Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Cat Report (W. 2/7-18)

Just two cats today: no-longer-so-shy MOUSEY and newcomer BELLA. Both were alert when I arrived, thanks to my fellow volunteers from the preceding shift: Mousey relaxed and Bella on edge. Over the course of two hours Bella went from crouching behind her litter box to sprawling on her blankets, happily sniffing up catnip. It turns out Bella loves catnip. She let me pet her, scratch under her collar, rub her chin, so long as I was petting her with a little bag stuffed with catnip. She ended the morning blissed out on her blankets. Didn’t play any games for me (most of them just seemed to put her on edge), but did watch the laser pointer with interest, so think she’ll enjoy that once she settles in. Which I don’t think will take that long.

MOUSEY had a long walk (the better part of an hour), during which he showed that he’s a smart cat: he now has the layout of the entire store in his head, and mapped out the routes he wanted to follows. He did get stymied at one point, when he wanted to get from the far side of the store over back towards the cat-room but there was a large dog barking in the way (nr Banfield); he took a lot of time trying to figure out a detour. He did slip under the shelves at one point but was quickly recovered: he’d only just ducked out of sight. I think it’s a good sign that the mewing has pretty much stopped: he’s a lot more confident on the leash now.  

Not long before the shift ended, my fellow volunteer took a call from a potential adopter who’s interested in Mr. Mousey and said he plans to drop by while an adoption councilor is there this evening. I really hope this is Mr. Mousey’s time and that it’s a good match. I’ll be really glad if he goes home, though I’ll also really miss him.

—John R.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

an early anti-Lewis, anti-Sayers book

So, just recently I've become curious about the early days of Inklings studies, and how differently things seem to have looked from a pre-Carpenter point of view.* Pursuant thereto, a few days ago arrived a copy arrived of a book I've heard about for a long time but never read: Kathleen Nott's THE EMPEROR'S CLOTHES. This is an attack on postWar English literary figures advocating a return to a traditionalist Xianity, focusing mainly on Eliot, Sayers, G.Green, and Lewis; the relevant chapter so far as Inklings studies goes being "Lord Peter Views the Soul", which is mostly a closely-argued refutation of CSL's MIRACLES (published just a few years earlier, in 1947, and generally considered the least successful of Lewis's apologetical books).

From my point of view, more interesting than its philosophical approach is the fact that Nott's book was published as far back as 1953, making it I think one of the very earliest book to devote a chapter and more to an Inkling. The only one still earlier I can think of wd be Chad Walsh's book on CSL, APOSTLE TO THE SKEPTICS (1949). Others I can think of as belonging to this ur-generation of pseudoInklings studies are Hadfield's INTRODUCTION TO CHARLES WILLIAMS (1959), and Charles Moorman's ARTHURIAN TRIPTYCH: MYTHIC MATERIALS IN CHARLES WILLIAMS, C. S. LEWIS, and T. S. ELIOT (1960).**

All of these were published during Lewis's lifetime. Am I leaving out anything? Is there a book back from those early days I'm overlooking or not taking into account?

--John R.
today's music: the new Barenaked Ladies album (thanks, Stan).

*most notably that they tend to include T. S. Eliot and Dorothy L. Sayers as belonging to the same group as CSL, and that they tend to omit mention of Tolkien, who was not yet on their radar.


Friday, February 2, 2018

My Favorite Le Guin

So, last week when I heard the sad news about Ursula K. Le Guin's  death I wanted to make a post  about her and her work but found myself unable to come up with any suitable words. Having since come across some posts I made when we saw her give a reading and book signing in the area a few years ago, I thought I'd repost that as a memorial.

Thinking over what were my own favorite Le Guins, I realized that most people think of her first and foremost as a novelist while I've always thought her best works were short stories and essays -- that is, that I valued her most highly as a short-storyteller and critic. Hence those loom large in any short list of my time-tested favorites among her works:


--drawings of her cat in and out of ornamental pots, demonstrating the zen of cats. She kindly autographed my copy to our three cats, being careful to spell each one's name rightly.

"The Rule of Names"

--her Tolkien tribute and my favorite, bar none, of all the Earthsea stories, with a wicked little twist at the end.

THE LANGUAGE OF THE NIGHT (esp "Poughkeepsie, though I no longer agree with her thesis, and "The Staring Eye")

--the book that established Le Guin as a major critic of the fantasy genre; provided a lot of clarity at a time when the professional critics and academics were stumbling over each other in attempts to grapple with the new genre of fantasy.

