Tag Archives: beowulf

Jack Kirby is Still King!

thor

I loved this tribute from playwright John Ostrander:

What makes Jack Kirby the King? For me, it’s this.

Imagination – The word “prodigious” comes to mind. So many concepts, so many characters, bear his mark. So many styles of stories. From the spires of Asgard to the weird distortions of the Negative Zone to the brutal cityscapes of Apokolips, to Ego the Living Planet, no one could top his visuals.

Storytelling – His figures leaped off the page. The panels couldn’t contain the events on them. Even standing still, they vibrated with potential power. There was energy to burn on his pages. You felt them as much as you read them. You couldn’t read the story fast enough and when one issue was done you wanted the next one right now.

Artistry – Okay, his anatomy was not always perfect. And every woman’s face looked the same. He was still one of the best ARTISTS that ever drew a comic because comics are about storytelling and no one beat Kirby as a storyteller.

The featured image is a scan from my copy of The Mighty Thor # 159, from December, 1968. It’s a perfect example of the barely contained power that animates all of Jack Kirby’s illustrations. You can feel the tension in this scene: Thor, despite his earth-shattering might, approaches his father Odin with the most profound respect — and more than a little bit of fear. As well he should: Odin could rage and roar like no other monarch in comicdom.

I have no doubt Marvel Comics in its Silver Age strongly influenced me. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby definitely expanded my vocabulary, often forcing me to set my latest comic down to riffle through the dictionary to discover the meaning of what I’d just read. And the high quality of the stories and characterization I encountered in those comics, as well as the heroic subject matter, whetted my appetite in grade and high school for Beowulf, Shakespeare, science, and history.

Side note on the scanned picture of Thor: At the tender age of 31, barely a year after getting married, I sold my comic book collection. My wife and I needed money for a down payment on a house, and the stern lesson of 1 Corinthians recited at our wedding still reverberated in my ear: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

So it was time to let go of Spiderman, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men. But I held on to three of my favorite issues of Thor. I’ve found the best way to move forward is to hold on to a few pieces of a beloved past.

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The shock of the old

irish-statue

In the introduction to his translation of Beowulf, Irish poet Seamus Heaney recalls his surprise when he learned the odd-looking Anglo-Saxon word þole (pronounced “thole”) wasn’t really alien:

I gradually realized that it was not strange at all, for it was the word that older and less educated people would have used in the country where I grew up. “They’ll just have to learn to thole,” my aunt would say about some family who had suffered an unforeseen bereavement. And now suddenly here was “thole” in the official textual world, mediated through the apparatus of a scholarly editon, a little bleeper to remind me that my aunt’s language was not just a self-enclosed family possession but an historical heritage, one that involved the journey þolian had made north into Scotland and then across into Ulster with the planters and then across from the planters to the locals who had originally spoken Irish and then farther across again when the Scots Irish emigrated to the American South in the eighteenth century. When I read in John Crowe Ransom the line “Sweet ladies, long may ye bloom, and toughly I hope ye may thole,” my heart lifted again, the world widened, something was furthered.

Learning and reading definitely widen and further one’s contact with the world. Literature, by making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, challenges us to see the world with new eyes. Recognizing an active past in our present world gives us a new dimension of life desperately needed in a live-for-the-moment consumerist society. And seeing one’s culture blossom in distant parts of the globe makes those faraway places seem a bit closer.

For more on the defining influence the Celts exerted on the South, check out Grady McWhiney’s Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways In The Old South.

The British Library

Isaac NewtonSir Isaac Newton memorial at the British Library.

Wish you could explore the world’s largest library whenever you wanted? Imagine being able to leaf through ancient books, view online exhibitions, and feast your eyes on some of Britain’s most treasured objects. Can you think of a better way to inspire your next story?

You can do just that, and you don’t have to leave home. This resource pretty much tumbled into my lap in the form of an email request from the British Library:

Hello Mike,

My name is Bryn Roberts and I’m contacting you on behalf of the British Library. I noticed recently that you have a mention of Bald’s Leechbook on the following page: https://mctuggle.com/2015/03/31/the-1000-year-old-solution/

This text is now featured as one of our online exhibits, available for all to browse on our website: http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/illmanus/harlmanucoll/m/011hrl000000055u00001000.html

The manuscript is unique and sadly can no longer be handled very often due to its partly damaged state, which means it crumbles upon contact. Viewing the document electronically is now the most viable approach for those interested in it, and we have made it available to all via our website.

We would be very grateful if you could include a link to it in your article so your readers can access the original version and discover the text for themselves.

Do you think this might be possible?

Many thanks for your time.

Kind Regards,

Bryn Roberts

How could anyone refuse such an elegant and polite request? I updated my original post on the rediscovery of medical cures from the time of Beowulf. Since that post is nearly a year old (that’s ancient history on the Internet) I thought I’d also link the address in today’s post. Enjoy!

Why ‘The Force Awakens’ Is the ‘Star Wars’ Movie We Needed

Joseph CampbellReprint of Campbell’s classic with Luke Skywalker on the cover.

