Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Fast Away The Old Year Passes

Well, the last hours of 2008 are ticking away, and as usual here in Texas we weigh the joys of fireworks with the fear of grass fires in a drought. If we could trust our drunk, carefree, joyous, stupid neighbors to be as responsible as we are, we would have a lot less worry, but then again, whuddyagunnado?

The year is ending; the long holiday slide from Halloween to New Year's is coming to a close, and ordinary life is beginning to assert itself. For the past few days I've been pestered with thoughts of reform, re-organizing, and new projects. This has probably been fueled by the post-Christmas clean-up. Just today I've been doing a few things I've been meaning to do for a while, like opening The Year Without A Santa Claus action figures I got months ago. The idea of clearing the decks and starting anew is in the air.

I have a couple of new features I've been pondering for the blog for a while, and hope to implement them soon. In the meantime, a Happy New Year to all.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Kid's Got Heart

Coming soon in January! More of SquareEnix's action figures from Kingdom Hearts. In this series are Sora and Riku as they appeared in the original Kingdom Hearts game, and Mickey Mouse as King Mickey in his Oranization XIII costume as he was in Kingdom Hearts II.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Winter: Favorite Poems

When icicles hang by the wall,
And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
And Tom bears logs into the hall,
And milk comes frozen home in pail;
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
Then nightly sings the staring owl.
Tu-whit, to-who! a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
When all aloud the wind doth blow,
And coughing drowns the parson's saw,
And birds sit brooding in the snow,
And Marian's nose looks red and raw;
When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,
Then nightly sings the staring owl.
Tu-whit, to-who! a merry note,
While greasy Joan doth keel the pot.
--William Shakespeare (1564-1616).
A lovely little gem on country life in the winter; most of the details still apply, from bad roads ("ways be foul") to coughing during the Sunday sermon ("parson's saw"). One particularly Christmasy detail are the "roasted crabs", which aren't seafood but roasted crab-apples, cooked in the wassail-bowl. And "greasy Joan" who "keels" (cools by stirring and skimming the top of) the pot is not greasy with food: she's sweating from working near the hot cooking pot. The keen little illustration is by Pauline Baynes, Lor' bless 'er.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Consideration of Religious Action Figures; Or, Bible Toys

A little while ago there was some hoopla about Wal-Mart carrying the Accoutrements Jesus action figure. Some people thought it verged on the sacrilegious; others thought it pushed a religious agenda. I have some objections about it myself, and this is the main one: it is a poorly made figure.

The body of the Accoutrement Jesus is a hollow cone with wheels on the bottom, which, if backed up, makes the whole figure glide forward, just like a toy car. Why they thought this was appropriate to Jesus is beyond me; it seems that this action and his glow-in-the-dark hands are a none too subtle comment on the perceived iconographic expectations of "religious types". The fact that the figure of Pope is the only other one in their line that has this feature seems to support this theory. Their Deluxe Jesus figure is much better; this figure has feet and comes with loaves and fishes and no glowing hands. But the ordinary version is the one you see everywhere.

I am not going to get into a discussion of whether or not it is right to have an action figure of Jesus, or any religious figure. But if they are going to exist, they should at least compete in quality with the secular figures that are out there. And this is where toy companies with Christian agendas have fallen down.

Take the figures shown above. These are produced and sold at Now I rather like these, in a weird way. I like the idea of having a Moses and Solomon and Angel action figure, and even the Jesus is better than Accoutrements in many ways. I would probably buy some of these if I was sure the site was still active. But the close up pictures I looked at revealed them to be rather crude and clumsy, with little character or style, and no accessories at all. Their costume sculpt shows little or no knowledge of historical accuracy or flair: David looks like some sort of pirate, and of Adam and Eve, the less said the better. Little art or care is apparent in their making, and that seems to me to indicate a lack of conviction. The same complaints, along with flimsiness, can be made of other biblical lines, like BibleQuest. Bad artistry is bad faith.

In comparison look at the figures of Lord Rama and Hanuman, offered by Rama is supposed to be an avatar of Krishna, and Hanuman an aspect of Shiva; they both appear in the Hindu epic The Ramanya. Character, detail, and presence almost compel belief; you believe in them as characters if not as divine beings. If I was sure this site was still active, I would probably buy these, as well.

This is what producers of biblical action figures have to compete against, and it's about time they get cracking. And you need bad guys, too, fellas, and not just Goliath. Action figures are all just basically there to be characters in stories, stories that are told while they are being played with, and all stories are fueled by conflict. You know, like Good vs. Evil? I think there was something like that in the Bible.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Christmas Season Rhymes

God bless the master of this house,
The mistress bless also,
And all the little children
That round the table go;
And all your kin and kinsmen,
That dwell both far and near.
I wish you a merry Christmas
And a happy new year.


Bounce buckram, velvet's dear,
Christmas comes but once a year;
And when it comes, it brings good cheer,
But when it's gone, it's never near.


Ah, too true.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Memory And Musing Before Christmas Day

Almost as integral to the season as beloved carols and Christmas songs are parodies of these very same verses. From every two-bit commercial writer who can't scan the meter of 'Twas The Night Before Christmas to the classics like "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" and "We three kings of Orient are/ Trying to smoke a rubber cigar", travesties and burlesques abound; these are connected, perhaps, through our seasonal frustrations and high spirits, to the old custom of the Lord of Misrule, under whose reign topsy-turvydom was celebrated to help blow off steam. My brothers seem to have the power to reel off such songs extempore and have them make satiric or crazy sense; I have come up with only one poor example in my life, and here it is:

"Here comes Santy Claus, here comes Santy Claus,
Right down Santy Claus Lane.
Jams and jellies fill our bellies
On Santy Claus Lane!
The king is coming! All hail his call!
When you've said Santy you've said it all!
Fa la la la, fa la la la la la la..."

Thus incorporating "Here Comes Santa Claus" with "Ain't We Got Fun" and an old Budweiser beer commercial.

I've seen in several places lately what I can only call the defense of an un-Christian Christmas. Various post-ers and pundits have talked about how, although they are far from being Christians of any sort of stripe, they still celebrate Christmas for all its pageantry and pleasantry, its memories and spirit. And I say, God bless them, go for it. In the midst of their wintry philosophies if they can have at least a little taste of the Great Feast and Dance which is at the core of our faith, they may have a few crumbs that fall from the table. It might give them a desire to finally come in, sit down, and join the party.

And so, until the festivities have died down, look to see me no more. Merry Christmas to all, and God bless us, every one.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I Got Nothing

Well, that's not technically true. I have things, but it's all kind of trivial, and I really have no impulse to rant, pontificate, or enthuse on any of it. So here's just a list of recent stuff, with maybe a note or two along the way.

Action Figures:
Wounded Hellboy, with Bird Cage and Samaritan
Hellboy, includes Cat, Six-Pack, and Samaritan
Dr. Henry Jones, with Umbrella, Portmanteau, Grail Journal, and Grail
Beetlejuice, with Snakes and Guide For The Recently Deceased
Dr. Weir, with a bunch of Stargate junk and a Copy of War and Peace
*That's three new books for the action figure library!

China and Japan: Myths and Legends, by Donald A. Mackenzie
Egyptian Myth and Legend, by Donald A. Mackenzie
Medieval Beasts, by Anne Payne
The Wordsworth Dictionary of the Underworld, by Eric Partridge (thieves' patois, and such)
The Sea: Myths and Legends, by Angelo S. Rappoport
A Treatise On Angel Magic, ed. Adam McLean
Charles Dickens, by G. K. Chesterton
We Remember C. S. Lewis, ed. David Graham
Giants, Monsters & Dragons, by Carol Rose.

