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Open Thread: May Flower Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the May full moon is the Flower Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Swiss Family Robinson: Brandy and Pants

[Swiss Family Robinson Content Note: Drowning]

The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 1: Shipwrecked

When we last left our little family, they were huddling in their private cabin working through their understandable grief that the sailors left them behind when they all abandoned ship. Wife/Mother/Elizabeth understands that routine helps people cope in hard times and insists that they eat supper and get as good a night's sleep as they can. Fritz, the eldest-- I suddenly realize I'm going to need a cheat sheet for this. Hang on.

Fritz - 15
Ernest - 13
Jack - 11
Franz - 8

Fritz stays up with Husband/Father/William and broods because he's older than the others and therefore recognizes that this isn't a grand adventure (he's already been snippy with Franz and been scolded by Father for his attitude). He points out that only himself and Father can swim, and suggests that they make "swimming-belts" for Mother and the other boys. Father agrees that this is a good idea and wakes up Mother and the boys to fit them with custom-made belts that they've made by stringing together "a number of empty flasks and tin canisters".

This is the first of a theme that we'll see throughout the book: decisions which are intended to be seen as Independent and Rugged and Clever but which ultimately (and accidentally) underscore that both Father and the author don't really have as much hardy knowledge about the wilderness as they think they do. In this case, I really doubt that a few tin food canisters are going to have the buoyancy to keep someone afloat, AND they're currently inside an enclosed wooden cabin so if the place does flood then a flotation device could actively hinder them from leaving the cabin, AND the storm is still actively whipping up waves which would further compromise the flotation devices, AND I'm not 100% certain of the temperature of the water but I'm guessing it's probably cold enough that the temperature would be as much if not more of a threat than drowning. Probably would've been better to just let Mother and the boys sleep.

Morning comes and the storm has abated and the sky is blue.

   I aroused the boys, and we assembled on the remaining portion of the deck, when they, to their surprise, discovered that no one else was on board.

Father already knew that the sailors were gone, but apparently he kept that news to himself until now. I guess he didn't want to panic the children? I double-checked and this doesn't seem to be a continuity error; he really just didn't tell anyone. (Even his wife?) I find that a little surprising, but I'm not going to criticize this particular parenting decision when there are plenty of other decisions coming up to criticize. For example: Father's bizarre choice to now spin the sailors' escape as an act of callous cruelty rather than of simply forgetting the family was on-board, which was Father's earlier theory.

   'My good children,' I replied, 'we must not despair, although we seem deserted. See how those on whose skill and good faith we depended have left us cruelly to our fate in the hour of danger. God will never do so. He has not forsaken us, and we will trust Him still.'

He's really getting a headstart on training up Christian children to have a martyrdom chip on their shoulder, isn't he?

Fritz suggests that the sea is now calm enough to swim, apparently forgetting his earlier point that only he and Father can swim; Ernest hops in to remind him and to suggest a raft, which Father immediately discards as unstable and unsafe. He tells everyone to explore and examine and to apply their minds to the puzzle and the party splits up.

Father goes to inventory the fresh water and food supplies. Mother and Franz "attend to the unfortunate animals on board, who were in a pitiful plight, having been neglected for several days." Fritz runs to the "arms chest" to secure as many guns as he can find and we'll be seeing a LOT of those in the upcoming pages and indeed really the rest of the book. Ernest looks for "tools". Jack searches the captain's cabin which immediately yields "two splendid large dogs".

The author falls into the All Animals Are Dogs trope and thinks that all animals have a strong enough spine to be ridden, so Jack "seizing the larger by the ears, he jumped on his back, and, to my great amusement, coolly rode to meet me as I came up the hatchway. I could not refrain from laughing at the sight, and I praised his courage, but warned him to be cautious and remember that animals of this species might, in a state of hunger, be dangerous." Kissmate has his head in his hands and urges you all not to allow your 11 year olds to attempt to ride a dog, no matter how large it may be.

   When we reassembled in the cabin, we all displayed our treasures.
   Fritz brought a couple of guns, shot belt, powder-flasks, and plenty of bullets.
   Ernest produced a cap full of nails, a pair of large scissors, an axe, and a hammer, while pincers, chisels and augers stuck out of all his pockets.
   Even little Franz* carried a box of no small size, and eagerly began to show us the `nice sharp little hooks' it contained. His brothers smiled scornfully. (* Some editions translate this to Francis, apparently to avoid confusion with Fritz. I see no reason for the change, and am retaining the original spelling. Editor.)
   'Well, done, Franz!' cried I, 'these fish hooks, which you the youngest have found, may contribute more than anything else in the ship to save our lives by procuring food for us. Fritz and Ernest, you have chosen well.'
   'Will you praise me too?' said my dear wife. 'I have nothing to show, but I can give you good news. Some useful animals are still alive: a donkey, two goats, six sheep, a ram, and a cow and a fine sow both big with young. I was but just in time to save their lives by taking food to them. The goats I milked, though I do not know how I shall preserve the milk in this dreadful heat.'
   'All these things are excellent indeed,' said I, 'but my friend Jack here has presented me with a couple of huge hungry useless dogs, who will eat more than any of us.'
   'Oh, papa! They will be of use! Why, they will help us to hunt when we get on shore!'
   'No doubt they will, if ever we do get on shore, Jack; but I must say I don't know how it is to be done.'

I'm not quite sure what to make of Father's assumption that the dogs are useless. If my memory serves, they are going to end up being very useful indeed to the family; they provide companionship, they help with hunting, they serve as a warning system to dangers, and they protect the family from various threats. Perhaps this is meant to be a moment of humility for Father, a topic on which he is wrong and the author *knows* he is wrong (unlike all the times where he's wrong but the author thinks he's right). But at the same time, it is worth noting here that Father and the author will maintain this callous attitude towards animals throughout the book; any time the family discovers something new, their first and immediate thought is "how do we USE it" and if they cannot think of an answer then the animal is usually treated with disdain if not outright cruelty. While I certainly do not begrudge people in a survival situation thinking about how to best utilize the resources around them, there is a subtle difference between Utilization and Exploitation.

Anyway. There still remains the problem of how to get to land. Jack suggests they make tubs and float to shore, which leads Father to a plan which he certainly thinks is clever but I have my doubts. He finds four large empty brandy casks and saws them in half to create eight half-casks. After a break for biscuits, goat milk, and wine--with the editor noting that Europeans didn't drink water because it was often unsafe to drink, so even children were fed diluted wine at meals--they then lash the eight half-casks together in a row. Three "long thin planks" are scrounged up: one to form a floor under the half-casks, and the other two provide walls on either side. We are assured that this creates a stable boat, but Kissmate is very skeptical. The boat is too heavy for them all to lift/push into the water, so we have a brief treatise on levers.

   I explained, as well as I could in a hurry, the principle of Archimedes' lever; from which he said he could move the world if he had a point from which his mechanism might operate, and promised to have a long talk on the subject of mechanics when we should be safe on land.

Having been a young boy once myself, I am sure these boys were just *enthralled*. /sarcasm

The long narrow boat is, shockingly, incredibly unbalanced in the water so Father immediately creates and installs outriggers--those long poles that provide a counter-balance to canoes. The author speeds by this invention incredibly quickly, probably so we won't ask how Father is able to accomplish this while the boat is in the water and before it manages to sink itself. The boys are able to produce oars from somewhere, and Father deems that it's getting late and they need to spend another night on the ship. Everyone returns to the cabin, puts on a swimming-belt, and Father convinces Mother to wear pants, which the editor notes would have been incredibly scandalous for the time period.

