Thursday, April 30, 2009

10 Books A Day: #11

The World Treasury Of Children's Literature, Vols. I, II, & III...ed. Clifton Fadiman...Little, Brown
The Random House Children's Treasury: Fairy Tales, Nursery Rhymes, And Nonsense Verse...ed. Alice Mills...Derrydale Books
The Complete Nonsense Books Of Edward Lear...Edward Lear...Castle Books
The Complete Tales Of Uncle Remus...Joel Chandler Harris...Houghton Mifflin Co.
100 Story Poems...selected by Elinor Parker...Thomas Y. Crowell Company
Indian Fairy Tales...Joseph Jacobs...G. P. Putnam's Sons
The Arabian Nights...ill. Earle Goodenow...Illustrated Junior Library
English Fairy Tales...Joseph Jacobs...Dover
The Oxford Book Of Carols...ed. Percy Dearmer, R. Vaughan Williams, Martin Shaw...Oxford University Press
Many children's stories and fairy tales today. The picture above is from English Fairy Tales, and shows the King of Elfland in the Dark Tower menacing Childe Rowland and his sister Burd Ellen. This story is referenced in King Lear, in one of the Fool's songs. An interesting thing I learned in the book of carols is that this type of song was not only for Christmas; there are Easter, summer, and harvest carols as well.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

10 Books A Day: #10

The Crock Of Gold...James Stephens...Collier
The Complete Fairy Tales Of George Macdonald...George Macdonald...Schocken Books
The Field Guide To Extraterrestrials: A Complete Overview Of Alien Lifeforms--Based On Actual Accounts And Sightings...Patrick Huyghe...Avon
Nanny McPhee: The Collected Tales Of Nurse Matilda...Christianna Brand...Bloomsbury Publishing
Saint George And The Dragon...Edmund Spenser, Adapted by Standol Stoddard Warburg, Illustrated By Pauline Baynes...Houghton Mifflin Company
Literary Converts: Spiritual Inspiration In An Age Of Unbelief...Joseph Pearce...Ignatius
Here, There Be Dragons: The Chronicles Of The Imaginarium Geographica...James A. Owens...Simon Pulse
The Nip And Tuck War...Mary Mian...Hale/Cadmus
The Impossible People: A History Natural And Unnatural Of Beings Terrible And Wonderful...Georgess McHargue...Holt, Rhinehart, and Winston
The Savage Sword Of Conan Volume 1...Dark Horse Comics
The Savage Sword Of Conan Volume 2...Dark Horse Comics
Watchmen...Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons...DC Comics
Medieval Beasts...Ann Payne...New Amsterdam Books
Why I Left Jehovah's Witnesses...Ted Dencher...Christian Literature Crusade
Index Of Watch Tower Errors...ed. David A. Reed...Baker Book House Co.
The Oxford Dictionary Of Nursery Rhymes...ed. Peter and Iona Opie...Oxford University Press
This tenth (and somewhat lengthy) list brings us to the end of the first shelf on the right hand wall of my house.
The Crock of Gold is one of those wild, individual fantasies (like Lud-in-the-Mist or The Circus of Dr. Lao) that were produced before writers decided to get stuck in the furrow that Tolkien had plowed. Hard to describe; it involves a boy and a girl, a philosopher who is an expert on everything but real life, the god Pan, leprechauns, some policemen, and the old gods of Ireland. Concerns humor, adventure, love, and the heart's true calling. And a crock of gold.
Nanny McPhee is a collection of stories somewhat in the Mary Poppins style, but with far naughtier children and a much uglier "nanny." Originally published in Great Britain as the "Nurse Matilda" books, the name was changed because Americans would confuse the term nurse used as a child caretaker with a medical nurse, and Matilda with the Roald Dahl movie.
I first realized while reading this version of the Saint George story that C. S. Lewis was writing the Narnia stories in the Spenserian mode, with a blend of mythological, folkloric, and religious motifs. The Pauline Baynes pictures were a big hint (the picture of George fighting Error reproduced above could illustrate Rilian's fighting the Green Lady). Warburg modernizes many of Spenser's terms for clarity; Spenser was even 400 hundred years ago writing in a deliberately archaic style to evoke the mood.
Here, There Be Dragons...oh, Lord, it's not good. Owens also illustrates this book, and it is clear that his talent lies more in vivid illustration than in telling a tale or developing a myth. The story concerns the adventures of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and Charles Williams before they became writers, as they visit a magical land to protect an important magic tome, handed over to them by a mysterious mentor who turns out to be...H. G. Wells! A painful experience to anyone who knows anything about the people involved. The fact that he could market two sequels is a tribute to the scramble of publishers in the wake of the Potter books for any "juvenile" fantasy series. A fascinating train wreck to watch unfold.
The Impossible People is one of the first volumes of folklore I ever owned. I got my original copy for ten cents at a school book sale when I was about 11; this hardback I ordered just this year. We read the cover off our old copy; I remember our amusement when the description of a Hag ("females of great age, with bent backs, rheumy eyes, clawlike hands, sunken cheeks, long noses, wispy hair, and sometimes pointed teeth") perfectly fit our third grade teacher. Informative and well-organized, presented without any embellishments or speculation, it is a great introduction for a young reader to creatures of legend and fairy tale.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

