Monday, May 24, 2010

Too funny...

I was looking at some articles about Shakespeare stuff, and I came across an article about one actor who played Malvolio in Twelfth Night. I just had to share the first line of the article, which only people familiar with the play will really get. And if you get it, you will not be able to contain your laughter.

"Some are born to play Malvolio and some have Malvolio thrust upon them."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Birds' Eggs"

I picked up Birds' Eggs by Michael Walters today. It showcases many beautiful eggs, and Walters emphasizes the book is meant to be a display case, not a field guide. Walters also makes a point of clarifying that all the eggs in this book were photographed in a museum, not stolen from a nest for this book.

The image provided here is an example of what the meat of the book is like. The pages show the actual size of the eggs, some of the variety of colors and shades that the eggs come in (if applicable), the nesting habits of the birds, the clutch size, the incubation time (if known), and which parent does the incubation (if known).

It truly is fascinating to flip through the book and see the variety of eggs. Additionally, there are a few pages in the beginning which tell about eggs in general, various nesting habits, and a few other odds and ends.

I think that this is an excellent book to get whether you are interested the eggs of a particular bird, or if you are simply curious about eggs in general. It has my official stamp of approval. :)

Friday, May 21, 2010


A friend loaned me the graphic novel Rose by Jeff Smith and Charles Vess. I made the mistake of picking it up at bedtime, and I didn't put it down until I'd finished it. It is a great read, and (fortunately for me) also a quick read. I finished it in about an hour.

It might be said that this book is about dreams. It starts out with a story about how in the beginning all was a dream, and that the first dragon, Mim, kept everything in balance. Then one day a bad spirit, a nightmare really, known as the Lord of the Locusts, attempted to take control away from Mim. The Lord of the Locusts was defeated and imprisoned, at least for a time.

But to young Princess Rose, this is all ancient history, and she is not particularly concerned about it. She is more concerned about being a good student. Or she would be, if she could focus on her lessons. (I think she has ADHD big time, and she vaguely reminds me of myself.) But when she frees a tiny dragon from a creek in a dream, she has new things to worry about: the tiny dragon turns out to not be so tiny in physical reality, and he might be in league with the Lord of the Locusts. If the Lord of the Locusts manages to win his freedom, there will be trouble for all.

I say again, this is a great book. In addition to the story being wonderful, the illustrations are beautiful. In fact, I keep picking the book back up to look at them some more!

The only downside is that the story is somewhat predictable, but truthfully I didn't really care about that as I read. And in spite of its predictibility, it did hold one surprise for me at the end.

I enjoyed this book, and if you're looking for some easy fun reading I recommend it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

"Emma" by Jane Austen

I finished Jane Austen's book Emma in the last week. It took me a while to read because it was the book that I would pick up between other books, or when I was on the go and didn't have the book I was currently reading at hand since it is on my Kindle for iPhone.

Like Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Emma is quite good. It was a little slow at times, but I think that that's just part of the story: there isn't a lot of action in it, unlike most novels that are written these days. Rather, time moves at a steady pace, and between the times of excitement there are (sometimes long) periods of relative quiet and peace.

I did find the main character, Emma, to be something of a spoiled rotten stuck up brat. But unlike every other book where I have disliked the main character, her personality did not cause me to dislike the book. Rather, it was quite interesting to watch how this great lady (because she is of rather high birth) was treated in society, and how society treated her. To see through her eyes is a glimpse into the past, and at the same time somewhat like reading about a bad high school clique.

This is a very good book, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind when things get a little dull at times. Just remember, things will become very interesting when you get past the calm parts of the book!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Essay: Interepreting the poem "On the Subway"

Here is an essay I wrote in fall term 2007 exploring the meaning of Sharon Olds' poem On the Subway. You can Olds' poem here, though you'll have to scroll down because it's the third poem on the page.

I share my essay here with only very minor editing.

