In which I justify my fangirl nonsense with Elizabethan verse.

I kind of love the Hobbit movies. They’re not perfect, and they’re not the book, but I’ve really enjoyed them on their own terms. That even goes for their completely revisionist, frankly nutty portrayal of an elf/dwarf romance between Tauriel and Kili.  I rolled my eyes and sighed, and then found myself on that ‘ship faster than you can say, “She walks in starlight.”  Nope, it doesn’t make sense, and Tolkien would probably hate it, but darn, they are adorable.

This semester, I’ve been taking a class on Spenser, and we’ve read a good deal of his chivalric romance, the Faerie Queene.  It’s been fun to read, and I can even see its influence on other authors, including Tolkien. (For instance, Spenser loooves alliteration.  And he is incapable of mentioning dungeons without making them “dungeons deep.”)  In Book Three of the poem, Arthur’s squire Timias encounters the beautiful huntress Belphoebe, with whom he falls in love.  When they meet, Timias has just vanquished three vile foresters, taking a mortal arrow wound to the leg in the process, and Belphoebe finds him unconscious in a mire of his own blood.  (There is a lot of gore in Spenser.)  Moved to pity, she gathers healing herbs from the forest and uses them to purify his wound.  “Elvish medicine!”  I thought when I read that. “And apparently tobacco is the Spenserian version of Athelas…”  And then, because I am a dork, I identified all the parallels between this scene and Tauriel’s healing of Kili in The Desolation of Smaug.  Furthermore, because I am a dork with access to internet screencap databases and plenty of excuses for doing this instead of real work, I put together a Hobbit/Faerie Queene illustrated crossover, if you will.  Lord only knows what Tolkien would think.  After all, C.S. Lewis once described him as someone who “can’t read Spenser because of the forms [and] thinks all literature is for the amusement of men between thirty and forty.”  Sorry, Professor T., but literature is also pretty amusing for fangirls between twenty and thirty.


Faerie Medicine

With Apologies to Tolkien and Spenser (Or Perhaps Not)

(From Bk. 3, Canto V of The Faerie Queene)

Shortly she came, whereas that woefull Squire
With bloud deformed, lay in deadly swownd:
In whose faire eyes, like lamps of quenched fire,
The Christall humour stood congealed rownd;
His locks, like faded leaues fallen to grownd,
Knotted with bloud, in bounches rudely ran,
And his sweete lips, on which before that stownd
The bud of youth to blossome faire began,
Spoild of their rosie red, were woxen pale and wan.

Deadly Swownd

Continue reading

A Quick and Dirty Guide to Carmina Burana

It’s concert week once again!  For the next four days, the Choral Union is performing Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, so it’s looming large in my mind.  Last night, as we went to dress rehearsal, I read the translation of the Latin and Middle High German choruses to my brother.  Wouldn’t you know it: I then had an easier time singing the words, knowing more or less what they meant.  So I thought I’d share.

Go here to see the live-stream of the performance, 7:30 PM Eastern TONIGHT!

When I was in college and our choir director announced that we’d perform Carmina Burana, I was nonplussed as I’d never heard of it before.  But, as he then pointed out, every single one of us had probably heard its first movement, “O Fortuna,” at least once.  It’s very popular for any given Moment of Epic Import, so much so that it’s a bit cliché.  Typically the folks using it ignore the fact that it’s crying out at Fortune, lamenting and snarling in anger at the whims of cruel Fate.  This is how Carmina Burana begins, and it’s also how it ends – angrier than ever at the Wheel of Fortune for spinning onward.

But what about the other 23 movements?

Well.  That’s why I’m here. Continue reading

Review Part 1: Disney’s Frozen

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Did you read The Snow Queen? It is my favorite Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales. And I grew up on fairy tales: Andrew Lang’s books, many beautiful picture books, and sundry collections of various folklore! (For some reason, Grimm’s fairy tales were not so big in my home. It might have been the R rating most of the originals have.)

Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”, is a tale of true love saving an icy heart through hard work and sacrifice. I loved the edition my family had, as it was gorgeously illustrated, highlighting the sharp, biting beauty of Ice and Snow.

