Saturday, June 27, 2015

That Ten-Dollar-Bill Thing

So, back from Arkansas, and utterly exhausted. So thought I'd do just a quick little post today, about that replacing Hamilton from the $10.00 bill thing that's been going around.

First off, I think it'd a bad idea to remove the person who created our banking system from the currency.

Second, if they had to remove somebody, I'd prefer it were General Grant, from the fifty -- a man famous mainly for killing a lot of his fellow Americans and then going on to preside over a notoriously corrupt and incompetent administration.

Third, if we're going to put a woman on our currency (a good idea in and of itself), I'd vote for Jeannette Rankin:* the first woman elected to the US Congress. A suffragette who served two terms twenty years apart, Rankin was a pacifist who voted against U. S. entry into World War I, for which she got booted out. She finally won re-election twenty years later, just in time to vote against U. S. entry into World War II (the ONLY member of Congress to do so). It's rare for a politician to stand by his or her principles, whatever the political cost.

So, it they were to make the best of a bad idea, I'd say leave Hamilton where he is, boot Grant from his current spot, and put Rankin in his place.


Friday, June 19, 2015

R. R. Martin is Munificent

So, when reading about the record-breaking auction of a first edition, first printing, signed and inscribed presentation copy of THE HOBBIT, I saw the link to another story about another record being set, again with a first edition copy of THE HOBBIT.

In brief, Martin has just donated a copy of the first edition HOBBIT to the Texas A&M university library. This is not just extremely generous of him but marks a significant milestone for the library, being their five millionth book.

Their millionth book seems to have been essentially random: PROSE AND POETRY OF THE LIVESTOCK INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES. So too perhaps the two million mark: A VOYAGE TO THE ISLANDS MADERA, BARBADOS, NIEVES, S. CHRSTOPHERS AND JAMAICA (1707-25) by Sir Hans Sloane. But it's v. clear that the three millionth was a careful choice: a first edition of Walt Whitman's THE LEAVES OF GRASS [1855], as was the four millionth: Cervantes's DON QUIXOTE (both volumes).

So, it's a big deal that Tolkien's work should be deemed worthy of being in such company and world-renown classic authors as Whitman and Cervantes, a point made explicitly by Martin in his presentation ("Martin expressed him pleasure at a long overdue acceptance of fantasy 'into the canon of world literature'"). It's almost as if, now that Terry Pratchett is dead, R. R. Martin has become the go-to face of fantasy guy.

Here's the link.

--John R.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Guardian Knows My Name

So, turns out that the first-edition, first-printing, autographed presentation copy given by JRRT for his student Katharine Kilbride (one of his original author's copies) didn't go for fifty to seventy thousand pounds, as estimated. It went for more than double that: £137,000


What's more, I was surprised to find myself being quoted by THE GUARDIAN.  Being referenced in an online forum or cited in an academic piece is one thing (and I'm always interested to see how others use my work); to be quoted in a world-class newspaper is oddly disconcerting. At any rate, glad to see the reference to Tolkien's THE LOST ROAD being picked up; it'd be great if that leads someone out there to discover Tolkien's strange and fascinating time-travel stories.

Here's the piece:

--John R.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Cat Report (W. 6/17-15)

I was remiss and didn't write up last week's cat report or one from the week before. Our current cats are EMMA, our little grey tabby with an outsized personality, CHESSA, a beautiful longhair orange cat who's blind (she can apparently see light and dark some, so she doesn't run into things, but she can't tell what they are), bonded pair MONTE (a dignified but friendly tuxedo cat) and sister MAISY (a torbie who's on the shy side), plus the two remaining Kittens from Oman, bonded pair sisters BLOSSOM and BUTTERCUP.

It was still the same six cats this week, who have pretty well worked out who's boss cat (EMMA), who hides and hopes she doesn't get hissed at (MAISY), who minds his own business (MONTE), who waits patiently for attention (CHESSA), and who's out and about and all over the place (BLOSSOM & BUTTERCUP).

Started off the morning by giving EMMA her walk. She initially didn't want to go anywhere but just hung out right outside the door. When I sat down with my back to the door she climbed up in my lap immediately (impressive, given that she's not a lap cat) and got some serious one-on-one petting. After a while she decided she wanted a walk after all, so we worked our way up by the drinking fountain -- where she found not one but two doors she wanted to go through: one with its door temptingly ajar and the other closed (leading into the kitchen, where she can't go). Her manners are good, though: she scratched at the closed door and mewed politely.