My interpretation

The speaker is on the subway, and she (as I will refer to the speaker) stands across from a boy. She describes the boy as looking “[...]like the inside of the body / exposed.” With the inside of the body exposed he is wounded, and vulnerable. He also wears black shoes that have white on them “[...]like a / set of intentional scars.” These scars have been inflicted on him by all those who are white, a conclusion drawn by the fact that it is white scars on black shoes.
The speaker describes herself and the others like her as living off those in the dark, even to the point of almost taking their food from their mouths. She and others benefit, even if they don’t realize it, from the things this boy and others are deprived of.
She also observes that “He has the / casual cold look of a mugger,[...]” That is, he looks like a mugger, but is not one. He hides his vulnerability under a hard exterior, in an effort to protect himself from her kind. He is convincing enough that the speaker thinks of how easy it would be for him to take her life.
The speaker wears a fur coat. The luxurious fur coat combined with the boy’s painful raw skinless body make a whole creature. Thus, they cannot survive without each other. Just as she takes the food he would eat, “[...]he absorbs the murderous beams of the / nation’s heart,[...]” If she did not take his food and everything else from him, he would not be what he is.
She also wonders which of them is in the other’s power, and I believe that they are both in each other’s power. She has power over him in that she lives off him and reduces him to what he is. And he has power over her in that he makes her afraid. She is afraid of what he might do to her, when she thinks of how easy it would be for him to take her life.
There is a question in the poem that the speaker does not ask: is the light in the right, or the dark? A person’s automatic response to this question is that the light is in the right. But in this case the light thoughtlessly feeds off the dark, which to the best of our knowledge has done nothing wrong in this case. In this poem, the dark is in the right.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Essay: Starship Troopers

A teeny tiny essay (if it can be called an essay, it's so darned short) about Robert A. Heinlein's book Starship Troopers.

And no, there are no spoilers what so ever.

The Individual vs. the State.

The relationship between the individual and state in Starship Troopers is very similar in having the attitude of: ask not what your country may do for you, but what you may do for your country. It is taken for granted that a person must contribute something to the nation, by way of service, before they are allowed to vote and be part of the government. It is also accepted that everyone, except in certain cases, has the right to serve the nation and therefore earn the privilege of voting and being part of the government.
People are not restricted from serving because of poor health; as a doctor said to John, “if you came in here in a wheel chair and blind in both eyes and were silly enough to insist on enrolling, they would find something silly enough to match” (32.) Whatever a person’s limitations, they have a right to serve. The only reason a person might be excluded from being allowed to serve their time is if they were deemed unable to understand the oath they must take and what it means; the explanation is not stated, but it is probably not only because it is not fair to hold someone to an oath they do not understand, but also because anyone incapable of understanding the oath would not be found desirable to serve the government.

Essay: The War of the Worlds

Here is a mini-essay I wrote in my science fiction class a couple years ago. I admit that I'm not over fond of The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (I actually decided to donate it to my local library when I weeded my book collection recently) but it was quite an interesting read.

We also watched the movie made in 1953, and I mention it in this short paper.


The War of the Worlds

The book and the earliest movie of “The War of the Worlds” explore human nature.

Curiosity being part of human nature is found throughout the plot. First people are curious about the large meteorite that fell from the sky. They gathered around to look at it. When they realized that it was a vessel which contained living Martians, everyone began asking what they will be like, before they even emerged from their vessel. Another example is when in the movie, the scientist and woman are trapped inside the house and surrounded by the Martians. Despite their danger, the scientist is excited and saying that he has got to get a good look at the Martians.

It also shows what people will resort to in order to survive. Once the world has been turned upside down, the normal rules of good society are put aside for a time. People will break into buildings to find food and shelter. In a hurry to escape danger, a crowd will trample anyone who falls into the mud, and leave them lying helpless. In the book, the protagonist hits the curate in the head with the blunt part of an axe when the curate created enough noise that the protagonist was certain the Martians would be attracted.

There is also the subject of evolution, and how it may effect our humanity. The physiology of the Martians is described in the book. The Martians evolved to the point where they no longer had any body part that is not essential for living – evolution had reduced them to eyes, brains, ears, and hands. Essentially just a head, with no body, just retaining tentacles that act as hands. They did not even have a digestive system. The result was: “Without the body the brain would, of course, become a mere selfish intelligence, without any of the emotional substratum of the human being” (102). From this the conclusion may be drawn that we need more than just the bare essentials, the few things which the Martians have, to be truly human.