 

When I heard that Disney was “reimagining” Andersen’s tale, I was both worried and intrigued. Frozen premiered yesterday, and my housemate and I went to see it.

And I like it. Maybe more than “like”. The more I think about it, it gets higher on my list of favorite movies. I want to share it with people I love.  Starting with you. You should go see Frozen.

It is not perfect by any means, so I am wary of overselling.  But I need to talk about it! My compromise is to make a list of pros and cons for the movie. (If you are fearful of spoilers, read carefully. A few might slip in.)

 

The Story

Cons: It is not the original Andersen story. There are significant changes, mainly shifting the focus from a boy-girl pair to a pair of sisters.

Pros: It works. The heart of the story is figuring out what True Love is, and removing the possibility of romantic mushy feelings from the central pair certainly crystallizes our definition. 

 

The Plot

Cons: There are a few holes. Mainly, the sudden ability to control magical icy powers.

Pros: The holes are not in important parts. The magical abilities are a part of the setting, not the focus. And the story telling does a good job of making that clear.

 

The Art

Cons: It is a cartoon. Which means round faces and unlikely body proportions for all living things. Maybe I am spoiled, but I expect animated characters to make better use of  facial expressions.

Pros: It is a cartoon. Which means stunning closeups of snowflakes an ice and an ICE PALACE that will take away your breath. (Not to mention an ice dress.) And there are a few good faces. Also, there is a pretty scene of Anna imitating classical works of art that are hung around her palace.

 

 

The Music

Cons: It is not the Lion King. Or Prince of Egypt.

Pros: HARMONY! CHOIRS! SOARING NOTES! Songs than capture the moment and plot and emotions! Background music that works with the story so well I barely noticed it! Melodies that work with the lyrics, lyrics that appreciate pretty words! (“Frozen fractals”!!!)  But seriously, how long has it been since Disney actually used harmony and choirs? And lyrics that have united and developed the narrative themes and motifs? You can listen for yourself, if you wish.

 

Our Protagonist Sisters

Cons:  . . . . None

Pros: SISTERS! Their relationship is the center of the story, and . . . I can’t say more without spoilers. I really want my own sisters now.

 

The Side Characters

Cons: There is an annoying talking snowman named Olaf.

Pros: Other than Olaf, all the side characters are excellently crafted, acted, and used. Each has a purpose AND a personality. Even the snowman. (Supposedly he is the personification of the sisterly bond. But he is still annoying.)

The Wit

Cons: Not so witty. There is a tad bit of mild potty humor. And the kind of things that 5-year-olds find funny.

Pros: Fortunately, it has enough substance that it doesn’t need wit.

 

The Villain

Cons: There is no villain! There is a cad, but he is easily spotted, serves an important narrative purpose, and get his boring comeuppance.

Pros: There is no villain! Our two protagonist sisters face a true battle against FEAR. Yes, the real opposite of love is not hate, but fear. And this movie states that baldly. Which brings us to . . .

 

The Subtlety

Cons: Frozen has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The themes, motifs and morals are so obvious, a five-year-old can identify them. Even the humor has big, blinking arrows pointing to it. (Not literally. But it may as have have.)

Pros: A five-year-old can identify the themes. Does a good fairy tale need subtlety? I have spent years looking at the art of literature, savoring the delicate images and tastes of humanity and truth. I appreciate those, but I recognize that sometimes bluntness is needed.

It is almost as if Disney is trying to reverse years of overly mushy ideas of romance and impractical ideas of love in one movie. It has the same theme as all real, important, fairy tales: True Love. It even correctly identifies the true opposite of love as fear! (I really can’t get over that.) The motifs (storms, doors, creation vs. control, etc.) are well chosen and well used.

To be fair, our modern society has stopped using or understanding  subtlety well. Those who do look for subtlety are the academics, most of whom tend to read their own insane symbols and agendas into the work. The frankness of Frozen does forestall this misunderstanding or misinterpretations.

While Frozen might have appealed to a more adult audience had it used subtlety, it adheres to the structure of old fairy tales and is accessible to all ages. It is blunt, but I can forgive that when it is blunt about Truth and gives the theological definition of love.

