Look, I am only a casual superhero comics fan, but here’s my sideline/peripheral take:
When I was two years old, Lando Calrissian betrayed his friends to the Empire. And then he thought better of it and became a good guy again. Two years old. I don’t actually remember experiencing this story for the first time, it’s a thing that entered my brain through cultural osmosis and repetition. I am now almost thirty-nine.
Why do I bring this up?
Because “maybe someone you thought was good is actually bad! but wait, no, they’re actually good again!” is not a new story for anyone who is an adult now. We have all done this one. It is not daring and new, it is not a shocking twist, it is–in fact–kind of the default. Yes, yes, who can you trust, anyone might turn out to be blah blah whatev.
We have never experienced a Superman without a kind of kryptonite that can turn him evil. We have never had a hero without shades of gray. And I’m not suggesting that we should do a ton of that. I’m not suggesting that abandoning nuance is the way to go. I’m just suggesting that “the ground beneath your feet is shifting! who should you trust!” is yeah, yeah, yeah, pretty old hat to more than one generation in a row by now. So you really need something better than that if you’re going to try to convince readers that you have something great up your sleeve. As far as twists go, this is as twisty as “maybe they’re all dead we promise they’re not oh wait they are.” Other people have made the moral arguments already, the arguments based on character background/origins. I find them pretty compelling. I just wanted to say, also? it’s really sad when you go to shock people with things that have been standard templates for longer than they’ve been alive. It relies on one of us not paying attention, and buddy, it’s not me this time.
The only ring-bearer who manages to get off with relatively little damage is Bilbo, but he never had much ambition, nor did he set out to destroy the ring and so come closer to its center of power.
Another important point: Elrond once said that the company was meant to fall in together, and Gandalf said in that initial conversation that Bilbo was meant to find the ring. But not by its maker. This is about as near as I can find to JRRT revealing his own moral (and religious) compass—these small hints are scattered all throughout the story.
On to the last chapters of this book—in both senses: the last of book four, and the last of The Two Towers.
“D’you mean you’ve been through this hole?” said Sam. “Phew! But perhaps you don’t mind bad smells.”
Gollum’s eyes glinted. “He doesn’t know what we minds, does he, precious? No, he doesn’t. But Smeagol can bear things. Yes. He’s been through, O yes, right through. It’s the only way.”
“And what makes the smell, I wonder,” said Sam. “It’s like—well, I wouldn’t like to say. Some beastly hole of the orcs, I’ll warrant, with a hundred years of their filth in it.”
Gollum has made his decision, and it bodes no good for Sam or Frodo—he’s talking to the precious again.
Soon Gollum slips away, leaving them to Shelob, who is hunting them. They can feel it, then they hear it. Who hasn’t been skin-crawled by that bubbling hiss?
Sam remembers Galadriel’s phial, which Frodo brandishes, and light sparkles with white fire, vanquishing the thick darkness—and a voice speaks through Frodo, “Aiya Earendil Elenion Ancalima!”
And She that walked in the darkness had heard the elves cry that cry far back in the deeps of time, and she had not heeded it, and it did not daunt her now.
Shelob comes on, Frodo aware of her malice. But when he cries “Galadriel,” a hint of doubt halts her for a moment. Then Frodo, who has never been a warrior, pulls Sting and advances on Shelob’s millions of eyes, which shutter into darkness as she retreats.
The hobbits run into cobwebs, cut free, and take off—and then the narrative voice fills us in on Shelob’s history. This is one of those places that make the world so very much larger than it seems, and older.
Little she knew of or cared for towers, or rings, or anything devised by mind or hand, who only desired death for all others, mind and body, and for herself a glut of life, alone, swollen till the mountains could no longer hold her up and the darkness could not contain her.
Sauron knows she’s there, and likes that she guards that way into his citadel, “hungry, but unabated in malice,” and calls her his cat.
