Old Pipes…, 2012, And Beyond

01/29/2012 § Leave a comment

Why, who can be blowing the pipes of Old Pipes?”

-Frank Stockton

It has been over a year and I find myself antsy; longing to exercise my writing and critical thinking muscle. Yes, that one muscle is responsible for both those things. Perhaps this is merely an involuntary response to the Bauhaus song that is quietly and mysteriously storming my eardrums. It’s a possibility.

I do not know with what frequency I will update this blog but I intend to do so at regular intervals. The theme will remain mainly intact, allowing ample wiggle room for anything else that suits my fancy and may require delineation.

Old Pipes and the Dryad by Frank Stockton

Frank Stockton is probably best remembered, if at all, thanks to the efforts of Maurice Sendak. While best known for his wonderful Where the Wild Things Are, it was Mr. Sendak who fell in love with Stockton’s uniquely American brand of  Folklore and, to everyones benefit, illustrated two stories by Frank Stockton; The Griffin and the Minor Canon, and The Bee-Man of Orn. 

What I love most about Frank Stockton is his ability to craft an original tale by blending old traditions with a journalistic simplicity reminiscent of great american writing you might find in Hemingway. There’s a tongue-in-cheek humor found in most of his writing, focusing on the generally selfish nature of everyone, whether they are men growing old, a tree spirit, or a mountain dwarf.

Old Pipes and the Dryad is a simple story of an old man who pipes to bring the animals down the mountain at night for the townsfolk. He gets too old to pipe effectively but, as luck would have it, he finds a Dryad along a mountain path locked in her tree. He releases her and she kisses him. Her kisses of course cause him to grow younger, as kisses from Dryads tend to do, and he can once again Pipe.

There is a villain of sorts, in the form of the echo-dwarf who was enjoying his holiday from echoing Old Pipe’s piping. He’s not all that bad though, just lazy. This story is a great example of what I think Stockton does best. He can create a story in which everyone is sort of likable, and everyone behaves in just the way you want them, but you still find yourself surprised and entertained…..and just when you find yourself content, the last paragraph gives you a tiny tragedy. And while it is a bit deus ex machina, you find yourself not caring and enjoying the characters for saying and doing exactly what you had wanted, but somehow couldn’t have predicted.


Read this year. Also, Blog is 1 year old.

12/24/2009 § Leave a comment

Books/Stories I’ve read (or attempted to read) this past year:


+2 Learned some and enjoyed a great deal.

+1 Glad to have read.

0 Not a Waste

-1 Sort of wish I had that time back.

-2 Unfortunately found no enjoyment or worth in book

The List

King Kong. +0

Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. +1

The Infernal Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman. +0

The Captains Toll Gate. -1

City of the Century. +2

The Worst Hard Time. +2

River of Doubt. +2

The Path Between the Seas. +2

Haroun and the Sea of Stories. -1

Moby Dick. (Again) +1

Cutty, One Rock. +1

Fairy Tales of Herman Hesse. +1

Cosmicomics. +2 (for first story in collection) +1 (for the rest.)

Homo Faber. +0

The Order of Odd-Fish. +1

Gargantua. +1

The Bloody Chamber. +0

Breaking the Magic Spell. +1

The Castle of Otranto. +1

The Club Dumas +0

Edgar Huntley (Lost on Plane to Buenos Aires. Read fifteen pages. Will read when I purchase again.)  (Anticipating +1)

The Gods of Pegana. +0

The Great God Pan. +0

The Gunslinger. +0

H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. +0

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. +0

Hopscotch. (Abandoned) -2

Lair of the White Worm. +1

Lost City of the Incas. +2

Melmoth the Wanderer.+1

The Monk. +0

Morphology of the Folktale. +0

Mythologies. +0

Phantastes. +0

The Savage Detectives. (abandoned.) -2 (S. American lit is 0 for 2. 😦 But I love Borges ;))

Tree and Leaf. +0

Twilight. (Abandoned.) -2 (Wow. Shockingly bad.)

Also. Happy Birthday Blog!

His Unconquerable Enemy (an old fashioned tale of quadriplegic revenge)

12/20/2009 § Leave a comment

Oh, the desperate, insane thirst for revenge which could have unhinged so clear and firm a mind.”

-W.C. Morrow

It is not really my intention to keep posting about stories from the Library of America’s American Fantastic Tales (though they all merit inclusion), but I’m too lazy to read other stuff right now, and this story by W.C. Morrow is too good to ignore.