The Theology

Cons: Shockingly, there are no cons. There was a moment when I thought there might be, but then the characters very helpfully and carefully explained themselves, and all was well.

Pros: There must have been a solid Christian crafting this story. It is possible for  clever and thoughtful agnostic to have written it, but my instinct says otherwise. This movie not dares to ask and answer the question “what is love?” Their answer (as closely as I can remember) is “Love is wanting what is good for another person, and acting on it no matter what the cost for another person“. What does the Catholic Catechism say about love?  “To love is to will the good of another.'” Brilliant.

And because there is no subtlety, they even point out the in-movie examples. Just in case we missed them. But the examples are good, realistic, and, like all good theology, filled with common sense.

 

Conclusion

In his chapter, the Ethics of Elfland, G.K. Chesterton describes a fairy tale as being built on common sense and the ideals of eternal Truth and Reality. Frozen does fit this definition: it adhere to its internal logic, and is surprisingly well rooted in common sense. The characters ring true as portraits of humanity. The story is well crafted, if obvious, and holds fast to the heart of all good stories: love and sacrifice.

In short, go see Frozen.

And then come back and discuss it with me! When I have had time to percolate ideas, I will come back and expand on the themes and story telling. As obvious as it is, it might be a good teaching tool to point all those literary devices!

 

Seeking Song and Story

Once upon a time, I read this guest post by Briana of Pages Unbound.  I put in my two cents about sidekick protagonists, carried on with my reading, and proceeded not to think about it further for four months.  But that post has been bouncing about my mind of late, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Briana sought something that might not have existed.  She wasn’t looking for help remembering that one book she read in seventh grade that focused on the sidekick for a change and also it involved the Brooklyn skyline somehow. Had none of us readers had any volume to suggest, we might have taken it as a request to create such a narrative for her.

The second reason I’ve been thinking about it is that this post highlights the benefit of human eyes and human minds when one is on the hunt.  Google and other search engines do their very best to help one find a particular item or passage, and there have often been times when I could use such tools to find a song, a movie, a book of which I only recalled the haziest details.  But if you don’t come up with the right search terms, or if your query gets too lengthy, it can impede rather than assist your progress.

Therefore, dear readers, I bring my concerns to you, and hope that you can help with one or the other of these things I seek.

I’m looking for…

…a piece of music. 

I sang it in June 2001, at the Illinois Summer Youth Music choir camp.  It is called “Canticle,” and I sang it as part of an all-girl ensemble led by some Canadian lady whose name eludes me.  Tragically, I supposed that remembering all the words and most all of the notes would help me to find it again.  I was mistaken.  The text is Psalm 89:1 (or Psalm 88:2 for the Douay-Rheims folk) in Latin: Misericordias Domini in æternum cantabo; in generationem et generationem annuntiabo veritatem tuam in ore meo.  No idea who composed it.  No idea if it’s a setting of some earlier composer’s work or chant.  Someone, for the love of my sanity, tell me this rings a bell for you.

UPDATE: I ask, and Jenna delivers!!  Michael Levi’s Canticle!  MY HEART IS FULL OF SONG.

…an explanation for why “capital” should be different from “capitol.” 

Evidently I completely forgot this distinction in the years since my elementary spelling classes, but “capital” refers to the city or town which serves as the seat of government, while “capitol” refers to the building in which the legislature gathers.  Typically heterographs don’t bother me, but I just. don’t. understand.  Someone call the Inky Fool.

UPDATE: I have been informed that the legislative building was named, per Jefferson, for the Roman temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.  Thus far I am satisfied that the difference stems from an existing difference between the words in Rome, but there has been no further illumination of the difference between Latin suffixes or whatnot.  Do feel free to ring up Inky anyway and see what capital he can make of it.

…a less-typical narrative. 

This one’s a bit tricky to explain.  Earlier today, I read this post (which, briefly, is the story of Susan Isaacs looking for love online, getting rejected from eHarmony because she didn’t fit into their algorithm, and eventually finding The Man on Christian Cafe).  I’m not 41, and my fortnight on OkCupid is nothing compared to Susan’s litany of dating site attempts.  When I reached the end, I was glad for her: she seems to have found what she was looking for, and it rounded out the story quite neatly.  But it also rang a bit hollow because it rounded out the story so neatly.

