Classics and Potboilers, and Penny dreadfuls

Tarzan of the Apes book coverImage via Wikipedia

I can't help contrasting two books I recently finished reading. One I read out loud to my ten year old and many home school moms would say it is a classic. The other I read myself and probably quicker than the one I read to my son. Most home school moms wouldn't recognize it and would be leery of letting their older children read it without some investigation.

At a certain level they were both great reads. The one has been made into many movies (and I think a TV series). It's the story of a child reared in the jungle by animals who eventually encounters a group of humans and saves them (multiple times) and falls in love with the girl in the group. He returns to civilization with one of the party and learns French and that he is the son of a well to do man and pursues the girl. Alas, she is already promised to another. He returns to the jungle.

The other is a play about a man who's brought home a war captive and her child. He's fallen in love with her and she will have none of him. He's also got a promised bride who loves him. Into the scene arrives another man demanding the death of the child (son of the enemy in the last great war) and who is also in love with the promised bride. Two die, one is insane, and the captive woman is ruling the country at the end of the play.

So which is which? Which the classic? Which the potboiling penny dreadful?

War, politics, and poular opinion

Benjamin Franklin Butler ( November 5 1818 &nd...Image via Wikipedia

Growing up in the South, I often heard lists comparing Northern and Southern assets at the beginning of the Civil War. One of the items on the pro-side for the South were military leaders.

As I've studied the Civil War this summer, I've realized that this isn't quite correct. Instead was most important early in the war for the South was a president who understood war and tactics and who was willing to do the correct thing militarily over the politics and popular opinion.

I learned for instance that the general I most think of when I think of the South, Robert E. Lee, was sent to South Carolina for perceived faults early in the war. Later, Davis brought him to Richmond to help him coordinate war materials and tactics. It was only later that Lee received command of the army of Northern Virginnia.

Eventually Lincoln became both savvy enough to understand military tactics and could overcome the unwillingness of his public to (or built his and the army's public capital to a point where they could) understand that sometimes victory came through slow protracted events and would not be accomplished by a head on engagement.

Even in the final year of the war, Lincoln still struggled with incompetent and yet politically connected generals.

The mythical better generals vanish as I contemplate how the same forces of politics and public perception were at work during the Civil War as in modern conflict.
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More Meaning

Study for the head of Leda, Leonardo, c.Image via Wikipedia

In looking over the reviews of the commentary by Ben Witherington on the book of Revelation. I noticed one reviewer complained that he never told which meaning the original readers and writer would have given an image in the book. I'm now about half way through his book and haven't found this to be a problem, but it does raise for me an important point about reading metaphoric literature of all kinds.

That's the fact that often an image can have more than one meaning and the author intended that multiple layer of meaning. It gives a piece much more depth to have this multi-level approach. To look for the one right meaning is to miss the point.

I can remember studying Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" and having a teacher walk me through those mutliple meanings that both overlapped and meshed together.

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

This poem has at least four such levels, maybe more. Certainly Yeats contrived to have them there and to interlock them to allow the reader to get more than just the first reading of such a poem would give.

First, there's the basic story, Leda, a girl, is raped by a swan. To embellish that more and explain the lines about Agamemnon and the burning wall, we find the second layer, that of Greek mythology. The swan is Zeus and the children of this mating are Helen of Troy and her sister Clytemnestra, who marries and later kills Agamemnon.

But Yeats wasn't willing to stop there. He had is own view of history as a cycle of rising and falling events. For him the fall of Troy was the fall of Greek culture and signaled the rise of a later culture, Christanity. For him this moment is the beginning of modern history.1

Yet even all this doesn't quite explain that last lines, "Did she put on his knowledge with his power, Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?" Which takes us to yet a fourth level of meaning. That of the creative person who struggles to capture that one flash of creation that comes from a greater and higher force before that moment and that creativity are gone.2

This adds depth and meaning to the poem and to try to decide which of the four is right just wouldn't be, well, right.
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My Book Books

Sometime between the age of twelve and fourteen, I started writing down the books I read in a notebook. It's now about four decades since I started. Recently I started a new volume, number four. I thought I'd share the covers of each of these books.

This is the first book.

This is the second book.

This is the third book.

This is the fourth book. I have included both the spine and back cover since they are decorated as well as the front cover.