And finally and most hauntingly, "The Ones Who Walk Away for Omelas"

--the most unsettling utopia I've ever come across. It stays with you, this one; I was glad to see it called out by name in the NPR tribute to her.*

--John R.

current reading: THE PROUD TOWER (Tuchman),THE INKLINGS AND KING ARTHUR (Higgins)

*the other nice touch was that not only this piece but various ones from major newspapers that I saw online ALL GOT HER NAME RIGHT by including the middle initial. As someone who always uses his initial and all-too-often sees it dropped, I admire her persistence in wanting to use a specific form of her own name.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Wednesday Cat Walking (Mousey)

What a week for adoptions. Since I was in the cat-room last ATLAS got sent up north to meet up with his pending adopter. We had new arrivals mother-daughter pair Millie and Tink,  and PANDA, all three of whom got adopted almost right away. Shy PEACHES had no sooner settled in than she found a home of her own as wellTo top it all off, we got reports that several recently adopted cats are doing really well in their new homes.

That leaves just our special-needs cat, MOUSEY (Mr. Wobbles).* When I arrived the morning shift had him all taken care of (food, water, clean box, attention) and in a good mood. He squirmed, as usual, when I put the leash on, but unlike previous walks, which in truth were mostly carries, he spent a lot of this one on his own four feet, exploring. He’s learned the basic rules about not trying to duck under the shelving, and proved that when put down anywhere on the west side of the store knows how to find his way back to the cat-room. 

Where he did best was the far (East) side of the store, where he became deeply interested in the big dog beds, those giant flat cushions on the shelves. He thought that if he could get up on these there was no end of interesting places behind them and on either side he could explore. He thought I was unreasonable in not letting him climb up in there, no matter how many times he asked, or how politely. His persistence eventurally paid off when I let him get on one of the large flat cardboard boxes (containing I think a collapsable dog-cage) and kept a close watch (and sometimes hand) on him while he gloried in his safe secret place. 

We also went down to the training room, where I closed the door and let him roam around at will. He immediately started mewing, just like he used to on previous walks, but stopped when he settled for a while in the far corner, from which he cd see anything entering the room (i.e., trying to sneak up on him). After a while he came over and I put him in my lap, where he drifted off to sleep.

All in all he had two walks, separated by about ten minutes back in the room. He did better on the second one — warmed up a bit, perhaps? Having someone in the room to let him back inside in case he panicked was a big help.

Once back in the room the second time he went back into his cage, where he expressed no interest in any game I offered him, not even his orange string. I did work on his ears a bit, which he seemed to like. Offered some catnip, he played it cool for a bit, then surrendered to it and rolled belly-up.

As my fellow volunteer said, it’s hard to memember how he was so traumatized when he arrived that he needed a cave of blankets to hide in. He’s come a long way in just a month.

—John R.

P.S.:  According to the previous shift, this morning someone in a wheelchair came into the room to see the cats (Mousey), and apparently he was interested in her wheelchair rather than frightened by it. If I remember rightly, his personal history said that his previous owner used a wheelchair, so perhaps if conjured up some good memories for him.

P.P.S. He came fairly close to several dogs of several sizes in the course of his two walks. He was not bothered at all, when held, by the quiet and well-behaved dogs, but didn’t at all like the barky ones.

*Mousey has Cerebellar Hypoplasia, which means he has difficulty jumping and loses some control of his back legs when frightened; he also trembles when stressed. It's not a progressive condition, though, so he's fine as long as he has step-stools and the like. Knowledge that he'd have trouble getting to safety if anything attacked him is probably a big factor in his fear of unknown places.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Winnie the Pooh Day

So, if Barnes & Noble and a handful of English newspapers are to be believed, today was Winnie-the-Pooh day (aka Milne's birthday).

Seeing all the Pooh merchandizing available through the link above -- which is only a small fraction of all the Pooh-stuff out there, reminded me of one final post I wanted to make re. things I learned from reading the Milne biography.

