Monday, June 29, 2020

The Golden Bough Readalong: Part the Fourth

Greetings, programs!  Hope you're all doing well in this very hot, boring, yet also scary summer.  We have been watching a lot of Tron, thus the weird salutation.  I'm quite surprised that I managed to make it through my set Golden Bough chapters; I didn't think I would.  So, onward...let's talk about taboos, by which he means pretty much any religious or superstitious practice or belief -- for example the practice of not using a dead person's name anymore.   That is pretty much all I got to read about this time.

XIX.  Tabooed Acts: just huge lists of examples of the following:
  1. Taboos on Intercourse With Strangers
  2. Taboos on Eating and Drinking
  3. Taboos on Showing the Face
  4. Taboos on Quitting the House
  5. Taboos on Leaving Food Over
XX.  Tabooed Persons:
  1. Chiefs and Kings Tabooed: they're so powerful that using their things would hurt others.
  2. Mourners Tabooed
  3. Women Tabooed at Menstruation and Childbirth
  4. Warriors Tabooed
  5. Manslayers Tabooed
  6. Hunters and Fishers Tabooed
XXI.  Tabooed Things
  1. Iron Tabooed
  2. Sharp Weapons Tabooed
  3. Blood Tabooed
  4. The Head Tabooed
  5. Hair Tabooed
  6. Ceremonies at Hair-Cutting
  7. Disposal of Cut Hair and Nails
  8. Spittle Tabooed
  9. Foods Tabooed
  10. Knots and Rings Tabooed
XXII.  Tabooed Words
  1. Personal Names Tabooed
  2. Names of Relations Tabooed
  3. Names of the Dead Tabooed
  4. Names of Kings and Other Sacred Persons Tabooed
  5. Names of Gods Tabooed
XXIII.  Our Debt to the Savage: Frazer here stops and summarizes the argument so far, and issues a warning that even though he totally thinks of people as existing in a hierarchy from low to high, with the Oxford don at the top, this should not lead to arrogance or contempt for others.  I'll just quote the salient part here, because I do appreciate this, that he recognized that we can't just go around thinking we're more enlightened and clever than other folks.  His vocabulary is pretty offensive to the modern reader, so it's nice to know.
But to stigmatise these premises [beliefs] as ridiculous because we can easily detect their falseness, would be ungrateful as well as unphilosophical. We stand upon the foundation reared by the generations that have gone before, and we can but dimly realise the painful and prolonged efforts which it has cost humanity to struggle up to the point, no very exalted one after all, which we have reached. Our gratitude is due to the nameless and forgotten toilers, whose patient thought and active exertions have largely made us what we are. The amount of new knowledge which one age, certainly which one man, can add to the common store is small, and it argues stupidity or dishonesty, besides ingratitude, to ignore the heap while vaunting the few grains which it may have been our privilege to add to it. There is indeed little danger at present of undervaluing the contributions which modern times and even classical antiquity have made to the general advancement of our race. But when we pass these limits, the case is different. Contempt and ridicule or abhorrence and denunciation are too often the only recognition vouchsafed to the savage and his ways. Yet of the benefactors whom we are bound thankfully to commemorate, many, perhaps most, were savages. For when all is said and done our resemblances to the savage are still far more numerous than our differences from him; and what we have in common with him, and deliberately retain as true and useful, we owe to our savage forefathers who slowly acquired by experience and transmitted to us by inheritance those seemingly fundamental ideas which we are apt to regard as original and intuitive. We are like heirs to a fortune which has been handed down for so many ages that the memory of those who built it up is lost, and its possessors for the time being regard it as having been an original and unalterable possession of their race since the beginning of the world. But reflection and enquiry should satisfy us that to our predecessors we are indebted for much of what we thought most our own, and that their errors were not wilful extravagances or the ravings of insanity, but simply hypotheses, justifiable as such at the time when they were propounded, but which a fuller experience has proved to be inadequate. It is only by the successive testing of hypotheses and rejection of the false that truth is at last elicited. After all, what we call truth is only the hypothesis which is found to work best. Therefore in reviewing the opinions and practices of ruder ages and races we shall do well to look with leniency upon their errors as inevitable slips made in the search for truth, and to give them the benefit of that indulgence which we ourselves may one day stand in need of: cum excusatione itaque veteres audiendi sunt.

XXIV.  The Killing of the Divine King: finally, we're done with taboos.  This bit is pretty good.
  1. The Mortality of the Gods: Many peoples have not thought of their gods as immortals; they could get old and die.
  2. Kings Killed When Their Strength Fails: Since the health of the land and people depend on the health of the king, everybody has to take especial care of him, but what about when he gets old?   It might be a good idea to kill the king once he gets old and infirm, so that his kingly soul/power can pass to a younger, more vigorous ruler.
  3. Kings Killed at the End of a Fixed Term:  It might even be unwise to wait until grey hairs appear.  Some peoples just give the king 12, or 7, or 5 years and then kill him.  Maybe even once a year!  But aha, some kings figured out a way around this by getting proxies to die and staying alive themselves.  Or you could make somebody king for a day, and then kill him right off!   There are lots of clever ways to get around it.

So by now I'm pretty tired of the word taboo.  All those practices were pretty interesting, and it was easy to read because it was all stories about cultural beliefs, but on the other hand he's not providing footnotes.  I am excited about all this temporary kings stuff, so I'm looking forward to the next bit.  Here are some fun quotations:
The ancient Greeks believed that the soul of a man who had just been killed was wroth with his slayer and troubled him; wherefore it was needful even for the involuntary homicide to depart from his country for a year until the anger of the dead man had cooled down; nor might the slayer return until sacrifice had been offered and ceremonies of purification performed. If his victim chanced to be a foreigner, the homicide had to shun the native country of the dead man as well as his own. The legend of the matricide Orestes, how he roamed from place to place pursued by the Furies of his murdered mother, and none would sit at meat with him, or take him in, till he had been purified, reflects faithfully the real Greek dread of such as were still haunted by an angry ghost.

In the island of Uap, one of the Caroline group, every fisherman plying his craft lies under a most strict taboo during the whole of the fishing season, which lasts for six or eight weeks. Whenever he is on shore he must spend all his time in the men’s clubhouse, and under no pretext whatever may he visit his own house or so much as look upon the faces of his wife and womenkind. Were he but to steal a glance at them, they think that flying fish must inevitably bore out his eyes at night.   [I figured Uap must be Yap Island, and indeed it is.]

This practice of observing strict chastity as a condition of success in hunting and fishing is very common among rude races; and the instances of it which have been cited render it probable that the rule is always based on a superstition rather than on a consideration of the temporary weakness which a breach of the custom may entail on the hunter or fisherman. In general it appears to be supposed that the evil effect of incontinence is not so much that it weakens him, as that, for some reason or other, it offends the animals, who in consequence will not suffer themselves to be caught.   [Ahahaha, I like this one because it shows him holding a belief that is now exploded.]

At Babylon, within historical times, the tenure of the kingly office was in practice lifelong, yet in theory it would seem to have been merely annual. For every year at the festival of Zagmuk the king had to renew his power by seizing the hands of the image of Marduk in his great temple of Esagil at Babylon. Even when Babylon passed under the power of Assyria, the monarchs of that country were expected to legalise their claim to the throne every year by coming to Babylon and performing the ancient ceremony at the New Year festival, and some of them found the obligation so burdensome that rather than discharge it they renounced the title of king altogether and contented themselves with the humbler one of Governor. Further, it would appear that in remote times, though not within the historical period, the kings of Babylon or their barbarous predecessors forfeited not merely their crown but their life at the end of a year’s tenure of office.   [He doesn't explain why it would be difficult to perform this ceremony.  Anybody know?]

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Summerbook #2: Oroonoko

Oroonoko, or, the Royal Slave, by Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn (1640-1689) was...well, an international woman of mystery.  She had several names besides Aphra: Ann Behn,  Agent 160 and Astrea, her pen name.   She deliberately told different stories about her youth, so it's not at all clear where she was from or who her parents were.  She may have been brought up Catholic?  She might have done some time in debtor's prison?  She definitely was hired by Charles II as a spy, and worked in Antwerp -- not that he ever paid her.  She almost certainly didn't spend time in the English colony of Willoughbyland (!) before it was sold to the Dutch (you know it as Suriname, north of Brazil), but she said she did.  She probably married Johan Behn (who may have been Dutch or German), and he maybe died, or they separated...anyway, she took the name Behn.  What her name was before is uncertain; she variously claimed Amis, Cooper, and Johnson.   She was one of the very first professional women writers in English, writing plays both tragic and comic, and this sort of proto-novel, and mixed with the well-known dramatists and writers of the day.  Quite a lady.

