Being the Ongoing Chronicle of the Anticks, Misadventures, and Odd Deeds of an Overalls-clad Wanderer.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

My Best of 2004, plus some other Divers Stuffe.

Since I continue to exist in the current pattern of "Doo de doo de doo, I got nothin' to say", I'm going to pre-announce my next disappearance for two or three days. This will be the last post of 2004. But some other business calls, before I turn out the lights and head out.

2004 in Review


On a personal level, 2004 was quite the roller-coaster. I began the year unemployed, but within weeks of the year beginning, I was hired at The Store, and in terms of working, I'm the happiest I've ever been, at any of my previous jobs. It's not the work I'm doing that I love -- cleaning stuff and changing garbage cans really isn't the stuff of Romance, after all -- but The Store is just an amazing place to be, because of the amazing people that populate it. I've made real friends there -- not just "workplace friends", even though there are a slew of them and there's nothing at all wrong with that, but a handful of the "lifetime friend" variety. Any year in which one starts out in January with X lifetime friends, and reaches December with (X + 3) lifetime friends or whatever, is a good year.

The other major event for me (and my family, obviously) in 2004 was the birth of Little Quinn. Parenthood, especially new parenthood, is supposed to be terrifying, but not in the way that Quinn's birth was, or in the way his life is likely to be in the months and years to come. They say that when times are bad is when you find out who your friends really are, and I certainly agree with that; but I'm lucky in that I found this out in the positive sense.

Oh, what else? Not much, really. I obviously didn't get published in 2004, because writing sort of fell off (but didn't end completely, thank God). I'm sure that I'll continue to write, but I have to admit that right now, the drive to produce stories until I break through isn't there. I want to produce stories, all right, but I care less now -- quite a bit less, actually -- about whether I ever "make it" as a writer. I'll still be trying, but it'll be more on the level of a game than anything else.

A Writing Announcement


Apropos of what I've just said, I've decided, as was suggested a while back, to serialize The Promised King in blog format. My plan is to post two chapters per month, which seems to me sustainable but not drawn-out to the point of tedium. I'll have a URL in the next couple of days. I'm still ironing out the template I'll be using. Yes, putting the thing online for free may well hobble the book's chances of ever seeing "print" publishing, but as the book is a first novel by an unknown, its chances of seeing print were never all that good anyway, and at this point, having lived with this story for a long time, I just want it to be read.

The Blog


Another year, another twelve months with no Instalanches, links from Atrios, or any of the other really "heavy hitters" of Blogistan. But I'm fine with that, having developed a fairly diverse, if small, readership. I hope that continues. I don't mind at all gaining readers two or three at a time, over a period of months. Like Stephen King said about the Great Wall of China, it was built one brick at a time. Of course, since this is a blog and all, I'm not sure what (if anything) I'm building, but whatever it is, I'm doing it one reader at a time. I expect 2005 to bring more of the usual here: posts about whatever strikes my fancy at any given moment. (Expect a significant dose of High Geekiness in late May, though. The arrival of the last-ever Star Wars movie will undoubtedly set me to posting all manner of geeky stuff.)

Finally, below I list links to some of my favorite posts from the year gone by. If you're somehow new to this blog and want to know what makes me tick, this roster of posts is pretty illustrative of that (along with the "Notable Dispatches" section of the sidebar). Thanks to everyone who read Byzantium's Shores this year, and I hope you'll continue to do so. This is, after all, the one, true Buffalo blog. (I had to get that in there, right?)

Notable Dispatches from 2004


Diary of a Ring

How to Tell If He Is Interested

How to Tell If She Is Interested

Comic Book Babes

Stuff I've Done (A List-post)

Give Iowa a Try

Being Tired at Work

Sausage!

My Reading Rules for Good Fiction

Ten-plus Books That Made Me Who I Am

My Workspace

Food: I Like It

Why I Like The Apprentice

Dances With Wolves Revisited

Public Service Announcement: How to Use Knives

Why Byzantium's Shores?

In Memoriam: Christopher Reeve

In Memoriam: Howard Keel

Posts about Little Quinn:
The First Post

They Come With Hats

Homecoming

Little Quinn's Early Days, revisited

Quinn's Best Moment (so far)

Happy New Year, Blogistan and people in Real Space. See you in 2005.

The Incomprehensibility of So Much Death

In the wake of the horror of the tsunami disaster in Asia -- and a horror it is indeed, one in which in the wake of all our own problems which we've created, we're suddenly given a massive reminder that Mother Nature can slap us around any damn time she wants to -- I keep seeing a lot of comments about how so much death is inconceivable. And I guess it really is, but for a couple of visual ways to see it, try this. The death toll right now, as I write this, is held to be around 120,000 people.

Here's a picture of what appears to be a sold-out Madison Square Garden (approximately 20,000 people). And here's a picture of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA, which has seated over 100,000 in the past (although apparently a recent reconfiguration of seating has reduced capacity to around 92,000).

Imagine every seat in both venues, filled. And then imagine every person filling those seats, wiped away by the surging waters of the Indian Ocean.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Unexpected Kindness

A coworker of mine did something for my family and I, either today or yesterday, that came as a complete surprise and for which I am unimaginably grateful. Problem is, I don't know which coworker it was, and I don't know if I'll be able to find out, or even if I should. And I don't know if that coworker reads this blog -- very likely not, but I don't know.

Nevertheless, if you're out there, thank you.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Brief Notes

Since I've punked out on the Image of the Week and the Burst of Weirdness for nearly an entire month now, I've decided to go ahead and make it an official month. Both features will return in January, probably on the 9th. You have been warned.

I am also still leaning toward setting up a new blog, where I would serialize the Damned Novel, one chapter at a time. In fact, I'm so strongly leaning toward doing this that I've just spent an hour or two dinking around with my photo editing software, creating a map of sorts of the locations of the book. (And in the course of doing so, I'm discovering that my graphic design skills suck beyond all measure. This map looks like total crap, but it should get the job done.)

And finally, here's one of those "Randomize the MP3 player" thingies that I haven't done in a while, because I was reminded of it when I checked out Rox Populi earlier today:

1. "Qui Gon and Darth Maul Meet" from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
2. "Bug Tunnel and Death Trap" from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
3. "The Flag Parade" from Star Wars Episode I
4. "Gaston's Decision" from Gigi
5. "Mr. Rance" from Road to Perdition
6. "Opening" from Gigi
7. "Blowin' In the Wind" performed by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir
8. "Kyrie Eleison" from Bless the Child
9. "The John Dunbar Theme" from Dances With Wolves
10. "Where or When" performed by Frank Sinatra

As usual, I'm surprised by the presence of multiple tracks from the same album -- twice, in this case -- from a randomizing of over a thousand MP3s. In practice, I never use the randomizer, but it's a fun diversion for blogging purposes. I think. Or maybe it isn't. Hmmm....

A Triumphant Return

After months of silence, Michelle of The Apprentice Contrarian has started posting again. This is a good thing, as I've been waiting to hear what she thinks of the latest GGK novel.

(Although, I must admit that I am considering removing Michelle from my blogroll, and salting the earth wherever she walks, for alerting me to the existence of this CD. Fell deeds awake--!)

Thousands of voices, suddenly silenced....

Matthew Yglesias is horrified at the numbers killed in the tsunami wave disasters in Asia, and rightly so. He's also mind-boggled at the numbers -- over 10,000 at last report. Since he also reports that he was just at Madison Square Garden, it shouldn't be too hard to envision. MSG has a seating capacity of somewhere around 20,000 people. So all one has to do is envision a sellout crowd at MSG -- and then envision half of those being wiped out.

This, by the way, makes me think of something I've mentioned before: what if the terrorists had launched their attacks not on 9-11-01, but on 9-09-01, the first day of the 2001 NFL season? With four sold-out NFL stadiums as their targets? The body count thereof would have made what actually did happen look paltry by comparison.

YO! Over here!

Another major Upstate New York newspaper, this time the Syracuse Post Standard (a paper I enjoyed reading during the six-month Syracuse Experiment, and whose website I still check four or five times a week, mainly to see how DestinyUSA is coming along*), does an article profiling bloggers from the region -- and omits the one, true Buffalo blog. Which makes me wonder just how these writers do their research, since they clearly aren't Googling Buffalo blog, because we all know that if they actually were Googling Buffalo blog, they'd actually find the one, true Buffalo blog. Harumph.

OK, self-serving Google-bombing aside, it's a pretty good article of the "Hey, look ma! We got blogs in our neighborhood!" variety. I didn't realize that NYCO was still being updated; I used to link it when I think it had a different domain (it might have even been on BlogSpot), but then it fell silent. Clearly that's because of a switch to Movable Type. And it's neat that two of the blogs profiled in the article, Alan's Buffalo Pundit and Craig's BUFFALOg, both link the one, true Buffalo blog.

Congrats to both of them on their news mentions. There's lots of good blogging going on in Buffalo.

(* DestinyUSA, the mega-mall resort thing that's been on the drawing board in Syracuse since something like 1943, is still on the drawing board. But now there's financing for something that could be the first stage of construction on parking for the thing. Or something like that.)

A Very Public Service Message.

To all purveyors of viruses, spyware, malware, and other pain-in-the-ass stuff out there:

When you folks die and find yourselves standing before the Pearly Gates, I hope you enjoy the brief glimpse of Heaven you get before St. Peter pulls the lever that opens the trapdoor that sends you plunging down, down, down, down, down into a vast pit filled with a blend of equal portions rhinocerous urine, cat dung, and Cheez Whiz, whereupon you will spend Eternity meditating on the fact that your oh-so-clever bits of hackery required me to spend time on Christmas Day searching the Net for reasons as to why I can't get the Daughter's two new computer games to install. Because that's how I want to spend the most important family holiday of the year: Googling Windows error messages to find out what they mean.