10 Books A Day: #9

Today's ten books are all part of one set. So instead of individually writing out the long repetitive name of each volume (which is virtually the same, except for dates) I'll write the overall title, then list the years and the writers of the introductions for each. These are:

The Complete Peanuts: The Definitive Collection Of Charles M. Schulz's Comic Strip Masterpiece...Charles M. Schulz...Fantagraphics

I. 1950-1952, Garrison Keillor

II. 1953-1954, Walter Cronkite

III. 1955-1956, Matt Groening

IV. 1957-1958, Jonathan Franzen

V. 1959-1960, Whoopi Goldberg

VI. 1961-1962, Diana Krall

VII. 1963-1964, Bill Melendez

VIII. 1965-1966, Hal Hartley

IX. 1967-1968, John Waters

X. 1969-1970, Mo Willems

These are great books. Every single strip, dailies and Sundays, are all gathered here for the first time. You get to see strips that were excluded from anthologies before for being too topical; the ephemeral nature of the joke made being based not on universal themes but on some passing happening makes it something of a social artifact if not a classic observation, and that makes it of extra interest to me. You watch Schulz's evolving style, you walk his neighborhoods of long sidewalks, little trees, and board fences. You watch the Peanuts gang as new characters are introduced, grow, and develop; you watch as some fade away. I learned that the two little identical girls in the Christmas special that I always wondered about were 3 and 4, 5's sisters, rather obscure characters that came and went but are now forever immortalized each holiday season.

I think it would be difficult to explain to the present generation just how popular Peanuts was. Schulz and the strip have been gone for almost nine years now, except for re-runs run in newspapers and the yearly TV specials, media which nowhere have the same impact they once did. But at the time I began reading Peanuts it was at its greatest popularity. The catalog page from 1971 reproduced above gives some small idea of what it was like. Peanuts was loved by hippies and conservatives alike; its gentle humane philosophy crossed boundaries. I thought at the time that he was one of the best and wisest men alive.

I learned later about the darker side of Schulz, his divorce (scandalous to us at the time) and his depression. But I have come to realize that it was his persistence in the face of this darkness that makes his achievement all the more remarkable. It is that quality in Charlie Brown, always losing, but never defeated, picking himself up, dusting himself off, and "ready for more punishment" facing the next day that makes him, in the final analysis, a hero.

And I need all the heroes I can get.

Monday, April 27, 2009

10 Books A Day: #8

A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century...Barbara W. Tuchman...Knopf

The Penguin Dictionary Of Quotations...ed. J. M. and M. J. Cohen...Penguin

Fairy Tales And After: From Snow White To E. B. White...Roger Sale...Harvard Paperback

All Things Oz...ed. Linda Sunshine...Clarkson Poiter/Publishers

Great Ghost Stories...ed. Herbert Van Thal...Hill And Wang, Inc.

The Shroud Of The Thwacker...Chris Elliott...Miramax Books

Wicked: The Life And Times Of The Wicked Witch Of The West...Gregory Maguire...Regan Books/Harper Perennial

Son Of A Witch...Gregory Maguire...HarperCollins

A Lion Among Men...Gregory Maguire...William Morrow/ HarperCollins

Jurgen: A Comedy Of Justice...James Branch Cabell...Dover

The High Place: A Comedy Of Disenchantment...James Branch Cabell...Dover

Don't Open This Book!...ed. Marvin Kaye...GuildAmerica Books

I will give anything Oz a whirl; the story of The Wizard Of Oz (especially mediated through the movie) is one of the unique American myths/dialogues/dialects/dialectics by which and in which we commune with ourselves. Anyone anywhere can make an allusion to it and expect to be understood. The Sunshine book (surely a nom-de-plume!) is a great chunky little volume full of pictures from all editions of Oz, quotes from the books themselves and famous admirers, and images of merchandising and tie-ins. The Maguire books re-imagine the Wicked Witch as more of a thorn in the side of a stultified society who becomes a catalyst for change.

