When Doings are Undoings

In storytelling—that most misused of arts—horses absolutely must not go in front of carts. A ballad starts where a ballad starts and this is the start of Prudencia Hart’s.

Shamefully, this is my first post of the year, when I have so many things to tell you and keep letting the words tangle up inside me.  There’s always a temptation to keep them in until they’re perfectly sorted, or closer to it, but the result of doing so is that I hoard tangle upon tangle, snagged into a trichobezoar of thoughts and feelings.

So though I have not sorted through all the significance, the implications, the ramifications of the play I saw the other night, I want to share it anyway.

My eldest brother invited me to join him in watching The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, a curiously-named production by the National Theater of Scotland.  Indeed, it was curious in a lot of ways: five Scottish actors playing about 12 roles, singing and playing instruments besides, in a pub (the Corner Brewery).  Weaving amongst the patrons, the cast grabbed us with their absorption in their characters, with rollicking rhymed couplets, and with well-deployed props: a violin bow playing a windshield wiper, flashlights serving for headlights, a rug for the rending of space and time, and most memorably, napkins the audience tears up and hurls into the air for snow.  I took care to cover my huge mug of beer and the three shared half-pints of cider from this precipitation, and felt very clever about it.

Feeling very clever is something of an important point in Prudencia’s undoing.  Prudencia Hart is the academic that most of us would recognize and, I think, sympathize with.  Having finished her thesis on the Scottish Border Ballads, she does not pass up speaking at a conference about them, despite her contempt for the others on the panel; the grad student’s pursuit of a free lunch may factor into her attendance.  She’s aghast at Colin Syme’s testosterone-and-meme-driven commentary (and his Kylie Minogue ringtone), Siolagha (a fancy way of saying Sheila, Prudencia fumes) Smith’s post-post structuralism, and Professor Macintosh’s theory of negative reading (whatever that is).

The blizzard from which I protected my potables, it turns out, keeps Prudencia from returning to Edinburgh when the conference ends.  She is stuck an hour’s drive away in Kelso, fending off Colin’s offer of a drink et cetera and keeping to herself amid a bacchanalian sort of karaoke scene.  Ignoring the warning from a fellow pubgoer – namely, that it is solstice night and at midnight begins the Devil’s cèilidh, when “a chink between the mighty walls of time” opens – she sets out into the snow to find a B&B.

Left, and left, and left again: she believes she’s come to a bed and breakfast with an unexpectedly huge library (look at these first editions – it’s like heaven!), but the door locks and there she is, caught in hell.  Four millennia she spends there (cleverly compressed for our convenience) before a fling with the Devil enables her to escape.  Colin becomes a sort of knight in half-clothed glory, pulling her out and keeping her from tumbling back into Hell.

The Strange Undoing

The pub again demands that she sing.  The Devil appears.  Her eyes on him, she ends the evening with Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”

Prudencia Hart

Here’s the thing: that feels like a lot of plot rehashing, though it’s more of a plot skeleton.  It doesn’t depict how captivated we all were.  It cannot contain Prudencia’s face as she regards the ballads, her colleagues, the perfect library, the devil she’s fallen in love with, or her confusion about the reality of what she has just escaped.  It most certainly doesn’t make sense of this strange sympathy for the Devil.  There’s none of the rhyming lines, witty and sparkling.

Really, I’m afraid there isn’t much sense of it that I can give you.  But there is a cracking good play and a good night at the pub.  My brother and I laughed so heartily the producer thanked us for leading the more reticent to react.  We came away having shoved aside the veil of the karaoke culture and glimpsed the ballad’s Hart.

Adventures in Calefaction: or, Less Orthodox Ways to Stay Warm

This October has brought far chillier weather than I expected.  You’d think that having lived in Michigan (unofficial state motto: “where both heatstroke and frostbite can get you in the same week”) for twenty-odd years would have inured me to this sort of thing, but I just wasn’t ready for this.  My room is evidently the least insulated in the house, meaning that my roommate and I are first to shiver and last to turn the thermostat down.  Despite my warm-blooded nature, I about slid into a torpor yesternight; it was 56º F in our room.