Shelob stalks Frodo with her “soft squelching body” and Sam tries to warn him, but gets jumped by Gollum. But Gollum, gloating ahead of winning, spoils his attack from behind and Sam beats him off, breaking his staff.
But Frodo is taken.
Then it’s Sam’s turn for heroism beyond measure: he leaps between her legs and stabs Shelob from below with Sting. And when she tries to crush him with her huge body, Sam holds Sting upright so she drives herself onto the blade.
When she retreats for a last spring, it’s Sam’s turn to wield the phial and to cry out in Elvish, words he did not know. Is it Galadriel, guiding them on the mental plane, or is it that briefly referenced power beyond the world that helped Frodo and Sam in this dire moment?
Shelob scuttles off to her lair, and whether she lay long in her lair, nursing ner maline and her misery, and in slow years of darkness healed herself from within, rebuilding her clustered eyes, until with hunger like death she spun once more her dreadful snares in the glends of the Mountains of Shadow, this tale does not tell.
I read that so many times as a young reader, but it never struck me until recently the glimmer of grim humor in this long recitation . . . with a “well we don’t really know” at the end of it.
So Sam finds Frodo cold and apparently dead. He is left with two horrible choices, and after agonizing, decides he has to carry the quest through to its end. So he takes the ring, and goes on.
But he hears orcs, who find and carry off Frodo. Sam changes his mind—his place is with Frodo, though he knows this is the bitter end. He chases the orcs, who have a rallying cry, “Ya hoi! Ya harri hoi!” It’s rhythmic, making me wonder if the orcs, among themselves have song.
And here we get a long conversation between Gorbag and Shagrat, in which Sam—and the reader—learn a lot. The orcs have their own slang, and their own attitude toward their commanders, which reminds me of the skepticism of foot soldiers in more frank memoirs.
”Yes,” said Gorbag. “But don’t count on it. I’m not easy in my mind. As I said, the Big Bosses, ay,” his voice sank almost to a whisper, “ay, even the Biggest, can make mistakes. Something nearly slipped, you say. I say, something has slipped.
So orcs can think for themselves. Then comes their view of their enemies as he goes on: “Always the poor Uruks to put slips right, and small thanks. But don’t forget: the enemies don’t love us any more than they love Him, and if they get topsides on Him, we’re done too.”
Sam learns something about Shelob—and that Gollum is known, and called her Sneak—then the orcs decides that Sam is a huge warrior who abandoned the “little fellow” in a regular elvish trick.
That stopped me. Have the orcs been told that? How do they know it? They don’t abandon their own? But he said regular elvish trick, and I so want to know what lies beneath that accusation.
Sam reels when he discovers that Frodo is only poisoned, but alive—but the orcs have him. And he is shut outside the gate.
I am not a gay man in New York but I see the resemblance:
"Worse, really, was the L, which I'd take home from Oliver's on the West Side. Not the train itself, which was fast and frequent, but what it represented. In that direction, the L is packed with people on their way to Brooklyn, whether going home or out partying. They always seemed hip and gay (in the original sense of the word) and young, whereas I felt like an old man being taken away from where he really wanted to be.
I feel guilty now that I projected my unhappiness on the subways. The L, and the 4/5? They did right by me, getting me home and to work on time and safely, and each brought its share of discoveries."
Hayes loves cities, the anomie and connection of them, and also the way they hold their own microcosm in mass transit. (He says, mass transit, and I think: golden age SF, that magic gilded modernity. When people say public transport I think of quiet country stations and Yes, I remember Adlestrop. Different, but the same human topology.) And it's a beautiful, beautiful book. Textured by grief, but full of defiance, a willingness to see beautiful things. I think I see queerness in that, the theoretical version? The notion that queerness is some vanguard avant-garde, so we approach it through anti-capitalism and rejecting the sexual status quo, but it advances beyond us, so we are never truly queer. I'm not sure if I could uncritically subscribe to queer theory, or even critically understand it - my mind and/or education never feel like they're up to it - but this I like: that it is queer to reject the mainstream pessimism of the left. You queer the text by daring to find some reason not to give up and die.