Next up it was CHESSA's turn. She had a good long walk and was much admired; seems that the store's entire staff knows about her and many stopped and petted her as they went by. After she was back in the room I cleaned her ears, which badly needed it but which she didn't enjoy at all. Did as much as she could stand, but it'll need doing again when someone has time. Poor Chessa!  Afterwards I rubbed her back with a wet washcloth to get a lot of that loose fur off; much less of it than had been the case last week or especially the week before.  She got hissed at by the kittens several times and swatted once before I could intervene. So she did something really clever, though I don't know if she planned it or it just worked out that way. The kittens had been giving her trouble in her usual place in the basket, so she slipped out and went into their cage. Given that they were exploring everybody else's cages, this turned out to be the one place on the ground level where she was free from being bothered by them, and she happily stayed in there quite a while. 

MONTE and MAISY had both on the kittens' hit list last week, and they've developed opposite strategies of dealing with it. MONTE picks a spot and defends it, so after a hiss or two they leave him alone. His favorite spot seems to be atop the taller cat-stand near the door; he considers the other tall cat-stand near the cabinet an acceptable substitute but more likely to be interrupted by kittens going up and down. He loves catnip, and games, and attention. In short, he's pretty much a perfectly normal cat in a room full of touchy cats, and responds warmly to petting and attention in general.  MAISY the kittens frankly bully, and last week she kept retreating until she finally found a spot where she held her ground: the carry-home box atop the cages (on the side of the room near the door). Today she went right to that box and stayed there all morning; the kittens found her once and beat a hasty retreat from her defensive hissing. I let her enjoy her peace and quiet most of the morning, only disturbing her when it was time for her to come down and go in her cage. I found she wanted attention and welcomed petting, which made me sorry I hadn't petted her more: I'll be sure to do so next time.

That just leaves THE KITTENS FROM OMAN (BLOSSOM and BUTTERCUP), who were a little less boisterous than last week, when they were little terrors. They've now decided to stay away from EMMA at all costs, so she reigns supreme down at that end of the room. They're allowed down around the floor once she's gone up on a cat-stand, but have to retreat if she wants to come down and spend some time in her Box. I can only admire her grip: she's laid down the law and intimidated them into behaving themselves when she's around. Didn't put up the 'catio' today, since they've become such escape artists, but didn't do too badly just within the room. They played in the box and with the crinkly paper once Emma was through with it, tore back and forth on the floor, went into every cage that was opened to supervise my cleaning, poked their noses into the cabinet, and played lots of games. They especially liked bug-on-a-stick: one of them kept carrying it off, like prey to her lair. They finally settled down not long before noon (though they still objected to being put back in their cage, which I can't really blame them for).

health concerns: Chessa's ears are the main one. One of the kittens threw up, but I don't know which one.  Other than that everybody seems to be okay. 

Note: I'm off next week (in Arkansas) but should be back as usual the week after.

--John R.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

So That's Where That Is! (a book from CSL's library)

So, it's well known that when C. S. Lewis was dying, he let some of his closest friends take a book or two from his library to remember him by. So far as I know no one made a list of who took which books, though the remainder of his collection (those his brother Warnie didn't want) were sold as a lot to a school and some of these were identified years later and are now in the Wade.

I therefore took note when I came across what seems to be a reference to one of those books Lewis gave away, which I thought I'd share here for those interested in such things.

The book in question is by Charles Williams, the first of his theological books (the first to be published, anyway):  HE CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN (1938). Alice Mary Hadfield, in her biography of Williams, notes that

On the flyleaf of C. S. Lewis's copy of He Came Down 
From Heaven, in Charles's hand, is written 'At Shirreffs, 
2.10, 4th July 1938'. He must have been spending a lunch
-hour with Lewis at his favourite restaurant-bar,* Shirreffs,
 at the bottom of Ludgate Hill, under the railway bridge
 across the road from the King Lud pub, and have given
 him a copy of this new book to read in the train home. 
At the end of his copy Lewis wrote 'July 26 1938', 
probably the date when he finished his reading and 
making notes. Sadly, Shirreffs has gone, and the site 
no longer holds a restaurant 
[Hadfield p. 164-165]

Hadfield's source for this is identified in a note on p. 245: 'By courtesy of Mr. George Sayer.'

If follows, then, that Sayer must have Lewis's copy of this book, and it seems likely that he was given it by Lewis himself.