That seems like a lot, but I got them all from HalfPrice Books and Bargain Books. Giants, Monsters & Dragons I found to be a particularly good book; it's encyclopedic, scholarly, and interestingly illustrated with old and unusual pictures. I was also glad to find a Chesterton I don't have; I mean there's a lot of his books I don't have, but to find one is so rare.

I suppose this is Christmas kicking in; I just want to go along with the season. locking down under the cold, watching Christmas shows with the kids, and eating rich food until violently ill. Giant tamales today, very popular about this time in Texas! I can feel the boigle beginning already.

By the way, is anyone else outraged about the diminishing number of chocolate covered cherries to a box?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grandfather Frost

Today being the first official day of winter, I'd like to talk a little about Grandfather Frost, or Ded Moroz as is his name in Russian. He went from being a personification of winter in old folktales to being a sort of Russian Santa Claus. He is typically shown wearing a fur hat, high boots, and carries a long staff that holds the power of the cold. Instead of bringing presents at Christmas, however, he comes at New Year's, and he is accompanied by his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden; the presents are left under a decorated tree. He was condemned by both Imperial and Soviet Russia, but was so popular he was brought back in the mid-Thirties; Josef Stalin, however, declared he could only be depicted wearing blue robes, so he would not be confused with Santa Claus. More often called Father Frost in the West (for the alliteration), he bears some resemblance to both Jack Frost and Old Man Winter.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

We Three Kings: Favorite Poems

We Three Kings; or, Kings Of Orient

We three kings of Orient are;
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountain, moor and mountain,
Following yonder star:

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

Born a king on Bethlehem plain,
Gold I bring, to crown him again--
King forever, ceasing never,
Over us all to reign:


Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh:
Prayer and praising, all men raising,
Worship him, God most high:


Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom:
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb:


Glorious now behold him arise,
King, and God, and Sacrifice!
Heaven sings alleluya,
Alleluya the earth replies:

O star of wonder, star of night,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect light.

--Dr. J. H. Hopkins (written and composed about 1857).

I love the iconography and symbolism that has developed about the Three Kings (or Three Wise Men, or the Magi) over the years, although very little about it can be traced to Biblical sources. Even their number is not specified (some legends have as many as twelve); three is deduced from the number of gifts they presented to the newborn Messiah. In the carol above gold is allotted to Melchior, frankincense to Gaspar (or Gaspard, or Caspar), and myrrh to Balthazar. Even these names are late Western tradition; Ethiopian and Syrian tradition records other names. They have been pictured as being at three different ages each (young, middle-aged, and old); and different races (African, Oriental, and Caucasian being most common). They travel with entourages or on their own; they ride camels or horses; they come from separate places but join together in their quest or they all set out from the same time and place.

There is some evidence that the "Kings" came to Jesus some time after his birth, and so weren't around for the angels and shepherds part; any time from two weeks to two years has been suggested. The traditional day is Epiphany (Jan.6), sometimes called Three Kings Day, and is the Twelfth Day of Christmas (so now you understand a little more about that other carol with all the birds and leaping). In some cultures in Europe this is the day kids get presents, brought by the Three Wise Men; thoughtful children leave feed for their camels, as this is the one day of the year they get to eat.

Dr. Hopkins, by the way, was a pastor in Pennsylvania when he wrote the carol. So we got a good one by an American boy.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

R. I. P.:Majel Barrett Roddenberry

She's dead, Jim.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry has passed away at the age of 76, of complications from leukemia. She was in just about every incarnation of the Star Trek franchise, from her role as Number One in the first unaired pilot (later adapted as the two-parter episode "The Cage") to her recently announced reprise as the voice of the Enterprise's computer in the new Trek film. She was also involved in most of her husband Gene Roddenberry's projects and in many other sci-fi works.

I don't know if it was a transference from my own desire to be Mr. Spock, but I had a kind of crush on her in her incarnation as Nurse Chapel. She has always come across in her acting as being more attractive than a cold assessment of her features might be evaluated; she projected such vivacity and warmth that she acted more beautifully than she looked, and it convinced you.

I sincerely hope she had completed her voice tracks for the new movie before her passing. It would be a fitting final memorial for a beloved figure in popular culture.

Tolkien: A Biography

In the 1800's, Matthew Arnold wrote a sonnet on Shakespeare, that begins: "Others abide our question. Thou art free./ We ask and ask: Thou smilest and art still,/ Out-topping knowledge." I have always felt that about J. R. R. Tolkien; I have read book after book about him and his work, but there always seem to be something elusive, uncatchable about him. It was something of a revelation to see him on film, to actually see him walk and talk, but in a way it only deepened the mystery. Even now I read any book that might have a new angle on the man, and this one by Michael White has been on my list a while. When I found it at HalfPrice Books I snatched it up and read it in a day.

Michael White was a member of the 80's group The Thompson Twins in another life, then was science editor for GQ and a college professor. Previous subjects of his biographies were Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking, and he definitely writes from a "skeptical" angle, although a fan of The Lord of the Rings. I found this refreshing, as he seems to have a straightforward approach; he is writing neither a hagiography of Tolkien or a slash job, has no literary axe to grind. A look at the facts with all speculations clearly labelled as such.

And that is the great virtue of this book. It is a brisk yet graceful marshalling of the events of Tolkien's life, not an analysis of his work. As such it avoids some of the waffle and meander of Humphrey Carpenter's authorized biography. The final chapter seems just a little tacked on, maybe to take advantage of the buzz of the movies that had just started to come out when it was published.

But at the end it still left me with the enigma of Tolkien; an unsatisfying portrait of the man, but one taken from a different angle, that adds another aspect to ponder. It makes me think that Tolkien was transparently the man he appeared to be; the mystery of his creations is the secret.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Alucard...Ma I

Another series in the NECA and Player Select issues of video game characters, this time from the game Castlevania. I found a few at Hastings. I bought the rather bishonen gentleman with the long blond hair in the middle: his name is Alucard. If you wonder what the name means (and if you are a regular reader of this blog I bet you don't) read the post heading backward. This figure stands about 7 and 1/2 inches tall and comes with broadsword, cross on a chain, holy water bottle, and a bloody joint of some kind of meat that I am willing to bet is some sort of health-restoring pick-up in the game.

Oddly enough, this is not the first toy bottle of holy water I've got (think Buffy), and it's the second toy cross I've bought this week. The other was one of the "secret treasures" I got with an Indiana Jones figure.

Frosty The Snowman Action Figures

I have a lot of action figures based on Christmas specials: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, The Year Without A Santa Claus, Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer, Mickey's Christmas Carol. And now Frosty The Snowman joins the gang.

This batch of action figures actually spans three different specials. Frosty himself debuted in Frosty the Snowman; Crystal, Parson Brown, and Jack Frost were introduced in Frosty's Winter Wonderland; and the snow children Millie and Chilly were first seen in Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas In July.

We found these figures at Toys'R'Us. Although available in individual packages, I bought the Frosty Family in its complete package for $24.99. It is comprised of Frosty, Crystal, Millie, Chilly, and snow dog Willie. Accessories include snow base with snowflower bush and North Pole sign; sled for the kids, snowflower bouquet for Crystal, and broom and removable hat for Frosty.

Figures only available in individual packages ($7.99) were Parson Brown, with removable hat and good book, and Jack Frost, with inanimate snow figure and "wrong hat". (By the way, the Jack Frost in the 1976 Frosty's Winter Wonderland looks like he could indeed be the same Jack Frost who looked younger and kinder in the 1979 Jack Frost, only now aged and bitter after hundreds of years since losing his love Elisa. Such are the musings of a man with way too much time on his hands.)