I have spoken of Great Ghost Stories and Fairy Tales And After before. The editions of the Cabell books listed here I have because they are reprinted with all the Frank C. Pape illustrations; Pape and Cabell both deserve a full post each to themselves, and they shall get it hereafter. Don't Open This Book! is an anthology of stories about forbidden knowledge, whose great primary example must be The Necronomicon from Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.

But the oddest of balls in this group has to be Chris Elliott's The Shroud Of The Thwacker. In this book the star and creator of Get A Life and Cabin Boy takes on the genre of "kitchen sink" historical recreation novels. In this sort of book the grungiest facts of the old times are emphasised, famous historical figures appear in unsuspected capacities, and all the sex and violence taken out of Victorian novels is put back in, in spades. Elliott kicks all this up a notch, adds the most outrageously overdone stereotypical speeches, liberally sprinkles hilarious anachronisms of expressions and attitudes (there are kerosene powered mobile phones!), and stirs it all up with his personal involvement in the tale. I leave you with a quote that left me wheezing with laughter. The "Teddy" referred to is, of course, Theodore Roosevelt:

"The two followed their informant out of the taproom as the bartender directed Teddy to the three giant wooden casks sitting on the bar. Each cask was open at the top and painted with a label. From the one labeled VILE SWINE XXX stuck the hind end of a dead pig, gently bobbing. Another one marked CHINAMAN'S FIRE TIPPLE had a decapitated head sticking out of it, his race--Chinese, of course--only barely recognizable. But it was the third keg that caught Teddy's eye--or rather the live, naked, obese whore protruding from the keg itself. Her chubby legs were splayed, sticking up in the air, while her round rump was completely submerged in the intoxicant. She laughed and beckoned Roosevelt with a coyly curled finger.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

10 Books A Day: #7

The Savage Sword Of Conan Volume Three...Dark Horse Comics

The Riot At Bucksnort And Other Western Tales...Robert E. Howard...University Of Nebraska Press, Bison Books

The Black Stranger And Other American Tales...Robert E. Howard...University Of Nebraska Press, Bison Books

HEARN American Writings...Lafcadio Hearn...The Library Of America

The Quotable Robertson Davies...ed. James Channing Shaw...McClellan And Stewart Ltd.

Wizards: Magical Tales From The Masters Of Modern Fantasy...Ed. Jack Dann And Gardner Duzois...Ace

Beowulf & Grendel: The Truth Behind England's Oldest Legend...John Grigsby...Watkins Publishing

Beowulf: The Script Book...Neil Gaiman & Roger Avery...Harper Entertainment

Witches: True Encounters With Wicca, Wizards, Covens, Cults, And Magick...Hans Holzer...Black Dog And Leventhal Publishers

The Crafting Of Narnia: The Art, Crafting, And Weapons From Weta Workshop...Weta Workshop...HarperOne

These books aren't actually on my shelves yet. When I came home yesterday I had my order from Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller (aka Bargain Books) waiting for me. So I haven't read any of these yet, except the Robertson Davies quotes. So I can't really comment on them yet, except for my reasons for getting them.

The Savage Sword book is a series of collected Conan comics, some of which I read and collected from the late 70's to early 80's. The books are more of my efforts to get Robert E.'s works; cowboy stories are not exactly my thing, but I've always been interested in his take on his local "color". If Scott Gustafson who did the cover was not influenced by the Brothers Hildebrandt, I'll eat my Prussian Blue.

Lafcadio Hearn is a great obscure writer; I'll have a lot more about him later. Roberstson Davies goes without saying. I've always been interested in the Beowulf legend, and got the screen book of Beowulf to see what the hell the idea behind that movie was developed. I love stories about wizards, and I have a lot of anthologies edited by Dann and Duzois. The Hans Holzer book on witches is a companion book to a book on ghosts that he did, on supposedly factual occurences. Weta Workshop always does a great job on developing props (they did LOTR) and books like this are full of great detailed plans and beautifully photographed examples of their work.

I love dealing with Bargain Books. I got $195 worth of books for $70.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

10 Books A Day: #6

Gilden-Fire...Stephen R. Donaldson...Underwood-Miller

The House Of The Wulfings...William Morris....Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc.

Child Christopher And Goldilind The Fair...William Morris...Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc.

The Roots Of The Mountains...William Morris...Newcastle Publishing Co., Inc.

