RIP Christopher Tolkien

It took self all of December to read one book, The Annotated Hobbit.

That book was the only copy in the San Mateo Public Library system, a label on the cover said: DO NOT RETURN IN THE BOOK DROP.

If only the library knew what far-flung places she had taken this copy to!

A few days ago, on 15 January, she heard that Christopher Tolkien, JRR Tolkien’s youngest, who was “a devoted curator of his father’s work,” had passed away. Amazingly, none of the nightly news remarked on it. Philistines!

Here’s a piece in The Guardian about Christopher Tolkien’s legacy.

Stay tuned.

Poetry Friday: Dorothea Lasky

Excerpt from The Green Lake (in The New Yorker, 9 December 2019):

What work will you leave behind
I ask the tailor
Who has sewn the button upon my shoe
I can walk again

Yesterday everything felt so hopeless
Now I have the energy to sit in the sun
All of the damned seething baths
Now I am finally on my own


Dorothea Lasky is the author of six books of poetry and prose, including, most recently, Animal

SamareƱos, 1649

Faithful readers of this blog know all about Francisco Alcina, Jesuit, who wrote A History of the Bisayan People in the Philippine Islands (available in a bilingual translation from University of Santo Tomas Press)

He was sent to the province of Samar, in the Visayan Islands of the central Philippines, to replace two priests who had been murdered in an uprising.

From Bambi L. Harper, Philippine journalist:

. . . the 1649 uprising in Samar did not remain localized. It spread to Leyte, Cebu, Sorsogon, Camarines, Albay and Masbate … the island of Mindanao also followed suit. Churches were razed, friars and government officials killed.

Of course the Spanish quelled it, in the end. Spain remained in the Philippines until the Americans took over, in 1898. Self has written a 365-page novel that circles this traumatic event, which the clergy blamed on the “Evil One.”

In self’s novel, a young priest is sent direct from Spain. His task: to go the Philippines and fight demons (But the real demons are inside himself, who knew)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Self Reads: Jake Wolff

from “The History of Living Forever,” first published in One Story, Issue 164:

  • Many of the virgins were slaves, taken from their masters before their masters claimed their virginity. The rest were removed from smaller villages near Juijang and Kuaji. I’d heard terrible stories of fathers and brothers bedding their daughters and sisters to save them from their duty, but I believed they were only myths. Such families would not have survived their infractions. You do not steal from the Emperor.

Anthony Johnson on ‘Folk Memory’

Oh what a treasure trove of riches is this book Solving Stonehenge (which self had in her possession for at least over a decade, which she never had the time to read properly until now)

Mystery: Who/ What transported the stones to Stonehenge? (The stones are “bluestones” from west Wales)

In pre-literate societies the shaping of important facts into narrative form was a sure way of ensuring their survival in the collective consciousness of the community.

My Irish grandmother would often say that a kettle, on taking a long time to boil, ‘had stones in it.’ I was six or seven years old at the time and had no idea what this meant and, more importantly, neither did she … almost 20 years later while working on an archaeological excavation … I was examining a collection of large, scorched and fire-cracked pebbles that had been subjected to a greater episode of burning than represented by the small prehistoric hearth on which they lay. Similar stones had been found elsewhere on the site, remote from any burning — they were of course ‘potboilers.’ My grandmother was, unknowingly, referring to the use of stones to boil water by heating them and dropping them into earthenware pots which would have been incapable of withstanding the direct heat of a fire. This was a revelation; an ancient memory had been relayed to me from days when water was boiled not in metal pans or kettles, but in pottery vessels … Archaeology and oral tradition are not necessarily incompatible.

Self has a question: HOW were those bluestones transported from Wales? They look hella heavy. Another question: WHY? Seems like such an enormous investment of labor and time. She means: if people were laboring to transport, they couldn’t be hunting. Only large, settled communities could spare that much manpower for the time it took to transport and erect the stones. It involved organization — the assigning of specific tasks.

A Bronze Age man did not in isolation have an AHA moment where he said: let me try and move these BIGASS stones from Wales to here. He wouldn’t even have had the imagination to think up such a project. He didn’t up the ante by saying: I’m going to put two lintels here, and then raise a massive horizontal slab to lie on said lintels (which BTW must have been required enormous, enormous strength — the strength of many people. There had to be a fairly large human settlement.

Enter Henry VIII and his personal project: the cataloguing of England’s antiquities (Wasn’t Henry VIII the one with the many wives? Self knows him so well for one reason only: he beheaded Anne Boleyn, lol) The job was assigned to John Leland, who labored FOR TWELVE YEARS (from 1533 to 1545)

This is all so RUSSELL HOBAN. His novel, Riddley Walker, is about bards who travel up and down Britain, singing songs about a man named Adam whose body was pulled in two directions at once and who eventually split in two. Way to keep the memory of the atom bomb and the nuclear holocaust alive! After the apocalypse, there are no more libraries. No more books. No internet. But, there ARE ‘walkers’ to tell the tale.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Reading Manuel D. Duldulao’s THE FILIPINOS: PORTRAIT OF A PEOPLE

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In ancient times this was a land-track to Indonesia and even now one can see at night the quivering lights of Borneo towns from some of the Sulu islands. The Batanes Islands, off the northern coast of Luzon, sprinkle 18 tidbits to within 65 miles of Taiwan.