Figures are about 5 inches tall, Jack Frost and the children smaller in proportion. Basic construction is a light hollow plastic shell; a good choice as solid construction would have been way too heavy. Figures are jointed at neck, shoulders, and legs. Frosty and Parson Brown's hat attach to their heads by using interior magnets. Frosty, Chilly, and Millie's mufflers are all fabric, as is Crystal's apron; I generally hate having cloth accents on figures as they are a little flimsy and can get very dirty, but these seem to work alright, so whayyagunnado? They are produced by Forever Fun at

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Because I Promised

Recipe For Oatmeal Cookies

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl mix 1 cup white granulated sugar, 1 cup brown sugar, and 1 cup shortening. Thoroughly cream together.

Add two beaten eggs and 1 teaspoon vanilla. I like to beat the eggs and vanilla in the same cup before adding.

Add 1 and 1/2 cups sifted flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt. Thoroughly mix.

Add 3 cups quick-cooking oatmeal. Thoroughly mix.

At this point you can add a half cup of chopped pecans, walnuts, or raisins. Mix.

You can make the cookies as large as you like; they do tend to spread, though. About a tablespoon full or so each cookie will make 3 dozen. Bake at 350 degrees on a greased foil or non-stick pan for 15 minutes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Littlest Snowman With The Red Candy Heart

Does anyone else remember this story? Every year around this time Captain Kangaroo would have a little featurette starring the littlest snowman with the red candy heart. As I remember the story, the littlest snowman prevents a fire, but in the process melts. His heart survives, however, and he is rebuilt.

When I looked up the book from which the above picture comes from, however, the story they recount is radically different. Apparently on a snowless Christmas the snowman engorges himself on ice cream until he bursts, sending colored snow all over the town. The town scrapes up enough white snow and his red candy heart to put him together, and the Red Cross brings him back to life.

Is my memory faulty, or are there simply two versions out there? I'm confused, bemused, and a little amused.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Answer: My Poems


Sunlight may turn drops of dust to gold;
One red drop of blood can crimson waters pale:
Like alchemic transformations worked of old
Concentric rings spread from redemption's tale.

Redemption spreads; Saul turns into Paul,
And churches stand where pagan temples stood.
The church fathers hew down druid woods
And what was heathen consecrate to good.

Christ shall hold all men and custom yet;
No good will fall useless by the way.
Claus is a saint, caught in Peter's net,
And wise men still bring gifts on Christmas Day.

Every Christmas some newspaper or TV show points out the scandalous fact that Christmas has-gasp!-pagan origins. Well, duh. We were all pagans once; we dwelt on the heath with the heathens. The fact that early Christians preserved what was good and pleasant about the old religions (bonfires and decorated trees, no human sacrifice, please) and re-dedicated them to Christ seems no drawback or hypocrisy to me. So I wrote this poem.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Princess and the Goblin

The same time I got The Angel of Death at Hastings I got the Goblin King, also from Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Apparently after he expended his skill making the Golden Army and losing his lower body to an industrial accident while doing so, he couldn't make himself anything better than that squeaky little cart. Anyway, he's 5 1/2 inches tall and 5 1/2 inches long. As the picture says, he comes with buckets and lanterns.

Today when I checked back at Hastings they had Princess Nuala, and she is very cool. While I thought Prince Nuada didn't look exactly like his character in the movie, Nuala seems like a perfect sculpt. She is 7 inches tall, her body is a solid modeled cone, like the Angels', and she is jointed at the neck and shoulders. As the picture says, she comes with map cylinder, crown piece, and a book to join my toy books library.

Each figure cost $16.95.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Angel Of Death

He has wings full of eyes and a heart full of dust. He is Hellboy's personal Angel of Death in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and I just know what many Goths are going to top their Christmas trees with this year.

I found this action figure at Hastings this Saturday and bought it for $24.99. It was produced by Mezco ( It stands 8 and 1/2 inches high, with an extended wingspan of 14 inches. The main body and head consists of one sturdy hollow modeled cone; the arms are articulated at the shoulders, and the wings (which were unattached in the packaging box) go in the back on a hinged peg.

I love winged action figures; they've got presence. But they are hard to store without some bending to the wings occurring, and then they're darn hard to straighten out, if you can at all. Also where the wings attach is a fragile part, sustaining a lot of weight, and that is where breaking is most likely to happen. The best way to store is constant display, if you have the room, but who always does?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

From A Christmas Carol: Quotes

"Nephew!" returned his uncle sternly, "keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine."

"Keep it!" repeated Scrooge's nephew. "But you don't keep it."

"Let me leave it alone, then," said Scrooge. "Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!"

"There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say," returned the nephew: "Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round--apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that--as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good: and I say, God bless it!"

--from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

Friday, December 5, 2008

R.I.P.: Forrest J. Ackerman

Just a short note in passing to commemorate the death of Forrest J. Ackerman on Thursday. He was 92 years old. He was the founder of Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine dedicated to cinematic horror, fantasy and science fiction. He is credited with introducing the term "sci-fi" to the language. He was also famous for his home in California, the "Ackermansion", which contained over 50,000 volumes and unique items of memorabilia, such as Bela Legosi's Dracula cape and the ring Boris Karloff wore as the Mummy. He was the friend and inspiration to many famous writers and movie personalities in his specialized area, and was the power behind the infamous "Zimmerman treatment"; a proposed outline for a The Lord of the Rings movie that was so bad Tolkien demanded that if they were to make it they would have to give him complete power of veto on any future developments or an enormous wad of cash.

During a very formative part of our lives (mid-70's to early 80's), Famous Monsters was one of our regular reads and a great source of b&w photos of great monsters collected into one place. Before the internet it was one of our few sources of info on the movie genres we so loved. So thanks, Forrest J. Ackerman. I know you didn't believe in any sort of afterlife, but I hope you were pleasantly surprised when Prince Sirki came a-calling.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Vision: My Poems


In a distant polar region
Sheathed in everlasting ice
Stands an ancient, argent castle
Wrought with wonderous device
That rears alone, aloof and chaste,
Amid the twilight, frozen waste.

The airy halls reverbrate
With songs of elder days
Sung by dimmed, immortal spirits
Along vaulted, empty ways.
They are that angel-kin who fell
And yet were still too good for hell.

They serve their time attending him
Who dwells within those walls.
They go as flames or rushing winds
And are his willing thralls.
Wherever there may mortals be
They probe their hearts of secrecy

And bring them to that private place
Within the hidden heart
Of the silvered winter palace
Where an old man dwells apart
Clothed in miter, cope and stole
And on his hand a ring of gold.

In that inviolate chamber
By a thousand candles' light
He hears the tales of joy and woe
And once a year, at night,
About the time of sun's rebirth
He travels all around the earth

And bestows his glowing blessings
In those that goodness guides,
And those that practice evil
He in pity passes by.
He wanders on and goes his way
Ere the stars can dim with day.

I, sleeping, saw this vision
And so can tell the tale
And saw these things on Christmas Eve
Before my dream could pale.
But I wonder who, without a pause,
Knew 'twas the elves and Santa Claus?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Ballade Of Suicide: Favorite Poems

A Ballade Of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbors--on the wall--
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me...After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Tomorrow is the time I get my pay--
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall--
I see a little cloud all pink and grey--
Perhaps the rector's mother will not call--
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way--
I never read the works of Juvenal--
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H. G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational--
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small--
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrels toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

--G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936.