All of which means that I spent the day pondering what to do when it’s too cold to carry on with life, and thus I now provide you this handy, if unconventional, list:

1.  Hang out somewhere chillier first.  Admittedly, this limits my options to “Outside, without a jacket.”  But everyone knows that if it’s literally freezing outside, 56º will feel balmy.  Take care if you wear corrective lenses, for yea, they shall grow foggy.

2.  Wear more clothes.  Okay, too traditional for you?  Look, I really am asking you to break free of all your constraints here.  Don’t just check that you’ve got socks, shoes, and a sweater on; wear two pairs of socks (both of them fuzzy)!  Put on a hat!  Don that long underwear with PRIDE!  Combine aprons, bathrobes, and peacoats.  Type with gloves, or even mittens, like it’s 2002 and you’re StrongBad.  Wear scarves.  As many as it takes.

The important question here is not “Do I look preposterous?” No, the important question is “What should I do about the fact that none of those scarves helps my nose feel warmer without suffocating me?”

3.  Grab some tea.  Or coffee.  Or cocoa.  Hot ciderWhiskey.  Brandy.  Hot buttered rum.    …okay, that one’s kind of obvious.  Erm.  Kick it up a notch by having a standby cuppa at the ready.  Experiment with several hot beverages to see which complements your personal thermoregulation best, at least until your efforts begin to put a strain on your transitional epithelium.

4.  Eat spicy food.  Grab the Tabasco sauce and the Anaheim, the jalapeno, the habanero, the Serrano peppers.  Pump up the Scovilles until you’re more or less putting law enforcement grade pepper spray on your food.  The tears pouring down your face will be tears of gratitude for your sudden warmth.

5.  In a boldly creative move, combine 3 and 4 by making Spicy Pepper Chai!  Sure, maybe you think you prefer bergamot oil to pepper ribbing, but which will keep you warm on a long, cold, lonely night?

I made some in the name of Science, as well as the name of Frugally Using That Half-Chopped Pepper From Earlier.

6.  Find a Tauntaun, slay it, and ensconce yourself within its steaming entrails.  Er, wait…no, never mind.

7.  Light a number of small, controlled fires.  Hopefully your small, controlled fires can be more dramatic than my baker’s dozen of candles.  If not, well, the thirteen candles did make the area around my desk feel a good bit warmer.  I extinguished a few before they lit the desk itself on fire and made the house a bad bit warmer.

8.  Do some Caramelldansen!  If you are some unfortunate soul who has not heard of such a thing, learn from the Harry Potter cast, Sherlock and John, or Doctors 9, 10, and 11.  If you raise a skeptical eyebrow because you have too much dignity to waggle your hands at your temples while swinging your hips repeatedly, well.  I hope your dignity keeps you warm.

Fighting Moses

The appeal was strong and nagging, appearing at the slightest opportunity and only avoided by guarding both spectacle and deliberation.

Even when considered impersonally, the temptation was quite comprehensible; the curt ‘For Emergency Use Only’ stenciled directly over the red handle instructing, “Pull Here” seemed a paradox in need of resolution. Such a deliberate blend of reverse psychology and imperative language might actually dictate the pulling of the handle.

And taped firmly underneath was an oblong wafer of paper that stated, ‘Warning – Undue Use of Alarm Will Result in fine or imprisonment’. The handwriting was neat and almost even, with a decisive curl at the bottom of each ‘U’ that hinted dreadfully at personal experience with the cost of this ‘Undue Use’. Although normally staunch in the face of such a small warning – speeding or climbing into derelict buildings had much bigger Signs, after all – the attraction of trying to solve the conflict with a hearty tug on the handle was a tad overwhelming.