It’s a pretty straightforward story of revenge. It’s only a few pages long and details a quadriplegic’s plot against the man who had his limbs amputated, the rajah. So this rajah has his limbs amputated and then places him in a cage high above a grand ballroom with an open top, to make feeding time easier for the guards. Then, in the rajah’s increasing perversity he just stops by the punished man’s cage all the time and hangs out in the room with him. They sort of watch each other with decreasing interest.

And just when you think revenge isn’t going to happen, revenge happens.

The story goes quickly, told with a sense of urgency. The unbelievability of the whole thing is lost in the blurred confusion of the descriptive language and hurried pace.

Just read it. After reading such an outrageously impossible and disturbing story you’ll be surprised at the inexplicable smile across your face.

The Tartarus of Maids

12/05/2009 § Leave a comment

“Then, shooting through the pass, all alone with inscrutable nature, I exlaimed–Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids!”


I’m admittedly not as well read on Melville as I feel I (and also the rest of humanity) should be. I’ve read Moby Dick and Bartleby, like every other jerk who went to college. And I’ve wanted to read Typee, Omoo, and Mardi but have yet to actually do so. I certainly will whenever I recieve the book from Library of America but until then I’m sure other things will pop up and seduce my interest.

Recently I recieved a boxed set of American Fantastic Tales. I had been geeking out about it for months and finally broke down and purchased it a few weeks ago. I’m maybe a hundred+ pages into it and have read selections from the likes of Charles Brockden Brown, Washington Iriving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and W.C. Morrow.

The Poe story “Berenice” is a great little nugget about cousins in love and the dude goes crazy and obsesses about old girls teeth.

The W.C. Morrow story is about a guy who has his limbs removed because the Raja thinks he’s bogus, then he plots and stews for a long time and finally exacts his revenge, all while being a quadrapalegic. Really really great stuff.

But the Melville. Ah! That is a real gem, a diamond among costume jewelry (and I love costume jewelry). It is a simple story. And nothing much happens. The quote at the top is actually the end of the story. Let’s just call it the climax, though, there really isn’t a climax. In typical Melville style the story is full of lovely description about isolation and travelling &tc. It’s sort of a slow build that never really picks up steam and then ends abrubtly. It’s like the drone of white noise.

Why is this good and worth writing about? I have no idea. I suppose it’s because when you become accustomed to the white noise and then it disappears, you kind of miss the white noise.

It is really the story of a seed merchant who changes suppliers of envelopes. That’s the hook.

Then he travels in the dead of winter to some distant mountainside paper mill in a place called Devil’s Dungeon. The descriptions are superb and evoke a mood that borders on frightful but never crosses the threshold into horror. Devil’s Dungeon  is occupied by nothing but ghost-like maids who float about tending the mill quietly and sullenly. They are watched over by a man they call “Old Bach,” short for “bachelor,” not Bach, and an odd little man who attends other things named Cupid.

The imagery and metaphors are totally obvious but somehow perfect in their own special way. And like I said nothing happens and it never crosses into something more, leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions about basically everything.

The Sword of Wellerran, or Lord Dunsany Revisited

11/18/2009 § Leave a comment

A few years ago I read The Gods of Pegāna by Lord Dunsany.

I sort of had a tough time with it. It may have been because in my minds voice I pronounced it as a rhyme for vagina. This possibly contributed to the weirdness I felt after reading what turned out to be a dry, structureless, no-plot, biblical (-esque) collection of stories (or anecdotes). It is probably something more like peg-anna, but there is nobody around to tell my minds voice the correct pronunciation.

So that was problem one and two. The vagina rhyme and the dry, structureless, &tc.

Problem three is sentences like this: When Māna-Yood-Sushāi had made the gods there were only the gods, and They sat in the middle of Time, for there was as much Time before them as behind them, which having no end had neither a beginning.

And this: Time is the hound of Sish.

And countless others.

Aside from those things, I like the incomparable weirdness of Dunsany… as did Lovecraft and Tolkien. Seriously. There really is nothing like Dunsany.

It had been a while since I had first read The Gods of Pegāna in the Penguin Classics collection I own. Because of my first experience with him I have had very little inclination to pick up the collection I own since, but thanks to the horrible service of Chicago’s postal system I was in need of something until the three new books I ordered arrive at my doorstep.

Yesterday afternoon I read a story called The Sword of Wellerran. So far so good. Can’t rhyme any of those words with privates, male or female.