And here's a question for you pieces of human excrement: what do you tell people that you do, anyway? I mean, if they press you for details on your job? Surely you don't actually admit that you write spyware. Surely you know that such an admission would likely get you punched in the nose more than once, depending on how many people are in earshot and how long it takes the whispers of "Hey, that fat guy by the snack table, the one who keeps double-dipping his chips, just said that he writes spyware for a living!" to whip around the room, thus lowering the ambient temperature by fifteen degrees within mere seconds. So what do you guys say, anyway?

Thank you for your attention.

Things By Which One Could Set One's Watch, #8943

When any film composer receives an important public honor, such as an Oscar award or, as in the case of John Williams, an appearance at the Kennedy Center Honors, sooner or later someone on the FSM message boards plays the "Jerry Goldsmith never got the honors he deserved" card. It's a clockwork occurence that would have entranced Johannes Kepler.

Make a Joyful Sound....

Christmas has come and gone. It's amazing to me, really, how no holiday manages to pack more unbridled joy and colossal disappointment into a single 24-hour period as does Christmas. The trick, as always, is to try to remember the joy and forget the disappointment, which is no mean trick indeed since we puny humans are so gifted at clutching our disappointments and holding them close, as if they are the stuff of Linus's blanket. So instead of focusing on the fact that a lake-effect snowstorm at the exact moment when we were due to head out for our annual Christmas Eve candlelit church service forced us to turn back, or on the fact that circumstances beyond our control forced us to go without a tree this year and to postpone the exchange of gifts between the Wife and I until next week sometime -- a scenario which we managed to avoid even when I was unemployed -- I shall try to remember that most unique of Christmas joys, namely, the peal of a young child's voice as she realizes that the item beneath the wrapping paper is the one she feared she wouldn't get because she was too scared of the big guy in the red suit at The Store to tell him what she wanted.

Christmas. What a weird holiday. It's really the ultimate Burst of Weirdness, when you think about it. Here's a holiday that seems to drive people to high amounts of stress, but also leads them to express appreciation for those around them in ways that would really make the world a better place if we did that a little more often than just once a year. And here's a holiday where on an annual basis a giant amount of kvetching takes place on the proper way to celebrate it, so much so that this year it almost seems to have become a damned political issue. And the whole thing, on account of the birth of a baby, over two thousand years ago. Quite a baby, though.

Still, I look forward to Christmas 2005. Gotta get the kinks out of the system one of these years, you know.

PS: I wouldn't mind finding out someday just what sin I committed for which I am paying penance in the form of being bombarded with Care Bears stuff. Oy.

Free Idea Here!

I don't know if such a service already exists or not, but if not, here's an idea that some enterprising soul could devise for Blogistan. They could call it "ping.com". What it would be is simply this: a pinging service. Instead of bloggers having to manually ping all manner of different sites and services when they update, like weblogs.com and Technorati, a blogger would just send one ping to ping.com, which would then itself send out automated pings to every service of which that blogger is a member.

I know that Blogger can be set to automatically ping weblogs.com, but are there any such pinging services available? Because it's no good being a blogger unless you're pinging stuff. Or writing posts like this, just so one can use the word "ping" a lot.

Friday, December 24, 2004

THERE'S a father who's certainly good for his word!

Via Craig at BUFFALOg, I see a bit of demented hilarity: a Houston father apparently decided that his kids were too naught to have Christmas presents, so he put the presents on eBay. A more detailed news story, with bits on the behavior that cost the kids their presents, is available here. Money quote:

Tears or no, he said, if the kids don't settle down, he will auction off the next tier of toys - a bicycle, fish tank and karaoke machine.


Wow!

ADDENDUM: I'm a bit confused from the stories, though -- did they buy one PlayStation, or three separate ones, one for each kid? And if the latter, what the hell does one family need with three PlayStations? Ye Gods! Isn't a PlayStation a gizmo that hooks up to a TV so you can play games? Does each kid have his own color TV, then? Again, Ye Gods!

Silent night, silent blog....

Yup, another unannounced four-day break from posting. So let me announce that I likely won't be posting again until Sunday, the day after Christmas, and let me further announce that very light blogging is likely to be the rule around here for another couple of weeks. Once again, it's nothing major that's silencing me; just that I haven't had a lot of stimulus for blogging material lately, so I probably need to step back and, like, read and watch stuff. Thanks to everyone who continues to drop by, though.

(Oh, and speaking of unannounced breaks from posting, Steven Den Beste, one of the former heavyweights of Right Blogistan, headed to some other blog's comments section to explain his reasons for dropping out of the blogging game. The short version is that in order to be in a mental state conducive to blogging, he had to take medications that left him feeling crappy, and the more e-mails he received that were critical of his efforts, the less he felt like staying on the medications. I linked SDB for a long time here, and he constituted a daily, if maddening, read for me for an equivalent long time. Anyway, his current efforts are devoted to his explorations of anime.)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Science as a Candle in the Dark

Via Lynn Sislo, I learn that a group of clergy wrote a letter to a school district in Wisconsin, urging a particular approach to the teaching of evolution in biology classes.

The clergy wrote in support of evolution.

We the undersigned, Christian clergy from many different traditions, believe that the timeless truths of the Bible and the discoveries of modern science may comfortably coexist. We believe that the theory of evolution is a foundational scientific truth, one that has stood up to rigorous scrutiny and upon which much of human knowledge and achievement rest. To reject this truth or to treat it as 'one theory among others' is to deliberately embrace scientific ignorance and transmit such ignorance to our children. We believe that among God's good gifts are human minds capable of critical thought and that the failure to fully employ this gift is a rejection of the will of our Creator.


Sometimes there's hope to be found.

Of course, the school board is unimpressed. From the news article (registration required):

Joni Burgin, superintendent in Grantsburg, a rural school district about 75 miles northeast of St. Paul, declined to be interviewed Thursday about the letter, but she wrote in an e-mail: "The amount of letters and the number of signatures does not matter. … The school board feels that they must do what is right for Grantsburg students and the Grantsburg community."


I'm reminded of Mark Twain's quote about school boards:

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.


There's more than a grain of truth to that.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Reminders Galore!

Here I indulge a bit of self-linking, so as to keep certain items from vanishing completely into the Blogoniferous Ether:

:: It's probably too late as a Christmas shopping idea, but I'm trying to keep stuff available on Ebay on a regular basis. Check out the button in the "Support Your Humble Narrator" section. I have books and CDs up now, with more to come. Go and bid. Because if you don't bid, the terrorists win.

:: Diary of a Ring. I just had a great time writing this post. (Despite the "To be continued" bit at the end, I'm not sure if I'll ever return to this idea. Taking it through to its ultimate conclusion might constitute beating to death a horse that's already dead. But I still like the resulting post.)

:: The Promised King, Book One, The Welcomer: Chapter One. I've been flirting with the idea of putting the book online, in blog format, with each chapter forming a single post. There are a number of reasons why I wouldn't want to do this, so I'm leaning away from the idea, but not so strongly that it doesn't interest me. Thoughts, anyone?

:: "To Weep When I Am Glad": short fiction excerpt.

:: At GMR, my article about the Lord of the Rings filmscores.

:: I've rejiggered the sidebar a little. The new series "Great Love Dialogue" now has its own sidebar section, and my fiction excerpts, sporadic though they may be, now inhabit their own sidebar section with updated links. In the days to come I hope to get some blogroll tweaking done; I have some links to change and some to add.

:: Oh, and the masthead image now links to the Byzantium's Shores front page. I've been meaning to make that change for, like, ever.

:: That should about do it for reminders, unless anyone wants to remind me about something I may have forgotten to remind you all about. Or something like that.

Yup. We're all murderers, here in Blue America.

I find it hard to read quotes like the one offered by TBogg today and not be reminded of the whole blue state/red state thing, the "moral values decided the election" meme, and the general notion that blue staters tend to look down on the red staters. Well, it goes both ways:

"It blows you away when it’s here. This stuff is supposed to be in New York City or Los Angeles."


That's a person from the town in Missouri where that horrific murder and fetal kidnapping crime took place. Tom responds by providing a brief rundown on some of the horrific crimes that have taken place in rural America. And yes, that's true enough. Horrific crimes don't just take place in New York or LA; they take place pretty much wherever there are people. It's who we are. Put people somewhere, and sooner or later you're going to have a nasty crime. The only reason crimes happen more in NYC or LA is because there are more people there. That's it. It's not because those places exist in some metaphysically different place where morality is a completely different thing. It's just because there are more people there.

But here's a thought experiment. Suppose someone committed an act very much like this one in NYC, and further suppose that after the crime, someone said something like, "Geez, you only read about this stuff happening in farm country, not in New York." I wonder what the reaction would be?

Happy Festivus to all ACLU folk!

As long as I'm linking John Scalzi in the post below, I should endorse his intention to donate one dollar to the ACLU for every person who goes to his blog and identifies themselves as (a) an ACLU lawyer, and (b) a Christian. This is apparently in response to someone who insists that no Christian could possibly be an ACLU lawyer, as if the philosophies of the ACLU and Christianity are of the "Never the twain shall meet" variety. For myself, I'm getting pretty damned tired of seeing the word "Christianity" in this country refer to conservative Evangelicalism. One can be a perfectly good Christian and still believe that, say, forcing kids to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, complete with the "under God" part, is a bad idea. And more to the point, one can believe that and still be a bad Christian.

Christmas Music, revisited

After listing some of my favorite CDs of Christmas music the other day, I see a couple of newer posts about Blogistan about Christmas tunes: Lynn Sislo and John Scalzi opine about certain Christmas tunes. Lynn likes "Carol of the Bells", which I detest, and John detests Jose Feliciano's "Feliz Navidad", which I like a whole lot. Go figure.

My favorite Christmas song, generally speaking, is "Little Drummer Boy". This one seems pretty darned hard to mess up; I've heard some indifferent renditions of it, but thus far none that have me screaming, "Make it stop!" And for my money, the Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet on this song is my favorite Christmas song, ever.

