Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Listeners

For the Halloween season, have one of my favorite poems. I do not like to be scared, but there is something in mystery and a chilling thrill that I have always loved. This piece walks that line as well as anything I have ever read. Enjoy!

Picture by Patrick Garrington on Public Domain Pictures http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=34018&picture=church-door

Picture by Patrick Garrington on Public Domain Pictures

The Listeners
by Walter de la Mare (1873–1956)

‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
   Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
   Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
   Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
   ‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
   No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
   Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
   That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
   To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
   That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
   By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
   Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
   ’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
   Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
   That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
   Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
   From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
   And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
   When the plunging hoofs were gone.
.
Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

Source unknown. If you know where it is from, please inform me.

P.S. This is my 100th blog post! Blue Blistering Barnacles!


St. Crispin’s Day

Today I learned that this day celebrates two saints: St. Crispin and St. Crispinian, who were apparently twins from the 3rd Century. They are patron saints of cobblers and those who work with leather. They were martyred for their faith, but I was relieved to learn that their deaths had nothing to do with shoes or hide. They were cobblers. And now, have some Shakespeare!

Westmoreland: O that we now had here
But one ten thousand of those men in England
That do no work to-day!

Henry V: What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say “To-morrow is Saint Crispian.”
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say “These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.”
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Shakespeare’s Henry V, Act 4, scene 3


Chesterton, Treatment, and Aunthood

When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was shattered by the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are, indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage. The modern world is full of the old Christian virtues gone mad. The virtues have gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone.

G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Food for thought.

Also, an update on how I am doing. As far as my prognosis goes, things are great. I have been downgraded from an original stage 3, to a stage 0. Basically, I no longer have cancer (thank you, God, for my doctors and my health!).

The combination of medicines primarily responsible for this extraordinary progress are, however, experimental, and so I am undergoing more “tested” treatments as well. I am through, hopefully, with surgery. I am currently undergoing Chemotherapy. I hope that, some day, this part of treatment will not be considered necessary.

It’s Not Fun, but I will make it through. The most annoying part has been the recurring fevers, most likely caused by one of the medications. I’ve lost most of my hair and buzzed the rest. I must say, baldness feels really good.  I am enjoying Fall weather, even if the trees are a little tardy with their colors this year.

My nephew has finally gotten to go home! I have not seen him in person for a while, but his parents supply the family and some close friends with pictures and videos daily. The last one I saw was a photograph of my brother reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar with his tiny son lying against his chest.

I just about died from cuteness overload. I’ve done that several times now. It will take some time for me to wrap my mind around the fact that my brother is a father, and that I am an aunt.

That is all for now!


I Love Dwarves: a recap

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

PublicDomain-Pictures.com

In anticipation of Peter Jackson’s second “Hobbit” film, I thought I would pull together some quotes from my series on the Khazâd for those who don’t want to suffer through reading the whole thing. High-Fantasy Dwarves have, and probably always will have, a bad rap that I do not think they deserve. The equation seems to go something like this:

Ugly = unimportant

What a great message for us. Instead of delving into the complexity  that Tolkien eventually created for his Dwarves, the film industry settles for the stereotype that everyone expects, believing that almost no one cares. The unspoken consensus seems to be that, regardless of who we are and what we contribute to the world,  it is our appearance that matters most.

What is it, in human nature, that makes us reluctant to be interested in someone who is, on the surface, unlovely? We preach against judging people by appearances, and yet we do it, often without realizing what we are doing.

Anyway, enough internal examination for one day. If you are curious about my full reasons for loving Tolkien’s Dwarves, scroll to the bottom and take on the full series. Otherwise, I hope you find these excepts interesting.

In some ways, the Khazâd are very like the caves in which they dwell. I find that both are often misunderstood and dismissed as unlovely… The Dwarves, like their underground homes, seem one thing from an outside perspective, but have quite a different character when one delves deeper. They remind me of geodes. On the surface they are hard, rough and unlovely. Within at least some of them (or more likely most of them) there is astounding beauty. If you do not believe me, take a closer look at Gimli in The Lord of the Rings (the books, not the films. Gimli’s character in the films just represents the stereotype most people expect from fantasy Dwarves).

Many readers of Tolkien’s scribblings see the hard surface of the Dwarves and look no deeper. They do not realize the world of imagination they are missing. They cast a geode aside, assuming that something so plain and rough could not possibly harbor anything extraordinary within. The other races of Arda often do the same.

Tolkien’s words suggest a people who, while rugged and shielded in other regards, are hyper-sensitive when it comes to the properties and beauties of the inanimate part of Arda.

