). I kept waiting for the movie to either reveal some useful trait or some unintended betrayal; neither eventuates.  
  • With all that, I suppose Eddie's main purpose in the movie is to give us a cue early on that Harry is not as hardboiled as he seems.  By contrast, Marie/Slim is left more mysterious and ambiguous in terms of her alignment, initially -- though I suppose Harry's insistence on the Resistanee folks speaking freely in front of her shows that she is ultimately to be trusted.
  • Marie's apparent jealousy of the wounded Resistance fighter's wife Hellene struck me as a bit strange. Presumably we are expected to see that she accurately spots the manipulation and wiles of a "competitor," but I'm not quite sure what the other woman would have hoped to gain from it.  

Monday, May 28, 2018

A Turning Point in Havelok's Career?

But first a side note: One nifty feature of the spelling here is its economical use of the single letter "w" for an entire syllable, of the type we might now spell with "ough" or at least "ow": forw = furrow; goldeborw = Goldborough; borw = borough.  (Looks like 6 appearances of borw to 1 appearance of boru.)

So anyway, there's a sort of throwing game on, which they refer to as putting the stone (cf. shotput).  Just how heavy is this stone?  Glad you asked!  It's "al so heui so a neth" (1026) - so possibly the stone is as heavy as livestock ... or a net? The word neth appears twice in this formula, in ll. 808 and 1026, and both times it's glossed as a "net."  But unless the net is filled with fish, it doesn't seem like much of a challenge.  In any event, it takes a "Grund stalwrthe man" (1027) to lift the stone to his knee; there's never been a clerk or priest who could lift it to his breast (ooh, burn!).  It would seem that the game typically goes to the one who is able to "put" this stone "Biforn a-noþer, an inch or more" (1034).  But although our hero Havelok is the tallest man in Lincoln and the strongest man in England, he is not inclined to participate in the throwing game; he's too scared even when his master (the earl's cook) tells him to do it.
Þo hise mayster it him bad,
He was of him sore adrad;
(1047-48).  Luckily, he's a natural and he wins anyway by a substantial margin.  Instead of mere inches, he beats them by "Twel fote, and sumdel more" (1054).  And also luckily the others are good sports about it:
Þe chaunpiouns þat [þat] put sowen,
Shuldreden he ilc oþer, and lowen;
Wolden he no more to putting gange,
But seyde, “we dwellen her to longe!”
(1055-58).  (Not 100% sure of the second line here.  Seems to be The champions who saw that throw / Shouldered [each other?] and laughed;  -- Shrugged their shoulders? Nudged each other's shoulders? /  They would no more go to shotput, /  But said, "we've stayed here too long!")

Godrich hatches an evil scheme to marry off his ward Goldeborw, the rightful heiress of England, to our rugged yet unconfident hero.  
He wende, þat hauelok wer a þral,
Þer-þoru he wende hauen al
In engelond, þat hire rith was;
He was werse þan sathanas,
Þat ihesu crist in erþe shop:
Hanged worþe he on an hok!

Havelok is not one of our great wooers, unfortunately.  He refuses Goldeborw's hand, initially, due to practical concerns (his lack of means and station).  Godrich has to threaten him with death before he caves in out of fear: 
Hauelok was one, and was odrat,
And grauntede him al þat he bad.
(1153-4)  (As far as I can tell, "odrat" is an alternative spelling of "adrad" or "adred"; and I'm thinking "one" here might be "wan" rather than "alone").

Goldeborw also kicks at the proposed match; she refuses to marry anyone less than a king.  So Godrich has to threaten her with death too.  At this point it's not clear why he doesn't just go ahead and kill her, or else use the threat of death to get her to marry him or one of his sons, or to get her to assign him her interest in the kingdom, etc.  But I suppose a villain can't think of everything.  And his threat is effective, because she decides it must be God's will for her to marry Havelok.  God works in mysterious ways.  Luckily on their wedding night Havelok has a dream that convinces her he's going to be the rightful king of Denmark and England, so that's all sorted.  

The poverty-stricken Havelok, accompanied by his wife and Grim's sons, goes to Denmark for revenge.  He immediately checks in with an old friend of his father's, the earl Ubbe, and (1) asks him for permission to set up as a merchant (as one does when seeking revenge on a usurper who has murdered one's siblings in cold blood) and (2) gives him a gold ring (because, really, who doesn't have a gold ring for just such emergencies) and somehow also (3) sells the gold ring.  At this point, I assume the poet means our hero is "selling" the ring to Ubbe in return for Ubbe's support, but I suppose we'll find out soon.  