To this close proximity must be added evidence of early linkage with the “chain of fire” that once ringed the vast unbroken continent. One chain of volcanoes leads north from Borneo through Palawan and Mindoro to western and northern Luzon. Another line simmers from the same start but this time through the Sulu Archipelago and western Mindanao into Negros where Mount Canlaon still stands in turmoil after having poured out tons of lava that were to become fertile layers for the growing of sugar.

The eruption of Taal Volcano in 1965, after being quiet for 50 years, showed once more the hold of nature’s wrath on life in the Islands. The volcano, rising on an island in the middle of Lake Bonbon, 40 miles south of Manila, roared for three days, and blasted out untold tons of ash, mud, and glowing pumice. Steam shot 1000 feet aloft, spreading debris so thick that it buried houses and killed 200 out of the 3000 people who lived on the island.


Manuel D. Duldulao was a Filipino journalist and art commentator.

Currently Reading SOLVING STONEHENGE, by Anthony Johnson

The book was a gift from the author, who self has never met. He mailed it to Redwood City from Oxford University, where he taught. Self was blogging about Stonehenge (and was also writing flash about Stonehenge — those flash can still be found in Wigleaf). He left her a message on this blog. Then sent her the book.

In 1992, a burial site was discovered, 5 km east of Stonehenge. It was the grave of an adult man, “around 35-45 years old.” The man was deemed to be important because “ten times the usual number of finds accompanied the body.” He “had been laid on his left side … facing north.” Buried with him were:

  • two archer’s wristguards (one of which was made from black sandstone and came from the coast, 50 km away)
  • three copper knives
  • He must “have been buried with a bow and a quiver containing arrows, for 17 flint arrowheads were also present.”
  • a type of miniature anvil known as a ‘cushion stone’
  • a pair of sheet gold loop earrings

In 1993, a second grave was discovered, 6 km east of Stonehenge. This contained “the remains of seven individuals, all males: three adults, a teenager, and three children.” The oldest individual was “buried with his legs tucked up” and his head again pointing north.

The man in the 1992 grave has been given the name the Amesbury Archer.

In 2001, at Rameldry Farm, in Fife, Scotland, “a farmer’s plough caught the capstone covering an early Bronze Age” grave. Inside “a stone cist lay the skeleton of an adult male around 40 – 45 years, whose bones produced a radiocarbon date of 2280 – 1970 BC.”

Why is self reading so diligently about Bronze Age graves? She’s trying to finish her horror story and it’s about a team of scientists who stumble on some very disturbing findings in Antarctica. Hoping she can absorb some of the language.

She has so many questions: Why were people buried with heads facing north? Did they come from the north? Why were the oldest individuals around 40-45 years old, was that the normal life expectancy in the Bronze Age? Why were the graves of males exclusively? Where were the females buried?

More:

Suddenly, around 1700 BC, there is a disruption in the quality and quantity of metalwork found in graves in Britain. This coincided with “the apparent abandonment of Stonehenge.” By 1400 BC, “it appears that Stonehenge, already some 1,000 years old, had been abandoned.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Five Best Heroes Self Encountered in 2019 (All Fictional)

Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit

Frank Guidry, November Road

Henry Tilney, Northanger Abbey

Niall Delaney, The Parasites

Sunny, Record of a Spaceborn Few

Quite a range of heroes, from a thriller, a romantic comedy, a du Maurier (who is in a class all her own), a fantasy, and a work of science fiction. Three of the five books that gave self her favorite heroes of 2019 were written by women.

Though self ended 2019 far below her Goodreads Reading Challenge goal, she is setting an even higher goal for 2020. Would you believe it if self told you that she used to be able to read 60 books a year?

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Five Best Heroines Self Encountered in 2019: One Real, Four Fictional (Stay Tuned for Part 2: Heroes)

Anne Glenconner, Lady in Waiting, My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown (memoir)

Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey (novel)

Cora Seaborne, The Essex Serpent (novel)

Nora Gerraoui, The Other Americans (novel)

Rita Sunday, Once Upon a River (novel)

All of self’s favorite heroines were in books written by women. Coincidence?

Recommended Reading: Kate Evans in Hakai Magazine, 6 January 2020

Six men set out from Iceland in a small rowboat. Their destination: Eldey, the nesting ground for the rare great auks.

Jumping ashore, they spotted a pair of the birds guarding an egg. In the ensuing chase, the two auks were killed and their egg was accidentally crushed. The men didn’t know it, but they had just killed the last great auks ever seen alive.

Read the article here.

 

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