Oroonoko was published in 1688, just a year before her death at age 48.  It's not quite a novel, but it's pretty close, and it claims to be a sort of memoir -- a record of events that she witnessed herself 20 years previously, or heard about from the people involved.  So she's a minor character in the story, but as far as anybody can figure out, she was probably never in Surinam, as she calls it.  Oroonoko is sometimes celebrated as the first anti-slavery novel; I'm not quite sure it is that, but it's pretty close.  It's certainly interesting, and worth reading.

This is the story of a noble African prince.  Oronooko is the grandson of the king in Coromantien -- which you know as part of Ghana.  He is a paragon of courage, intelligence, handsomeness, and all good things, and he falls in love with his natural partner, Imoinda, who is not only the most beautiful maiden around, she is intelligent, accomplished, brave, and loyal.  They plan to marry, but the king throws a wrench into the works by ordering Imoinda into his harem, even though he's too old do much with her.  The star-crossed lovers eventually meet and plan to run away, but they are discovered, and the king punishes them by selling Imoinda into slavery and not killing Oronooko.

Oronooko is soon trapped into slavery himself, and taken off to Surinam, where everyone notices what a great heart he has.  He is called Caesar because of his natural nobility, and pretty soon he discovers that Imoinda has also ended up in Surinam!  So they live together in happiness, and many of the colonists like and respect them.  Oronooko impresses everyone with his hunting prowess, but he is obviously unhappy.  He encourages all the other Africans to revolt with him; they'll just run off into the jungle and settle somewhere, and live free.

Tragically, it's impossible for the large crowd to disappear completely, and after a few days, they are tracked down.  Oroonoko would be happy to fight for his freedom, but tries to negotiate an agreement.  None of the promises are kept, and he is tortured.  Knowing what lies in store for his beloved wife, he resolves to kill her before exacting revenge on his enemies.

Oroonoko and Imoinda are paragons of humanity, above everyone else they meet.   Europeans are portrayed as outwardly civilized, but barbarous and cruel; they make promises and enter into contracts, but never keep their word.  The native people of Surinam are shown as honest and in a state of primeval innocence which institutions would only destroy.  They are also unwilling to work for Europeans, and are able to avoid them; thus the importation of captured Africans to do the hard labor of the colony.   Thrown into a new and unfamiliar country, they cannot escape so easily, and become the victims of the colonists' casual cruelty. 

Since Behn was almost certainly never actually in Surinam, and probably never saw a colony or a plantation, she can't write from experience.  She gives it a pretty good shot, though, and I'd bet it was good enough for anybody who hadn't been a colonist.  As well as the social order, she describes scenery, plants, and animals: marmots, parrots, "tygers" (jaguars?), and small wildcats. 

Some quotations:
And ’tis most evident and plain, that simple Nature is the most harmless, inoffensive and vertuous Mistress. ’Tis she alone, if she were permitted, that better instructs the World, than all the Inventions of Man: Religion would here but destroy that Tranquillity they possess by Ignorance; and Laws would but teach ’em to know Offences, of which now they have no Notion.

The very Wood of all these Trees has an intrinsic Value, above common Timber; for they are, when cut, of different Colours, glorious to behold, and bear a Price considerable, to inlay withal. Besides this, they yield rich Balm, and Gums; so that we make our Candles of such an aromatic Substance, as does not only give a sufficient Light, but as they burn, they cast their Perfumes all about. Cedar is the common Firing, and all the Houses are built with it. The very Meat we eat, when set on the Table, if it be native, I mean of the Country, perfumes the whole Room; especially a little Beast call’d an Armadilly, a Thing which I can liken to nothing so well as a Rhinoceros; ’tis all in white Armour, so jointed, that it moves as well in it, as if it had nothing on: This Beast is about the Bigness of a Pig of six Weeks old.

At other times he would go a Fishing; and discoursing on that Diversion, he found we had in that Country a very strange Fish, call’d a Numb-Eel, (an Eel of which I have eaten) that while it is alive, it has a Quality so cold, that those who are angling, tho’ with a Line of ever so great a Length, with a Rod at the End of it, it shall in the same Minute the Bait is touch’d by this Eel, seize him or her that holds the Rod with a Numbness, that shall deprive ’em of Sense for a While; and some have fallen into the Water, and others drop’d, as dead, on the Banks of the Rivers where they stood, as soon as this Fish touches the Bait. Cæsar us’d to laugh at this, and believ’d it impossible a Man could lose his Force at the Touch of a Fish; and could not understand that Philosophy, that a cold Quality should be of that Nature; however, he had a great Curiosity to try whether it would have the same Effect on him it had on others, and often try’d, but in vain. At last, the sought-for Fish came to the Bait, as he stood angling on the Bank; and instead of throwing away the Rod, or giving it a sudden Twitch out of the Water, whereby he might have caught both the Eel, and have dismiss’d the Rod, before it could have too much Power over him; for Experiment-sake, he grasp’d it but the harder, and fainting, fell into the River; and being still possess’d of the Rod, the Tide carry’d him, senseless as he was, a great Way, till an Indian Boat took him up; and perceiv’d, when they touch’d him, a Numbness seize them, and by that knew the Rod was in his Hand; which with a Paddle, (that is a short Oar) they struck away, and snatch’d it into the Boat, Eel and all. If Cæsar was almost dead, with the Effect of this Fish, he was more so with that of the Water, where he had remain’d the Space of going a League, and they found they had much ado to bring him back to Life; but at last they did, and brought him home, where he was in a few Hours well recover’d and refresh’d, and not a little asham’d to find he should be overcome by an Eel, and that all the People, who heard his Defiance, would laugh at him. But we chear’d him up; and he being convinc’d, we had the Eel at Supper, which was a quarter of an Ell about, and most delicate Meat; and was of the more Value, since it cost so dear as almost the Life of so gallant a Man.   [It's an electric eel!!]

Cæsar, having singled out these Men from the Women and Children, made an Harangue to ’em, of the Miseries and Ignominies of Slavery; counting up all their Toils and Sufferings, under such Loads, Burdens and Drudgeries, as were fitter for Beasts than Men; senseless Brutes, than human Souls. He told ’em, it was not for Days, Months or Years, but for Eternity; there was no End to be of their Misfortunes: They suffer’d not like Men, who might find a Glory and Fortitude in Oppression; but like Dogs, that lov’d the Whip and Bell, and fawn’d the more they were beaten: That they had lost the divine Quality of Men, and were become insensible Asses, fit only to bear: Nay, worse; an Ass, or Dog, or Horse, having done his Duty, could lie down in Retreat, and rise to work again, and while he did his Duty, endur’d no Stripes; but Men, villanous, senseless Men, such as they, toil’d on all the tedious Week ’till Black Friday; and then, whether they work’d or not, whether they were faulty or meriting, they, promiscuously, the Innocent with the Guilty, suffer’d the infamous Whip, the sordid Stripes, from their Fellow-Slaves, ’till their Blood trickled from all Parts of their Body; Blood, whose every Drop ought to be revenged with a Life of some of those Tyrants that impose it. ‘And why (said he) my dear Friends and Fellow-sufferers, should we be Slaves to an unknown People? Have they vanquished us nobly in Fight? Have they won us in Honourable Battle? And are we by the Chance of War become their Slaves? This would not anger a noble Heart; this would not animate a Soldier’s Soul: No, but we are bought and sold like Apes or Monkeys, to be the Sport of Women, Fools and Cowards; and the Support of Rogues and Runagades, that have abandoned their own Countries for Rapine, Murders, Theft and Villanies. Do you not hear every Day how they upbraid each other with Infamy of Life, below the wildest Salvages? And shall we render Obedience to such a degenerate Race, who have no one human Virtue left, to distinguish them from the vilest Creatures? Will you, I say, suffer the Lash from such Hands?’ They all reply’d with one Accord, ‘No, No, No; Cæsar has spoke like a great Captain, like a great King.’

Aphra Behn is buried at Westminster Abbey, though not in the Poets' Corner.  When I was there in 2016, I found her in the cloister.  Her tombstone says,  "Here lies a Proof that Wit can never be Defence enough against Mortality."

Monday, June 22, 2020

The Mysteries of Udolpho Readalong: I

I wasn't sure how often I would do a Udolpho update, but after Volume I seems like a good time!  This has been a pretty good pace for me; I'm not having any trouble keeping up, but it doesn't feel like a massive burden.