G. K. Chesterton was probably the man who would be voted the least likely to commit suicide, and in this poem mocking the idea, he gives several reasons why. It is written in the ballade form, which he and his friends took up with glee after seeing it demonstrated in the play Cyrano DeBergerac. Sometimes they would compose them together, taking alternate lines and trying to top each other in preposterous rhymes. The "envoi" always concludes with disparaging remarks addressed to the "Prince", who represents the acme of all that is contemptible. Chesterton was friends with both Wells and Shaw, but always thought their grand analyses never took into account the ordinary life of ordinary people.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Santa Claus Protocols

From: The Law Offices of Lios, Dyrin, Cobweb, Ilbereth & Hermes
RE: The commercial portrayal of our client, S. Claus

To Whom It May Concern:

At this rolling time of year, it behooves us to issue a reminder to all and sundry that the distasteful and damaging abuse of the image of our client, Santa Claus (a.k.a. St. Nicholas, Sinter Klaas, Father Christmas, etc., etc.) is strictly frowned upon. Such abuses include but are not limited to:

1) Portrayals of him as skinny and unbearded;
2) Portrayals of him on the beach or dressed in summer apparel;
3) Portrayals of him as using cars or airplanes rather than traditional reindeer and sleigh;
4) Portrayals of him in a sexual fashion;
5) Portrayals of him using the clumsy technology of ordinary mortals, such as computers;
6) Portrayals of him as patronizing particular stores or companies (which is not only partisan
but foolishly assumes that a supplier of his magnitude buys retail);

In short, any portrayal deviating too far from traditional, magical image that he not only supports but lives, or that serves the selfish ideologies of the purveyor, are to be eschewed at the penalty of our client's extreme displeasure.

And while it is true that Mr. Claus is of a forgiving, charitable, and jovial nature, we elves are not always so inclined.

Yrs. Sincerely,
Lios, Dyrin, Cobweb, Ilbereth, & Hermes, Ltd.

P.S.: Though it is out of our purview per se, we would also strongly suggest that any further parodies of Clement Clark Moore's poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" for commercial use be discontinued, especially if the writer cannot scan the correct meter of the line.


Friday, November 28, 2008

The Way Through The Woods: Favorite Poems

The Way Through The Woods

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate
(They fear not men in the woods
Because they see so few),
You will hear the beat of a horses feet
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods...
But there is no road through the woods!

--Rudyard Kipling, from Rewards and Fairies.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Special Special

In the last month I got two chock-a-block boxed sets of Christmas specials: The Original Christmas Classics and Classic Christmas Favorites. The first set has the greats like Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the second has more second tier offerings like The Year Without a Santa Claus (which by the way has a sequel coming out this year featuring the Miser Brothers) and The Leprechaun's Christmas Gold. Between these two collections you certainly have all the Rankin-Bass Christmas cheer you could want, but it got me thinking: why isn't there a similar anthology for Thanksgiving? Sure, there aren't as many animated offerings for this day, and the ones that there are are rather obscure, but that just means you could get them all in one tidy collection. So for what it's worth, here's my design for Classical Thanksgiving Classics: The Classy Collection.

First of all I have to list a couple of exceptions. It could not include A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, first of all because the Peanuts franchise is very stand alone, and second of all because I already have a new deluxe version of it. It should not include The Bugs Bunny Thanksgiving Diet or Daffy Duck's Thanks-for-giving Special, because both are just chop-jobs of good cartoons spoiled by poor linking animation. That said and done, the collection could feature:

B. C. : The First Thanksgiving (Levitow-Hanson Films)

Intergalactic Thanksgiving (Nelvana Limited)

The Mouse on the Mayflower (Rankin/Bass)

Thanksgiving in the Land of Oz (Muller-Rosen Productions)

The Thanksgiving That Almost Wasn't (Hanna-Barbera Productions)

It could then be filled up with a few shorts, like the Warner Brothers cartoons featuring Daffy Duck and Tom Turkey, or the MGM cartoon with Jimmy Durante-soundalike turkey, and the Popeye cartoon featuring the immortal line, "What! No toikey?" Thus I could have another little holiday selection of my memories safely enshrined and filed away for future reference. So get cracking, oh gods of DVD boxed sets making. You should be able to pick up most of these items for a song and a few beads and trinkets.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holy Artifact

The Disney Schoolbus Lunchbox--the original version--for years now the Holy Grail of my garage sale, flea market, and e-Bay searches. Why? Because it was my first lunch box in first grade, and the one thing for school I was allowed to pick, and one of the coolest things I ever saw. The one I owned went to rust and was thrown away, its thermos broken and gone for years already when it was tossed (a parental executive decision), but I always kept my eyes open for a replacement. When we saw one as a display at Clear Springs Restaurant I almost plotzed, and planned most of the meal how to steal it. (Too many witnesses though--about 200.) Ones on e-Bay were always a little too expensive. But at Eckman's I ran across this one.
It's not perfect. The thermos and the wire that held it in the domed roof are missing, and there is a touch of wear and rust. But that's okay; that probably accounts for its reasonable price. They were asking for $80, but I haggled it down to $60, and most I'd seen on e-Bay were going for about $120.
It's a complete 3-D representation of a bus, stocked with Disney characters. You can see both sides in the pictures above; not only are the ends figural, but even the bottom shows the wheels and suspension of the bus! The bottom is,of course, where the most wear is. There is a similar lunch box of the time of a Disney fire truck, and a re-issue of a Disney bus, much shorter and featuring new characters from the Disney Afternoon like Goofy's son Max, but this is the old '69 model, lacking only the thermos, thermos frame, and smell of peanut butter and bananas.
You can see on the one side that Bambi is holding a Disney bus in his mouth. As little kids this always filled us with awe that that little bus had a picture of him with another bus, and so on and on. It was one of our first encounters with the idea of infinite progression.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving: November 23, 1989

The grass was green, the winter grass,
as green as spring was new.
The road was empty, swept and clean,
except for me and you.
The light was clear, the golden light,
and long the sunbeams lay
As you and I went walking
on that far November day.

We had our canes, our India canes,
that we bought as a pair;
We tramped the highway tapping them
with hardly any care.
We talked of things, of future things,
and things of futures past
And the day was decked in joy
and the day went by too fast.

The times we had, times long ago,
now long ago are gone
And memories fade as colors fade
and fading are undone;
But I shall find, and finding know,
and knowing shall remember
This poem I wrote, wrote of us two,
and a day in November.

I've spent most of this day doing prepatory chores for Thanksgiving (as per the old wives' program for Thanksgiving week: "Monday--wash; Tuesday--scour; Wednesday--bake; Thursday--devour."), mostly housecleaning and sprucing up, but also baking some of my traditional oatmeal cookies. I'm really too tired to do the original posting I wanted, so instead offer this old poem and a note. It's prophetic too--I really do remember that day vividly, thanks to these verses.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Winged Monkeys Flying Through The Roof!