So the problem then, as he considered it, was to pull the Alarm either without using it “Unduely”, or without being caught. An actual fire would take the away the challenge, and would probably have even worse consequences. Burning baked goods in the microwave would sound the alarm by itself and not need the handle to be pulled.

And then, of course, the “without being caught” was easy, but the “without being guilted into admission,” that would be more difficult. The alternative course, naturally, was simply to not pull the demanding thing at all. He could convince himself that the ‘Pull Here’ was the reverse psychology and that the warnings were the commands.

Almost.

Picking up a thin stack of stapled papers, he held them upright and hit them the desk to make sure the edges were aligned, and slapped them into an open folder. And again with the next stack and folder. All neat, all in arranged, everything efficient and complete.

If only, if only . . . .

It would take courage, and that even more elusive quality, gumption. If only that alarm, with all the fascinating signs and commands, were not directly across from his desk.

Instead, he had the piles of organized, compartmentalized, and individualized paper folders. It was only a name tag paper-clipped to the folder, and a personalized greeting filled in at the top of the cover letter. But that counted for enough a difference, it was supposed. Rather like – if he wanted to be gloomy and clichéd – how each desk and cubiclized work arena looked the same but had a different name on the side. He could even imagine himself as a rat in a maze.

Did rat mazes have fire alarms?

“Now honey, mommy has to talk to this man in his office. Will you wait and here and be good?”

There was a woman with a little boy in the room, pausing in front of his desk to bend anxiously over the child. The child looked up at her quite intelligently, hands behind his back, eyes bright, and head cocked defiantly to one side.

“It will only be for 10 seconds. Ten. I know that you can count that much. Will you do that?” The mixture of firm and calm in her mother-voice was beginning to sound a tad bit strained.

His small, dark brows came together an expression of justified scorn at such an insignificant number. “I can count by twos,” he volunteered. “Two, four, six . . .”

“No, no.” She said hastily. “Count by ones, and wait till I am gone to start.” She herded him in the direction a chair, and looked up to give the receptionist a quick smile. He thought for moment that she was going to come talk to him, but she quickly tripped into the boss man’s office.

He watched the child for moment, as the boy stood in front of his designated seat, and looked at the wall paper. It couldn’t be that interesting, even to a child.

With great care, the receptionist chose a small silver paperclip, slipped it onto the folder, and slid the printed sticker of the individual underneath the loop. He looked up at the child.

The boy, being a child, was standing in front of the red alarm. Hands still clasped behind his back, he was leaning forward to look at the white letters. The receptionist could see his lips moving as a sounded out the words, “Pull Here”.

For a child, there is no dilemma, only instruction.

Unclasping his hands, he reached up and pulled there.

It took a moment, and a small sound screeching, but low siren began to whine through the building, and with a sputter, the sprinklers came on. The place sprang into bustling, loud, life, as people appeared, clattering and chatting, and streamed towards the fire escapes.

He sat still for a moment, feeling his hair being drenched through to his scalp, and the water trickle down his ears and neck. The words on the tags and in the folders were all streaming together on the wet paper, the bits of personalization – and hard work – dissolving under the blast from the ceiling.

The boy’s mother had him by the hand, and was talking very loudly and even more firmly and nicely.

He stepped into the collision of people, bodies and voices mingling.

And he heard, between the rustling movements and the keen wailing of the alarm, the high burbling of human laughter.

A Baptismal Fount

Heraclitean Fire

I baited my hook with a word and caught a poem by Hopkins today, and thought I should share it with you.  But first, wordnotes:
– “chevy” means to chase after something or generally race and scamper about;
– to roister (or, presumably, to royster) is to revel, to engage in noisy merrymaking without restraint (as though one were a rustic, countrified sort);
– shivelights are slivers or splinters of light; given that splintered light, the darkness between is as the shadows of ship-rigging or pulleys or what you will, hence shadowtackle; and
– yestertempest is nothing but my new favorite word.  I shall endeavor to work it into conversation whenever possible.