The plot so far: Emily St. Aubert and her parents live quietly at their estate, enjoying nature, reading, and music, until the death of Madame St. Aubert.  Emily and her father decide to take a tour of the mountains, and on the way they meet a respectable young man, Valancourt.  They all enjoy the scenery together for a while, and Emily and Valancourt get along wonderfully, but nothing is said for the moment.  Once Emily and her father are on their own again, he gets sick and dies, and Emily is left to manage on her own. 

Once at home, Emily carries out the last wishes of her father: that she find some hidden papers and burn them without reading them.  Of course, she inadvertently reads a sentence, and its implication is frightening, but she did promise, so she burns the paper.  What mystery could have lain within?    Soon Valancourt shows up in hopes of courting her, and she has to tell him that she's on her own now and he'll have to wait until she's with her aunt, the vain, frivolous, and mercenary Madame Cheron.

Madame Cheron at first pegs Valancourt as penniless, and shoves him off...until she finds out that he's the nephew of a very rich and influential lady, so he becomes welcome.  She tries to shove the wedding through faster than anybody wants, until the very last minute, when she takes over all the wedding preparations for herself!  All of a sudden everything has changed.  No longer may Emily and Valancourt wed; Emily's going to be whisked off to Italy.  Will the lovers ever see each other again?

There is so much scenery.  Incredible amounts of scenery.  Mountains, forests, and cataracts abound, and they're carefully described, which must have been pretty good stuff if you were a young miss in Kent who never got to go anywhere much.  One thing puzzled me, though, as you can see:
When weary of sauntering among cliffs that seemed scarcely accessible but to the steps of the enthusiast, and where no track appeared on the vegetation, but what the foot of the izard had left; they would seek one of those green recesses, which so beautifully adorn the bosom of these mountains, where, under the shade of the lofty larch, or cedar, they enjoyed their simple repast, made sweeter by the waters of the cool stream, that crept along the turf, and by the breath of wild flowers and aromatic plants, that fringed the rocks, and inlaid the grass.

Emily wished to trip along the turf, so green and bright with dew, and to taste the full delight of that liberty, which the izard seemed to enjoy as he bounded along the brow of the cliffs;
The first time I saw izard mentioned, I thought that it might mean lizard, but the second time...lizards don't bound along cliffs.  So what on earth is an izard??  It turns out to be the Pyrenean chamois, a kind of mountain goat or antelope, and I suppose it's pronounced i-ZARD, not IH-zard, as it is in my brain.  Izards were hunted nearly to extinction in the 1940s -- for the soft leather -- but the population is now recovering fairly well.
The izard
Besides wandering in the mountains and admiring the sublime views, Emily also enjoys sitting at the window, looking at scenery and thinking high-minded thoughts.

Nothing very wild happens until the very end of volume I, and even that is unexpected, rude, and ominous, but not bonkers.  For one thing, Mrs. Radcliffe didn't believe in writing off-the-rails Gothic novels; she believed in promoting common sense, intelligence, and virtue, so this is no Monk (Remember the Monk-along?  Good times!)  Mrs. Radcliffe also didn't believe in blatant anti-Catholicism, just the subtle kind, so the nuns we meet have so far all been very kind and hospitable, although is it morally proper for Emily to refuse their invitation to join their convent (there's a quotation about that below).

However, Madame Cheron's boyfriend Signor Montoni is clearly not going to be a good guy.  Emily is full of good sense and courage, so I believe in her ability to overcome!  I'm pretty sure she'll spend the entire second volume in dire straits.

Here are some quotations I noted:
She [Emily] had discovered in her early years uncommon delicacy of mind, warm affections, and ready benevolence; but with these was observable a degree of susceptibility too exquisite to admit of lasting peace. As she advanced in youth, this sensibility gave a pensive tone to her spirits, and a softness to her manner, which added grace to beauty, and rendered her a very interesting object to persons of a congenial disposition. But St. Aubert had too much good sense to prefer a charm to a virtue; and had penetration enough to see, that this charm was too dangerous to its possessor to be allowed the character of a blessing. He endeavoured, therefore, to strengthen her mind; to enure her to habits of self-command; to teach her to reject the first impulse of her feelings, and to look, with cool examination, upon the disappointments he sometimes threw in her way. While he instructed her to resist first impressions, and to acquire that steady dignity of mind, that can alone counterbalance the passions, and bear us, as far as is compatible with our nature, above the reach of circumstances, he taught himself a lesson of fortitude; for he was often obliged to witness, with seeming indifference, the tears and struggles which his caution occasioned her.

During her stay at the convent, the peace and sanctity that reigned within, the tranquil beauty of the scenery without, and the delicate attentions of the abbess and the nuns, were circumstances so soothing to her mind, that they almost tempted her to leave a world, where she had lost her dearest friends, and devote herself to the cloister, in a spot, rendered sacred to her by containing the tomb of St. Aubert. The pensive enthusiasm, too, so natural to her temper, had spread a beautiful illusion over the sanctified retirement of a nun, that almost hid from her view the selfishness of its security. But the touches, which a melancholy fancy, slightly tinctured with superstition, gave to the monastic scene, began to fade, as her spirits revived, and brought once more to her heart an image, which had only transiently been banished thence. By this she was silently awakened to hope and comfort and sweet affections; visions of happiness gleamed faintly at a distance, and, though she knew them to be illusions, she could not resolve to shut them out for ever. It was the remembrance of Valancourt, of his taste, his genius, and of the countenance which glowed with both, that, perhaps, alone determined her to return to the world.

As she mused she saw the door slowly open, and a rustling sound in a remote part of the room startled her. Through the dusk she thought she perceived something move. The subject she had been considering, and the present tone of her spirits, which made her imagination respond to every impression of her senses, gave her a sudden terror of something supernatural. She sat for a moment motionless, and then, her dissipated reason returning, “What should I fear?” said she. “If the spirits of those we love ever return to us, it is in kindness.”

So, the nuns are very kind, but in the end, their lives are "selfish," which I must say is an adjective I've never heard applied to nuns before!  Also, St. Aubert asks Emily to burn the papers because they would make her unhappy, and then she complies because she made a promise.  For myself, I'd rather know unpalatable truths than be protected in ignorance, but that was considered proper back in the day, and nobody asked Emily's opinion about it.  I'm looking forward to what befalls our young heroine next!

Friday, June 19, 2020

Summerbook #1: The Return

This was billed as "one of de la Mare's finest occult stories, this darkly thrilling tale."  It sounded neat, so I took it home.

Arthur Lawford, boring suburban husband, complacent, pudgy, and smug, takes a walk in a graveyard near his house and falls asleep (or swoons) on a gravestone.  When he awakes, he has a new face -- the face of Sabarthier, a stranger buried outside consecrated ground.  Sabarthier's spirit seems to be there too.  His wife and friends don't recognize him, and how to convince them that his tale is true?  What is to be done about it?  Lawford makes the acquaintance of Mr. Herbert, who is just full of interesting theories, and his sister, who is sympathetic.  As he tries to fight off this possession, it may come at the cost of his sanity.

The story was OK, but it was not darkly thrilling and I couldn't always tell what they were talking about, which is a common problem with me and Walter de la Mare.  I keep trying with him, and I need to stop.  It always seems like I will love his stuff, and I just do not.  I don't get him.  It's not that he's a difficult writer, but I often can't tell what he's saying.  So, no more de la Mare for me.  Well, maybe the fairy tales...

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Heidi's Alp

Way back in 1985, this British family borrowed a camper-van, bundled their four daughters in, and took weeks to drive around Europe on a storybook-themed trip.  Hardyment, the mom, wrote up this lovely book to tell the story.

Obviously it was a tricky proposition to take that much time off, so what they actually did was start the trip with Mom and four daughters, plus a friend and her year-old baby.  After a few weeks, the friend and baby went home and Dad joined them.  Mom being a writer, she seems to have been able to pull off the long trip.

They start in Holland, with Hans Brinker (which I have actually never read, I really should), exploring the cities and dikes of the Netherlands.  Then it's off to Denmark, where Hans Christian Andersen will be a major guide on the trip; they first visit Legoland, Odense, and Kronborg (that's the castle at Helsingør, Hamlet's Elsinore).  This gave me lots of happy moments, since she's describing places I visited at about the same time.*  They then follow HCA into Germany, stopping at Hamelin for the Pied Piper, and trekking into the Harz Mountains, even into East Germany!  There is a very exciting moment in which they try to drive up the most famous peak, only to be stopped by a DDR soldier who anxiously tries to find the words to say "top secret."