In his post, John poses this hypothetical:

Your Christmas gift is the ability to expunge one highly annoying yet popular Christmas song from the history of the world. Which one is it?


Strangely, I wouldn't choose "Carol of the Bells", even though I can't stand it. There are a lot of Christmas tunes I hate more. In fact, there are too many Christmas tunes I hate more. Lots more. There's one that received incessant airplay a couple of years ago, even though I haven't heard it a single time this year, something about Christmas wishes coming true, in which some guy sings a verse or two of some syrupy Christmas ballad, with little kids reciting their oh-so-precious wishes from Santa in between the verses. Gack. It takes a lot to redline my "Sentiment" meter, but that one blows the needle right out the back of a gauge.

And then there's that f***ing song with Alvin and the rest of the Annoying Rodents Chipmonks. I'm sure this was cute once. But that was before I was born. The window of opportunity is up, and the Chipmonks should probably be silenced for all eternity.

But that one isn't even my pick for a Christmas Song whose memory I would banish to the lowest depth of Hell, a song that would send me to its writer's grave that I might dig up his bones and salt the earth about his grave for a one-mile radius. That song would be "All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth", a song that fails to be cute, fails to be funny, fails to be interesting. The only thing this song doesn't fail to do is make me vomit.

Well, that was sure cathartic! And what's Christmas, if not a season for some well-timed venting of the spleen?

A Musical Follow-up

In comments to my post yesterday about musical keys and their supposed emotional characters, Will Duquette says this in response to my suggestion that a piece in one key be transposed to another key, so that we might decide if the piece's emotional character changes significantly by virtue of the key change alone (with all the melodies and harmonies remaining the same, relative to the new key signature):

It's perfectly possible to transpose music from one key to another without changing it's character; it's no big deal, really, it's all about the tonal range of your target instruments or voices. We are much better at perceiving musical intervals than we are at perceiving specific tones, and transposing a piece preserves the intervals.


Of course he's right; transposing is a trivial musical matter. Well, it's fairly trivial, anyway. A professional trumpet player, for example, is required to know how to transpose music from one key to another, and on sight at that. This is because trumpet parts are usually written by the composers for trumpets keyed in whatever the tonic of the work in question happens to be -- thus a Symphony in D will call for trumpets in D. The problem this poses to the modern trumpet player is that few trumpeters today actually own trumpets in all the keys that might be required by the composer. Thus the trumpeter must transpose his or her parts on the spot, literally playing a note on the trumpet that is different from the note on the page, in order to actually produce the tone the composer requires.

(For those who are totally baffled by this, certain instruments aren't actually pitched in C, which is to say, that when the instrument's tonic note is played -- what is considered to be C on that instrument, with no valves pressed or keys closed -- the instrument is actually sounding some other note, as struck on the piano. On the trumpet as played by most high school and college trumpeters, this is B-flat. Thus, the parts that are printed for the trumpets will actually display a different key signature than the parts of the same work printed for, say, the flutes, which are pitched in C. Most professional orchestral trumpeters actually use trumpets that are pitched in C, but this does not mean they don't have to transpose.)

So of course, it wouldn't be too much of a musical problem to transpose Mozart's Symphony No. 40 from G-minor to E-minor; all it would take is someone to do the transposing. What I was wondering was if one could come up with a computer doohickey to do it for us, so one might stick a CD of the symphony in and have it play in E-minor as opposed to G-minor.

Which brings me to another question: do CDs reproduce pitch exactly, when played? When I listen to a disc of Beethoven's Eroica, are those opening chords actually E-flat major chords, or am I hearing them as merely major chords that may or may not have been reproduced specifically as E-flat major chords?

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Great Love Dialogue, #3

Moving along in my sporadic series in which I single out bits of dialogue centering on love from movies, TV, or books (previous installment here -- I'll add a sidebar section for this series one of these days), I turn to what I think is the better of the two "Scotland epics" of 1995 (even though the other one, Braveheart, was the more acclaimed): Rob Roy.

The scene I quote here takes place toward the film's end. Robert MacGregor (Liam Neeson) is a Scots clansman who has become an outlaw through no misdeeds of his own; he has borrowed money from the Marquis of Montrose (John Hurt), whose nephew, Cunningham (Tim Roth), has stolen the money and left MacGregor in debt. The Marquis does suspect that his nephew is behind the whole thing, but preserving his own rank is more important to him, so he allows MacGregor to be pursued across Scotland, entrusting this very task to the vile Cunningham, who at one point goes so far as to rape MacGregor's wife, Mary (Jessica Lange). So, by the end of the film when MacGregor has arranged to settle all in a duel to the death with Cunningham, Mary is pregnant with a child that may either be Robert's, or Cunningham's. The following scene of farewell takes place just before Robert leaves with the Duke of Argyle for the duel.

ROBERT: So, boys! Have you heard there's going to be another addition to the family?

Robert's two sons look at Mary, who glances in turn at Robert, surprise in her eyes.

ROBERT: Show them where it's hid, Mary.

Mary remains still.

ROBERT'S SON: Is it inside you?

Mary nods.

ROBERT'S SON: How does it get out?

Mary and Robert exchange glances, and Roy smiles.

ROBERT: The same road it got in.

Robert grabs his jacket and heads outside, where the Duke of Argyle and his party await him. Mary comes running to him from behind.

MARY: Robert...Robert...what if you don't--

ROBERT: Shhhh.

MARY: No. I cannot.

She pulls his tartan up onto his shouler.

MARY: What if--

Robert puts a finger to her lips.

MARY: I cannot. What if you do not return to us?

Robert smiles.

ROBERT: If it's a boy, call him Robert. (beat) If a lass, name her for my love, Mary McGregor.

Robert departs.


Of course, the scene is helped by the pitch-perfect acting of Neeson and Lange, and by Carter Burwell's gorgeous score (which, by the way, is a fascinatingly "minimalist" score that eschews the heavy-handed gestures common in such melodramatic films). The duel that follows between Robert and Cunningham is one of the best such action sequences ever filmed, driven as it is almost entirely by character concerns as opposed to plot machinery. And Tim Roth's performance is quite simply one of the best portrayals of a villain ever.

But the scene above is why I love Rob Roy. The film establishes Robert MacGregor as a man of honor and integrity, a man for whom doing the right thing and holding his word is more important than anything. His unquestioning acceptance of the child who may be Cunningham's -- and the film, wisely, never provides a conclusive answer to this question, or even raises it again -- is the best example of it.

(Another good bit of love dialogue from this film is Robert's single line, which he repeats several times to his wife: "Mary MacGregor, do you know how fine you are to me?")

Of Keys, Colors, Emotions, and Musical Purity (in short, a light post)

Terry Teachout had an interesting post the other day about musical keys and their emotional characters, and Fred Himebaugh responds (after initially writing about the topic here). The idea is that D-minor, for example, has a different emotional "feel" than, say, F-major.

I confess that I know very little about the internal theory behind this idea, but I've always been slightly skeptical about it: with the exception of people who suffer from synesthesia, I've never believed that people perceive musical tones in the same way that they perceive colors, and even then, colors themselves don't seem to me to do much at all emotionally if they are presented to the eye devoid of context. This seems to partly be Fred's point, as he wonders if people with "perfect pitch" would fare well when presented tones that are synthesized, i.e., totally divorced from the physical characteristics of an instrument. That would be an interesting experiment to perform. I once owned an electric metronome that also would sound, for tuning purposes, an A at 440. This latter feature was not nearly as useful as I originally thought it might be, because the machine's tuning note was a very harsh electronic sound that I found unsuited to the task of tuning my trumpet.

Another experiment might be to digitally "transpose", if such a thing were possible, an musical work into another key entirely. Everything would be the same about the work -- tempo, instrumentation, et cetera -- except for the key. Say, lower the entirety of Mozart's Symphony No. 40 by a minor third, so that instead of being heard in G-minor, it would be heard in E-minor. Would the resulting version of Mozart's symphony have the same character? I don't think it would, but as Fred notes, is that because the melodies would sound different, being pitched in a key where the tones sound different than the ones we're accustomed to hearing, or is that because E-minor actually does have a different "emotional character" than G-minor?

Anyway, it seems to me that it would be perfectly possible for a composer to take D-minor, that "saddest" of keys, and write a perfectly happy little minuet in it. But I might be wrong.

On a related note, Greg Sandow makes some interesting points about early music and our knowledge of early-music performance practices. It's interesting stuff, although I have to admit that I've never really been one to get worked up about whether a piece is being performed in a way that the composer him or herself, at whatever time in which they worked, would recognize it. I own very few "original instruments" recordings -- a full cycle of Beethoven and Berlioz symphonies, and a few Bach works -- and I'm perfectly happy with my recording of Handel's Messiah in which Sir Thomas Beecham commands musical forces that Handel himself would probably blush to hear. I'm not really a purist, so I've never really considered Sandow's point: that "purism" might just be an impossible proposition in the first place.

Catchin' the Fever!

I'm going to write my usual post-Buffalo Bills game report today, since I'm not sure if I'll have much opportunity to post tomorrow. Today saw the Bills travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, a team which used to have so permanent a status at the cellar of the AFC standings that I figured it would take an Act of Congress to lift them out of it. But that franchise has finally started turning it around, and of the Bills' three games remaining before today, I thought that this one -- on the road against a team in similar rebuilding position, also struggling for its very playoff existence -- posed the biggest threat. Especially after the Bills have been so hot lately; if ever they were due to suffer a let-down, this seemed to me to be the game when it would happen.

Final score: Bills 33, Bengals 17. And it wasn't even that close, since the Bengals fell behind 21-7 early in the third quarter, and didn't get their score to 17 points until very late in the fourth, when the outcome was no longer in doubt.

