In his essay "Tree and Leaf," JRR Tolkien observes (with great regret) that the Victorians trivialized the whole notion of "Fäirie."
Fairies and elves...moreIn his essay "Tree and Leaf," JRR Tolkien observes (with great regret) that the Victorians trivialized the whole notion of "Fäirie."
Fairies and elves were turned into mild, safe little characters, "flower-fairies and fluttering sprites with antennae that I so disliked as a child, and which my children in their turn detested." And as a literary category, fairy stories were relegated to the nursery room: "in recent times, fairie-stories have usually been written or 'adapted' for children."
Tolkien did not view this as a positive development, to put it mildly. "Fairy-stories banished in this way, cut off from a full adult art, would in the end be ruined," he wrote. "Indeed, in so far as they have been so banished, they have been ruined."
Well: had Tolkien cracked open "Seneca Indian Myths," he'd have been as delighted as I am to find story after story gloriously un-ruined.
By way of background, these stories were collected by Curtin on behalf of the Smithsonian in 1883; the volume was originally published in 1922.
The beauty of the stories is that Curtin transcribed them, rather than interpreted or re-told them. He didn't Westernize them; he most certainly didn't try to turn them into nursery tales.
If you're at all a fan of fairy tales, you're probably aware that older versions of our familiar European tales are often bloody and violent -- more Stephen King than Disney. You'll find that same matter-of-fact brutality in this collection. People chop each other up, cannibalize unsuspecting victims, wager and lose their lives in magical games. Reading them, you peer into a time when people lived closer to the idea of death than we're accustomed to, today, with our sanitized health care and the hands-off way we manage the dying.
The stories are also shot through with magic -- with the fantastical. The characters are all "people" but only a handful could be considered human: most are animals, or natural phenomena (Meteor, Whirlwind), or mythical figures and monsters (the Stone Coats, Flying Heads, Ancient Bear, Half of Anything). Yet they talk like people and behave in many ways like people--so to read these stories is to partake, however imperfectly, in the notion that all things in the world are living ... that consciousness is not exclusive to human beings.
How marvelous is that?
And -- maybe best of all -- the stories' structure has more in common with the convoluted, surreal world of dreams than what we people acclimatized to Western literature recognize as fictional narrative. There are lessons in these stories: punishments and rewards. But the stories are apt to take strange twists along the way. The story Okteondon and His Uncle, for example, begins with Okteondon (Root) as a boy. He lies down at the foot of an elm tree and becomes encased by the trees roots, where he lives until he's a grown man, fed and watered by his uncle. Then, just when you think this is what the story is "about," Okteondon breaks free (tipping the tree over) and begins a fresh adventure -- a heroic quest to defeat a Maneater who has captured his brother, sister, and uncle.
I first discovered this collection many years ago, when I was in college. It was at the time out of print. I was so pleased when I learned that Dover republished it in 2001. It is truly a treasure; this is one of my most prized books.
That said, there doesn't seem to be a lot of information about the collection online.
Not only that, the bits about Curtin that have found their way onto the interwebs gives us some interesting things to chew on: specifically, via Curtin's Wikipedia entry, the man is accused of butchering his translations of Polish novels. The entry quotes H.B. Segel, writing in 1965, as saying that Curtin mistranslated the Polish novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz due to "carelessness, uncritical reliance on dictionaries, and ignorance of Polish idiom, culture, history and language."
Eek. That's pretty brutal stuff, and one can't help but wonder if Curtin's work with the Seneca stories could be tainted by the same weaknesses. According to the 3-page "Note" prefacing "Seneca Indian Myths," for instance, Curtin learned the Seneca language in four months (!). Is four months really enough for any man -- no matter how intelligent -- to master a foreign language, particularly one with completely different linguistic roots, sufficiently enough to faithfully translate 500 pages' worth of oral folklore?
On the other hand, another collection of Seneca stories, titled "Seneca Fiction, Legends and Myths" and gathered at about the same time, was published under the names of Curtin and J.N.B. Hewitt -- and Hewitt's credentials in this area are a given. He was a Tuscarora (the 6th Iroquois nation), was also employed by the Smithsonian Institution's Bureau of Ethnology, and made many contributions to collecting and preserving information about Iroquois culture and customs.
One could *perhaps* assume that if Curtin were running around botching Seneca translations, Hewitt wouldn't have let his own work be in any way associated with the man.
Interesting questions though, aren't they?
And by the way, if you really want your mind blown, hunt down a copy of Hewitt's two-volume Iroquois Cosmology. I promise you: it's no nursery rhyme...
I recommend "Seneca Indian Myths" to anyone interested in Folklore, Native American Culture, the history of New York State -- or "real" fairy stories ;) (less)
I had never read the entire work before, only the first act (the Gertrude part, back in college IIRC).
Th...moreSo pleased I purchased this edition of Faust.
I had never read the entire work before, only the first act (the Gertrude part, back in college IIRC).
Then I tried to re-read it several months ago, but struggled. This is not an easy book under any circumstances, and the translation I tried previously seemed stilted and difficult to follow. Got a little way into Walpurgis Night and my eyes started to cross ...
Then I found this edition, and what a pleasure. The translation (Walter Arndt) is much more accessible. I also really appreciated the interpretive notes by Cyrus Hamlin -- they're extensive, around 150 pages, and helpful in so many ways -- everything from providing context to insight on the text's symbolism. I honestly felt like I was in a college lit class, being "taught" the book by someone who knows it inside and out. But no having to worry about writing a paper at the end :D
I also enjoyed the critical essays that make up the final 3rd of the book, except for the ones at the very end by the contemporary scholars. Good grief, can we get any more abstract, fellas?