From the outside, fascination with the material can look a lot like materialism. Now, some Dwarves from Tolkien’s writing are avaricious and materialistic. There is no denying that. After all, love of matter can become materialism if taken too far. But I believe there is a pure and healthy love of the physical that is not possessive, or hedonistic, or materialistic, and I believe that love is an underlying theme in the character of the Khazâd… It is a short step from loving creation, to wishing to create.

In my recent delving into Tolkien’s work, I kept a record of the objects and places shaped by the Dwarves. I have chosen a few to mention. Some you may know. Some might surprise you.

Angrist: the knife Beren used to cut a Silmaril from Morgoth’s crown

Narsil: Sword of the Númenórean kings, broken in cutting the One Ring from Sauron’s hand,  later to become Andúril

Menegroth:  a cooperative effort of Dwarves and Elves

“The pillars of Meneroth were hewn in the likeness of the beeches of Oromë, stock, bough and leaf, and they were lit with lanterns of gold. The nightingales sang there as in the gardens of Lórien; and there were fountains of silver, and basins of marble, and floors of many-coloured stones. Carven figures of beasts and birds there ran upon the walls, or climbed upon the pillars, or peered among the branches entwined with many flowers.” – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 10

Nauglamír:

“It was a carcanet of gold, and set therin were gems uncounted from Valinor; but it had a power within it so that it rested lightly on its wearer as a strand of flax, and whatsoever neck it clasped it sat always with grace and loveliness.”  – Quenta Silmarilion, Chapter 13

This is a people who hang “flowering stars” on silver necklaces, create “metal wrought like fishes’ mail,” carve stone halls like beech forests, and treasure natural beauty deeply. The pop-culture ideas of elf-craft are probably closer to Tolkien’s idea of Dwarven works than the chunky and rigid images we always see. Not that there isn’t a place for stereotypical Dwarf-architecture. I like that too.

In many “fantasy” books, films, and games, Dwarves are either comic relief; gruff, warlike side-characters; or else the “Big Guy” of the story.  Because the clichés have roots in Tolkien, some assume that Tolkien wrote according to these pop-culture images. His Khazâd are not pretty or dashing enough to garner much attention, and so their subtle complexity is overlooked. In contrast, his equally-complex Elves have gotten so much attention that many people are sick of them, which is also sad.

The Khazâd are secretive. They do not teach their language to others and their true names are never written or told to outsiders. That’s right, we only have nicknames for the Dwarves! It may not help their relationships outside their own people, but I find the secretive aspect of Dwarven society mysterious. I like a little mystery.

The Khazâd are passionate beneath the surface. Cliché Dwarves seem to have three settings: wrathful, dour or rollicking. Tolkien’s writing gives a more balanced picture. His Dwarves show a full emotional range expressed in subtle, sometimes elegant, ways.

Far from the stereotypical “angry Dwarf shout of grief and rage!” that we get in the films, this is Gimli’s reaction on finding Balin’s tomb in Moria:

“Gimli cast his hood over his face.”

And when time came to escape:

“Gimli had to be dragged away by Legolas: in spite of the peril he lingered by Balin’s tomb with his head bowed.”

He breaks my heart, then gives it back to me whole and makes me smile:

“Dark is the water of Kheled-zâram… and cold are the springs of Kibil-nâla. My heart trembles at the thought that I may see them soon.” – The Fellowship of the Ring

Music and song are mentioned repeatedly in relation to the Khazâd. And this from a people in exile whose story, like that of Arda itself, is one of devastating loss and victories that come at great cost. But the Dwarves are resilient, using their outward toughness to protect the gems beneath. Gimli makes me cry and laugh, and his whole race makes me smile.

Original series of Khazâd posts:

Of the Free Peoples of Arda
Contrariwise
Khazâd Part I: Aulë
Khazâd Part II: The Deep Places of the World
Khazâd Part III: Creation
Khazâd Part IV: The Road Goes On


My own medicine

Well, I have been asked to take a dose of my own medicine. In accepting her nomination for the Liebster Award, BeKindRewrite  requested that I answer my own five questions. Considering her thoughtful answers, this request is perfectly fair. She didn’t even tack on any new questions of her own! Yet. Maybe I shouldn’t give her ideas.

For the purpose of answering these questions, I am going to exclude anything Tolkien. This should make my answers less predictable.

1. If you could walk into a book and make a home there, where would that home be, what would it be like, and what sort of people/creatures would you try to befriend? Specifics would be fun and you can give more than one answer if you like.

I would love to live in Brockhall, from Brian Jacques’s Redwall series (I have not read them all). First off, it is in a tree and partly underground. I’ve always wanted to live in a tree and underground. It is located in a woodland, it sounds quite comfortable, and contains delicious food and talking badgers. Sure, one has to face the occasional violent hoard passing through the woods, but that’s life. The world contains squirrel militia, friendly moles and hedgehogs, and playful otters.