Second, Hopkinnotes:
– GMH called this “a sonnet with two codas.”  Everyone since has said “No, no, surely that’s three codas.”  As for me, I will say it is one whole poem and leave it at that.
– He also wrote the following to a friend:

Lately I sent you a sonnet on the Heraclitean Fire, in which a great deal of early Greek philosophical thought was distilled; but the liquor of the distillation did not taste very greek, did it? The effect of studying masterpieces is to make me admire and do otherwise. So it must be on every original artist to some degree, on me to a marked degree. Perhaps then more reading would only refine my singularity, which is not what you want.

Lastly, exhortation:
Read this out loud.  Read it to your roommate, to your spouse, to your kid, to your cat, to a hedgehog named Jeffy who was startled by the opening of a champagne bottle.  Read it to yourself inside, or out by a lake, or in a field staring up at the clouds until your eyes are forced shut by the sun behind them.  Read it silently but then read it again.

 

On the Nature of the Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ‘ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ‘ ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare

Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed ‘ dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks ‘ treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ‘ nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest ‘ to her, her clearest-selvèd spark

Man, how fast his firedint, ‘ his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ‘ nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ‘ death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark

But vastness blurs and time ‘ beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ‘ Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:

                 In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

 
I can only end by saying that Hopkins delights me and I ought to read more of his work.  If you are looking for actual analysis so as to deepen your delight, go here.

Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Firebugs

A few weeks back, I sat with two of my brothers around our family’s backyard fire pit.  Both of them enjoy playing with fire and burning things, but beyond that, both felt the irresistible urge to get closer to the flames than I thought advisable (i.e. my youngest brother nearly set his shoes on fire).  All that notwithstanding, the other brother was extremely anxious and preachy whenever I stoked the fire, fearing that I’d stir up embers which would light my hair on fire.

I’d call him solicitous, but somehow I suspect he is trying to keep all the fun of burning things to himself.

This song is for him, Melpomene, and Valentine Wiggin, with apologies to Waylon and Willie.

Firebugs ain’t easy to scold and they’re harder to stop
Once they’ve got a burn pile with gasoline thrown on the top.
Big conflagrations and piles of charred papers
And logs in the fireplace to stoke -
If a Holocaust cloak isn’t in his possession,
He might one day go up in smoke.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be firebugs
Don’t let ‘em light matches or kindle a flame;
let ‘em stay safe playing video games!
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be firebugs,
or you’ll just be concerned that they’ll get themselves burned,
even when heat’s what they love.

Firebugs love smoky old hick’ry and clean-burning kindling,
Lighters and tinder and blazes that dance in the night.
Them that don’t get that, cry “Arson!”
And them that do sometimes still find him unnerving;
He ain’t wrong, just a pyro
Who doesn’t know why you ignore his requests for a light.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be firebugs
Don’t let ‘em light matches or kindle a flame;
let ‘em stay safe playing video games!
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be firebugs,
or you’ll just be concerned that they’ll get themselves burned,
even when heat’s what they love.

Veni, Creator Spiritus

Accende lumen sensibus: infunde amorem cordibus: infirma nostri corporis virtute firmans perpeti.

Today we celebrate the feast of Pentecost: that day when the Holy Spirit came to the disciples, they spoke the Word of God, and thousands joined the church.  I was struck anew, while listening to Acts 2 this morning, by how the Holy Spirit manifests His presence in the apostles’ speech:

And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them.  And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. …Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Something like this, perhaps with more figures and highly colored.