I'm actually noodling the idea of writing my own version of Faust; that was part of my motivation for picking this up in the first place. But those plans are backburnered for now -- the scale of Goethe's version is so epic I'm pretty much overawed.
Maybe once I've digested it for a while ...
Highly recommend to anyone who loves the classics and/or wants a nice mental stretch.
Giving this three stars for purely subjective reasons.
The book is on the whole very good: a mix of memoir and advice from someone who has made it big...moreGiving this three stars for purely subjective reasons.
The book is on the whole very good: a mix of memoir and advice from someone who has made it big and wants to share some of the things he learned along the way.
Where it fell apart for me was when he started talking diet. Adams jokes that you shouldn't take diet advice from a cartoonist. That should have inoculated me against reacting the way I did, but alas, it didn't. The problem is threefold: dietary success is based on a staggering mix of variables; the odds that any given reader will actually be helped by copying what Adams does is staggeringly small; and the odds that Adams' advice will run counter to any given reader's personal experience is staggeringly large.
Which is what happened with me. So I ended up skimming and skimming to get past the diet-y stuff. Which left me feeling disappointed -- like I'd only gotten two thirds of a book.
That said, the material Adams shares about things like using systems instead of goals is very interesting and worthwhile to consider. So I'd recommend the book as a bit of pleasant New Year's Resolution-type reading. Just be prepared to discover that -- unless you want validation for vegetarianism and fear-of-the-fat-in-cheese -- there will be some throwaway chapters toward the end. (less)
Not a heavy book, Daily Rituals reads like a series of blog posts. Probably because it began life as a series of blog posts ;-)
But I liked it because...moreNot a heavy book, Daily Rituals reads like a series of blog posts. Probably because it began life as a series of blog posts ;-)
But I liked it because it's such a fit for my interests: as a writer, I'm naturally curious about other writers & creative types work.
That said, if you're looking for a secret formula for artistic success, you won't find it in this book. The accounts Currey has rounded up for this collection are remarkable for how unimaginably varied they are: from people who adhere to rigid, habitualized schedules to alcoholic wastrels.
My one beef: the formatting of my edition (I read it on my Kindle) was a mess: not a single image captions was associated with the correct image. Disappointing. I emailed Currey about it but didn't receive a response. So that was an annoying fly in the Daily Ritual ointment...
Imagine if you could strip away what we normally think of as "personality" and see people as they are in the layer underneath.
I believe that was what...moreImagine if you could strip away what we normally think of as "personality" and see people as they are in the layer underneath.
I believe that was what Lawrence was trying to do, as a novelist -- or so I conclude after finishing "Women in Love" (my first time w/ this one -- I've recently re-read Chatterley and Sons and Lovers).
And so the characters are fuzzy-edged and messy; their actions are very often irrational, driven by impulses and urges that are primal and that the characters themselves cannot articulate.
Lawrence, of course, articulates the impulses & urges on the characters' behalf. The result is not what you'd call beautiful. He's like a surgeon performing an autopsy on a living creature, displaying the creature's inner world in raw, and writhing, and unsettling detail.
The result is fascinating, but hardly neat. For modern readers acclimated to novels that adhere to the so-called "craft" of fiction: fuggedaboutit. You'll hate the book. It won't make any sense.
As an example of literary fiction, the novel raises an in interesting question. Women in Love is very much a modern -- 20th Century -- literary novel. It's also a novel written before writers were "taught" fiction. You could argue that it's experimental, but the experiment isn't one of form, per se. Lawrence was trying to depict (I almost want to say "channel") a then-new notion of what people really *are.* The novel became what it was because of what he was trying to accomplish, and his own sense of the process of writing, or what the process of writing was for him.
In his essay Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, Lawrence writes (ital in the original):
Once we can admit the known, but incomprehensible, presence of the integral unconscious; once we can trace it home in ourselves and follow its revealed movements . . . then at last we can begin to live from the spontaneous initial prompting, instead of from the dead machine-principles of ideas and ideals.
Women in Love is not about women in love. It's about what happens to people when they either "admit the presence of the integral unconscious" or do not. (Those who don't, btw, die.)
And more, the novel is itself a Fantasia of the Unconscious: a preserved-on-paper act of Lawrence tracing his own unconscious, following its revealed moments.
I loved the novel, and was repelled by it -- pretty much the reaction Lawrence appears to have had, himself, to both himself and everyone around him . . .
I don't read a lot of horror. I'm just not wired to seek out the rush of scary/creepy books or movies.
But the eponymous hook of this novella -- Nathan...moreI don't read a lot of horror. I'm just not wired to seek out the rush of scary/creepy books or movies.
But the eponymous hook of this novella -- Nathanial's window -- is based on a true-life grave near my hometown in Central New York State. How could I not pick it up?
I'm glad I did. Monellon isn't going for cheap thrills, here. She's a story-teller. The characters are well-drawn, and the events that ultimately drag them into the world of the supernatural -- starting with the desecration of a little boy's grave -- have that feeling of karmic inevitability that is the mark of character-driven fiction. That's not to say the plot twists give themselves away in advance, mind you! This novella surprised me right up until the end.
I read some Stephen King years ago, and while I don't know this genre well enough to make confident comparisons, I can definitely see some similarities: in the beginning, there's a minor rift between the supernatural world and this one; then, as a consequence of characters' weaknesses and bad decisions, the rift inevitably widens -- until it becomes an inescapable force within the characters' lives.
I also thoroughly enjoyed the setting. Monellon does a great job evoking the small town culture and rural environment.
Recommend -- particularly if you're a fan of the genre. (less)