   We prepared for rest in a much happier frame of mind than on the preceding day, but I did not forget the possibility of a renewed storm, and therefore made every one put on the belts as before. I persuaded my wife (not without considerable difficulty), to put on a sailor's dress, assuring her she would find it much more comfortable and convenient for all she would have to go through.
   She at last consented to do this, and left us for a short time, reappearing with much embarrassment and many blushes, in a most becoming suit, which she had found in a midshipman's chest.* We all admired her costume, and any awkwardness she felt soon began to pass off; then we retired to our hammocks, where peaceful sleep prepared us all for the exertions of the coming day.
   (* At the time this book was written, women always wore long skirts. A woman wearing trousers would be considered so shocking that if she were so garbed on a public street she would probably be arrested for indecency. Editor.)

Next time: a brandy-cask boat and shore!

Open Thread: April Seed Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the April full moon is the Seed Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Swiss Family Robinson: Mother's Nerves

[Swiss Family Robinson Content Note: Drowning]

The Swiss Family Robinson, Chapter 1: Shipwrecked

   For many days we had been tempest-tossed.

Wait, no, we have to back up a bit.

Daniel Defoe's famous novel Robinson Crusoe was published in 1719; the Swiss Family Robinson was published 100 years later in 1812. Wikipedia notes that SFR is "most successful of a large number of 'Robinsonade' novels" that followed Defoe's famous work. The book's name is itself is a reference to Defoe's influence: Der Schweizerische Robinson means "The Swiss Robinson". (We're lucky Wyss didn't name his work Der Schweizerische Crusoe; it just doesn't have the same ring.) I am only now in my 40s realizing that the family in the book is not probably not actually named Robinson, which seems pretty obvious in retrospect given that "Robinson" isn't a Swiss name. Wikipedia confirms this:

   Although movie and television adaptations typically name the family "Robinson", it is not a Swiss name. The German title translates as The Swiss Robinson which identifies the novel as part of the Robinsonade genre, rather than a story about a family named Robinson.

That's not even the end of our naming adventures! Our family patriarch and narrator doesn't have a name in the original and is just I/me (when narrating) and Father (when addressed by the children). His wife is Wife and Mother, respectively. For the sake of clarity, however, our translator has named them William and Elizabeth, names which seem to me to be more English than Swiss, but I am far from a recognized expert on Swiss naming patterns of the 1800s.

There are four boys in this book, and they too have names. Fritz is 15, the oldest, and thus is allowed to keep his Swiss name out of respect for his position as Eldest Bestest Boy. Ernest is 13 and has been slightly Englishified from the original Ernst with the addition of the extra E. Then we come to Jack, 11, who has been very hard done by in his alteration from Jakob. "Jacob" was right there, and it's Biblical too, but I have to assume that Mr. Kingston (our original, but far from final, translator) was overcome by English patriotism when he named Jack.

Franz is 8 and the youngest, and his name depends very much on which translation you read; he's variously either Franz (his original name) or "Francis" for no better reason than because otherwise we'd have two children with names that start with Fr, end with Z, and are 5 letters long. Given that many (most?) readers read by word-shape, that's a real problem. I must also here throw into the mix my dyslexia. The translation I'm reading uses "Franz" and we will just have to do our best.

Wikipedia also throws out these two names and I've been puzzling at them for a few minutes now:

   Turk (German: Türk) – The family's English dog.
   Juno (German: Bill) – The family's Danish dog.

Surely it would make more sense for the *English* dog to be the one named Bill, right? Right?? And I'm assuming that, when Bill was changed to Juno (the Roman goddess of marriage and long-suffering wife of Jove), a gender change was involved as well? I would not be surprised, as I remember well from Ursula Vernon's live-reads that the animals in this novel will become pregnant as the plot demands, rather than within the bounds of nature and her laws.

ANYWAY. We are not here to get bogged down in names, we are here for extremely impractical animal husbandry. But first, the storm:

   For many days we had been tempest-tossed.

I'm not sure if the book ever tells us this, but (per our reliable old Wikipedia again) the ship's intended destination right now is Australia. I would guess that the family is planning to emigrate there, although I think that too goes unmentioned and there is a surprising lack of personal items around them if they were planning to relocate permanently--but, on the other hand, I don't believe Australia is really much of a tourist spot at this time in history. Then again, I'm uncertain which period of history we are technically in; the book was published in 1812, yes, but written many years prior:

   Johann David Wyss, a Swiss pastor, originally wrote this book to entertain and instruct his four sons. Years later, his son Johann (or Jean—accounts differ) Rudolf Wyss, by then a professor of philosophy, persuaded his father to allow him to complete and edit the unfinished manuscript.

To sum up: we are on an unnamed boat with an unnamed narrator and his unnamed family on their way to an undisclosed location for unknown reasons in a year, month, and day which are uncertain to us. But we do know that the storm has been going on for 7 days, which may well be a terrific length for acts of Biblical creation but is not an ideal time for a storm to last. The crew is exhausted, the boat is taking on water, and the little family is staying out of the way below deck.

The narrator notes that the seamen "now uttered frantic cries to God for mercy, mingled with strange and often ludicrous vows, to be performed should deliverance be granted" which is obviously very silly and unserious of these frantic sailors. Our narrator is a calm and studious kind of fellow, not a fair-weather (or I suppose it really should be "foul-weather" in this circumstance) believer.

   'Dear children,' said I, 'if the Lord will, He can save us even from this fearful peril; if not, let us calmly yield our lives into His hand, and think of the joy and blessedness of finding ourselves for ever and ever united in that happy home above. Even death is not too bitter, when it does not separate those who love one another.'

I cannot think of a more comforting thing to tell an 8 year old after seven full days and nights of pitch-black storm, rolling waves, and encroaching cold water in their physical space. I'll bet that speech calmed the stomach nausea right down.

Fortunately, Wife/Mother/Elizabeth pitches in at this point and "began to cheer and encourage them with calm and loving words". I swear I'm not trying to go for Husband/Father/William's throat right away, nor for Wyss', but I'm terribly curious what calm and loving words, precisely, would "cheer and encourage" the kids in this situation and I'm a little annoyed that the narrator didn't find the time and space to record them alongside his sermonizing. I've been in some life-and-death kinds of situations where it felt like the outcome was out of my hands and we just had to wait to see if we were going to live or die. And, yeah, I've sometimes found it possible to be calm in those situations. But cheered and encouraged? And as an 8 year old (or 11 or 13 or 15 year old) boy? It's very hard for me to imagine cheering and encouraging children in (again) a pitch-black, roiling, and increasingly wet ship's hold while sailors scream for mercy over the unending din of the storm and various pieces of luggage and cargo slam into you unexpectedly.

What I am saying is that we are already very firmly into cozy territory and that's FINE, really, but I crave *details*. Give me the cheering and encouraging words over the religious instruction and proselytization.

Everyone takes turns in prayer and Father is impressed by Fritz's prayer, which is so focused on "deliverance for his dear parents and brothers" that he seems to forget about himself. "Our hearts were soothed by the never-failing comfort of child-like confiding prayer" and now I'm *very* curious how old Wyss' four sons were when he wrote this. I have known a LOT of pastors' kids in my time, and almost all of them without exception were old-beyond-their-time at 15. (Being privy to behind-the-scenes church workings will do that.) Certainly, one would not describe their prayers as child-like. Professional, maybe. Not child-like.

Prayer is interrupted by a sighting of land, which they hear over the storm, and then the shattering crash of the ship hitting *something* and coming to an abrupt stop. They're pretty sure they then hear the ship breaking apart and "roaring waters poured in on all sides" which makes me have a lot of questions ever since we experienced our own floods here at the house. William hears the captain ordering the life boats lowered and realizes that, given that they've been below deck for seven days, the sailors have probably forgotten about them. Whoops!

