Struwwelpeter

12/31/2008 § Leave a comment

Gemma bought me Struwwelpeter for Christmas. It a a short collection of cautionary tales for children.

struwwelpeter

Apparently in Germany there lives “the great, long, red-legg’d scissor-man” waiting to cut off the thumbs of little boys who suck on them.

So if you want to suck your thumb, find other countries in which to do so besides Germany.

Forgotten Books

12/23/2008 § Leave a comment

I didn’t give much thought to the naming of this blog. I just wanted something simple and suggestive of lost tales. As I look at the first few posts I realize I have made a small error. These posts are not really about books at all. I’m sure at some point I’ll talk about a novel in it’s proper form. And, yes, all these stories come from books but…

Anyways. The actual site www.forgottenbooks.org is a nice collection of online books that are available to all for free as pdf’s or to purchase through the internet. And, they are actually books.

Happy reading.

The Outsider

12/19/2008 § Leave a comment

I don’t know what it is about Lovecraft I enjoy so much; the run-on sentences or the constant looking up of adjectives as if I were reading an Umberto Eco novel (who I’m positive is a fan). One thing is certain; I love that crazy asexual man–his writings anyway.

Rather than just sing praises in general about the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, every now and again I’ll write about a specific story. Plus, if I just gush about him in general that is super boring.

The story The Outsider is the second offering in the Library of America’s collection of Lovecraft Tales. As is the case with most Lovecraft stories, it is told in the first person. Some of these first person stories are more epistolary than others, but this one is more Rime of the Ancient Mariner; as if some creepy dude, possibly hiding behind a stone that looks eerily like a headstone, says to you from the shadows “Hey, I’m going to transfix you with my gaze while I tell you this F’d up S. But before I do so I’m going to give you a quote from Keats.”

And so we enter the world of Lovecraft.

The story begins with statements about the loneliness of childhood and sets up a dark and dismal environment full of things like a crumbling castle, complete with moat, ancient trees, and of course endless darkness. In the narrator’s loneliness and curiosity, he climbs the highest tower and to his surprise is met with the ground. He ventures towards the noise of an inn full of folks drinking and dancing. When he enters he is met with shrieks and fainting and running away. Then, for the first time, he sees a mirror. And then there is some stuff about Egypt and nepenthe and other awesome things. And I’m left in bed with a smile on my face because it’s so good.

Then of course I read it to Gemma.

Rereading this post and remembering how I was shocked by the end of this story I am slightly embarrassed. I should have seen it coming. I should have seen all of the endings coming. I admit I did not. My theory, at least the theory for myself, is that Lovecraft is one of the few writers who can command my full attention to the immediate moment. The words and phrases and dated language (even out of date for the early twentieth century) leaves no room for prediction and speculation. Every next sentence is a surprise. A present you did not ask for and did not even know you wanted.

In any event. Go read all his stories. And remember, “Most daemoniacal of all shocks is that of the abysmally unexpected and grotesquely unbelievable.”

Lutoniushka

12/07/2008 § Leave a comment

I’ll be returning to my discussion of American Folktales in subsequent posts.

My lifelong fascination with fairy stories has gone through many ups and downs. It was increased dramatically when, a few years ago, Gemma bought me a volume of Russian Fairy Tales. The collection is with little illustration, and the stories are delivered with absolutely no censoring on behalf of little children (something I despise immensely).

The volume Russian Fairy Tales collected by Aleksandr Afanas’ev is translated by Norbert Guterman with the clear intention of historical accuracy and not meant to be dressed up and edited for content as is so often the case. Todays brand of hyper sexualization is much more subtle than the sexuality in stories like these. You get boners with Pecos Bill narratives (inappropriate), but scantily clad fairies and Arabian queens (appropriate(?)) with Disney. If you ask me, I’ll take boners every time. I digress.

While the American tales seem to have a clear obsession with the crudeness of people and enormous objects, the Russian fairytales very often choose to look at the ridiculousness and stupidity of human nature. No matter how dumb the characters in one story appear, there are always going to be new characters (very similar to the previous) who top the former character’s vacuous behavior.

Lutoniushka is a perfect example. It appears on page 336 of this edition. The title character is not the imbecile, as is the case in many of the other stories; the imbecile or imbeciles in this case, is everyone else. It begins with his parents.

Lutonia’s mother drops a log and starts weeping. His dad checks on her to see what is wrong. She tells him and he starts weeping. After much lamenting, Lutonia walks in to see what is wrong. She tells him:

” If you had been married, and if you had had a little son, and if, a few hours ago he had been sitting right here, he would have been killed by the log–it fell just on this spot, and with what a bang!”

Lutonia has a very simple response. He dons his cap and proclaims that he is leaving, and “…if I find anyone more stupid than you, I shall return.”

The story takes him to a few more people who are doing almost equally stupid things and ends with Lutonia having a bite of hasty pudding, then climbing atop a stove and falling asleep.

Paul Bunyan

12/06/2008 § 2 Comments

It’s a lovely afternoon to be inside; looking out at the dreary snow and bundled up passers-by. Perfect weather for reading and drinking coffee.

As I trudge through my edition of Legends and Tales of the American West I find myself gravitating towards stories about Pecos Bill, Satan, and Paul Bunyan. There are two in particular that caught my attention; both about Paul Bunyan.

One of the things about these American tales I love so much is their obsession with whiskey, tobacco, sex, and all things enormous. Not to say that Italian, Russian, Irish, and many other folktales of varying origin ignore these things. It is just striking how people in the “new frontier” were focusing on distraction from their frontier instead of mythologizing the elements like the forest, desert, lakes, and mountains. This is not to say that the collective authors of these stories did not do that, but it seems to be secondary to the characters uncouth, feral desires.

Again, as last time, I had to read much of it a second time, and then a third aloud to Gemma. Some particular highlights from the story Paul Bunyan and His Little Blue Ox:

“Paul Bunyan was big like hell, fought like hell, and lied like hell.”

“[Paul] could jump over the Mississippi River and back again without touching the ground.”

“Paul had an ox, a rather large beast that grew two feet every time Paul looked at it.”

The whole story, all three pages of it, is sentence after sentence of unbelievable descriptions. It’s like a shopping list of the baddest ass shit one could ever hope of a giant man with a giant ox and giant daughter.

Pecos Bill

12/05/2008 § 1 Comment

I’m reading a wonderful collection of American stories called, appropriately enough, Legends and Tales of the American West. It was edited, told, and retold by Richard Erdoes. The book is part of the Pantheon Fairytale and Folklore Library. I own nine of the nineteen books and intend to buy the rest of them. Richard Erdoes also writes the American Indian Myths and Legends, along with Alfonso Ortiz.

This particular edition contains gems about Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, Paul Bunyan and Pecos Bill.

I was reading about Pecos Bill last night and had to read the second sentence twice. Then I read it aloud to Gemma just to make sure it was correct; and also that it was in fact funny.

I quote it here.

“[Pecos Bill] was different from his brothers and sisters, emerging from the womb with hair on his chest and a big boner.”

It’s kind of funny to type out too.

As I trudge through this volume I will post more nuggets (or boners) to make you smile.

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