Last Saturday, my brother and I went to Eckman's Card, Comic and Toy Show in San Antonio. This is the biggest whoop-ti-doo of this kind in our area, with over 200 dealers showing their wares. I had been there once before, and my brother wanted to at least see one and see how it was. We took along his son and my sister's little boy, so the conditions for peaceful browsing weren't optimal, but we all had a blast. The greatest part was all the memorabilia and "vintage" toys ("They were all new when I bought them!") that were available. There were bins of cheap-os and pieces that the kids loved digging through, There were fairly recent toys still in package for low low prices (I got a Moria Orc Archer for $3). There were books and comic books (I got The Sandman Companion for $10). Then there were rarer items, like The Flying Monkeys.
Tod McFarlane ran a line of action figures called Twisted Oz. This included characters like Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, Toto, and the Wizard of Oz. All of them were "twisted", that is, more adult and violence designed. I really didn't care to have any of these. But then there was a "Collector's Club Exclusive" the Flying Monkeys. And I had to have them.
There are two Flying Monkeys in the package, and a bizarre little Munchkin thrown in for good measure. One Flying Monkey looks like he was created cybernetically from a dead chimp grafted with feathered wings and mechanical leg; the other one looks like a demonic/gargoyle ape with leathery wings. Both are about three and a half inches tall, and are creepy cool.
I made a newbie mistake about them, though. I bought them right off the crack, and later as I was leaving I saw the entire set (out of the box) going for only slightly more than what I'd paid for just the monkeys. It's probably just as well, though. Some of those others are a wee bit unpleasant, and I'm not sure I want them around. Coming up in another post: the incredible artifact I bought for much less than I thought I would ever find it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

There Is A Time: Favorite Songs

There Is A Time

There is a time for love and laughter
The days will pass like summer storms
The winter winds will follow after
But there is love, and love is warm

(Chorus) There is a time for us to wander
When time is young and so are we
The woods are greener over yonder
The path is new, the world is free

There is a time when leaves are falling
The woods are gray, the paths are old
Snow will come and geese are calling
You need a fire agianst the cold


So do your roaming in the springtime
Find your love in the summer sun
Frost will come and bring the harvest
You can sleep when day is done

There is a time for love and laughter
The days will pass like summer storms
The woods are greener over yonder
The path is new, the world is free
The path is new, the world is free

I first heard this song on The Andy Griffith Show, where it was sung by the Darling clan when they came into town to find somebody to betroth to their little baby girl and settled on Opie. The Darling boys (the actual musicians) were played by a folk band called The Dillards, who had produced and recorded the song. After they finish playing it Andy says that was just about the prettiest song he ever heard, and I had to agree. I'd been thinking about posting it for a while because I thought it's wistfulness made it a good autumn song, and just yesterday it was actually on TV. You can see it on YouTube if you pop "Andy Griffith there is a time" into the search.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On Belief: Quotations

"I can't believe that!" said Alice.

"Can't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again; draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

--from Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"I would." She sounded angry now. He wondered if bringing the wine to the dinner had been a wise idea. Life was certainly not a cabernet now.

"It's not easy to believe."

"I," she told him, "can believe anything. You have no idea what I can believe."


"I can believe things that are true and I can believe things that aren't true and I can believe things where nobody knows if they're true or not. I can believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and Marylin Monroe and the Beatles and Elvis and Mister Ed. Listen--I believe that people are perfectible, that knowledge is infinite, that the world is run by secret banking cartels and is visited by aliens on a regular basis, nice ones that look like wrinkledy lemurs and bad ones who mutilate cattle and want our water and our women. I believe that the future sucks and that the future rocks and I believe that one day White Buffalo Woman is going to come back and kick everyone's ass. I believe that all men are just overgrown boys with deep problems communicating and that the decline in good sex in America is coincident with the decline in drive-in movie theaters from state to state. I believe that all politicians are unprincipled crooks and I still believe that they are better than the alternative. I believe that California is going to sink into the sea when the big one comes, while Florida is going to dissolve into madness and alligators and toxic waste. I believe that antibacterial soap is destroying our resistance to dirt and disease so that one day we'll all be wiped out by the common cold like the Martians in War of the Worlds. I believe the greatest poets of the last century were Edith Sitwell and Don Marquis, that jade is dried dragon sperm, and that thousands of years ago in a former life I was a one-armed Siberian shaman. I believe that mankind's destiny lies in the stars. I believe that candy really did taste better when I was a kid, that it's aerodynamically impossible for a bumblebee to fly, that light is a wave and a particle, that there's a cat in a box somewhere who's alive and dead at the same time (although if they don't ever open the box to feed it it'll eventually be just two different kinds of dead), and that there are stars in the universe billions of years older than the universe itself. I believe in a personal god who cares about me and worries and oversees everything I do. I believe in an impersonal god who set the universe in motion and went off to hang with her girlfriends and doesn't even know I'm alive. I believe in an empty and godless universe of casual chaos, background noise, and sheer blind luck. I believe that anyone who says sex is overrated just hasn't done it properly. I believe that anyone who claims to know what's going on will lie about the little things too. I believe in absolute honesty and sensible social lies. I believe in a woman's right to choose, a baby's right to live, that while all human life is sacred there's nothing wrong with the death penalty if you can trust the legal system implicitly, and that no one but a moron would ever trust the legal system. I believe that life is a game, life is a cruel joke, and that life is what happens when you're alive and that you might as well lie back and enjoy it." She stopped, out of breath.

Shadow almost took his hands off the wheel to applaud. Instead he said, "Okay. So if I tell you what I've learned you won't think that I'm a nut."

"Maybe," she said. "Try me."

--from American Gods, by Neil Gaiman.

"Mrs. Franklin, do you really and truly believe in God with no doubts at all?"

"Oh, Una, I really and truly believe in God with all kinds of doubts."

--from A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L'Engle.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Magian World View: Quotations

"You have read Spengler? No: it is not so fashionable as it once was. But Spengler talks a great deal about what he calls the Magian World View, which he says we have lost, but which was part of the Weltanschauung--you know, the world outlook--of the Middle Ages. It was a sense of the unfathomable wonder of the invisible world that existed side by side with a hard recognition of the roughness and cruelty and day-to-day demands of the tangible world. It was a readiness to see demons where nowadays we see neuroses, and to see the hand of a guardian angel in what we are apt to shrug off ungratefully as a stroke of luck. It was religion, but religion with a thousand gods, none of them all-powerful and most of them ambiguous in their attitude toward man. It was poetry and wonder which might reveal themselves in the dunghill, and it was an understanding of the dunghill that lurks in poetry and wonder. It was a sense of living in what Spengler called a quivering cave-light which is always in danger of being swallowed up in the surrounding, impenetrable darkness."

--from World of Wonders, by Robertson Davies.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Miss Tick: Favorite Quotations

"Well, I must go. I hope we shall meet again. I will give you some free advice, though."

"Will it cost me anything?"

"What? I just said it was free!" said Miss Tick.

"Yes, but my father said that free advice often turns out to be expensive," said Tiffany.

Miss Tick sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless." she said. "Are you listening?"

"Yes," said Tiffany.

"Good. Now...if you trust in yourself..."


"...and believe in your dreams..."


"...and follow your star..." Miss Tick went on.


"'ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Good-bye."

--from The Wee Free Men, by Terry Pratchett.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Yaddle and Evan Piell

I swore I would never buy another Star Wars figure, but while I was passing through HEB to get some eggnog (only 40 more noggin' days left in the year!) I saw this two figure pack down the toy aisle--I always check--and my eye was drawn to the name "Yaddle". I read the back: "Jedi Master Yaddle is a member of the Jedi Council and is the same unknown species as Yoda. In contrast to the quiet and thoughtful Yaddle, Jedi Council member Evan Piell is known for his humorless and fierce demeanor." Another member of whatever-the-heck species as Yoda? I had to have it. And for $7.98, I did.

A quick run on the internet and I found out several things. Yaddle appeared in The Phantom Menace, and -surprise!- she's a female. Not established in the movie but in "secondary sources" is she is 477 years old, which is young for her kind. The character was designed as a young version of Yoda, but ultimately was utilized as a separate person. The name sounds to me like a conflation of Yoda and raddle, and she does indeed look like a raddled Yoda.

