Wyrdwend

The Filidhic Literary Blog of Jack Günter

HAMMER AND KNIFE

HAMMER AND KNIFE

Hammer and knife
Speartip and strife!
Terror and dread
The Doomed and the Dead!
Helmet and shield
Warmount and weal
To rise and to stand
The measure of man
A line does unfold, and
Another is drawn
The fields are aflame
The brave still unnamed
Blood black and soiled
Desperate we toil
Lords vomit red
Their flesh cold and bled,
Hammer and Knife
Beaten and sliced!
Arrow and sword
Pierced and then gored!
The grunts and the shouts
The moans and the doubts
The rallies and wounds
Shall we be entombed?
We few as we stand
Our fallen in bands
The calls and commands
They litter the land, yet
Exhausted and spent
None must relent, for
My Hammer and Knife
The Wards of my Life
Still fill both my hands
Shall do what they can,
For I fight to the end
Or to grave I descend…

So this morning after walking Sam (my Great Dane) I was practicing with my warhammer and knife when suddenly the following song came to me as I worked. (Not all of it, but the first couple of stanzas.)

Then, after finishing my practice I went to the west deck of my house, and sat in the sun, and imagined a battle and wrote the rest of the piece.

I will publish it as a poem that my character Larmaegeon composes and sings (so it really a song, but sung without musical accompaniment) for his companions right before they go into a seemingly hopeless battle. For in the scene involved they are ambushed and suddenly surrounded.

So this song will go into my novel series the Kithariune.

Since I am now learning the guitar (see here: Fade Away) and am planning on turning to the lute next I am now considering taking some of the poetic works that Larmaegeon and others compose in the novels and writing out the music to such works as well and including those in the novel too. Along with all of the other supplementary material.

I am rather pleased with Hammer and Knife, but if you wish to comment upon it (if it please you or displease you) then feel free to do so.

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BOB DYLAN’S TREASURES

A very unusual choice, but well deserved from my point of view. As a musical lyricist and poet Dylan is superb. Almost unmatched. A throwback, and a modern Bard really.

October 13 at 7:56 AM
Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature on Thursday for work that the Swedish Academy described as “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

He is the first American to win the prize since Toni Morrison in 1993, and a groundbreaking choice by the Nobel committee to select the first literature laureate whose career has primarily been as a musician.

Although long rumored as a contender for the prize, Dylan was far down the list of predicted winners, which included such renown writers as Haruki Murakami and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.

This is the second year in a row that the academy has turned away from fiction writers for the literature prize. And it’s possibly the first year that the prize has gone to someone who is primarily a musician, not a writer.

‘Greatest living poet’ Bob Dylan wins Nobel literature prize

Play Video0:24
Bob Dylan, regarded as the voice of a generation for his influential songs from the 1960s onwards, won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature Oct. 13. (Reuters)

The permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Sara Danius, made the announcement in Stockholm. In a televised interview afterward, Danius said that Dylan “embodies the tradition. And for 54 years, he’s been at it, reinventing himself, creating a new identity.” She suggested that people unfamiliar with his work start with “Blonde on Blonde,” his album from 1966.

“Bob Dylan writes poetry for the ear,” she said. “But it’s perfectly fine to read his works as poetry.”

She drew parallels between Dylan’s work and poets as far back as Greek antiquity.

“It’s an extraordinary example of his brilliant way of rhyming and his pictorial thinking,” Danius said. “If you look back, far back, you discover Homer and Sappho, and they wrote poetic texts that were meant to be listened to. They were meant to be performed. It’s the same way with Bob Dylan. But we still read Homer and Sappho. He can be read and should be read. He is a great poet in the grand English tradition. I know the music, and I’ve started to appreciate him much more now. Today, I’m a lover of Bob Dylan.

Dylan will receive an 18-karat gold medal and a check for about $$925,000.

Dylan, the son of a Minnesota appliance-store owner, began as a folk singer but soon established himself as one of the voices of political protest and cultural reshaping in the 1960s.

Dylan’s songs — driven by his distinctive nasal-twang vocals — are often seen as dense prose poems packed with flamboyant, surreal images. Rolling Stone magazine once called him “the most influential American musician rock and roll has ever produced.”

He first gained notice with ringing protest songs that served as anthems for the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements with such songs as “Masters of War,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”

Then he moved on to feverish rock-and-roll drenched in stream-of-consciousness lyrics that evoked the hallucinatory visions of William Blake, the romanticism of Mary Shelley and John Keats and the postmodern pessimism of Allen Ginsberg and other beat poets.

Dylan recalled listening to country music each evening from distant Midwestern stations and taking up the guitar himself at age 10.

He briefly attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, where folk music, rather than rock-and-roll, was the abiding musical idiom.

“Picasso had fractured the art world and cracked it wide open,” Dylan once wrote. “He was revolutionary. I wanted to be like that.”

Dylan sang at the 1963 March on Washington, the massive civil rights procession presided over by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Later, at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, he stunned many fans — and began a new musical direction — by putting aside his acoustic guitar and playing a Fender sunburst Stratocaster electric guitar.

His next albums — “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde” — ventured further into the surreal long-form songs and dizzying array of characters that were now his trademark. They are considered by many critics to be his creative peak.

In the late 1970s, he stunned admirers again by declaring himself a Christian and releasing three albums of religiously inspired songs. The singing and musicianship were passionate and professional — Dylan earned his first Grammy Award, for best rock male vocal performance — but the harsh, born-again lyrics puzzled and alienated many of his longtime fans.

In 2005, he released a long-awaited memoir, “Chronicles Vol. 1,” which won him more accolades for its candor and originality. He also appeared in director Martin Scorsese’s “No Direction Home,” a documentary that summed up the triumphs and turmoil of his early years as a performer. In 2008, he was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for his profound effect on popular music and American culture, “marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power.”

ON POETRY – TUESDAY’S TALE

Well, it ain’t really a Tale for Tuesday, but it is a tale about how you should tell what you can’t really tell when you try. Not in words, anyway…

ON POETRY

Poetry involves the minute manipulation of words in such a way that they are constantly and subtly altered in definition, either so that they take on a broader and more flexible implication than they have ever possessed before, or so that they take on a more narrow and peculiar resolution in terminology than they have ever before possessed.

Do this wisely and well and with patient and practiced craft and you will be considered a master of phrasing and sound, perhaps even possessed of real poetic genius. Do this sloppily or shoddily and in haste and without regard for the demands of true meaning in language and you will be considered a mere dilettante or perhaps even a hapless hack.

from my book, On Poetry

 

IN ABSENTIA

IN ABSENTIA

The Courage of the West has failed
Her baser instincts flowered all
Cowardice does now prevail
To reckless seek the servile call

The High Mind of the West is dead
The public rules the Wiser Man
Clamor drowns with fearful dread
The people swoon when tyrants stand

The Sick Heart of the West is ripe
To be grasped in iron grips
By slavish kings, corrupted queens
En-masse it beats, demanded ships

The Lost Soul of the West is held
In graves and chains of government
Shackled like a beast expelled
From hearth and home, forgotten, spent

Prior Wisdom, where are you?
You know what comes, you see this sure
History, you tell us true
The past is future, undemured

Manhood, where do you now lurk?
Subservient to serpent crowns
Truth and Justice – how you lurch
In naked marches to the hounds

Free Men to their “betters” bent
Eager in their fealty sworn
Machines await, infernal sent
Revolt that banner burnt and torn

Honor come not to this land
It is bleak and stained with fear
Dismissed as coin what value can
You hold for men who hold naught dear?

The Courage of the West has sunk
Beneath the Twilight of Our Times
Monsters have arisen thus
The Dawn of Morrow has resigned

I wish that I could say to you
That one man in a million lives
Yet I see no certain clues
I cannot to you such hope give

In absentia of ourselves…

THE SHADOW MAN

Never-before-seen Tolkien poems written before The Hobbit are discovered

NEVER-before-seen poems written by J.R.R. Tolkien have been discovered inside an old school magazine.

JRR TolkienGETTY IMAGES

Poems by J.R.R. Tolkien have been discovered

The Shadow Man, written a year before his first classic work The Hobbit was published, was found after staff at Our Lady’s Abingdon school, Oxfordshire looked through back issues of its magazine.The poem, which was later appeared as Shadow-bride, and was released as part of the fantasy icon’s Adventures of Tom Bombadil in 1962.

According to the independent school’s principal, Stephen Oliver, they began to look through their archives after being contacted by an American Tolkien scholar, Wayne G. Hammond who had seen that two of Tolkien’s poems were listed in The Abingdon Chronicle.

MagazineOXFORD MAIL•SWNS GROUP

Tolkien’s work was found in a school magazine

Now, Mr Oliver believes that the poems may have been given to the magazine after Tolkien struck up a friendship with the nuns that were running the school.As well as The Shadow Man, the poem Noel was written to celebrate the birth of Christ.

Tolkien lived in Oxford at the time he wrote the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

Mr Oliver said: “We had no idea that we had a copy of some of Tolkien’s poetry so it came as a surprise when we found them. I feel pretty privileged to have been a part of the discovery.”An American academic got in touch with us to say that he was looking to find them and that they were contained in a publication called the Abingdon Chronicle.

“At first we couldn’t find the 1936 edition and referred Mr Hammond on to the archives of the Sisters of Mercy, who founded the school, which are in London.

The poemOXFORD MAIL•SWNS.COM

The Shadow Man

My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming

Stephen Oliver

“But after we were preparing for another event for former pupils, we uncovered our own copy and discovered the poems that he had been looking for.”My excitement when I saw them was overwhelming. I am a great Tolkien fan and was thrilled to discover the connection with the school.

The magazineOXFORD MAIL•SWNS.COM

The poem

“The school magazine was something that was produced each year to provide things like updates on the alumni and would also contain bits of poetry.”It was brilliant to find it and it’s great that we have found such a great bit of heritage to tie to our school. We had no idea that there was a link between us before that point.”

THE TOWER ABOVE

THE TOWER ABOVE

The Tower above, the Earth below
I wandered the world, desiring to know
Where in my heart the frontier did lay
In the sky or the sea, in the night or the day?

Mountains I climbed, Life did I track
Waters I sailed, then sailed them right back
Sands in my hands ran through my fingers
What should I fear, where was the danger?

I’d live forever, forever a boy
Time everlasting, endless and cloy
The sun burned me brown, moon cooled my mind
The stars they did glisten, by God so designed
Happy was nothing – I was Alive!
The world was my oyster, of nothing deprived
Before I was man, I was a boy
Everything Holy, the Hope and the Joy

Fish splashed the clear streams, hawks roamed the air
I could lay in the green grass and anything dare
Nothing was memory, all was yet new
Impossibly certain was all that I knew
Hero I was in the depths of my soul
Adventure and gamble was all I did know
The past hadn’t happened, the future a dream
The present was ever, or so did it seem

The Tower above me, the Earth down below
I’d climb to the crown, how most apropos
For why should I care, the sun never sets
Upon the heart of the boy who will never relent

But I’ve climbed and I’ve climbed and I’ve climbed all my life
I’ve climbed in the cold, and I’ve climbed through the strife
I’ve climbed in the heat, through the dark and the death
I’ve climbed when impelled, and I’ve climbed without rest
I’ve climbed when determined, and when suffering lack
For I’m far too high now and cannot go back
Though the summit is still such a lifetime away
I doubt I can reach it, at least not this way

My hands cut and bloodied, my footing unsure
I question my efforts, my motives obscure
Yet sometimes when weary, I’ll glance far below
To see that young boy with his whole life to sow
And I wonder if warnings might cause him to stop
To stay in his valley, not climb to the top
For I want to just tell him, “The climb never ends,
Stay where you are boy, you can’t comprehend…”

But I see him look upwards, take hold of the stones
And I know that he’ll climb where he must all alone

For the Tower above us, a siren it sings
To the boy down below us who of towers still dreams…

HARBINGER’S KEY – FIRST VERSE

HARBINGER’S KEY

The Wolf Winds howl on the March to the East
The Blood runs red at the Gathering Feast
The Young Men sing of the Slavering Beast
And the Old Men moan, “Where is our Peace?”