Dog Manners

Cover of Cover via Amazon

It is hard sometimes realizing that dogs don't really like everything that people do to them in a spirit of kindness and love. In McConnell's The Other End of the Leash, she includes some photos of people hugging dogs where the dogs don't look particularly happy.

She also shares two stories that make the point as well.

Imagine walking down the street and seeing someone whom you know and are happy to see. What do you do? Most of us call out his name, maybe wave to get his attention, and move directly toward him. It’s especially polite to look directly at his face as you get closer, walking straight toward him, looking right into his eyes and smiling. As you get close enough to touch, you might reach out your hand to shake his or wrap both arms around his chest in a warm hug. Perhaps you move your face directly to his and kiss his cheek. The ultimate in friendliness is to look deep into his eyes and kiss him directly on the mouth. Ummmm, so sweet and friendly. Not if you’re a dog, it’s not. That oh-so-polite primate approach is appallingly rude in canine society. You might as well urinate on a dog’s head. (pg. 14)

That’s the way Letterman greets Julia Roberts, and that’s the way we all greet people we really like. In dog society that would be a scene from a sci-fi horror movie. You just couldn’t be more rude to a dog unless you walked up and bit him. (pg. 18)
Since I've read this part of her book, I can't help but watch my dog closely to see when she is putting up with something that she isn't too happy about on her own. She's a good dog.

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Dr. Martin Luther's Church Door - Wittgenstein 93Image by Mikey G Ottawa via Flickr

I've noted in other posts that sometimes the writings of person in a time period prove to be different or unexpected or less accurate than we would expect. My study of Luther's commentary on Galatians has given me many moments to think about this concept.

Critics of the Reformation often complain about the multitude of denominations it spawned. Certainly the Bible talks mostly of one church (although this is less starkly clear as we often read in the Bible of churches linked to the place they meet). So it gave me a moment of head scratching to read this from Luther on Galatians 5:15:

By these words Paul meaneth, that if the foundation, that is, faith in Christ be overthrown by false teachers, no peace or concord can remain in the Church, either in doctrine or life ; but there must needs be divers opinions and dissensions from time to time, both in doctrine and life, whereby it cometh to pass that one biteth and devoureth another, that is to say, one judgeth and condemneth another, until at length they be consumed. Hereof not only the Scripture, but also the examples of all times bear witness. When the church of Africa was perverted by the Manichees, by-and-by followed the Donatists, who also disagreeing among themselves were divided into three sects. And where is that Church to-day? At this day how many sects are springing up one after another? Thus when the unity of the spirit is broken, it is impossible that there should be any concord either in doctrine or life, but daily new errors arise without measure and without end. Paul therefore showeth how such discord may be avoided. Let every man do his duty in that state of life to which God hath called him.
I wondered what Luther was talking about. Was he looking forward and seeing that the Reformation he began was going to cause splits in the church? Was he already seeing many sects in his break away movement? My commentary has no annotations so I am left on my own to puzzle things out for myself. So I placed a post-it on the spot and continued on in my readings.

Some pages later I came to what I believe was Luther's meaning for this splitting that he describes.

Heresies, or sects, have always been in the Church, as we have said before. Notwithstanding the pope is an arch- heretic, and the head of all heretics; for he hath filled the world, as it were, with a huge flood of infinite sects and errors. What concord and unity was there in so great diversity of the monks, and various religious orders. No one sort of them, or sect, could agree with another; for they measured their holiness by the strictness of their rule. Hereof it cometh that the Carthusian will needs be counted holier than the Franciscan, and so likewise the rest. Wherefore there is no unity of spirit, nor concord of minds, but great discord in the papistical church. Contrariwise among the Christians, the word, faith, sacraments, service, Christ, God, heart, soul, mind, and understanding, are all one and common to all.

So unexpectedly (at least to me) he sees division and sects in the Roman Catholic Church of his own day. This is unexpected to my modern mind which looks back and sees the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Reformation as a monolith (well mostly). It is also unexpected to note that he sees it with so much diversity in it and not under one head. I also see the Roman Catholic Church of today as more orderly with a single head who rules all in his church. It seems Luther saw something else in his time.
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Insubordination 4

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount NelsonImage via Wikipedia

During the Battle of Copenhagen, Lord Nelson was told by a lieutenant that his commander had signaled him to withdraw from battle. He ignored it. He was blind in one eye, so he placed his spyglass to his good eye and said, "I really do not see the signal."1