Wednesday, November 29, 2006
We spent Thanksgiving Day with Arny and Tracy in Lancaster, a wonderful historical town. The best-known activities in Lancaster County are touring the Amish farm areas and shopping at the long-established discount malls. Friday morning, we opted instead for a walk in the historic district around town to see the many one to two-hundrend year old houses. These buildings are beautifully maintained and in many cases decorated for the Thanksgiving season.
After the walk we met Miriam, Alice, Evelyn, and Tom and attended a puppet show at the nearby Hole in the Wall Puppet Theatre.
Sunday, November 19, 2006
Monday, November 13, 2006
First I read:
The author points out that there are many Eskimo languages; it's not trivial to "count" how many words there are for whatever; and so most of the statements are made in total ignorance and lack of any real interest in Eskimos. Or as the author says: "The tragedy is not that so many people got the facts wildly wrong; it is that in the mentally lazy and anti-intellectual world we live in today, hardly anyone cares enough to think about trying to determine what the facts are." (p. 171)
Second I read:
Language Myths edited by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill. This book is a collection of essays by experts on things that many people wrongly or pretty wrongly believe to be true of language. Some of the essays pointed out things I knew; others were quite new to me.
The third book is:
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Penelope doesn't like her life in Hades much; however, she resists rebirth. In contrast, since his death Odysseus has been "a French general, he's been a Mongolian invader, he's been a tycoon in America, he's been a headhunter in Borneo. He's been a film star, an inventor, an advertising man." (p. 189-90)
My favorite quote from poor Penelope: "More recently, some of us have been able to infiltrate the new ethereal-wave system that now encircles the globe, and to travel around that way, looking out at the world through the flat, illuminated surfaces that serve as domestic shrines. Perhaps that's how the gods were able to come and go as quickly as they did back then -- they must have had something like that at their disposal." (p. 19)
It's a good fun read -- far less challenging than many books by Atwood.
As I read I began to think how many authors have loved to retell old stories in new ways and forms: classic stories from mythology, Arthurian legend, Shakespeare, etc. Some retellings are straightforward; others, like West Side Story, reuse the essential plot in modern dress. The best, like Atwood's tale, refocus from the point of view of a minor or underdeveloped character. The goal may be irony, politics, or curiosity.
My mind exploded with examples:
- Virgil wrote the Aeneid to create a Roman founder myth based in the Trojan war.
- A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court provided Mark Twain with ironic distance from the follies of his own era.
- Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea to recreate the first Mrs. Rochester. (She's not the only one to write a story based on this unloved madwoman.)
- Anita Diamant's best seller The Red Tent tried a historic-anthropological take on women in early biblical times through the character of Dinah.
- Wicked, first a novel, later a hit musical, devised a new adults-only personality for the Wicked Witch of Oz. (Author Gregory Maguire has subsequently redone several other children's stories in the same vein.)
- An older Broadway success is The Skin of Our Teeth -- Thornton Wilder mines the Bible. Cute and universal. Now material for high school drama clubs.
- In a heavier spirit, Par Lagerkvist created an identity for the crucified thief of Golgotha in Barabbas. (I think this blip has left the radar screen.)
- Aldous Huxley offered a distopian version of The Tempest in Brave New World.
- And I can't forget Hollywood's homage to Emma, the movie Clueless.
After winning a lawsuit about copyright, Alice Randall's The Wind Done Gone -- same story, slave's point of view, Gone With the Wind -- dropped out of sight like a stone. I've never read either book. But I've read/seen all the others on this list. And I know there are lots more, such as at least two more recent retells borrowing characters from Jane Austen novels. The lawsuit proved that this kind of book isn't a crime. Is it a genre? I don't know.
The lawsuit proved that this kind of book isn't a crime. Is it a genre? I don't know.