As it happens, we have Sayer's own account of that event, in his biography of Lewis (JACK: C. S. LEWIS AND HIS TIMES), in which Sayer describes making as his initial pick George MacDonald's UNSPOKEN SERMONS, which Lewis was apparently too attached to to be able to let go, hence Sayer "hastily withdrew my choice and asked to be allowed to have something else" (JACK p. 249). That 'something else' now looks likely to have been the Charles Williams book -- an odd choice, I shd have thought, for Sayer. As Chuck Berry says, it just goes to show you just can't tell.

--John R.

P.S.: By the way, Lewis himself left an account of this lunch-meeting in his Preface to ESSAYS PRESENTED TO CHARLES WILLIAMS (p. viii):

[During the period 1936-1939] There were many meetings
 both in my rooms at Magdalen and in Williams's tiny office
 at Amen House. Neither Mr. Dyson nor my brother, Major 
W. H. Lewis, will forget a certain immortal lunch at Shirreff's
 in 1938 (he gave me a copy of He Came Down From Heaven
 and we ate kidneys 'enclosed', like the wicked man, 'in their
 own fat') nor the almost Platonic discussion which followed
 for about two hours in St. Paul's churchyard.

--thus we know not only that two more Inklings were in attendance (Hugo Dyson and Warnie) but even what they ate! Happenstance rarely preserves so much; a pity that in documentaries on the Inklings we see so many re-creations of CSL's midnight walk with Tolkien and Dyson and none, so far as I am aware, of this lunchtime meeting.


Sunday, June 14, 2015

Something I've Learned

Working on my current paper, I've learned that there's no casual way to introduce a discussion of an author's bondage poem into a general discussion of his work.  Friday I tried all kind of ways of easing into the subject and it was just no good: a certain awkwardness kept intervening. I've concluded that it's just going to have to be abrupt. And disconcerting. Kind of like the poem itself.
Oh well.
John R.
current reading: SAILS OF GLORY rulebook
current viewing: a documentary on Pullman's GOLDEN COMPASS -- surprisingly dull, given the liveliness of the subject matter and the controversy it's caused.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Happy 150th Birthday to W. B. Yeats

Yesterday I found out quite by chance that today is Wm Butler Yeats' one hundred and fiftieth birthday.  So it seemed appropriate to give one of his poems here. Yeats gets my vote for the greatest poet of the last century, a man who was constantly re-inventing himself and forging ahead into new territory: lyrical late Victorian, Irish mythologist, personal confessional poet, war poet, witness to the modern era, poet of meditations on old age and endings. Which means there are so many to choose from. Some value the early wistfulness of "Down by the Salley Garden" and "Lake Isle of Innesfree", some the evocation of Irish legend in "Fergus and the Druid", the Cuchulainn poems, or "The Stolen Child". Perhaps his most famous poems convey something of the terrible upheavals of World War I, the Irish Rebellion, and the Irish Civil War: "Easter 1916" ("a terrible beauty has been born") and "The Second Coming" (which summed up the age: "the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity"). But more than anything I think of Yeats as the poet of letting go: "Sailing to Byzantium", "Politics", the last two parts of Under Ben Bulben" (including his own epitaph), and above all "Lapis Lazuli".

But when I came to pick a poem to celebrate the day, I decided on one of his lesser-known works which, though deceptively simple, has haunted me since I first read it back in Dr. Kimpel's class during my time at Fayetteville.

"Two Songs of a Fool" [1919]

A speckled cat and a tame hare
Eat at my hearthstone
And sleep there;
And both look up to me alone
For learning and defence
As I look up to Providence.

I start out of my sleep to think
Some day I may forget
Their food and drink;
Or, the house door left unshut,
The hare may run till it's found
The horn's sweet note and the tooth of the hound.

I bear a burden that might well try
Men that do all by rule,
And what can I
That am a wandering-witted fool
But pray to God that He ease
My great responsibilities?

I slept on my three-legged stool by the fire,
The speckled cat slept on my knee;
We never thought to enquire
Where the brown hare might be,
And whether the door were shut.

Who knows how she drank the wind
Stretched up on two legs from the mat,
Before she had settled in her mind
To drum with her heel and to leap?

Had I but awakened from sleep
And called her name, she had heard,
It may be, and had not stirred,

That now, it may be, has found
The horn's sweet note and the tooth of the hound.


--at first this seems a straightforward account of a simple man worried about something which does in fact come to pass. But then again, it could just as easily been called "Answered Prayers": he prays to be eased of his burden, and his burden is taken away in a way he had not intended. Free and rejoicing, dead and devoured; he'll never know. And that we're told Providence is to us like the speaker is to his cat and rabbit is a final chilling thought.