The grouchy Evan Piell and and the right leg of 5D6-RA7 (part of a build-a-robot offer) are simply bonuses.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Gran'ma Ben

The Sunday before last, I, my brother, and his family went on a shopping expedition to San Antonio. Along the way we stopped in at the Heros and Fantasies store in Universal City. This is one of our old hunting grounds for action figures, which we hadn't visited for some time, so we decided to drop in and see what was being offered these days.

What was being offered these days turned out to be what had been offered in those days. I couldn't identify any new product, and what was there was covered with dust. Apparently the store gets along on its comics and gaming. And to be honest, the action figure boom has almost died out; I blame the gyott-dang vidya games. Soon I fear it will all dwindle down to super-hero movie tie-ins and expensive action models.

Anyway, I am still going to buy action figures, the same way I buy real paper books. I was determined not to leave the store without at least one figure. I found Gran'ma Ben cast down on an end-cap amidst a jumble of oddments. I've always been interested in this figure, because while action figures of women are rare, and of old men even rarer, a figure of an old woman is extremely rare. I can only think of two others: Mulan's Grandmother and Granny Gross from Ghostbusters. I'd seen Gran'ma Ben all over the place: in Florida, at Bussey's Flea Market, at other comics shops. The thin film of dust on her plastic blister decided me; today she would go home with me. I was barely able to make out the faded price tag: $17.95.

Gran'ma Ben is a great figure. She's seven inches tall and comes with a coin on a necklace and "The Mystery Cow" costume. This rubbery shell is designed for another figure in the Bone line, Smiley Bone, and is connected with a story in the graphic novel Bone. Her defining characteristics are her big meaty arms, squinting eyes, and a chin that would make Mammy Yoakum jealous. All in all she looks like a friendly giantess in a fairy tale.

Getting this figure finally made me look into Bone is all about. We had been aware of it for years, and been vaguely annoyed by it's obvious indebtedness in style to Walt Kelly's Pogo; I think that that prejudice in me has been worn away. What I read about it interests me, and the fact that a complete edition of the entire run of the comic book exists make me more likely to get into it. I have once more identified a facet of my personality, that occurs to me and then is forgotten; I hate to take something a little bit at a time over a span of time. Some things have to be around in a large quantity to take in all at once so I can see how they develop.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Separated At Birth?

The "Butterball" Cenobite from Hellraiser, and Boy George on his way to or from one of his many legal entanglements. Separated at Birth?

Friday, October 31, 2008

What's In The Bag?

What's in the bag?
What can it be?
Somebody left it here
On Halloween.
Sometimes it gurgles
And sometimes it screams.
What's in the bag?
Let's see.

On a cold and windy evening
Someone left it at our door.
It was the weirdest thing
We've ever seen before.
We tried to open it,
But that we couldn't do,
'Cause every time we tried
It moved.

What can it be?
Oh my oh me,
What can it be?
Oh, wouldn't you
Just love to see?
What can it be?

What's in the bag?
What can it be?
Somebody left it here
On Halloween.
Sometimes it gurgles,
And sometimes it screams.
What's in the bag?
Let's see.

We put it in some water,
But it floated to the top.
We stood on top of it,
But it just knocked us off.
We lit some dynamite,
But it blew out the fuse.
And sometimes late at night
It sings the blues.

What can itbe?
Oh my, oh me,
What can it be?
Oh, wouldn't you
Just love to see?
What can it be?
...It's me!

It was the early Seventies, and there was The Groovy Goolies, the most phantasmagorical polychromatic cast of weirdos to ever grace a kid's show with Laugh-In style joke delivery and songs by The Archies, no less. Most of the songs were rollicking good fun, but a few of them delivered a true eerie punch, and "What's In The Bag?" was one of our favorites. Hagatha's struggles with the unknown entity demonstrated to us early the old horror maxim that the unseen and suggested is often scarier than the revealed. At the end of the song, when the screen went dark, and the creepily joyous voice said "It's Me!" and started laughing, Hagatha struck a match... that was immediately blown out, revealing nothing.

I almost pooped my pants.

Nudar and Captain Yesterday

Futurama Series Four is finally out, and I got it! It consists of Nudar, the chief nude scammer alien featured in Bender's Big Score, and Fry as Captain Yesterday, his superhero persona brought on by using Miracle Cream.

Each figure is 5 3/4" high. Each cost $13.99. Nudar comes with a ray gun and the torso of Santa-Bot. Captain Yesterday comes with a tube of Miracle Cream and the head of Santa-Bot. When all six figures of Series Four come out, all the pieces of Santa-Bot can be assembled into one figure, and from the bulk of just these two pieces, indications are it will be huge.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

There Was An Old Lady All Skin And Bones

There Was An Old Lady All Skin And Bones
There was an old lady all skin and bones,
Sure such a lady was never known.
It happened upon a certain day,
This lady went to church to pray.
When she came to the church stile
There she did rest a little while;
When she came to the church yard,
There the bells so loud she heard.
When she came to the church door,
She stopped to rest a little more;
When she came the church within,
The parson prated 'gainst pride and sin.
On looking up, on looking down,
She saw a dead man on the ground;
And from his nose unto his chin,
The worms crawled out, the worms crawled in.
Then she unto the parson said,
"Shall I be so when I am dead?"
"O yes! O yes!" the parson said,
"You will be so when you are dead."
--First printed in Gammer Gurton's Garland, 1784. Ancestor of the American version, "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out." Traditionally the last line is shrieked to scare the young'uns, all in good fun. In some versions it is the corpse that answers her. Said to have driven the poet Robert Southey (author of "The Three Bears") to hysterics whenever his family members recited it.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Lyke Wake Dirge: Favorite Poems

The Lyke Wake Dirge
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.
When thou from hence away art past,
Every nighte and alle,
To Whinny-muir thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Every nighte and alle,
Sit thee down and put them on;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If hosen and shoon thou ne'er gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.
From Whinny-muir whence thou may'st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Brig o'Dread thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If ever thou gav'st silver and gold,
Every nighte and alle,
At t'Brig o'Dread thou'lt find foothold,
And Christe receive thy saule.
But if silver and gold Thou never gav'st nane,
Every night and alle,
Down thou tumblest to Hell flame;
And Christe receive thy saule.
From Brig o'Dread whence thou may'st pass,
Every night and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com'st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If ever thou gav'st meat or drink,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;
And Christe receive thy saule.
If meat or drink thou ne'er gav'st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.
This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.
This is a very old song from the Midlands of England. "Lyke wake" translates as "corpse watch"; it is literally a dirge to be sung while watching over the dead before burial. It tells the departed what to expect on his journey through the afterlife. For the one night of the wake--"this ae night"--he can still enjoy benefits of human life, warmth and shelter ("fleet") and light. But then he must fare forth, and his deeds while alive will determine how he fares.
According to the dirge, first the soul comes to Whinny-muir, a vast moor covered with thorns (whins). If he gave shoes and leggings to the poor in life, he can put them on and pass safely over the moor. If not, he shall be "pricked to the bare bone". If he gave money in charity he can then pass safely over the "Brig (Bridge) o'Dread". In folklore this is sometimes depicted as a huge sword laid edge up ("no broader than a thread") over a vast gulf. Finally he reaches Purgatory which he can pass safely if he has fed the poor. Traditionally after Purgatory you reach Heaven, "and Christe receive thy saule".
All in all a rather creepy song, not unsuitable for the All Hallows' Eve spirit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tales From The Perilous Realm

