Tag Archives: writing

Kinds of Poetry – Tolkien vs. Jackson

Jackson apparently thinks the characters Tolkien gives us are too simply good to be fully believable to modern audiences, and so he feels obligated to “complicate” them, to give them internal conflicts other than the ones they actually have, in the hopes that we will better be able to relate to them.

I’m quoting from this article in the Nov/Dec 2013 Touchstone Magazine, in which Donald T. Williams explains how literature, while delighting us with its art, is more powerful than history or philosophy to nurture our moral vision, or to corrupt us with false images.

With the help of quotes from Sir Philip Sidney, who wrote Apology for Poetry in the sixteenth century, he shows how “Tolkien was very consciously and deliberately following the literary tradition that flows down to us from Sidney through Dr. Johnson and C. S. Lewis.”

Peter Jackson the filmmaker seems to be flowing in a different stream. But he is an artist, and of course will impart his own soul to his work. I wouldn’t expect him to give us The Rings, because that has already been done, and he is not J.R.R. Tolkien. But it is unfortunate that he has changed things to the degree and in the directions he has. Williams points out specific ways in which the characters who inspired us in the books disappoint us in the movies, and makes these general remarks:

By this process of negative moral transformation, in other words, we reach the place where beloved characters are unrecognizable to Tolkien’s fans, and those fans feel betrayed. And they are right to feel so, though mostly they do not understand why. It is because the difference between the books and the movies is not just one of necessary adaptation to a different medium. It is that the author consciously followed the Sidneyan tradition while the adaptor is either ignorant of it or doesn’t understand it or has rejected it.

Read the whole article here.

Mountain Air – smoke and writing

GJ in the Tuolumne River

I returned this week from a solitary trip to the mountains, where I stayed in a cabin off the grid for four nights. I could easily write a book about my five days of journeying and lodging, probably a philosophical novel. Or would it be a how-to treatise with packing lists and suggested activities and prayers?

I’m always saying, “I could write a book about ____.” And it just occurred to me that I am always writing, as I endlessly analyze events as to their significance, and organize my thoughts, composing and reworking the lines in my mind. If I have a pencil or keyboard handy and hands free I might scribble down some of it, often in a notebook or in the margin of the book I’m reading. But the process has begun long before that.

It wouldn’t be a lie exactly, when people ask me what I do, to say, “I write.” Because I’m a process-oriented type, I can’t see a book ever resulting from my work, but no pressure — no one is clamoring for a discussion of the things in my pocket or the interrelatedness of the last ten books I read.

I thought I might do some sort of scribbling during my getaway, but I didn’t make much visible progress on my “books.” Many things that are fascinating to my self-centered self consumed my hours and my thoughts, and I do want to reflect on some of that here, hopefully without rambling on and on.

Evening with brown haze in north

Today I just want to mention one sad thing about my experience: Smoke. The brown cinders from that horrid Rim Fire, the largest wildfire on record in the Sierra Nevada, had drifted south and made the air murky around Our Lake. One day was so bad that my eyes and throat and head hurt from the pollution. But I didn’t have to come home early, because it cleared up a little by the next morning.

Another bad air day

I can’t imagine what the landscape will look like, the next time we visit our beloved Yosemite and drive through the scorched forests. One thing I know: On August 25th the fire destroyed the Berkeley City Camp Tuolumne where my sisters and I as children vacationed with our grandparents.

It has been many decades since I did water ballet in that swimming hole in the Tuolumne River, or even visited the camp, and it won’t change my life that it is wiped out. But what a heartache for the people who spent dozens of formative summers in the context of that special place, and those for whom the rustic cabin life in an idyllic setting was a very recent tradition and expectation. I’m very thankful it was only smoke that invaded our family’s lake and village.

Camp Tuolumne in the old days

I consider my difficulties.


My current difficulties stem from these realities:

1) The world is so full of a number of things
    I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

This rhyme has played in my head a million times since I learned it as a little girl. Maybe even then I suspected in my childish way the layers of truth in the sing-song, the irony of too-muchness.

2) I have been traveling a lot, and that brings me into contact with even more numbers of “things,” like real people, people in books, ideas in books, and new places I’ve visited. This summer, for example, I sat on airplanes for more than ten hours, and many of those hours were spent in the company of Alain de Botton as I read his book The Art of Travel. As I drifted off to sleep at night in a house not my own, I was soaking up the coastal delights of George Howe Colt’s childhood summer place, The Big House.

In the spaces between these literary adventures my more physical self was learning to reach right instead of left for a stirring spoon, and to relax in the hot tub of the Eastern summer atmosphere.

3) I need — o.k., I feel the need! — to write about at least some of the experiences in order to process the information and be restored from the overload/exhaustion of so much excitement. As Alain and I were musing together over the meaning of our travels, I scribbled notes in the margins and made a list in the back of the book of all the blog post ideas that were generated from our “discussion.” Every night for a week or two I have spent at least fifteen minutes writing and rewriting in my mind, in the dark, my review of the Colt book.