And then of course it's a straightforwardly queer book, too. A queer writer, a queer life, a queer city, set out in bitesize vignettes and photography. Everything in it is something Hayes has noticed, something he's chosen to notice, about Sacks and about New York: a smokestack, a fisherman on the subway, a conversation with a stranger waiting for a moving truck, an army of skateboarders on Fourth Avenue. I have been unmedicated for two weeks now and settled to a scratchy, dimmed, distractible baseline. Everyone - GP and therapist and friends - says, one day at a time, rather than rage against the light; which for me doesn't come easily. But I happen to be reading this book as London shifts to summer, which isn't right, because London isn't New York. You don't buy air conditioners in London, or wait until next time for the favourite outfit. I always think it's like a kid playing dress up - look at us, constitutionally raincoated, looking for the window keys, in the dresses we never wear, with the little self-conscious bottles of water on the Tube. It's twenty-six degrees today but it might not be ever again. Some of my colleagues have dug out salwar kameez; a girl I know wore a paisley hijab and tried to put her face in a frappuccino. Meds withdrawal has dialled my hypersensitivity up to eleven but there's something in noticing every small sensory thing: passing perfume, a girl humming, with two different decorated Converse and a Wonder Woman t-shirt; the scent of rotting rubbish (which - I'm sorry - takes me to New York again, the Lower East Side when I lived upstate, and last summer - Hamilton, Pride, and gelato). You may as well notice these things whether or not the world is burning. You might as well live. Also from Insomniac City:
"I once said to someone that one doesn't come to New York for beauty.
I said that's what Paris, or Iceland, is for.
I said one comes to New York to live in New York, with all its noise and trash and rats in the subway and taxicabs stuck in crosstown traffic jams.
I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.
If there could be a chip implemented to track one's vocabulary, as miles logged are counted with those fitness bands people go around wearing, I'm sure beautiful would be in my top-ten most-used words. I am always saying that that's beautiful or this is beautiful. The thing is, beauty comes in unbeautiful ways here."
Last week in post next week; also, an intake appointment for psychiatric care; and my departmental privilege day. Not sure if I can write on it, or at all. But we shall see.
Lament for a One-Legged Lady
A mortician's daughter,
she always assumed
the empty cello case
in the secondhand store window
was a voluptuous coffin
propped open to release
the velvet-kissed ghost
of a one-legged lady.
She'd inch into the display
and rifle through the loose pages
of that lady's last will and testament,
tilt her head to listen
to the stale whispers
of sheet music.
As she pondered this foreign script,
the meaning of bereft and
trapped within lines,
she wondered where the corpse went,
half hoped it had escaped,
like these winged spheres
of five brittle bars.
The Guardian: Republican candidate charged with assault after 'body-slamming' Guardian reporter
The day before the Montana special election (which is today).
And it was caught on audiotape and witnessed by a Fox News team also present who wrote this about (avid Trump supporter) Gianforte's alleged attack on Ben Jacobs:
Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon.
At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter. As Gianforte moved on top of Jacobs, he began yelling something to the effect of, "I'm sick and tired of this!"
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. Jacobs then said he wanted the police called and went to leave. Gianforte looked at the three of us and repeatedly apologized. At that point, I told him and Scanlon, who was now present, that we needed a moment. The men then left.
To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.
Fox News: Key Montana newspapers pull Gianforte endorsement after incident
Here's colorblue's post on the Montana election:
Action: Montana Special Election
If you are a US citizen, you can still donate to the last-minute get-out-the-vote effort for Gianforte's opponent, Rob Quist, and he currently has 5X matching:
ActBlue page for Rob Quist (thanks to loligo)
On my first day at Les Imaginales, a pair of librarians came up and invited me to visit the Epinal Library. What I didn’t realize — they may have mentioned it and I just missed it — was that they were giving us a private tour of the rare books room.