The children are understandably pretty scared, so William reassures them that they're still above water and land is in sight. He pulls out one of my least favorite aphorisms, "You know God helps those that help themselves!" which is NOT in the Bible and (funnily enough) seems to have been a saying about the Greek gods first before the Christians took it on. (Wikipedia notes there is a humorous version as well: ""God helps those who help themselves, but God help those who get *caught* helping themselves.", which gave me a nice chuckle.)

William tells them he's going above deck to see what's happening, then is instantly hit by a wave and washed overboard. I'm kidding, of course; he's hit by a wave and thrown to the deck, but manages to "find my footing" although I prefer to believe that he's scuttling about on all fours. Safety! The ship is "shattered on all directions, and on one side there was a large hole in the hull" which sounds very dire, but I'm not quite sure what it all *means* because the family will pretty much never be blocked off from anything they want to reach and gather.

The last of the life boats is being cast off just as William dramatically runs up and his "cries and entreaties" are lost in the storm. Even if the crew had heard him over the din, it seems impossible for the boats to return for him, given that the waves are "mountain-high". He takes a moment to collect himself and notices that (a) the portion of the ship "containing our cabin" is jammed between two rocks and seems relatively safe from the waves for the moment, and (b) there's a rocky coast on the horizon which means they at least have a chance at not-drowning. Meanwhile, I'm noticing that (c) they have a cabin so now I have to research ships for a moment because I *thought* the family was below deck.

Okay, this is from the New South Wales online library:

   Passengers travelling on emigrant ships from the United Kingdom to Australia in the 1800s were physically segregated according to class, marital status, and gender. Cabin class passengers were usually accommodated below the poop deck with steerage passengers below the main deck. Steerage passengers were further separated into single men, married couples and children, while single women were strictly segregated from all other passengers.

There we go: they can have a cabin and still be below deck. Interestingly, this would seem to strongly imply that any boat carrying passengers to Australia would have *several* passengers in it, not just a single cabin housing a six-person family. The book off-handedly mentions that the sailors are "forgetting the passengers" when they cast off with the last life boat. It's such a strange reference because it seems like an odd way for the narrator to refer to himself and his family. But it also means we can't headcanon that all the *other* passengers went away on the life boats and that only the Swiss Robinsons were left behind. After all, who can remember 6 people in a crowd of, say, 30 passengers spread across multiple life boats?

But, nope, we have it right there in black-and-white that the sailors forgot the passengers. Which means that either this boat wildly under-sold its tickets when heading out, or all the other passengers just fell screaming into the sea and the narrator didn't want to burden our spirits with that detail. Even so, however, the rest of the book will be noticeably silent on the subject of floating bodies disturbing the peace of the shipwreck (which will be visited several times) or washing up on the beach, so that doesn't seem to be right either.

Alas for us, William is entirely unconcerned with whether or not there are dead bodies in the water. He returns to the cabin with his good news: "'Courage, dear ones! Although our good ship will never sail more, she is so placed that our cabin will remain above water, and tomorrow, if the wind and waves abate, I see no reason why we should not be able to get ashore.'" The boys are immediately reassured and quite frankly just relieved that the boat has stopped moving and, presumably, the nausea can at last come to an end.

Wife/Mother/Elizabeth is not so easily cheered as the boys and perceives that the narrator is more concerned than he's letting on. He "greatly fears" how "her nerves" will manage at the awareness that all is not joy and rainbows from here on out, but is impressed to find that "not for a moment did her courage and trust in Providence forsake her". I feel like he should know by now what a badass his wife is, given that she's managed to raise 4 boys on a pastor's wages, and has been popping them out at a rate of one every two years (and then Franz, the "oh good, now we have 4 children under the age of 7" surprise baby). She then announces that they need to eat, which makes sense because they finally have a chance of keeping their dinner down for the first time in seven days, and we will leave off here for the night.

Swiss Family Robinson: A Question of Translations

Remember when Ursula Vernon was doing periodic live-reads on Twitter of the Swiss Family Robinson? I loved those threads. SFR was one of my favorite go-to escapism books as a kid. I had the Great Illustrated Classics version, which I believe I have noted previously (in reference to H.G. Wells' The Time Machine) were excellent adaptations; in making the books accessible to children, the editors also judiciously cut-and-stitched away the worser plot holes and (in the case of SFR) the preachy holy lessons and self-reliance and Renaissance Man stuff. As a result, thanks to some excellent editors, I actually didn't even know a lot of that was *in* the book until Ursula did her amazing live-read.

I've been spending a lot of time in bed lately, due to some medical stuff, and I've been wanting to read something that I can pick up and put down easily without feeling like I've lost my place or gotten overly invested. SFR is *very* chunkable in that regard. And if there's one thing we all know that I love, it's revisiting beloved childhood classics of mine and setting them on fire. Doubly-so if it's a sacred cow roast in the process. (Though I do want to note, in case anyone is feeling nostalgic, to be very careful of old SFR movies because at least one of them had so much animal cruelty in it that I'm pretty sure that film is one reason why modern films now have a disclaimer insisting that no animals were harmed in the making of this film. Kissmate and I started watching one of them on Disney+ earlier last year and we had to stop about 15 minutes in.)

Ever since I started my project rewriting the Grimms' fairy tales, I've become hyper-aware of how hard it is to find out the *translator* for non-English pieces of public domain writing. Go search the Swiss Family Robinson offerings on the Amazon Kindle store and you'll see what I mean; author and publisher are there, and editor is usually available too, but translators aren't listed. And is the book abridged or unabridged? I wanted an unabridged version if possible, as I'm assuming that any abridgment would focus on removing some of the nutty (and we want maximum nutty!) but according to Anne Wingate, "No unabridged edition of Swiss Family Robinson exists in English. Indeed, the book has been rewritten so many times, by so many editors, that it can legitimately be said that that no complete edition of the book exists in *any* language." Dammit.

Actually, I want to quote a larger chunk from the Pink Tree Press:

   No unabridged edition of Swiss Family Robinson exists in English. Indeed, the book has been rewritten so many times, by so many editors, that it can legitimately be said that that no complete edition of the book exists in *any* language.
   Johann David Wyss, a Swiss pastor, originally wrote this book to entertain and instruct his four sons. Years later, his son Johann (or Jean—accounts differ) Rudolf Wyss, by then a professor of philosophy, persuaded his father to allow him to complete and edit the unfinished manuscript. It was published in two volumes in Zurich in 1812-1813.
   Its French translator, Mme de Montholieu, obtained permission to greatly enlarge the book. It was published in five volumes from 1824 through 1826. The first English edition, abridged, was published in 1814; it was followed by several other English translations of varying quality. In 1849 W.H.G. Kingston re-translated and greatly abridged Mme. De Montholieu's version. Most English versions are based on Kingston's abridged version.
   Despite a vast number of amusing errors in flora and fauna, the book has entertained, and warmed the hearts of, many generations. However, most modern editions omit an incredible amount even of Kingston's translation by making small cuttings here and there, some of them maddeningly inept. The Editor's Cut edition from Pink Tree Press has been based on, and compared with, no fewer than five previous editions, all of them out of copyright. Most, though not all, of the cuttings have been restored. The material that continues to be omitted is of little imaginable interest to anyone other than a scholar of nineteenth century literature.
   Anne Wingate, Ph.D.
   Pink Tree Press

So the answer to "which translator was this?" is apparently, in the case of SFR, W.H.G. Kingston + one or more unnamed and unsung heroes trying to figure out what to cut and what to keep from this two-volume-turned-five-volume-turned-one-volume-again monstrosity.

