Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Death To The Spies!

I am recuperating from quite a day yesterday: we had a big birthday party over at my parents’ house, with 32 people, family & friends. It was a shared or combined party: I turned 40 a few months back, and my mother will be 65 in a few days’ time. We had a lovely day, fabulous people all around, and the weather decided to play nice, so we could sit outside for lunch – which, in keeping with the Danish tradition, lasted about four hours. Both the lunch and the nice weather.

And, with wonderful people came wonderful presents; I got, among other things, a stack of books – and now I know how the amazon WishList works: very useful, that. When someone buys something from the list, it disappears, so you run no risk of doubles. This may be common knowledge, and my resident IT supporter, a.k.a. Andreas, said something like ‘well of course it does that’ – but I didn’t know before, and neither did the aunts & uncles who had done the shopping. You learn something new every day :o)

Anyway, the books are all about literature, writing, and language: On Writing by Stephen King, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them) by Jack M. Bickham, Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman, and The Infinity of Lists by Umberto Eco. So my kids will have to look after themselves for the next week or two.
As an extra, I got a copy of the Danish Language Society yearbook 2012, in which my friend George has an article on the meaning of the word marriage.

I also got a skein of – wait for it ... mink yarn: the Mimi from Lotus Yarns, a light fingering weight at 300 meters to 50 grams. I’ve read about mink yarn on Ravelry, but not until now seen it in person; it is sooo soft and lovely. I have a sneaking suspicion that it costs a fortune – but I’m not asking. I’ll be looking for just the right pattern; a scarf or a cowl, maybe. Oh, and did I mention it’s purple? My people know me well.

The Knitting
has all this week been about finishing the shawl for my mum in time for the birthday party. And I made it: the knitting was done by Thursday evening, then I soaked it over night and blocked on Friday. All ready for wrapping Saturday morning. Phew.
I am quite happy with it, if I may say so myself; so now I ‘only’ have to finish writing up the pattern. That part of the process is what feels like work: I enjoy the thinking out and the knitting (even, to some extent, the re-knitting to make it better), I don’t at all mind writing patterns and drawing charts – but writing out the rows in text is killing me.
But there you have it: I could, of course, choose to not do it; but I know that there are those knitters who have trouble with charts, so, as a public service, I’m doing both. Luckily, it’s a fairly simple pattern: all faggoting in geometric sections, so lots of straight lines and netting.

The Books
I’ve been messing with my own head this week, listening to and reading three books set each in its own alternate present world: The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Eyre Affair, and Rivers of London.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger is fairly well-known: Henry travels in time, without any control of when he goes, or to which time and place. Claire grows up from the age of 6 with visits from the adult Henry; so when they finally meet in real time, when she is 20 and he is 28, she is delighted, while he has no idea who she is.
At first, I was somewhat crept out by Lolita associations: it seemed to me that this man in his 30’ and 40’s was grooming the little girl to be his future wife. The author, of course, is aware of this problem: Henry is aware of it, Claire several times points out that he couldn’t help it, that he didn’t choose, that she looked forward to every one of his next visits, &c. Humbert Humbert himself is explicitly mentioned a couple of times, as well.
However, as the story unfolds, I find myself drawn into it; and now that I am nearing the end, I want to know how it comes about – which makes the telling of it a success.

After Jane Eyre on CraftLit, the Ravelry group are having a read-along of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. I’ve had this book on my shelf for a while; at some point in my CraftLit catch-up Heather mentioned and praised Shades of Grey – and when I finally realised, after much wondering, that this had nothing to do with Fifty Shades of Grey (d’uh), I looked up Fforde and his work and decided that it was worth giving it a go. I saved it for after Jane Eyre, though – and I am glad I did.
Reviewers on Goodreads have wildly differing opinions: some enjoy it as much as I do, while others find it too much, too silly, too – everything. Our heroine is Thursday Next, a LiteraTec with the London police in a somewhat different 1985 than the one we remember; she fought in the ongoing Crimean War, has a pet dodo, and deals with the lucrative literary crime while warding off door-to-door Baconians trying to elicit sympathy for their armed struggle against Marlovians – because the underlying question, propping up in conversations through the book is who really wrote the works of Shakespeare? We get an unabashedly evil super villain, time travel, vampires & werewolves, a machine that can take you inside a poem – and characters with silly names. Great fun.

In another take on London, Peter Grant is a regular police constable – until he tries to interview a ghost about a murder. Soon, he finds himself the apprentice of the last magician in the police force and trying to – while solving the murder – work out the dispute between Mama Thames, who is Nigerian, for some reason, and Father Thames, who lives in a caravan camp highly reminiscent of the dwelling place of the a-constable-is-not-supposed-to-call-them-pikeys in the film Snatch. All the while avoiding being killed by the mysterious murdering force, or seduced by a sexy young brook named Beverley: a river in Southwest London and one of the daughters of Mama Thames.
The narrator of this Ben Aaronovitch novel, Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, tends to sound like he’s slightly out of breath, which fits in with the narrative most of the time. There really is a lot going on in Peter Grant’s new life as a magic constable. Some readers prefer this series to the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher; I can’t tell yet, but I certainly do enjoy the London of it.

So, having mentioned Shakespeare, let’s move on to Amled (feel free to place this on your Worst Segues Ever list).
Last week, we saw Amled escape The Test of the Sexy Girl – while getting the girl. So, the stakes have to be raised; and we know what is coming: the interview with the mother, while a spy hides to listen.

