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.

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!”

-Melville

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 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.

Order of Odd-Fish. Revisited.

04/28/2009 § 3 Comments

Thanks to James Kennedy and Christian Moerk for their readings at Hopleaf this evening.

Gemma and I shared the CB&J and some good beer while watching James Kennedy read from his book and leap about the room with spectacular energy. Though personally I’m not one for book readings, Gemma and I thoroughly enjoyed the theatricality and humor Mr. Kennedy brought to the table.

Should have brought my copy with, and not Lair of the White Worm, so I could have struck up some conversation.

Shyness is nice, but shyness can stop you….

Thanks to the lovely Gemma for escorting me and the good folks at bookslut and hopleaf…and of course the authors James Kennedy and Christian Moerk.

Hopleaf. Tuesday.

04/26/2009 § 1 Comment

If any of the twenty folks who read this blog have any interest, Gemma and I will be heading to Hopleaf on Tuesday for the bookslut reading with James Kennedy. He wrote a lovely little book that you should read if you haven’t.

Hopleaf has a wonderful selection of beer and some of the best brisket I’ve had in Chicago. Their CB&J is also delectable. Belgian beer and the Belgian Prankster for all who attend.

Info on James Kennedy and his book can be found here.

Come out and support Chicago writers.

Event starts at 7:30.

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

03/06/2009 § 4 Comments

So, I’ve decided that I’m a jerk. I’m very interested in Howard Phillips Lovecraft as a person and have not read the biography by S.T. Joshi, which I would have liked to have picked up before this book by Michel Houellebecq, but the library didn’t have it, so this is what I get. I’m a jerk because I am prejiduced against it before I had begun. Now, about 40 pages into it, even though it is a fine read and more of just a rambling essay than a bio or anything (I’m pretty sure I read that it was a bio of sorts when it was published but I may be wrong), I am still prejudiced against it. Why? Because it’s written by a French person. Now, I’m making large assumptions here, but I don’t think they are wild assumptions.

He has probably read Lovecraft in translation, I believe he says as much around page 20. His essay was originally written in French. It’s not that I think he’s off the mark in his arguments and it is obvious he is a devoted fan, but I still feel like he’s an insult. It’s like me writing a german published essay, translated from my English, on Kafka.

Sure, maybe the intention was never to translate for an English audience….

Anyways, the argument in many assface English classes, or at least some English classes, is that some authors are untranslatable and I guess I never felt that. How many times have you heard you can’t read Dostoyevsky or Rimbaud in translation? Too many times. Far too many times. But, I’m an American with just a smattering of other languages and still naively assume English can effectively emote everything in all languages… we do have a hell of a lot of adjectives. Dig up your thesaurus if you don’t believe me.

This whole lost-in-translation phenomenon has never come up in the reverse. Not to me anways. It’s always European writers that one is supposed to read in the original text. I don’t believe I’ve come across the Americans getting all huffy with Europeans about reading in the original text (then again we are Americans so we probably have)….but with Lovecraft and all his cosmic descriptions and absurd pseduo-scientific words and the like, it seems tough to get the full sense of the horror. I mean, c’mon. The word “cosmic” translates as “cosmique” in French. How scary is that?

In any event, I’ve never chastised a foreigner for reading something in translation. Indeed, I was probably happy that they read the book at all. And I am glad Lovecraft is translated into many languages.

Ugh. I’m rambling. I am enjoying the essay. But still kind of annoyed I guess.

Anyways. I feel like this blog has gone off-topic for the last few posts and I just wanted to assure you I am getting back to fairytales proper in the coming posts. Maybe Norse or more American. Something with Giants perhaps….

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