felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So I'm putting aside my usual hatred of Valentine's Day, and I'm reading A Parliament of Birds by Geoffrey Chaucer, the poem that started it all.

(Except Chaucer meant Saint Valentine of Genoa's Day, which was May 2nd, not the Saint Valentine of indeterminate origin - Rome, Terni, or Tunisia/Libya/Algeria - on February 14. Some think a dim memory of Lupercalia influenced the move.)

Here are some of the lines that made the holiday, from A Parliament of Birds, in 1382:

And in a launde, upon a hille of floures
Was set this noble goddesse, Nature
Of branches were hir halles and hir boures
Ywrought, aftir hir crafte and hir mesure;
Ne ther nas foule the cometh of engendrure
That thei ne were prest in hir presence
To take hir dome and yeve hir audience.

For this was on seynt Valentynes day,
Whan every foule cometh there to chese his make,
Of every kynde that man thynke may...
And in a meadow, upon a hill of flowers
Was set this noble goddess Nature
Of branches were her halls and her bowers
Wrought by her craft and measure;
There wasn't a bird born
That didn't hury into her presence
To hear her judgement and give her audience

For this was on Saint Valentine's Day
When every bird came there to choose his mate,
Of every species man might think of...

Nature then plays matchmaker for all the birds, which makes a lot more sense in May than February.

Me, like most of my friends I don't have much to celebrate today, except that chocolate will be cheap tomorrow.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So I have a pile of books on my desk I've been meaning to review. The oldest of these is The Wind in the Willows, a book many read in childhood but which I only came to as an adult.

I knew it mostly as the book Margaret Atwood mocked. She even wrote a much-anthologized poem about it, called "The Animals in That Country." I didn't even think to read it until I read that Kenneth Grahame was what we now call Neo-Pagan, although the term didn't exist then. He'd written an essay he didn't dare publish, favouring the worship of Mother Nature. His wife was even more fanatical. She didn't want to get married in a church, though Grahame insisted for respectability's sake.

Which brings to The Wind in the Willows. See, there's a deeply Pagan chapter that's almost always removed from modern editions. When I heard that, I started looking for an old edition that still had this chapter, "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn." Then one landed in my hands entirely by accident.

Review continues )

Other than that, things are quiet. I'm working on a third novel right now - I'll need space to re-do the second I nearly finished after I submitted my first. Still waiting to hear back on the first, but it's only been two months, and they said it could take up to six.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
The weird recent assaults on red-headed kids because some morons thought it'd be great to invent a new hate crime got me thinking about the old A. E. Houseman poem. Houseman was gay, and it was reportedly inspired by Oscar Wilde's trial.

Of course, the force of the conceit -- how absurd it would be to attack someone just based on hair colour -- is somewhat lost in the wake of recent news:


Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after, that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.

Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they’re taking him to justice for the colour of his hair.

Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet,
And the quarry-gang on portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the god that made him for the colour of his hair.
Other than that, I'm nearly done my fifth edit of the novel. The sixth and last will take maybe three or four days. I expect to have it done by Sunday.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Reading and enjoying the second book of The Dark is Rising series has got me thinking about fantasy lit, and about its weird place in the canon -- as far as English literature courses are concerned, the stuff does not exist.

(Even science-fiction has begun to break through the barrier of "canon," but fantasy has been cast into the outer darkness along with erotica and a few other despised genres.)

This is strange, because the fantasy novel is now almost 250 years old. It can be traced back to a man named Horace Walpole -- son of Britain's famous (or infamous) first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole.

The story of the first fantasy novel )
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I finished Beowulf last week. It really has stood the test of time, and I'm now able to read enough Anglo-Saxon to get the gist of things, so I can better appreciate the work of the anonymous master (or, more likely, series of masters) who first crafted the poem.

There are odd notes -- like when the poem slips in and out of the original local faiths and the Christian one, and you can see the stitches were the monk tried to graft his worldview onto the Pagan one. And I wondered at times if the author had some sympathy for Grendel, as Milton seems to have for Satan in Paradise Lost.

I used to wonder sometimes why the last part of the story -- the dragon's awakening -- rarely makes it into most modern retellings, but when I read it in Seamus Heaney's translation and the original, it seemed very familiar to me. Then I realized that J.R.R. Tolkien had stolen it and embellished it and fashioned it into the second half of The Hobbit. So it's made its way to the modern world too, though by a more secret route.