Which version are we to use for our live-read? I'm extremely tempted to use the Pink Tree Press version, not only on the strength of that excellent editor's note, but also because of useful footnotes like "Some editions translate [Franz] to Francis, apparently to avoid confusion with Fritz. I see no reason for the change, and am retaining the original spelling. Ed." The only downside to the Pink Tree Press version is that, as far as I can tell, no one has loaded it onto the Amazon Kindle store, which is easier for me to read and take notes electronically.

The next-best translation that I can find (here defined as the translation closest to the Pink Tree Press as the gold standard) is the Windermere version which is available both on Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle. And if you're looking for something that is a little more readable and a newer English translation than the 1849 Kingston edition, there is a lovely one available on Project Gutenberg and Amazon by...someone! You literally can't tell from the book who is writing the preface about its newer, more modern translation.

Books. They are truly amazing sometimes. Anyway. Watch this space, I guess? We'll be pulling from the Pink Tree and Windermere versions for this live-read because they have a lot more nutty in them, but I'm going to list the New Hotness as well, because it really is more readable (in my opinion) and you might actually want a copy of this book that doesn't make your eyes want to vacate your head.


Pink Tree Press: Project Gutenberg.
Windermere: Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle.
New (Anonymous) Hotness: Project Gutenberg and Amazon Kindle.

Open Thread: March Wind Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the March full moon is the Wind Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

The Dragon Dentist

"Yeah, I know who you mean. Just about everyone around here does. Though I can't say I know their real name; we all just call 'em DD. You know, for 'Dragon Dentist'. I guess when you get a reputation for sticking your hands in the mouths of live dragons, that sorta becomes the thing everyone knows you for. People aren't going to remember 'Morgan' or 'Alexi' the way they remember 'Dragon Dentist'.

"Eh, I think it's probably pretty easy to stick your hands in a dragon's mouth, once you get over certain impulses towards bodily safety. I reckon it's once you're in there that things start getting hairy. Or scaly? Either way. Buy a round for DD the next time they're in town and you'll get an earful. You think pulling a bad tooth is hard, try it when the tooth is the length of your arm from finger to elbow, and you look like a nice ham dinner to the tooth's owner. And said aforementioned owner is also deeply cranky and sleep-deprived after months or years of debilitating tooth pain. Couldn't be me doing the job, no sir.

"No, I'm not exaggerating. Look, have you ever actually seen a dragon up close and personal? No, I didn't think so. You've seen 'em in the sky, sure, but you haven't had to appreciate just how damn big they actually are. I've seen some of the teeth DD has pulled and if you'd seen them too you'd know how full of shit you sound right now. Ohhh, you saw a smallish dragon tooth on display in Whitehall when you were passing through and now you know everything, huh? Well, yeah, young dragons exist and get hunted just like anything else. And the teeth aren't all the same size, genius. Are your back teeth as long as your dog teeth? Are your dog teeth the same length as an orc's tusk? No. Here, drink up. Though I gotta tell you that if you keep kicking back Flarbotten Fabulous Flotsams like that, you'll need a dentist of your own soon.

"Naw, DD doesn't work on humans. Totally different species, you know? Hells, they're a virtuoso as it is, being willing to work with different dragon breeds and not specializing. The poison-spitters have these thin fangs that retract like a snake's; they're much more fragile than those tree branches the fire-breathers are sporting. The swamp-dwellers keep their teeth on the entire outside of their mouth--something to do with the acid breath, if I recall--while desert dragon teeth are all tucked up on the inside. Don't get me started on the swimmers; you'd think those would be the easy ones, right? Everyone knows fish-eaters are less scary than the cattle-eaters. No sir, turns out the swimmers have got *rows*. Actual multiple rows of razors in their mouths. Give a man nightmares, reaching into that. Ocean dragons just should not be fucked with, period.

"Probably lucky for DD that the usual solution is just to pull the problem tooth. Dragons grow lost teeth back, given a year or two. Have to, really, if you're gonna live a few centuries and your favorite midnight snack is a good sheep femur; you'd run out of teeth otherwise. Old dragons die from a lot of things, but starvation isn't one of them. Of course, DD does more than just yank out teeth all day. Says dragons are worse than kids when it comes to taking care of their teeth. They get all kinds of foul-smelling gunky build up that has to be cleaned out, and there's always a few bones or worse stuck between the back teeth. DD has a whole collection of weird shit they've removed, you should ask to see it sometime. Swords, maces, axes, wands, and some kind of golden orb thing that we think was probably a magical focus for a dead wizard. Well, I mean, I assume they're dead if their focus was stuck in a dragon's teeth. You don't usually survive that.

"What's that? 'Does it at least pay well?' You don't know the half of it. These dragons are hoarders, you know, real loot mongers. And they're grateful to DD for what they do; you ever feel that blessed relief when a tooth that's been burning in pain for weeks is suddenly just gone? No better feeling, and they know it. DD's been hauled down with more money than they can carry more than once. More money than I'd feel safe carting around, that's for sure. What? No, no. Bandits don't mess with DD, even the worst scoundrels know better. I mean. Would *you* threaten a dragon's favorite dentist? I wouldn't."

Chicago Winters

"Texas, huh? How are you liking our winters?"

It's hard to explain that, because of global climate change, Chicago winters have apparently been "mild this year" for years. That, yes, the cold is harsh to me but not much different from the Texas winters of my youth. That the temperatures don't drop lower than they did in Texas, they just drop low for longer. That the "mild" Texas winters they hear about have days that cycle from the 30s to the 50s to the 70s and back again, making my own internal heating system fluctuate wildly -- that those mild Texas winters may average out to 50s, but an average mean isn't a mode.

How do I explain that, because of how houses are built in the north (to hold heat) versus how houses are built in the south (to dissipate heat) we're actually warmer at home in Chicago than we ever were at home in Texas. That weatherproofing was put into this house, which has stood since the 1920s, and that the newly built house my (then) husband bought in Texas wasn't made nearly so well. When we put our hands near the windows and doors, there's no piercing draft, no need to tape blankets to the walls every winter.

When it snowed in Texas, we would be house-bound sometimes for days, often unable to access groceries or healthcare or even emergency services. When it snows here in Chicago, the streets are cleared quickly, often on the same day. We had been warned to buy snow shovels and prepare to shovel our sidewalks -- or to hire someone to do it, which we worried about as a "disability tax" we might struggle to pay. But we haven't shoveled a single snowflake; our neighbors on both sides generously rush to take care of the sidewalks, reassuring us that they like how the work keeps them warm and makes them feel helpful.

Sometimes we try to explain the differences in infrastructure. The confusion on our realtor's face when we asked him if he had an electric company "to recommend" to us; there is only one electric provider here while Texas has hundreds, all with different gimmicks designed to part you and your money without adding value. We tell them about the Texas power grid, how it is separate from the rest of the country and held together by glue and string. We explain how often the power would go out, compared to up here where the electricity has only gone out once in two years, and then only for about five minutes. About the year we lost power for days because of a snow storm and our neighbor who had to charge his oxygen tank with a car charger.

There's a difference in community here, in the attitude towards cold weather. Everywhere has coat racks, so you have a place to hang your jacket without having to wrestle with it. People warn syou about the weather, ask you if you're ready for it, and are happy to give tips. The city pushes warnings to our cellphone weather app, telling us when there will be ice on the roads and to be careful. When our street flooded in July, people came out -- city personnel and volunteers alike -- to tell us how to apply for FEMA relief and offering to help fill out the aid form. The city puts up helping weekly articles on the website for ways to qualify for relief; we didn't have anything like that in Texas. We've never waited more than ten minutes at the DMV up here, and getting our handicap plates was a million times easier than it was in Texas. Registering to vote by mail was a breeze. These things don't relate directly to the winters, but at the same time... it does. Having access to handicap parking means I have less icy ground to walk, and I'm less likely to fall and hit my head like I did that one time in the Michael's parking lot in Texas.