On the whole, Hardyment is a bit hard on Germany, I thought.  She finds West Germans to be bourgeois and complacent, and dislikes sugary tourist traps like Neuschwanstein.  Some of it rubbed me the wrong way.

Then it's off to Italy and the land of Pinocchio and Venice, which are mostly good successes.  I want to go to the Pinocchio park now.  And the greatest part of the trip is traveling to Maienfeld and hiking up into Heidi country, where they find meadows, goats, and even an Alm-Uncle in a cottage, who invites them to stay the night.  After that they are pretty tired, so they noodle around France for a bit before heading home and skip Paris.

I really enjoyed most of this account.  I've always wanted to do something like this myself, of course, so I was hugely envious for most of it.  Hardyment describes everything wonderfully; there's a lot about the children and living in a camper-van (and a few good tips, if you're a parent wanting to travel).  It's a lovely book and I'm glad I accidentally found a copy on the donation table.

Also, I definitely need to read The Wind in the Willows again this summer.  Toad and his traveling-cart also figure here, and in general Toad, Mole, and Rat are hovering around, asking to be read.

* Now I shall be self-indulgent and tell you about the Danish part of the book.  It was so fun to read about a visit to Legoland that was just like my own visit; we had a week in May in which all the exchange students piled on a bus together and drove around, visiting places.  So I too got my Legoland driver's license as described in the book -- of course we were much too old for it but what is more fun for a bunch of teenagers than doing something they are much too old for?  I too have been to HCA's house and listened to the story phones, and I've been to Kronborg to see Holger Danske.  So that was just a lot of fun for me.  So here are some photos, which are really just pictures of photos in an album:

All of us in front of Kronborg (I'm taking the photo).
We must have been horrible nuisances!

Driving lessons at Legoland

This was a very fashionable outfit, ack

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Golden Bough Readalong: Part the Third

Time for the third installment of The Golden Bough!  This time, we leave maypoles, sacred marriages, and the world of Robin Hood behind to talk about forms of kingship and taboos.  I must say, doing this outline afterwards is a huge help to me in figuring out the structure and argument of the book, so I hope it's helpful to somebody else too.

XIII.  The Kings of Rome and Alba:
  1. Numa and Egeria: Let's assume now that "the sacred marriage of the powers both of vegetation and of water" to promote fertility has been a pretty common thing.  Maybe such a thing happened at Nemi between the King of the Wood and Diana.  The water-nymph Egeria was also about fertility and childbirth; maybe she was a form of Diana too.  This would mean that the story of Numa and Egeria is one of the sacred marriage.  We don't know much about the ancient kings of Rome, but maybe they did this.
  2. The King as Jupiter:  So if the kings of Rome went through marriage rituals with Diana, they would be impersonating Jupiter, because people who dressed as Roman kings imitated Jupiter: reddened faces, laurel and oak crowns, eagle symbols, etc.  Oak crowns, eagles, and red were sacred to Jupiter.  They also seem to have imitated thunder and lightning, which would mean they were acting as rain-makers.  And as we know, Jupiter's consort was Juno, not Diana, so what about that?

XIV.  The Succession to the Kingdom in Ancient Latium: So, let's now assume that the ancient kings of Rome and other Latin communities impersonated Jupiter.  How was the succession handled?  Maybe the royal lineage went through the maternal line, and the men left home to marry princesses.  If so, then the paternity of children was not too important, and a baby conceived at the Midsummer revels wouldn't be a problem.  All this would explain why some kings of Rome had foreign names; they arrived and married princesses.  Greek myths often have this scenario.  Sometimes the contenders for the throne have a race or other contest -- and there are old customs of racing for a bride.  So the right to marry a princess may often have been won in an athletic contest.  The contest may even have been a question of life and death, as kings often seem to have been killed as divine sacrifices. 

XV.  The Worship of the Oak: Aryans (or as we would say now, Indo-Europeans) seem to have worshiped the oak tree pretty often, and associated it with their highest god, Zeus/Jupiter, of the sky, rain, and thunder.  Druids were big on oaks, the Germanics had the oak as Thor's tree, and Slavs also had a god of oaks and rain.  The original Golden Bough was of oak.

XVI.  Dianus and Diana: So, back to the theory that the King of the Wood at Nemi represented a "long line of sacred kings" who would then marry Diana in order to promote fertility.  Tradition says this king represented Virbius, Diana's consort, but who's that?  Well, sacred fires were of oak wood, and probably Nemi was an oak grove, which would mean that Virbius is Jupiter, maybe a local version.  Figure that the names are just versions of each other, and you get Jupiter/Juno, Janus/Jana(Diana), and Numa/Egeria all as versions of the same couple, including the Greek Zeus/Dione.  A little bit of discourse on Janus.  Aha!  Now we have quite a theory!

XVII.  The Burden of Royalty:
  1. Royal and Priestly Taboos: What's it like to be a sacred king or priest?  The rules tend to be quite strict, if you're in the business of representing a deity.  There are all sorts of things you can't do, in case you bring disaster.  So here's a massive list of various taboos on sacred kings, like not being able to cut your hair because it's too holy, or having to eat out of new dishes every day.  These rules might be horribly restrictive.
  2. Divorce of the Spiritual From the Temporal Power:  Therefore, pretty soon, nobody wanted the job.  Being a representative of the divine was so difficult that it might preclude actual governing, so government officials might take that over and leave the sacred stuff to somebody else.  The job might even fall vacant, if it was an awful enough job; people would refuse to do it.  So, you might end up with two kings -- a temporal and a sacred, or the sacred job might be shoved off to the side.
XVIII: The Perils of the Soul
  1.  The Soul as a Mannikin:  So let's talk souls.  How did people envision their spirits, and how could they come to harm?  Some examples of how peoples around the world imagine their souls -- usually as a person, but unseeable, inside the body.
  2. Absence and Recall of the Soul:  Your soul might easily get lost -- it might escape.  Examples of ways to keep the soul inside the body (special hooks or ties, other things).  Your soul might leave when you are asleep, sick, or injured.  Examples of ways to attract the soul back home.
  3.  The Soul as a Shadow and a Reflection:  Some peoples believe that their shadows, or their reflections, are integral parts of themselves and can be injured or captured.  Lots of examples of that.
So, Frazer has now built up a speculative theory -- which really kind of resembles a house of cards -- in which people enact a divine marriage between father and mother deities in order to encourage general fertility, and this happens around midsummer.  And he's got all this surrounding stuff about sacred kings and beliefs about them.  And we're only about a quarter of the way through the book!

I'm starting to see where Robert Graves got some of his ideas from.  All that bit about the maternal line being important, and paternity of no concern, figures largely in The White Goddess.

Time for the quotations:
The convergence of the two distinct lines of enquiry suggests that the legendary union of the Roman king with Egeria may have been a reflection or duplicate of the union of the King of the Wood with Egeria or her double Diana. This does not imply that the Roman kings ever served as Kings of the Wood in the Arician grove, but only that they may originally have been invested with a sacred character of the same general kind, and may have held office on similar terms. To be more explicit, it is possible that they reigned, not by right of birth, but in virtue of their supposed divinity as representatives or embodiments of a god, and that as such they mated with a goddess, and had to prove their fitness from time to time to discharge their divine functions by engaging in a severe bodily struggle, which may often have proved fatal to them, leaving the crown to their victorious adversary. 
As the oak crown was sacred to Jupiter and Juno on the Capitol, so we may suppose it was on the Alban Mount, from which the Capitoline worship was derived. Thus the oak-god would have his oak-goddess in the sacred oak grove. So at Dodona the oak-god Zeus was coupled with Dione, whose very name is only a dialectically different form of Juno; and so on the top of Mount Cithaeron, as we have seen, he appears to have been periodically wedded to an oaken image of Hera. It is probable, though it cannot be positively proved, that the sacred marriage of Jupiter and Juno was annually celebrated by all the peoples of the Latin stock in the month which they named after the goddess, the midsummer month of June.