Essay: the Joseph story

Here is another essay from my fall term 2008 English class, Bible as Literature. This was my final project, for which we had to choose a relatively modern artifact and explore how it has been influenced by the Bible. This was probably one of my all time favorite school projects.

I did have to do a lot of editing in this one. Or anyways, I had to remove a lot of commas. I cannot believe how many I used.

"Joseph and the Amazing Technicoler Dreamcoat" and the Bible

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The artifact I have chosen is the musical “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Webber first started working on the musical when he was asked to compose something for a school’s end of year concert in 1967, and he chose to base his composition on the Biblical Joseph story because he felt that the children performing the piece would be able to relate to the story. The first performance was about twenty minutes long, but it was such a hit with everyone that he continued to work on it, eventually turning it into the full length musical which we have today.
After considering several artifacts for this project I finally settled on this musical partially because I have been in love with it for some time, and also because I would love to explore it more in depth. I am not certain how I first came across it, but I think that my mom introduced it to me some years ago. There will be three “versions” of the musical I will be drawing on as I write this essay. First and foremost is the DVD (1999) I have of the musical, which is what I am most familiar with. Second is the CD (1992), which is very similar to the DVD, with only a few differences. Lastly, I will be drawing on my memories of the live performance (2006) I saw of the musical, which has some more marked differences from the DVD. I will not rely on this last version of the musical very much, because my memories of it are not perfect, and I can refer back to the CD or DVD at any time I so wish. If there is something that I know (or think) is not in all three of these versions, I will clarify that, as I think how the musical has changed over time is relevant to this essay.
There are many details in the musical which Lloyd Webber has tweaked, but it is essentially still the same story as that in the Bible. The greatest contrasting point is that Yahweh seems to have no place in the musical. For example, in the Bible Joseph says “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Gen. 40:8) So he himself does not interpret the dreams. Rather, he learns what the proper interpretation is by what may be described as God’s grace. But in the musical, Joseph makes no reference to Yahweh, and after Joseph has interpreted the cook’s dream he confirms that he himself interprets the dreams:
“Don’t rely on all I said I saw.
It’s just that I have not been wrong before."
Yahweh’s absence is not the only difference, but it is the most blaring one between Lloyd Webber’s musical and the Bible. It should also be noted that the whole musical is narrated by a woman, which gives the musical a different texture than the male dominated Biblical version of the story.
Lloyd Webber takes a lot of artistic license with his musical. One of my favorite parts is not even in the Biblical story. It is right after Jacob has been told that Joseph is supposedly dead. Once Jacob has departed from the scene, the brothers and their wives celebrate Joseph’s demise with a huge dance number. The sing some of the same lyrics that they sang to explain to Jacob that Joseph is dead:
There's one more angel in heaven
There's one more star in the sky
Joseph we'll never forget you
It's tough but we're gonna get by”
In the dance number they sing the lyrics very upbeat, celebrating rather than pretending to be mournful about Joseph’s supposed death. It should be noted that the very use of the line “There’s one more angel in heaven” is also an example of artistic license, as at that point in the Bible there is no concept of heaven. Additionally, this scene, while in the DVD and the live performance I saw, is not in the CD.
Another point in the story not given much attention in the Bible and which Lloyd Webber explores, is when Joseph is thrown into jail after supposedly trying to seduce Potiphar’s wife. The Bible simply gave an account of what happened, without telling anything of Joseph’s feelings of the matter. Lloyd Webber speculates about Joseph’s feelings, starting with Joseph singing the heart wrenching lines:
“Close every door to me, hide all the world from me
Bar all the windows and shut out the light
Do what you want with me, hate me and laugh at me
Darken my daytime and torture my night”
The rest of the song continues in this vein, and Joseph is obviously very distressed by his misfortune. He is convinced that his life will never get better, and that he will be stuck in jail with a number rather than a name for the rest of his life. Regardless, he accepts his fate.
Lloyd Webber also uses artistic license in using some modern technology and clothing in his musical. In the DVD there is a sewing machine, modern soda bottles, and a camera is used to take a family photograph of Jacob and his sons. In the live performance I saw, Potiphar was using online banking, Jacob had a cell phone, and the brothers wives were wearing (more or less) Texas style clothing, complete with high heel cow-boy and cow-girl boots and hats. Furthermore, when Potiphar was introduced in the live performance, he was playing golf, which was never mentioned in the Bible!
Lloyd Webber does a very good job retelling the Joseph story. As I said in the introduction, I have loved this musical for a long time. Taking another look at it after having read the Biblical version of it, I find it interesting to consider Lloyd Webber’s interpretation of the story, and his exploration of the many background information not provided in the Bible, such as Joseph’s feelings of being thrown in prison. There are many places in the Bible story where background information is neglected, and this only helps to fuel my imagination in thinking of what those neglected (or avoided) details might be.