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Havelok the Unlikely Hero

So, we left our hero a mere child at the mercy of the fisher-thrall Grim and his wife Leve.  Things were not looking good for him; he was bound and gagged (so he couldn't even try to save himself by appealing to their better natures, if any) and the couple were gloating over the bounty that was to come their way after killing him off.  Indeed, Leve handled him with particular roughness, throwing him on the floor, where his head hit a rock.  But Havelok started shining in the darkness, and the couple saw a sign on his shoulder, so they figured he was the Rightful Heir and threw their lot in with him.  Eventually, the family fled with Havelok when the usurper Godard feigned ignorance and disapproval of his prior instructions and promises to Grim.

Grim founds Grimsby and provides quite well for the family and Havelok; he is a good fisher of fish, as it were.  But after 12 years, it occurs to Havelok that maybe it's time for him to pitch and start contributing to the household:

Hauelok was war þat grim swank sore
For his mete, and he lay at hom:
Thouthe, “ich am nou no grom;
Ich am wel waxen, and wel may eten
More þan euere Grim may geten.
Ich ete more, bi god on liue,
Þan grim an hise children fiue!
It ne may nouth ben þus longe,
Goddot! y wile with þe gange,
For to leren sum god to gete;
Swinken ich wolde for mi mete.
It is no shame forto swinken;
Þe man þat may wel eten and drinken,
Þat nouth ne haue but on swink long,
To liggen at hom it is ful strong.
God yelde him þer i ne may,
Þat haueth me fed to þis day!
Gladlike i wile þe paniers bere;
Ich woth, ne shal it me nouth dere,
Þey þer be inne a birþene gret,
Al so heui als a neth.
Shal ich neuere lengere dwelle,
To morwen shal ich forth pelle.”

(ll. 788-810)

I'm not quite sure how old Havelok is at this time.  Godard confines him and his sisters in a tower for three years; when Godard criticizes their wailing, Havelok is the one who speaks for the group. Godard then slits the girls' throats while the brother stands watching; he kneels and begs for his life and promises to flee Denmark and give up all rights to the throne.   (Not very heroic, but he's a small child.)  Godard spares him for the moment, apparently briefly moved by pity, but then reaches out to Grim to kill the boy for him.

The roughly contemporareous French lay says Havelok is seven years old when Grim sees the boy's miraculous flame and flees with him.

Developmentally, I suppose a child younger than seven (possibly even a very mature four-year old) might have the ability to beg for his life and make suitable promises, but remember that Havelok has been imprisoned for three years.  Given the overall neglect and cruelty of their incarceration, it seems unlikely that he'd have had much opportunity to improve his vocabulary, rhetoric, etc.  So seven is probably Havelok's youngest plausible age in the poem at the time he's transfered to Grim's custody, because he could have mastered the necessary language skill basics by age four when he was imprisoned.

If so, he'd be 19 now at the time when his work ethic kicks in.


Not long afterward, there's a famine in the land.  He goes off to Lincoln, clad in an old sail cloth (!), to survive.  After 2 days' involvuntary fasting, he answers a call for porters:

Hauelok shof dun nyne or ten,
Rith amidewarde þe fen,
And stirte forth to þe kok,
[Þer the herles mete he tok,]
Þat he bouthe at þe brigge:
Þe bermen let he alle ligge,
And bar þe mete to þe castel,
And gat him þere a ferþing wastel.
(ll. 871-78)

If I'm understanding this correctly, our hero gets the gig by shoving 9 or 10 of his rivals down into the mud and leaving them there.

Saturday, May 19, 2018


So, I bought a USB floppy drive to see if I could recover a few files from my old floppies.  Unfortunately, the ones I most wanted were inaccessible on two different computers.

I'd been hoping to find my paper from Flieger's Arthurian Legends class, since I rather uncharacteristically don't seem to have kept the hard copy, as well as some short movies I'd made in an animation class back in 1995 or 1996.  I have a floppy helpfully labeled "Self-extracting Compact Pro archives of Director movies: juggler, runner, 7-11, & concert hall" and another labeled "Demo - 3 movies / self-extracting projector files." (I'd been proud of the juggler animation and unreasonably pleased with a fairly simple animation inspired by Lem's short story "How the World Was Saved.")

But I think I've spent enough time, money, and effort attempting to retrieve these items -- already wildly disproportionate to even their subjective value to me.  I'll give myself 24 hours to reconsider, but I think it's time to give all 22 floppies the heave-ho.

Havelok the Dane

Slowly making my way through this poem.

I've reached the point where a second untrustworthy guardian makes a fisher-thrall an offer he can hardly refuse:  “Kill my ward and you’ll be free and rich, plus I’ll take the moral fall for it.”  Gosh, what's the catch?

“Grim, þou wost þu art mi þral,
Wilte don mi wille al,
Þat i wile bidden þe,
To-morwen [i] shal maken þe fre,
And aucte þe yeuen, and riche make,
With-þan þu wilt þis child[e] take,
And leden him with þe to-nicht,
Throw this child into the sea”.
Þan þou sest se Mone lith,
In-to þe se, and don him þer-inne,
Al wile [i] taken on me þe sinne.”
(ll. 527-36)

Some other lines that struck me at the time of reading:

Just how young was his little girl?  She couldn't speak with mouth!