The Bills didn't get much offensive production today, but they didn't really need it, as their defense and special teams themselves contributed 14 points directly (by interception return and by blocked punt return, respectively). They created more turnovers, and they held a pretty respectable offensive team to a pretty low number of total yards. And they did it on the road, which seemed like an absurd thing to suggest they'd ever be able to do just two months ago. They did surrender a one-hundred yard rusher, but the big chunk of that came on a busted-play 31-yard run by Rudi Johnson late in the fourth quarter.

So the Bills opened their season 0-4, and since then have gone 8-2. That's pretty good. They're still on the outside of the playoff picture looking in (unless they get a lot of help), but I'm amazed that the Bills have now equaled the total number of wins I predicted they'd get before the season started, and the number that I decided they had no chance at all of attaining after the sixth week. It appears that even with a completely new roster since the Bills' heyday of the 1990s, they are still unmatched in their ability to circle the wagons.

If a blog falls over in the woods....

Huh. I hadn't intended to take a four-day hiatus; I just did it. Oh well. How strange. No real reason, beyond the usual stuff: lots of stuff to do in PhysicalSpace, thus draining from my reserves of available time for BlogSpace, coupled with a relative lack of things to say. Anyway, I'm back for now, although I must note that I will probably be posting fairly lightly this entire week. Apparently there's some Holy Day coming up that I need to prepare for. (I'd mention it by name, except I don't want a bunch of libruls named Adlai to come chasing after me.)

In other news, Buffalo just got its first major shot of Canadian air for the winter. What's notable about these is the lake effect snow they bring (a few inches today, which have stopped now), and the fact that one goes to bed when it's 30 degrees out and gets up the next morning when it's 11 degrees out. Gotta love winter!

(My favorite bit of meteorological terminology, by the way, is the name given to the "big blast of incredibly cold air from Canada coming down to put us all into carbon freeze" phenomenon in the Midwest: the "Alberta Clipper". It just sounds like a big, long train rumbling along the tracks across the Canadian tundra, doesn't it? I'm not sure why I bring that up just now, but there it is.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

How do they do that?

I will forever be amazed at the conservative/libertarian ability to take a colossal blunder by a Republican and morph it into a reason to bitch about Democrats. It's breathtaking, really. Someone should do a study.

Diary of a Ring (part one)

AHHHHHHHH!

"I'm cooling off now. Man, that volcano sure is hot. I'm glad to get out of there. That guy with the funky helmet is sure looking forward to wearing me, and I gotta say, he should be! Look at me! Look at how gracefully I can tumble up and down through the air, and check out these fire-runes! 'One Ring to rule them all'! You'd better believe it, baby! And we'll start with those Nine the Men are wearing. Nitwits. And I'm saving that jerk-off from Angmar for last. Heh.

...Master's putting me on. I guess a bunch of men and elves are attacking. What a bunch of wankers. Oh well, Master will kill them pretty easily. I mean, that mace of his kills twenty guys with one shot! Take that, you bunch of pansies. And that! And that! Hmmm...what's Master doing? Why does he give a crap about this one guy? He already broke the guy's sword, why bother? Master, what are you doing? Uh-oh…look out, that broken blade still looks pretty sharp, and oh shit, Master's leading with his finger! Shit! Master, don't! Pull your hand back, he's gonna -- AGGGHHHHHH!….what the hell was that? Where's Master? Now this dorky guy is holding me. What's this crap all over me? Ash? Is that Master's finger?! Did Master die? Oh, man, I gotta think fast, now. I'll start by shrinking so I fit this guy's finger. Unh…errgghh….unnnnhhh! Man, that's hard to do. But there I go. Oh, I'd better hide those fire-runes while I'm at it. That's it, that's nice. Hey, buddy, what's your name? Isildur, eh? Huh…goofy name. Not masculine, like 'Sauron'. But OK. I'm yours, buddy! Rule the world!

Oh, shit, now what? Who the hell is that elf? Oh, crap, is that Elrond? Damned meddler...he wants Master to go…oh, no! Not there! That'll ruin everything! I'd better start chanting now: Don't listen to him, Isildur! Don't do it, Isildur! I can be yours! You can have my power! No one will stand against you! Don't do what he says, and the whole world is yours! Disobey him! Disobey him!

Ha! Take that, Elrond! You stupid goodie-two-shoes elf! Heh! You thought he'd throw me in there, and he didn't! He didn't destroy me. I knew he wouldn't. Isildur's good people, I tell ya. Bye now! Ta-ta! Have a nice thousand years in that Homely House of yours!"

Some while later...

"OK, this Isildur guy is getting boring. He wears me around his neck, for Morgoth's sake. I'm a ring, damn it! I'm not a stupid pendant. Never heard of a 'necklace of power', did you? Or a 'great anklet'? Of course not! That does it. I'm out of here. O for a distraction, like a random band of attacking orcs…hey, check it out! Attacking orcs! Well, I'll be! Ah, he's putting me on his finger. Let's see, this should be easy...hmmmmm...whoa, he's getting pretty close to the river, there. Is he going to…blessed Master, he's in the water! Isildur's in the water! This is too easy! I just grow again, a tiny bit, enough to slip off...unh...ergg...So long, sucker! Oh, that arrow in the back has gotta hurt. Oh well, sucks to be him. Floatin' on down the river. Serves him right, for killing the Master. Guess I'll just flow with current for a while. I wonder where it will take me?"

Some while later...

"Still in the pond. Big fish tried me, spit me out. Stupid fish."

Some centuries later...

"The big fish died, but there was another big fish. Fish have no fingers. I am so screwed."

Some centuries later...

"My, the fish in this pond are really big. Doesn't anybody eat fish anymore?"

Some centuries later...

"Note to self: Turtles can't be warped by my power either. Shit."

Some centuries later...

"I am going to go CRAZY if I don't get out of this f***ing pond soon! It's taking all my power to keep myself from getting buried in sediment. Doesn't ANYBODY ever fish here? That one that keeps swimming over me is begging to be fileted."

Some while later...

"Oh look, here comes that same fish again. I'd make faces at him, if I had a face. Jerk. But what's that in his mouth? Looks like a hook…and a line? Morgoth's blood, is that a boat? WHOA! What is that? A child? No, it's a…well, he's short. Maybe he'll see me…gotta catch a glint of sun...come on...I think he saw me…he's getting closer...did he see me? He's reaching…oh yes oh yes oh yes! He's picking me up! I get a breath of fresh air! Damn that's good stuff! Wow, I'm covered with shit. I hope he rinses me off.

"Hi there, buddy! Your name's Deagol, right? Nice guy! Thanks for getting me out of there! Now, let's see, we should have introductions…oh, who is this? What is his problem? Liar! It is not his birthday! Don't let him touch me, Deagol. He's a creepy bastard. Why are you fishing with him? Yeesh! Whoa, he's getting pissed! Fight him off! Fight him, Deagol! You can do it! You can...oh, shit. Deagol's a freakin' wuss. He just got strangled by this little shit, Smeagol? The way he smells, it should be Flea-gol. Well, fine. I'll go with him, I guess. Maybe I can warp him? I wonder if I still have what it takes...been a while since Isildur..."

Months later...

"Wow, that sure worked. This guy's got problems. What the hell is in his throat, anyway? He keeps hacking. What kind of noise is 'gollum', anyway? And Morgoth's blood, I didn't mean to destroy his damned taste buds! He's eating fish raw! Yeeccchhhh! Isildur didn't even do that! Show some pride, will you? Cook the damn thing? OK, maybe not. They're gonna blame me for how this guy is turning out, but if you ask me, he had some issues before I ever came along. Oh well, what're you gonna do? I sure like being called 'Precious', even if he takes six minutes just to say two syllables. All right, the villagers have had enough of his crap, so I guess we're out of here….oooooooh, he's taking me into the Misty Mountains! I think the Master is hanging out somewhere in the south of Mirkwood. Maybe my new buddy, Gollum, will take me there…what's this? We're going into a cave? What on Earth for? Don't take me down here! I just got out of the mud at the bottom of that river!"

Years later...

"This cave sucks. Gollum sucks. This whole thing sucks. I just wanna be out of here, you know? This guy eats nothing but the blind fish who live in the underground lake and the occasional goblin who wanders down here. (Goblins smell worse than dead fish, let me tell you.) Gollum doesn't even wear me anymore, I wonder if he even knows he put me down. Does he even know what 'My Precious' is, anymore? Hey, it's me, Dumb-ass! Stupid Gollum. I hope somebody comes down here and kills him with an elf-sword.

Hhheeyyy! Here comes somebody, with an elf-sword! He's gonna kill Gollum! Yay me! Let me get a look at him…oh, shit. He's one of those short shits like Gollum was to begin with! Morgoth's blood, I hate these little guys. Uh-oh, he just found me! Stupid confounded luck! But maybe he'll get me out of here. What's your name, little guy? 'Bilbo Baggins'? Man, these hobbits sure do have dumb names. Sauron: that's a name. That's a guy who's going places. 'Bilbo' is a guy who milks your cows. I'm the One Ring! I'm supposed to Rule Them All! Why do I keep falling in with these lackwit farmer-types?! Ugh! Well, he'll just kill Gollum and be done with it...wait, they're just talking. What are they saying? Gotta listen…hmmm…riddles? They're playing a game of riddles?! AGGGHHH! Stupid fat hobbit, stupid slimy bastard! Riddles, my ass!

And hey! Bilbo's cheating! 'What have I got in my pocket' is not a riddle! Come on, Gollum, call him on the rules! Challenge it! Why aren't you challenging it! This Bilbo character's gonna screw you, Gollum, you idiot! It's me in his pocket! I'm the answer! Say it! Say it!

Shit, he didn't say it. Dumb ass! And now Bilbo's pulling me out – oh shit, he's gonna put me on! Gollum, you stupid bastard, I told you to keep me in a box! Bilbo's putting me on! Blessed Master, he's got fat fingers. Gotta grow a bit. All right, here we go. OK. You're invisible, you little shit. You're lucky my Master hasn't returned to full power yet, or he'd have his eye on you right now. Heh. What's Gollum doing? He's searching for Bilbo. Oh, now he's screaming about his Precious. Yeah, you put me down and forgot about me, didn't ya? And now someone else found me, didn't he? Serves you right, you slimy twit. And he's following you right up out of the cave! Ha! The joke's on you! Ohhhh, here we go! Sunlight after all these years! Air that doesn't smell of water and fish! I'm free! Yay! Yippee!