    "The artistic flaw is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line. Which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing." Oh, Dr. Whalen. How illuminating you are.

“The artistic flaw is inaccuracy, specifically a violation of the canons of reality. Things don’t happen that neatly. It’s an upward slope, finally plateauing into a straight line. Which…when that happens on your heart monitor, it’s a bad thing.” Oh, Dr. Whalen. How illuminating you are.

This isn’t normally a criticism I raise, because I appreciate both romance and happy, tidy endings.  I don’t recall ever complaining about the Prince marrying The Girl in any given fairy tale, or how relationships (and events more generally) shake out in Austen, Harry Potter, Stardust, or the Lord Peter stories.  I don’t whinge about Dune ending with “History will call us wives,” or the end of That Hideous Strength.  I don’t consider myself a feminist, and have never evaluated books on the basis of whether or not they pass the Bechdel Test.

But Susan’s story (and Hannah Coulter, and The Princess Bride, and any given article on Boundless) suggests that there is no other narrative, that no lady can ever be happy without The One, that the only ending possible is marriage.  This ground has been trod by a lot of women in tiresome family-vs-career arguments, but the fact remains that I want a story: a different story than my usual fare, something involving a woman who is content with a different sort of happy ending.  I’m looking for a female character who is content to live her life on her own, if only to show me that it is possible.

Surely one must exist; for all I know, there are dozens, hundreds, thousands of such stories that I’ve completely missed.  And if not, my dears, please help me write one.

Marvels of Midsummer

Having been summoned from daydreaming, ruminating, and general gathering of wool, I have my own corner of aestival excellence to share.  Here are some facets of life that have loomed large of late in the kaleidoscope of my imagination:

Lawns.  Is it odd to have such affection for a big patch of grass?  Very well, I shall be odd.  My particular lawn has been carefully cropped, groomed like an Oxford quad, but without the threat of severe displeasure from some vexed gardener should any dare to set foot upon it.  It is rich, opulent, luxurious the way carpets wish they could be – particularly when combined with

Rain!  Nothing like rain to break the summertime swelter, drops pelting the parking lot at work, the road home, one arm flung out the window as I head back.  Nothing like luxuriating in soaking wet grass, wriggling my toes among the drenched blades.  Nothing like turning my face to the sky, though the drops fall too hard to keep my eyes open in the face of them.

My commute.  I keep wanting to post about this and then stop because it Roundaboutseems bizarre and hypocritical; if I could, I’d teleport to and from work to save myself some time.  But then I’d miss passing the farms on Ann Arbor Road, with their cows and horses and hay bales.  I’d miss the fields and foliage down Prospect.  I’d miss my favorite roundabout (…yep, I’ve got a favorite roundabout) on Geddes, that takes me down a two-lane road so shadowed by trees that it feels like a secret.  Pairs well with…

Driving with the windows down.  Instead of being packed like a lemming in my shiny metal box, I like to let the wind blow my hair around, thrust my hand out into the buffeting air, and feel the bite of rain showers.  It reminds me that I’m real.  It also helps me appreciate another fact about the summer: there’s no better time of year to listen to some good old country songs (which means, evidently, songs that aren’t quite as old as I am…).  Maybe it’s me, but there’s something summery these songs capture that newer tunes just don’t quite catch…a quiet drawl of slower days, perhaps, or a lack of pretension.

Clouds.  Storms.  Melpomene’s right on: clouds are a thing fantastic, rippling and shifting as if alive.  The light that glimmers upon them, or the shadows looming within them, is marvelous.  Add in flashes of lightning and the distant rumbling of thunder and you have my idea of summer, right there.  My co-workers all wonder why I run outside precisely when they run in…

Fireflies.  For those less fond of lightning itself, there’s always the lightning bug.  The back lawn is a haven for them; for hours every evening, they flicker on and off, little green will-o-the-wisps, a creature of faerie my camera cannot capture.  A friend caught one, but it’s just as fun to watch them fly about without pursuing them.

Fireflies

[These fireflies were captured by Tsuneaki Hiramatsu.]