The New Oxford Book Of Literary Anecdotes...ed. John Gross...Oxford University Press

Ghost Story...Peter Straub...Coward McGann Geoghehan

Dragons Of Fantasy...Anne C. Petty...Cold Spring Press

The Dragon Path: Collected Stories Of Kenneth Morris...ed. Douglas A. Anderson...Tor

All The Mowgli Stories...Rudyard Kipling...Junior Deluxe Editions

Godhanger...Dick King-Smith...Crown Publishers Inc.

The Best Of Jules Verne: Around The World In Eighty Days, The Clipper Of The Clouds, Journey To The Center Of The Earth...Castle Books

H. G. Wells: The Time Machine, The Island Of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The First Men In The Moon, The Food Of The Gods, In The Days Of The Comet, The War Of The Worlds...Heinemann/Octopus

Gilden-Fire is of course an edited-for-space section of The Illearth War, published on its own; I include the picture of the cover because it's the only image of ur-viles I've ever seen and the only way I can picture them. The William Morris books I must admit I've always found impenetrable. I think it may have something to do with the dense and blocky typeface. I have these copies because of 1) their importance to Lewis and Tolkien, 2) their importance to the history of Fantasy in general, and 3) they were cheap as dirt. The anecdote book is an edition of one of my favorite browsers, inferior to the old one edited by James Sutherland, in my opinion. Ghost Story is the only book that ever actually spooked me. Anne C. Petty and Douglas A. Anderson are both familiar names to me from the works they wrote on Tolkien; Anderson produced the annotated edition of The Hobbit. The Kipling is a great compilation; it includes the story of Mowgli (rather hard to find) when he is grown up and working as a forester in Her Majesty's Service. One of my great memories as a boy is sitting out under the pecan tree in our front yard one summer, reading this book and waiting for the mailman to come. The Verne and Wells are "inherited" copies. They were left behind by the previous owners of this house. How anyone can simply leave books behind is incomprehensible to me. I can only surmise disaster and great perturbation of mind.

Friday, April 24, 2009

10 Books A Day: #5

The Tales Of Beedle The Bard...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Inc.

Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them..."Newt Scamander" (J. K. Rowling)...Scholastic

Quidditch Through The Ages..."Kennilworthy Whisp" (J. K. Rowling)...Scholastic

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows...J. K. Rowling...Scholastic Press

The Lexicon: An Unauthorized Guide To Harry Potter Fiction And Related Materials...Steve Vander Ark...RDR Books

Back in the 90's when I first saw Harry Potter books on drugstore shelves I was vaguely interested. The idea for children going to a magic school was one that had always appealed to me (in fact my brother John and I had developed a rather long saga in our "playings" on this theme); but I was put off by the goofy style of the illustrations. Later when the "phenomenon" began to crank into full swing, I found the faddish brouhaha also off-putting. At last I read it for myself, to give it a fair shake, and found it a competent and enjoyable fantasy, no better (it seemed to me) than many another children's fantasy series. The adulation was puzzling unless one considered the publicity that fed back into itself, not only about Harry Potter, but about Rowling herself ("Single Mom On Dole Makes Millions, With Just The Craft Of Her Own Fair Fingers!").

To me, Rowling is remarkable for a few facts. First, she was able to show that two genres that most critics had thought to be dead as the dodo (the Dickensian Tale and the School Story) could still grip the attention and please millions of readers. Second, she became the Leaf for a whole generation. J. R. R. Tolkien, using a metaphor for the constant renewal of stories with each retelling, said that leaves come forth every year, and they are all much the same, but each time they may be the first time a new generation has seen them, and they become the leaves they compare all other seasons to. Third, I find Rowling's style comparable to Anne Rice's through her Vampire years: both combine an exaltation of taste and texture, color and style, with an angst that conditions do not allow a contented enjoyment of them. It is a strawberry enjoyed hanging between two tigers, and seems to resonate with the modern spirit.

It may be another generation before the Potter books can be given a just evaluation. In the meantime, every picture of J. K. Rowling will have that smug little smirk that must surely come from being richer than the Queen of England, with none of the obligations.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

10 Books A Day: #4

Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic 1895-1926...Richard Perceval Graves...Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Robert Graves: The Years With Laura Riding 1926-1940...Richard Perceval Graves...Weidenfeld & Nicholson

Robert Graves And The White Goddess 1940-1985...Richard Perceval Graves...Phoenix Giant

Collected Poems...Robert Graves...Doubleday

An Incomplete Education...Judy Jones and William Wilson...Ballantine Books

Shakespeare: The Complete Works...ed. G. B. Harrison...Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Revised Standard Version...ed. Herbert G. May and Bruce M. Metzger...New York Oxford University Press

A Short History Of The Early Church...Harry R. Boer...Eerdmans

Stories And Poems For Extremely Intelligent Children Of All Ages...selected by Harold Bloom...Simon & Schuster

Wampeters, Foma, & Granfalloons (Opinions)...Kurt Vonnegut, Jr....Delacorte Press/Seymour Lawrence

The Writer's Complete Fantasy Reference...Writer's Digest Books

The Fireside Book of Children's Songs...ed. Marie Winn...Simon & Schuster

Norman Rockwell's Christmas Book...ed. Molly Rockwell...Abrams

Holy Bible, The Crusade Analytical Edition...Crusade Bible Publishers, Inc.