Even Archimandrite Sophrony is reported to have said, “Arrange whatever pieces come your way.” I don’t know what the context of this quote was, but the urge is a basic, human, compelling one, and applies to just about everything I know.

The Milky Way

4) When I am on the trip, just returned from a trip, or packing my bags and boxes to set off again, there is less time than ever for this kind of writing, and also less mental energy. When I hear Thomas Mann say, “A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people,” I feel that I am certainly one of those. I could coin my own saying: “A homemaker-writer with a large family is somebody for whom writing is even more more more difficult than it is for other people.”

I hope I am not complaining, by using the word difficulties. I could say challenges, or pieces. Or thoughts, as in “Bring every thought captive to Christ.” In my mind I have more challenging pieces of thoughts and prayers and connections to be made than there are dust bunnies floating up and down the stairs.

This morning it all seemed too much, as I add another item to the list of things that make us happy as kings: We are going to the cabin! There will be stimulating conversation on the way, as our numbers will be doubled by the presence of our dear Art and Herm. (That will add pieces, to be sure.)

Stars will shine crisply in the black sky at night, and in the mornings chipmunks will scurry in the brush below the house. Humans will eat cookies and bacon and drink coffee on the deck while we watch the hummingbirds squabble, and we’ll paddle our canoe quietly over the lake.

(Past posts about our Sierra cabin: 2009  2010  and  2011 )

Though I have picked up only a few pieces here to tie in my bundle, it’s been quite comforting. Now I can face my lists of more practical things like dinner menus, shopping needs, and what to put in my book bag. That won’t be too difficult.

Grandma didn’t make pesto.


My grandma of renown was no slacker, and she was the person who taught me by example how to prepare for a trip. When my sisters and I stayed with her in summertime, we usually went with Grandma and Grandpa on a week’s outing to a cabin or camp in the mountains.

Everything was ship-shape on the home front when we drove off early enough in the morning to have breakfast at the Tracy Inn on the way. There was not a speck of dust on the furniture, and the beds had been made up with fresh sheets as soon as we were out of them. Certainly Grandma would have made sure that Grandpa deadheaded his prizewinning flowers.

Liam, whom I’ll see tomorrow!

But Grandma would never have thought to drive down the state to visit one grandchild for a few nights, and then turn around to fly across the country the very next week to sojourn with a passel of other grandchildren for more than two weeks. The way I am doing. I have to keep reminding myself that in a myriad of ways I am not Grandma.

I am blessed to the point of unbelief having so many grandchildren, and Grandma only had a few of us whom she saw twice a year. Grandma didn’t do the gardening, and she didn’t write any blog posts, though I daresay the wonderful letters she wrote are worth more per hour invested than what I put out.

If there had been basil growing in the back yard, I know she would have arranged things so that the pesto was made at least a couple of days before departure, giving her time to sweep and mop the kitchen and get to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. She wouldn’t be complaining, because she liked traveling and had Everything Under Control.

Not me. I have mostly been whining about everything, including the reality of all the work undone and how I hate leaving home. I was standing at the sink this afternoon whimpering as I pulled leaves off stems, when it hit me that making pesto is one of my most favorite things to do. How wonderful is it that I have a garden that grows basil, from which a woman can create one of the wonders of the culinary world?

And the people in my life — oh, my! Preparing for and going on trips with my grandma was one of the happiest activities of my childhood. She was so good to provide that for us. Hugging and holding my children and grandchildren is necessary food for the maintenance of cup-running-over happiness. Right now I don’t really care if the floor is still dirty and the bed unmade (and a hundred other negatives I won’t waste time listing even to myself) when I drive off tomorrow morning. What do you know — I’m not Grandma!

If Grandma had been washing basil and found a Japanese beetle in the sink, she’d have said, “Tch, tch!” with disgust, but I saw it as a photo opportunity. I could feel this way because this summer I’m not growing green beans. Japanese beetles have ravaged many a crop of green beans here, and in the past I developed a quickness in squishing them between my fingers.

Grandma would not have written a letter or recipe or anything the night before a trip. But writing is also one of my favorite things to do. So here I am.

I see that I blogged about pesto three years ago without giving my recipe, so I will put it up this time:

PESTO
3 cups packed basil leaves
2 large cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts 
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
 

Mix in the food processor, adding the oil and cheese at the last. Add more salt if you like, or more oil if you need it to be runnier. I’ve had this keep for weeks in the fridge, and years in the freezer, and still be flavorful.

It’s probably easy to guess what is another favorite activity I will indulge in before the sun goes down: gardening. I need to spread some manure around where I thinned the perennials yesterday. Maybe I will run out of energy to clean up all the basil-tinged oil smeared around the kitchen before I fall into bed, but it’s very comforting to have a few little tubs of that tasty stuff in the freezer when we haven’t even got to August.

Grandma wouldn’t understand my style of housekeeping, but she would love me anyway.