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Books 29 & 30

  1. Pohl, Frederik — Gateway (278 pages)
  2. Clement, Hal — Mission of Gravity (193 pages)
  3. Benford, Gregory — Timescape (499 pages)
  4. O'Hare, Mick (editor) — Why Don't Penguins Feet Freeze? and 114 Other Questions (232 pages)
  5. Dos Passos, John — Number One (218 pages)
  6. Heller, Joseph — Catch-22 (457 pages)
  7. St. John of the Cross — Dark Night of the Soul (119 pages)
  8. Day, Dorothy — The Long Loneliness (286 pages)
  9. Allen, Ted, Kyan Douglas, Thom Filicia, Carson Kressley, and Jai Rodriguez — Queer Eye for the Straight Guy: The Fab 5's Guide to Looking Better, Cooking Better, Dressing Better, Behaving Better, and Living Better (250 pages)
  10. Whittemore, Carroll E., ed. (William Duncan, illus.) — Symbols of the Church (59 pages)
  11. Hardy, Thomas — Jude the Obscure (507 pages)
  12. Lee, Harper — To Kill a Mockingbird (278 pages)
  13. Mann, Thomas (Helen T. Lowe-Porter, transl.) — Death in Venice (73 pages)
  14. Kempis, Thomas à — The Imitation of Christ (165 pages)
  15. West, Canon Edward N. — Outward Signs: The Language of Christian Symbolism (232 pages)
  16. Alexander, Lloyd — The High King (253 pages)
  17. Bellairs, John — St. Fidgeta & Other Parodies (84 pages)
  18. Endo, Shusaku — Silence (300 pages)
  19. Moorcock, Michael — Behold the Man (137 pages)
  20. Pouncey, Peter — Rules for Old Men Waiting (208 pages)
  21. Davies, Robertson — Tempest-Tost (The Salterton Trilogy) (235 pages)
  22. Davies, Robertson — Leaven of Malice (The Salterton Trilogy) (218 pages)
  23. Davies, Robertson — A Mixture of Frailties (The Salterton Trilogy) (311 pages)
  24. Austen, Jane — Pride and Prejudice (274 pages)
  25. Murakami, Haruki — Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (400 pages)
  26. Burrows, Ruth, O.C.D. — Essence of Prayer (210 pages)
  27. McCarthy, Cormac — The Road (239 pages)
  28. Dahl, Roald — The BFG (184 pages)
  29. Eugenides, Jeffrey — The Virgin Suicides (247 pages)
  30. Geoffrey of Monmouth — The History of the Kings of Britain (280 pages)

Page count: 7,426 of targeted 12,500.

I suppose I had better post about The Virgin Suicides before I forget all about it. I have a slightly different perspective than when I finished it, and that is that three weeks later it is being relegated to the 'forgettable' category. It wasn't a bad read at all. In fact, Eugenides' style is very readable, and I very much enjoyed the way he began the story. It just never really seemed to go anywhere—one of the dangers faced when you start a story by stating its conclusion—and when the much anticipated climax finally arrived, nothing particularly new or revelatory was unfolded. I cannot adequately describe what I felt at the end: an ambivalent mixture of having enjoyed it and been dissatisfied, perhaps.

I watched the movie immediately after finishing the book and actually liked it more, which rarely happens. It wasn't a great movie, but I think it did a good job of distilling the most important ideas from the book and developing them.

Now, moving on… I've been wanting to read Monmouth's History ever since I first saw him referred to extensively in the notes to a Shakespeare history or tragedy. My interest was rekindled when I arrived in Britain. I couldn't find the History in any bookstore, though, and one store employee even went so far as to tell me that nobody is interested in it except scholars. Harumph! If it weren't for the library, I might still be curious.

I enjoyed it for the most part, especially the long, eloquent speeches by various kings and warriors and the few anecdotes about more memorable characters such as Merlin and Utherpendragon. More importantly, it gives me the background I wanted before delving into Shakespeare and the Arthurian legends once more. However, the History did mostly contain accounts of battles, and there really wasn't much difference between accounts of Brutus (the first king) and Cadwallader (the last), for example. And the battles lacked the poetry of such works as Song of Roland.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
am0
Sep. 17th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)
British History
Accounts of battles usually read as if they were written by accountants and for accountants. You don't get the blood and gore, the emotional highs and lows, the agony of defeat or the ultimate high earned by winning. You get a body count instead of a view of the damage warfare does to human beings. You really never find out why the battle was fought except as a chess-like tactical move in the strategy of a greater war. It's bloodless unless you find an exceptional author, one with poetry running in his veins.