This is an anthology volume of five short books by J. R. R. Tolkien. It includes Roverandom, Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, Smith of Wootton Major, and Leaf by Niggle; included as an appendix is the essay On Fairy Stories.
Now, I have all these books in individual volumes, and some in collections like The Tolkien Reader and A Tolkien Miscellany. So for me the real buying point of this book are the illustrations by Alan Lee, the celebrated English artist who not only produced art for the illustrated volumes of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit but was one of the main visual conceptual artists for The Lord of the Rings movies.
The pictures break down like this: on the cover, a color painting of Farmer Giles and the dragon Chrysophylax(reproduced above); for Roverandom, 10 drawings; for Farmer Giles of Ham, 4 drawings; for The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, 30 drawings; for Smith of Wootton Major, 3 drawings; and for Leaf by Niggle, 2 drawings. So all together, 50 pieces of original art, delicate pencil sketches, some of things not often pictured in the Tolkien canon. I particularly enjoyed the ones in The Adventure of Tom Bombadil (a poetry collection), where there was at least one drawing per poem.
Also included are an Introduction by famed Tolkien scholar T. A. Shippey and an Afterword by Alan Lee. The book itself is uniform with other Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt volumes of Tolkien works and so fits snugly with them on a shelf. So even if you have most of the books in the Tales of the Perilous Realm in some form or another, but are missing at least one (I think Roverandom might not be in some people's collection) this volume might be well worth the $28 I payed for it at our local Hastings.
Especially if you are a Tolkien nut like myself.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Scariest Book In The World

It is a shabby cloth-bound red book. Pop brought it back from the dump in the late sixties. Why had it been thrown away? I begin to wonder, now... Over the forty years it's been in the family it's been in the same shape; ragged, moldy, stained, it always seems on the verge of disintegrating but has never lost even a single page. And it is the scariest book in the whole world.

It's title: Great Ghost Stories. Edited by Herbert Van Thal, illustrated by Edward Pagram, published by Hill and Wang, Inc., of New York in 1960. Here is the list of stories, great classics of the Victorian and Edwardian eras all:

Running Wolf by Algernon Blackwood
The Haunted and the Haunters by Lord Lytton
The Spectre Bridegroom by Washington Irving
Markheim by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Squire's Story by Elizabeth Clegghorn Gaskell
The Story of Mary Ancel by William Makepeace Thackery
A Terribly Strange Bed by Wilkie Collins
An Account of Some Strange Disturbances in Aungier Street by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
The Phantom Coach by Amelia B. Edwards
The Signalman by Charles Dickens

Haunting tales, especially the Lytton and Le Fanu. But what puts the extra horror on these stories are the illustrations. I don't know who this Pagram fellow was, but he manages to fill his pictures with more scabby, nebulous horror than all the air-brushed color pictures I ever saw since. The picture reproduced above is one of the scariest of the lot, from The Phantom Coach.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Trick Or Treat For Halloween"

How do I begin to talk about this picture? Between June of 1968 and February of 1976, the Western Publishing Company, Inc. produced 57 issues of the Walt Disney Comics Digest magazine. Basically what they were were reprints of stories from comic books in handy digest form (not unlike Reader's Digest, but for kids). When we were very young, our Mom would buy us issues now and then (I was surprised to find in retrospect we actually had Issue #1 once upon a time). In October of 1969 we picked up #16, that featured the Carl Barks comic adaptation of the animated feature "Trick or Treat". This is the last panel, and it always impressed me deeply, especially the grey/purple sky retreating before the morning.
It is this panel I hunted down for years. I almost wept when I found the story reprinted in the giant Abbeville Press Walt Disney Donald Duck and His Nephews, and found it printed in harsh flat colors on slick paper. It in no way reproduced the soft, crumbling, subtle effects of the old newsprint; even the accuracy of the coloring (you can see in the picture above the colors are slightly out of line) didn't make up for it. At last this July when I went hunting for Digests on eBay (I ended up with 35 of the 57) I tracked it down.
The importance of the Disney Digests to me as a kid are hard to explain. They were studied so intensely even before I knew how to read they assumed a sort of hallucinogenic reality for me. Some panels I thought the characters were looking out of like windows. As I read recovered copies now, phrases once so familiar, not thought of for 35 years, began to jingle through the dusty corridors of my mind ("The jig is up!/ It's jail for you, you dirty pup!"--from the Bucky Bug stories, always written in rhyme). Two-part stories we never saw the beginning or end of were completed at long last.
How do I stop talking about this post? I've given a few facts, and tried to convey nebulous feelings and memories. Perhaps it's enough on this night of the full moon to look back at that "fading harvest moon" in the picture, and muse on time, and memory, and recurrence.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Saturdays Are For Garage Sales

This Saturday, for some reason, there was an abundant number of garage sales locally. I usually accompany my sister and her family on their "saling", and that day was no exception. I always look for any action figures or old books that are in good shape, and maybe once every four trips I find something good. This time, at the second garage sale we visited, I found a good batch of action figures for sale, for fifty cents each. I ended up with thirteen figures and a bag of accessories.

Three were super heroes. There was a Justice League Superman and Batman. The Batman had a bluish sheen to his basic black color that made him sufficiently different to warrant inclusion. There was also a Batman from the animated Batman Begins, that is really different, mainly in the sculpt of the chin.

Two were from Code Lyoko. I had often seen these figures at Toys'R'Us and thought about getting them if there was nothing else, but never did. They were Yumi and Odd, and I was glad I got the bag of accessories because Odd's tail was in it.

But the main batch was from Avatar. What is with this suddenly? I'm finding used and remaindered figures from this series everywhere. Is it because the show is finally ended? Anyway, there were two Angs, two Zukkos, one Waterbending Ang, Sokka, Avatar Roku, and the reportedly rare Fire Nation Soldier. Most of the weapons in the bag were theirs.

I love going to garage sales, because not only might you find a good bargain, you also get a glimpse into how other people live. You see their fads and follies, and discarded fashions. You could fill a library with the diet and cook books that are offered up at every single sale. I comb through the interchangeable genre fiction and every now and then I find a gem tossed thoughtlessly aside. I like to think you don't often find the good stuff, because the good stuff is what people keep. Or maybe they just don't buy it.

But most melancholy of all is an estate sale. Here you observe not just the gleanings and leftovers of life, but the spiraling outward explosion of possessions breaking away from the gravitational pull of a life suddenly no longer there. We visited one this Saturday, and I fancy I could read some of the history. A widow, with still some of the things from her husband, and either grown children who had already taken the few memories they wanted, or none at all. Furniture that had not been changed since the 70's. Neat over all, but with things dragged out of the neglected corners into the sunlight, appraised by strangers and disposed impersonally. I bought a couple of books, Norman Rockwell's Christmas Book and Fairy Tales and After by Roger Sale, a book of literary criticism on children's books. I wondered how that one had ended up there. Was somebody a teacher, or just interested in fantasy? The other volumes for sale gave no clue.

The last garage sale took us by a had pale green carpet grass, yellowing around the edges, and starred with fallen sycamore leaves. A scent rose from it, earthy, dry, baking already in the sun. Perhaps only my brothers can understand how evocative that is of the past for me. Garage sales are good. They take you to places nearby you've never known, and sometimes they can lead you by your past again.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jack Lantern Light

Jack Lantern Light

Where can we wander
By jack-lantern light,
Treading dead leaves
In the dim smoky night?

Down to the cornfields
Under the moon
Rustling and empty
Except for raccoons;

Down the bare pathway
Winding through trees
Where dark woods are leaning
In a dry lonesome breeze;

Down to the graveyard
Covered with stones
Trying to hold down
Restless old bones.