The Monstrous Scale as empty as Death
Measures the Nothing hung over the West
That labors like Murder to steal every Breath
From everything Living, the cursed and the Blessed

High in the Mountains, deep in the Sea
Something is stirring, Horrors set Free
To Harass and to Harrow as if by Decree
The Marrow in Man Bones, Harbinger’s Key

Hid in the Old Dark biding his Time
Lurks the Great Creature stuck in his Limes
His hatred his Quickstone to hasten his Climb
The Day soon approaches, Ruin his Rhyme

But deeper than Old Darks, great in his Weight
Diseased of his own rot, an Absolute Fate
Hatred is small match for his Poisoned Date
Swollen and bloated he waits at the Gates

The Dawns will all soon fall away without Light
The Strong will all tremble even the Night
For Old Dark and Unknown will rise in their Might
To obscure the Pale Earth from even God’s sight

Men think they know Evil but Evil is Young
Of Far Older Powers still songs can be Sung
For These are Approaching, Chieftains Among
The Slayers of Futures that Silence All Tongues…

____________________________________________________

An unfinished poem I began for Halloween. It will go into one of my books of poetry.

AS I GO – FIRST VERSE

AS I GO…

I became what I wrote
When I knew that I did
But I learned what I didn’t
When I showed what I hid,
Yes I mastered by doing
And not by the knot
That twisted I shouldn’t
Into what I forgot,
Yes I wrote what I was
But became what I wrote
And not just because
The words were the notes,
For I knew that I knew
And I learned what I did –
That my limits were lesser
The less that I hid,

Now I can’t say forever
That forever I’ll know
But I can say with pleasure
What I know I can show,
For time works a wonder
By passing along
What’s learned in the measure
What’s right and what’s wrong,
For often you find
That you thought that you knew
But by doing again
You discover it new,
So when men ask me why
I repeat what I know
I tell them I didn’t
But I’ll learn as I go…

LET FALL THE HARM – FIRST VERSE

LET FALL THE HARM

Let fall the harm that must now come
so men in future ages weep
not for a doom that is their own,
but for us, now long asleep,

Far better that we ever take
upon ourselves our own mistakes
than send them forth all morrow-wise
to future men for their demise,

For we had Fate and Fortune still
before our hearts grew hard and chill,
we could have tempered all our wrongs,
had we had courage all along,
but always we sidestepped ourselves,
for comfort’s sake and little else,
thus so the world is as it is,
this falls to us, not future men,

Let come the harm that now is ripe
some future age we should not slight,
with all our sins and cowardice
for unlike us they’re innocent,

They have not built these walls of woe
nor murdered children they have sown,
they have not sold their souls to debt
they may not butchery abet,
they have not terror nurtured long
they have not reckless leaders grown,
they’ve yet to quake in abject fear
their evils have not yet appeared…

(another poem of mine on modern men and our society and how I pray that we not push our evils upon future generations. Yet I know we will because our cowardice is great and had we any courage we’d be at these things ourselves.

This came to me yesterday as I cut grass. I had to stop cutting to go inside and write it. It is unfinished as of yet.)

STILL NO JOY – TUESDAY’S TALE

STILL NO JOY… BUT GETTING CLOSER

I know it’s very little to complain about, relatively speaking, but as a writer I just had the most frustrating night/morning of my life.

I went to bed about 11 to 11:30 last night, totally exhausted, and then rose again sometime not long after midnight. Ideas for my novel were running through my head, a lot of them, too many to just note on my bedside table notebook and so I went downstairs to my office and fired up my computer.

I then worked from shortly after midnight until 4 AM on nothing but the title of the novel series I am currently writing. I know exactly what each of the four books in the series will be called separately but I’ve gone through several incarnations of the title for the entire series and have never settled on anything that seems to really fit. My latest, or the Working Title for the series is The Other World or The Other Worlds, which fits to a degree, but isn’t entirely accurate or encompassing of what the books are truly about.

I ran through terms and titles after terms and title with still no joy and nothing availed. I felt like I had been awakened with a purpose but everything I thought of remained frustratingly just of reach and meaning.

At almost four o’clock I sat back in my office chair, cold, tired, and defeated. It was kinda like working a scientific experiment and everything I tried got close to a solution, but eventually all iterations failed.

Finally I looked to my left and saw my new copy of the Poetic Edda and thought to myself, of course, “I’ll use a title something like the Eddas,” suggestive, but not all encompassing or limited. Because for a very, very long time I’ve wanted to use a title like the Aeneid, or the Odyssey, which would be perfect if not for the fact that the books are not really only about one character, even Prester John. So I thought, maybe something like the Eddas?

So I began reading one of the Eddas (about Odin testing himself against the wisest giant) and a later one about Thor dressing as a Freya to recover his hammer by deception. But still nothing specific came to me.

 

At last I put the book away because I was too tired to continue, my brain simply wouldn’t function, but I was still too frustrated to give up. So I began asking God to help me title the series with the perfect title, something I’ve done before many times, but everything he seems to show me in language seems just beyond my perception. As if it is something beyond my own language.

At that point I fell into a kind of trance which was almost a blank mind, but not quite. It was like I was sleeping in darkness but all around me, in the background, I could hear voices whispering and saying things but I couldn’t quite make out the words or exactly what was being said. It was more like images trying to take on the form of words than words forming images. And they were all in the background and still hazy or shadowy. When I came out of that finally it was about 5:00 and I still had nothing specific except the suggestion that maybe I should invent the terms and title I wanted in another language, perhaps in Sidhelic or one of the other Eldeven languages.

Then I was struck by the idea that maybe there should be multiple titles for the series, each expressing a different aspect of what the books are about and each from a different viewpoint, but settle upon a single version for publication.

 

So I began developing this idea, one title each, each title being in a different language. Each title expressing a different aspect or focal point for the series. Such as a title concerning:
  1. The Main Character or Person – Jhonarlk, or Prester John
  2. The two (or 3 actually, though you never get to see the Third World, only hear of it) worlds involved, something along the line of the Other Worlds
  3. The Weirding Roads (central to the story and implying much, much bigger things than simply a Road between worlds)
  4. (The Fall of) the Vanished Eldevens – the penultimate event of the series and the seeming point of the entire tale, but not really the point of the tale
and 5. The War of…

 

Only one of these terms will be attached to the books but all of the terms will be spoken of in the books as being different histories covering the same events. And I’ll include little excerpts from these “parallel histories, “ (and I may speak briefly about their authors) each implying a different aspect or idea-set about what really happened and what the tale was really about but I’ll settle on one title for the series. Most of the histories will be in prose or in narrative form, as mine will be, but at least one will be in poetic form (probably the Lay of the Fall of the Vanished Eldevens – English translation, not the Eldeven term) and most of the poems in my series will reference that history as poetic extracts.

But I’ll not write full versions of those histories, only hint at them and include extracts from them and those versions will also have some alternate versions of the events in my book.

 

I’ve therefore, because of last night/this morning written a little author’s introduction to the series.

(The claimed author will not be me, but will be a man by the name of Wyrdlaef, a seemingly very minor character in the books who follows Larmaegeon to Constantinople and then to the Isle of Avalona and after the destruction of the Other World returns to our world and secretly writes his account of these events and hides his books in an Irish monetary which then eventually makes its way back to the Other World. )

The introduction is very rough so far but goes something like this:

“These books recount the history of the Great but Invisible Wars that took place on our world and upon the lost world of Iÿarlðma in the years of our Lord 797 to 835. At that time an ancient and noble but since vanished people fought alongside Man for the fate of the Earth and Heavens and the preservation of their own kingdoms. Great these people were but of what their true nature, like that of man, a created being, or like the very angels in flesh, or like some entirely other thing I still cannot tell, though I lived among them for a long time. Five accounts there were of these events, that I know of, but to my knowledge only my brief and poor and incomplete account remains. But if all were told as it truly happened then, as was said of our Lord, not all of the libraries of the world could contain those accounts for the splendour and wonder of the tale. These books then, my account of these fantastic and horrid events, I call the Fall of the Vanished Eldevens and they speak as well as I am able of the final encounter and friendship between Man and the Eldevens against many ancient evils and monstrosities I still do not understand. For it has been said, with good reason and as I witnessed with my own eyes, that the Eldevens were entirely destroyed by their enemies, wiped from the face of their world, with those small numbers of survivors who did escape driven into the wilds to be hunted to extinction by their remorseless enemies. But I have also heard, from both the seers of that strange people and from the prescient prophets of our own devout holy men that one day, far into an uncounted future, Man and the Sidhs of the Eldevens would once again meet as friends on the shores of yet other distant and undiscovered worlds, and that God would have mightily blessed and enlarged us both. Of that time, if it ever comes, if it is ever true, I shall see nothing, for I shall be long dead and buried. But I hope and pray that my account survives, and that perhaps this prophecy is real. For everyone would be the better for it…”

Wyrdlaef (the Wanderer)

HE WHO GOES ALONE – FIRST VERSE

HE WHO GOES ALONE

He who goes alone, the solitary man
Through pits as black as hell
Cross even stranger lands,

Does navigate the darker realms
Knows them like his home
He who goes alone – by No Thing overwhelmed,

Though never without cost, to go unchaperoned
Unguided in the doubtful debt
In which such harm is grown,

The bitter hearts of men do swell
With endless, careless wrong, yet he who goes so long alone
Has still his citadel,

There is a wary wilderness, dreadful hard to pass,
A mountain steep, severe to climb
Each measured in an hourglass,

Wastelands wild with weary woe
Cover all the past, yet nothing
Can be lost at last to he who goes alone,

Watching in the listless night, moon and stars all torn
Mourning blood on sterile Earth
By which the damned are bourne,

A window to the waiting soul where torments long
Are sown, and he who ever goes alone,
Where does he now belong?

The ghosts of men make short repair
Facient in their aims, the Ghost of God
Remains aloof and hovers in the air,

Facinorous is the pointless tomb, and everything there shown
No one knows this more in Truth
Than he who goes alone…

 

FOR SOMEONE TO PAY – FIRST VERSE

FOR SOMEONE TO PAY

On Sunday morning, as I sometimes like to say, “I awoke to a bright dawn, but the dark night had followed me…” or, variously, I woke to the memory of black things.

I once knew a man, dark as the winter
He went out all green, then grew up ‘mong sinners
A submarine self of dark troubled waters
He wondered, he wandered, but found not the matter
That murdered by day, by night only hidden
By graves buried wrong, all the secrets unbidden
Corpse of the night all twisted and tattered
An uncanny sight, the silence is shattered
Not by a sound for death is still cold
Kin (ken) to so many or so they all told
A heart is a heart if it beats not or still
A man’s inner sin only lives when it kills
For dead men will flower like weeds in the ground
When sprinkled by showers of blood still unfound (unbound)
So in such winters terrible deeds
Flourish like summers of infinite seeds, and
The man who made harvest as green as the grass
Came back with a crop just as black as the last
So he wanders, and wonders, and still to this day
He searches inside him for someone to pay

DO NOT THIS WORLD ALONE – FIRST VERSE

DO NOT THIS WORLD ALONE

I awoke again this morning in a black mood. Then as dawn approached and I lay in bed thinking of my as yet unborn grandchildren this poem came to me and the dark passed.

 

For you are young and sweet
But I am old and doomed
I’m summoned to my sleep
Yet you have yet to bloom

I tremble as I walk
You’ve yet to take a step
I mutter as I talk
You babble joy instead

You’ve yet to know the dark
I search the night for light
To everything you hark
My memories I fight

Dawn she calls to you
Dusk she calls to me
To you it all seems true
I’ve been too long deceived

You laugh and coo and crawl
I’m stooped and bent and broke
I’m burdened with it all
You’re free of weight and yoke

You see just what is near
I’ve seen things from afar
My eyes drowned in my tears
Your sight is still unmarred

You hear the small birds sing
You wonder at their calls
I hear the echoed screams
I know what soon befalls

If I could by (buy) some wish
Shield you from what comes
Would that be damned foolish
Or work of High Wisdom?

I do not know my child
I never knew with me
The world was often wild
Most bloodily conceived

I will tell you this
For it is all I’ve known
Keep God deep in your heart
Do not this world alone

or, variantly:

(Do not this world bemoan)
(You’ll not this world atone)

THE SAME IS THE SAME – FIRST VERSE

THE SAME IS THE SAME
(A Simple Ode to Not Getting It)

I once knew an old man who said this to me
“The same is the same til it isn’t you see.”

What does that mean?” I asked of the man

“It means that the isn’t is part of the plan.”

So I queried again to see if I tracked
But he waved off my efforts, and asked what I lacked

“What I lack is your meaning, if you see what I mean!”