You know, I think I'll wait a while before I warp this Bilbo guy. I mean, he did do me a favor. Maybe the best thing right now would be for me to just act like a nice Invisibility Ring for a while. Then maybe he'll keep me. Gotta be careful now. Apparently these hobbits don't take well to being ring-warped. So here we go.

Hmmmm, I can still hear Gollum screaming. See ya later, Dumb-ass! Eat some fish for me! I hope I never hear his ugly voice again. But he's still screaming about how much he hates Baggins. Morgoth, is he pissed. Oh well, I'm sure I'm done with him. How much more trouble can a guy named Gollum be, anyway? Doo de doo de doo….

A couple of weeks later...

"Morgoth's blood, this is all getting embarrassing. I'm the One Ring! What am I doing, being used by some fat little hobbit to get in and out of tight spots while he helps some smelly, hairy dwarves to kill a dragon and steal their treasure back. It's a disgrace. What have I got against this Smaug fellow? Dragons are good people. Just give them a pile of money to sleep on, toss in a live villager once in a while to feed them, and they're fine. What is it with these smelly dwarves and their mountains and mines and rock and all that? Just the other night I heard one of 'em – Balin, I think – talking about how nice it would be if someone went and reopened Moria. I don't think they heard me laugh at that, but I couldn't help myself. Yeah, you short fat dirt-crawling mithril fiend, just go and start poking around Moria again. There's a good idea. Heh! Indeed!"

"Well, that was some battle, there. Five armies, and then some big-ass shapeshifter guy. I guess goblins are still idiots. Kind of like orcs, only stupider. Oh, look, that Thorin guy is dead, and now I'm off with Bilbo again. We're going to a place called 'Shire'. Pansy name, if you ask me. Orodruin, the Mountain of Fire – now there's a place you don't muck with! Who's gonna take seriously a place called 'Hobbiton'?"

"Oh, and Gandalf has absolutely no idea what I am. He's a bit out of his usual self. I have a feeling that Saruman will kick his ass in pretty short order, once he finishes turning to the Dark Side. (No, I don't know "the Dark Side" of what. It just sounded cool.)

"Bilbo keeps me on his mantelpiece. Weird. Shouldn't he, you know, wear me, once in a while? It's hard for me to warp him like this, when all he ever does is use me to avoid some ugly-ass relatives of his. I mean, those Sackville-Bagginses are some creepy folks, let me tell you. And I don't trust that nephew of Bilbo's, either. Frodo, his name is. I have a feeling he's gonna be a pain in my ass before long. And what's with that fat one he's hanging out with all the time? And those other two idiots? Man, I gotta get back to Sauron. I wish he'd get back to Mordor and start looking for me again..."

To be continued...

(Actually, this never continued. The joke wouldn't have kept working.)

Plaudits for Maestro Williams

Congratulations to film composer extraordinaire John Williams, on being a 2004 Kennedy Center Honoree.



Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A reminder

Be sure to read my recent fiction samples:

Chapter One of The Promised King, Book One: The Welcomer

A portion of a short story entitled "To Weep When I Am Glad"

I hope to have a couple more samples in the next week or two.

Gray skies are gonna clear up -- !

I forgot to link Michael Blowhard's fascinating post about a trip he took to blues country down South when he posted it first, but now that he's posted a follow-up with photos, I can redeem myself. I'm not even a big blues fan, and Michael's post captivated me. Go read it, and look at the photos. Remember: Robert Johnson probably walked some of those same backwater byways, and that's where rock-and-roll came from.

Exploring the CD Collection, #9 (Christmas Edition)

Like most folks, I expect, I own a number of Christmas music CDs that I dig out every year at this time. My collection therein isn't terribly large, at about twenty discs or so. I'm not one to grab every Christmas CD released by every artist whose work I may enjoy out there, unless someone comes along and strongly recommends them to me. I have all of the "usual suspects", of course -- a coupld of "Christmas Greatist Hits" CDs, with stuff like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bell Rock". (Also, unfortunately, including such horrific items as that song about the kid wanting his two front teeth and those evil, evil Chipmonks.) And yes, I have the Bing Crosby Christmas album that everybody else on the planet owns. But I have some treasures among the remainder of the collection. Here are some of those.

The Many Moods of Christmas
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus
Robert Shaw, conductor

This is a re-recording, made in the early 1980s, of an album recorded by Robert Shaw and his Festival Chorus in the 1960s for the RCA label. It's pretty straightforward stuff: four lengthy suites of traditional Christmas carols and hymns. All the favorites are here: "Silent Night", "Away in a Manger", "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", and so on. It's very "traditional" sounding. Sometimes you just want an orchestra, a full chorus, and an organ doing your Christmas music, and that's what this is. (I've never heard the original RCA recording, but I'd like to for comparison's sake.)

Christmas Fantasy
Choir of Winchester Cathedral, Waynflete Singers, Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra
David Hill, conductor

One of the eddies of classical music that consistently yields me the most pleasure is that of the British composers of the first half of the twentieth century, led by Ralph Vaughan Williams. English folk music formed the basis of this most distinctive of Nationalist schools, thus giving many works of the era a feeling of being both modern and very old. This disc features settings of Christmas songs, carols and hymns by composers like Vaughan Williams, Peter Warlock, Frederick Delius, and John Ireland. The disc concludes with the magical Christmas cantata In terra pax by Gerald Finzi.

As is usually the case with good recordings of lesser-known classical repertoire, I believe that this one is out of print. It was on the Decca/London label.

Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker (complete)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Mariss Jansons, conductor

I doubt that the Christmas collection of a classical music lover is complete without a version of Tchaikovsky's ballet. This is a pretty good version of it, in a boxed set from the EMI label. It's a pretty lavish production, apparently intended for young listeners: it includes a full-color storybook of the ballet, which also has helpful notes for following along in the music, to the point that it describes what instruments are playing at each juncture.

A bunch of sets of Tchaikovsky ballets like this came out in the early and mid 1990s, some of which include things like cardboard punchouts of the ballet characters to be placed in front of gatefold backdrop displays. It was a pretty nifty way of packaging classical music for the younger set, I thought.

(If, on the other hand, you don't want the whole ballet and would just as soon settle for the abridged ballet suite, the one on this disc, with the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal conducted by Charles Dutoit, is a good one.)

The Christmas Album
The Canadian Brass

Even though I'm a former brass player, I have never been a terribly big fan of the Canadian Brass, for some reason. They are impeccable musicians, which might actually be the source of my ambivalence: such control over these instruments just isn't natural. (In general, though, I never really warmed to the sound of a brass quintet, even when I played in one. It just didn't feel as versatile as a string quartet to me.)

Still, this is a pretty entertaining listen, especially for the humorous take on "The Twelve Days of Christmas". It's good for a switch now and then.

The Bells of Dublin
The Chieftains

This CD isn't billed as a Christmas disc per se, but as it contains many a Christmas tune, that's what I consider it. Although I'm not sure about the original song here called "The St. Stephens Day Murders". That one's pretty odd. It's the Chieftains, though, so the disc is a good one.

Peace on Earth
Kitaro

This is a remnant of my "New Age" phase from my college years, which I have mostly outgrown. But I still play this one every year, just because I find it very nicely done. And the picture on the booklet is just beautiful.

New Year's Concert from Vienna
Kathleen Battle, soprano
Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Herbert von Karajan, conductor

As I noted last January 1st, very year I watch the New Year's Concert by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, when it airs on PBS on January 1st. This CD is from the 1987 concert, which was one of the best. Herbert von Karajan, who died just two years later, leads the VPO in a series of performances that are lighter than air.

I'm not sure if this one is in print, either. It's on the Deutsche Grammophon label.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Two Questions

1. Are the graphics on this blog showing up as they should for all of you? They're not all loading for me, and there's neither rhyme nor reason to what's not showing up.

2. OK, is there some reason why I never heard of the "Trans-Siberian Orchestra" until about three weeks ago when a co-worker told me about them over lunch, and now I'm hearing about them from just about everybody? I know I tend to be out of touch, but I'm not usually that clueless. I mean, I know who Eminem is and all. So what's the deal with these Siberian guys? Their name make me think of that scene in the Bond film The Living Daylights, when the bad guy, a Soviet officer, tells his cellist girlfriend after betraying her that he'll try to have her assigned to the Siberia Philharmonic Orchestra. "They're quite good, despite their bourgeois repertoire", he says. Anyhoo....

ShiBills no more!

Well, it has come to pass, and frankly, much sooner than I ever expected: just two months or so after I, in a fit of irrational football-fan anger, dubbed the Buffalo Bills "the Shitty Bills" in response to a series of incredibly lackluster efforts on their part. However, after securing their fourth consecutive victory yesterday by crushing the hapless Cleveland Browns 37-7, I am retiring that moniker for now. In this space they will forthwith be known once again as "the Buffalo Bills" (until such time as they are shitty again, which I hope will be a very long time).

My condition for this, as noted last week, was partly that the Bills win four games in a row, a modest streak that seems to me would still be beyond the reach of any truly "shitty" team. But I also knew that four wins wouldn't be enough, in itself. So are there any reasons why I should discount those four wins? Not that I can see.