Some folks have criticized The Force Awakens for drawing too heavily on Star Wars: A New Hope. Writing in The Rolling Stone, David Ehrlich argues that these critics are missing the point. In The Force Awakens, Abrams is “making new” a tale that inspires and excites with each retelling:

The original 1977 movie was innovative in many respects, but it was derivative by design. In creating a galaxy far, far away, Lucas effectively draped his imagination over a constellation of yarns so familiar that they seem to have spun from the marrow of our bones. Its alchemy is nothing if not well documented: A New Hope combined the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress with the widescreen scale of Lawrence of Arabia and the Saturday morning spectacle of serials like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. With his 20th-century influences well in hand, Lucas then poured them like molten metal into the iron mold of the hero’s journey as laid out by Joseph Campbell, who traced the origins of modern narrative arcs back to the beginning of civilization. “I wanted a contemporary version of the myth and the fairy tale,” Lucas said in a Los Angeles Times interview published days before Star Wars first hit theaters in 1977.

Whether we’re talking about Beowulf, the Iliad, or Indiana Jones, such stories resonate because, as Ehrlich puts it, “they seem to have spun from the marrow of our bones.” Campbell stripped the heroic myth down to its barest essentials:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The heroic myth, then, is about leaving behind what was once comforting and familiar, confronting new challenges, and finding one’s place in a world that has changed in many ways, some good, some bad. But the hero now knows he can survive and thrive in that world. Sounds like growing up, doesn’t it?

The 1,000-year-old solution

Anglo Saxon helmet

My father is in a nursing home, and a couple of weeks ago, we had a bad scare when he was exposed to methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA. It’s a “superbug” that sneers at modern antibiotics. Fortunately, Dad responded well to the treatment and is doing well — but he’s being watched in case it flares up again.

MRSA is the scourge of nursing homes. So this BBC News story caught my eye:

Scientists recreated a 9th Century Anglo-Saxon remedy using onion, garlic and part of a cow’s stomach.

They were “astonished” to find it almost completely wiped out methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, otherwise known as MRSA.

Their findings will be presented at a national microbiology conference. …

The remedy was found in Bald’s Leechbook – an old English manuscript containing instructions on various treatments held in the British Library.

The leechbook is one of the earliest examples of what might loosely be called a medical textbook

It seems Anglo-Saxon physicians may actually have practised something pretty close to the modern scientific method, with its emphasis on observation and experimentation.

Bald’s Leechbook could hold some important lessons for our modern day battle with anti-microbial resistance.

How about that? A home remedy from the time of Beowulf works better than any of our over-priced, hyper-marketed pharmaceuticals.

What Did Tolkien Think of Fantasy Fiction?

TolkienSignature

Nicola Alter has a great piece on J.R.R. Tolkien at Thoughts on Fantasy. Anyone who admires Tolkien will enjoy this review of his special genius and unique contribution to fantasy fiction. As Alter says:

People often forget that Tolkien was also a linguist and a poet and a university professor. He invented new languages. He wrote literary essays, many of which discuss his work. He was a friend of fellow fantasy author C.S. Lewis, and the two were members of the same informal literary discussion group.

Tolkien was not only writing amazing fantasy novels, he was also reflecting on his own work and on the fantasy genre itself. One of Tolkien’s famous essays is called On Fairy Stories (Tolkien called “fairy stories” what we would today call “fantasy”) – a speech he wrote and then later published.

I read On Fairy Stories several years ago for an essay I was writing, and recently revisited it to answer a related question on Quora. When I did, I was once again astounded by the eloquence and intelligence of this man. It struck me that in its fledging years, as the fantasy genre was growing in popularity, it couldn’t have had a better champion. He was not just someone writing brilliant fantasy, but also someone analysing it, promoting it, and defending it against critics who dismissed it as useless or escapist or literature fit only for children.

I’m presently reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s commentary on his translation of Beowulf. Not only does Tolkien deliver an energetic and loving rendition of this classic adventure, he also shares his insights into the rich and vigorous culture that produced it. As the poet W.H. Auden once declared, encountering Tolkien’s long-sighted and perceptive observations on Beowulf is an “unforgettable experience.”

And it still is.

Better than you remembered

“In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is beacause there is a mystery in all great writing and that mystery does not dissect out. It continues and it is always valid. Each time you re-read you see or learn something new.” ― Ernest Hemingway

Fred on the Head has posed an interesting question: Do you re-read?

To this I can only plead: Guilty.

There are about a dozen works I find myself returning to, and for exactly the reason Hemingway cites above. In fact, three of Hemingway’s works are on my list: The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Killers, and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber. For me, they never lose their power to amaze and teach. Even when my intention is to analyze, I end up getting lured in once again by the robust narrative.

Mishima’s Patriotism leaves me reeling each time I experience it. What a show: breathtaking eroticism and rapturous prose made all the more vivid and potent by the blunt reality of sepukku. Whoa.

Among the classics, I keep returning to A Midsummer’s Night Dream and Beowulf more than any of the others. And I’m in the process of travelling to Mordor once again with the Fellowship of the Ring. I’ve almost finished The Two Towers, and am just as carried away by Tolkien’s imaginative world-building as the first time I experienced him.

All good friends I could never get tired of.