Sunday, June 30, 2019

Michael Dirda on the Snergs

Michael Dirda has an interested column ("Before Tolkien created hobbits, there were Snergs. And oh, how delightful they were!") on The Marvellous Land of Snergs in the June 26th issue of The Washington Post.  Here are the opening paragraphs:
Suppose you were to mash up three of the greatest of all children’s fantasies: J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and T.H. White’s “The Sword in the Stone.” This may be hard to imagine, especially for an adult, but something like E.A. Wyke-Smith’s “The Marvellous Land of Snergs” would be the result. Deliciously irreverent in its narration, silly and spooky throughout, and charmingly illustrated by Punch artist George Morrow, this neglected masterpiece remains as winning today as when it was first published in 1927.

Wyke-Smith opens with a description of Watkyns Bay, where scores of children can be glimpsed playing on the sand and in the water. Actually, they can’t be glimpsed because not a single ship, with one exception, has ever entered the bay. Any vessel attempting to do so encounters contrary winds and dangerous waterspouts, these barriers having been set up by the S.R.S.C., the Society for the Removal of Superfluous Children.

The full article is here, but you may have problems accessing it without turning off ad-blocking (or resorting to other trickery).*  I subscribed to the Washington Post Book World for many years, until the the Post ceased selling subscriptions. Later they got rid of the section itself and merged it into the Post. So since then I read the book reviews on the web, but lately the Post has been making that more and more difficult. Sometimes one can still find a way in, sometimes not. Too bad.  What used to be the best book coverage in the U.S. has been diminished to a ghost of its former self, made easily available only to DC  locals. 

* I must say that forcing a reader to deal with the glaring annoyances of a HUGE number of advertisements does not seem to me to be the way to go. I mean:  I have never clicked on any such intrusive ad (and never will).  Don't the advertisers realize that this is the case for 99% of us? There should be better ways to piss away their ad dollars. End of Rant.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Steven Erikson 2017 GoH talk

"Steven Erikson," the pen name of Steve Lundin (b. 1959), a Canadian fantasy novelist best known for his massive Malazan series, was a Guest of Honor at the 2017 International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts in March 2017.  His Guest of Honor speech, "Standing Fast," appears in the Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, volume 29 no. 1 (2018), which I just read.  Much of it concerns his own life, but there are some choice paragraphs about modern society that I think are worth sharing. So here are a few excerpts.  The full talk is online here

If you want the rug pulled out from under your entire life, you couldn't do much better than that.

I imagine many of you are feeling something similar, you who are Americans, that is. A country founded on the hard-won principles of democracy, just representation, and the freedom and opportunity to hold your leaders accountable, and in a seeming flash it all ceases to function the way it's supposed to. Elections are subverted, vast segments of the population are cynically and systematically excluded from the right to vote, and every institution devised by the country's forefathers to prevent the rise of tyranny has abrogated its responsibility to protect you and your country.

... for a nation to self-destruct, it must first destroy its artists, its historians, its scholars. It must reduce them to irrelevance. It must subvert language and destroy faith. It must blind its painters, cut out the tongues of its poets, and break the hands of its sculptors. The path from argument to violence, I suggest, must be cleared of all obstacles, all impediments, any and every appeal to reason, or humanity.

I don't know about all of you here today. I don't know if you're feeling anywhere near as irrelevant as I do. Reasoned thought, cogent argument, has given way to something else, something far more visceral. Belief systems are at the heart of this feeding frenzy of invective, and even recourse has lost its value, as each side talks past the other, and all that held us together seems to be unraveling before our eyes. Without the ability to communicate, what else is left to us?

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Doom and Gloom in the Humanities

"Any which way you care to look at them, the humanities in the United States are in radical, sharp decline. The number of history students is down about 45 per cent since 2007, the number of English students has halved since the late 1990s." . . .

"The most common response to the humanities crisis at the MLA was lament. At the many, many panels devoted to decline that I attended, many, many academics bemoaned their state, confessing to profound spasms of guilt and despair, and exploring 'the larger cultural devaluation of the humanities'." . . .

"As the humanities decline in the United States, the country is losing the craft of understanding, losing its capacity for citizenship. Even educated people are increasingly unable and unwilling to distinguish between fake and real information, becoming a community that cannot understand itself as anything more than a circulation of figures. Self-righteousness takes the place of substantive discussion. Narcissism and outrage become the dominant techniques of self-definition. And the cure for all these problems is the same: read widely, read deeply, read."

The full article, "Back in the MLA" by Stephen Marche, is at the TLS website here

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Peace on Earth, 1939

This short (8 1/2 minutes) animated film is one I'd never encountered before.  A quite dark fable for all times, well worth watching. It was made by Hugh Harman, and released in December 1939. In it an elderly squirrel tells his two grandchildren about how man became extinct. Watch the film here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Lost Art of Criticism

"A critic who is driven primarily by their politics, who is blinded by their own sense of moral superiority, or who cannot temporarily surrender to the worldview of their subject, can barely be said to be a critic at all"
From "The Lost Art of Criticism" by Andrew Doyle.  Full article here.