How do we like the winters? Better than in Texas, actually. It's colder, sure, but there are shields in place against the cold. Useful city warnings, a helpful community, swift public repairs, consistent utilities, and even buildings that have been built with the cold in mind: insulation in the walls, sealant around the windows, placement of buildings and out-buildings to block wind and shelter inhabitants. An accountant we met in our dentist's office told me he envied us for our life in Texas, for not having state income tax; I asked him if he likes having electricity in the winter during-and-after snowstorms, and he was shocked.

We told him, too, about the lack of public transportation and lack of de-icing services. How, after every snow or freeze -- no matter how mild or severe -- we would drive to work and pass three or four or five wrecks by the side of the road, casualties of the bad weather. How there are almost no buses, no elevated train, and whole roads that simply aren't cleared until the snow melts off on its own. He hadn't considered that these things he takes for granted because they've always been here for him might not be. Not that I blame him. It's been an adjustment for us too.

We don't exactly "like" the winters. But we like them a lot more than we expected.

Open Thread: February Hunger Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the February full moon is the Hunger Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Open Thread: January Wolf Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the January full moon is the Wolf Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Review: The Lazy Dungeon Master

The Lazy Dungeon MasterThe Lazy Dungeon Master
by Michael E. Shea

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Lazy Dungeon Master / 978-1073741113

This book was clearly a labor of love and I hesitate to give it a poor rating, but it simply was not helpful to me. Others might find my experience useful when considering whether or not to purchase for themselves.

Some background: I have been dungeon mastering for 10+ years. I have run official modules as well as completely homebrew worlds I made up myself. I have run in-person tables and online games, both in voice/video calls and in text-based forum formats. I am currently running the official Curse of Strahd module in an online game over Discord. I frequently find myself pressed for prep time, and I was hoping this book might help me optimize my preparation so that I could spend less time preparing and more time playing.

First, to start with, this book is VERY oriented around the expectation that you're DMing a completely homebrew world. A lot of the "lazy" guidelines basically boil down to not going overboard on worldbuilding, and to confine your efforts to things the players will actually see and interact with. This is true: if you're building an adventure in Texas, you don't need to nail down everything that's happening in Alaska. But this is also largely unhelpful for anyone running a prewritten adventure, as I currently am.

Second, and similar to above, the authors are extremely concerned that you may be spending too much time building homebrew monsters rather than using ones from published sources. Again, this is good advice but largely unhelpful to anyone already doing that. I don't think I've ever homebrewed a monster; they are correct that there are just so many already published ones. This might be a difference between the 2020s and the 1980s, but in the hundreds of games I've attended as a player, I don't think I've ever seen any DM pull out a homebrewed-from-scratch monster. My experience is that we usually take a prepublished one and tweak as needed. This particular advice may be a bit out-of-date.

Third, and continuing this theme, there is a LOT of emphasis on not spending too much time fleshing out NPCs. The authors recommend taking characters from popular books, movies, and other media and using them as templates rather than trying to build new personalities from scratch. This isn't a terrible idea, but it's overly belabored here: there are actual *lists* of characters that the authors like from popular shows. It feels like filler material to flesh out the book and (again) this isn't helpful to DMing a written module.

A lot of the advice is very geared towards short 3-5 session adventures, which is fine but definitely not necessarily the norm in this post-Matt Mercer world. (My own Curse of Strahd adventure has been going on for years.) Their key rules for "Five-Minute Adventure Preparation" is shortened to "three simple questions": "where does your adventure begin, to what three areas might your adventure lead, and what are your three notable NPCs up to?" These aren't awful questions when homebrewing a new world, but they are not useful for my prep session today, which is about finishing out a boss fight with a lich.

Moreover, a lot of the "advice" in this book is heavily centered around implementation gimmicks rather than concepts. The authors are obsessed with the number "3" and with 3x5 index cards. Instead of telling the reader to keep their NPC list short and manageable, for example, there are litanies of 3s: three notable NPCs, three adventure locations the PCs might discover, three scenes that they might encounter. Instead of "don't go overboard fleshing out the person/place/event and keep your notes short", there's an insistence that it all needs to fit on individual 3x5 card for each item. I've tried that method before, it's fine, but it's not for me (I will always prefer typing to handwriting) and having to wade through pages of implementation advice, rather than exploring the underlying concepts of simplicity and how to achieve it in all forms, is tiring.

I've mentioned that my prep session today involves finishing out a boss fight. The things I need to do for prep include: Remind myself of what happened in the first half of the fight, including damage dealt and initiative order. Brush up on monster abilities and what each character can do on their turn. Familiarize myself with the (premade) dungeon map in case the PCs want to explore more after finishing the fight. Reacquaint myself with the existing NPC personalities so that I can improvise when the PCs talk to them. Have at hand my DMing tools: dice, initiative tracker, calculator, and damage counters.

All of the above can take me anywhere from one to three hours, which is why I was hoping a "lazy DM guide" might help me. But nothing in this book helps to condense this work; heck, nothing in the book even acknowledges that prep time *contains* this stuff. If I were a new DM reading this book, I would think that 95% of weekly DM prep work was making NPCs and monsters and rooms and places and events and scenes from scratch. If you're running an official module, almost all of that stuff is already done for you; if you're running a homebrew, all of that stuff still isn't 95% of the weekly prep for me. It's very strange to me that the book not only doesn't have advice for the "nitty-gritty" of the weekly prep I've done for 10+ years, it doesn't even *mention* it. DMing is so much more than putting, ahem, "Walter White from Breaking Bad" on the NPC cast list under a new name.

I am confused who this book is for. The advice to not go overboard on worldbuilding is useful for new DMs but the introduction says "This book is intended for experienced dungeon masters who had run dozens, if nor hundreds, of Dungeons and Dragons games. This is not a book for a novice." The introduction also includes an inspirational quote from Chris Perkins (credited here as "senior producer of Dungeons and Dragons and dungeon master for Acquisitions Incorporated") saying "I don't have to do much prep at all, I just kind of wing it", with the implication that this is an ideal way of DMing and, with a little practice, you can too. But to be honest, I don't see how any advice in this book addresses the concept of games that aren't short sessions designed to either be a single 1-shot or maybe 3-5 sessions at the most. Improvising and "winging it" works fine for snappy dialog, but it's not going to familiarize you with how, for example, Night Hags interact with the Ethereal Plane and whether they can take people and objects with them and whether the PCs will be able to use the Heartstone to do the same. I suppose the 1980s answer would have been to just make up an answer on the fly (rather than grind the game to a halt to consult the manual), but again in this post-Matt Mercer world, plenty of people at the table have a decent enough understanding of The Rules and The Lore that they might well find this off-putting and immersion-breaking. Most of the players at my table are *also* DMs, and they understandably expect me to know my stuff and not just "wing it" all the time.

Maybe that means this book is just a product of an older era, I don't know. Obviously a lot of folks have found the book to be incredibly thoughtful and useful, so take this opinion with a heavy gallon of salt. I hope my experience helps you to determine whether this book is for you. Happy gaming!

~ Ana Mardoll

December Newsletter (2023)

I am sick!

That's actually pretty normal. I usually get sick in the winter. I'm actually really pumped that it doesn't seem to be a bad illness, more just a sort of rattle in the lungs and chest, with a lot of drainage. Seriously, I could single-nosedly power an extremely gross spacecraft or deep sea submarine with the right sort of mucus-based engine. I'm taking a lot of sudafeds and nyquils and whatever else you can't get on shelves anymore. That stuff. And staying hydrated and as far as possible from new drywall because the "allergic to drywall mud" has been upgraded to include "and dust?" so we're trying to be careful about that and not exacerbate it. Suggestions welcome on this one, if anyone else has a drywall allergy. I've never heard of one before, and Google results are mostly about workplace hazards rather than merely living in the midst of post-flood construction.