“Why I do,” said the old man, “and I highly esteem
That you haven’t yet got it, so let me help out
Though you’ll fare none the better I seriously doubt
If my statements seem lacking in substance and style
For my purpose is patent though soaked through with guile.”

”What mean you by saying, ‘your purpose is plain?’
When it’s riddled and wrapped in these vestments arcane?”

“Oh,” said the old man, “you’re confused by degrees,
‘See the same is the same til it isn’t you see!’”

“What’s with the riddles, the rhythm, and rhyme?
I haven’t the patience, the motive, or time,
Just tell me quite simply exact what you mean
There’s only one prophet, the profit foreseen,
So tell me quite clearly how true to do that
There must be an answer to fit in your hat
For all things are even unless they are odd
Just show me the method and on I will plod!”

”Exactly!” he told me, “You know it by now
A fox is quite crafty unless he’s a cow
The prophet who profits will see past the words
Everyone else will just think him absurd,
For the Wise Man his profit is built by the mind
Who sees into others to find what he finds
But the men who are stuck in the clay of the words
Cannot the future when once it’s occurred
That he can by convention control what’s to come
Or by formula master all things to succumb
So the same is the same til it isn’t you see
But to come to that meaning you must come quite free.”

So I left in a quand’ry, I left in some doubt
That he knew of his subject, or what he did tout
Yet since then I’ve measured the world and its men
Found them uneven, thrice even again
Not a king who could not be a pauper at heart
Not a peasant who might not some genius impart
Not a tyrant so strong I would bend once to them
Not a haughty pretender not given to whims
Not an expert or maven perfect in wares
Not a Wise Man among them whose Wisdom he shared
Without first giving counsel – as I counsel thee,
The same is the same til it isn’t you see…

GOOD LORD, I DID IT

I’ve been having to spend a lot of time on the internet this past weekend, yesterday, and today (time I would have rather spent doing other things, but this was necessary) rearranging the work on my literary blog so as to make it easier for agents, publishers, business partners, investors, etc. to locate my work in a single locale.

I did have my stuff scattered about on various “categories” on my blog(s) but that was apparently making it hard for agents and others to review my stuff. So on each blog I created a new category entitled: MY WRITINGS AND WORK

Now anyone can find anything I have created, written, or posted on my blogsites with a single click. This should be much, much more efficient and useful.

But it has been hard work to go back through all of my old posts, locate my work, and collate it into a single on-line collection.

So it has taken days (literally) of search, edit, and reorganize. But I’m halfway done with Wyrdwend, my literary blog, and as of now my new category/collection contains 88 pieces of my work. Including such things as my short stories, poetry, children’s stories, children’s books, songs, invention sketches, business articles, criticisms, scripts, graphic novels, essays, novel extracts, game designs, etc.

Whatever I have so far put up.

I figure when I finally finish with my archives by the end of the week the category/collection/link will contain about 160 or so pieces of original work.

Once that is done I’ll do the same for all of my other blogs, including Launch Port, Tome and Tomb, and the Missal.

By the way here is the collection link: MY WRITINGS AND WORK

THE GRASS IS DEAD

I disagreed with him on many things. I thought him an outright fool on more than one issue and occasion.

(Yes, yes, I know how literary “icons” and the modern intelligentsia and the types of men who believe politics to be the answer to all existence – human or otherwise – like to cluster around each other to breathlessly and mutually glorify their own supposed genius. But I am far more skeptical of “modern genius” in all its many fictional forms. As a matter of fact I rarely see any real evidence of the supposed “modern genius” of self-styled “modern geniuses,” and their numberless cohorts, ever, or at all.)

But narrowing his views down to the strictly literary disciplines I did often agree with him on these scores: there is a new illiteracy (not in the inability to read and write, but in the poverty of having ever read or written anything of any real value at all), and letter writing is dead and with it much of higher human writing.

Otherwise the Grass is dead too. I doubt it will ever green again.

Günter Grass, Nobel-winning German novelist, dies aged 87

Author of The Tin Drum and figure of enduring controversy
Günter Grass

Monday 13 April 2015 05.38 EDT
Last modified on Monday 13 April 2015 09.40 EDT

The writer Günter Grass, who broke the silences of the past for a generation of Germans, has died in hospital in Lübeck at the age of 87.

German president Joachim Gauck led the tributes, offering his condolences to the writer’s widow Ute Grass. “Günter Grass moved, enthralled, and made the people of our country think with his literature and his art,” he said in a statement. “His literary work won him recognition early across the world, as witnessed not least by his Nobel prize.”

“His novels, short stories, and his poetry reflect the great hopes and fallacies, the fears and desires of whole generations,” the statement continued.

Tributes began to appear within minutes of the announcement of Grass’ death on Twitter by his publisher, Steidl.

In the UK, Salman Rushdie was one of the first authors to respond, tweeting:

The Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk had warm personal memories: “Grass learned a lot from Rabelais and Celine and was influential in development of ‘magic realism’ and Marquez. He taught us to base the story on the inventiveness of the writer no matter how cruel, harsh and political the story is,” he said.

He added: “In April 2010 when there was a mushroom cloud over Europe he was in Istanbul and stayed more than he planned. We went to restaurants and drank and drank and talked and talked … A generous, curious and a very warm friend who also wanted to be a painter at first!”
A life in writing: Günter Grass
Read more

Grass found success in every artistic form he explored – from poetry to drama and from sculpture to graphic art – but it wasn’t until publication of his first novel, The Tin Drum, in 1959 that he found the international reputation which brought him the Nobel prize for literature 40 years later. A speechwriter for the German chancellor Willy Brandt, Grass was never afraid to use the platform his fame afforded, campaigning for peace and the environment and speaking out against German reunification, which he compared to Hitler’s “annexation” of Austria.

Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig – now Gdansk – in 1927, “almost late enough”, as he said, to avoid involvement with the Nazi regime. Conscripted into the army in 1944 at the age of 16, he served as a tank gunner in the Waffen SS, bringing accusations of betrayal, hypocrisy and opportunism when he wrote about it in his 2006 autobiography, Peeling the Onion.

The writer was surprised by the strength of the reaction, arguing that he thought at the time that the SS was merely “an elite unit”, that he had spoken openly about his wartime record in the 1960s, and that he had spent a lifetime “working through” the unquestioning beliefs of his youth in his writing. His war came to an end six months later having “never fired a shot”, when he was wounded in Cottbus and captured in a military hospital by the US army. That he avoided committing war crimes was “not by merit”, he insisted. “If I had been born three or four years earlier I would, surely, have seen myself caught up in those crimes.”

Instead he trained as a stonemason, studied art in Düsseldorf and Berlin, and joined Hans Werner Richter’s Group 47 alongside writers such as Ingeborg Bachmann and Heinrich Böll. After moving to Paris in 1956 he began working on a novel which told the story of Germany in the first half of the 20th century through the life of a boy who refuses to grow.

A sprawling mixture of fantasy, family saga, bildungsroman and political fable, The Tin Drum was attacked by critics, denied the Bremen literature prize by outraged senators, burned in Düsseldorf and became a global bestseller.
Günter Grass is my hero, as a writer and a moral compass
John Irving
Read more

Speaking to the Swedish Academy in 1999, Grass explained that the reaction taught him “that books can cause offence, stir up fury, even hatred, that what is undertaken out of love for one’s country can be taken as soiling one’s nest. From then on I have been controversial.”

A steady stream of provocative interventions in debates around social justice, peace and the environment followed, alongside poetry, drama, drawings and novels. In 1977 Grass tackled sexual politics, hunger and the rise of civilisation with a 500-page version of the Grimm brothers’ fairytale The Fisherman and His Wife. The Rat (1986) explored the apocalpyse, as a man dreams of a talking rat who tells him of the end of the human race, while 1995’s Too Far Afield explored reunification through east German eyes – prompting Germany’s foremost literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, to brand the novel a “complete and utter failure” and to appear on the cover of Der Spiegel ripping a copy in half.

His last novel, 2002’s Crabwalk, dived into the sinking of the German liner Wilhelm Gustloff in 1945, while three volumes of memoir – Peeling the Onion, The Box and Grimms’ Words – boldly ventured into troubled waters.

Germany’s political establishment responded immediately to the news of Grass’s death. The head of the German Green party, Katrin Göring-Eckardt, called Grass a “great author, a critical spirit. A contemporary who had the ambition to put himself against the Zeitgeist.”

“Günter Grass was a contentious intellectual – his literary work remains formidable,” tweeted the head of the opposition Free Democratic party, Christian Lindner.
Günter Grass in quotes: 12 of the best
Read more

The foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was “deeply dismayed” at the news of the author’s death, a tweet from his ministry said.

Steinmeier is a member of the Social Democratic party, which Grass had a fraught relationship with – after campaigning for the party in 1960s and 70s, he became a member in 1982, only to leave ten years later in protest at its asylum policies.

“Günter Grass was a contentious intellectual who interfered. We sometimes miss that today,” SPD chairwoman Andrea Nahles said.

While there were plenty of tributes recognising Grass as one of Germany’s most important post-war writers, social media users swiftly revived many of the controversies of his divisive career, bringing up his membership of the SS and his alleged anti-Semitism.
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Speaking to the Paris Review in 1991, Grass made no apology for his abiding focus on Germany’s difficult past. “If I had been a Swedish or a Swiss author I might have played around much more, told a few jokes and all that,” he said. “That hasn’t been possible; given my background, I have had no other choice.”

The controversy flared up again following by publication of his 2012 poem What Must be Said, in which he criticised Israeli policy. Published simultaneously in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, the Italian La Repubblica and Spanish El País, the poem brought an angry response from the Israeli ambassador to Germany, Shimon Stein, who saw in it “a disturbed relationship to his own past, the Jews, and Israel”.

Despite his advanced age, Grass still led an active public life, and made vigorous public appearances in recent weeks. In a typically opinionated interview for state broadcaster WDR, which he gave in February after a live reading from Grimms’ Words, Grass called his last book a “declaration of love to the German language”.

He also talked about how the internet and the loss of the art of letter-writing had led to a “new illiteracy”. “Of course that has consequences,” he said. “It leads to a poverty of language and allows everything to be forgotten that the Grimm brothers created with their glorious work.”

He also remained critical of western policy in the Middle East (“now we see the chaos we make in those countries with our western values”), and talked about how his age had done nothing to soften his political engagement.

“I have children and grandchildren, I ask myself every day: ‘what are we leaving behind for them?’ When I was 17, at the end of the war, everything was in ruins, but our generation, whether for good reason or not, had hope, we wanted to shape the future. That’s very difficult for young people today, because the future is virtually fixed for them.”

THE BRAIDS OF STRANGULATION AND THE DEAD ROADS – HIGHMOOT

THE BRAIDS OF STRANGULATION AND THE DEAD ROADS

I meant to post this yesterday, for Highmoot, but I was out of the office.

Had an odd dream night before last about a set of murders that woke me up at about 4:00 this morning. In the dream there was a living, malevolent force which, and I kid you not, had twisted the hair of three girls into a weird, almost supernatural looking set of complex braids which I could tell from looking at had been “encoded” in some way. I only saw the partially disentangled braids after the murders had occurred at the various scenes though, so they were altered from their initial appearance. Apparently all three had visited the same salon where the braids had been twisted. Somehow, as the girls slept (all young, in their mid-twenties, and all lookers with no apparent other connections between them) their “braids” had become animated and strangled them in their sleep. All of them however had apparently awakened during the strangulation process. Except for one girl, the braids had slithered down her throat and slowly suffocated her.

Well, upon waking and thinking on it awhile (it was a very weird case and left me with an uncanny and disturbing feeling – you know, like when you’ve witnessed some evil at work and it takes awhile to dissipate) I realized I could use the same idea in one of my Other World novels. So I sketched out the possible scene and here is what I got:

The Samarl of Samarkand (who we would call Prester John) invites emissaries from all of the surrounding people and races to try and get them to ally together (for the first time in thousands of years) against a common enemy and threat he has foreseen. He even openly invites human representatives from the Byzantine empire who have accidentally ended up in his world.

While staying in the capital city and in the palace of the Samarl the ladies of the dignitaries are “attended to” out of courtesy – entertained, feted, etc. including being provided with free clothing for the upcoming counsel (which they are also invited to attend) and having their hair decorated and perfumed. Seven women are invited to be so attended, but one demurs, just out of a sort of uneasy instinct and because her people do not want to be beholding to, and are suspicious of, the Sidh, the Samarl’s folk. On the third night after their arrival all six women are murdered and dead, five by strangulation and the sixth by having been suffocated, all by their own magically woven braids (called Balial – which before this time are considered highly decorative, enchanting, and a sign of great prosperity and Good Fortune). I’ll save the how for both a political and Ilturgical (sorcerous) mystery later in the book.

