There are times that someone with the right kind of talent and right kind of vision come upon an idea that's so brilliant that you have to wonder why...moreThere are times that someone with the right kind of talent and right kind of vision come upon an idea that's so brilliant that you have to wonder why someone else didn't come up with it first. At the same time, you're so glad that THAT particular person is executing the project that you're glad that the universe didn't bring the idea along sooner.
That's the case with WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S THE EMPIRE STRIKETH BACK, by Ian Doescher. Obviously the second book in a trilogy (the first was WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S STAR WARS: VERILY, A NEW HOPE), it's easily my favorite Star War... anything to come out in the last ten years. A big, completely biased part of that is my great love of The Empire Strikes Back. When seven year old me saw it in the theaters, it blew my mind. I had watched and re-read the first Star Wars movie and picture book adaptation so many times, played with my action figures in our sandbox, and basically lived and breathed Star Wars in the three years between A NEW HOPE and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. Watching the sequel in the theater, it took all of my thoughts and visions about Star Wars, and blew the doors open on the possibilities of that universe. I wasn't stuck with playing out a single storyline over and over again--those characters could go to other planets, face new dangers, find new allies and new enemies...and their world was more complex and exciting for it.
By now, I've seen THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK quite possibly one hundred times. Even though I still love it each time, and usually say that it's my favorite movie of all time...I pretty much know it forwards and backwards. Every line, every sound effect, every note of John Williams' beautiful score. I didn't think there was anything that could deepen my understanding of that movie.
Then Ian Doescher came along. His WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S STAR WARS series takes the scripts from the classic trilogy and adapts them to be like William Shakespeare's plays. That includes Elizabethan language, stage directions, and even iambic pentameter. There are woodcut-style illustrations, showing the characters in tights and ruff collars. There are wooden AT-ATs (Imperial Walkers) being pulled across the stage on little carts by ropes. It would still be a fun idea, even if it weren't done as well as Doescher does it. But what he does is brilliant.
Some of the pleasure I find in this book is simply in how he translates lines I already know by heart:
The original lines from the movie:
LEIA: "Why you stuck-up...half-witted...scruffy-looking...nerfherder!!"
HAN: "Who's scruffy-looking?"
And then Doescher's version:
LEIA: "Thou arrogant half-wit, Thou oversized child, thou friend of slime, Thou man of scruffy looks, thou who herd'st nerfs, Thou fool-born wimpled roughhewn waste of flesh!"
I love that. I love Elizabethan language, whether in Shakespeare or the King James Bible. It's a beautifully poetic language, and as someone who reads both German and English, I love the connections between the two. Doescher does Elizabethan well. Better than the example above actually...I just like those lines.
Some of my favorite parts in his first book are the soliloquies and asides -- the first where a character basically gives a speech revealing their truest selves to the reader/audience, and the second where the character will break from the scene and address the audience directly before going back into the action. Doescher does basically what I expected with this, deepening characters who we already know, giving them an inner life that we didn't know before. The most remarkable cases of this are with Lando Calrissian and Boba Fett, each of whom is more a sketch of a character in the original movie. Doescher gives them both more lines than they had, but also deeper motivations and more insight into what they're thinking in the complicated world they're navigating. Why would Lando betray his longtime friend Han Solo? It's here. And it's really wonderful. Ian Doescher both surprised and delighted me with some other soliloquies and lines; he gives voice to the Wampa (the ice monster who captures Luke in the beginning of the movie), the aforementioned AT-ATs, and most remarkably, the "Exogorth" -- the giant space worm that inhabits an asteroid cave. The Millennium Falcon hides there, then flees after our heroes realize where they're at. The Exogorth's last lines:
"Was e'er an exogorth as sad as I? Was e'er a tragedy as deep as mine? I shall with weeping crawl back to my cave, Which shall, sans food, belike become my grave."
In the author's notes at the end of the book, Doescher explains some things he did differently with THE EMPIRE STRIKETH BACK, like reducing the chorus from the first book, instead having characters describe things the audience can't see offstage. He also explains why he has Yoda break from iambic pentameter. I noticed while I was reading that Yoda was still using his "backwards speech," but there was something different about the lines. Turns out he was speaking in haiku--an elegant solution to Doescher's problem of making his language different in a script where everyone is speaking oddly. He also explains that he had Boba Fett speak in prose, and gives examples of Shakespeare doing the same.
Honestly, there are things on every page that I could show as examples of how this book delighted me. I typically devour books within a day or two, then move on to the next. I've been savoring THE EMPIRE STRIKETH BACK over a period of several weeks, because I didn't want it to end. It's a brilliant, well-executed mash-up that improves on the Bard. The Bard in this instance is George Lucas, but I think Shakespeare himself would have found beauty in these pages. Later this year THE JEDI DOTH RETURN is scheduled to come out. I both look forward to it and dread it--because that will be the end of this War among the Stars. (less)
There's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons. Mormon pioneers coming to the Be...moreThere's a misconception outside of Utah, and okay, even inside Utah, that all of Utah's history is about the Mormons. Mormon pioneers coming to the Beehive State in 1847, setting up their polygamist kingdom, and then fighting against the U.S. government for fifty years to become a state. It wasn't until the Mormons agreed to give up polygamy in 1890 that the United States allowed them to move from being a territory to a state, which finally happened in 1896. For many people, that is the history of Utah. But it's much more than that.