I would also like to see P. G. Wodehouse’s stylized 1920’s, but I am on the fence as to whether or not I would like to live there. It might be just a bit too silly.

2. Name a food you have read about, but never eaten, that you have since wanted to try. It doesn’t have to actually exist. What, in the reading, piqued your interest?

Deeper’n’Ever pie. A savory pie made of veggies. It’s fairly mundane, as far as food from a book goes (it is from the above-mentioned Redwall series), but it always sounds so homey, comforting and satisfying.

3. Do you have a favorite plant? If so, what is it and why do you like it so much?

I do. I have several, in fact.

My favorite tree is the Eastern Hemlock. No, it did not kill Socrates. That was a different Hemlock. The Eastern Hemlock is not poisonous. In any case, it is shapely, feathery, smells like spicy, piney heaven, and has pinecones the size of a penny that open or close depending on the humidity. Magnolia Grandiflora and Juniperus Virginiana come in at close seconds.

It is hard to decide my favorite flower, but I will go with the old fashion daffodil. Early, bright yellow with a long, narrow trumpet and a smell unlike any of its compatriots. Sweet, but with just enough bitterness to avoid being sickening. This particular flower, whose cultivar I do not know, is tough as nails and it opens just when I really need some brightness and sweetness after the winter gray.

My favorite non-flower, non-tree, is the Venus Fly Trap. It is kind of creepy, but awesome. I wish #@$#$%#s would stop harvesting them from the wild, else we might lose them all together. If you ever think of buying an insectivorous plant (fly-trap, sundew, pitcher plant) make sure you know where it comes from. Buy only from dealers who make it clear that they propagate their own stock.

4. What fictional character is your favorite hero (male or female), and what villain really scares you and why?

Barring anyone from the works of J. R. R. Tolkien, I would have to say Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. She may not do much that is “heroic” in the story, but she is telling the story, and that is a kind of heroism. I probably love Scout because I can relate to her. I was a similar mix of tom-boy, thinker and impulsive foot-in-the-mouther as a child.

Another hero of mine would be Henry V from William Shakespeare’s play of the same name. I know little about the real man, but the way he is portrayed by the Bard has oft caught my imagination. In his titular play, he shows a wide range of character, sensitive, thoughtful, courageous and stern. He makes decisions that are personally painful to him, because he believes them to be right.

As for a villain who truly frightens me, I would say Jack, from Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. It is telling that I read the book so long ago that I had forgotten his name, and the name of the protagonist. What I have not forgotten is the manipulative, violent, and vicious nature of this boy, that grows worse and worse as he deteriorates, carrying most of the other boys with him into murderous barbarism. Yes, he is only a child. In that sense, he may not be much of a threat, but the inhumanity within humanity that he represents is not to be taken lightly.

5. There is a crossroad at your feet. Behind you lies the path back to home and hearth (wherever that might be). The road directly ahead leads to a city, blue in the distance, settled among hills and on the edge of a bright inland sea. To your right lies a steep climb into old, low mountains clothed in forest and fern. To your left is rolling farmland that eventually flattens out into broad plains dappled by the clouds overhead. You can go as far as you like on any of the roads (even farther than you can see), including back home. There’s no wrong answer, only the where and why.

Ah yes. I know a little more about this theoretical place than the poor people I inflicted it on. It matters little, though, because ignorant or informed, I would go to my right. Mountains you say? Low, old, and covered in fern and tree? That is the road for me. I bet there are even hemlocks higher up, and staghorn lichen and moss.


Rewriting Tolkien

There are allowances to be made for adaptations. One cannot translate a story from one medium to another with absolute fidelity, and sometimes changes are necessary. Some changes even improve how the story is expressed in the new form. I easily accepted most of the changes made for Peter Jackson’s original “Lord of the Rings” films because the tone and overall theme matched well with the books, and for the most part the plot, characters and places seemed like themselves. There were, of course, a few things that bothered me, but they did not overpower what I felt was right about the films.

Then came the first Hobbit movie. The beginning thrilled me. It seemed to have its own flavor, and one that meshed well with the book on which it was based. As the movie progressed, however, it moved farther and farther away from the source material, not only in plot, but in feel. Some changes I could forgive as easily as I did with LotR, but the gestalt was disappointing.

Today, I watched the trailer for The Desolation of Smaug. Before I say more, take the time to watch it yourself.

It is beautiful, and it resembles Tolkien’s The Hobbit as much as I resemble a pumpkin. I know I take Tolkien too seriously, but his writing is one of my greatest literary pleasures, and I was hoping to have the joy of a good adaptation of Bilbo’s story on top of what I feel was a good adaptation of Lord of the Rings.

It is time, now, to lay that hope to rest. “Lay her i’ the earth: And from her fair and unpolluted flesh May violets spring!” -Hamlet, Act V scene 1


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