Whether that was so or not, the legend of Numa and Egeria appears to embody a reminiscence of a time when the priestly king himself played the part of the divine bridegroom; and as we have seen reason to suppose that the Roman kings personated the oak-god, while Egeria is expressly said to have been an oak-nymph, the story of their union in the sacred grove raises a presumption that at Rome in the regal period a ceremony was periodically performed exactly analogous to that which was annually celebrated at Athens down to the time of Aristotle. The marriage of the King of Rome to the oak-goddess, like the wedding of the vine-god to the Queen of Athens, must have been intended to quicken the growth of vegetation by homoeopathic magic. Of the two forms of the rite we can hardly doubt that the Roman was the older, and that long before the northern invaders met with the vine on the shores of the Mediterranean their forefathers had married the tree-god to the tree-goddess in the vast oak forests of Central and Northern Europe. In the England of our day the forests have mostly disappeared, yet still on many a village green and in many a country lane a faded image of the sacred marriage lingers in the rustic pageantry of May Day.

Thus if my theory is correct, the yearly flight of the Roman king was a relic of a time when the kingship was an annual office awarded, along with the hand of a princess, to the victorious athlete or gladiator, who thereafter figured along with his bride as a god and goddess at a sacred marriage designed to ensure the fertility of the earth by homoeopathic magic. If I am right in supposing that in very early times the old Latin kings personated a god and were regularly put to death in that character, we can better understand the mysterious or violent ends to which so many of them are said to have come.

These legends of the violent ends of the Roman kings suggest that the contest by which they gained the throne may sometimes have been a mortal combat rather than a race. If that were so, the analogy which we have traced between Rome and Nemi would be still closer. At both places the sacred kings, the living representatives of the godhead, would thus be liable to suffer deposition and death at the hand of any resolute man who could prove his divine right to the holy office by the strong arm and the sharp sword.

Now the oak was the sacred tree of Jupiter, the supreme god of the Latins. Hence it follows that the King of the Wood, whose life was bound up in a fashion with an oak, personated no less a deity than Jupiter himself. At least the evidence, slight as it is, seems to point to this conclusion.

To this theory it may naturally be objected that the divine consort of Jupiter was not Diana but Juno, and that if Diana had a mate at all he might be expected to bear the name not of Jupiter, but of Dianus or Janus, the latter of these forms being merely a corruption of the former. All this is true, but the objection may be parried by observing that the two pairs of deities, Jupiter and Juno on the one side, and Dianus and Diana, or Janus and Jana, on the other side, are merely duplicates of each other, their names and their functions being in substance and origin identical. With regard to their names, all four of them come from the same Aryan root DI, meaning “bright,” which occurs in the names of the corresponding Greek deities, Zeus and his old female consort Dione. In regard to their functions, Juno and Diana were both goddesses of fecundity and childbirth, and both were sooner or later identified with the moon...

Nowhere, perhaps, does the equivalence of the shadow to the life or soul come out more clearly than in some customs practised to this day in South-eastern Europe. In modern Greece, when the foundation of a new building is being laid, it is the custom to kill a cock, a ram, or a lamb, and to let its blood flow on the foundation-stone, under which the animal is afterwards buried. The object of the sacrifice is to give strength and stability to the building. But sometimes, instead of killing an animal, the builder entices a man to the foundation-stone, secretly measures his body, or a part of it, or his shadow, and buries the measure under the foundation-stone; or he lays the foundation-stone upon the man’s shadow. It is believed that the man will die within the year. The Roumanians of Transylvania think that he whose shadow is thus immured will die within forty days; so persons passing by a building which is in course of erection may hear a warning cry, “Beware lest they take thy shadow!” Not long ago there were still shadow-traders whose business it was to provide architects with the shadows necessary for securing their walls. In these cases the measure of the shadow is looked on as equivalent to the shadow itself, and to bury it is to bury the life or soul of the man, who, deprived of it, must die. Thus the custom is a substitute for the old practice of immuring a living person in the walls, or crushing him under the foundation-stone of a new building, in order to give strength and durability to the structure, or more definitely in order that the angry ghost may haunt the place and guard it against the intrusion of enemies.

We can now understand why it was a maxim both in ancient India and ancient Greece not to look at one’s reflection in water, and why the Greeks regarded it as an omen of death if a man dreamed of seeing himself so reflected. They feared that the water-spirits would drag the person’s reflection or soul under water, leaving him soulless to perish. This was probably the origin of the classical story of the beautiful Narcissus, who languished and died through seeing his reflection in the water.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Seven Citadels

The Seven Citadels tetralogy, by Geraldine Harris
Prince of the Godborn
Children of the Wind
The Dead Kingdom
The Seventh Gate
I read these books over and over as a kid; the library had all four in first editions (with their awesome freaky cover art, way better than the paperbacks), and I thought they were really good.  They've been out of print for about 30 years now, but I thought of them recently and looked around, and they've been released as e-books on Kindle.  With the Worst Covers Ever, but what are you going to do--e-books.  Still, these are really atrocious.  Don't let that stop you!  The Seven Citadels is great fantasy writing, and I really wish they would come back into print properly.  When I finished the last volume, I finally noticed that there's a highly complimentary blurb from DWJ on the back flap of the book jacket!

Kerish-lo-Taan is the youngest and favorite son of the Emperor of Galkis--a kingdom ruled by the Godborn, who claim special dispensation and abilities from their ancestor.  Galkis was once a beautiful and just kingdom, but the Godborn have fallen deeply into corruption and the empire is crumbling.  Kerish's father has retreated into his garden and rules--barely--from his seclusion; the rest of the court fights for power.  Kerish is a spoiled and temperamental, but idealistic, young man, and he and his sturdier half-brother Forollkin set out on a quest to free the Savior, legendarily imprisoned behind seven locked gates.  It is Kerish's task to collect the keys from seven sorcerers, who are granted immortality as long as they possess them.  So off they go to wander the world -- or at least the continent -- of Zindar, which contains many peoples and strange lands.

Kerish and Forollkin are classic opposite numbers; brothers, best friends, yet opposites and with a lot of anger not-so-hidden away.  Kerish's resentful struggle to be accepted as an adult and equal, and Forollkin's over-protective and jealous feelings towards his brother make for the central tension in the story.  There are many vivid supporting characters along the way; everyone is finely but compactly drawn.  The most important of the companions they pick up along the way is Gidjabolgo, who was a slave and jester -- his amazing ugliness meant a lifetime of abuse, and he fights back with his incredibly acidic tongue. 

The quest actually takes about three years, and Kerish grows from a petulant teenager into a generous, strong, and loving young man whose great desire is to understand other people.  The last volume contains some very unexpected developments, including a glimpse into the society that existed before humans came to Zindar.  The whole thing is well worth reading and I wish it were better-known.

Even when I read these as a kid, having never had any contact with Japanese anime except G-Force, Kerish looked a lot like an anime character in my head--he's described in terms that make that natural, I think.  Reading the series now, I was impressed with how very visual the writing is; Harris describes everything in beautiful, vivid language (yet without making this a book made largely of scenery).  Honestly, this would make a fantastic anime series.  You wouldn't have to change a thing.  It's ideally suited for the style.  By the end of the first volume, I was purposely imagining every character and scene in anime, and it completely worked.  So, somebody tell an anime producer, and I'll be happy with a reasonable finder's fee...

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


Mudlark: In Search of London's Past Along the River Thames, by Lara Maiklem

The minute I saw this book I knew I had to read it.  And so did my co-worker, so we had to have one of those polite exchanges of "you take it first!"  She'll probably be happy I'm done with it.  This book is right up my alley.  If I lived in London I would absolutely go mudlarking.  If I'd had any clue how, I would have done it when we went on our trip (which, unbelievably, was just four years ago).  I can't understand why people who live in London don't spend all their time poking into odd corners of history, but I suppose they have to work in order to afford living in London.

I do actually have a piece of medieval pottery taken from the Thames by a mudlark; one of the historical buildings we went into had a basket of them.  Pieces like that are very very common and not worth anything.  For one pound you could choose a piece, and the money went to English Heritage (or maybe the other one, who knows).  Mine is red clay, glazed with green and yellow.

Lara Meiklem has always been a collector of old things, and she's been a mudlark for something like fifteen years.  (You can actually follow her on Twitter and Facebook, where she is London Mudlark.)   If you're not familiar with the term, a mudlark was, in the 1800s, a person who combed the shore of the Thames for sellable items like coal and metal; since the river was an open sewer at the time, it was a horrible job.  A modern mudlark combs the shore for interesting bits of history; the riverbed is stuffed with the leavings of centuries.

I had to learn a couple of new and useful terms to read this; Maiklem keeps talking about 'the foreshore' and I had to look it up.  The foreshore is the bit of a beach or shore that gets covered and revealed by the tides; the part that gets wet.  The backshore is the part that stays dry. 