It was amazing. One of the true highlights of my trip to France. My interpreter Lionel, an author himself, was as awestruck as I was. Especially when they brought out the first book. If I’m remembering right, this was from the 8th century.
The next one wasn’t quite as old…being from the 9th century. This Gospel of Saint Mark was a youthful 1200 years old.
The cover is metal and ivory. I’m not sure what kind of jewels those are. The circular areas on the corners were for holding relics. Here’s a glimpse of the interior:
You can see the full set of photos on Flickr. (Or you may have already seen them on Facebook.) It was such a wonderful experience. My thanks to everyone at Bibliothèque Municipale d’Epinal for their time and generosity.
I’ll end with a map of Michigan from one of the books that was “only” a few centuries old. Michigan sure looked different in the old days…
Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.
In any case, I suspect the job is less unethical, when you get right down to it, than the one I did years ago writing personal profiles for real-estate agents.
The company itself strikes me as rather interesting -- founded by a Russian immigrant, they got charged a few years back with scamming the US military. The lawyer they hired was a guy from Toronto, son of Hungarian-Jewish holocaust survivors, who mostly did civil-rights cases; and after a long trial (during the course of which he had a heart attack) he exonerated them completely. I think there was some evidence they'd been framed by a rival manufacturer or something. They subsequently hired him as CEO. I chatted with him a bit yesterday on the morning coffee break. He reminds me of Stanley Tucci. Oh, and he's also director of the Jane Goodall Foundation.
I have no idea what I'm letting myself in for (other than a lot of proofreading, which is what I've been doing the past couple of days), but I expect it will at least be interesting.
My mother showed me a one-panel comic with one of those hot dog carts on a sidewalk and two passers-by looking on. The cart's umbrella advertises it as "Vlad's Treats"; the menu is "Borscht—Caviar—Unchecked Power." One of the passers-by is saying to the other, "It's an acquired taste." It is very obviously a Putin reference, but it still rang off-key for me. I don't want to move back into an era where we have ideological purity food wars. It was embarrassing enough when French fries were briefly and xenophobically renamed in 2003. No one in my family has been Russian for more than a century (and Russia might have disputed whether they counted in the first place, being Jews), but my grandmother made borscht. I don't make it with anything like the frequency I make chicken soup with kneydlekh, but that's partly because kneydlekh will not make your kitchen look like you axe-murdered somebody in it. I order it every chance I get. For my mother's seventieth birthday, my father took her to a Russian restaurant especially for the caviar. It can't be much of an acquired taste if as a toddler I had to be stopped from happily eating the entire can my grandparents had been sent as a present.
And let's face it, if I get this twitchy (and vaguely sad that at four-thirty in the morning there's nowhere I can get borscht in Boston), I assume the dogwhistles are much louder for people for whom Russia is closer than their great-grandparents. Can we not do McCarthyism 2.0? Especially since we sort of have been for some years now and it's, see above, not so much working out?
(Me to spatch: "This is ridiculous. If I can read cuneiform, I should be able to read Chinese. I feel incredibly stupid." Rob to me: "You can't call yourself stupid if you're teaching yourself Chinese!")
I saw the news of Manchester yesterday morning. I was in the process of posting about a nearly sixty-year-old movie in which a terrorist bombing figures prominently. It would have been nice for that aspect of the film to have dated as badly as its Cold War politics, but even the Cold War politics have become popular again these days. I don't want to speak for a city that isn't mine: I wish everyone strength and safety. Title of this post from H.D.'s Blitz poem The Walls Do Not Fall (1944).
(I am not pleased that just because the man in the White House does not understand security, privacy, or boundaries, apparently whole swathes of the U.S. intelligence community have decided to follow suit.)
Some things from the internet—
1. It is not true that I had no idea any of these events were actually photographed, which is my problem with clickbait titles in general (seriously, the one with Tesla has been making the rounds of the internet for a decade), but this is nonetheless an incredibly interesting collection of historical photos. The one of a beardless van Gogh is great. The records of the Armenian genocide, the Wounded Knee Massacre, and Hitler in full-color Nazi splendor are instructive. I am way more amused than I should be that thirty-one-year-old Edison really looks like a nineteenth-century tech bro.