The World Book Dictionary A-K (1969 Edition)...Field Enterprises Educational Corporation

The World Book Dictionary L-Z (1969 Edition)...Field Enterprises Educational Corporation

What I like particularly about reading biography is the history you can pick up as you go along, history as applied personally to a real sample case. The three volume biography of Robert Graves as prepared by his nephew is extremely good, not only well researched, balanced, and if I might say so, unopinionated, but also imbued with some of the vivid genius of description and presentation of the poet and author himself. To give one example: Robert Graves believed that the American poet Laura Riding was (at least for a time) an embodiment of the White Goddess herself. Perceval Graves presents this belief merely as a fact, and does not give a judgement on whether he thinks it was true or not, or if Graves was imbalanced or merely applying a very intense metaphor to help with his writing. This is what Graves thought, and this is what happened because of it, and make of it what you will. One fact that tickles me is how Graves and his wife set up a shop in the back garden of the poet John Masefield's house after the war.

The Shakespeare was my college textbook and with its clear text and scholarly apparatus make it my preferred method of reading the Bard; the Oxford Annotated Bible is also my preferred reading copy of that book; the Crusade was one of my mother's Bibles and is a large, unwieldy, rather crudely illustrated version, although its study section has been helpful. Boer's book on the early Church and its developments is clear, scholarly, and sympathetic. The World Book Dictionary is the finest I have ever owned (if now one of the ugliest; a dog chewed the leatherette covers). We have not seen the last of either Harold Bloom or Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in these lists. An Incomplete Education was a gift to my brother Mike that has since returned to me; it is a digest or reference book on various cultural phenomenon such as music, philosophy, science and literature that gives one a quick and handy guide to be going along on. I myself confess that my grasp of opera and physics is a little shaky...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

10 Books A Day: #3

The Deptford Trilogy: Fifth Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders...Robertson Davies...Penguin

The Cornish Trilogy: The Rebel Angels, What's Bred In The Bone, The Lyre Of Orpheus...Robertson Davies...Penguin

High Spirits...Robertson Davies...Penguin

Murther And Walking Spirits...Robertson Davies...Penguin

The Cunning Man...Robertson Davies...Penguin

The Salterton Trilogy: Tempest-Tost, Leaven Of Malice, A Mixture Of Frailties...Robertson Davies...Penguin

Conversations With Robertson Davies...ed. J. Madison Davis...University Press of Mississippi

Happy Alchemy: On The Pleasures Of Music And The Theatre...Robertson Davies, ed. by Jennifer Sturridge and Brenda Davies...Viking

The Merry Heart: Reflections On Reading, Writing, And The World Of Books...Robertson Davies...Viking

For Your Eye Alone: The Letters Of Robertson Davies...Robertson Davies, ed. Judith Skelton Grant...Viking

The Papers Of Samuel Marchbanks...Robertson Davies...Viking

Robertson Davies: Man Of Myth...Judith Skelton Grant...Viking

I first encountered the work of Robertson Davies quite by accident. My mother bought me The Deptford Trilogy on one of her garage sales expeditions; it looked rather fantastic, and was a trilogy, and as far as she knew it could be my cup of tea. On my first glance it seemed far from it: novels set in Canada, in "modern" times, in a realistic milieu. But to humor her I gave it a chance, dipping in, reading here and there, getting interested, then hooked, and eventually eagerly seeking out anything Davies had written. It turned out to be one of the best gifts my mother ever gave me.

Robertson Davies (1908-1995) was born in Canada, son of a senator and newspaperman. Both his parents were avid readers. He got most of his education in Canada and finished up his college in Oxford, where some of the classes he attended were taught by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien (I have to note that as personally interesting to me; I can't say how significant it was to Davies). He majored in Drama, and throughout his life he acted, wrote and studied theatre. He returned to Canada where he got into the newspaper business with his family, and for years he wrote many books while writing and editing the paper, including essays published in the persona of his alter-ego, Samuel Marchbanks.