There are words in Beowulf I'd love to give a second life -- etonisc, for instance, which in modern English would come out to something like ettinish, and which means related to trolls, giants, or ogres. Or féondschipe -- fiendship -- which is the opposite of friendship, being the bond of hatred you have with your enemies.

("We come in fiendship," would be a great thing for an envoy of an approaching army to yell to a hard-of-hearing gatekeeper.)

I read the graphic novel version of Beowulf that the Royals gave me, bringing to three the versions of that poem I read last week. The art was good, and the adaptation was actually very faithful. This week, I've taken a break from Anansi Boys to re-read The Sandman. So it's really been a month for gods and monsters.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I've been very scarce lately. At some point I'll post a review of Beowulf. Right now, I'm knee-deep in my own novel, as well as Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys. I haven't read my LJ friends page in a week, but I'll try to tomorrow at lunch.

In the meantime, here's a late entry on my historical blog.

Probably not the most exciting stuff I've researched, though I've always been weirdly fascinated with obscure prime ministers the way some people are fascinated by tiny countries, and Thompson managing to die at lunch with Queen Victoria somehow wins a prize for me. After reading his speeches about the necessity of tough laws to fight homosexuality, though, I'm less taken with him.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I felt really good this last week, better than I have in a decade, with no real reason for it. Maybe it's just that the novel's going well -- I think most people are giving up on me ever finishing the thing, but it's so much better in this version than any of the others I've shown to people that I think the progress exceeds all previous progress combined.

It's been quiet, lately -- just writing and reading mostly. I really think that one day archaeologists are going to unearth Anglo-Saxon slash fanfic around Beowulf and Wiglaf from some Sutton-Hoo-esque barrow.

I did get my gift my [livejournal.com profile] jc2004 and [livejournal.com profile] infinitecomplex, which would be the complete Dark Is Rising sequence. Thank you -- I hadn't read the rest of the series yet ^_^
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
so I'm reading Beowulf, and trying to puzzle out the Anglo-Saxon before I cheat and read the the translation on the opposite page.

I think the Old English word "snotor" -- meaning "clever, wise, or prudent" -- most appeals to my inner 12-year-old. I keep thinking that Snotor was that mutant rejected by all leagues and societies of superheroes and supervillains because his powers were too disgusting, and is now reduced to robbing banks.

Meanwhile, I've developed a lot of sympathy for Grendel. I mean, here's this guy who's had a pretty hard life -- I mean, if living in a lake isn't low income housing I don't know what is. And he lives with his mother, so he's either a) a kid, b) a slacker who's bounced back home, or c) looking after an elderly mother in her declining years. Either way he gets my sympathy.

So the Yuppie-Danes move in, build a fancy new building that likely drives up the property values and rents, and then proceed to party late into the night, every night so that Grendel Jr. and Mrs. Grendel can't sleep.

Their options for recourse are few. There won't be a police force to call about this sort of thing for a good thousand years, so Grendel climbs up the hill to have a word with the Danes. What happens next -- well, we only have the Danes' side of the story.

(I'm suspicious of the bias of any version where the author feels the need to often describe the villain as evil, and repeatedly traces a lineage for them back to Cain.)

And Mrs. Grendel's situation is even more understandable. Who wouldn't snap after the loss of a child?

ETA: Also, I added the Facebook app iRead, because it's one of the few apps that looks interesting. It allows me to see the books my friends with the same app are reading/have read. Right now it's displaying 1984, Brave New World, The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, and two different editions of Lord of the Flies. My friends are cheery bunch, aren't they?
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
So, to clarify, I think as usual the party will be kind of a drop-in, since afternoon is better for some, and evening for others. I was thinking about opening the doors around one in the afternoon on Sunday ^_^

I've been offline for the better of three days, the beginning of my usual internet detox period. If anything crucial has been happening, I apologize for not noticing.

Writing progresses. I'm trying to hold myself back to two pages a day -- that is, re-writing two, then editing them two to four times before progressing. This is the best way to ensure I don't force passages that shouldn't be rushed. It seems to be working -- my improvement in some areas is much greater than it usually is.

It also means I'll be able to integrate suggestions from my editors before I get too far in.

In the meantime -- with all the extra time that normally goes to writing and internet -- I'm reading Beowulf and trying to muddle through the Anglo-Saxon without cheating by looking at Seamus Heaney's translation.