Eileen Hallet Stone is a reporter and columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune. One of her ongoing columns has been Living History, revived after being dormant for some time. As a Utah History teacher, I've enjoyed the articles in the paper when I've caught them--but there have been many I've missed. Thankfully, 58 of those short stories have now been collected in Hidden History of Utah, a 2013 book published by The History Press. The 200 page book is an interesting series of snapshots into the "other history" of Utah, and it's a great resource for Utah residents or simply history buffs who want to know more about the Western United States.
Most of the stories cover the century from 1850 to 1950, and are each only two to three pages long. It's a great one to read in short batches, when you've only got a few minutes to get your history on. The articles are grouped into categories:
Early Towns, Different Stories
Western Entrepreneur's True Grit
Matters of Inequity
Rails, Wires, Wheels and Roads,
Suffragists in the West
Working the Mines
...you get the idea. There are stories from World War II, from the Great Depression, about Prostitution and Prohibition. Many of her stories are meant to bust the myths that Utah has always been dry (it hasn't, and still isn't), or that we're all a bunch of white bread Mormons (okay, I am, but there's more diversity here than people realize). The stories are entertaining, succinct, and well-written. The one caution is that Stone seems to be so interested in telling the "other stories" of Utah's History that she doesn't include the traditional Mormon stories at all. Filling in gaps is good, but if a reader picked this up expecting to cover all of Utah's History, there would be some series chunks missing.
with that caveat in mind, if you're interested in Utah History, this is a good place to start. There are other contributors to the Living History column, including longtime Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley--I'd love to see more collections in this series. Past publications by the Salt Lake Tribune have included It Happened in Utah by Gayen and Tom Wharton, and In Another Time, by the late Harold Schindler. All are worth tracking down, for the same reasons that Hidden History of Utah is. (less)
I'm something of an architecture buff. Architecture nerd. Geek. Whatever you want to call it, I pay attention to the buildings around me. More than j...more I'm something of an architecture buff. Architecture nerd. Geek. Whatever you want to call it, I pay attention to the buildings around me. More than just a place to get out of the elements, they're built the way they are for a reason. I don't have any professional training, and given my math skills, could never actually build anything, but I love architecture.
When I saw Images of America: Salt Lake City's Historic Architecture by Allen Dale Roberts, I knew I had to pick it up. The book is part of a long-running series from Arcadia Publishing, with hundreds of books celebrating local history across the United States. Their pattern seems to be mining photos from the archives of local/state historical societies, and then finding local experts to write about them. In this particular case, it worked perfectly.
Mr. Roberts is an award-winning architect and the president of CRSA, an architectural firm in Salt Lake City that specializes in historic preservation and restoration. So when he writes about the buildings in the book, he knows what he's talking about.
The 128-page paperback volume features hundreds of buildings, divided into nine chapters based on the function of the structure: Civic and Public Architecture, Industrial Buildings, Hotels and Apartments, Religious Architecture, etc..
Of the 220 buildings featured in the book, about a third of them have been destroyed. For some, it's understandable. The site of the building, the cost to renovate, safety concerns--all play a role in deciding if a building should stay or go. For others, it's a loss that left me genuinely sad (and sometimes angry) about the shortsightedness of previous generations. Chief among these are the Commercial Block, which was a beautiful building near my former workplace downtown, and the Dooly Block, Utah's only building designed by renowned architect Louis Sullivan.
As you read the book, the names of certain architects keep coming to the fore: Richard Kletting, Frederick Hale, the firm Pope and Burton...most of the significant buildings in the late 19th and early 20th Century were designed by a handful of men and their firms. You begin to see common themes and design elements in their buildings, and I love knowing a little more about the backgrounds of the structures. Names of sponsors of the buildings also keep coming up--the Mormon/LDS Church of course is responsible for many of the buildings in Salt Lake City, but a family of four "Walker Brothers" and the silver mining magnate Thomas Kearns also served as a counterpoint, building commercial buildings to rival the economic and political hold the Mormons had on the city. It makes for an interesting study in contrasts, and a kind of time machine to look at my hometown.
The photographs are all black and white, pulled from various state archives, with a handful of modern black and white photographs that may have been taken by Roberts himself. Most buildings are featured two per page, but some significant buildings merit their own page, or even multiple pages. Roberts' captions are succinct but informative, and I enjoyed reading this book more than I expected.