SAXO: The Deeds of the Danes (Gesta Danorum)
Book 3, chapter 6

12                         In this manner the young man outsmarted all of them. No-one could find the key to his hidden intentions, and now one of Fenge’s friends who was conceited rather than cunning, declared that all these well-known tricks were not at all adequate to reveal such convoluted and crafty a wit. He had far too strong a will to fall for these easy trials, and against his complicated playacting it was therefore no use to employ facile temptations. He had now, he said, thought the matter over more deeply and found an intricate procedure that was not difficult to follow and would be extremely efficient in finding out what they wanted to know. Fenge had to take himself out of the way, claiming urgent business, and in the meantime Amled was to be shut in alone with his mother in her bedchamber, where, in advance, without the knowledge of either of them, a man would be placed who from a dark corner would listen carefully to what they had to say to each other. For if the son had the full use of his faculties he would not hesitate to speak openly to his mother, and not be afraid to confide in his parent. This man very eagerly proposed to himself take on the role of spy, so that it should not appear that he was only capable of thinking up plans, but not carrying them out. Fenge was delighted with the idea and immediately pretended to go on a long journey.
13                         The man who had suggested the plan now snuck into the room where Amled was to be shut in with his mother, and hid under the bedstraw. But Amled knew well how to avoid a trap. He was afraid that the walls should have ears and so, as usual, at first threw himself into his accustomed silliness: he crowed loudly like a cock, flapped his arms like wings and jumped up into the bedstraw where he hopped around to feel if anything was underneath it. And when he found a lump under his feet, he stabbed at it with his sword and struck the man down there, after which he dragged him from his hiding place and killed him. The body he cut to pieces which he boiled and threw down through the open latrine for the pigs to eat, and thus he let the wretched limbs of the man end up in the shit and filth.
14                        As soon as he had thus evaded the trap, he returned to the room. And when his mother now started crying and moaning over her weak-minded son, right to his face, he exclaimed: ‘Vile woman! Do you think this kind of put-on whining can hide a serious crime? You yourself have behaved like a wanton whore by agreeing to a hideous and impure marriage. You open your shameless loins to your husband’s murderer, and with lustful fawning your make yourself pleasing to the man who murdered the father of your son. This is how mares behave: they join the stallion who defeat their mate. Only animals behave like this, mating indiscriminately, but you have done exactly the same thing: see, you have forgotten your first husband! And when I play the fool, it has a good reason, for I have not a moment’s doubt that a man who has killed his brother can move just as ruthlessly and cruelly upon his remaining relatives. For this reason it is more sensible to seem stupid than clever, for I can save my life by pretending to be completely mad. Deep inside me is always the longing for revenge for the murder of my father, but I want an opportunity, I wait for the right moment. All in its own time! When one is faced with a man so capricious and brutal, it takes more than usual inventiveness. No, there is no reason for you to bemoan my madness – you ought more to mourn your own shame. Your own sick mind should you weep for, not that of others! As for the rest, you had better keep quiet about it!’
With these stinging reproaches he forced his mother back to a more chaste life, and to see that the old love was worth more than the temptations of the moment.
15                         When Fenge returned home, he could not find his spy anywhere: he looked long and hard, but no-one thought to have seen him anywhere. For the fun of it, they also asked Amled if he had seen anything of the man, and he replied that he had fallen into the can, and when he came out below, he was buried in shit, and the pigs had eaten him up. That reply did indeed convey the pure truth, but those who heard it only laughed, as it sounded completely silly.
16                        Fenge was still convinced that his stepson was cheating him, and would rather have the suspicious person removed, but he dared not really do it for fear of what Amled’s grandfather Rørik and his own wife would say. He therefore decided to let the British king kill him, so that he himself could pretend to be innocent while another did the work. In his desire to hide his own brutality he thus preferred to draw a friend through the mud rather than bear the shame himself.
Upon departing, Amled secretly instructed his mother to adorn the throne room with woven blankets featuring knots, and when a year had passed, to have a wake for him as if he were dead. He promised, then, to return home at that time.
With him travelled two of Fenge’s courtiers bearing a letter to the British king, etched into a piece of wood. That was the most common writing material in the old days. In the letter, the king was instructed to kill the young man thus sent to him. While the two of them slept, Amled searched their luggage and found the letter. When he had read it all, he made sure to scrape away all that was etched upon it and replace it with new letters to change the contents, so that the death sentence was not over himself, but over the escorts. And he did not stop at freeing himself from the death sentence and place the danger on the others; he even added, still using Fenge’s name, an application to the British king to give to the sensible young man who was thus sent to him, his daughter in marriage.

§12: Well, our proto-Polonius does not deny himself – he is verbose rather than wise, always eager to eavesdrop.
And after Ehren’s well-placed Freud bashing concerning the supposed – and utterly ludicrous – Oedipal connotations in Hamlet, it was fun to note where the interview between Amled and Gerud is to take place: in her bedchamber. This, of course, has no sexual or Oedipal connotations, either: while a lady in Shakespeare’s day could be expected to have an office as well as a sleeping chamber, this was unheard and unthought of in the 7th or 8th century. The only place where a woman, even the mistress of the household, could be alone or have a conversation in private, was in her bedchamber. Nothing more to it.
§16: In this version of the story, we do follow Amled to England, where he plans to stay for a year – this, of course, is not so easy to pull off in a play, which is probably why Shakespeare gives us the pirate story. The two companions, proto-Rosencrantz and proto-Guildenstern, are in place, though.

And there we leave the story for now – next week, we shall see what happens in England ...

I hope you have a lovely week, I hope we don’t get blown away by the gale-force winds around here – and I’ll be back.

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