And/but/so my projects have been a bit delayed thanks to this illness, BUT I wish you a happy holidays and a good new year!

Open Thread: December Oak Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the December full moon is the Oak Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Open Thread: November Snow Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the November full moon is the Snow Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Narnia: One Small Step For Man

[Narnia Content Note: Threats and Bullying]

Narnia Recap: Digory, Polly, Jadis, Andrew, a Cabby, and Strawberry the Horse have all traveled from London to a magical world which is experiencing creation.

The Magician's Nephew, Chapter 9: The Founding of Narnia

When we were last in Narnia, the children and those accompanying them were observing firsthand the creation of Narnia, which so far mostly involves Aslan singing in a tuneless deep voice while other things (stars, light, et cetera) leap into existence at the call of his song. But the song has just now "changed" and there are indications that something especially Important is about to happen.

It is probably worth noting in passing that Lewis isn't adhering exactly to the order of creation given in Genesis, probably because the order in Genesis doesn't feel narratively satisfying. Genesis gives Light (Day 1), Sky (Day 2), Ground and Plants (Day 3), Sun and Moon and Stars (Day 4), Birds and Sea Animals (Day 5), then at last Land Animals and Humans (Day 6). The problem with this is that we're leaping from sky (Day 2) to ground (Day 3) and then back up to the sky again for the celestial bodies (Day 4). So Lewis is shaking things up a bit in a way that I agree is more satisfying to follow in a narrative.

   THE LION WAS PACING TO AND FRO about that empty land and singing his new song. It was softer and more lilting than the song by which he had called up the stars and the sun; a gentle, rippling music. And as he walked and sang the valley grew green with grass. It spread out from the Lion like a pool. It ran up the sides of the little hills like a wave. In a few minutes it was creeping up the lower slopes of the distant mountains, making that young world every moment softer. The light wind could now be heard ruffling the grass.

I've given Lewis a lot of flak over the years for his sometimes-sloppy writing, so let me be the first to praise this part. The imagery of the grass rippling up out of the ground and flowing with the wind like a rippling green sea is genuinely vivid and beautiful. Combined with the music, it reminds me of the parts I like best about Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, where you just stand in a plain while the music tinkles prettily and watch the wind play in the grass. I've read first-hand accounts from white settlers of the American plains and how the land seemed to stretch out for infinity under the boundless sky and how the long tall grass moved like water under the invisible wind. Most people greeted it with awe; some folks felt so insignificant in comparison that their brains broke a little, like a real-life version of Douglas Adams' Total Perspective Vortex.

   The nuisance of it, as Polly said afterward, was that you weren’t left in peace to watch it all. Just as Digory said “Trees!” he had to jump because Uncle Andrew had sidled up to him again and was just going to pick his pocket. It wouldn’t have done Uncle Andrew much good if he had succeeded, for he was aiming at the right-hand pocket because he still thought the green rings were “homeward” rings. But of course Digory didn’t want to lose either.
   “Stop!” cried the Witch. “Stand back. No, further back. If anyone goes within ten paces of either of the children, I will knock out his brains.” She was poising in her hand the iron bar that she had torn off the lamp-post, ready to throw it. Somehow no one doubted that she would be a very good shot.
   “So!” she said. “You would steal back to your own world with the boy and leave me here.”

Since we started this book, I've really struggled with the fact that Jadis, as written, just does not work the way she should. We are repeatedly told that Jadis is overwhelmingly powerful, possessed of a strong will, and takes decisive action when she feels threatened. We know she is strong; she wrenched the lamp-post out of the ground and threw Digory's aunt across a room. We know that she follows through on her choices; she destroyed an entire world because she would not yield the throne to her sister. And we know that she feels threatened in this world; she has announced that this world holds her "doom" and the narrative told us that she hates and fears the singing voice. Given all this: why isn't she trying to leave??

There have been exactly two attempts to leave this world so far, and both of them have been instigated by Uncle Andrew. Jadis has stopped both of the attempts, ostensibly because she doesn't want Andrew to get away and leave her behind. But why stop him so thoroughly? She knows the rings can take an entire group, and she's perfectly comfortable seizing control of the situation and ordering Andrew around. Why, then, is she helplessly standing by and waiting for Aslan to finish his song?

The Doylist reason, of course, is that Lewis needs to maneuver Jadis into this world so that the events of LWW can take place. I supposed the Watsonian reason is that Digory has threatened to maroon all the adults here if they push him, and Jadis would rather keep him around in order to have a future chance to escape. But... she has a weapon, is within ten feet of the children, and can move inhumanely fast. She's also not one to act in an over-abundance of caution; see, again, her willingness to *destroy an entire world* if she didn't get 100% of all her wishes all the time.

I think this bothers me so much because it makes Jadis seem weak and helpless, when she shouldn't be, and because feels so unnecessary. Jadis is supposed to be this world's Satan, its Lucifer. I can see no reason why Jadis should be *afraid* of Aslan's voice, other than Lewis' weird ego-bolstering theology where you can tell the good guys are good because they're the strongest and meanest and bestest at smiting. If she needs to stay here as an adversary to the lion, why not have her hate him with a passion? Let him remind her of all the good warm things she hated in Charn, or even the things she *misses* about Charn. He could be a subtle living rebuke, a reminder of everything she selfishly snuffed out when she spoke the world-killing word. That would be so much more interesting to me, I think, than this situation where she's literally about to run off shrieking in fear and, presumably, flailing her arms above her head like a distressed muppet.

Uncle Andrew takes a moment to berate Jadis which again feels a bit like everyone's character sheets have been mixed up--is he meek and cowed and afraid of Jadis, or is he reckless and pompous and mouthy--but none of it contains new information or is interesting so it's safe to skip over. Uncle Andrew is silenced by the Cabby who tells him to "stow it" because he wants to listen to the song. Jadis says nothing in response to this underling wretch telling her off because... I don't know why. Seems like she would, but she doesn't. This entire portion honestly feels like an unnecessary repeat of earlier--Andrew tries to use Digory to leave and Jadis stops him--and I think should have been cut because nothing new is revealed.

   All this time the Lion’s song, and his stately prowl, to and fro, backward and forward, was going on. What was rather alarming was that at each turn he came a little nearer. Polly was finding the song more and more interesting because she thought she was beginning to see the connection between the music and the things that were happening. [...] When you listened to his song you heard the things he was making up: when you looked round you, you saw them. This was so exciting that she had no time to be afraid. But Digory and the Cabby could not help feeling a bit nervous as each turn of the Lion’s walk brought him nearer. As for Uncle Andrew, his teeth were chattering, but his knees were shaking so that he could not run away.

I'm pretty sure that the fear described here is supposed to be spiritual in nature. Andrew, as the worst and most sinful of the group (except Jadis, but we'll get to her in a moment--and it's already been established that she's afraid of the lion and his singing) is shaking in his boots. The Cabby and Digory, better men but still possessed of some sin, are mildly nervous. Polly is too enthralled by the lion to be scared, which would indicate she is the most sinless of them all, approaching the innocent child-like state of Lucy who of the four original children was always the closest to Aslan.

But spirituality aside, it's odd that the narrative so blithely lays out that it's "rather alarming" how the lion is coming closer as he sings. I mean, yes, he's a huge lion but this situation is already so far from the norm that it's hard for me to consider being scared of him as a normal occurrence that doesn't require explanation. The lion is *singing the universe into existence*, there's no real reason to assume that he's dangerous in the way earth-lions are, that is to say, in the teeth-and-claws sense. Even on earth there are photographers who are pretty chill about hanging out next to lions, because it turns out that lions aren't particularly dangerous to humans if you behave yourself. Less so than, say, hippos anyway. Hippos will fuck you up.