In 1961 he became the first Master of Massey College, founded largely by members of the Massey family, of whom perhaps Raymond Massey is the most famous. During his tenure he did his best to supply the New World college with the best of the humane traditions of the Old World colleges. It was through these years he wrote his most famous works, the books of The Deptford Trilogy; also in the spirit of fun he wrote one ghost story each year to be read at the college's Christmas revels, as per the old English tradition; these stories were later published as High Spirits.

Davies at his best is a marvelous mix of qualities: the feeling of wonders behind and alongside the work-a-day world, a generous, tender, and forgiving spirit, not unmixed with wry humor at human follies, the appreciation of a serious and unselfish dedication to a worthy craft. If occasionally he comes up with a howler like saying an orangutan has a tail, we can forgive him with the same generosity and humor he extends to his own characters.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

10 Books A Day: #2

The ten books today are not as heterogeneous as yesterday's. They are:

T. H. White: A Biography...Sylvia Townsend Warner...Viking

T. H. White: Letters To A Friend...ed. Francois Gallix...Putnam

England Have My Bones...T. H. White...Putnam

The Maharajah And Other Stories...T. H. White...Putnam

The Sword In The Stone...T. H. White...G.P. Putnam's Sons

The Master...T. H. White...Putnam

The Sword In The Stone...T. H. White...Collins

The Goshawk...T. H. White...New York Review Books

The Age Of Scandal...T. H. White...Putnam

The Book Of Beasts...T. H. White...W. S. Cowell, Ltd.

The Book Of Merlyn...T. H. White...University Of Texas Press

It has been observed that no-one can be quite as English as someone who has not actually been born there. Rudyard Kipling, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien all fall into this category; T. H. White is in this company, having been born in India, raised in England, and lived most of his later life in Ireland and the Isle of Jersey, where he could avoid the income tax. In between he managed to write some books filled with the stoutest kind of "Englishry" that I have ever read, the kind that doesn't turn a blind eye to the defects of the country but loves it in despite of it's foibles.

Reading about his life both in Warner's biography and in his autobiographical works (The Goshawk and England Have My Bones) is a fascinating experience. As he takes various jobs and gets by as best he can while trying to make a living as a writer, he makes do when money is low and spends extravagantly when he is flush. His life is filled with enthusiasms: hunting, fishing, falconry, painting, and flying airplanes are all hobbies he must indulge in, and he applies himself to them with a passion, like Mr. Toad. And, like Toad, when he has had his fill, he as full-throttledly goes after the next mania. A homosexual in a time that was most uncongenial to that leaning, his main emotional relationship was with his dogs, especially his Irish setter Brownie, who was his companion throughout his stay in Ireland, when he was writing most of The Once And Future King. The letters he wrote to his best friend and teacher L. J. Potts when Brownie died are heart wrenching.

White only achieved financial stability near the end of his life, with the success of The Once and Future King and the play based on it, Camelot. He raged when Walt Disney stole Julie Andrews away from the production to do Mary Poppins. He died on a ship outside Greece in 1964, homeward bound after a tour to America, a pilgrim to the last. His tombstone in Athens reads: "T. H. White/ 1906-1964/ Author/ Who/ From A Troubled Heart/ Delighted Others/ Loving And Praising /This Life."

Monday, April 20, 2009

10 Books A Day: #1

I am a bibliophile. Before it became necessary to sell our old family home, my library was fast closing in on the three thousand volume mark. I kept a catalog on my computer that I constantly updated, with a simple rubric to help me keep track of kinds of books: bold, for hardbacks, italics for trade paperbacks, and plain print for ordinary paperbacks. Well, it did become necessary to sell the old house, and move to smaller if quite comfy and classy accommodations. And in the process I had to skin down my library some (nothing essential of course, just odd volumes and vaguely interesting books that had been bought for a song on a whim). This rendered my old catalog inaccurate, and, when my old computer had its last crash, finally nonexistent. I have the dragonish temperament that makes me every now and again want to count and number everything I have, and so on that impulse I'm beginning "10 Books A Day", in which, along with regular posts, I shall list ten books by title, author, and publisher under my old rubric, starting on the topmost left-hand shelf in my room and going right round. So here we go.