I've seen it said that Milne would have been appalled by all the Pooh-inspired merchandizing out there, especially that based on the Disney cartoons. That may well be true; we'll never know. But Milne, it turns out, was heavily into the merchandising, already underway by the early thirties. What's more, he was enthused at the idea of Disney adapting at least one of his works. Here's what Thwaite has to say re. the topic:

There would be a number of . . . films, both silent 
ones and talkies, made from Milne plays . . . 
Milne would not live to see what Walt Disney 
did to Winnie-the-Pooh, though in fact he might
 not have objected as much as some people assume.
In 1938 he was to write to Kenneth Grahame's
 widow about Toad of Toad Hall: 'I expect you
 have heard that Disney is interested in it?  It is 
just the thing for him, of course, and he would 
do it beautifully.  (p.212)

--TOAD OF TOAD HALL being Milne's 1921 adaptation of Grahame's WIND IN THE WILLOWS for the stage:  a work Tolkien singles out for special condemnation in OFS. Disney's adaption of same came out in 1949. Milne was still alive at the time (this was just a few years before his debilitating stroke) but I have no idea whether he saw the film or not.

--John R.
--current anime: RECORD OF GRANCREST WAR
--most recently watched anime: MARY AND THE WITCH'S FLOWER (tonight, in the theater)

Sunday, January 14, 2018

I See Shakespeare's Worst Play

So, today Janice and I went down to the Seattle Center (also known as the site of the '62 World's Fair) to see TIMON OF ATHENS, which gets my vote for Shakespeare's worst play, hands down. I'd been curious if, bad as it is on the page, it had any redeeming qualities on the stage. The answer, I'd say, is No. Too bad.

We stayed for the Q&A with the cast (most of whom were very good, esp. the guy who played Timon's loyal stewart), whose explanation for its being so bad was twofolds. First, they said Shakespeare co-wrote it w. Thomas Middleton, who they claimed wrote the worse bits. Unfortunately for this argument, the dialogue, which they blame on Midddleton, is rather better than the many, many soliloquies, which they credit to Shakespeare.

Second, they thought the play was unfinished, just a draft. So any line they didn't like cd be seen as a place-holder, meant to be replaced later by something better.

These arguments fail to address the true weakness of the play: it has an utterly unsympathetic main character. Timon* goes from being foolishly generous beyond his means (think generosity junkie)
to being bitterly misanthropic, with lots of nasty little rants about how horrible everyone is.

So, it's good to get a chance to see this, but while the play is better on the stage than on the page, it's, in the words of Marvin the Paranoid Android, "still very bad though". Though it does make me want to see MACBETH on stage if it comes anywhere near.

--John R.

*whose name I've always pronounced as 'Ta-MOAN', but which they said as 'TY-man', rhyming w. Simon. Though I don't suppose it matters.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Conan Doyle Disease

So, some authors come to be known by a single book, or a single series within a larger body of work. Out of the many things he or she wrote, this one work comes to be the defining legacy.*

Some writers are fine with that. They're happy to be remembered, and it doesn't bother them that they're remembered for Book A as opposed to Book B. I think P. G. Wodehouse was one of these. Far from being annoyed that people wanted more Jeeves and Bertie Wooster stories from him year after year, he seems to have felt himself jolly lucky that readers still wanted more, and he was happy to oblige.**  Tolkien belonged to this category: when asked in an interview how he wanted to be remembered, he replied that he hadn't much choice in the matter: that if he was remembered at all it'd be for LORD OF THE RINGS.***

Other authors, while grateful for the popularity a successful work brings, come to feel resentment over time for being treated like a one-hit wonder. A prime example of this is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes stories overshadow anything else he ever wrote, and rightly so -- and it was already apparent from early on in Doyle's career that this wd be the case.****

It was A. A. Milne's misfortune that he had a bad case of Conan Doyle disease. He wanted to be remembered as a witty and popular playwright; a persuasive advocate of pacifism (when pacifism was popular) and then stern critic of pacifist (when there was an actual war going on); a bold critic of Xianity.; a serious modern novelist Instead, he's remembered for Winnie-the-Pooh. Milne was already popular: the Pooh books made him famous. He was already making a more-than-comfortable living as a playwright; Pooh & company made him rich (and he enthusiastically encouraged merchandising of the same from v. early on). But he found it hard to be thought of as just a children's author, and growing harder as the years passed: not a Noel Coward but a second James Barrie.

--John R.
current reading: Thwaite on Milne (1990)
current music: THE ENDLESS RIVER (2014; the last Pink Floyd album)

*thanks to Paul W. having queried this usage in a comment on an earlier post.

**the first Bertie & Jeeves story having been published in 1914 and the last in 1974, when the author was in his nineties.

***as opposed to his scholarly pieces, which he characterized as 'small', unimportant by comparison.

****A more modern example wd be Gary Gygax, who will always be remembered as the man who wrote D&D (esp. the three volume AD&D rules set), not by any of the games he turned out in the final twenty years of his career