Essay: The Bible as Translated Literature

Here is another essay I wrote for school. This one was written for my Bible as Literature class in the fall term of 2008. In addition to the Bible itself, I also reference Northrop Frye's The Great Code and Jaroslav Pelikan's Whose Bible Is It?.

Please note, its style is very casual because the professor wanted us to focus more on what we were saying than on things like smooth transitions.

I know I might be stepping on some toes here, talking about the Bible. I hope I don't offend anyone.

Translations, the story of Joseph, and then finally Judas

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The difficulty of translated literature is a nuisance I’ve come across before. It’s not always so obvious, and the reader may not realize how much they are missing out on in translated texts until they read something explaining what is missing from the translation. For example, I have read some of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” but I have not read about the differences between the original in French and the translation, so I did not really feel a sense of loss. (And anyways, the translation I read had lots of footnotes about the translation.) But in studying the Bible, and reading in Pelicans’ and Frye’s books about the translation, I am acutely aware of the puns and other subtleties which have been lost in the translation. And even though some of them have been called to my attention, I am sure there are many more not mentioned. And yet, I wonder if perhaps layers of a piece of literature can be uncovered through translation.
This has led me to reflect on the differences from when a story is “translated” from book form to another form, such as musical, opera, or movie. The many translations of “Les Miserables” to opera and movies come to mind, but there are others which are more relevant to the topic of this paper. One of them is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, “Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat.” It is based on the tale of Joseph in the Old Testament. There are ways in which it is different, and has a different flavor, and yet it still gets at the heart of the story. For example, there is a woman narrator throughout the musical. (I find that a quite a stark contrast to the Bible, which is mostly male oriented.) Joseph’s brothers pull him out of the pit to be sold to slavers, rather than the slavers finding him in the pit. Mrs. Potiphar was caught in the act of trying to seduce Joseph, but it was misinterpreted as Joseph trying to seduce her. Despite these differences, and more, differences, it is still the same story, just told differently.
Ultimately, it seems that translating a piece of literature from one form to another is similar to translating from one language to another. It is impossible to keep the same nuances. For example, translating written word into music certainly gives it different nuances and textures. It is one thing to read about Joseph being unfairly thrown in jail by Potiphar, but it is an entirely different experience to hear him sing the lyrics “Close every door to me, / Keep those I love from me,” in the musical.
I also want to comment that it’s fascinating to hear the different translations of the Bible. In reading/listening to my assignments I stick to reading my King James translation of it (though there are also other translations around my house). In class, however, I hear other translations when people are asked to read aloud bits of the Bible. As with other translated literature, it is fascinating to read/hear different translations. In a way that’s almost an advantage over things written in my own language in that allows me a chance to read different interpretations of it, and it’s fun. The Bible is not the only piece of literature which I have encountered various translations of; I have also enjoyed numerous translations of Sappho’s poetry.
Abrupt subject change – the betrayal of Jesus. Jesus says that one will betray him, and he even says that it will be Judas. I wonder why Jesus said so. It almost seems like he was telling Judas to go ahead and do it. If so, then is it a true betrayal? This is a question I have been wondering about. Perhaps Jesus wanted Judas to do exactly has he did. After all, Jesus knew his death was near, and perhaps he simply wanted to get it over with. Maybe he was simply trying to “move things along,” so to speak.
It also seems that Jesus intended for something such as the crucifixion to happen, or at least suspected it. He says “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) He goes on to explain that a “hireling” would run at the first sign of danger, whereas the true shepherd would stand his ground, and give his life if necessary, for his flock. That is certainly what Jesus did when he died on the cross. So perhaps Judas was doing as Jesus wanted him to, even though Judas likely did not realize it.


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