The biggest objection to the Bills being considered a "good team" right now, as voiced by a lot of folks I hear calling in to local sports radio shows* is that over the four-game winning streak, and the overall stretch in which they have won seven of nine games, they didn't play the best opposition. And yes, there's something to this, a little: the combined record of the Bills' last four opponents is a less-than impressive 18-34. Two of those teams, the Browns and Dolphins, occupy last place in their divisions, while the other two, the Rams and Seahawks, are in a war of attrition to see which team can blunder its way to the NFC West title. However, I have heard two effective rejoinders to the "cruddy competition" argument:

1. This is the NFL, not the collegiate BCS. There are no inflations of standings based on quality of competition. A win is a win, and a loss is a loss. Period. And with the NFL's new scheduling system in which there really isn't much difference between a first-place schedule and a fourth-place one, quality of opposition isn't very relevant.

2. The "cruddy competition" argument cuts both ways. If the Bills' 7-6 record is to not be taken very seriously because those seven wins came against pretty bad teams, then you can't take the New England Stupid Patriots' 12-1 record very seriously either, because their 2004 schedule features, with two exceptions, the exact same bunch of teams that the Bills have played.

And I would add a third: Nobody is maintaining that the current success being enjoyed by the Bills makes them a great team, just a decent one that's showing signs of becoming good.

So where are the Bills, then? Lots of people in Buffalo are excited about the possibility of a playoff run. Personally, I'm fairly pessimistic on this point. The Bills have three games left: at Cincinnati, at San Francisco, and home to Pittsburgh. The Bengals aren't the doormat they were for years, so that will be a tough road game. The 49ers are the NFL's worst team (man, how far that franchise has fallen), but still, that's not a game to be taken lightly. And that last one, with the Steelers coming to town in a game that they may well need to secure home-field advantage (remember, they have the tie-breaker edge over the StuPats), figures to be a barn-burner. I just don't think it's terribly likely for the Bills to run the table and win all three of those games, which they'd have to do to even have a chance to get into the playoffs. And I'm still a naysayer about their blitz-happy defense, to say nothing of the fact that they can't keep turning the ball over three times a game, even if the D is taking it away six times a game.

But I have to admit: this season is getting fun, and it's been quite a while since the Bills were fun. They were fun for a time in 2002, and the last time they were fun before that was in 1998 and 1999, during the "Doug Flutie Experiment". I almost don't care if they make the playoffs this year, because I'm merely impressed enough by their rebound from 0-4 to 7-6.

Welcome back, Buffalo Bills.

* I don't listen to much sports talk radio; mainly in the car on the way to and from work. And that's only when the classical station isn't playing Baroque music, which is fine in its place but does nothing to either get me fired up for work or wound down from work. They've been unusually Baroque-heavy lately, for some reason. (Bach, though, gets a pass from this general affectation of mine, because Bach is, well, Bach.)

UPDATE: I just read an interesting stat. Over their four-game winning streak, the Bills have set a team-record for points scored over four games. I find that amazing, given that nobody is going to confuse the 2004 Bills offense with the no-huddle "K-gun" offense that the Bills rode to four consecutive Super Bowls from 1990 to 1993.

Department of Irregularly-posted Regular Features

The Image of the Week and the Burst of Weirdness will return next week, to the universal acclaim of -- well, the Universe! Ha!

And I plan to make a posting hiatus over the Christmas weekend, probably the 23rd through the 26th, although that's flexible. I guarantee, though, no posts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

December in Buffalo

Here where I reside, a dusting of newly-fallen snow adorns the ground. Other locales in Western New York, however, received quite a bit more in the last day or so -- six inches or a bit more. That's the thing about living here in early Winter: you're at the mercy of whichever way the winds are blowing off Lake Erie. It's not uncommon -- in fact, it's actually extremely common -- for one person in Buffalo to receive barely any snow, while another just five miles north or five miles south picks up five inches.

And of course, folks are acting surprised at the snowfall: "I woke up this morning to six inches!" Well, it's December in Buffalo, folks! This is like someone in Phoenix in July saying, "Man, I've gotta run the A/C twenty-four-seven!".

This marks the second winter since the one we spent in Syracuse. Now that was a winter: something like four feet more total snow than Buffalo received that year; TV weathermen offering helpful forecasts like "We could receive four to eighteen inches of snow"; and ice ice everywhere from October to April. Yeesh. Why Buffalo has its bad reputation is beyond me, because there's a much worse place to spend a winter just a hundred fifty miles down I-90.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

"The Welcomer", chapter one

This week I shall be submitting The Promised King, Book One: The Welcomer to its second publisher, at long last. In truth, I should have submitted it months ago, but it was rejected shortly before Little Quinn was born, and I've been very slow in getting back into the writing saddle. In any event, here is the complete Chapter One of the book.

Chapter One


In the first of the dreams that Gwynwhyfar would remember, she was a bird flying above the sea.

***

Over the waves she flew, the spray from the wind-driven waters splashing upon the underside of her body. Below her, beneath the surface, she saw a pod of dolphins racing with the waves, periodically leaping up into the air and back down into the sea. Then a huge gray shape formed beneath the dolphins; it was the great body of a whale rising from the depths. The whale broke the surface of the water, blasted spray into the air from the hole on the back of its head, and then plunged down again into the deep. A sudden darkness fell, and she turned to look where the sun had gone. The clouds were gathering behind her, great black storm clouds she prayed that she could outpace. She turned and flew again, speeding in a direction that she hoped would take her away from the mustering storm.

Ahead of her there appeared a long island. She dropped down until she was just skimming the surface. The waters, inches below, were clear as glass, and beneath them she caught glimpses of many-colored fish cavorting amidst the underwater reefs. There were sharks too, including one that tried to snatch her from the sky, but she was too fast. The beaches that ringed the island were as white as snow, and the island itself was green and verdant as she flew herself flying over orchards of apple trees.

Then there was a city of alabaster buildings and wide streets paved with white stone, but she saw no people. The city appeared to be utterly deserted, even as she flew over a building that was clearly a place of worship. In the courtyard of this building there was a golden disc shaped to look like the moon, marking this place as a temple to the Goddess. After the temple she flew over a long series of grasslands and then into the hill country where she approached the three great mountains that rose from the center of the island into the sky. Their heights soared above where she could reach, and their snow-capped peaks receded into dark clouds. Soon she was flying back down toward the sea on the other side of the island where there were dense forests of pine, and in these forests she looked for shelter from the coming storm.

There was thunder then, impossibly close behind her. She turned and, hovering above the trees, saw that the three mountains had exploded with fire and smoke in great columns that tore the sky asunder. And then the storm came, and she again flew away, trying to escape the fire and rain and smoke and wind. She flew again over the beaches and out to sea, but her strength was not enough by any measure, and she was driven down, down toward the boiling waters. Rivers of liquid rock streamed down from the mountaintops, and the island of green beauty, the island of apples, crumbled and sank beneath her into the depths of the sea. The storm raged around her, finally striking her down into the sea itself. Waves crashed over her, and in a flash her strength was gone. The water was cold, very very cold and she gasped for air as the winds howled and the waves mounted.

As the last wave towered above her, she glimpsed something out away from her, something golden….and then the waves took her down, down to the bottom of the sea.


***

"Gwyn! Gwyn! Wake up!"

Someone shook her, not exactly gently but not very roughly either, and she opened her eyes. The dream was still with her; usually her dreams vanished with a quick awakening, but this one had been far more vivid than any she’d had before. She shook her head to dispel the image and looked up into Brother Malcolm’s eyes.

"Come, Gwyn! You must join me!" he said. He picked up the candle on her nightstand and lit it with his own. "Father Damogan requires mushrooms, and we are to bring them to him. Hurry and dress. I will wait outside for you. Don’t tarry!" He used the candle in his hand to light hers, and then he was back outside her chamber.

Her candle rose, and now there was enough light in the room for her to dress. Gwyn groaned as she pushed herself up out of bed. I can’t believe this, she thought. I need my rest! I have the Trials in just a month! She dug about in her oak chest for her worst shirt, the one she saved for these excursions to the caves. As she pulled it on she looked over at Dana, her chambermate, who had not so much as stirred during Brother Malcolm’s entrance. She could sleep through a goat stampede, Gwyn thought as she pulled on the shirt, a pair of wool breeches, and her sturdiest shoes. Finally she pulled on a thick cloak, tied back her long, thick, auburn hair and examined herself in the mirror.

Oh, wonderful, Gwyn thought, Brother Malcolm will think that I am ill, if I am this pale. She was, in fact, naturally pale. Her small nose slightly turned up at the end, and her eyebrows slanted ever so slightly. The effect made her look like one of the Fair Folk, or so she had been told many times over her twenty years. She had never seen a Fairy, so she didn't know; the Fair Folk were not to be found unless they themselves wished it. Gwyn had long since grown accustomed to her Fairy appearance – in fact, she had grown into it and was quite lovely now that she had almost reached adulthood.

She extinguished her candle and joined Brother Malcolm in the corridor. Malcolm was the Priest Prime of Tintagel, and as such was second only to the Lord Priest, and therefore most of the routine tasks of upkeep fell to him. Gwyn had been his Adept since she had come to Tintagel at the age of ten. His bald head seemed to have frost on it; it was then that Gwyn noticed how un-naturally cold it was.

"Are you ready, Gwyn?" he asked.

"Always," she said. "But couldn’t you have taken another? I do have the Trials to worry about, you know."

"In a month," he said. "Surely one night’s spoiled sleep will not undo your years of training and study." Malcolm cast an eye at her. "It is a great honor to assist the Lord Priest and the Priest Prime in this, you know."

"The honor of assisting you somehow isn’t the same as a warm bed on a cold night." She tightened her cloak. "It seems more like punishment. Will the mushrooms not still be there in a few hours, when the sun is up?"

"They will be there indeed, but Father Damogan works on important things, and he has asked me personally to take you to fetch the mushrooms. Will you defy the Lord Priest of Tintagel?" He now bore the smirk of victory on his fifty year old mouth. She was not about to defy Father Damogan anything, and he knew it.

"Let’s go," Gwyn said. "The least we can do is be done with it as quickly as possible," Gwyn said.