It is the story of an ancient city with a long history of epic battles and heroes. It begins after the heroes have died and says that the town is practically sleeping because all memory of them has turned into legend. With limited exposition Dunsany creates a harsh reality for the inhabitants of this dreaming city. It feels dirty, cold, and tired, with little to no description of the environment.

Through dreams the heroes of old rouse the folks in the town to defend their city.

It’s short and sweet. It really made me change my opinion of Dunsany.

Plus, he’s a Lord. Like, for real. Pretty awesome that someone with such a noble family line decided to create mythologies and write something that is to this day considered nerdy. He must have been super nerdy. King of the nerds. Or at least Lord of the Nerds.

Orlando Furioso: Canto 2, 31-45

10/23/2009 § Leave a comment

“This thief-whether he was a mortal being

or infernal fiend I cannot say-.”

Next up are many stanzas exalting Bradamante and stuff. But the gist of it is that she is celebrated throughout the countryside and sister to Rinaldo. She is held in as high esteem as her brother Rinaldo. She is loved by Ruggiero whom she has only met once. The crusades definitely seem like they were a bogus time for love.

So Bradamante wanders through the woods and leaves one weeping knight (which was Sacripante whom she bested earlier in the first Canto)  near a river only to discover another. She comes upon a white knight who laments and whines about how his love was stolen by a knight on a winged horse. Also he thinks that Bradamante is a man by her outfit.

Turns out that the knight was leading some cavalry to meet King Charles. He was also escorting a lady; a lady he loved. And lo! in the air he saw a knight in armour on a horse with wings circling high above.

The flying horse swoops and the knights scurry away like cockroaches when a light is turned on. The lady, startled, is snatched into the air. The valiant knight missed the whole thing and didn’t realize what had happened until her screams came calling from up above.

Then, this is the best, though he knows he can’t follow a winged horse from the ground he abandons his army and leaves it leaderless. So he just starts wandering aimlessly looking for his love who was snatched by Pegasus’ uncle. Then, after six days he finds a valley and a mountain beyond with a castle on top. The castle is made of steel “forged in the fires and chilled in the streams of hell.”

No stairs. No door. Just sheer castle walls. He lingered and cried and wept and just at that moment, as if he had been singing the Smiths Please, Please, Please, when his despair was at it’s greatest, two cavaliers escorted by a dwarf came into sight. The knights were none other than Gradasso and Ruggiero!

*sorry no 8bit pictures today. Next time.

The Griffin and the Minor Canon

10/17/2009 § 1 Comment

“I have had a contemptible opinion of you ever since I discovered

what cowards you are, but I had no idea you were so ungrateful…”

The Griffin

Lately I have been moderately obsessed (if one can be moderately obsessed) with American writers. Add this to my regular obsession of fairy-tales and I’ll practically flip my lid. So when I discovered Frank Stockton a while back one might have mistaken me for a human shaped Tupperware with an upside down lid. Needless to say I’ve been reading a lot of Frank Stockton…along with my regular regimen of literature which currently includes City of the Century and Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, which is, to my happy surprise, quite good. I’ll try to post about both when I finish.

I wish I could say that Stockton wrote tales with the beautiful, whimsical, heart-breaking quality in which Oscar Wilde fashioned his tales, because that’s what I always want with more recent fabulists, but I cannot say that. Few people can write like that. However, whatever Stockton lacks in ornate prose he more than adequately makes up with originality and sheer likability; and also some good old fashioned American sense.

The Minor Canon, one of the titular characters in the story is a well-liked, average, member of the clergy, just trying to do the best for his town. Just a regular guy really. Then along comes this Griffin who has never seen what he looks like but hears of a carving of himself in a village. He heads to the village and the townspeople freak out and hide. The Minor Canon is the only one to face him and after his initial fear, which never truly subsides (for it isn’t often one confronts a Griffin), he finds the creature somewhat exasperating as the Griffin decides to follow him around constantly, enjoying his kindness and common sense which much of the village lacks.

The story is fun. Lots of fun. The plot is fun. Basically, everything is fun. The sparse dialogue is always entertaining, being made up of little quips that the two characters often exchange.The ending is abrupt and kind of sad, and even though kind of out of left field, made me like the story more.

Of his stories it is my favorite, though all of them are worth a read. A Tale of Negative Gravity is also unique and parochial (as I’m sure the Nobel Lit board would agree with). What’s wrong with parochial? The Bee Man of Orn, is also a good and quick read. Both of these have illustrated editions by Maurice Sendak.