I find that by drawing on archaic English vocabulary, my intermediate (and very rusty) German, and knowledge of the runes, I can sometimes get the gist of a sentence. I've also been able to figure out some words from context, like ymb (around) and ellen (force or power).

I'm also about halfway through the poaching sidequest in Final Fantasy Tactics, which has made my characters too powerful for any of the story-battles to last more than a minute.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Well, it turns out I passed my exam, so I have all my requirements for my Master's degree.

This means I've completed all my requirements to get my Master's in English.

This means I'm (not-yet-officially) a Master of English. So eat your hearts out, all you peons of English!

Of course, the inability to do anything with an MA in English is proverbial. Can't teach it in high school without an Education degree. Can't teach it overseas without a TESL degree. Can't teach it university without a PhD.

But it's not entirely useless. It can be used to smack people over the head with when they disagree with me about the interpretation of a novel. Then I can say, "Do you have an MA in English?"

I can attend seminars on endangered and extinct languages, and the troubles some languages face against the onslaught of English -- and wave it around, yelling, "Woo hoo! We're number one!"

I believe it also gives me the right to have people who misuse the word "ironic" executed. We have a secret English ninja deathsquad for that.

So it's really not all that useless after all.

Of course, the best use is making people squirm. Even before I got it, saying, "I'm doing my Master's in English Lit" made 90% of the people I told it to either a) list all the books they read recently, to prove they read, or b) offer their excuses and apologies as to why they weren't reading as much as they should. We make people as nervous as priests once did!
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
You know, two literary forms have all but vanished from the West: the tragedy and the epic. The tragedy lingers on in romance novels, and the epic occasionally surfaces for air in science fiction or fantasy, but on the whole they've been banished -- especially in mainstream media of any kind.

The explanation for tragedy is that we're addicted to happy endings, and don't want anything depressing. As for the epic, a professor of mine offered this explanation:

"Epics are about nations, societies, and peoples. We're too self-absorbed to care about anything on that scale."

But I don't think either is necessarily true. I can't help but wonder if the incredible popularity of Japanese pop culture -- anime, manga, and video games -- is in part because the Japanese are not afraid to work with tragedies and epics.

And the same pleasure that's always haunted these two forms is still very much there.

I got to thinking of the later Final Fantasies as visual epics -- and got to thinking that maybe that's deliberate. The grand scale of events, the beginning in media res, prophecy, the elements of tragedy mixed in. Even the summonings are like periodic invocations of muses.

And in Final Fantasy 10, at least, there's a deus and quite a few ex-machina ^_^

Seriously, though, it's not as farfetched as it sounds. Video games are very slowly drawing the attention of people who are willing to look at their literary qualities -- though most critics are still thinking of them as empty escapism, the way novels were thought of 300 years ago when people were told not to waste their time with them.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)

Well, today's the day -- the nastier of my two exams. I've prepared about as well as I can, and my brain is brimming over with dates and facts.

Now I just have to hope to get lucky with the questions, which we don't know in advance -- there's a certain random factor here that really makes me feel like my academic career is being bet on a poker game. These are the only exams at the Master's level, and I forgot what it's like to be at the caprice of an exam-drafter.

Of course, with most exams, you've been in class, know the professor, and only have a few books to cover. I have about 40 or 50 authors to cover, only about 15 of which I'll need on the test. I've only read about 30 or so -- hopefully I've chosen well.

They say no one fails the comprehensives, but I know a guy who did.

On the other hand, I had the first class of my final course on Wednesday. Looks like it's going to be a vacation. There's almost no reading, no in-class presentation, and the final essay is a mere 10 pages -- that may as well be a grocery list, or an essay in haiku.

News of the Weird

The more I learn about reality television, the happier I am that I don't have a TV. Survivor has gone racially segregated? Pitting race against race? Normally I don't care enough about TV to be offended by anything on it, but Social Darwinism in prime time is really creepy.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church is clearly worried about competition in the "mindnumbingly stupid" department from ultra-conservative North American Protestants who fill those Illiterate-Parents-Against-Harry-Potter type groups. Garbiele Amorth -- the Vatican's Chief Exorcist (!) -- has declared that "Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil."

Amorth founded the International Association of Exorcists, and says that The Exorcist is his favourite film. Someone should really write Father Amorth into some very bad HP slash fanfic, translate it into Latin, and send it to him.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
--Hnuy illa nyha majah Yahoo
--Take care of thyself, gentle Yahoo
This is now, officially, my new favourite way of saying goodbye in any language ^_^

Finished Gulliver's Travels, and I'm now almost one-fifth of the way through Joseph Andrews. It's hilarious.