Oh, what is that Thing
Coming near through the night?
Oh, where have we wandered
By jack-lantern light?

Drawing and poem both by me, though the drawing was not made to illustrate the poem. But it's always more interesting to have an illustration rather than simply text.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

My Images of Halloween One

Halloween has changed a lot since I was a kid. I want to spend a little time posting images and reflections on the season as the days go by. This is the introductory panel from an old issue of Plop! that as children we always felt was very evocative of the holiday spirit. It features those three tale-spinners Cain, Abel, and Eve, and was drawn by the great Sergio Aragones. The old house, the dark sky, the suggestion of wind and leaves, the apprehensive look on the bird's face contrasting the ghoulish glee of the creepy trio, all conjure up the Halloween mood of old.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Little Boy Blue

Little Boy Blue

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
But sturdy and staunch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
"And don't you make any noise!"
So toddling off to his trundle-bed,
He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
Awakened our Little Boy Blue--
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
Each in the same old place--
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
The smile of a little face;
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
Since he kissed them and put them there.

--Eugene Field (1850-1895).

Eugene Field was famous for his poems of childhood. You might remember him most best for Wynken, Blynken, and Nod, and The Duel, or The Gingham Dog and The Calico Cat. As you can see from his dates he wrote in the hey-day of Victorian feeling and that he died at only forty-five. It's all rather sad, but there it is.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Season of the Scarecrow

No-one really knows the origin of the scarecrow. Some hold they derive from the old Roman custom of having a herm in every field, and are thus of sacred origin as a guardian of the crop. According to one tale they arose from a grim necessity. In the old days it was the task of the very old and the very young to protect the fields from birds and other marauders by shrieking, waving their arms, or chasing them away when they approached; so the weakest and feeblest could still serve the needs of their folk. When the Black Death swept across the land, the old and the young were hardest hit. In their absence, and with spare clothes suddenly in abundance, the scarecrow was created to fill the gap, and since then its' enigmatic figure has strode across the landscape of our imagination.

Scarecrows vary in construction, from a simple cross-pole with a tattered coat to full-figure stuffed men in elaborate costume. Their heads can be an old hat on the top of the pole, a broom head, or a carved pumpkin. In England they can be topped by gigantic turnips or mangold-wurzles, as big as a man's head, hollowed out and sculpted into faces. More elaborate scarecrows might employ multiple arms, tatters, pinwheels, or other devices that move with the wind to give the illusion of mobile menace to any creatures considering a raid on the crop. Indeed, the effectiveness of a scarecrow in one place is limited, because birds soon grow used to it, and a working scarecrow (as opposed to a decorative one) must be regularly moved to keep the crows wary.

In Japan they have a tutelary god of scarecrows, named Kuebiko, who is mentioned as early as the 8th Century. He is a god of wisdom, because he stands outside at all hours and sees everything. In some areas of Italy they put up a scarecrow figure in the fields and called it the Old Witch of Winter; it stayed up until the first day of spring when it was ceremoniously burned. (One such ceremony is featured in the film Amarcord.) The Guy Fawkes figure is a scarecrow stuffed with fireworks and burned on the Fifth of November; this custom of burning in effigy has almost magical overtones, and is another function of the scarecrow. In the different regions of Great Britain the scarecrow has many names: mommet, murmet, hodmedod, tattie-bogle, bodach rocais, bwbach, mawhini, and jack-a-lent. German immigrants to America brought the terms bootzaman (boogeyman) and bootzafrau (boogeywife) with them.

The grandfather of all scarecrows in fiction is Feathertop, published by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1852. Feathertop is a scarecrow constructed by the witch Mother Rigby, who animates him by having him puff on a pipe fired by a coal supplied by her imp, Dickon. This not only gives him life but makes him appear human to those that see him: the harder he puffs the more real he appears, and when he slacks off the straw begins to appear. Mother Rigby sends him into the world, where his handsome illusory appearance makes him prosper, and he falls in love with a beautiful girl and almost marries her. But a chance glance at a mirror shows Feathertop in his true form, and the distraught scarecrow hurries back to Mother Rigby, choosing to throw away his pipe rather than live as the sham he has been revealed to be. The witch sadly gathers up his remains, remarking that many fine successful men of the world are made up of worse remnants than her poor creation, whose moment of love made him see his shabby existence too clearly.

In 1900 L. Frank Baum created perhaps the most famous Scarecrow of all in his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, whose portrayal by Ray Bolger in the 1939 film spread the fame even farther. Baum explained that anything that could be of use came alive in Oz, and that the Scarecrow was useful for amusing children. In 1936 in England Barbara Euphan Todd began her Worzel Gummidge books, detailing the adventures of two children with the rustic Yorkshire scarecrow, Worzel Gummidge. It was popularized over British radio and television, and is surely the ancestor of Spud on Bob the Builder today. In the animated movie Howl's Moving Castle there is a scarecrow called Turniphead, whose helpful nature and mysterious presence is explained when he is revealed to be a prince under an enchantment.

These of course were all magical scarecrows in their own right. But there is also a body of fiction concerning people who adopt a scarecrow persona for their own ends. In 1915 Russell Thorndike began a series of books featuring a character called Dr. Syn, who dressed as a scarecrow to hide his identity and strike fear into his enemies. There were two rival adaptations of these works in 1963, one by Disney and one by Hammer; I remember the rather chilling screaming laugh of the Disney incarnation. Peter Cushing plays the Dr. Syn role in the Hammer adaptation. Dr. Syn had some influence on the creation of Batman (another masked vigilante), which eventually included the character of Scarecrow, an unscrupulous psychologist who specialized in the study of fear. In the 1981 made-for-TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow the amiable but dim farmer Bubba is disguised as a scarecrow to escape from the mob that wrongly believes he has harmed a little girl. They find him and kill him, but his spirit animates the scarecrow and seeks vengeance on the real culprit.

Scarecrows hover around the edges of popular culture. In Peter Jackson's movie The Fellowship of the Ring, a hobbit scarecrow marks the boundary of the farthest Samwise Gamgee has ever gone. In Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Dream of the Endless is served by the sarcastic, cigar-smoking Mervyn Pumpkinhead. At the beginnings of Tim Burton's films The Nightmare Before Christmas and Sleepy Hollow, pumpkinheaded scarecrows make creepy and ominous appearances. In Nanny Ogg's Cookbook, Terry Pratchett mentions Unlucky Charlie, a scarecrow that the witches have used as a target for magic practice so many times that it has developed a life of its' own, often showing up uninvited at homes and then leaving as mysteriously.

There is something scary about scarecrows, in any case, Nanny Ogg muses. I know that's their job, but I mean scarier than even that. They're not exactly just people but they're not exactly just...stuff. Or maybe it's those cut out-eyes.

Nowadays scarecrows have a large presence as a non-specific fall decoration, good from the beginning of autumn to the end of Thanksgiving; their cute grinning faces and sanitized patchwork clothes visible in any retail store. A scarecrow's job has been taken over by pesticides, machines, and screeching recordings, and they only exist on farms as a grace-note. But then, they have grown beyond these functions.

Scarecrows, as I have said, inhabit the landscape of our imagination. Whether born of disaster or divinity, they are a kind of benign, disposable gargoyle. They stand as a psychopomp in the field between the farm and the forest, between summer and winter, between human and inanimate. They are a symbol for the shabby and piecework in ourselves, and for the ephemeral nature of all existence. They are uncanny, but somehow on our side; as our creation, as something that looks human but isn't, we feel the responsibility, the guilt, and the affection we have for all things in which we have placed our creativity.