The woman who refused to be attended survives, of course, but one of the women, the one who had been suffocated by swallowing her own braids, her husband was first killed by his wife’s braid. The murder incident causes a huge uproar in the capital, and a near Civil War breaks out, with some of the represented peoples either fleeing the city out of fear or outright and immediately refusing alliance, suspecting the Samarl or his supporters. A riot breaks out in part of the capital that takes another three days to put down.

This of course has almost exactly the effect that the conspirators behind the episode had envisioned.

But it gets worse. As those ambassadors who have either fled the city or decided against alliance return home they are misled by still more sorcery (Ilturgy) to take “Dead Roads or Dead Ways” (called Iaklits) as their pathways. The Iaklits are actually old and ancient roadways, long abandoned which no one but criminals now use, and even then rarely (because they are considered both useless and haunted), but to the emissaries they seem to be the normal and proper roadways, because of the sorcery and illusions lain upon them.

Upon coming to the still elaborately decorated but partially ruined Chavoeth (a series of ancient bridges that had once crossed mighty rivers) the parties momentarily hesitate and there is a debate. Confused because they don’t recognize the old bridges, but misled by the enchantments and not wanting to turn back they decide to cross. But as they reach the centers of the bridges the illusions fade and the bridges collapse killing many under the rubble but also drowning quite a few in the stinking morasses and fens and pits which the Chavoeth now span. A few survive from each party to tell the tale of both the strangulation murders at Samarkand and of the Iaklits and the traps at the bridges.

None of which has a happy effect upon the efforts of the Samarl (Prester John) to form a Grand Alliance against the approaching enemy.

But all of this happens due to the naiveté of the Samarl and the Sidh, and the other Eldevens (the related Peoples), to understand both what they truly face (they have bred war out of themselves through a long period of unchallenged peace and have become incredibly soft and unsuspecting) and the conspiracy within their own midst. Then rather than recognizing these potential dangers they begin fall to Civil War among themselves completely ignoring the real enemy, both the external one, and the one worming it’s infectious way through their own culture and government.

The Strangulation Braids and the collapsing Bridges and the “Dead Roads” therefore are not just events, they are also underlying metaphors for these facts and weaknesses.

I’m gonna write up a couple of drafts and samples containing basic work-outs of these scenes, maybe starting tonight, but for now I have a nest of wasps to kill and then I’m spending the day with the family.

Have a great day folks.

A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY, AND … TWO FOR FIRST VERSE

Two for First Verse.  So, lucky you, you’ve got a twofer.

 

A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY

A little goes a long way if a little’s all you’ve got
A long way is a long way though and often costs a lot,

New is sometimes better if it’s really something new
Then again tis often just the useful bid adieu,

Yet the old is still the old because it’s worked awhile
That isn’t always e’re the case, but life is not a mile,

Is new improved – a treasure hoard that purchases the world
Or is it effete novelty that’s simply trimmed in pearl?

The newer goes a long way if your way is just so long
Then again the road is wild, and it goes on and on,

Fresher is the fresh man whose foot has yet to tread
Then again he knows not yet the dangers he must dread,

If I want newer thinking then the young are where I’ll start
But guides who know the jungle are the ones who know their art,

So give me lots of young men, and new, to carry loads
They often make the portage light, divert along the road

Yet if I must into the way where paths are dim and dark
Then let my scouts be old men, and let them know their parts…

________________________________________________________

MARX HE WENT TO MARKET

Well Marx he went to market
With theories great and grand
He sold them to the ignorant
In every foreign land,
At discount did they prosper
To fools they multiplied
In Truth they found no purchase
Yet with mobs they did abide,
Revolutions soon arose
With fires burning bright, and
Still the theories sold by Marx
Could not a dime incite,
Still what is that to theorists
Or professors in the clouds?
They packaged for their profit
Though no profit was allowed,
Well Marx he went to market
Just to find his market share, and
So he did ‘mong idiots
No Intelligensia to spare,
They took his empty theories
To spin out governments, and
That is what they’ve truly done
With dark and dim intent,
They convinced the public masses
They convinced the public schools
They tamed the dupes and gullible
Conscripted all the fools, yes
They sold Marx in their markets
In place of goods instead
Now markets teem with people
But no one has their bread…

KAZUO ISHIGURO

I mostly agree… and I’d read this.

Ten years after the publication of his last novel, Kazuo Ishiguro has come out with a new book, The Buried Giant. A former winner of the Man Booker Prize and considered one of the best British writers alive today, Ishiguro is a master of the understated. His works feature narrators that speak so simply and so plainly, they appear to have almost no affect at all. Still, their stories are dark and poignant, and it’s often not until the last few pages of an Ishiguro novel that we realize how deeply we’ve been moved.

In The Buried Giant, an elderly couple sets off on a journey through a mythical England populated by ogres, dragons, knights and giants. Axl and Beatrice are in search of their son, whom they can’t quite remember how they lost. This is because the inhabitants of The Buried Giant’s mythical world suffer a collective amnesia, a ‘mist’ that keeps them from holding onto certain memories, both personal and historical. As we travel with Axl and Beatrice, the novel asks us what memory (and forgetting) means to a person, to a couple, to a society. In many ways, the book is surprising (The New York Times calls it ‘a departure’), but it also showcases some of Ishiguro’s most essential qualities as a writer: subtle prose, a dreamlike atmosphere, and powerful questions about loss and memory.

I sat down with Ishiguro in Knopf’s office early on a Friday, just before it began to snow. We talked about his writing process, collective memory, Inglourious Basterds, and his new novel’s recent role in the conversation about genre.

Chang: Each of your novels is so unlike the one that came before it. The Buried Giant has surprised a lot of readers. Can we talk about what influenced you while you were working? What books were you reading, or drawing upon?

Ishiguro: Well, I did a great deal of research and read quite a lot before I wrote the book. But I don’t know that the books I read during the actual writing process necessarily have much to do with it.

I find that when you’re writing, it becomes quite a battle to keep your fictional world in tact. In fact, as I write, I almost deliberately avoid anything in the realm of what I’m working on. For instance, I hadn’t seen a single episode of Game of Thrones. That whole thing happened when I was quite deep into the writing, and I thought, ‘If I watch something like that, it might influence the way I visualize a scene or tamper with the world that I’ve set up.’

Chang: It sounds like the planning stage and the writing stage were two very separate parts of your process.

Ishiguro: Yes, it’s really when I’m planning the project that I actively look for ideas and read very widely. I spend a lot of time planning. I’m quite a deliberate writer in that way. A lot of writers I know just work with kind of a blank canvas. They feel it out and improvise on it and then they look to see what kind of material they’ve got.

I’ve never been able to do that. Even at the start of my career, when maybe I would have been a little more reckless. I’ve always needed to know quite a lot about the story before I start to write the actual prose. I’ve always needed a solid idea before getting started.

Chang: How do you know when you have a solid idea?

Ishiguro: It’s got to be something that I’m able to articulate to myself in about two to three sentences. And those sentences have to be compelling, much more than the sum of their parts. I should be able to feel the tension and emotion arising from that little summary I’ve created, and then I know I’ve got a project to work on. With The Buried Giant, for example, the starting point was something like: ‘There’s a whole society where people are suffering some sort of collective, and strangely selective, amnesia.’

Chang: And that was the summary you had in mind before you sat down to the page?

Ishiguro: Yes, but that’s not quite enough for an idea. That’s more of a concept. I guess if I had to write the next line of the summary, it would be, ‘There’s a couple who fears that without their shared memory, their love will vanish.’ And then the third line would be that the nation around them is in some kind of strange tense peace.

Alright, so I didn’t literally write those sentences down, but that’s how I start a project. I start with something quite abstract like that, and then I start to plan and do my research.

I tend to read quite a lot of non-fiction around the themes I want to explore.

Chang: Are you fairly careful about curating what you do read or think about while you plan a novel?

Ishiguro: Not necessarily. For this book in particular, I read a very good Canadian book called Long Shadows by Erna Paris, It was written in the early 2000s and documents her travels, looking at the various kinds of brewing or buried trouble. There was also Postwar by Tony Judt, and Peter Novich’s The Holocaust in American Life.

Now, those nonfiction books went into it the research part, but I find that almost anything around that point can be influential. Around that stage is when I’m most sensitive, or most open to influence. Almost every movie I see, every book I’m reading, I’m thinking: ‘Is there something here that might nudge me toward an image, or an idea, or even a technique?’

I remember I happened to be watching Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds at a formative point. There’s a long scene where the American guys are in a German bar, pretending to be German soldiers, and they’re playing this game and speaking in bad German, and it goes on for this incredible amount of time. You know it’s going to end in some terrible violence, but it goes on and on.

That seems to have nothing to do with my book. No one would detect Tarantino as an influence while reading The Buried Giant, but I thought it was such a great way to deal with an explosion of violence. You actually don’t have to spend a lot of energy on the violence itself. It’s the lead up, the tension. So, yes, I’m quite open to reading or hearing or seeing anything at that point in the process.

Chang: What was behind the decision in setting The Buried Giant in a mythical, medieval England? Did you know this would surprise people the way it has?

Ishiguro: Often the setting comes quite late in the process. I usually have the whole story, the whole idea, and then I hunt for the location, for a place where I can set it down.

It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed.

So I’m a little bit naïve, maybe, about what the finished thing will look like in terms of genre. It’s sort of like I’ve wandered into people’s countries without knowing where I’ve landed. And after I’ve been there for quite some time, someone says ‘you realize you’re in Poland now.’ And I say, ‘Oh really? I just followed this trail of stuff I needed.’

I didn’t wonder how people would define or categorize The Buried Giant until it was done. And then as publication approached, I started to see it from the outside. I’d been so absorbed with trying to get the thing to work from the inside.

I did think about setting it in a very real contemporary, tense situation. I considered Bosnia in the 1990s as a setting, and well, I thought about Rwanda but didn’t consider it for too long, because I feel unqualified to write about Africa. I know so little about African politics, African culture. The disintegration of Yugoslavia I felt closer to, because I live in Europe. These massacres were occurring right on our doorstep. I wanted to look at a situation in which a generation (or two) has been living uneasily in peace, where different ethnic groups have been coexisting peaceably and then something happens that reawakens a tribal or societal memory.

Chang: What made you ultimately decide on this more distant reality?

Ishiguro: Well, if I had done that you’d be asking me why I was suddenly interested in Yugoslavia, and if I have relatives that used to go there, and what do I think about what Milosevic did or said on this or that day.  It becomes a completely different kind of book. Some people write those kinds of books brilliantly. It’s almost like reportage. They’re very powerful and very urgent books.

Maybe in the future I’ll feel compelled to write that kind of specific and current book, but right now I feel that my strength as a fiction writer is my ability to take a step back. I prefer to create a more metaphorical story that people can apply to a variety of situations, personal and political.

Setting the book in an other, magical world allows me to do that. Every society, every person even, has some buried memories of violence or destruction. The Buried Giant asks whether awakening these buried things might lead to another terrible cycle of violence. And whether it’s better to do this at the risk of cataclysm, or whether it’s better to keep these memories buried and forgotten.

The same question applies at the personal level, say, in a marriage. When is it better to just leave certain things unsaid for the sake of getting on together? Is there something phony about a relationship if you don’t face everything that’s happened? Maybe it makes your love less real.

Chang: Do you feel that the conversation about genre boundaries, which has been a major focus of the book’s reviews and press, has taken away from these questions the book is asking?

It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy?

Ishiguro: I didn’t actually anticipate that there would be so much attention paid to the genre of the book. I read Neil Gaiman’s review in the NYTBR which opens with the words, “Fantasy is a tool of the storyteller.” It’s a very interesting piece that, in a way, is much bigger than my book. It’s a much broader conversation, isn’t it? What do we call fantasy? What do we call sci-fi? I guess the subtext is that mainstream fiction and literary fiction look down on fantasy tropes but, as Gaiman argues, those tropes can be very powerful, and they’re part of an ancient tradition. There were a couple of other pieces that appeared like that. And of course, there was a bit of a spat with Ursula K LeGuin. Although, she’s since retracted what she said on her blog, which was gracious of her. I think it’s a much larger dialogue she’s been involved with in the past with authors like Margaret Atwood, for example.