In this volume, she starts at Teddington Lock, which is way to the west, not too far downstream from Hampton Court, and is approximately where the river stops having a tide.  The Thames is a tidal river for a long way, and that makes it more interesting.  She continues east along the river, mostly in the middle of London, but giving plenty of time to easterly docks and Greenwich, and ends up right at the estuary, where the river meets the sea.

Maiklem details what it is like to search for treasure in the mud and stones, describes many of her treasures, and discusses riverine erosion and environmental concerns.  The Thames is cleaner and healthier than it's been in a few centuries, but erosion is a constant issue, expedited by the more invasive mudlarks who dig holes.  And a tremendous amount of modern garbage makes it into the water.  Even the sewers still overflow in a heavy rain, but they're building a system to solve that problem.

The history is wonderful, all found in small, battered objects.  Maiklem can talk about anything from a Roman seal, through medieval shoes, Georgian coins, and Victorian toys.  There are countless beads, pins, clay pipes, and coins.  There are animal bones from Elizabethan feasts and all sorts of weird stuff.  It's fabulous.

Unfortunately, I read the hardback edition, which inexplicably does not contain any photos.  The paperback does, so be sure to get that.  I spent a lot of my time either googling things (rose farthings, chevron beads, Bellarmines) or studying satellite images on Google Maps, looking for river stairs, old pier stumps, and the remains of the SS Richard Montgomery.  And of course, Doves type.

My favorite kind of book and will definitely be making my Best of 2020 list.  (Given how 2020 is going, we're going to need some happy lists.)  I loved it.  I know my oldest kid will love it too, since both of us have mudlarking ambitions anyway.

I only just noticed that I put Peter Ackroyd's "Thames biography" on my 20 Books of Summer list, so I'll read that while I'm in this mood.  What I'd really like to do is read The Way to the Sea, by Caroline Crampton, which is all about the Thames Estuary.  I'll track it down one of these days.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Virgin Soil

Turgenev's final novel, published in 1877, was a surprisingly easy and enjoyable read.  Maybe I'm just getting better at understanding Russian literature?  Anyway, it's a sympathetic rendering of young and idealistic reformers (called Populists) in the 1860s/70s -- so, the Russian serfs have been liberated from serfdom, and Tsar Alexander II has instituted some reforms, but he's also become more reactionary after an assassination attempt in 1866.*  The Populists wanted to bridge the massive divide between the wealthier, more educated classes and the people.  (Remember, at this time a lot of wealthier Russians didn't speak Russian; they spoke French.  There were essentially two populations.)  So a lot of them put on folk outfits and went out to the people, trying to educate them and encourage them to become revolutionaries.  It didn't go very well.

This novel was a big success internationally, but upper-class Russians didn't like it much; I think they saw revolutionaries as lower-class and violent, unthinking nihilists, while Turgenev was depicting well-educated young people.  Just after the novel was published, though, the Trial of Fifty began -- one of the first big political trials -- and they were all young, idealistic types just as Turgenev had written about.  The trial brought them some popular sympathy, but that same trial -- and the peasants' surprising (to the Populists) resistance to strange, untried ideas preached by city folks -- embittered the revolutionaries, who got much more into violence, revenge, and purifying the people with blood after that.

The story concerns Nezhdanov, who is well-educated but illegitimate, and thus has no real place to be.  He's sympathetic to the revolutionaries, but he really needs a job.  He lucks out by meeting Sipyagin, who lives on a country estate and needs a tutor for his son -- which would also be a wonderful opportunity for going to the people!  Sipyagin is amused by Nezhdanov's ideas and claims to be quite a liberal himself.  So Nezhdanov goes out to the estate, where he meets a constellation of country-house family and guests, including Marianna, who has Populist beliefs too, so naturally they are attracted to one another.

Marianna is on fire for the cause; she is eager to sacrifice herself in a blaze of glory.  Nezhdanov, on the other hand, feels awkward and dubious about the whole thing.  He goes around to talk with the locals, but it doesn't go that well, except for the competent factory manager, Solomin.  Solomin is one of those quiet, matter-of-fact guys who get stuff done; he's what Turgenev likes.

Nezhdanov and Marianna plan to run away together, hide out at the factory, and go to the people.  They and their friends are full of a missionary zeal; only Nezhdanov has private doubts about the ideas of the revolution and his own fitness for the job.  So he refuses to marry Marianna until he is worthy, and they live as brother and sister.  Marianna is thrilled about wearing an old dress, but she wants the heat of battle, not the slow plodding of teaching a peasant to read.  Nezhdanov tries to give pamphlets out and talk with the people, but it's discouraging work and he becomes more and more convinced that he is not cut out for converting the people.  Probably he ought to get out of Marianna's way and let her do things with Solomin....

There's a lot to think about.  Turgenev is sympathetic to these young idealists, but he also sees a lot of flaws in their philosophy.  I think he feels that they have tunnel vision and don't appreciate the complexity and beauty of Russia.  And he highlights the problem of upper-class people trying to educate lower-class people; these revolutionaries are right that there is a lot of suffering and oppression, but they also don't actually understand the peasants or their concerns very well.  The people see them as clueless city folks, and often betray them to the authorities.

I particularly like Marianna, who is so impatient to sacrifice herself that she has a hard time slowing down and doing ordinary things.   I know that personality so well!  And Markelov, whose betrayal embitters him and convinces him that force is the way to go -- he's all wrong, but he's very much what seems to have actually happened.

I didn't even know about the existence of this novel until I saw it; Turgenev's other works all seem to be more famous.  But I though it was wonderful.  A really great novel.

Some quotations:
Nezhdanov tried to question Markelov about his reforms in a socialistic direction on his estate...but at this Ostrodumov interposed.  "What's the good of discussing that now?" he observed.  "It makes no difference; everything must be transformed afterwards."

Marianna belonged to a special class of unhappy persons (in Russia one may come across them pretty often)...Justice satisfied but does not requite them, while injustice, which they are terribly keen in detecting, revolts them to the very depths of their being.

The young men proceeded to 'exchange ideas,' generally a rather tedious process, especially at a first meeting, and a particularly unprofitable occupation at all times.

"We couldn't do without discipline in our work; obedience is essential."  ("And that's all rot," was his inward comment.)

"But, Marianna, let me say . . . How did you picture it to yourself — the beginning?  It's not a matter of building barricades with a flag over them, and shouting 'hurrah! for the republic!' .... But you now to-day will start training some Lukerya in something good, and it'll be a hard task for you, as Lukerya won't be over quick of understanding, and she'll be shy of you, and will fancy too that what you 're trying to teach her won't be of the least use to her; and in a fortnight or three weeks you'll be struggling with some other Lukerya, and meanwhile you'll be washing a child or teaching him his ABC, or giving medicine to a sick man . , . that will be your beginning."
"But the sisters of mercy do all that, you know, Vassily Fedotitch!  What need, then ... of all this?"  Marianna pointed to herself and round about her with a vague gesture. "I dreamt of something else."
"You wanted to sacrifice yourself?"
Marianna's eyes glistened. "Yes...yes...yes!"...
Solomin looked intently at Marianna.
"Do you know what, will excuse the unpleasantness of the expression...but to my idea, combing the scurfy head of a dirty urchin is a sacrifice, and a great sacrifice, of which not many people are capable."
"But I would not refuse to do that, Vassily Fedotitch."
"I know you wouldn't! Yes, you are capable of that. And that's what you will be doing for a time ; and afterwards, maybe — something else too."...
"You are laughing at me, Vassily Fedotitch."
Solomin shook his head slowly.  Marianna raised her downcast eyes.
"I should like to justify your expectations, Solomin . . . and then — I'm ready to die!"
Solomin got up. "No,! That's the great thing."

And Markelov's head sank on his breast. There was great confusion in his soul, quiet as he was outwardly. More than all he was fretted and tortured by the thought that he had been betrayed by none other than Eremey of Goloplyok!  Eremey in whom he had believed so blindly!  That Mendely, the Sulker, had not followed him had not really surprised him...Mendely had been drunk and was frightened. But Eremey!  To Markelov, Eremey was a sort of personification of the Russian peasantry. . . . And he had deceived him.
Then, was all Markelov had been toiling for, was it all wrong, a mistake? And was Kislyakov a liar, and were Vassily Nikolaevitch's orders folly, and were all the articles and books, works of socialists and thinkers, every letter of which had seemed to him something beyond doubt, beyond attack — was all that too rubbish?  Could it be?  And that splendid simile of the swollen abscess, ready for the stroke of the lancet, was that too a mere phrase?  "No! no!" he murmured to himself, and over his bronzed cheeks flitted a faint tinge of brick-dust colour; "no; it's all true; is I am to blame, I didn't understand, I didn't say the right thing, I didn't go the right way to work!  I ought simply to have given orders, and if any one had tried to hinder or resist, put a bullet through his head!  What 's the use of explanations here? Any one not with us has no right to live,...spies are killed like dogs, worse than dogs!"