Here’s what struck me: in Sunday school classes in years gone by, our Pentecost lesson inevitably featured a picture of the 12 apostles, each with his tongue of fire, and perhaps a few other people standing around looking flummoxed.  I had always understood that there was an apostle for each language – Philip would get Phrygian on account of the Ph sound, Matthias would speak with the Medes, etc. – but for the first time I actually counted the number of languages represented.  And unless a few groups share tongues, there are a few more than a dozen of them listed.  This suggests to me that either a) “they” refers not only to the 12 but perhaps to some of the 120 brothers of Acts 1:15, so there’d be an individual speaking in every tongue understood by the Jews there, or b) that each apostle, speaking a single word, was understood by 15 or so different nationalities.

(At this point, perhaps I should mention that I don’t recall ever hearing any commentary or examination of which of these possibilities in fact occurred.  If you know of any, please direct me to them!)

Obviously the Holy Spirit’s power makes either possible, but the second intrigues me more.  Imagine the apostles prophesying in the Spirit’s words, with power such that no listening ear could resist comprehending it.  Imagine standing next to a Frenchman, a Russian, and a Japanese fellow, none of whom you can understand, all listening to the same guy.  How long would it take to notice the other three attending to his words because his speech, uniquely, is comprehensible to each of you?  Well might you ask “What does this mean?”

Yet I’m not wholly in sympathy with the onlookers (or onhearers, really), since I laugh at them for answering their own question.  “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”  What does it mean?  It means that these men you just accused of drunkenness are God’s vehicle for showing His power, and your own ears have heard the proof.  It means that they are inspired, not merely with the breath of physical life but with the life-giving Word.  It means, among all else, that the God who sundered speech at Babel can bring it back together again, as beads of mercury flow back into the whole, or as shards are forged anew in the fire to renew the blade.

As someone who is fascinated by Babel, I am even more fascinated by how the Holy Spirit’s power brings sense with it, and babbling to an end.  Once upon a time, Men declared that they would build a tower to the heavens, and as they set to work, God noted that nothing would be too difficult for them.  I wonder what he meant by that, and what good a ziggurat would do them, or whether Genesis 11 excises some detail of what arcane thing they sought.  I wonder if He was determined that, having separated themselves and their desires from Him, men would not long remain united in purpose with each other.  I wonder, Heaven having split our languages apart, what truths are revealed in one language that are revealed differently, or not at all, in another.  Shall the polyglot have some better understanding of God due to his study?  What about the philologist?  Ought the Babelfish to look more sinister now, since it undoes Babel without the aid of the Paraclete?  What truth did Charlemagne know when he said “to speak a second language is to have a second soul”?

Per te sciamus da Patrem, noscamus atque Filium; Teque utriusque Spiritum credamus omni tempore.
Deo Patri sit gloria, et Filio, qui a mortuis surrexit, ac Paraclito, in saeculorum saecula.

Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Twenty-One

The Book Meme Challenge:  Favorite book from your childhood

While at college, I occasionally dropped in on The Narnians, a group of ladies who gathered in Whitley on Friday evenings to read books aloud while drinking tea and eating biscuits (or scones, or cheese, or the like).  They started, obviously, with the Chronicles of Narnia; but having finished all seven by the end of their freshman year, they moved on to other books: The Hobbit, House at Pooh Corner, possibly The Wind in the Willows, that sort of thing.

Then came the days during my junior year when someone pulled out David and Karen Mains’ books Tales of the Kingdom, Tales of the Resistance, and Tales of the Restoration.


Oddly enough, it wasn’t the first time these books came up at Hillsdale.  I recall spending a goodly portion of a McIntyre-Niedfeldt barbecue sitting with my friend Jackie and our new friend Matthew.  Most unfortunately for Jackie, I had trouble shutting up because Matthew and I had gotten onto books – those from childhood, those read for school, and whatever lay in between.  Somehow Tales of the Kingdom and Tales of the Resistance came up.  I lent them to Matthew at the earliest opportunity.

Imagine my dismay when, some days later, he handed them back saying they were too allegorical for his taste!  “Hero, Caretaker, and Mercy?  If their names didn’t correspond so closely to them, I think I would have liked it more.  As it is, I can’t see them as characters with personality.”