I think the positive side of all of this is that it is quite an exciting time at the moment in fiction. I do sense the boundaries are breaking down, for readers and for writers. Younger readers move very freely between genres and between what used to be fairly strict categories of ‘popular’ and ‘literary’ fiction. My daughter and her generation, for example. They were quite literally the same age as Harry and Hermione when the first Harry Potter book was published. In a way, they kind of followed that whole storyline in real time, year by year.

For that generation, one of the coolest, most exciting things to happen in their young lives was reading books. Of course, now they read widely just like any person interested in literature, but their foundation, their love of books is based on Harry Potter, Philip Pullman—that whole explosion of very intelligent children’s literature that they grew up with. It’s very exciting, I think—this shift in what constitutes ‘serious’ fiction.

Chang: Even though The Buried Giant has arguably nothing to do with Japan, I love the way there’s still something Japanese that comes across in its style and tone. Are you very conscious of language and tone when you are writing or does that come more naturally?

Ishiguro: At the beginning of my career it was quite deliberate. A Pale View of Hills was set in Japan. My characters were Japanese, so of course they had to speak in a Japanese kind of English. And in An Artist of the Floating World, the characters were not only Japanese but they were meant to be speaking in Japanese even though it was written in English, so I spent a great deal of energy there finding an English that suggested there was Japanese being spoken or translated through. Maybe some of that effort has stayed with me. I use a formal, careful kind of English, but to some extent that may just be my natural or preferred way of using the language.

For example, the butler in Remains of the Day is English, but he often sounds quite Japanese. And I thought that was fine, because he is a bit Japanese.

Chang: Right, that’s one of the brilliant parts of his character.

Ishiguro: In The Buried Giant, I wasn’t thinking consciously about Japan or Japanese, but the priorities of the language, I suppose, are still the same. I quite like language that suppresses meaning rather than language that goes groping after something that’s slightly beyond the words. I’m interested in speech that kind of conceals and covers up. I’m not necessarily saying that’s Japanese. But I suppose it goes with a certain kind Japanese aesthetic; a minimalism and simplicity of design that occurs over and over again in Japanese things, you know. I do like a flat, plain surface where the meaning is subtly pushed between the lines rather than overtly expressed. But I don’t know if that’s Japanese, or if that’s just me.

100

I’ve read the vast majority of these books. A few, about seven, I have not.

Some I regret having read at all, they were a complete waste of my time, like Catcher in the Rye, and I’d never read them again.

Some I have read more than once, such as Crime and Punishment or One Hundred Years of Solitude, some I read annually because they are that good, such as the Odyssey, and some I read continually and in different languages, such as the Bible.

This would not be my list, certainly not my order, but it is a fairly good list.

100 books everyone should read before they die (ranked!)

woman reading on bed with a dogjamelah/Flickr

Happy National Reading Month!

To celebrate, start working your way through this list of 100 Books To Read in a Lifetime, as voted on and ranked by users of Goodreads, the largest book recommendation site on the web.

Amazon, which owns Goodreads, had its editors agonize over their own list, but the two turned out very different.

Here’s the full, ranked list:

  1. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
  2. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
  3. “The Diary of Anne Frank” by Anne Frank
  4. “1984” by George Orwell
  5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” by J.K. Rowling
  6. “The Lord of the Rings” (1-3) by J.R.R. Tolkien
  7. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  8. “Charlotte’s Web” by E.B. White
  9. “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien
  10. “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott
  11. “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury
  12. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
  13. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
  14. “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell
  15. “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger
  16. “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
  17. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain
  18. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins
  19. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett
  20. “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wadrobe” by C.S. Lewis
  21. The Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck
  22. “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
  23. “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
  24. “Night” by Elie Wiesel
  25. “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
  26. “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle
  27. “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck
  28. “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens
  29. “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare
  30. “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
  31. “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  32. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
  33. “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
  34. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
  35. “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by J.K. Rowling
  36. “The Giver” by Lois Lowry
  37. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
  38. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” by Shel Silverstein
  39. “Wuthering Heights” Emily Bronte
  40. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
  41. “Anne of Green Gables” by L.M. Montgomery
  42. “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” by Mark Twain
  43. “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare
  44. “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larrson
  45. “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley
  46. “The Holy Bible: King James Version”
  47. “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
  48. “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas
  49. “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith
  50. “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
  51. “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll
  52. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
  53. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
  54. “The Stand” by Stephen King
  55. “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon
  56. “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” by J.K. Rowling
  57. “Enders Game” by Orson Scott Card
  58. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
  59. “Watership Down” by Richard Adams
  60. “Memoirs of a Geisha” by Arthur Golden
  61. “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier
  62. “A Game of Thrones” by George R.R. Martin
  63. “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens
  64. “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway
  65. “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (#3) by Arthur Conan Doyle
  66. “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
  67. “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” by J.K. Rowling
  68. “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
  69. “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  70. “Celebrating Silence: Excerpts from Five Years of Weekly Knowledge” by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
  71. “The Chronicles of Narnia” by C.S. Lewis
  72. “The Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett
  73. “Catching Fire” by Suzanne Collins
  74. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl
  75. “Dracula” by Bram Stoker
  76. “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman
  77. “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen
  78. “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe
  79. “The Secret Life of Bees” by Sue Monk Kidd
  80. “The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel” by Barbara Kingsolver
  81. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
  82. “The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger
  83. “The Odyssey” by Homer
  84. “The Good Earth (House of Earth #1)” by Pearl S. Buck
  85. “Mockingjay (Hunger Games #3)” by Suzanne Collins
  86. “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie
  87. “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough
  88. “A Prayer for Owen Meany” by John Irving
  89. “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls
  90. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot
  91. “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  92. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
  93. “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
  94. “Siddhartha” by Hermann Hesse
  95. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
  96. “Slaughterhouse-Five” by Kurt Vonnegut
  97. “Cutting For Stone” by Abraham Verghese
  98. “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster
  99. “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  100. “The Story of My Life” by Helen Keller

REAL READING AND REAL WRITING from MEMORABLE LITERARY LINES

Real Reading is far more than just mentally decoding terms and words, it is psychologically apprehending and comprehending the very most subtle and sublime ideas and ideals that it is possible for man to ever understand.
Real Writing is far more than just encoding and transcribing phrases, it is transmitting, mind to mind and soul to soul, the very marrow of manhood and the very embodiment of human experience through script, so that it may be read again whenever needed into the design of the future.

My personal take on the true nature of real reading and real writing

A MAN FIT FOR LIVING

A MAN FIT FOR LIVING

A man fit for living and bound to no thing
Of Grasslands and Dark Earth and Bright Skies he sings
The High Hawks in Heaven his oracles are
The Moon is his Mistress, his Companions the Stars
His axe on his shoulder, hammer in hand
He cuts down the dead things and builds up the land
Plowed earth and clear fields, rivers that teem
Hills built by his hands to climb as he sings
A man fit for living, unbound and set free
Grown from the Good Earth, as tall as the trees,
The beasts of the wild fields all flock to his call
He waters and feeds them, none bound to his thrall
The sun fixed at High Noon, the air full and fresh
He wanders the forests, warm in his flesh
He eats when he hungers, he drinks when he thirsts
Nothing he covets, in nothing finds dearth
Would that all Men in just manner could bring
Forth such a Man Fit for Living, in himself everything

 

Today, when Sam (my Great Dane) and I (and Erika, one of my cats followed us) went for our morning walk in the woods the above lines came to me. I ran it through my head as a song, singing it to myself in order to memorize it until I could get back to the house. I’ll finished it later today, after munch

I may let it stand alone, put in in my new book of poetry, or use this in one of my novels, like The Caerkara. Right now I’m leaning towards putting it in the Caerkara.

HORSE MIGHTY FOR HARM

From the Worm Ouroboros, by E. R. Eddison, which I have recently been re-reading. I love that book and it is, no doubt, one of the greatest books of fantasy/myth ever written. Pure poetry in prose, and often, outright song:

She took the heavy volume with its faded green cover, and read: “He went out on
the night of the Lord’s day, when nine weeks were still to winter; he heard a great
crash, so that he thought both heaven and earth shook. Then he looked into the
west airt, and he thought he saw hereabouts a ring of fiery hue, and within the ring
a man on a gray horse. He passed quickly by him, and rode hard. He had a flaming
firebrand in his hand, and he rode so close to him that he could see him plainly. He
was black as pitch, and he sung this song with a mighty voice–

Here I ride swift steed,
His flank flecked with rime,
Rain from his mane drips,
Horse mighty for harm;
Flames flare at each end,
Gall glows in the midst,
So fares it with Flosi’s redes
As this flaming brand flies;
And so fares it with Flosi’s redes
As this flaming brand flies.

“Then he thought he hurled the firebrand east towards the fells before him, and
such a blaze of fire leapt up to meet it that he could not see the fells for the blaze. It
seemed as though that man rode east among the flames and vanished there…”

CREATIVE WORK RELEASE

I almost never face Writer’s Block. I almost always have the opposite problem, too many ideas to pursue at once.

But for those who do have Writer’s Block problems then maybe this will help.

How to Work Through Difficulty: Lewis Carroll’s Three Tips for Overcoming Creative Block

by

“When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on.”

In addition to having authored my all-time favorite book, Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll was a man of extraordinary and frequently prescient wisdom on matters of everyday life — his nine commandments of letter-writing offer timely insight into how we can make modern digital communication more civil, and his four rules for digesting information are a saving grace for our age of information overload. In The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll (public library; free download), this blend of timelessness and timelines so characteristic of Carroll’s thinking comes vibrantly ablaze, but nowhere more so than in an 1885 letter to one of his child-friends, a young lady named Edith Rix.

Carroll addresses the age-old question of how to overcome creative block. More than a century before psychologists identified the essential role of taking breaks in any intense creative endeavor, and long before our earliest formal theories about the stages of the creative process, Carroll offers spectacularly prescient counsel on how to work through creative difficulty and seemingly unsolvable problems — a testament to the fact that in the study of creativity, psychology often simply names and formalizes the intuitive insights artists have had for centuries, if not millennia.

Carroll offers young Edith three tips:

When you have made a thorough and reasonably long effort, to understand a thing, and still feel puzzled by it, stop, you will only hurt yourself by going on. Put it aside till the next morning; and if then you can’t make it out, and have no one to explain it to you, put it aside entirely, and go back to that part of the subject which you do understand. When I was reading Mathematics for University honors, I would sometimes, after working a week or two at some new book, and mastering ten or twenty pages, get into a hopeless muddle, and find it just as bad the next morning. My rule was to begin the book again. And perhaps in another fortnight I had come to the old difficulty with impetus enough to get over it. Or perhaps not. I have several books that I have begun over and over again.

His second tip is particularly noteworthy for the way it compares and contrasts Carroll’s two domains of genius, writing and mathematics — for, lest we forget, behind the pen name Lewis Carroll always remained the brilliant mathematician and logician Charles Dodgson. He writes:

My second hint shall be — Never leave an unsolved difficulty behind. I mean, don’t go any further in that book till the difficulty is conquered. In this point, Mathematics differs entirely from most other subjects. Suppose you are reading an Italian book, and come to a hopelessly obscure sentence — don’t waste too much time on it, skip it, and go on; you will do very well without it. But if you skip a mathematical difficulty, it is sure to crop up again: you will find some other proof depending on it, and you will only get deeper and deeper into the mud.

In a way, this dichotomy also illuminates the difference between reading and writing. Writing is almost mathematical, in the sense that it requires a clarity of logic in order for the writer to carry the plot forward. A reader may be able to read over a muddled sentence and still follow the plot — but only if that sentence was unmuddled for the writer in carrying the plot forward. In that sense, while Carroll’s advice to Edith considers her experience as a reader, his advice to a writer regarding creative block would be more closely aligned with the mathematician’s experience — if a writer were to skip over a difficulty in the construction of a story, which is essentially a logical difficulty, it too “is sure to crop up again.”

Illustration by Tove Jansson for ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ Click image for more.

Carroll’s third tip is at once remarkably simple and remarkably challenging to apply for anyone who has ever tussled with the mentally draining but spiritually sticky process of creative problem-solving:

My third hint is, only go on working so long as the brain is quite clear. The moment you feel the ideas getting confused leave off and rest, or your penalty will be that you will never learn Mathematics at all!

