Thursday, May 30, 2013

What Shall I Think When I Come To Die?

What shall I think when I come to die,—if I am then in a condition to think?

Shall I think what a bad use I have made of my life, how I have dozed it through, how I have not known how to relish its gifts?

“What? Is this death already? So soon? Impossible! Why, I have not succeeded in accomplishing anything yet. . . . I have only been preparing to act!”

Shall I recall the past, pause over the thought of the few bright moments I have lived through, over beloved images and faces?

Will my evil deeds present themselves before my memory, and will the corrosive grief of a belated repentance descend upon my soul?

Shall I think of what awaits me beyond the grave . . . . yes, and whether anything at all awaits me there?

No . . . . it seems to me that I shall try not to think, and shall compel my mind to busy itself with some nonsense or other, if only to divert my own attention from the menacing darkness which looms up black ahead.

In my presence one dying person kept complaining that they would not give him red-hot nuts to gnaw . . . and only in the depths of his dimming eyes was there throbbing and palpitating something, like the wing of a bird wounded unto death.

--from Poems In Prose, Ivan Turgenev.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Things Going Right"

There are others who may remember it because it marked the first appearance in the place of the second poet of Saffron Park. For a long time the red-haired revolutionary had reigned without a rival; it was upon the night of the sunset that his solitude suddenly ended. The new poet, who introduced himself by the name of Gabriel Syme was a very mild-looking mortal, with a fair, pointed beard and faint, yellow hair. But an impression grew that he was less meek than he looked. He signalised his entrance by differing with the established poet, Gregory, upon the whole nature of poetry. He said that he (Syme) was poet of law, a poet of order; nay, he said he was a poet of respectability. So all the Saffron Parkers looked at him as if he had that moment fallen out of that impossible sky.

In fact, Mr. Lucian Gregory, the anarchic poet, connected the two events.

"It may well be," he said, in his sudden lyrical manner, "it may well be on such a night of clouds and cruel colours that there is brought forth upon the earth such a portent as a respectable poet. You say you are a poet of law; I say you are a contradiction in terms. I only wonder there were not comets and earthquakes on the night you appeared in this garden."

The man with the meek blue eyes and the pale, pointed beard endured these thunders with a certain submissive solemnity. The third party of the group, Gregory's sister Rosamond, who had her brother's braids of red hair, but a kindlier face underneath them, laughed with such mixture of admiration and disapproval as she gave commonly to the family oracle.

Gregory resumed in high oratorical good humour.

"An artist is identical with an anarchist," he cried. "You might transpose the words anywhere. An anarchist is an artist. The man who throws a bomb is an artist, because he prefers a great moment to everything. He sees how much more valuable is one burst of blazing light, one peal of perfect thunder, than the mere common bodies of a few shapeless policemen. An artist disregards all governments, abolishes all conventions. The poet delights in disorder only. If it were not so, the most poetical thing in the world would be the Underground Railway."

"So it is," said Mr. Syme.

"Nonsense!" said Gregory, who was very rational when anyone else attempted paradox. "Why do all the clerks and navvies in the railway trains look so sad and tired, so very sad and tired? I will tell you. It is because they know that the train is going right. It is because they know that whatever place they have taken a ticket for that place they will reach. It is because after they have passed Sloane Square they know that the next station must be Victoria, and nothing but Victoria. Oh, their wild rapture! oh, their eyes like stars and their souls again in Eden, if the next station were unaccountably Baker Street!"

"It is you who are unpoetical," replied the poet Syme. "If what you say of clerks is true, they can only be as prosaic as your poetry. The rare, strange thing is to hit the mark; the gross, obvious thing is to miss it. We feel it is epical when man with one wild arrow strikes a distant bird. Is it not also epical when man with one wild engine strikes a distant station? Chaos is dull; because in chaos the train might indeed go anywhere, to Baker Street or to Bagdad. But man is a magician, and his whole magic is in this, that he does say Victoria, and lo! it is Victoria. No, take your books of mere poetry and prose; let me read a time table, with tears of pride. Take your Byron, who commemorates the defeats of man; give me Bradshaw, who commemorates his victories. Give me Bradshaw, I say!"

"Must you go?" inquired Gregory sarcastically.

"I tell you," went on Syme with passion, "that every time a train comes in I feel that it has broken past batteries of besiegers, and that man has won a battle against chaos. You say contemptuously that when one has left Sloane Square one must come to Victoria. I say that one might do a thousand things instead, and that whenever I really come there I have the sense of hairbreadth escape. And when I hear the guard shout out the word 'Victoria,' it is not an unmeaning word. It is to me the cry of a herald announcing conquest. It is to me indeed 'Victoria'; it is the victory of Adam."

Gregory wagged his heavy, red head with a slow and sad smile.