Crepes.  Turns out that they’re much easier to make than I had thought.  Keep the batter thin and the pan hot, and voila!  You have yourself a lovely little vehicle for all manner of cheese, meats, fruits, jam, or (of course) Nutella.

Adventures.  This is an awfully big umbrella.  New films, drinks, sushi, and chocolatiers fit under it.  The heptacycle and all seven people riding fit under it.  A lovely old quadrangle with selections from Brideshead Revisited fits under it.  So does Neil Gaiman and the theater waiting to hear him.  So does the art gallery in need of a good mocking.  So do Shakespeare, grass stains, and six-hour road trips.  So does the process of meeting a friend through a friend, and thus meeting more friends, and suddenly having more friends and three jars of homemade jam.  Get out your adventure umbrella, y’all, because that’s what summer’s for!

The Banjo

There’s a fellow in the laundry room just waiting for the dryers and playing his banjo. He’s not striving, he’s not driven, he doesn’t seem concerned about posture. But he’s making music, and that’s making him happy.

In another mood, that would thrill me. But today it makes me jealous and discontent. Where did I step from the road I was on and start berating myself for what I don’t do and hating what I do…do…? This banjo player is reminding me that I too, once loved playing the violin. Why do I now sigh patiently over it as if it were a querulous lover? Maybe we need counselling. Maybe I need to practice more. Maybe ‘practice’ is the last thing I need, and I should learn to play some bluegrass. Maybe I’ll go out there and ask this banjo-er…banjo-ist… banjo man, if he’s up for a jam with a heart sick violinist.

And maybe I’ll stop making all ya’ll listen to me whine. But this is the Egotist’s Club, after all, and if an egotist can’t whinge a bit about mooning around and missing a sense of purpose, what can an egotist do? I suppose I could discuss my dreams…but…that’s too far… After all, no one can relate to nocturnal wanderings, but in mentioning this particular sorrowful circumstance, perhaps you can see yourself. And perhaps, recognizing that all love (of people and things) takes care and thought and work, we can drag each other up by the bootstraps and try again tomorrow.

Beau Hunting

I was chatting with my friend Maura yesterday, and she announced her intention of wedding the perfect man. Perhaps not an original plan, but a sound one, nevertheless. I followed her reasoning….
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Maura: Yeah, to someone just like Mr. Darcy, who will love me in secret… even though you say that’s not a good way for love to be….
Thalia: Ohmmm… that could be a difficult search. And I only object because secret love has so much potential for…..staying potential and never….. welll….. never becoming kinetic.
Maura: No, but see, it will become kinetic because, well let’s face it, I’m a doll and he’ll have to admit that he’s madly in love with me!
Thalia: HAHAHAHAHAH! goodus luckus… 🙂 As they never said in Rome
Maura: Now you see my plan!
Thalia: It is cunning. It is devious. It is masterful!
Maura: Yes it is!
Thalia: Teach me, oh wise one….
Maura: It involves a lot of eye contact, just like in Pride and Prejudice
Thalia: ah. That’s mostly eye contact. And a great deal of smooouuudering.
Maura: You’re right, oh observant one.
Thalia: Lots of wit, a smattering of spirited self possession, and heaps and heaps of eye contact.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
And then it hit me. Of course, it’s a noble art to study, that of obtaining a beau, but we were being silly. Or were we? It would seem, through this intelligent, if only half intelligible conversation, that we struck upon a vein of truth. Later, thinking it over, I realized that there is a great deal of human understanding and truth in Jane Austen.  Not just in the plots and the society and all the things people who make her their research project study. But in the….oh… the character of her characters. To ponder Elizabeth, and discern what it was that drew a good man to her. What about the personality of Jane was actually really appealing to … that funny looking dude with the blond curly hair. In great literature, you may trust the author to create people who act and react according to their natures and characters. What lessons Maura and I learn from this may not just be the frivolling of silly girls. Perhaps we too shall wed a Mr. Darcy. Or that other guy, whichever suits our nature better. (I hope the 21st century has shorn that sweet man of his bizarre locks. It would put me off my stride, and it would be sad to miss out on perfection because of a wierdly placed curl.)