The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll is a wonderful read in its entirety, full of the beloved author’s thoughts on happiness, morality, religion, identity, and much more. Complement it with the best illustrations from 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, then fortify this particular bit with the psychology of the perfect writing routine and more ideas on overcoming creative block from Brian Eno, Carole King, and some of today’s most exciting creators.

NOT YET…

“I’m such a mess,” she said suddenly, burying her head in my chest. “I don’t even see how you put up with me.”

There wasn’t necessarily a good response so I asked her, “What do you mean?”

“I mean you deserve much better.”

She was probably right but that wasn’t gonna get us anywhere. Not being able to do much else I took her by the shoulders and pushed her away to look at her.

Her eyes were welling up with tears and it suddenly struck me that she might actually mean it this time. There was no way to be sure, but she at least looked and sounded genuine. I smiled at her.

“Woman, I think we both know that deep down inside, where you actually are, there’s no real problem in you. Trouble is that you’re not really any kind of solution yet either. So the question is, what are you gonna do about it?”

She lowered her eyes and as she did a single tear fell in the space between us. Then she looked up again and I could tell she wanted to say something, but before she could speak I placed my finger on her lips.

“Nothing you can say will matter,” I said. “Everything you do will.”

She nodded and then I walked out the door.

“We’ll see,” I thought to myself. “We’ll see.”

______________________________________________

The above is an extract from my literary novel, The Cache of Saint Andrew.

THE DAUFIN AND THE EGG?

In my Other World novels the Sidhs use a code word (or the Samarl and his allies do in any case) to describe a being they believe to have existed for a very long period of time using a most unusual method of life extension. (Or possibly it periodically dies and is reborn again.) The Samarl and his allies believe this being to be evil and an enemy.

The word used to describe this being among themselves (so no one else will understand who they are really talking about) is Daufin. The Daufin is typically also identified or represented by a code symbol, as well as a drawing of a mythical beast (which actually exists and is controlled by the code-named Daufin, though few believe it actually exists anymore), and by a code phrase.

The term Daufin is not to be confused with the French term Dauphin though I readily admit that I took the term directly from the French term. And yes, for those who know me well you must be thinking, “French?” As you know I have little interest in modern things French, but in Ancient things and Medieval things French (the Franks for instance, and Charlemagne, and the ancient Romances, and the Gauls) I have great interest.

And I have great interest in the Dauphin, both the one denoting the Medieval prince and the more ancient term I suspect it is derived from, and what that implied. The Dauphin has always fascinated me though I rarely mention it.

In any case before I insinuate the conspiracy surrounding the Samarl and the Daufin too deeply in my novel I have been trying variants on the term, as I actually very much adore the term Dauphin and think it perfect though being French, even if it is early French, it is not linguistically suited to the Sidhs and the other Eldeven peoples of the novels. With that in mind here are a number of variants upon the term Daufin which I might use. If you have a favorite variant or you wish to suggest one of your own that strikes you as particularly pleasing then please leave a comment and let me know. If you want to explain why I’ll be happy to know that as well.

Variants on the term Daufin/Dauphin:

Daughfin

Dolfign/Dalfign

Dalphin

Dahlfin

Dalphang

Dolfang

Daufang (this sounds a bit too Oreintal to me, but given the origins of the Daufin it might serve well)

 

Below is the code phrase (in verse) used to describe the Daufin, and it seems a sort of song, and it is, but it is also a set of codes by which the speaker identifies what he knows about the Daufin. As more is learned more verses are added. It is obviously translated into English from the original Eldeven:

“Arose the Daufin from the seas, as deep and dark as Tântalos
Whose ruin ran the riven world three times round the sunken hosts,
What is this thing, whence did it rise, who sired it or set it loose?
How many times to be reborn, how many mortals yet seduce?
A secret thing crawls in the Egg, the Sun has never seen its face  
When will it hatch next in the world, all other things to then erase?”   

 

The seeming symbol for the Daufin is a mythical beast,  but the symbol for the real Daufin is of a multi-headed sea-serpent hatching from a giant egg along the flooded beach of a sinking island.

 

NEVER

This is a political and social poem about modern man


NEVER

I often wonder in my head
Just how naïve man can be
Especially of the modern kind
Whose ignorance is full and deep

History, replete with clues
As evidence of what will come
Makes no impression on his soul
To theory only he succumbs

A bed he’s built with his own hands
Covered it with wondrous lies
Sheeted it with foolishness
Then pissed it full of dreams at night

Of how he wished the world to be
Though never has it been as such
No matter to him, all will see
Never never mattered much

Reason tells him little now
His every fancy sophistry
Of how his hopes are truly deemed
Though spawned by phantom artistry

A little more, a little less
A tragic tale of absent jests
Nothing gained, and no one left
To even notice his behest (bequest?)

I often wonder in my heart
Just how simple man can be
Modern to his very bones
Object, abject, yet all agree

My how he wished his self-deceit
Could ever be what never was
Just one more time, then all will see
Never never matters much

THE EARTH AND MAN

THE EARTH AND MAN

The Earth is plowed
The Earth is sown
The Earth she swells
The Earth is grown,

The Earth below
The humble Earth
The Earth she knows
There is no dearth,

But for now…

The Earth is dark
With blood she’s stained
The Earth she moans
In endless pain,

We think we must
We think we shall
In constant lust
Our sins allow,

Yet…

The Earth she wants
A Man grown True
To care for her
As men should do,

The Earth desires
To grow Great
The Man should help
Her Procreate,

All that’s Good, and
All that’s Best
That is his Duty, and
His Test,

So…

The Earth is plowed
The Earth is sown
Her great renown
The better known,

When Man is Just
When Man is Strong
And escorts her
From every wrong,

Thus…

When all men steward
Their own Earth
With time and patience
Giving birth

Within themselves
To greater things
The humble Earth
Will endless bring

Forth High and Holy
Life…

THE VIKING CATS: CONN’S SON

The Poeric Tale:

Conn’s Son

In the lands to the North, long ago in the world, there came a little newborn boy. He cried when he was first born, as all children must, but not many times thereafter. For he was brave and firm and he would see many wonders in the world, but not so many that ever frightened him enough to cause him to doubt himself.

His mother was young, and confident, and pretty, and she bore him patiently and without complaint, with the aid of her helpful maid until the little boy drew his first breath and saw his first morn in the Earth. Then his mother, still tired, but happy, beautiful, and steady, as only new mothers can be, took the child and wrapped him in warm blankets, and washed his head with chill water to clean him and prepare him to sleep.

But his father, as stout as a young oak, as mighty as a bull who plows many fields a day, burst into the room and taking the boy from his wife held him aloft with arms like iron bands, into the light of the new dawn. And as his father looked at the boy the boy looked back at him, resolutely and unflinching with bright, observant eyes, wondering who this newcomer might be and into what world he had been delivered and into whose company.

So the father said, “Hello my son, I am Conn, your father and sire, and you now are my boy, and we shall wander the wide world and see what God has made that he still keeps secret from other men.” And his voice was like a clear river that meets with many other waters to crash towards the sea.

The baby then murmured aloud and caught his father’s thumb as he grasped him and looked over his father’s shoulder, and out the frosted window into the frigid, open world beyond. Even though, as everyone knows, most babes are nearly blind and speak only in cries and wails, and few ever look far beyond themselves.

“Ho!” shouted Conn, “he is strong indeed, and fearless, and well-made. He itches to explore the world, and I see bravery in his bright eyes and I feel a deep fate in his sure, steady heart. Now this is a good boy!”

Then Conn bent down and placed the boy back into his wife’s arms and she took the babe and wrapped him close to herself, to keep him safe and warm until he could grow and fend for himself. And Conn kissed his wife, and stroked her hair, and told her how proud he was of her and their child, and how he would protect him, and travel with him teach him all he knew of everything and anything. Told her how the boy would outgrow them both, and become a mighty man and true. And the mother believed him and smiled, and before the babe fell asleep, it seemed the boy smiled too.

Satisfied Conn turned to go, but his wife stopped him.

“Husband, what shall we call him? If he is to be great then he will need a name befitting his fate.”

“Why, Aersa my wife, do you not see? He has named himself.”

“How so?” Aersa asked.

“Hale,” said Conn. “The boy is to be Hale, his whole life long,” and with that he turned and left them both to sleep, and to dream their own dreams.

 

HAVE A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS EVE MY FRIENDS!

EĻDEVÅLAËRAŅE – ĦLO’SĶIEŊL

Tome and Tomb

III. Being a Small Section of the Lay of the Myth of the Eldevens – Below is to be found a small section of one of the most ancient versions of the Lay of the Eldeven.

EĻDEVÅLAËRAŅE
THE LAY OF THE ELDEVEN

ĦLO’SĶIEŊL
Before All

Being the Account of the Arrival and of the Old World

Before all there was another Iÿarlðma (another world, another Ghanae). In those days many ancient and wondrous things visited Iÿarlðma from elsewhere, wandering this world and inhabiting it for brief seasons, yet never long lingering. The world in those days was broad, and deep, and untamed, filled with many archaic and dangerous creatures full of strange life. Many things did creep and crawl and did seek out the untrodden secrets of hidden recess which are now long buried beneath the deep mounds of great age. But none with mind and soul, as we think…

View original post 477 more words

WILD UPON THE FIELD!

When I was young I let all things settle as they would
If anybody wanted to I said then that they should
Then as I aged I noticed that a lot of things were wrong
I could not stomach anymore just to get along

Evil men, and wasted lives, practices corrupt
They were no longer over there, they overflowed my cup
I did not want, I did not care, I did not wish to take
All the wrong I saw around, nor all the ills it makes

So now I Rant, and sometimes Rave, and often I Revolt
I care no longer it offends, often that’s my hope
For people nod, and people smile, and meekly they agree
If everything is mildly spoke – all passion absentee

But if with fire, fume and smoke, and fury you explode
In righteous anger ‘gainst what’s wrong it will then expose
Their passive manner, pliant wills, and subservience
That Free Men should all best eschew in their establishment

So if by heat, so if by blood, so if by reason sharp
I offend, or I contend, I’ll surely hit my mark
Mild is well, and meek is good, when little is at stake
When all that’s right is up for grabs that is when I break

And run wild upon the field!

MY POETRY

Tonight before bed I decided I would make an accurate and up to date accounting of my recent work output. Regarding my poetry.

As of tonight I have recently (within the past year and a half) written 279 individual poems.

That does not account for all of my older poems, such as those comprising my 6 completed books of poetry.

Nor does it account for all of the verse appearing in my novels, children’s books, and other writings. Nor does it account for any of my song lyrics or the 33 poems I have started but have not yet finished.

Nor does it account for any of my epic poetry or any of my longer works of verse. All of which I’ll have to account for later, when I have the time.

Of the 279 more recent poems, and the currently unfinished poems, I suspect I could create two new books of poetry, or maybe three, depending on the length of some of these individual poems.

Which would bring the total number of books of poetry I have written to 9, not counting epics, mythic poetry, and books of romantic and love poetry.

At the moment I am satisfied with this count.

WHERE WERE YOU? – a poem on America

WHERE WERE YOU?

Where were you when the warnings wailed
A’ sleeping senseless in your bed?
Did you see the tyrants born
Or were you by then almost dead?

Did you rise when evil did
To aid the helpless Just and True?
Did you ward the Innocent
Or merely on your duty muse?

When your leaders (servants) took the crown
Did you then revolt like men?
Or did you cower satisfied
That others for you make amends?

What ancient wrongs did drive you on
To finally stand and take your feet?
Or did you bow and genuflect
In your subservience complete?

Why did you fight, why did you roar
Why did you fearless go to war?
Or on your bellies – witless worms
Choose to squirm, by all abhorred?

How did you come to be a slave
Mastered thus, so weak and soft?
Did your chains grow overnight
Or link by link, in forging oft?

Who are you, what will you be
What Champion, or mildly take?
There comes a day when all men must
Within their time decisions make,

Arise My Friends, be Brave Possessed
Comes every Free Man to his test
For if he will he can attest
That in his glory he is dressed,

But if you Free Men will not rise
Of fear and shame you are contrived
If you will bend to be deprived
Then other men shall own (spend) your lives.