"And even then," he said, "we poets always ask the question, 'And what is Victoria now that you have got there?' You think Victoria is like the New Jerusalem. We know that the New Jerusalem will only be like Victoria. Yes, the poet will be discontented even in the streets of heaven. The poet is always in revolt."

"There again," said Syme irritably, "what is there poetical about being in revolt? You might as well say that it is poetical to be sea-sick. Being sick is a revolt. Both being sick and being rebellious may be the wholesome thing on certain desperate occasions; but I'm hanged if I can see why they are poetical. Revolt in the abstract is—revolting. It's mere vomiting."

The girl winced for a flash at the unpleasant word, but Syme was too hot to heed her.

"It is things going right," he cried, "that is poetical! Our digestions, for instance, going sacredly and silently right, that is the foundation of all poetry. Yes, the most poetical thing, more poetical than the flowers, more poetical than the stars—the most poetical thing in the world is not being sick."

"Really," said Gregory superciliously, "the examples you choose—"

"I beg your pardon," said Syme grimly, "I forgot we had abolished all conventions."

--from The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Better Not To Know

Jane: Should we get our fortunes read?

Daria: I'll pass. Knowing the present is bad enough.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" and Stuff

December 25 of this year will see the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone, adapted from T. H. White's original book. This was the last animated feature premiered in Disney's lifetime, and I have always felt that it has never had the popularity that it deserves. The timing of the movie was, perhaps, unfortunate: President John F. Kennedy (who for many people had embodied the spirit of "Camelot" inspired by Lerner and Loewe's play and film adapted from White's Arthurian material) had been assassinated only a month before, and few people were in the mood for light-hearted fun. It has always had a warm spot in the hearts of many Fantasy fans, however, sometimes even more so than Disney's straight-out fairy tale movies: for many it is their first introduction to the genre and to the "Matter of Britain."

Compared to other Disney properties, The Sword in the Stone has had little marketing or off-shoots. A film whose main theme is education ("Knowledge and wisdom are the true power!") and not adventure, and which is firmly set in a past and a tradition, might not have a great deal of room to play around in. The main break-away character was Madam Mim, who as a witch might live for centuries, and whose wacky and unbalanced nature could really stir the pot. She appeared in a few comics as a not-so-wicked villain, sometimes in cahoots with Uncle Scrooge's nemeses, the Beagle Boys. Merlin has turned up here and there, but never as a main character . In the Kingdom Hearts games, he is the trainer in magical practice. As for the Wart, who turns out to be King Arthur, he is absolutely nowhere on the popular culture map. He might have had better luck being a Disney princess.

But back in 1963 (the year that I was born!) there was plenty of advertising and marketing and hope and tie-ins to be found. Here are a few items I have gathered that were scattered around (mostly on eBay). Before there was any VHS or DVD, this was how you remembered movies and brought them home with you. The world was different then, my children.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

"Technology, Eh?"

"At this point, I'd like to point out that the card index I started for the original Discworld Companion back in 1992 is still just as accessible and readable as it was when I started it. In total contrast, trying to extract the text of the original Companion from what counted as state of the art IT storage back in the 1990s has been a little more of a challenge. Technology, eh?" --Stephen Briggs, Turtle Recall: The Discworld far.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Two Hobbit Movie Books: A Twosday Twofer

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art and Design
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles II: Creatures and Characters

Written by Daniel Falconer, Published by Harper Design in conjunction with WETA.

This is a beautiful pair of books, not only to look at, but simply to hold in your hand and brush your fingers over their embossed covers. They are lovely artifacts, as might be expected of items produced by WETA, the crack design team responsible for developing the look of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies, and now his Hobbit films as well. These books chronicle how every detail of The Unexpected Journey was created, refined, and signed off on, from the mug in Bilbo's hand to the look of each dwarf to the last pus-filled bubo on the Great Goblin's face. Picture after picture of beautiful art made by pencil, paint, and computer is revealed with each flip of a page, and we get to see the might-have-beens for every new character and place as people like Alan Lee and John Howe and a score of others strive to pin down a precise vision of how things would eventually be shown. Background stories and ideas that helped bring peoples and places alive for the designers and actors (things not necessarily shown or mentioned in the film) are revealed in the text.
I found the first Chronicles: Art and Design especially delightful, as it contained both a full size, detachable copy of Thror's Map and a completely readable two-page printing of Bilbo's contract with Thorin and Company. Chronicles II: Creatures and Characters has nothing comparable except a size chart in the back, showing the comparative scale of everything from a Rock Giant to a Rhosgobel Rabbit. It does have more intrinsic interest, however, as it deals more with people and less with places and things.

A rather expensive set at about $40 a volume, but worth it to the fan, I guess, and at some places (such as SFBC, where I ordered mine) available for a little less.