Things are down to the wire, so I realized I could make more efficient use of my time if I devote myself to poetry (which I'm getting online) whenever I'm at home and have net access, and whenever I'm out of the house I'll bring a novel with me. That way, I'll get ahead, and have a smattering of the other centuries.

On that note, I won't have time to read my friends-pages for a bit, so lt me know if I miss anything vital. At this point, I'd probably miss the destruction of alll civilization and the reduction of the human race to scavenging mutants.

Right now, I'm reading the alleged poetry of Wordsworth -- the most overrated poet of two eras (Romantic and Victorian).

But I can't be too harsh with him. "We Are Seven" is proving to be quite educational. Until this moment, I had no idea that six-year-old children spontaneously burst out into metrical quatrains of 8/6/8/5 syllables, with an ABAB rhyme scheme.

This is Wordsworth trying to capture the unaffected spontaneity and simple wisdom of childhood.

Tomorrow I'm off to Ottawa by car for the day, for the parade. But I think I'm going to make a very anti-social travelling companion.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
It's passages like this that make me realize what an inspired satire Gulliver's Travels is:

Gulliver describes gunpowder to the King of Brobdinag, the land of the Giants... )

I got this week mostly off to read. I'm about halfway through Gulliver's Travels. I found a good, footnoted edition of it for only $6.70 -- I can tell, reading my old, battered, footnoteless copy, that there are injokes all over the place I'm probably missing.

Even better news is that I miscalculated the number of weeks to my exam -- I had one more than I thought.

After Gulliver's Travels, the next on the list is Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews. I'd barely heard of Fielding and never read any of his work, so I raced off to Wikipedia for his biography. I found this:

"As Justice of the Peace he issued a warrant for the arrest of [English playwright] Colley Cibber for 'murder of the English language'."
I think I'm going to like this guy :)
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I feel slow. Gulliver's Travels is one of my favourite literary works, and it only just clicked that Gulliver's mentor in medicine is named "master Bates."

I find I'm catching a lot of jokes in these works I haven't before. Especially in Rape of the Lock.

I'm way behind. There's no way I can cover all the material, so I'm going to take a sample of each era. This exam seems to be designed the way classes are designed -- for people who read like machines and don't like to think about what they read.

Next week, no matter where I'm at I'll switch to Canadian Lit. I don't want to look stupid writing about my main field, at least.

Oh well. At least I'm almost three-quarters through this semifinal edit of my novel.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
I finished Paradise Lost again. I swear, someday I'm going to write Paradise Lost in 15 minutes and save everyone a lot of time

Then it was on to Milton's "Lycidas." The helpful footnoter to my edition, trying to work out what each of the Pastoral elements is allegorical for, suggests that the wild satyrs might symbolize "Cambridge undergraduates."

I swear I'm cracking up. Whenever I've spent a few hours reading iambic pentameter, I get that infamous line going through my head,

Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?
No wonder she's got keel marks on her lips.
Next up is The Rape of the Lock by Pope. I haven't read it since high school.

Been reading up on Pope's life, and realized it was actually a lot worse than I'd know. I knew things were bad for Catholics, but I didn't realize he'd had to go to grammar school in secret, and that he was denied a chance to go to university -- or that he was the first writer to make a living writing in English without a day job or court patronage.

He had to be, because no one would support a Catholic or give one a decent job.

I also didn't realize that nasty spine disease he'd had stunted his growth at 4'6", and killed him at the young age of 56.

No wonder he developed such a brilliant sense of humour. It was probably a survival mechanism.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Oddly, when I did the recycling meme for August 18, the only entry close in 2005 (August 19)included a meme recycling past entries. There was also another meme, stuff about the Samurai Susanna, and the details of a very bad day.

My journal didn't start up until the end of 2004, so no August entries there.

In the here and now, I'm on Book 2 of Paradise Lost, and wondering vaguely what would've happened in the story if the fallen angels had taken up Belial's advice and tried to repent in hopes of being transferred to a minimum-security hell.

I think Belial's even cooler than Satan. It's quite easy to forget these are the bad guys. Milton's good guys are so bland.

