Archive for September, 2011


“And they burned up the diner where I always used to find her…”

Autumn dawns, a new week begins, and clever links abound.

An obscure Old French translation of Ovid is finally being translated into English.

University Diaries leads you through “Sublunary,” a poem by A.E. Stallings.

Dylan pens a poetic paraphrase of Goethe.

Hats & Rabbits spins a parable: rabbit in a cage.

First Known When Lost finds a Wallace Stevens poem set in early fall.

Laudator Temporis Acti posts a sonnet by Francisco de Quevedo.

D.G. Myers recommends the novel Stoner.

Jason Fisher previews Tolkien and the Study of His Sources.

Steve Donoghue hails a niche Star Trek novel.

Patrick Kurp notes a federal bureaucrat, Latin translator, and formalist poet.

The New Criterion knows poems resemble jokes. (Hat tip: Frank Wilson.)

Jake Seilger reviews The Magician King.

Mental Floss unwinds an oral history of the American soap opera.

Classical Bookworm measures The Whole Five Feet.

Overthinking It explores the political economy of My Little Pony. (Hat tip: Prof Mondo.)

The Gaslight Anthem, one of my hometown bands, shares “Great Expectations.”

“…and stained in the blood of a whole generation.”

In Icelandic sagas, it’s not an uncommon motif: Clinging to old ways, warriors flail as the heroic code that defines their lives gives way to something new and strange. Perhaps that’s how lifelong soap fans feel this week, as All My Children succumbs to cancellation after nearly 42 years, while its doomed elder sister, One Life to Live, glares anxiously into its grave.

Baby swaps, preposterous wealth, evil twins, travels through time—soaps are easy to mock, but their sheer continuity is remarkable. (Making All My Children and One Life to Live look like pikers, Guiding Light began on radio in 1937 and wasn’t snuffed out until 2009.) Most of us, medievalists especially, can point to the survival and adaptation of stories across decades and centuries and cultures—Arthurian legends, Icelandic sagas, the Song of Roland—but except for comic strips, I’m hard pressed to think of another example of continuous storylines unfolding five days a week for more than 40 years, sometimes pleasing their audience, sometimes not, rolling with the culture while aspiring, sometimes, to universality:

It starts on a quiet note with a group of people, neither particularly good nor particularly bad, who, because they are the way they are, clash with each other; not violently, but sufficiently hard to cause ill-feeling. This casual ill-feeling is transmitted to kinsmen and descendants, to friends and to allies. More and more people become involved, with fatal results…The early actors of the drama fade out, but the troubles they have started now seem to have a life of their own, until the action is galloping headlong, with brief tantalizing pauses where control seems to have been momentarily asserted, from minor mishap to major tragedy, until finally its inevitable impulse is exhausted in the last elegiac chapter.

That’s from Magnus Magnusson’s introduction to the 1959 Penguin Classics edition of Njal’s Saga, and it’s as fine a summary of the arc of a family saga, medieval or modern, as any you’re likely to find.

Even if the Cortlandts and the Chandlers never shed blood at the Law Rock, and although Erika Kane (who once faced down a grizzly bear) might quail before the ornery, resilient Hallgerd, there’s no harm in hearing outlandish medieval echoes in the death cries of a genre. The soaps’ own echoes carry on; they showed prime-time TV producers the potential of serialized rather than episodic storytelling, and early on, they crowdsourced plot twists to indefatigable fans.

Of course, the medieval/soap-opera connection has been common knowledge since 2009, when a courtly-love subplot on General Hospital showed that at least one of its writers has taken a medieval lit class. As such, we can only wish the citizens of Pine Valley a safe journey into the television afterlife, and hope that there, unlike in medieval Iceland, “face-lift” means something entirely kind.

“…come crashing in, into my little world.”

The standard line on this fellow is that he’s “refusing to listen to the word of God,” but since he lives on the highest point of a town that thrives on nonsense and noise, I imagine something else has got him all worked up.

TANTUM DIC VERBO

For peace, be still—and let me chase
One paltry prayer unforesworn:
Is grace alone in silence born,
Or else is silence born in grace?

Your craws, your pealings, plaints, and croaks
Resolve my riddle not; you claim
I hearken not? Then whet your blame
On yeas and yawps, whose wasting chokes,

Excruciates, my aching ear,
Be still—the prate of grating chords
Reproves me not, your feint rewards
Me not—and yet I hear, and hear,

And hear, though to the gargling round
My riddles read as coarse complaints:
“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter’d saints,”
They canter, lest my quest confound

The noise that lauds their long regret.
I plead you, peace—and beg your fray
Be still, and in your silence pray
For grace, to bear my silence yet.


(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tab, or read the gargoyle FAQ.)

“In the distance, the city lights flickered in the bay…”

In September skulks, nudging out the summer with books, buses, and damp autumn air. In with it, too, drift interesting links.

Jake Seliger isn’t surprised that technology doesn’t always foster education.

The Book Haven admires Churchill in the 1930s.

“Why I’m giving up Twitter and Facebook”: Hugh MacLeod hopes to reclaim blogging.

Steve Donoghue hears country music in Erec and Enide.

Tarzan fans, meet Imaro, the star of Charles Saunders’ heroic fantasy set in Africa.

Jason Fisher’s new book is out: Tolkien and the Study of His Sources: Critical Essays.

Fiat Lingua! The Language Creation Society creates a journal.

Michael Lista hears his heartbreak echoed in a villanelle.

Frank Wilson pens an earthquake poem.

The Trousered Ape invents a new poetic form: the nescopeck.

Dylan writes his own nescopeck and composes a Christian triolet.

The George Hail Library notes hypothetical carpenters in Tim Hardin’s famous song.

Martin Amis remembers Philip Larkin, his father’s friend.

Bill Peschel announces a new book: an annotated Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers.

Hats & Rabbits ponders summer’s slow goodbye.

“I had to run away high, so I wouldn’t come home low…”

As a kid, I believed in the Jersey Devil. As an adult, I was surprised to spot him at the cathedral, but maybe I shouldn’t be. In our minds, most of us are rarely far from home.

GARDEN STATE LOVE SONG

Repent your flailing forkèd tail and brush
The wingbit crumbs, rewandring why you fled.
The must of menus nemdays made you flush
The tinct of Taylor ham, and wonder bred
A boldened kobold, who for lusher state
Regressed abroad to bask in devlish blight.
But now the mayfield double-garden-gate
That welked you wide, is barr’d. Thus ends your flight.
So must you bitter pandaemony sip,
And dine on lines of dower Greek alone?
“There is no road for you, there is no ship—”
Baloney. Lonely imps may yet atone
In vented verse: Old cauls, like murdrous birds,
Arise, as g’s fawl off the ends of words.


(For all the entries in this series, hit the “looking up” tab, or read the gargoyle FAQ.)