If you're a fan of architecture, and happen to have ties to Utah or Salt Lake City, I highly recommend this book. Since I know most people reading this don't have those ties, look for the Images of America books that represent your own community. Chances are good that there are many of them, and if they're anything like this one, they'll be a good find. (less)
I'm a Mormon. Have been my whole life. Probably will be my whole life. My family goes way back in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, all...moreI'm a Mormon. Have been my whole life. Probably will be my whole life. My family goes way back in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, all the way to 1830, when the religion was founded in New York by Joseph Smith. They stuck with the Mormons as they moved to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and then the middle of nowhere (Utah).
I try to be open and upfront with my religious beliefs, not to foist them upon others, but open enough that friends, co-workers, new acquaintances who have questions about the Mormons feel comfortable asking me. I usually do a pretty good job of it, I think...although I have startled more than one person who asks me how many wives I have by telling them "four...and we're looking at a fifth. Interested?" For the record, that's a JOKE, and Mormons haven't done the polygamy thing since 1890. Still. It's a peculiar piece of our history, and I own it. There are other oddities in our theology, some of which you undoubtedly heard about during Mitt Romney's run for the White House. Even odder than our theology is Mormon folklore--the stories and culture that have grown up around the Mormons in isolation in the Western United States. Those traditions are the topic of Latter-Day Lore: Mormon Folklore Studies, a 2013 book edited by Eric A. Eliason and Tom Mould.
The hefty (nearly 600 pages) paperback is a collection of writings dating from 1948 on, although most of the 28 essays and articles are from the last 25 years. The majority of the older essays still hold up over time, because they're about rural communities and the transition from pioneer times to 20th Century life.
The six sections of the book are:
Part I: Mormondom as Regional Culture: Society, Symbols, and Landscape
Part II: Making Mormons: Formative Customs and Traditions
Part III: The Sacred and the Supernatural
Part IV: Pioneers, Heroes, and the Historical Imagination
Part V: Humor
Part VI: Beyond Deseret: Mormon Folklore in an International Context
The introductions to each section, along with a long scholarly introduction about the context of the Mormons in the West, the role of folklore in researching history, and how they gathered and organized the essays, are all written by Eliason and Mould. It turns out those are the driest part of the collection, although they do a good job of establishing the rest of the book.
Some of my particular favorite essays:
The Mormon Landscape: Definition of an Image in the American West, by Richard V. Francaviglia -- there is something unique about Mormon cities and towns and their situation in relation to each other and the mountains and streams that feed them, when compared to similar sized towns in neighboring states. Francaviglia explains those differences, and gives a sort of primer to help you identify "if you're in a Mormon town or not."
Made in Heaven: Marriage Confirmation Narratives Among Mormons, by George H. Schoemaker -- Mormons have a strong belief in "personal revelation" -- that God has a vested interest in our lives, and will give us a heads-up about important things via the Holy Ghost. It can be through feelings, it can be through a voice in our head, it can be through friends or family members. Schoemaker's article is about Mormons who get some kind of revelation that their spouse-to-be is The One. As a Mormon who was single until the age of 27 (a very old man in Mormon terms), I've heard dozens of these in real life, and it was interesting to look at it from a scholarly perspective.
Nameways in Latter-Day Saint History, Custom, and Folklore, by Eric Eliason -- Mormon given names have always fascinated me, possibly because my own name (Quinn) is somewhat unusual. It defies the naming traditions described by Eliason, but when the time came for my wife and I to name our own sons, we followed some of the courses described in the essay. Eliason details several different traditions, ascribing them to times and places, and examines whether or not they're truly "Mormon" traditions, or "Western U.S." traditions. I loved this essay.
Pioneers and Recapitulation in Mormon Popular Historical Expression, by Eric Eliason -- turns out I like how this guy thinks. And writes. This looks at the idea of the Mormon exodus from eastern states to Utah, and how it's been commemorated and become its own sort of weird object of veneration. I've never quite agreed with it, but Eliason explains it well here. He also looks at how that commemoration has changed over time, and what forms it may take in the future.
Others in the collection are hit and miss; I felt like the collection and analysis of "BYU Coed Jokes" was interesting, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend it. Same with the inclusion of "Three Nephites" stories -- similar to the "Wandering Jew" or Michael Landon's Highway to Heaven character...an angelic visitor who pops in, does some good deed, and then vanishes. That essay felt short and incomplete for a subject that's such a huge part of Mormon folklore.
One that I wanted to love, and that I was keenly interested in, was Susan Peterson's The Great and Dreadful Day: Mormon Folklore of the Apocalypse. Mormons tend to have...interesting ideas about the end of the world (the official name of the church includes the term "Latter-Day" in it, after all), and in my personal experience, the folklore related to the apocalypse goes bananas. Sadly, Peterson's article was originally published in 1976, and although it's well-written, many of the things she includes as evidence or as Mormon conventional wisdom has been changed.
Overall, it's a collection of scholarly essays that look at Mormon folklore. If you're a fan of American folklore or cultural studies, it's a solid read. Each essay provides enough of a background about what you need to know about the religion for that particular essay, so you aren't ever out of your depth in understanding where the authors are going. If you're interested in the subject, but want something a little shorter, I also recommend Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore.(less)