This 1966 Gene Deitch adaptation of The Hobbit owes as much to Rocky and Bullwinkle's Fractured Fairy Tales as to Tolkien. You could think of it as the film of the Ballantine paperback cover illustration -- the one with the emus.
October 5th, 2011 marked the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Brian O'Nolan, the non pareil of 20th-century comedic prose style. You may know him as Flann O'Brien, or Myles na gCopaleen. The Irish Times has been running a series of essays on his life and influence, with extracts from his Cruiskeen Lawn column, here. He was conversant in four or five languages and at his best when using one to hammer puns off another.
Which omnibus line is best augured?
Fortuna favat 40 Bus.
To the novice I recommend The Best of Myles, an anthology of comic devices collected from Cruiskeen Lawn. Key sections include "The Brother" (reported stories), "Keats and Chapman" (egregious puns), and, for my money the best, "For Steam Men" (specialist and obsessive language). I challenge you to find a better example of comic pacing than his WAAMA League book-handling scheme.
I've had it in my mind to read the Four or Five Chinese Classics for a while now, so I was happy to find a second-hand copy of Chin P'ing Mei just before embarking on a 24-hour train ride last month. With its rapidly unfolding plot and its 863 pages, it's the right book for a long journey by rail.
Chin P'ing Mei, or as it's transliterated these days, Jin Ping Mei, is commonly known in English as either The Golden Lotus or The Plum in the Golden Vase. The book I was reading is the 1982 Perigree reprint of Bernard Miall's 1939 English translation of Franz Kuhn's earlier German translation -- clearly not the go-to edition for scholarly analysis, but one with an elevated and somewhat vintage prose style that has aged gracefully in 72 years and works well with the historical content.
The novel was written in the 17th century, late in the Ming Dynasty, but the action takes place in the last years of the Northern Song Dynasty five centuries before. Authorship is attributed to a Hsaio-hsiao-sheng, but there is no agreement on who that is, and the legend that the novel was written in a few weeks to exact revenge for a debt of honour sounds more like something from the book than something about it.
The story concerns the dalliances of Hsi Men, a wealthy individual with a large household and, at his high point, six wives; and Golden Lotus, who eventual becomes his fifth wife. Both are sexual addicts, and both are utterly amoral in the pursuit of their conquests. The pair manage to destroy quite a lot of people along the way, either directly or through their expanding circles of influence. It takes about 200 pages for the effects of their liaisons to play out after they themselves have met their untimely ends.
There's a tremendous amount of sex in this book, but it's presented in such allusive and poetic language that it's difficult to assign it an X or even an R rating. It is hard to find much raunch in a phrase like "she was well acquainted with the ways of the wind and the moon," though "they cavorted like two fish in a stream" certainly gets the idea across.
The ferocious Wu Sung, who shows up near the beginning and the end of the novel to mete out justice, is a character from Water Margin, another of the classics, which I hope to read soon. D
Two months after passing along the news that the Japan scholar Donald Keene is emigrating there at age 88 I came across a hardcover copy of his 2008 autobiography Chronicles of My Life: an American in the heart of Japan for $10 at Schooner Books, so I had to read it. It's a surprisingly plain and quick-paced account of his remarkable career as the preeminent herald of Japanese culture in the second half of the twentieth century, told without footnotes, and with a bit less poetic imagery than I would have expected. I think if I were his editor I would have encouraged him to quote more classical verse, or opera, or one of the many Japanese diaries he read as a naval interpreter during the war, and relate it to his own life, and perhaps imply a love affair with the moon as Yasunari Kawabata does in Japan, the Beautiful and Myself. As it is there is a layer of artistic interpretation in the dozen or so fanciful illustrations by Akira Yamaguchi that cluster toward the beginning of the book. The one above puts a storybook spin on Keene's account of a childhood trip to Europe in 1931. The kanji on the brass plaque of the French train window seem to say that although the autobiography is written in English, the story is ultimately Japanese. D
I'm gradually working my way through Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast novels, often at the rate of a paragraph per sitting, because Peake's richly visual prose rewards slow reading, and because I'll only be able to read the books for the first time once so I want to make them last. This year would have been Peake's hundredth birthday, so it's a good time to get them finally read. I should really have done this in my teens, so that I might have better appreciated, for instance, David Lynch's Twin Peaks. Lynch's vividly weird, disconnected characters owe more than a little to the vengeful dwellers of Castle Gormenghast. Doctor Prunesquallor and Cora and Clarice Groan would have fit right in at the Great Northern Hotel. Why is the first novel named Titus Groan and the second Gormenghast, and not the other way around? I don't know, but I hope to understand by end of Titus Alone. Part of the centenary celebrations will be the release of an unpublished fourth novel, Titus Awakes, begun by Peake and finished by his widow Maeve Gilmore.
[Review: Titus Groan: deft. Gormenghast: deft. Titus Alone: daft. It seems there is no good reason why the titles of the first two volumes are reversed. I suppose it's just one of those things that happens, and then it's too late to fix it. There are perhaps two good pages in the third volume.] D
I must have been 15 when I bought my first set of The Lord of the Rings. Up until then I had been a hardcore science fiction reader and wanted nothing to do with fantasy. But Tolkien's cultural weight, and/or high school peer pressure, eventually drew me in. I bought my copies at the Sundry Shop, one of two places to buy books in 1970s Kingston, Nova Scotia; the other being the drug store. Judging by Google Street View neither building exists today.
Canada was unusual in having a separate edition of The Lord of the Rings. Most English-speaking countries imported either the UK or US imprint. The Canadian paperback was put out by the Toronto branch of Methuen in 1971 and reprinted about once a year through the early Seventies. Its text is the second edition prepared by Tolkien in 1966 to establish his copyright and correct certain errors introduced by the original copy editors' lack of Middle Earth lore. So, apart from pagination, these Methuen paperbacks differ little from other modern editions, except for perhaps a few typographical errors that I for one am too otherwise occupied to hunt down.
The cover illustrations are by Pauline Baynes and I think are recycled from a British edition. Baynes is still my favourite Tolkien illustrator, owing to her understanding and use of the medieval illuminated manuscript tradition. Her best Tolkien book to my mind is Farmer Giles of Ham.
I think I must have read The Lord of the Rings just twice as a teen. I'm tempted to say three times, but I might be mixing in a memory of The Hobbit, which you will admit has a very similar plot. I discarded most of my Tolkien stuff (including the calendars!) at some point in the Eighties, and then regretted it, and bought the copies pictured above at Seeker's Books in Toronto in the Nineties. I will probably never read these particular paperbacks because the glue has gotten brittle. I have HarperCollins hardcovers with properly sewn spines if I need to refresh my memory. Still, they're nice to have if only as a piece of personal cultural heritage, and as a reminder that, though millions have read The Fellowship of the Ring, relatively few know it as the green book. Douglas