*It seems to me that the revolutionaries shot themselves in the foot there; after all, if they'd succeeded, Alexander III was the next fellow in line.  And when they didn't succeed, they turned a fairly liberal tsar into a much more typical one.  When Alexander II was really assassinated later on, all it did was lead to more tyranny.

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Robin Hood

Robin Hood: Green Lord of the Wildwood, by John Matthews

A little while ago, I had to buy a 'history of Robin Hood' book for the college library to replace the one that had been lost.  It's a little tricky to purchase something like that, because you know the majority of what's out there is going to be...kind of woo-ey.  This looked like the best of the bunch.  And then one day I was in the mood to read about Robin Hood, so I brought it home for the quarantine and gave it a try.  I do think it's a little bit woo-ey, but mostly not -- and although he walks right on the border, usually when he crosses over and quotes something really out there, he points out that it's wild speculation and seems unlikely.  I'm not entirely sure how seriously to take it, but it was pretty interesting.

I was expecting more of a literary/dramatic history of Robin Hood, and what I actually got bore a startling resemblance to The Golden Bough.  Matthews figures Robin Hood is kind of an amalgam of people and legend; probably more than one outlaw took on the name Robin Hood because it was known, but the figure of Robin also gets mixed up and in with all kinds of other things like Jack-in-the-Green, the Green Man, trickster figures, and it all goes back to that favorite theme -- folk magic and rituals around the forces of nature.  He thinks of Robin as an aspect of unbridled, wild Nature with a capital N and the birth of spring.

So we go through a whole bunch of examples of practices and legends, mostly connected with May festivals, which (I didn't know) were often called Robin Hood games.  Morris dances* and the traditional characters connected with them, fertility folk practices of various kinds, stories about mummers and flower brides and so on.

And it ends up with Robin Hood and Maid Marian being King and Queen of the May, connected to much older things behind that.  Some of it I found persuasive, some of it not so much.

The text itself is only a couple of hundred pages; the second half of the book consists of a tremendous number of Robin Hood ballads, arranged as chronologically as possible.

It was very interesting.  I had fun, even if I didn't buy everything he was selling.

Reading this book put me in the mood to watch Robin Hood, or maybe The Court Jester, which is a favorite of mine.  Of course, if you live around these parts, there's only one Robin Hood movie -- the one with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.  A lot of the Sherwood Forest bits were filmed here in our park, and the Merry Men hang out in the Hooker Oak -- a massive tree which has been gone for 40 years, but remains prominent in city history and affection.

*At some point along this path I looked up the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, which is a Morris dance where they wear these antlers.  It's been going continuously for centuries, and the 'horns' are actually reindeer antlers -- which have been carbon-dated to about a thousand years ago.  So that blew my mind.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

The Golden Bough Readalong: Part the Second

Here we have chapters VII - XII, which were mainly about trees and vegetation.  This section of reading was pretty easy.  I like this arrangement; as long as I do a section per day, I'm very likely to make decent progress.  That said, the next few chapters are on the hefty side and 2 per week may be the way to go.  I am finding it helpful to have this outline to keep track of Frazer's argument, and it's fine if you don't want to wade through it all.

Frazer has described the basic structure of magical beliefs, the development of magic into religion, and the progression of magicians into public figures and kings.  Well, if kings, why not gods?  On with our outline -- and of course, each section comes with many examples:

VII.  Incarnate Human Gods:  Magician-kings may very well turn into gods, but the definition of 'god' will most likely not be 'omnipotent being' but more like 'having some supernatural power.'  Ordinary people might well be considered as incarnations of gods too.  This might be a permanent or a temporary condition; if a practitioner is 'possessed' or inspired, that would be a temporary version of it (as for example with the Delphic oracle).  The Dalai Lama is one of the examples.

VIII. Departmental Kings of Nature:  Therefore kings who are also priests or gods occur in many societies.  But these 'kings' may not always exert political power; sometimes they may be kings of nature, or a more specialized 'departmental' king, say of water or of fire.  Examples of these are found around the globe, but forest kings seem less common; possibly they are more a specialized Euro thing?

IX.  The Worship of Trees
1. Tree-spirits: Tree-worship has been very important in ancient European beliefs.  Sacred groves functioned as temples and special or really large trees were often venerated.  Many peoples have believed that trees had spirits and could be annoyed if ill-treated.  Naturally, if you believe that trees are animate beings, you'll believe that they come in male and female, and so it's quite likely that marriage rites will come into it.  After a while, the belief may shift from the tree being a live spirit to the tree being the home of a spirit, which can leave.
2. Beneficent Powers of Tree-spirits: Once a tree is the home of a spirit, that spirit will soon be conceived of as being a god of trees, or of the forest, and will soon be thought of as looking like a person.  Tree-gods are often considered to have power over things like rain, sun, herds, and birth.  The Maypole or May-tree is one familiar example.

X.  Relics of Tree Worship in Modern Europe:  Lots about English/European customs around Maypoles, May-trees, and May-bushes.  These customs usually take place around Whitsuntide/the end of May (I'm writing this on the 31st of May, appropriately enough), or may get shoved to Midsummer Day on June 23rd, St. John's Eve.  A few places have it on St. George's Day, April 23rd, and have a "Green George" instead of a King and Queen of the May.  In all these cases you have folk-magic meant to awaken "the spirit of vegetation," and encourage lots of rain, sun, babies, crops, and increased herds and milk.  Symbols such as brides, eggs, and flowers abound, and (ahem) a good deal of license may still persist.

XI. The Influence of the Sexes on Vegetation:  Naturally, if you want the crops to grow, you'll have a lot of ritual marriages and congress.  Modern Europe may not be very obvious about it, but lots of other places are and have straightforward practices, which may involve, for example, extra-fertile couples dancing on the fields, or perhaps an inversion where abstinence is the rule of crop-planting time.

XII. The Sacred Marriage
1. Diana as a Goddess of Fertility: Back to Nemi: would the King of the Wood have been 'married' to Diana, in a version of these fertility rituals?  Diana was a goddess of the woods, and developed into "a personification of the teeming like of nature, both animal and vegetable."  She was especially a goddess of childbirth.  So...she must have been all about the fertility, thus the Ephesian Diana.*  So obviously she would need a husband, and Servius said that was Virbius, who was represented at Nemi by the King of the Wood.
2. The Marriage of the Gods: Examples of people married to gods or goddesses, both ancient and modern.  In Egypt a woman slept in the temple of Ammon as his wife, for example, or you may have girls dedicated as priestesses who are married only to the god.  The old tale of the princess given to a dragon, who is rescued by a dragon-slayer, may reflect ancient ideas about girls sacrificed to be the wives of water-spirits.

Frazer is showing some elements of what we would consider anthropological practice here.  He is very careful to point out that another society's definition of a god will probably not be the same as the reader's definition of a god, and that if we impose our own definitions of an idea on to another, we will not understand what is happening.  He also cautions readers not to simply think of other ideas as silly and unreasonable; if you trace your own ideas back into history, they're probably part of the same family.

On the other hand, Frazer also seems pretty gullible.  Here is a story he tells in chapter 13 as an example people posing as gods:
About the year 1830 there appeared, in one of the States of the American Union bordering on Kentucky, an impostor who declared that he was the Son of God, the Saviour of mankind, and that he had reappeared on earth to recall the impious, the unbelieving, and sinners to their duty. He protested that if they did not mend their ways within a certain time, he would give the signal, and in a moment the world would crumble to ruins. These extravagant pretensions were received with favour even by persons of wealth and position in society. At last a German humbly besought the new Messiah to announce the dreadful catastrophe to his fellow-countrymen in the German language, as they did not understand English, and it seemed a pity that they should be damned merely on that account. The would-be Saviour in reply confessed with great candour that he did not know German. “What!” retorted the German, “you the Son of God, and don’t speak all languages, and don’t even know German? Come, come, you are a knave, a hypocrite, and a madman. Bedlam is the place for you.” The spectators laughed, and went away ashamed of their credulity.
Now, this is obviously some kind of urban legend.  "One of the states bordering on Kentucky"?  No names, no places, nothing that would allow the curious reader to follow up this story and find out what the original reports said.  Frazer ought to be ashamed of his credulity.  If he's this bad at understanding Americans of 1830, I am not optimistic about his abilities to understand societies further removed from him in time and culture.