I took my books back, and reread them, wondering how I’d failed to notice something so awful…and concluded that (with all due love and respect for Matthew) he had read them all the wrong way.  So please avoid the Tales when you are in Deep Critical Thought and Analysis mode.  Not that they cannot be analyzed, but I reckon you will miss the sounds and smells of Enchanted City, the wonder of the silent gate welcoming all who hunt, the destructiveness of the Enchanter’s flames and the joy of the Great Celebration.  You will fail to be moved by the girl called Dirty, or Sighting Day, or what happens when a Ranger deviates from his duty, or what happens when you let a little dragon grow into a big dragon.

And what is worse, you’d miss Hero’s return to Enchanted City, and the story of how the King saved the children from the sewers, and taught the playgoers the best story of all, and how the heralds learned to speak, and how the carnival daughter was led out of madness.  You’d miss the terrible scene at Burning Place and the flames of the Great Dance!

How goes the world?
The world goes not well.
But the Kingdom comes!

[The more attentive will notice that I never gave Matthew Tales of the Restoration.  That is because I did not own it and in fact had never heard of it prior to hearing the tales amidst the Narnians.  After hearing a few – something about ladies doing deep-knee bends and Oka the opera singer making everyone fat – I wondered if my parents hadn’t chucked it on account of it being much worse than the other two, or perhaps because it hinted at millennialism.  The First Council of Narnia declared it not-canon (more, I think, because we didn’t want Hero to end up with Thespia than because it lacked literary or theological merit).]

Book Meme: ‘Psichore’s Day Nineteen

The Book Meme Challenge: Favorite book turned into a movie

The somewhat awkward thing about my answer to this is that when I like a movie based off a book, inevitably I’ve been exposed to the movie first and find the book later.  By that point, the movie has dug tendrils into my brain such that even if it’s different from the book, I can no longer dislike the movie on that account.  They are separate entities, though very close.

Why is this strange?  Because any time I read and love a book first, then see how the movies diverge from it (Harry Potter franchise, I’m looking at you), I get extremely upset.  Doubtless you have encountered this a hundred times, either in other book fans or perhaps in yourself.  The more strident the protests, the more ridiculous they sound.  I’m thinking of switching to decaf.

In the meantime, there are no less than four (FOUR!  I know, I’m awful) book/movie combinations which I find particularly leoflic:

Pride and Prejudice

My first exposure to Pride and Prejudice was playing the part of Charlotte Lucas in a high school play.  It was fun, but necessarily left out all of Austen’s prose, such that I wasn’t particularly eager to find the novel and read it.  When the Joe Wright version came out in 2005, I saw it with a friend and came away with the impression (made much vaguer by years) that Darcy’s love speech was Quite Something.  I wondered whether Austen or the scriptwriter made it so.  Therefore I went home, found the novel online, and stayed up until perhaps 4 AM clicking from chapter to chapter.

When I reached chapter 58, I found that Austen did not set down any speeches beyond “he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do.”  Provoking!  And yet, it might be the only way for a speech to satisfy everyone: you can dream any words you want into it.

Thereafter, when brought to watch the BBC version partway through my college career, I was in fact acquainted with the book, and thus greatly pleased by BBC’s faithfulness to the narrative.   Not only that, but I found Jennifer Ehle’s features better suited than Kiera Knightley’s in showing how Lizzie, for all her impertinence and bright eyes, generally behaves as a lady of that period ought to – and when she doesn’t, the contrast between her actions and what was expected is heightened by Ehle’s countenance.  The newer movie also makes a few mistakes; as a friend pointed out, Lady Catherine de Bourgh would never condescend to visiting Longbourne in the middle of the night.  Six hours gives the BBC enough time to get such details right, and the result is a winner.