Lewis probably didn't know that lions aren't bloodthirsty monsters that attack anything which moves, but again I have to stress that the lion is *singing the universe into existence*. At this point, I would just accept that the thing which looks like a lion probably isn't an actual lion and I should not make assumptions about its future behavior. (And if Digory is scared, isn't escape as easy as putting a hand in a pocket?) But this is probably a nitpick when it seems clear that the fear in this scene is presumably meant to be spiritual, not practical, in nature.

   Suddenly the Witch stepped boldly out toward the Lion. It was coming on, always singing, with a slow, heavy pace. It was only twelve yards away. She raised her arm and flung the iron bar straight at its head.
   Nobody, least of all Jadis, could have missed at that range. The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass. The Lion came on. Its walk was neither slower nor faster than before; you could not tell whether it even knew it had been hit. Though its soft pads made no noise, you could feel the earth shake beneath their weight.
   The Witch shrieked and ran: in a few moments she was out of sight among the trees. Uncle Andrew turned to do likewise, tripped over a root, and fell flat on his face in a little brook that ran down to join the river. The children could not move. [...] When [the lion] had passed them and gone a few paces further it turned, passed them again, and continued its march eastward.

Insert muppet arm-flailing.

Uncle Andrew continues to berate Digory and demand his ring, which makes this the third (or fourth?) time this has happened without advancing the plot or revealing character. Vonnegut is rolling over in his grave in frustration, as am I. Digory reminds Uncle Andrew that he wanted to see other worlds, which isn't actually true. If we look back to Chapter 2, we receive this exchange:

   “You will keep on looking at everything from the wrong point of view,” said Uncle Andrew with a look of impatience. “Can’t you understand that the thing is a great experiment? The whole point of sending anyone into the Other Place is that I want to find out what it’s like.”
   “Well why didn’t you go yourself then?”
   Digory had hardly ever seen anyone look so surprised and offended as his Uncle did at this simple question. “Me? Me?” he exclaimed. “The boy must be mad! A man at my time of life, and in my state of health, to risk the shock and the dangers of being flung suddenly into a different universe? I never heard anything so preposterous in my life! Do you realize what you’re saying? Think what Another World means—you might meet anything—anything.”

Back to the scene, Uncle Andrew counters Digory's statement by pointing out that he is filthy from all the shenanigans, but admits that this place is "interesting" but that he would rather send a "big-game hunter" with a gun than explore it himself. The Cabby wanders off to tend to Strawberry the horse, which I thought he had already done / had been doing, while Polly and Digory castigate Andrew for wanting to shoot the lion, questioning whether the lion can even be harmed. They point out that the lamp-post hadn't done any harm to the lion.

   “With all her faults,” said Uncle Andrew, “that’s a plucky gel, my boy. It was a spirited thing to do.” He rubbed his hands and cracked his knuckles, as if he were once more forgetting how the Witch frightened him whenever she was really there.

Kinda feels like Lewis seems to be forgetting that the Witch "frightens" Uncle Andrew, given his behavior towards her in this chapter.

Polly, Digory, and Andrew notice that a lamp-post is "growing" in the ground where the iron bar fell. This is cute, I suppose, and works as an origin story for why there was a lamp-post in the forest where Lucy entered in LWW. I'm not sure it works very well logically as it raises questions when you think about it too hard. Why isn't anything else "growing" from the intruders, such as cotton from their clothes or goodness knows what when the Talking Animals later "plant" Uncle Andrew? Why is the creation guided by Aslan's thoughts and song, but then the land is so fertile that anything "planted" becomes an actual plant? (Later the children will plant toffee and grow a toffee tree.) But, again, this works on a very "vibes" level.

   It was a perfect little model of a lamp-post, about three feet high but lengthening, and thickening in proportion, as they watched it; in fact growing just as the trees had grown.
   “It’s alive too—I mean, it’s lit,” said Digory. And so it was; though of course, the brightness of the sun made the little flame in the lantern hard to see unless your shadow fell on it.
   “Remarkable, most remarkable,” muttered Uncle Andrew. “Even I never dreamed of Magic like this. We’re in a world where everything, even a lamppost, comes to life and grows. Now I wonder what sort of seed a lamp-post grows from?”
   “Don’t you see?” said Digory. “This is where the bar fell—the bar she tore off the lamp-post at home. It sank into the ground and now it’s coming up as a young lamp-post.” (But not so very young now; it was as tall as Digory while he said this.)

Uncle Andrew immediately sees opportunities the flavor of Capitalism.

   “That’s it! Stupendous, stupendous,” said Uncle Andrew, rubbing his hands harder than ever. “Ho, ho! They laughed at my Magic. That fool of a sister of mine thinks I’m a lunatic. I wonder what they’ll say now? I have discovered a world where everything is bursting with life and growth. Columbus, now, they talk about Columbus. But what was America to this? The commercial possibilities of this country are unbounded. Bring a few old bits of scrap iron here, bury ’em, and up they come as brand new railway engines, battleships, anything you please. They’ll cost nothing, and I can sell ’em at full prices in England. I shall be a millionaire. And then the climate! I feel years younger already. I can run it as a health resort. A good sanatorium here might be worth twenty thousand a year. Of course I shall have to let a few people into the secret. The first thing is to get that brute shot.”
   “You’re just like the Witch,” said Polly. “All you think of is killing things.”

This is nonsense, of course. Narnia doesn't work this way (as Aslan will explain later) and it's unclear how Andrew would bring the items back. (Obviously the rings have a limit on how the ripple effect works, since they only brought people--and a horse--over and not the carriage, the street, the homes, or anything else touching the children when they donned the rings in London.)

But it's... interesting nonsense, at least? I've been repeatedly frustrated by Andrew's sketchy characterization throughout the book. What motivates him? He earlier told Digory--and I think Andrew was the truth--that a mysterious relative gave him a dangerous box which contained fine dust. Andrew didn't know at first what the dust would do and had to teach himself a bit of magic, which involved a lot of unpleasant things done to him by unpleasant people. He's here now at the peak of this quest and... what has motivated him to do all these things?

We know he doesn't want to explore; he shuts down that idea multiple times. We know he isn't motivated by trying to make life better for people; he's dismissive later when Digory asks if Narnia might have something that would cure or at least alleviate his mother's (Andrew's sister) illness. Here it seems that he's motivated by the search of profit? Or, at least, the prospect of sudden material profit was enough to cause him to abandon or forget his previous motivations... whatever they were.

If all these years of preparation have been in search of profit, I guess that would make sense from Lewis' point of view. He's writing in the 1940s and 1950s from England, which has an extensive history of profitable colonialism. It's not like he knows that in 1969 men will walk on the moon for the first time without setting up health resorts and factories there. I can object that spending years of studying mysterious dust and learning magic from scratch--extremely unuseful magic, since we never see Andrew use his "magic" in any way except, presumably, to make the rings--seems like an onerous and unlikely source of profit, but clearly Andrew isn't supposed to be *smart*, so I guess that's the sum of his characterization: greedy, foolish, and cowardly. Why is he here? Well, I'm sorry to report that he will be the comic relief later. Oh dear.

Open Thread: October Hunt Moon

There are a lot of names for the monthly moons. As a Wiccan practitioner, my favorite name for the October full moon is the Hunter's Moon or the Hunting Moon. What's yours?

Open Threads are for socializing and sharing! What have you been reading / writing / listening / playing / watching lately? Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about.