Everyday Life In Bible Times...National Geographic Society

Bloom's Major Literary Characters: Sir John Falstaff...ed. Harold Bloom...Chelsea House

Spaceships Of The Visitors: An Illustrated Guide To Alien Spacecraft...Kevin Randle and Russ Estes...A Fireside Book

The Truth Book: Escaping A Childhood Of Abuse Among Jehovah's Witnesses...Joy Castro...Arcade Publishing

Shahnameh: The Persian Book Of Kings...Abolqasem Ferdowsi...Penguin

Shakespeare: The Biography...Peter Ackroyd...Anchor Books

Everything Is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults, And Cover-Ups...Robert Anton Wilson...Harper Perennial

Secret Gardens: The Golden Age Of Children's Literature...Humphrey Carpenter...Houghton Mifflin

Dickens...Peter Ackroyd...HarperCollins

Mervyn Peake: My Eyes Mint Gold...Malcolm Yorke...Overlook Press

And that's the first ten. Not a bad sampling of my interests, if a bit heavy on biography. The National Geographic Society of course edits and publishes their own works. Mervyn Peake is the author and illustrator most famous for his Gormenghast books. As a bonus I'm adding four volumes in the Discoveries books put out by the Abrams Press; these are slim but hefty books chock full of pictures and facts on various subjects like art and culture that make good summarizing introductions. I have:

Leonardo Da Vinci: The Mind Of The Renaissance...Alessandro Vesozzi
The Age Of Shakespeare...Francois Larogue
The Pre-Raphaelites: Romance And Realism...Laurence Des Cars
King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table...Anne Berthelot
I suspect with what I've bought in the last two years or so I'm probably up to close to three thousand again. But it would be great to know for sure! If you click on the picture above, you might be able to identify some of those books yourself. (And yes, I did take pictures of my books. What of it?)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Drunkard's Lone Child

When my dad's mother was put into a nursing home, her remaining possession's were split among her children. As part of my father's portion he received several old German books that had come down through his mother's family, the Jandt's. He was never really a great caretaker, and when he passed away and I got them they had been stored in damp, dusty conditions for a while, and when I opened the tin box they were contained in, I was confronted by what appeared to be a mass of black mold. Not willing to simply toss them away I put the box in drier, more secure storage, and only recently have had the will to face them again.

To my surprise the mold seems to have dried away, and the books themselves no longer present the appearance of papier mache bricks; in fact they are so thoroughly dried one can once again thumb through them page by page. They are, as I said, all in German, and seem to be mostly works of Lutheran theology. There are inscriptions by various members of the Jandt family, and the publication date of at least one of them is 1863; it is possible these books came across from Germany with the family when they immigrated. The books (of which there are 12) are still in no great shape, being brittle and crumbly, but they are fascinating familial artifacts.

Inside one volume I found the clipping above. It had yellowed so deeply it was almost brown; there is no way to date it that I can see. A little research reveals it is a version of a traditional Ozark folk song, lamenting the evils of drink. As you can see, whoever clipped and saved it pencilled in the word "hell" on it. Why did they do that, precisely? Was it something they feared, or something they knew about personally, or did the words "no mother, no friends, and no home" just sum up for them what constitutes a hell on earth?

My brother and I had just had a long conversation about the "unknown" qualities of our ancestors. While we can know their names and dates, so little of their personality is transmitted to later generations; we speculated on what traits we might have ourselves that were passed down the line from persons unknown. Suddenly opening this enigmatic little window to the past, so haphazardly preserved, put a very big accent mark on that thought. Whoever clipped this--were they struggling with alcoholism, or did they have pious objections to drink? Or was it for poetic, sentimental reasons? We'll never know now in this world.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

An Odd Memory, Peculiarly Revived

I was trolling through Entertainment Earth, looking for new treasures to fixate on, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but Captain Crook. And along with him came a bizarre flood of memories. But let me digress a bit.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have a warm and brightly colored fondness for the show H. R. Pufnstuf. Because of the popularity of this show, the McDonalds company, when they were transitioning from a mere drive-in to a sit-down restaurant as well and needed to come up with a new marketing ploy, decided to pick the brains of the show's developers, Sid and Marty Krofft. They consulted a while, dismissed the Kroffts, and soon thereafter came out with the concept of McDonaldland, a suspiciously Living-Islandesque land with milkshake volcanoes, apple pie trees, and french fry bushes. Besides Ronald McDonald it was people by various living foods and the villains who sought to take them, as Witchiepoo tried to nab Freddie the Flute. Put Mayor McCheese next to Mayor Pufnstuf, and you have to ask, "Separated At Birth?"

The Kroffts promptly sued them, and after a legal struggle lasting twelve years, they finally won. As a result "McDonaldland" was phased out of marketing, and its' remaining characters re-tooled into softer images. The "Evil Grimace", who sought to steal milkshakes, lost two of his original four arms, and was downgraded into a lovable doofus. The Hamburglar had a cosmetic make-over, and Captain Crook, who craved fish fillets, disappeared entirely.