Of his bodi ne hauede he eyr
Bute a mayden swiþe fayr,
Þat was so yung þat sho ne couþe
Gon on fote, ne speke wit mouþe.
(ll. 110-3)

OK, so she was so young she had not learned to walk, or to speak.  Got it.  But the way of expressing it really pleases me for some reason: She could not yet go on foot, but perhaps she could crawl.  Check.  Then it's followed by the concept she could not yet speak with mouth.  That amuses me for some reason (the implied idea that perhaps she could communicate in some other way at this stage).

Just how faithless was this ill-chosen guardian?  For his oath he didn't give a straw!

He let his oth al ouer-ga,
Þerof ne yaf he nouth a stra;
(ll. 14-15)

I love seeing this linguistic pattern ("he didn't give a __") which surely remains current as long as human nature remains what it is.  I think one can still use the word "straw" here, though many other options are of course available.

Nice alliteration

And wo [so] diden widuen wrong,
Were he neure knicth so strong,
Þat he ne made him sone kesten,
And in feteres ful faste festen;
(ll. 79-82)

And it feels like it could almost work in modern English - fetters, fully make fast, fasten - but I couldn't find any way to pull it off non-risibly.  
Current status: almost 25% of the way through (line 733 of 3001).

Thursday, May 17, 2018

μπισκότο (per Tara D)

Feeling a little gloomy, so I'll list my key accomplishments today:

  • picked up a new pair of glasses and contact lens prescription renewal;
  • got a colleague started on a last-minute presentation he's being pressured to do, without getting drawn in to do any of the work (bonus: with the materials I gave him, he went from desperation and despair to more or less full-on optimism about pulling this off by Tuesday);
  • bought a chocolate chip cookie for a random stranger who was dithering about whether or not to buy one;
  • talked another colleague off the ledge for now by assuring her that it was ok to do only the urgent stuff at this time and let the other stuff go by for a bit (which is true);
  • knocked out one of two urgent projects.
I think the cookie purchase was by far the most satisfactory.  It had the element of surprise and delight, the sudden joyous turn of eucatastrophe; indeed, for the recipient, a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur.  Plus, baked goods were two for $5 so I got myself a pear scone in the bargain.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018


From Stephen C Winter's blog post about meeting Saruman on the road (via Tom):
Now all that is left for [Saruman] is degradation and yet he refuses to repent. As W.H Auden once wrote, “We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the present and let our illusions die”. 
Auden's words would seem to ring true in many spheres, not merely those involving Saruman-style degradation.  One broader application is the saying "Ships in harbor are safe, but that's not what ships are built for" (John Shedd, qtd by Susan Jeffers) – a lesson I have to repeatedly re-learn and always fail to master.  A perhaps more narrowly theological application might be seen in CSL's The Last Battle, with the dwarves who are damned by their refusal to be "taken in." It's a wonderful duality: they don't want to be "taken in" – meaning deceived – and therefore are literally not "taken in" to paradise.  In effect, they accept eternal ruin rather than changing their minds.  Or then again, perhaps further afield, consider CSL's idea from Mere Christianity, where the Christian's hoped-for minor fixes turn out to be a radical reconstruction and redesign that leave nothing unchanged and un-transformed.  Which of course is also seen in The Great Divorce, especially in the episode involving the "little red lizard" of lust which is – with the Ghost's very reluctant and agonized permission – killed, and resurrected into "the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold." (MacDonald, as teacher and guide, characterizes it as the "richness and energy of desire").

My introduction to Auden must have been in 10th grade, shortly before we moved back to the States, when my English teacher Mrs Stephan challenged the class to fill in the blank: "Lay your sleeping head, my love,  / Human on my ________ arm".   As she had doubtless intended, none of us guessed how the poet had filled out the line.*

From annotations in my Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, I read at least six poems or excerpts in college ("O where are you going?" from Five Songs; "The Wanderer"; "Lullaby"; "Musée des Beaux Arts"; "In Memory of W. B. Yeats"; and "In Praise of Limestone").  Of these, "Musée des Beaux Arts" remains by far the most familiar.

And of course, "Funeral Blues" became familiar to me and perhaps one or two other people through its prominent placement in Four Weddings and a Funeral.  (Although for me, that movie is memorable mostly because of the conversation I didn't have after it.)

Which I suppose is all just a long and roundabout way of saying that it now appears I need to read Auden's The Age of Anxiety.

FN* Last time I blogged about this, I remembered two blanks.  At least I'm consistent about the year and the teacher's name!

Sunday, May 06, 2018


There's nothing quite like trying to work things out in a long blog post, and then finally hitting "Publish" to find that all your work has been lost.