2. Courtesy of moon_custafer: "ZEUS NO." I am reminded of one of my favorite pieces of Latin trivia, which I learned from Craig A. Williams' Roman Homosexuality (1999/2010): that Q. Fabius Maximus who was consul in 116 BCE got his cognomen Eburnus because of the ivory fairness of his complexion, but he got his nickname pullus Iovis—"Jupiter's chick," pullus being slang for the younger boyfriend of an older man—after he was hit by lightning in the ass.
3. Courtesy of drinkingcocoa: "James Ivory and the Making of a Historic Gay Love Story." I saw Maurice (1987) for the first time last fall, fifteen years after reading the novel, and loved it. I should write about it. I should write about a lot of movies. I need to sleep more.
4. All of the songs in this post are worth hearing, but I have Mohamed Karzo's "C'est La Vie" on repeat. You can hear him on another track from the same session—covering one of his uncle's songs, his uncle being the major Tuareg musician-activist Abdallah Ag Oumbadougou—here.
5. Well, I want to see all of this woman's movies now. Like, starting immediately: "Sister of the sword: Wu Tsang, the trans artist retelling history with lesbian kung fu."
What I read
Finished Rebel: very very good and longing for the next one (Chekhov's [spoiler])!
Following seeing somebody on my reading list commenting about it, took a punt on L Rowyn, A Rational Arrangement (2015), which is a poly romance in a fantasy (though possibly implied sf) setting of vaguely Regency mores, but on a world where there are other societies with ways of doing things. And as I recall, the person who was reading it had some niggles, and indeed I had some, though possibly different niggles - I have surely previously mentioned my dislike of those narratives in which Our Heroine is the only square peg of her sex, and all the others seem to fit neatly into round holes (I lately did not proceed with a fantasy highly recommended by someone whose judgement I respect because it had the Her Sister Is Shallow and Bitchy trope). However, this did manage to engage me even with that niggle (just as Emma Newman's Split Worlds series gets something of a pass on the Shallow Bitchy Sister).
Anyhow, I enjoyed it well enough to finish it, to read the 3 novellas set in the same world with the same characters, Further Arrangements (2016).
Travel reading has been soothing comfort rereads.
On the go
That book for review, which I've actually brought with me on my travels in the hopes that I might get it read and be in a position to write the review before the deadline.
Scott McCracken, Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction (1998) - picked up in a charity shop as the title was vaguely familiar. Am feeling that it would be a different book if written 10 or so years later with the rise of online book discussions; also, invokes terribly terribly OK bloke authorities, and I'm a bit hmmm at his choices of specific authors and books discussed.
No idea, supposing I have much time for reading.
Searching on Wikipedia, I find that the genus Amelanchier has several species that get called shad tree or shadbush (they also get called things like serviceberry, a name I know I hear a lot).
As you'll see, there's alder-leaved shadbush, lovely shadbush, downy shadbush ... pick a shadbush to suit your mood! Maybe red-twigged?
But don't confuse it with mountain laurel!
DJ still isn't talking to me, but he graduated on Sunday. I was able to watch via live feed. He's signed up to go into the Air Force for 6 years. They want him for NASA or intelligence, they told him. I don't know if we can trust them, but I guess we'll see.
I miss him a lot.
My relationship with Zachary is really good though. We talk all the time, text and Facetime, and I try to support him no matter what his current passion is. It was drawing for awhile, which I could really get behind, but now he seems to be leaning more toward... gardening? I don't even know.
Meg was falling down a lot until we got to the doctor and he figured out it was vertigo from allergies. We got her on a new antihistamine and she's stopped falling.
As for me, other than the YAY MEDS working, I've been writing a lot. Unfortunately, everything I write is super long so I'm not actually posting much.
I probably left a lot out, so if you have a question just ask. I'd love some interaction.