Years ago there was a McDonaldland playset, peopled with Mego-like dolls of Ronald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook, and the Professor (remember him?). Now Huckleberry Toys has re-issued five of these (sans Professor--surely a Dr. Blinkie clone). All available from Entertainment Earth.

Very weird to see Captain Crooks' glassy eyes and droopy moustache again.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Official Voice Of Easter

Just a slight ramble and consideration of Easter customs here. First of all, there is the word Easter itself. There is only one mention of the origins of this word at all in ancient texts, and that is from the Venerable Bede (d.735 AD), who mentions that the Anglo-Saxons called the Paschal month Eostre-month, after their goddess Eostre. And that is all that is surely known about it.
Enter the philologists and folklorists in the 19th Century. They began speculating about this forgotten goddess, and adducing all sorts of traits to her. Some tried to make her a goddess of the dawn (the East), and others of spring and fertility. Eggs, hares (rabbits were foreign to Europe), flowers, and storks were all thought probable symbols for her.
There is a thing in word studies called asterisk reality. In a forgotten fragmentary language, like Gothic, many words for even common things are missing. Their likely forms can be deduced by their relationship and changes from closely related languages (such as German and English). These word forms have no proof or solid example, but are possibilities, and are said to have an asterisk reality.
From one mention in an old chronicle, the goddess Eostre was building up an asterisk reality of her own, one that in modern times, in the wild imaginations of Neo-pagans of all stripes, has grown, a very uncontrolled growing thing. There is even less known about her than, say, druids, and where little is known the imagination can take some very odd flights.
Of perhaps even more tenuous speculation is the connection of Easter with rabbits and eggs. Just about every culture from South America to India has seen the shape of a rabbit or hare on the moon, and it is particularly observable on the Paschal moon, which of course is brightly colored and very full. The fact that it occurs in spring when eggs are abundant and hares and rabbits are--ahem--busy, and that their birth cycle is approximately one lunar month, couldn't hurt to connect them.
As I say, just a few thoughts and ramblings, rather far from the true significance of the day. But there you are.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Give Me The Power Of...Kingdom Hearts!

Last week through the offices of my good friend at Z's Toys I got the three new Kingdom Hearts action figures by Square Enix. They cost $26.95 each. I was particularly relieved to get them as they had been out for some weeks and our local Hastings (which I fear gets the sweepings from more central stores) had no sign of ever getting them. Perhaps it had something to do with their difficulty shifting three Aeriths from Square Enix about a year ago. Anyway, before I get on to descriptions of the individual figures, perhaps I should give a short account of the game to place them in context.

Kingdom Hearts begins in the Destiny Islands, where the young boy Sora and his friends Riku and Kairi dream about leaving their home and seeing far lands. This dream is fulfilled in a dark way when their world is destroyed and they are separated, and flung into different worlds. Sora gains the mysterious weapon called the Keyblade, and joined by a wizard and warrior (Donald and Goofy--yes, that Donald and Goofy-- who are seeking King Mickey--yes, that Mickey-- who has gone to discover why the worlds are being destroyed) he seeks his friends through many worlds, most of them themed from Disney movies. A group of Disney villains, led by the evil fairy Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, are creating hordes of Heartless, monsters created from the darkness in peoples hearts. In Kingdom Hearts II, our heroes are opposed by Organization XIII, a group of black-clad Nobodies (Nobodies are created when a particularly strong person becomes a Heartless) who wish to gain the power of Kingdom Hearts themselves to regain their reality. Now we have enough to go along on.

The Sora figure is of Sora as he appears in the first Kingdom Hearts (he grows older as the games progress). It is six inches high, and comes with Keyblade and a spare pair of hands. This is actually the third Sora figure I've got; the first was by Mirage Toys, and was posed in a perpetual crouch. The second was by Square Enix and was of Sora as he appeared in Kingdom Hearts II. This one is by far the best.

The Riku figure is as he appears in Kingdom Hearts. It is seven inches tall. He comes with the bat-wing blade supplied by Maleficent while he was under her influence, and a spare pair of hands.

The King Mickey figure is as he appears in Kingdom Hearts II, disguised in black Organization XIII robes. It is four inches tall. He comes with his own version of a Keyblade, which is silver where Sora's is gold, and gold where Sora's is silver. He comes with a spare pair of hands.

You know all of these Square Enix figures come with spare hands, that you can pop on and off; these are usually weapon holding hands and posing hands. I have yet to have the nerve to try to remove any. I just know that even if I succeed they'll always be loose, or I'll be afraid all the time that they'll fall off.