JOHN MILTON’S OLD DIGS

Being a great fan of Milton’s poetry, I really liked this:

http://scribol.com/anthropology-and-history/paradise-lost-the-crumbling-english-manor-house-where-john-milton-once-lived/1

CLOSE TO HUMAN

The Art of Close Writing

By posted at 6:00 am on August 5, 2014 10

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coverJonathan Russell Clark sits at his desk, writing an essay about free indirect discourse. Surrounding him are books by authors who employ the technique with considerable skill: Jane Austen, Gustave Flaubert, James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Stephen Dixon, and Joshua Ferris. He recalls a time when he did not even know what free indirect discourse was, and a time, later, when he knew the term but viewed it more as a descriptor than a crucial component. He remembers how his relationship to the term evolved over the years: his initial distrust of it, as many of his favorite writers cavalierly disregarded the tactic; his frustration with its limitations: how would he communicate the thoughts of other characters if he couldn’t leave the brain of the protagonist?; his eventual understanding of its importance while reading James Wood’s illuminating (though much debated) book How Fiction Works, in which he refers to it as “close writing”; and then, finally, his acceptance and full embrace of the method. Though he still admired novelists who could successfully avoid using free indirect discourse, he knew he would never break from it himself. It was just too liberating, the way close writing allowed his sentences to spill out of him, effortlessly, like thoughts, rapid and rabid and rampant, just spit out onto the page––it was so easy, or, well, easier, because it’s not as if he’s without problems, creatively speaking, oh he has problems, like how is he supposed to know which thoughts are important and which simply aren’t? and why is he unable to write economically, why are his pieces always longer than they need to be?––but yeah anyway, he now loved close writing because it made writing fun.

To be clear: close writing is not vital to all fiction. In fact, it doesn’t even speak to most fiction. For instance, first-person narrations cannot use free indirect discourse. When a character is speaking directly to a reader, the aim of close writing is already happening; no technique required. Also, novels and stories that feature an omniscient narrator are similarly excluded––all-knowing narrators simply tell us information. The skill required to pull off such a voice is its own subject. No, close writing only relates to third-person limited narrations, and, even more specifically, ones with an active interest in the inner lives of the characters. Not all fiction cares about that.

Here’s how James Wood explains close writing:

So-called omniscience is almost impossible. As soon as someone tells a story about a character, narrative seems to want to bend itself around that character, to take on his or her way of thinking and speaking. A novelist’s omniscience soon enough becomes a kind of secret sharing.

And later:

Note the gain in flexibility. The narrative seems to float away from the novelist and take on the properties of the character, who now seems to “own” the words.

Without being able to articulate it, free indirect discourse appealed to Clark greatly. Novels that used the style effectively gave him a giddy sensation, the prose seeming to not have been written but transcribed from a person’s mind but filtered through the ostensibly distancing third-person point-of-view, and though he didn’t know it, he came to depend on such techniques to let him “settle” into a character. Even more striking, when he read a piece of fiction (especially in a workshop environment) that failed to use close writing and didn’t effectively employ another style, something irked him as his eyes moved over the words. He was made uncomfortable by these stories, but he didn’t know why. What the hell was it?

When he finally learned the term––in a college course, he thinks––he started to understand what it was that had been bothering him. Once he read How Fiction Works, he knew with satisfying finality. Free indirect discourse. Close writing. Thankfully the grey cloud hovering over his frustration had a name. Nameless things give aimless dreams.

coverHow important is free indirect discourse? In the history of the novel, it’s extremely important. Clark at first didn’t even realize that the technique had to be developed at all, but in fact it was an astonishing feat. According to Michael Schmidt’s monumental and astounding work of scholarship and criticism, The Novel: A Biography (a book so big and important it merits its own essay, which is forthcoming), early iterations of the novel concerned themselves less with verisimilitude than outright deceit. When Daniel Defoe composed Robinson Crusoe (or, to use its full title––no joke––The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, All Alone in an Uninhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having Been Cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein All the Men Perished but Himself. with an Account of How He Was at Last as Strangely Deliver’d by Pirates), “he believed he had to honor readers’ expectations of a true and edifying story. An untrue story had to seem true.” The nuanced psychology of the characters was irrelevant to the task of moral tutelage. But the method of mimicking eventually morphed into the representation of human thought.

covercoverGenerally, the development of close writing into its modern form is attributed to Gustave Flaubert in novels like A Sentimental Education, but the early traces of “inner monologue” are as subtle and elusive as the technique itself. Gabriel García Márquez “detects the original use of ‘interior monologue’” as far back as Lazarillo de Tormes, a picaresque work from 1554. James Wood points out an example in Pope’s mock-epic The Rape of the Lock from 1712. Jane Austen, who died four years before Flaubert was born, occasionally abandoned her lofty point-of-view in order to take the reader into the character’s mind, if only briefly, as in this passage from Pride and Prejudice:

Elizabeth felt herself completely taken in. She had fully proposed being engaged by Wickham for those very dances:––and to have Mr. Collins instead!––her liveliness had been never worse timed. There was no help for it however. Mr. Wickham’s happiness and her own was per force delayed a little longer, and Mr. Collins’s proposal accepted with as good a  grace as she could. She was not the better pleased with his gallantry, from the idea it suggested of something more.––It now struck her, that she was selected from among her sisters as worthy of being the mistress of Hunsford Parsonage, and of assisting to form a quadrille table at Rosings, in the absence of more eligible visitors.

Austen’s tactics are very subtle––the exclamation point punctuating the shock over Mr. Collins, the italicized she, and the sound of contemplative flow in “There was no help for it however”––but those little moments of language all belong to Elizabeth, not Austen. It is Elizabeth who can’t believe she has Mr. Collins instead; it is Elizabeth who can’t believe that she was selected from among her sisters, and it is Elizabeth who doesn’t think there was any help for it however. A reader may not be able to articulate with precision the, as Wood describes it, “marvelous alchemical transfer” that just took place, but they’ll feel it. They’ll understand Elizabeth a little bit more.

Flaubert took it a bit further. He organized his entire style around close writing. In A Sentimental Education, the prose moves into the protagonist Frédéric’s mind without any explicit hint at the shift. Here is Frédéric’s first seeing Mme Arnoux, the older woman with whom he falls in love with:

Never before had he seen more lustrous dark skin, a more seductive figure, or more delicately shaped fingers than those through which the sunlight gleamed. He stared with amazement at her work-basket, as if it were something extraordinary. What was her name, her place of residence, her life, her past?

Those last questions are Frédéric’s, as if transcribed verbatim from his thoughts. But where did that shift happen? There was no, “He thought…” Instead, the language slips first into the character’s vernacular––the words “lustrous,” “seductive,” and “delicately” are all Frédéric’s––and then into his mind. It’s quite a nifty trick. “Thanks to free indirect style,” James Wood writes, “we see things through the character’s eyes and language but also through the author’s eyes and language. We inhabit omniscience and partiality at once.”

If this all seems very basic to you, consider that there was a time when close writing simply didn’t exist. Additionally, though readers and writers often implicitly understand these ideas, sometimes the act of naming something and recognizing its traits leads to understanding. Like David Foster Wallace’s fish parable, sometimes you have to say: This is water.

coverMoreover, once the modernists enter the picture, close writing is taken to new depths: the inner thoughts of characters become just as important––or more important––than the plot. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce went so far as to construct novels that took place in a single day, Mrs. Dalloway and Ulysses, meaning the reader spends most of the narrative inside a mind as it thinks. Joyce loved to catalogue very ordinary thoughts, and through Leopold Bloom he mastered close writing like nobody before him. Here is Bloom just after he is first introduced, as he prepares breakfast for Molly:

Another slice of bread and butter: three, four: right. She didn’t like her plate full. Right. He turned from the tray, lifted the kettle off the hob and set it sideways on the fire. It sat there, dull and squat, its spout stuck out. Cup of tea soon. Good. Mouth dry.

Listen to the fragmentary nature of Bloom’s thoughts as they mingle with action. Taking Flaubert’s technique even further, Joyce gives us full access to Bloom’s mind with almost no indication he’s doing so. His thoughts aren’t profound––they’re quotidian, mundane, banal. Clark’s favorite moment comes when Bloom is unable to recall someone’s name:

Stream of life. What was the name of that priestylooking chap was always squinting in when he passed? Weak eyes, woman. Stopped in Citron’s saint Kevin’s parade. Pen something. Pendennis?

Who hasn’t had a similar moment, a name stuck on the tip of the tongue? Then, a full 25 pages later (in the 1922 text, that is), as Bloom assists a blind man across the street, and whose face strikes him “like a fellow going in to be a priest,” it suddenly hits him: “Penrose! That was the chap’s name.” The image of a priest brings to mind the “priestylooking chap” whose name he couldn’t recall earlier and he’s able to conjure the name, except Joyce doesn’t clue the reader into the association. The line is simply plopped down in the middle of another scene.

Virginia Woolf wastes no time delving into her titular character’s inner life. After her famous opening––”Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself”––the prose immediately becomes one with Mrs. Dalloway’s ruminations:

For Lucy had her work cut out for her. The doors would be taken off their hinges; Rumpelmayer’s men were coming. And then, thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning––fresh as if issued to children on a beach.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, “Musing among the vegetables?”––was that it?––”I prefer men to cauliflowers”––was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace––Peter Walsh.

Who’s Lucy? Why does she have her work cut out for her? Why is Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers? And who is Peter Walsh? Why does he suddenly appear in her mind? Remember: this is the first page of the novel. In 1925, when Mrs. Dalloway was published, people still expected some exposition, some introductory orientation, but Woolf provides none. She doesn’t have to. That’s the power of close writing.

>Since then, free indirect discourse has become an integral part of third-person novels. Grab any one at random and you’ll probably find that it employs close writing. And there are still writers who experiment with this voice in their fiction. Stephen Dixon’s I. plays around with the separation of author and subject. The protagonist’s is named I., which means Dixon gets to write sentences like: “I. met Fels more than twenty years ago.” Yes, it’s third person, but it’s also first.  Dixon, then, further erases the gap by having the character, I., also be the writer of the prose, so that he can stop in the middle of a paragraph (which, in Dixon’s fiction, are always long) and say, “Oh, he’s not explaining himself well,” or “What’s he going on about?” Then, those murmurs of uncertainty become full-blown self-doubt:

Oh, stop with the crypt of memories swinging open and all that. Fine, then what? Simply this: he finished something yesterday––okay, a short story––wanted to start something new today––story, novel, two-page short-short: what did he care? A fiction of any length––even a play if it was possible––because he gets agitated with himself and grumpy with his family if at the end of the day after the one he finished a fiction he still doesn’t have something to work on the next day. In other words––but he thinks he explained that okay.

He continues to edit himself as he goes, noting, at one point, “that last parenthetical sentence could be clearer, and he knows it’s going to take work.” After a lengthy explanation of I.’s morning, he writes, “He could have done that so much more simply: he finished writing something yesterday, wanted to start writing something today, saw the obituary and started to write.”

The transfer of voice from the author to the character, here, is thrown right back to the author. Dixon’s I. is also the writer, so close writing here traces not simply the character’s thoughts, but the very words he’s typing. Thinking and writing meld into one organism. Dixon’s metafictional approach could be thought of as elaborate autobiography, but whatever it is it shows how close writing can still be stretched and expanded for new purposes. Dixon’s work is often neglected, or deemed too difficult for casual enjoyment. Too bad; he’s wonderful.

coverThe last writer Clark wants to focus on is Joshua Ferris, a writer noted for his experiments with voice. His Then We Came to the End is written in first-person plural, an entire office represented with the narrative we. Recently long-listed for the Man Booker Prize for To Rise Again at a Decent Hour (in the first year Americans were considered), Ferris is one of contemporary fiction’s most assured practitioners. His abilities with close writing are prodigious, as unequivocally demonstrated by his New Yorker story “The Pilot.” It basically focuses on the neuroses of Lawrence, a wannabe television writer who gets an email invitation to a producer’s “yearly blowout.” “He’d R.S.V.P’d,” we’re told, “but not immediately. Two days after the message came in. Two days plus maybe an hour.” When he receives no reply from her, he starts to worry:

He would have liked a reply. After a few days went by, he’d have liked a reply a lot. Was his e-mail too effusive? Was it a mistake to use the word “sick” to describe her show? Or maybe she was just busy shooting the season finale. She was just busy shooting the season finale. He should have just written back quick-like, something like “Thanks for the invitation, Kate. See you then.” Then she might have quick-like hit Reply, with a confirmation, and he’d have known that she knew he was coming. Did she even know she’d invited him? Sometimes, with e-mail, some programs, you hit All Contacts or something and invite people you didn’t even mean to invite. Of course she’d meant to invite him. He just didn’t have any confirmation that she’d received his R.S.V.P. That was kind of unnerving. But, think about it, would he then have to confirm her confirmation? That wasn’t really feasible. It was just…Everything was fine. She was just wrapping. He was too effusive. “Sick little fuck-you”: that might have been––no, it was fine––just a little insulting? No, no, it was fine, who knows, not him.