At work, I marked a placement test for a woman named "Lamia," and now I'm wondering how someone gets a name like that. I wonder if anyone's running around with the name "Medusa" or "Scylla" or "Chimera."

I'm more than halfway through the great culling of my novel -- about two months ahead of schedule. I should be two-fifths finished by tomorrow.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
A lot of people hate John Milton. Maybe it's that he was the mouthpiece for a very nasty theocracy. Or maybe people are just turned off by his *rigorous* Christianity.

I don't hate him. I find many of his beliefs antithetical to mine, but I just can't hate him.

Take Paradise Lost, his most famous work. In this book he sets out to:

  1. Make logical sense of God, Satan, and human existence in Christian doctrine,
  2. Explain the entire history of Europe, and
  3. Reconcile all this with science in general, and recent scientifc discoveries specifically.
Did I mention he does it all as a traditional, perfectly-ordered, 12-book, blank verse epic, complete with bilingual and trilingual puns, and minute details of history and theology? That he coins new words and phrases (We owe both "outer space" and "pandaemonium" to this epic)?

And on top of it all, he did it all blind. Imagine trying to craft 12 20-page books of blank verse without writing it all on paper and making corrections by crossing words out and replacing them. He worked it out all in his head, kept it in memory, then dictated it to his daughters.

I have a hard enough time trying to remember his infamous, 122-word opening sentence.

That's why I can't be repulsed by Milton -- reading his stuff is like watching an athlete compete in an Olympic triathalon blindfolded -- and not only winning, but setting a new world record. Even if the athlete is on an opposing team, you can't be but enchanted by the astonishing display of human skill and talent, by the pushing of the limits of what a human being is capable of.

It's especially wondrous if you know something about the sport,

I can't even hate him for populating his hell with real Pagan deities, some of whose names have found their way into the prayers of my fellow Neo-Pagans. Or for saving Satan's nastiest minion to be the patron deity of Sodom -- even the demon who demands sacrificed children, apparently, is not as evil as the patron of homosexuals.

Maybe I'd feel differently if Cromwell's and Milton's view of the world had won -- if it hadn't been pushed to the margins everywhere but in the US, where even embodied in Jerry Falwell and his ilk it's probably dying.

But as one of the losers of history, it's easy to feel sympathy for Milton -- a worthy opponent if there ever was one -- just as Milton seems to feel sympathy for the Satan of Paradise Lost.

(A man of wealth and taste if there ever was one.)
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
Finishing Henry IV, part 1 is a little disappointing. It was the first time I'd read a Shakespeare play without stumbling across one of the famous quotations or sayings -- no "Romeo, Romeo," no "All the world's a stage," no "To be or not to be."

After a brief stop at Shakespeare's sonnets, I moved on to John Donne. I'm still a little surprised -- given how censored my high school experience was -- that we studied "Batter my heart three-personed God" in high school.

I mean, it ends with Donne asking God to rape him -- "Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me." I'm surprised the guardians of morality that pared sex education to the bone (as it were) at my school didn't have a heart attack over this one.

Now I'm done (Donne?) with the Renaissance, so I'm on to John Milton -- the only truly great poet of puritan England.

Meanwhile, for those who are keeping track, my dentist says that my problem is inflamed gums -- nothing serious, just painful. It's relatively easy to fix, and she told me it's the kind of thing I can wait for, so I'm waiting until my insurance kicks in.

In the meantime, the pain is coming and going in waves.
felis_ultharus: The Pardoner from the Canterbury Tales (Default)
It's comforting to know the Bard of Stratford, the Great Wordsmith, the man who gave the French language its nickname for English (la langue de Shakespeare), occasionally had his off days.

Possibly Shakespeare's worst lines, from Henry IV, part I:

"...Come, let me taste my horse,
Who is to bear me like a thunderbolt
Against the bosom of the Prince of Wales,
Harry to Harry shall, hot horse to horse,
Meet, and ne'er part till one drop down a cor[p]se.
O that Glendower were come!"
For the record, the speaker's nickname is "Hotspur."

Not much else to report, save that I'm a hairsbreadth from the halfway point on the great culling of my novel. And I'm still enjoying my readings for school.

Other than that, it's not been a nice day. I was almost paralyzed with pain from a toothache this morning and afternoon (I have a dentist's appointment tomorrow -- it feels like something serious). And I had to find my way back home from a commercial wasteland west of Namur station, after doing placement tests all alone -- buses in that region only run at peak hours.


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