Review: Depraved

by Harold Schechter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Depraved: The Shocking True Story of America's First Serial Killer / B0036QVPJ0

How is it that I live in Chicago and like learning about historical serial killers, but had never heard of H.H. Holmes until he was mentioned in a very terrible movie we watched while sick? Inconceivable, but Schechter is here to rectify my ignorance with "Depraved".

I say this every time but it bears repeating: I am a big fan of Harold Schechter's historical true crime books. While the questionable covers and book subtitles seem sometimes a little over-the-top, the actual contents of the books are top-notch in my opinion. Schechter writes in a very engaging style that is accessible to the audience, and handles the facts of the case in a chronological order as an easy-to-follow narrative. He is careful to cite his sources as he goes and is very clear when we encounter gaps in the record where we don't know what happened. Any speculation on his part is marked plainly and we are walked through the logical steps. I appreciate that in a crime author, as too many authors are willing to blur fact and fiction.

This book covers the life and death of H.H. Holmes, the first official serial killer of America. He was contemporary to Jack the Ripper (but not the same person) and you may have heard of him because he built a "castle" in Chicago that had all kinds of trapdoors and gas vents and acid pits until the city had to tear the thing down on account of it being (a) a notorious murder-pit and (b) so badly designed it was about to fall down anyway. They turned it into a post office, I think, which is kind of a delight to me: from about the worst possible building you can imagine to one of the most useful and good.

This book is fascinating for all the usual reasons a Schechter book is good: lots of historical detail and background and I learned a lot about the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, which I was not expecting to learn about. Very interesting stuff! But Holmes is also interesting from a serial killer perspective because he doesn't really fit the usual mold. A lot of his victims were close to him before their deaths, mostly mistresses and various business associates. His motives tended to be selfish ones that centered around money, either keeping it (from the mistresses) or making it (at least one business associate was murdered as part of a life insurance scam). He is a very different sort of serial killer from, say, Earle Nelson and the usual image of a stranger who picks out someone to die merely for personal gratification.

All the usual trigger warnings apply here: Holmes was a serial killer who targeted people who were close to him, especially women, and did not hesitate to kill children if he thought they would be a witness against him or a loose end. He additionally liked to make money off his victims by selling their skeletons to medical colleges, which was horrifying to read about. (If I understand correctly, all the skeletons were eventually recovered and given a proper burial when he was caught, which was a relief.) There's also discussion of alcoholism here, since Holmes' business associate struggled with alcohol abuse.

If you're interested in historical true crime and/or serial killers, you definitely want to read this book. There's a lot out there about Holmes but since he was a grandiose liar who liked to exaggerate his own misdeeds, the truthfulness is hard to gauge. Schechter does the hard work of sifting through the claims and presenting what is definitely true, what is completely false, and all the in-between claims and how likely they are.

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: Fatal

Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial KillerFatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer
by Harold Schechter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fatal: The Poisonous Life of a Female Serial Killer / B009NHBJJ2

I am a very big fan of Harold Schechter's historical true crime books. While the questionable covers and book subtitles seem sometimes a little over-the-top, the actual contents of the books are top-notch in my opinion. Schechter writes in a very engaging style that is accessible to the audience, and handles the facts of the case in a chronological order as an easy-to-follow narrative. He is careful to cite his sources as he goes and is very clear when we encounter gaps in the record where we don't know what happened. Any speculation on his part is marked plainly and we are walked through the logical steps. I appreciate that in a crime author, as too many authors are willing to blur fact and fiction.

This book covers the life and death of serial killer Jane Toppan, an "angel of death" serial killer who targeted her patients as a nurse, as well as occasional friends and family members. On the topic of female serial killers of the time period who used poison as their weapon of choice (who knew that was such a large category? Not me!) the book also devotes some time to the chronicles of Lydia Sherman and Sarah Jane Robinson, in order to set-up commonalities and compare and contrast their methods and motives. (And we get to read the newspapers' breathless comparisons to Lucretia Borgia, which was of course terribly unfair to her since she probably never poisoned anybody! #historical pet peeves, I guess.)

The usual trigger warnings apply for this book, being about serial killers after all, including sexual assault of victims and child death. There's also the added aspect here of patient-nurse abuse and targeting sick and elderly victims. I really appreciate Schechter as an author because he treats these delicate topics with care and respect, and affords the victims dignity; he isn't crass or irreverent or flippant like some crime authors are.

One of the things I enjoy about Schechter's books is the historical context. Toppan operated in a time when arsenic was available over-the-counter at general stores as rat poison, and when autopsies after death were the exception rather than the rule. A shocking number of her victims were chalked up to various illnesses--even ones that hadn't previously been diagnosed in the patients before--and it's a wonder whether or not she would have been caught if she hadn't gotten sloppy and started going after young healthy people in the prime of their lives. The details on how bodies were examined for poison in the early 1900s were especially interesting to me; her victims were autopsied *after* the bodies had been embalmed, which complicated the situation since the embalming process used arsenic.

If you're interested in historical true crime, or if you'd like to read more about female serial killers (which are of course considered a rarity... but this book convincingly argues that maybe they shouldn't be) then this is an excellent read that I highly recommend. Oh! There's also a really interesting dive into the assassination of President McKinley and how utterly terribly the medical personnel handled the situation, none of which I'd ever heard of before, so that was VERY interesting to learn from this rather unexpected source.

~ Ana Mardoll

Review: Bestial

Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American MonsterBestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster
by Harold Schechter

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster / B00383YJFI

I am a very big fan of Harold Schechter's historical true crime books. While the questionable covers and book subtitles seem sometimes a little over-the-top, the actual contents of the books are top-notch in my opinion. Schechter writes in a very engaging style that is accessible to the audience, and handles the facts of the case in a chronological order as an easy-to-follow narrative. He is careful to cite his sources as he goes and is very clear when we encounter gaps in the record where we don't know what happened. Any speculation on his part is marked plainly and we are walked through the logical steps. I appreciate that in a crime author, as too many authors are willing to blur fact and fiction.

This book covers the life and death of serial killer Earle Leonard Nelson (sometimes known as Ferral instead of Nelson) and styled in the press as "The Gorilla Man" and "The Dark Strangler". Nelson is believed to have murdered at least 22 people and to have perhaps attacked twice that number, and holds the dubious honor of "third most prolific serial killer in American history." Most modern readers have never heard of him, and I certainly hadn't, so this was a very interesting and engaging read. (Wikipedia tells me he was a source of inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock's 1943 film "Shadow of a Doubt". Who knew? Not me.)

I never quite know how to trigger warn on books that are about serial killers, because obviously the material in here is going to be pretty grim, but I should note that Nelson's crimes included sexual assault and he also killed a few children who crossed his path, so be aware of that if you have associated triggers. I will say that one of the reasons I like Schechter so much as an author is because he handles delicate topics with care and isn't irreverent or flippant or jokey about the victims. He gives them grace and dignity, which I appreciate.

Another aspect I like about this book is seeing the historical context of detective work. I hadn't realized that fingerprinting crime scenes was something already doable in the 1920s; for some reason, I had thought that came later in the timeline. It's interesting to see how serial killing of Nelson's sort was only possible once cars became widespread; he had to stay mobile and move from town to town in order to keep from being caught. The witness statements are surprising in their detail (people used to pay more attention to clothes back in the day, or police were better trained to elicit detail from memory??) and the police are... well, some of them are good, and some of them kept insisting that women were committing suicide and stuffing their own dead bodies into trunks. So, you know, a mixed bag of competency. I did find it interesting that Nelson might not have been caught if he hadn't fled to Canada: he didn't know the words and mannerisms to keep from being identified as an American, so he wasn't able to blend in the way he'd done in America.

If you like historical true crime at all, I really recommend this book as a fascinating deep-dive into a strange man who really did seem to be some sort of real life Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

~ Ana Mardoll

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