• White Facebook Icon
xxpaulmartin12345x
May 22, 2018

Pipers at the Gates of Dawn

0 comments

Edited: May 23, 2018

Pipers at the Gates of Dawn by Jonathan Cott, ’60?. Jonathan takes the evocative notion of children’s writers as pipers from Wind in the Willows and a poem by Blake. The beloved pipers who are the subject of the essays in this book are Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Astrid Lindgren, Chinua Achebe, and P. L. Travers. In the final essay, we meet Iona and Peter Opie, who dedicated their lives to collecting and archiving the lore of childhood. Jonathan visits these authors in their homes, so that ideas and theses emerge as much from their actual words as from Jonathan’s erudite research and reasoning. The book explores the depth, the magical call, and the stimulation of children’s literature, how it is not for children only, and that when we break the fluid bond between ourselves and our childhood selves, we risk (like the Mole in Wind in the Willows) to be no longer able to hear the distant piper. There are many revelations in Pipers: I had no idea Achebe wrote children’s books and I didn’t know Steig’s work at all. He was a New Yorker cartoonist who decided to try his hand at children’s books at the age of sixty. Years after Pipers came out, when Steig was in his late eighties, he wrote a little work called Shrek! For me, the high points of the book are the interviews, where the authors quickly dispense with small talk and provide insight, often startling, into the origins, creative process, and personal history that culminated in their life’s work.

 

New Posts
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    Dance! Images of the Bates Dance Festival by Arthur Fink ’64. The cover photo with the dancer’s skirt puffed out like a pumpkin gives an idea of what catches Arthur Fink’s eye when he photographs dancers. He captures body parts when the dancer is either in motion, full of energy, or still, at times taut and ready for action or, at other times, plainly exhausted. Motion shots are sometimes crisp; the dancer is caught midair. Or they are blurred whirls as he leaves his lens open to capture the movement. His images portray the beauty of dance, not as a performance for an audience, but behind the scenes. Clearly he has developed a relationship of trust with the dancers as they seem comfortable with the wandering eye of his camera not invading, but rather being part of, their creative space.
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    The World of Bruegel c. 1525-1569 by Timothy Foote’45? and the Editors of Time-Life Books. I had always thought of Bruegel as an acolyte of Bosch, and in part he was; but I learned from this book that he was so much more. Timothy Foote says that Bruegel was not a revolutionary but rather a pioneer, building on what had come before and pushing it to new limits. Bosch died a few years before Bruegel was born, and the younger artist found inspiration and liberation in the fantastic images of his predecessor. Bruegel went on to create his own style where landscape, rustic life, small town and agrarian activity, homely proverbs and classic lore all came together to form what Timothy aptly calls “the World of Bruegel.” Timothy situates Bruegel in the roiling historical context of the Sixteenth Century during which the Reformation and Calvinism, its important offshoot especially in the Netherlands, came into conflict with the Counter Reformation Catholicism of Phillip II, the new and inept ruler who took power when his father, Charles V, abdicated in his favor. Where Bruegel stood in the conflict is not clear from his paintings. Timothy argues that in all likelihood he followed Erasmus and tried to stay out of the fray. Timothy also contrasts the Renaissance flowering in Italy with this very different northern development. Bruegel must have been fascinated by the work of his Italian counterparts as it is known that he made a trip to Italy. Though the historic and artistic circumstances are deftly presented, the main focus of the book is the work of Bruegel, his paintings and engravings, described and analyzed and also reproduced, often in color, with accompanying sections enlarged for more detailed scrutiny. This painting is called The Blue Robe. In the center foreground, a wife is putting it on her husband. We learn from the book that this gesture comes from an old proverb which means that she is being unfaithful to him – perhaps this expression is something like our “pulling the wool over someone’s eyes” or “hoodwinking” someone. We then discover that the painting is chock full of proverbs and expressions brought to life. In his chapter “A Panoply of Proverbs,” Timothy points out 78 such proverbs in this one painting! “Tarts on the roof,” for instance, means having plenty. Check out the roof. It would be worth a trip to Munich just to see this painting. Bruegel’s art lost favor for a few centuries and his paintings were not shown. Lucky for us, he’s back.
  • xxpaulmartin12345x
    Sep 2

    How to Kill a Dragon, Aspects of Indo-European Poetics by Calvert Watkins ’52?. The erudition which went into this book is mind-boggling. Consider that to reconstruct proto Indo-European, the unwritten language from which almost all languages from India to Ireland descend, requires knowledge of numerous dead languages with their separate alphabets from ancient Hittite, thousands of years BC, extant in some miraculously uncovered clay tiles, to Medieval Irish. Then add that the purpose of this book goes beyond the language itself; it proposes to reconstruct a proto poetics by discovering patterns which must have been in that prewritten language, patterns which indicate that making art out of words is as old as our species’ first invention of language. This is the achievement of Watkins, who methodically analyses poetic formulas that can be accounted for only by positing a common source. For instance if you were to take our common formula Once upon a time and discover a nearly exact use of cognates in the same context in another language, assuming that there was no possibility of lateral transference, you could conclude that the formula came from a common parent language. Unlike other linguists who sweep by word-by-word analysis to jump to the elements of myth, Watkins stays close to vocabulary, formula, and figures of speech, particularly merism. (an example of merism would be the expression “to search high and low” i.e. to use opposites to indicate the whole. Watkins uses the example of “last but not least,” where the merism is made more memorable by alliteration.) The second half of this book deals directly with the sentence “hero slays dragon.” Watkins finds the hero and his reptilian adversary in Beowulf, the Iliad, the Odyssey, the Rig Veda, Old Iranian Holy Books, Celtic and Germanic epic, not just in the triumphant killing itself but in the vocabulary employed. He also uncovers how the slaying evolves and changes – hero sometimes slays hero or gets slain himself. At the end, I felt as though I had slain a dragon; this was a tough read. How to Kill a Dragon could easily be a text for a year-long course. For scholars excited by understanding our deep past, this is a must-read. One more word about how I got hold of this book. It was about $50 at Amazon, and once in a while I will spring for that amount if there is no alternative. Maria Fahey’s book on Shakespeare and metaphor was pricy, but there was an option to rent it for a couple of weeks. I have not found that possibility with any other book. In the case of this book, I found a PDF of it at a wordpress site for free. My family thought I was cheating the author, but he died a few years ago, so we decided that I wasn’t really ethically obligated to his heirs. I feel reasonably sure that he would have been pleased that I made the effort to understand his work.