"Excellent!" Malcolm said. "Besides, my dear, the day is likely to be very cold despite the weather. Waiting for the sun would make little difference." He was positively beaming now. Gwyn fastened the iron brooch that secured her cloak, drew herself up and looked squarely at Malcolm.

"I'm ready," she announced.

"Good." He turned to head down the hall, but then he turned back to her and held up his candle to study her features. "You seem pale this morning. Are you feeling ill?"

Gwyn sighed.

***

Since it was before dawn, they had to exit the monastery through the rear entrance. This required walking through the main sanctuary itself and through the doors behind the altar, into the corridors that typically were only used by the Priests and Priestesses. Soon, after the Trials, she would be able to walk back here without Brother Malcolm – or anyone else – on her arm, and she would be free to study the highest lore, which was restricted to those who had passed from Adept into the Priesthood.

They arrived at the rear entrance, where there stood a large bin that held unlit torches. Now Gwyn could hear the wind howling outside, through the great oaken double doors that led to the stable courtyard. If she had begun to feel that perhaps this trip wasn't totally unnecessary, the sound of the outside weather now brought her doubts screaming back. The storm from her dream flashed through her mind again. Her dreams never stayed with her this long.

"Unusual weather for this time of year," Malcolm noted. He dug deep into the reserve of torches and came up with a blue-banded one. There were three types of torches, each type being more resistant to the wind and rain that was so common at Tintagel. The Priests had marked the torches with swatches of cloth, with blue being the most unlikely to be blown out, keeping the longest and steadiest flame. Gwyn had rarely been outside at night in weather that required a blue torch.

"Are you ready?" Malcolm asked as he lit the torch from a nearby wall-sconce. Without waiting for a reply, he lifted the heavy oaken bar out of its niche and unchained the door. Now unfettered, the doors began to rattle with the wind. The quaking of the doors resonated throughout the stone corridor like thunder. Using all of his weight, Malcolm pushed open the door, and they stepped out into the elements.

Gwyn was surprised to find that there was no rain; in fact, the sky was clear. The wind, though, hit her in the face like a slap. While Malcolm shoved the door back into place, she shrank back against the stone wall of the building. She could see nothing in the darkness; the torchlight revealed nothing of the other buildings that she knew were there. On a typical day one could hear the pounding of the surf on the rocks below the cliffs from here, but now nothing could be heard save the persistent howl of the wind. Malcolm finished working with the door and headed out into the weather, beckoning her to follow. She did, never taking her eyes off what little of the ground was illuminated by the torch.

They made their way through the cluster of buildings, past the larders and the stables, from where Gwyn caught a strong scent of wet hay. After the stables, however, they were outside the confines of the monastery, and walking along the short road to the bridge. Gwyn pulled her cloak tightly about her shoulders, but the wind seemed to cut right through it, and she was soon as cold as she had ever been, even though it was the start of summer. At one point, she looked up at the one-quarter moon above. It seemed to shine no light upon them: the wind was even blowing away the moonlight. This is absurd, she thought. I can't believe that this cannot wait until daylight. Surely the mushrooms will still retain whatever magic Father Damogan needs until the sun is up!

She felt a tugging at her arm. Brother Malcolm was pulling on her sleeve. In her concentration on the ground, she had not noticed that they had already come to the stony path that led down the cliffs to the sea-caves. As she turned to follow, she stole a glance at Malcolm. His jovial smile was gone, and he looked positively grim. He had disliked going down to the sea since his closest friend, Brother Llyad, had vanished at sea after taking out one of the fishing boats a year before. Gwyn swallowed and followed him down the trail.

The path wound down amidst the rocks along the cliff wall. Over the years rock slides had made the cliffs of Tintagel less steep, and the trail was actually very safe. The wind slackened a bit, as they now had the comparative shelter of a rock face looming ever higher above them. Gwyn had walked this trail many times, and she knew its dips and rises very well. This, though, was a new experience, and now she didn't feel that she knew the path at all. She was very careful to keep a strong hold on Malcolm's cloak. Someone meeting him for the first time might well take him for a weakling cleric whose nose was always firmly planted in the pages of some book, but he was actually a very strong man. One had to be, to live on Tintagel. There were no weak Priests or Priestesses here, and those who grew infirm with age left for the temples inland.

As they moved farther down the cliff face, the pounding of the surf below could now be heard as well as felt. There was a constant rumble that Gwyn always thought came from the innards of the Earth itself, as if the Wyrm himself was stirring in his sleep below the waves. The moon disappeared from view, behind the rockface that was growing above them. Now the only light was from the torch, which burned steadily despite the wind. A briny mist soon filled the air, and Gwyn knew that they were now within what Malcolm called an arrow’s flight of the sea itself. Just over those rocks, thought Gwyn.

Malcolm stopped in his tracks and turned to her. "Be careful! The rocks will be getting slippery!" Again without waiting for a reply, he turned and resumed the march for the caves.

"Of course they will," she muttered. These rocks were slippery even on the warmest, sunniest days of summer.

Finally, they reached their destination: the small system of caves that had been opened up by the sea in ages past. Malcolm led Gwyn to the entrance, and looked around suspiciously. This made Gwyn nervous. What was going on? Before she could actually ask that question, however, Malcolm had entered the cave and tugged Gwyn along with him.

"Why did you stop just then?" Gwyn asked.

"I thought I heard something," Malcolm replied. "It was nothing. Come."

Once inside the cave the noise died down considerably. The torch clearly illuminated the beds of mushrooms that covered the floors and walls. Gwyn had recently finished her first study of The Mushrooms, and knew that more than half of these breeds grew nowhere else, having been created through the work and research of the Priests and Priestesses of Tintagel.

"What kind are we to get?" she asked, looking around her at the hundreds of different varieties. They were carefully cultivated by all of the Brothers, under Father Damogan's supervision.

"Red-caps," Malcolm replied as he turned and led her toward the rear of the cave, where the red-caps grew. He was careful to step over the deep pool of water that was permanently collected in the cave. Only rain came into this cave; its shape kept all but the highest waves out.

Gwyn's thoughts raced as she picked her way over the rocks behind Brother Malcolm. The mushrooms that grew in this cave were different from the types of mushrooms that grew in the fields or in the forest. For one thing, they were all edible - every last one of them, with the exception only of the Golden Spangles. The collected lore of Dona’s Priesthood spoke of the various effects of eating the varieties here, some of which were decidedly unpleasant. The red-caps had the highest reputation of these - swallowing one was said to bring visions of the past, the future, and realities that were not ever to be. The visions were said to last for days, and to bring almost impossible sadness at the end. Only the most skilled practitioner could make use of the red-caps’ powers. They were so rarely used that the tiny bed before them, consisting of eight fully-grown mushrooms, was sufficient. Another would grow in the same spot, and reach adulthood in ten years. The red-caps took that long to grow to maturity, at which point they were only as tall as Gwyn's thumb.

Now was the time for Gwyn to serve her usual function in the mushroom cave: she took the torch from Brother Malcolm and held it as the cleric bent down to look over the crop. He kneeled at the bed of the red-caps, and examined each one for defects. The red-caps were so named because of the almost unnatural crimson color of their caps. Gwyn shifted on her feet, shivering as Malcolm meticulously examined each of the red-caps, and then examined them again. They may have been sheltered from the wind, but this cave was still bone-chillingly cold.

"Pick one, Brother! I'm freezing!"

"One must not choose in haste," Malcolm muttered. "One does not want unnecessary defects in one's work. Ah, this one shall suffice." He had selected the mushroom that was to be used and picked it with one quick jerk of his wrist. He held it up to his eye, examining it once more, although he knew that it was too late -- this one would have to do. He wrapped it in a swatch of cloth and tucked it away in his cloak. "That will be all, Gwyn. We can go back now." Straightening back up, he took the torch from Gwyn and turned to walk back to the front of the cave.

"Thank Dona for that," Gwyn muttered as she followed him, using the same route they had just taken. As they neared the mouth of the cave, the wind came up again, howling as loudly as before. But this time there was something different about it, as if it had a human voice.

A human voice….

"Do you hear that?" she said. "It sounds like someone screaming!"

Malcolm had already stopped, and was listening intently. After a moment he nodded, a disturbed expression on his face. Gwyn pointed down the trail, to where the trail met the sea.

"It's coming from down there! Is that what you heard before?"

Malcolm peered into the darkness, a look of fear forming in his eyes. Down there was where the boats were kept. The sky was shifting now from black to a deep violet; sunrise would come within the hour. But down here it would be dark for hours to come.

"Should we wait for light?" Gwyn asked.

Brother Malcolm looked up at the sky and back down at the water, which could now be seen somewhat as a great roiling black mass. A wave struck the rocks below where they stood, and a fresh blast of sea spray washed over them. Finally he shook his head.

"No," he said. "We must go down there now. If someone is hurt, they will need attention now, rather than waiting for the light. It is most likely a fisherman…." His gaze met hers. "I would rather you went first, though. Your footing will be better down there."

"Are you sure?" she said. He nodded and handed her the torch.

"I will be right behind you," he said. "I know that you are good at climbing on the rocks."

She nodded, remembering that when she had come to Tintagel in her twelfth year, eight years before, she had wound up in trouble a number of times when she was caught climbing alone on the rocks below. One time she had even been taken to see Father Reynold….that was a memory that even now made a twenty-year-old woman shudder.

Gwyn turned and began making her way down the path, toward the sea. The path led to a tiny beach where the Brothers kept the monastery's boats tied. Once in a very long while one of the Brothers actually took to the sea to fish, but none had been out since Brother Llyad had vanished out there. Gwyn climbed down the trail toward the place where she could hear the screaming punctuated by the pounding sea. Once in a while she turned to see if Malcolm was still behind her, and he always was.