Stardust

This will sound familiar: the friend with whom I went to see Joe Wright’s P&P accompanied me to see Charlie Cox in Stardust, which I enjoyed so much that I fetched Neil Gaiman’s book from the library…

The movie has much to recommend it: an oft-rebuffed young suitor attempting to win a girl’s heart by going off and fetching her back a fallen star (which he supposes will be something like a meteorite); three sons fighting for succession of their father’s throne; witches fighting for youth; sweeping New Zealand vistas; a unicorn; excellent scene changes; spells put on and spells taken off.  There is also a fight scene that will be distressing to those unprepared for the sight of a pirate in drag, so brace yourself for that.

When I read the book, I found that some aspects of the plot were changed – Tristran’s name became Tristan, to start with, and he receives help from rather different quarters.  Gaiman himself noted that he spent about a paragraph describing the pirate ship, which the moviemakers brought to life in painstaking, life-sized detail.  The book’s flavor is also different: certain characters I liked well enough in the movie became unpleasant, or vice-versa; a spell which was broken in a very matter-of-fact way in the movie was broken in a more whimsical fashion in the book; and the endings even differ.  But having seen the movie first, I manage to approve of both of them.  They may have rather different approaches to the world of Faerie, but both give the audience a bit of a peek through the Wall.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I have not read this book nor watched this movie recently enough for my own contentment.  Both are delightful, and winsome, and rather dangerous at certain junctures – though I will say that an abridged audio book on youTube and a look through Wikipedia give me to understand that the movie shifts things around a fair amount, such that it might be more accurate to say the movie is very loosely based on the book.  Both end up in approximately the same place, but book-Sophie has a good deal more power; her sisters are more interesting and involved; fire demons figure a tad more prominently; and the country of Wales is mentioned briefly.  In the movie, a certain character evokes sympathy she doesn’t call up in the book; broken hearts and John Donne curses step back; and wars, magic rings, and bird-men fly forward.  And somehow Sophie ends up in the future, according to The Internet.  I’d forgotten that bit completely!

What I hadn’t forgotten was the eerie quality when the Baba Yaga-like castle walked over the moors, Howl’s plaintive moans when his hair spells went awry and turned his hair funny colors, Sophie’s walks with Turnip-Head, Howl covered in feathers, and a star falling to earth…

Here are two bits from the book:

In the land of Ingary where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of the three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.

By now it was clear that Howl was in a mood to produce green slime any second. Sophie hurriedly put her sewing away. “I’ll make some hot buttered toast,” she said.
“Is that all you can do in the face of tragedy??” Howl asked. “Make toast!”

Here’s a quote of Howl in the movie, since the only available snippets appear to be on Disney’s site:

Now I’m repulsive…I can’t live like this…  …I give up…I see no point in living if I can’t be beautiful…

Pardon me, I think I must be off to take a stroll through the clouds now…once I’ve discussed

The Princess Bride

There’s no way I could let this one pass by, although I’m having difficulty finding words for it outside quoting the whole thing.  The Princess Bride is one of a few movies that I’ve watched and re-watched enough to memorize in part (which I know others can claim just as easily, but other people seem to spend much more time watching movies than I do).  The frame-tale of the book (which I first read last year) is preserved in the grandfather reading his ill grandson the story.  Though the movie spends a lot less time on backstory (where Buttercup, Inigo, and Fezzik are concerned), and leaves out Inigo and Fezzik’s trip through the Zoo of Death, it is otherwise faithful: the Fire Swamp, the castle gates, and death itself are overcome.  The casting is perfect.  The script is excellent and lends itself well to quoting.

I love the grandfather pausing to say “She doesn’t get eaten by the eels at this time,” then losing his place and having to backtrack, as well as Westley shouting “AS YOU WISH” while tumbling downhill, and also how Fezzik says the word “lady” when relating how he claimed the horses.  Not to mention Vizzini’s use of “Inconceivable!” and Inigo considering piracy as a second career.  Delightful.

And wuv, tru wuv, will fowwow you…foweva.