That is a virtuoso stretch of comic writing, and a better representation of human thought as it occurs than almost anything Clark’s read in his life. The thoughts interrupt each other, the narrator oscillates between two poles of neurotic uncertainty, even repeating himself to emphasize a statement’s validity (yet inadvertently showing how questionable Lawrence finds that validity), and yet the reader never loses the train, the writing is crystal clear, the rhythm natural. Even though Lawrence isn’t technically narrating, he owns every single word on the page. The reader is in his mind.

Close writing really is an amazing thing. Consider that this essay right now has been narrated in the third person, and yet there is no question as to what Clark’s opinions are. There was never any confusion over “who” was asserting the statements made above. The “marvelous alchemical transfer” made it so the separation between Jonathan Russell Clark and some ostensible narrator disappeared––after a while, you probably stopped noticing, except for the occasional use of Clark’s name. Here, of course, Clark and the author are the same, but the same technique used in fiction functions the same way. The writer disappears and only the character is left––the voice, the thoughts, the little details that make us human.

A Talk on Monsters

THE MONSTERS AND THE MAN

To me the monster is that Man
Whose spirit we cannot
Unwrap from evil in the womb
That ferments as it rots

To me the monster is that Beast
Whose tearing maw will bleed
With uncanny ichors hot
To digest what it breeds

To me the monster angelic
Who fell to Daemon’s pit
Broods on murderous revenge
With septic, cold intent

To me the monster prodigal
Like a Titan strides
To grind upon the red shorelines
Where terror does abide

Yet in me Monster curls and sleeps
Hibernating long
Dreaming when he will awake
To sing his monstrous song

So knowing this, and monsters well
I keep him drugged and bled
So he will never wake in me
To do what I most dread…

__________________________

To me there are four types of monsters in this world: The Evil, Unrepentant Man, the Naturally Savage Beast, the Supernatural Daemon, and the Unrelenting Prodigy/Prodigal.

And then there is me…

Writing North East

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. If you don’t come to one of Dr Alison Younger’s talks, you are truly missing out. On December 1st, at Café Culture in Newcastle, once again, we were all enlightened as Alison took centre stage in talking about the things that go bump in the night. In other words, monsters.

For century’s these creatures of the night have taken over the pages of our books, and scared us silly on our TV screens and according to Dr Alison Younger, they’re not leaving us any time soon. Because gothic sells, monsters sell.

alison

But why do we enjoy them so much? The things that frighten us at night, it seems strange that we’ve formed an attachment to such creatures. But, when you look at the evidence, it’s overwhelming. In her talk last night, it was said that we need monsters to make us…

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ALL GREAT LITERATURE from MEMORABLE LITERARY LINES

All great literature can ultimately be reduced to three basic pronouns: I, you, and us.

LE GUIN’S GOOD ADVICE

By the way I’ve said for years that “Show, don’t tell” may just be the single most juvenile and straight-jacketing piece of writing advice I’ve ever heard in my life. Show, don’t tell is an appropriate device for certain genres and in certain situations, it is the kiss of death for great literature and poetry.

 

 

10 Writing Tips from Ursula Le Guin

At the National Book Awards a few nights ago, Ursula Le Guin was honored with the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a fancy sounding award that basically means she’s the bomb (she really is).

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

I’ve been reading Ursula Le Guin for a long time, since I first discovered The Earthsea Cycle, which re-invigorated my love for fantasy.

She’s also famous for her science-fiction, especially The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and was one of the first to show the world that women can not only write great science-fiction, they can often do it better than men.

Le Guin is a “genre” writer who constantly worked to push the boundaries of what we think of as genre. Besides sci-fi and fantasy, she wrote poetry, creative non-fiction, and literary fiction.

I honestly believe she will go down in history as one of the greatest writers, literary or otherwise, of the 20th century.

Ursula Le Guin’s Quotes on Writing

With that in mind, here are ten quotes from Ursula Le Guin on her process as a writer:

1. “Show, Don’t Tell” is for Beginners

From ursulakleguin.com:

Thanks to “show don’t tell,” I find writers in my workshops who think exposition is wicked. They’re afraid to describe the world they’ve invented.… This dread of writing a sentence that isn’t crammed with “gutwrenching action” leads fiction writers to rely far too much on dialogue, to restrict voice to limited third person and tense to the present.

2. So Is “Write What You Know”

From ursulakleguin.com:

As for “Write what you know,” I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 22002. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.

3. Do Your Job as a Writer, and Do it Really Well

From Paris Review:

But when people say, Did you always want to be a writer?, I have to say no! I always was a writer (tweet that, emphasis mine). I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.

4. Shoot for the Top, Always.

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

When asked what authors she measures her work against, Le Guin says:

Charles Dickens. Jane Austen. And then, when I finally learned to read her, Virginia Woolf. Shoot for the top, always. You know you’ll never make it, but what’s the fun if you don’t shoot for the top? (tweet that)

5. Write Like Who You Are

From Paris Review:

Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.

6. Learn from the Greats

From Paris Review:

It was Borges and Calvino who made me think, Hey, look at what they’re doing! Can I do that?

7. Writing is All About Learning to See

Ursula Le Guin writing quote

From Paris Review:

A very good book tells me news, tells me things I didn’t know, or didn’t know I knew, yet I recognize them— yes, I see, yes, this is how the world is. Fiction—and poetry and drama—cleanse the doors of perception. (tweet that)

I love this, by the way. It reminds me of Oscar Wilde’s quote, “No great artist ever sees things as they really are. If he did, he would cease to be an artist.”

8. Begin Your Story with a Voice

From Paris Review:

How should you begin your story?

With a voice. With a voice in the ear. That first page I wrote, which the novel progressed from, is simply Lavinia speaking to us—including me, apparently.

9. Focus on the Rhythm of the Story

From Paris Review:

I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey—you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.

10. Don’t Waste Time

From Paris Review:

And one of [the things you learn as you get older] is, you really need less… My model for this is late Beethoven. He moves so strangely and quite suddenly sometimes from place to place in his music, in the late quartets. He knows where he’s going and he just doesn’t want to waste all that time getting there…. One is aware of this as one gets older. You can’t waste time.

How about you? What do you love about Ursula Le Guin? What has she taught you about writing?

PRACTICE

Use tip #5 and write like who you really are.  Write like a woman or a man or an American or an alien or an Ursula Le Guin or a Joe Bunting. Write just as you are.

Write for fifteen minutes. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.

Happy writing!

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let’s Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

GRIMLY GRIMM

Indeed. The original Tales (and I’ve read several of them) are powerful and horrific, more like the uncensored stories of Baba Yaga. The revised tales are mostly impotent and simple-minded by comparison.

Grimm brothers’ fairytales have blood and horror restored in new translation

‘It is time for parents and publishers to stop dumbing down the tales for children,’ says editor of uncut edition
Grimm

Not for kids … an illustration from the new edition of Grimms’ fairytales. Illustration: © Andrea Dezsö

Alison Flood

Wednesday 12 November 2014 06.09 EST

    

Rapunzel is impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in Snow White is the princess’s biological mother, plotting to murder her own child, and a hungry mother in another story is so “unhinged and desperate” that she tells her daughters: “I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.” Never before published in English, the first edition of the Brothers Grimms’ tales reveals an unsanitised version of the stories that have been told at bedtime for more than 200 years.

The Grimms – Jacob and Wilhelm – published their first take on the tales for which they would become known around the world in December 1812, a second volume following in 1815. They would go on to publish six more editions, polishing the stories, making them more child-friendly, adding in Christian references and removing mentions of fairies before releasing the seventh edition – the one best known today – in 1857.

Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, says he often wondered why the first edition of the tales had never been translated into English, and decided, eventually, to do it himself. “Though the Grimms kept about 100 of the tales from the first edition, they changed them a good deal. So, the versions with which most English-speaking (and German-speaking) readers are familiar are quite different from the tales in the first edition,” he told the Guardian.

His version of the original 156 stories is just out from Princeton University Press, illustrated by Andrea Dezsö, and shows a very different side to the well-known tales, as well as including some gruesome new additions.

How the Children Played at Slaughtering, for example, stays true to its title, seeing a group of children playing at being a butcher and a pig. It ends direly: a boy cuts the throat of his little brother, only to be stabbed in the heart by his enraged mother. Unfortunately, the stabbing meant she left her other child alone in the bath, where he drowned. Unable to be cheered up by the neighbours, she hangs herself; when her husband gets home, “he became so despondent that he died soon thereafter”. The Children of Famine is just as disturbing: a mother threatens to kill her daughters because there is nothing else to eat. They offer her slices of bread, but can’t stave off her hunger: “You’ve got to die or else we’ll waste away,” she tells them. Their solution: “We’ll lie down and sleep, and we won’t get up again until the Judgement Day arrives.” They do; “no one could wake them from it. Meanwhile, their mother departed, and nobody knows where she went.”

Rapunzel, meanwhile, gives herself away to her captor when – after having a “merry time” in the tower with her prince – she asks: “Tell me, Mother Gothel, why are my clothes becoming too tight? They don’t fit me any more.” And the stepmothers of Snow White and Hansel and Gretel were, originally, their mothers, Zipes believing that the Grimms made the change in later editions because they “held motherhood sacred”. So it is Snow White’s own mother who orders the huntsman to “stab her to death and bring me back her lungs and liver as proof of your deed. After that I’ll cook them with salt and eat them”, and Hansel and Gretel’s biological mother who abandons them in the forest.

Zipes speculates that the Grimms’ changes were “reflecting sociologically a condition that existed during their lifetime – jealousy between a young stepmother and stepdaughter”, because “many women died from childbirth in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and there were numerous instances in which the father remarried a young woman, perhaps close in age to the father’s eldest daughter”.

Cinderella’s stepsisters go to extraordinary attempts to win the prince in the original Grimms version of the tale, slicing off parts of their feet to fit the golden slipper – to no avail, in the end, because the prince spots the blood spilling out of the shoe. “Here’s a knife,” their mother urges, in Zipes’ translation. “If the slipper is still too tight for you, then cut off a piece of your foot. It will hurt a bit. But what does that matter?”
Grimm Not such innocent fun … an illustration from the new translation of How Some Children Played at Slaughtering. Illustration: © Andrea Dezsö/PR

Zipes describes the changes made as “immense”, with around 40 or 50 tales in the first edition deleted or drastically changed by the time the seventh edition was published. “The original edition was not published for children or general readers. Nor were these tales told primarily for children. It was only after the Grimms published two editions primarily for adults that they changed their attitude and decided to produce a shorter edition for middle-class families. This led to Wilhelm’s editing and censoring many of the tales,” he told the Guardian.
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Wilhelm Grimm, said Zipes, “deleted all tales that might offend a middle-class religious sensitivity”, such as How Some Children Played at Slaughtering. He also “added many Christian expressions and proverbs”, continued Zipes, stylistically embellished the tales, and eliminated fairies from the stories because of their association with French fairy tales. “Remember, this is the period when the French occupied Germany during the Napoleonic wars,” said Zipes. “So, in Briar Rose, better known as Sleeping Beauty, the fairies are changed into wise women. Also, a crab announces to the queen that she will become pregnant, not a frog.”

The original stories, according to the academic, are closer to the oral tradition, as well as being “more brusque, dynamic, and scintillating”. In his introduction to The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, in which Marina Warner says he has “redrawn the map we thought we knew”, and made the Grimms’ tales “wonderfully strange again”, Zipes writes that the originals “retain the pungent and naive flavour of the oral tradition”, and that they are “stunning narratives precisely because they are so blunt and unpretentious”, with the Grimms yet to add their “sentimental Christianity and puritanical ideology”.

But they are still, he believes, suitable bedtime stories. “It is time for parents and publishers to stop dumbing down the Grimms’ tales for children,” Zipes told the Guardian. The Grimms, he added, “believed that these tales emanated naturally from the people, and the tales can be enjoyed by both adults and children. If there is anything offensive, readers can decide what to read for themselves. We do not need puritanical censors to tell us what is good or bad for us.”

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