I believe Pendragon was the surname Uther adopted. I believe it referred to the banner he carried into battle, a red streamer that moved like a dragon, and that his troops began referring to him as "The Pendragon" before he, himself, adopted the moniker.

That makes it sound as if he actually existed and wasn't an invention of the minstrels, along with Arthur, Merlin, Guinevere (there may have been two Guineveres), Sir Lancelot and the rest of them, especially the magical ones.

Speaking of folklore, I've been reading about the history of the book of Revelation and have learned that Koresh was simply a variant of Cyrus, the Persian king who was considered to be the first pagan messiah for the Hebrew people, having restored to them their lands and traditions.
spwebdesign
Sep. 17th, 2007 11:08 am (UTC)
Re: British History
The History of the Kings of Britain is hardly history. At least, it is no more "history" than, say, The Iliad or Beowulf. The accounts of battles are certainly not bloodless, dry accounts. It's just that in Arthur's time people are "vomiting forth their life in blood" in almost exactly the same manner as they were 2000 years earlier when Brutus (the descendant of Aeneas) pillaged Rome and then settled the large island north of Gaul.

You're right about Uther. "Pendragon" was an added name. But Geoffrey combines the two names into one after the "Pendragon" is adopted rather than keep them separate. (Really, it's three words: Uther pen Dragon.) It's a linguistic convention, nothing more. Insisting that they should be kept separate would be akin to suggesting that we should be known as Hender's son.

In Geoffrey's account of Merlin and Arthur, which I believe was one of the first, Merlin and Arthur never met. Merlin was the child that had no father, probably the offspring of an incubus, that Vortigern's advisers suggested he should sacrifice to strengthen the foundation of the fortress he was trying to build as refuge from the Saxons. Merlin showed the advisers to be frauds in a series of prophecies that proved to be true. He also prophesied the downfall of Vortigern and the ascendancy first of Uther's brother and then Uther. Merlin was responsible for transporting Stonehenge from Ireland and enabled the conception of Arthur, at which point he disappears from the narrative.

In Geoffrey there is no Lancelot. Guinevere betrays Arthur with Mordred instead, after Arthur defeats the Roman emperor Lucius, and when Arthur returns to battle Mordred she enters a convent. The only knights from the familiar Arthur legends are Seneschal Kay, Bedevere the Cup-bearer, Hoel the King of the Armorican Britons, and Arthur's nephew Gawain.

I think you would enjoy The History of the Kings of Britain, and it's a short enough read.
(Anonymous)
Sep. 18th, 2007 12:26 am (UTC)
Re: British History
It's "Henry's Son", not "Hender's Son". Actually, it's MacEanruig, where the 'Mac' has been very loosely translated as 'son'. And it's a clan-like thing, not a paternity thing: The "Mac" implies close affiliation, while a simple possessive like Eanruig's implies a more distant affiliation. MacEanruig became both MacKendric and Henderson; Eanruig's became Hendricks. The name exists in several other forms as well, all of which are now recognized as being part of the Clan Henderson, which really isn't a clan because the leadership is now elective and was based on paternity, not maternity as in a real clan. The Irish do something similar with Mc (pronounced Mick, the reason the Irish are sometimes referred to as Micks), as in McCormick, but the Irish didn't use the simple possessive to show lesser affiliation. By tradition the Mac or Mc have been joined to the name they are affiliated with and the postfix -son has likewise been joined rather than separated. The whole thing is far more complex than my simple explanation suggests as the naming conventions were developed over centuries.

The whole thing about Merlin having transported Stonehenge to Britain from wherever it was constructed has always struck me as a tacky tacked-on late addition to the story, ridiculous on its face and unable to stand the light of research. Stonehenge was a stone-age construct at least a millennium older than the Druids, built and re-built over a period of millennia.

The title says 'history' but it is obviously folklore, as you've indicated. There were many variants on the Arthurian tales, as the troubadours had a tendency to re-invent the story each time they told it. That's why the story picked up foreign elements. It also came from several disparate traditions, with elements from each tradition being either embellished or discarded in the final versions.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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