Her foot slipped, causing her to almost fall from the trail, but she caught herself and continued downward. The rocks here were very slippery indeed, and they went even slower now, needing to be sure of each footstep. Now they were being doused with steady spray as waves crashed over the rocks. The sea was very close indeed, but so was the screaming. Finally they emerged onto the beach, where three wooden boats sat chained to a post. The waves rolled in relentlessly, but a natural barrier of fallen boulders softened their impact here, making this the only ideal launching point for boats on all of Tintagel. Gwyn stopped and listened for the screaming, which started again. It was coming from the next series of rocks, beyond the beach where no trail went. She glanced at Brother Malcolm, who nodded.

Gwyn knew of a tiny cove beyond the jumbled wall of tumbled boulders, and she knew that this was where whoever it was had landed. This was the longest and hardest part of the climb down here, and the young Adept clawed and picked her way across giant rocks while being soaked by sea spray. Her fingers were almost numb, and at one point she slipped on a rock and cut open her right shin. She bit her lip in pain, but soon went on. She hauled herself over the last boulder and dropped to the flat stone below. Malcolm was right behind her. His fingers were bloody, and he had a cut on his own shin nearly identical to hers. They now stood on a giant, flat rock that hung over the small inlet. This place was somewhat shielded from the waves, creating a relatively tranquil grotto. Gwyn moved to look over the edge of this rock, to the water that was about ten feet below.

"Blessed Dona," she gasped. A wooden boat, big enough for two people, had crashed here amongst the rocks, and sprawled out on one of the boulders were the two passengers. Gwyn lowered herself onto this boulder and approached the two victims. One of them was unconscious. The other was screaming to the heavens, completely unaware of the two rescuers.

"Are you hurt?" Gwyn shouted, but the man kept on screaming. Blood was streaming from a wound on his arm, and she could see a serious gash on the forehead of the unconscious man. Suddenly unsure of herself, she turned to Malcolm. The Priest stepped forward and grabbed the screaming man's shoulder. Almost instantly he stopped his pitiful wailing and looked at Malcolm. The light of recognition sprang to his eyes as he eyed Malcolm's brooch, which was in the sign of Tintagel: a spiral knotwork.

"Tintagel! I am come to Tintagel! Oh, thank you, merciful Dona!" Tears flowed from his eyes. Malcolm glanced at Gwyn, who was now examining the unconscious man.

"He lives," she said, "but we must get him to Sister Moyra." This injury was beyond anything she had ever seen; she was sure that even Sister Moyra would not be able to help him.

"Aye, Gwyn. That we must." He turned back to the formerly screaming man. "Who are you? Why have you come here?"

Gwyn got a good look at the man now. He was a muscular man with long, dirty black hair and a black beard. A scar ran from his left eye to his mouth, and he was newly missing two teeth. He was garbed in simple woolen clothes, similar to what Gwyn was wearing herself. The man looked deep into Malcolm's eyes.

"Have I changed that much, Malcolm?"

Brother Malcolm stared at the man who knew his name, and Gwyn saw it in his eyes when the recognition came over him like a flood.

"Brother Llyad?"

The man nodded. "You must take me to Father Reynold. I bring tidings that will concern him."

"Reynold is dead, Llyad. Damogan is Lord Priest now."

A cloudy look passed through Llyad's eyes.

"Reynold is dead?" He seemed to grapple with the news for a moment, and then he blinked. "Then take me to Damogan. Please. You must take me to Damogan." He grabbed Malcolm’s cloak and pulled him close. "Do you hear me, Malcolm? It is beginning!"

"I will take you to him, Llyad. But it might help if you let go of my cloak. What of your companion?" Brother Llyad released his grip on Brother Malcolm and stiffly turned his head to look over at his traveling partner.

Gwyn was still examining the other passenger. Suddenly her blood ran cold. She grabbed Malcolm's arm.

"What is it, girl?"

"Look!" She pointed to the unconscious man. He was a very tall, thin man, whose garments were green. Around his neck hung a silver pendant in the shape of the moon. And on his arm, a small tattoo of an oak tree. Malcolm looked at the man for a moment, and then looked into Brother Llyad's eyes. The missing Priest had not only returned, but now Malcolm knew where he had gone: to Mona, the Isle of the Druids, and he had now brought a Druid to Tintagel.

End of Chapter One

Speaking of "Say Anything"....

Erin has a lovely post about, well, loves found and lost, and the lessons learned with each finding and losing. Read it.

In earlier years, I used to read the work of author Richard Bach a lot. I haven't read him in a very long time -- a decade or more -- but I've always remembered one quote from his book One: "I gave my life to become the person I am right now. Was it worth it?"

Erin's post made me think of that.

Quantum What, now?

With this post, Mary begins her nefarious plot to become to physics in Blogistan what PZ Myers is to evolutionary biology. And my level of understanding of each is, shall we say, a bit low.

JRRT and Dialogue

Back in late August, when Little Quinn's birth was an event on the near horizon, I occupied some of my mental distraction by taking up early the re-reading of The Lord of the Rings that I had already planned to do this winter. Little did I realize, of course, just how much solace I'd find in Middle Earth over the next couple of weeks: I finished The Hobbit (which I always include when re-reading LOTR) in the afternoon of Quinn's day-of-birth, and took refuge from the uncertainty of the days that followed by going to spend some time in a world I think I know better than the real one in which I live.

This was my first re-read of the book since the great films began to appear - - in fact, it was my first time re-reading the book since 1999, I think. That's probably too long to wait, but I find that key details of the story remain surprising when I don't allow it to become too familiar. And this time, of course, I couldn't help but read the book in the light of the films, each of which I have seen multiple times. I kept making mental comparisons to the movies, which I have seen claimed as comprising both better storytelling than Tolkien's, and worse storyteling than Tolkien's. I personally adore the films, but to me the books are significantly better on the storytelling front. Character motivations are more plain, and events that don't receive adequate explanation in the films make perfect sense in the books.

Take, for instance, the breaking of the Fellowship at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. The film has Frodo and Aragorn agreeing that the Fellowship is ended, and Aragorn basically allowing Frodo to go off into Mordor on his own. In the book, this plays out very differently: Frodo strikes out on his own without telling anyone, at least until Sam happens to catch up to him; Aragorn has no idea where Frodo has gone. As The Two Towers opens, Aragorn is famously speeding up a hill, trying to make sense of what has happened, and he finds Boromir in time to watch the man from Minas Tirith die. When he finds hobbit tracks along with orc tracks, he doesn't know if they are Frodo and Sam's, or Merry and Pippin's – and thus his journey turns west, toward Rohan, and he doesn't know why.

Tolkien juxtaposes Aragorn's dilemma with Frodo's departure in the two chapters set at the same exact time, "The Departure of Boromir" and "The Taming of Smeagol". In his chapter, Aragorn says: "An ill fate is upon me this day, and all that I do goes amiss." And in his chapter, Frodo says: "All my choices have proved ill." Both believe that they have committed serious errors in judgment, and yet, both errors actually set each on their way to the completion of their journeys.

Something also struck me about reading the books after becoming so intimately familiar with the movies, and it involves the dialogue in the films compared with that of the books. Consider the following lines or exchanges from the movies, and see if you can guess (those of you who have read the books, at any rate) what these lines have in common:

1. SAM: That's an eye-opener, and no mistake.

2. ARWEN: You are Isildur's heir, not Isildur himself.

3. FRODO: I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
GANDALF: So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.

4. LEGOLAS: That is one of the mearas, unless my eyes are cheated by some spell.

5. THEODEN: Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn. Forth Eorlingas!

6. BOROMIR: It is such a strange fate that we should suffer such fear and doubt over so small a thing.

7. EOMER: How long is it since Saruman bought you? What was the promised price?

That's only a few, but there are many more such examples, and they serve to illustrate my point: all of these lines are verbatim, or nearly so, from the books; but all of them are either spoken in a different setting or context from the books, or given to different speakers entirely. That first line of Sam's is uttered by Sam in the book, but after the Fellowship is attacked by wolves in the wild before they attempt the passage of Caradhras. In the film, these are Sam's words of wonderment when Gandalf raises his staff to illuminate the Dwarven city of Dwarrowdelf.

That line of Arwen's is especially different. In the film, Arwen says this in an attempt to assuage Aragorn's self-doubt; in the book, it is Aragorn who says that he is not Isildur himself. Aragorn's self-doubt is largely an addition for the films. (I wasn't bothered by it; this isn't really a complaint. Just an observation.)

The exchange between Frodo and Gandalf, spoken in the film at a resting point in the Mines of Moria, actually comes very early on in the book, in the second chapter, "The Shadow of the Past".

Legolas's line from The Two Towers, spoken as Shadowfax approaches for the first time, in the book belongs to a guard outside Edoras when Gandalf and the others arrive to seek Theoden's aid.

Theoden's brief speech before the final charge at Helms Deep seems to be cobbled together from several places within the book. It's a thrilling moment in the film, though.

Boromir's line is almost identical, but in the book it is spoken when Boromir attempts to wrest the Ring from Frodo at Amon Heth, whereas in the film it takes place when the Fellowship is approaching Caradhras. And Eomer's line, spat at Wormtongue early in the film of The Two Towers, actually belongs to Gandalf in the book – spoken after Gandalf has "revived" King Theoden.

These aren't complaints; not at all. What struck me was that clearly the writers of the films' scripts wanted to make sure that the dialogue in the films sounded as much like Tolkien as possible, and they did this by mining the books themselves for lines that could be mutated, reworked, and moved around. It was quite impressive: far more of the dialogue in the films seems to spring directly from the books than I had originally thought. In re-reading the books, I gained a new appreciation for the work that has to be done to compress a book to something filmable, and also a new appreciation for the degree of success the filmmakers attained.

I also gained new appreciation for Tolkien as a writer. At first glance, his dialogue seems terribly unrealistic, and in a way it is -- the story's an epic fantasy, after all -- but when so mined by the screenwriters for the films, it turns out that there is a pleasing rhythm to Tolkien's dialogue that I had never recognized before. Harrison Ford's famous declaration about the quality of George Lucas's dialogue ("You can type this shit, but you sure can't say it") doesn't hold with Tolkien at all.