Just before I read the sections about tree-worship and Maypoles, I also read a book about Robin Hood (post coming later this week!) which turned out to also have a lot to say about Maypoles and fertility rites.  Both quote the Puritan Phillip Stubbes' book of 1583 in which he describes May partying and says "these oxen draw home this May-pole (this stynking ydol, rather) which is covered all over with flowers and hearbs..."  You gotta love him, right?

Here are some quotations:

In a society where every man is supposed to be endowed more or less with powers which we should call supernatural, it is plain that the distinction between gods and men is somewhat blurred, or rather has scarcely emerged. The conception of gods as superhuman beings endowed with powers to which man possesses nothing comparable in degree and hardly even in kind, has been slowly evolved in the course of history. By primitive peoples the supernatural agents are not regarded as greatly, if at all, superior to man; for they may be frightened and coerced by him into doing his will. At this stage of thought the world is viewed as a great democracy; all beings in it, whether natural or supernatural, are supposed to stand on a footing of tolerable equality. But with the growth of his knowledge man learns to realise more clearly the vastness of nature and his own littleness and feebleness in presence of it. The recognition of his helplessness does not, however, carry with it a corresponding belief in the impotence of those supernatural beings with which his imagination peoples the universe. On the contrary, it enhances his conception of their power.

The Chinese government, with a paternal solicitude for the welfare of its subjects, forbids the gods on the register to be reborn anywhere but in Tibet.    [yeah, I want a citation for this one.]

Social progress, as we know, consists mainly in a successive differentiation of functions, or, in simpler language, a division of labour. ... Now magicians or medicine-men appear to constitute the oldest artificial or professional class in the evolution of society.

...we may now fairly ask, May not the King of the Wood have had an origin like that which a probable tradition assigns to the Sacrificial King of Rome and the titular King of Athens? In other words, may not his predecessors in office have been a line of kings whom a republican revolution stripped of their political power, leaving them only their religious functions and the shadow of a crown? There are at least two reasons for answering this question in the negative...

When a tree comes to be viewed, no longer as the body of the tree-spirit, but simply as its abode which it can quit at pleasure, an important advance has been made in religious thought. Animism is passing into polytheism. In other words, instead of regarding each tree as a living and conscious being, man now sees in it merely a lifeless, inert mass, tenanted for a longer or shorter time by a supernatural being who, as he can pass freely from tree to tree, thereby enjoys a certain right of possession or lordship over the trees, and, ceasing to be a tree-soul, becomes a forest god.    [I thought this was interesting, because he figures that thinking of trees as 'lifeless' is progress, and now a lot of people figure the opposite -- and we're even finding out that trees have networks.]

*Wikipedia says that modern scholarship doubts that the statue was supposed to have many breasts, and says they were probably supposed to be ritual gourds.  I wouldn't know -- so I guess I have more to learn!

Monday, June 1, 2020

CC Spin: The Fortunes of Richard Mahony

Just a note: I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago, before all the worrying events that are happening right now.  Like all of you, I am sad and outraged and feel a bit helpless.  Meanwhile, here's a post about Australia over 100 years ago...

So 80s!
Australia Felix (1917); The Way Home (1925); Ultima Thule (1929)

Wow, this was quite a story!  This three-volume novel is a fictionalized version of Ethel Richardson's parents' lives.  We follow Richard Mahony, an English emigrant to Australia, and his wife Mary for nearly 30 years.  I wound up with some historical notes and comparisons at the end of this post, so...this is a long one, folks.

Australia Felix starts with Mahony in his early 30s, in 1850s gold-rush Ballarat.  Although a qualified doctor, he runs a general-goods shop, badly.  He meets Polly, aged 16, a quiet, intelligent girl living with a rollicking, cheerful family, and they quickly marry.  The narrative thread shifts between Polly (soon Mary) and Richard, and really I think Mary has more of it.  Mary convinces Richard to start practice as a doctor again, and their hard-working lives, embedded in Mary's large extended family and the town of Ballarat, make for a compelling tale.  Richard is restless, longing for England (the Australia Felix title is bitterly ironic for him), and Mary reluctantly sets sail with him.

In The Way Home, Richard is trying to become established as a doctor in England, but it's much more difficult than he expected, and he is more Australian than he thought.  At last he takes against England and decides to go back to Australia, but it's a defeat.  Upon arrival, their fortunes take a turn; they are wealthy, and while Mary wants to go 'home' to Ballarat, Richard hates the idea and insists on Melbourne.  Again, Mary becomes the caretaker for her family members -- and at long last, she is surprised with children!  Richard's inability to find satisfaction in what he has spurs him to take the whole family on a European tour, but even that proves disappointing and he just can't settle.  The news that the manager of their investments has absconded with the fortunes of all his clients comes as a shock, and they head for home, fearful of the future.

Ultima Thule is the story of Richard's endeavors to become re-established as a doctor, which are defeated by his decline in both physical and mental health (at the time, this description was very shocking to readers). How Mary and the children deal with it are also a large part of the story.    Now it is recognized as accurately based on Richardson's father's own development of dementia due to neurosyphilis.  I have to admit I had a really hard time reading this volume.  I didn't know what would happen, but it was going to be tragic.

So -- this novel is many things, and a portrayal of mental illness is only one of them.  It's the story of Fortune's wheel, of hard work for pennies, sudden wealth, and equally sudden poverty.  (I think it's this aspect that causes it to be described as a quintessentially Australian novel?)  It has a lot of marriages in it, and nearly all of them are unhappy.  It also has a wonderfully sensitive portrayal of the son, Cuffy, who embodies Richardson's own memories of childhood.

For me, the most absorbing element of the story was the portrait of the marriage of two good people who love each other deeply, but who are chalk and cheese; they are so different, they don't really understand each other very well, and indeed their differences push them to more extreme versions of themselves.  Mary is a practical woman who manages well and loves greatly, but not always with understanding.  She loves her husband and children, but she isn't able to empathize with them.  Richard is sensitive, intellectual, and has enormous integrity, but he is also very proud, judgemental, and always longs for escape.  He is popular with others, and he hates being in company.  Mary becomes inclined to dismiss Richard's constant complaints, so she does not at first notice that eccentricity has become illness.  Richard needs, depends on, and hates Mary's solicitude for his well-being.  He often sees her as a fetter, and she often sees him as inconsiderate and reckless.  Mary has a core of steel, and is the one that holds everything together, come what may. 

This great novel should be better known outside Australia! 

And now, a historical note: Australia Felix, set in Ballarat during the gold rush and featuring the Eureka Rebellion of 1854, prompted me to look up a little history about it.  The Eureka Rebellion was the result of a whole lot of miners' resentment over Great Britain's colonial management, especially the lack of voting rights and the existence of a mining license fee that had to be paid every month.  The miners set up at the Eureka Stockade and swore allegiance to their flag; a battle ensued, the rebellion was put down, some miners killed, but the sympathy for the rebels' complaints was great enough that male colonists were given suffrage in 1856.  The Eureka flag has since come to stand for an Australian spirit of independence, democracy, and (often) protest, and I gather that it has also become a popular tattoo.

All this sounds very familiar indeed to a Californian living on the edges of Gold Rush country.   The miners in Australia Felix sound just like the 49ers, except the 49ers wore a lot more red flannel.  The Bear Flag Rebellion of 1846 was not instigated by miners sore about taxes; it was American settlers in Alta California (which belonged to Mexico) who liked the idea of it belonging to the US instead.  Also, like the Eureka Rebellion, it has been much romanticized.  Take a look at John Bidwell's description of the event as a silly lark without a lot of substance to it.

Compare Australian and Californian miners below!

The original Eureka flag

The full design of the flag

Australian miner

A somewhat glamorized 49er

The original California flag; it wasn't much.

New and improved version

And I can't resist adding a postscript about the little town of Rough and Ready, which I visited last summer.  It's not too far from Grass Valley.  In 1850, the miners there, annoyed over being taxed but not getting any actual services, declared independence from the United States.  This lasted all of three months, until they realized that nobody would sell them liquor for the 4th of July if they weren't Americans.  Check out the story from, again, the Goldfields blog!
Photo: Nancy Leek